Was there ever a person who was so hidden from public view in 1963, yet ended up being such a key character in the JFK case than James Angleton? Offhand, the only other character in the saga I can think of to rival him is David Phillips. Which puts Angleton in some rather select company. But what makes the Angelton instance even odder is that, unlike with Phillips, there have been at least three other books based upon Angleton’s career. To my knowledge there has been no biography of Phillips yet published.
The veil around Jim Angleton began to be dropped in December of 1974. At this time, CIA Director William Colby had decided that Angleton had to go. Since Angleton had been handed carte blanche powers first by CIA Director Allen Dulles, and then by Richard Helms, he was not willing to leave quietly. So Colby had to force him out. He first gave a speech about certain CIA abuses before the Council on Foreign Relations. He then directly leaked details about Angleton’s role in Operation MH Chaos to New York Times reporter Sy Hersh. MH Chaos was a massive program that spied on the political left in the United States for a number of years. Combined with the FBI’s COINTELPRO operations, they composed a lethal one two punch to dissident groups on issues like civil rights and anti-Vietnam war demonstrations.
Colby’s leaks to Hersh did the trick and Angleton was forced to resign at the end of 1974. That timing coincided with what some have called the “Season of Inquiry”. This refers to the series of investigations of the CIA, the FBI and the JFK assassination that took place after the exposures of the Watergate scandal. Specifically, these were the Rockefeller Commission, the Church Committee, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). The author of the book under discussion, Jefferson Morley, goes through these to show how Angleton became a star attraction for some public inquiries. Angleton did not handle these proceedings very well, with consequences for his own reputation. As we will see, in the wake of his exposure he made one enigmatic comment that would haunt the literature on the JFK case forever.
It was these appearances that likely led to the beginning of the literature on the legendary chief of counter-intelligence. Wilderness of Mirrors was a dual biography of both Angleton and William Harvey by newspaper reporter David Martin, published in 1980. Considering the problems with classification, it was a candid and acute portrait for that time period.
Several years later, two books on Angleton were published in rapid succession. In 1991, Tom Mangold published Cold Warrior. Mangold’s book was a milestone in the field and remains a valuable contribution not just on Angleton but on CIA studies to this day. Somehow, Mangold got several Agency insiders to cooperate with him in a devastating expose of the damage Angleton had wreaked on the Agency and its allies. This was done through his almost pathological allegiance to a man named Anatoliy Golitsyn. Golitsyn was a Russian KGB operative who had been working as a vice counsel in the Helsinki embassy when he decided to defect at Christmas, 1961. He warned that any other defectors who followed would be sent by the KGB to discredit him. He prophesied about the presence of a high-level mole in the American government. He then demanded audiences with the FBI, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the president of the United States and intelligence chiefs of foreign countries; most of which he got.
In two ways, Golitsyn’s overall concept played into the nightmare fears of Western intelligence: first, as to the existence of high-level double agents in their midst; and secondly, regarding Western leaders who were already compromised, e.g., Prime Minister Harold Wilson of the Untied Kingdom. Due to the largesse of Angleton and British MI6, Golitsyn became a millionaire. As for the accuracy of his knowledge of Soviet affairs, he said the Sino-Soviet split was a mirage, that the coming of Gorbachev was really a deception strategy to isolate the USA, and that the whole Perestroika revolution was also a KGB phantasm. He forecast the last two in his books, New Lies for Old (1984) and The Perestroika Deception (1995). Needless to add, in order to buy Golitsyn one had to accept that the rise of Gorbachev, the collapse of the USSR, and Boris Yeltsin’s use of American economic advisors to administer Milton Friedman economic “shock doctrine” to decimate the Russian economy back to conditions worse than the Great Depression—all of this was somehow a colossal KGB Potemkin Village designed to deceive the West. The question being: Into believing what? That somehow the USSR had not really collapsed? This is how ultimately bereft Golitsyn was, and this was how craven our intelligence chiefs were. They did not just believe him, they made him into a wealthy retiree. Mangold’s book revealed almost all of this. It was shocking to behold.
A year after Mangold, David Wise published his book Molehunt. The Wise book was kind of a reverse imprint of Mangold. Wise did scores of interviews with the victims of what the folie à deux of Golitsyn/Angleton had done. That is, the careers that were ruined, the reputations that were sullied, the promotions that never came. It got so bad that Congress had to pass a bill to compensate certain victims for the damage done to their careers. In 2008, author Michael Holzman wrote another biography. James Jesus Angleton, the CIA and the Craft of Intelligence was a rather sympathetic look at the man and his career. And it attempted to rehabilitate both Angleton and Golitsyn, while trying to contravene William Colby’s dictum about Angleton that, to his knowledge, he had never caught a spy.
Holzman’s book was published about a decade after the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) had officially closed its doors, which makes it surprising how little information the author used concerning Angleton, the JFK case and Lee Harvey Oswald. After all, John Newman had published his milestone book on that subject, Oswald and the CIA, in 1995. He reissued that volume the same year that Holzman published his. Because he had been an intelligence analyst, Newman understood how to read and then blend together documents into a mural that made previously uncertain events understandable. He did this with the help of the releases of the ARRB.
There were two areas of Newman’s work that one would think any biographer of Angleton would find of the utmost interest. The first would be how the information on Oswald was entered into CIA files after his defection. The second would be the extraordinary work that was made possible about Oswald in Mexico City after the release of the HSCA’s legendary Lopez Report. Taking up where Holzman dropped the baton, the strength of Jefferson Morley’s book is that it does have a featured focus on this aspect: the Oswald file at CIA and its relation to Angleton. And this is the most valuable part of the book.
As Morley notes, James Angleton had suzerainty over the Oswald file at CIA for four years. (p. 86. All references are to the Kindle version) Contrary to what the late David Belin said on national television, the contents of that file were never fully revealed to the Warren Commission. And they were obfuscated for the HSCA. The file itself was personally handled by Birch O’Neal, one of the most trusted and most mysterious of the two hundred men and women who worked for Angleton in Counter Intelligence. From day one, O’Neal began to lie about what was in the Oswald file. He told the Bureau that there was nothing there that did not originate with the FBI and State Department. As Morley has noted on his website and in this book, that is simply not true. But further, the ARRB files on O’Neal have been released in heavily redacted form, and three are completely redacted.
As Morley further explains, the rule inside the Agency was that if three reports came in, a 201 file should be opened on the subject. Yet this rule was not followed with the Oswald file. This exception to protocol allowed the file to be limited in access when it was opened in December of 1959. (Morley, p. 88) It was only when Otto Otepka of the State Department sent the CIA a request on the recent wave of American defectors to the Soviet Union that a 201 file was opened on Oswald.
If the Warren Commission would actually have had full access to the file, the obvious question would have been: If Otepka had not sent the request, would a 201 file have been opened at all? Otepka’s request was about information on whether the defectors were real or ersatz. When Director of Plans Richard Bissell received it, he sent it to Angleton’s office. These circumstances strongly suggest that there was a false defector program being run by CIA, and that Angleton had a role in it.
To his credit, Morley also uses some information that was first introduced in the Lopez Report. This was the fact that there were two differing cables sent out of Angleton’s office once CIA got word of Oswald meeting with a man named Valeri Kostikov in Mexico City. One was sent to the Navy, State, and FBI. It had information about Oswald but a wrong physical description of him. The other cable was sent to Mexico City and had a correct description, but it did not include the most recent information that the CIA had on Oswald concerning his activities in New Orleans—for example, that he had been arrested, detained, tried and fined for his pro Castro activities there. (pp. 136-37) This clearly would have been important in evaluating whether or not he posed a potential threat. In other words, if Oswald had been meeting with a Russian diplomat in a nearby third country, and prior to that he had been protesting on the streets of a southern city in favor of Fidel Castro, and was trying to get an in-transit visa through Cuba to Russia, that would seem to be significant information one should pass to the FBI.
But this cable did not provide the correct description of the man. When the CIA sent up its request, it contained a picture of a man who was not Oswald. He has come to be known as the Mystery Man, although the Lopez Report identifies him as a Russian KGB agent under diplomatic cover. Consequently, that cable described Lee Oswald as a 35 year old with an athletic build and six feet tall. What makes this even more puzzling is that the CIA had accurate info on Oswald as being 24 and 5’ 9”. The other cable was sent to Mexico City and although it was allowed to be disseminated to the FBI there, it did not include the information on Oswald’s return to the USA or his New Orleans hijinks. The Warren Commission only saw one of these two cables and the HSCA only mentioned them in redacted form. (See “Two Misleading CIA Cables about Lee Harvey Oswald”)
As mentioned by the author, neither Jane Roman nor Bill Hood of the CIA could explain this paradox. (p. 137) As Morley offers: if what Oswald was doing in New Orleans—setting up an FPCC chapter with him as the only member, raising his profile via street theater— was part of an operation, then Mexico City station chief Winston Scott would not need to know about that. (p. 137)
One week before Kennedy’s murder, on November 15th, Angleton’s office received a full report from Warren DeBrueys of the New Orleans FBI office about Oswald’s activities there. As Morley writes, “If Angleton scanned the first page, he learned that Oswald had gone back to Texas after contacting the Cubans and Soviets in Mexico City. Angleton knew Oswald was in Dallas.” (p. 140) In other words, all the information that an intelligence officer needed in order to place Oswald on the Secret Service Security Index was available to Jim Angleton at that time. He did nothing with it.
But it is actually worse than that. As Morley notes,
Angleton always sought to give the impression that he knew very little about Oswald before November 22, 1963. … His staff had monitored Oswald’s movements for four years. As the former Marine moved from Moscow to Minsk to Fort Worth to New Orleans to Mexico City to Dallas, the Special Investigations Group received reports on him everywhere he went. (p. 140)
As Newman originally noted, Oswald’s files from Moscow and Minsk should not have gone into the Special Investigation Group (SIG). They should have gone into a file at the Soviet Russia division. (Newman, p. 27) The cumulative effect of Morley’s book is that it makes the case that the idea that Oswald was some kind of sociopath who no one knew anything about in Washington is simply not tenable today. The CIA has hidden its monitoring of Oswald for decades. And it took the JFK Act and its forcible declassification process to reveal its extent.
Morley quickly moves to some interesting developments that took place within just hours of the assassination. Oswald’s street theater antics in New Orleans now got played up in the media. Ed Butler turned over a tape of Oswald defending the FPCC on a local radio station. The CIA-backed Cuban exile organization, the DRE, were calling reporters to inform them of Oswald’s FPCC activities in the Crescent City. They even published a broadsheet saying Oswald and Castro were the presumed killers of Kennedy. (Morley, p. 145) Of course, Butler and the DRE’s intelligence connections were not exposed at this time, nor did the Warren Commission explore them. To accompany this there is a mysterious message that Richard Helms’ assistant Tom Karamessines wrote to Winston Scott in Mexico City. He told the station chief not to take any action that “could prejudice Cuban responsibility.” (Morley, p. 146)
Morley has an interesting observation about Kostikov and AM/LASH. Hoover asked Angleton in May of 1963 if Kostikov was part of Department 13, responsible for terrorist activities and murders in the Western Hemisphere. The reply was negative. (Morley, p. 149) Yet this would change six months later. (Newman, p. 419) It would change again, when Angleton testified to the Church Committee. There he said he was not sure. But Morley further reveals that Rolando Cubela, a prospective assassin tasked by the CIA to kill Castro, was also in touch with Kostikov. This was done through Des Fitzgerald who was in charge of Cuban operations in 1963. Fitzgerald probably thought that Cubela may have told Kostikov about the CIA using him. Kostikov then told the Cubans, and Castro may have decided to strike first, using Oswald as a pawn. This may be why Fitzgerald wept when Jack Ruby shot Oswald on television. He reportedly said, “Now, we’ll never know.” (Morley, p. 150)
The first liaison between the CIA and the Warren Commission was a man named John Whitten. But he was rather quickly moved out by Richard Helms and replaced with Angleton. The CIA now adapted a stance of waiting out the Commission. (p. 155) Here, Morley passed up a fine way to exemplify this fact. When Commission lawyer Burt Griffin testified before the HSCA, he revealed that he had sent a request to CIA to send him all the files they had on Jack Ruby and several related persons, like Barney Baker. Two months later, in May of 1964, they still had no reply. So they sent a reminder. They finally got their negative reply in mid-September, when the Commission volumes were in galley proofs. (HSCA Volume XI, p. 286) You can’t wait out a committee any better (or worse) than that can you?
Continuing with the JFK case, Morley makes a brief mention of the formation of the CIA’s Garrison Group. (p. 192) And he also adds that one of Angleton’s assistants, Raymond Rocca, was a key member. Rocca proclaimed at its first meeting that it appeared that Jim Garrison would be able to convict his indicted suspect Clay Shaw. I wish Morley had made more of this body, because as is evidenced from the declassified files of the ARRB, the CIA itself began to take offensive measures against Garrison at around this time. The convening of this intra-agency group was ordered by Richard Helms. Helms wanted the group to consider the possible implications of the Garrison case before, during, and after the trial of Clay Shaw. (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, p. 270) Which they did. For instance, Angleton ran name traces on the possible jurors in the Shaw trial. (p. 293)
As Morley noted in his previous book, Our Man in Mexico, when Winston Scott passed away in 1971, Angleton immediately hightailed it to Mexico City to confront the widow of the CIA station chief. (Morley, p. 213) By using some not so subtle threats about Scott’s death benefits, he essentially emptied the contents of Scott’s safe, which amounted to 3 large cartons and 4 suitcases full of materials. This included a manuscript Scott was laboring on at the time of his death. By all indications, this cache included at least one tape of Oswald in Mexico City.
The last time Angleton’s proximity to the JFK case came up was near the end of his career. Senator Howard Baker had been on Sam Ervin’s committee investigating Watergate. His minority counsel, Fred Thompson, had uncovered a lot of material about the CIA’s hidden role in that scandal. (See Thompson’s book, At That Point in Time.) This, along with the exposure of MH Chaos in the New York Times, provided much of the impetus for first the Rockefeller Commission, then the Senate Church Committee, and the Pike Committee in the House of Representatives.
Morley leaves an important point out when he introduces this crucial historical episode, about which there are still documents being withheld from the public. As Daniel Schorr noted, at a closed press briefing in Washington, President Ford was asked why he had stacked the Rockefeller Commission with such conservative stalwarts—e.g., General Lyman Lemnitzer and Governor Ronald Reagan—and appointed Warren Commission lawyer David Belin as chief counsel. Ford replied that there might be some dangerous discoveries ahead. Someone asked him, “Like what?” Ford blurted out, “Like assassinations!” There was no discussion of what assassinations were referred to. However, since the NY Times article was about domestic CIA spying, and both Ford and Belin served on the Warren Commission, Schorr assumed it was about domestic assassinations. But when Schorr went to Bill Colby at CIA, the director did a beautiful bit of ballet on the issue, one that has never been properly appreciated. He told Schorr that Ford must have been talking about foreign plots. (The Assassinations, edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, p. 194)
This was a masterful stroke by Colby. It was now the CIA plots against Patrice Lumumba, Rafael Trujillo, Achmed Sukarno, and first and foremost Fidel Castro, which took center stage. Because many felt the Rockefeller Commission would be a fig leaf, it was superseded by Senator Frank Church’s and Congressman Otis Pike’s now near-legendary efforts. (For anyone interested in reading up on this fascinating subject, this reviewer recommends Schorr’s Clearing the Air. Schorr ended up being fired by CBS due to the influence of then CIA Director George H. W. Bush.)
As Morley notes, Angleton made some rather startling comments both in the witness chair and to reporters outside. Some of them follow:
- “It is inconceivable that a secret intelligence arm of the government has to comply with all the overt orders of government.”
- “When I look at the map today and the weakness of this country, that is what shocks me.”
- “Certain individual rights have to be sacrificed for the national security.” (All quotations from p. 254)
And, as alluded to above, there was the granddaddy of all Angleton quotes. In reply to a query about the JFK case, Angleton said, “A mansion has many rooms, I was not privy to who struck John.” (p. 249) That particular quote has sent many writers scurrying to understand what on earth Angleton meant by it. Perhaps the best effort in that regard was by Lisa Pease in her two-part essay on the spy chief. Her work benefits from the use of an episode that, for whatever reason, Morley ignored. This was the legal dispute between a periodical called The Spotlight and Howard Hunt, which was chronicled in Mark Lane’s book Plausible Denial. As Pease notes, Angleton did all he could to dodge questions about this incriminating episode. It originated over an article in Spotlight about a memo to Richard Helms. Angleton’s memo stated that they had to create an alibi for Howard Hunt being in Dallas on the day of the assassination. (Lane, p. 145)
Hunt denied that any such thing happened. And he won a lawsuit against Spotlight. But on appeal, that decision was reversed. In his book, Lane shows that, in fact, the CIA had tried to help Hunt in constructing his alibi. And contrary to skeptics, it turned out that Angleton himself had actually shown the memo to journalist Joe Trento. (DiEugenio and Pease, p. 195) What is remarkable about this is that the Trento meeting happened in 1978, while the HSCA was ongoing. And Angleton had called Trento to specifically show him the document. As Lisa Pease wrote, the HSCA—through researcher Betsy Wolf—was closing in on Angleton’s association with Oswald through CI/SIG. In her opinion, this memo was meant to send a warning shot across the bow of his cohorts: If I go down, you are coming with me.
To his credit, Morley spends quite a few pages on Angleton’s governance of the Israeli desk at CIA. There is little doubt that Angleton was a staunch Zionist who was not at all objective about the Arab-Israeli dispute. (Morley, p. 74) For instance, Angleton did not disseminate the information on the suspected construction of the Israeli atomic reactor at Dimona for U2 over-flights. (p. 92) Angleton leaned even further toward Israel because he suspected a growing alliance between Cairo and Moscow. Morley concluded this section with a good summary of how the Israelis betrayed America by stealing highly enriched uranium for their first bombs from a nuclear plant they purchased as a front near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (See “How Israel Stole the Bomb”)
My complaint about this section is that Morley does not sketch in how Angleton’s near rabid devotion to Israel was in opposition to President Kennedy’s policy in the Middle East. There were two specific aspects he could have highlighted in this regard. First, once he became president, JFK did all he could to forge an alliance with Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt in order to reach out to the moderate Arab states. (Philip Muelhenbeck, Betting on the Africans, pp. 125-27) And he was doing this simply because he felt that what Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and President Eisenhower had done previously—asking Nasser to join the Baghdad Pact, and cutting off funds for the Aswan Dam—had helped usher Nasser into a relationship with Moscow. An extreme cold warrior like Angleton would not appreciate this kind of diplomatic strophe. The other point that is missing here is that, as Roger Mattson noted in his book Stealing the Atom Bomb, Kennedy was adamant about there being no atomic weapons in the Middle East. (Mattson, pp. 38-40, 256) This was an integral part of his overall policy there in which he tried to be fair and objective to both sides. It would thus appear that Angleton and Kennedy held differing views on this issue. And after Kennedy’s murder, Angleton’s views won out first under President Johnson and then further with Nixon.
That point branches off into President Kennedy’s foreign policy toward Cuba and the USSR at the time of his death. Morley does some work on Angleton’s influence on Cuba policy as late as May of 1963. But he does not sketch in Kennedy’s policy shift toward Castro that came after the Missile Crisis; nor his attempt at a rapprochement with Khrushchev at that time. Today, all of this seems important in light of the attempts by certain suspect characters—some he has mentioned—to blame the assassination on either Cuba or Russia.
Also relevant in this regard is the production of the Edward Epstein authored book Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald, which Morley deals with rather lightly. That book had one of the largest advances for any book ever in the JFK field. Today, in inflation-adjusted dollars, it would be well over a million, closer to two million. According to more than one source, including Carl Oglesby and Jerry Policoff, Angleton was a chief consultant on that project. Released during the proceedings of the HSCA, Epstein ignored all the evidence that showed Oswald was some kind of American intelligence operative. Instead, the book did all it could to insinuate that Oswald was really some kind of Russian agent, perhaps controlled by George DeMohrenschildt, and that Oswald did what he did for either the KGB or Cuban G-2. As Jim Marrs later discovered, Epstein employed a team of researchers. They were instructed to only look at any possible communist associations they could find. As Lisa Pease later discovered, in Epstein’s first edition of his previous book on the JFK case, Inquest, he acknowledged a Mr. R. Rocca, Who she suspected to be Ray Rocca, one of Angleton’s important assistants specializing on the JFK case.
To me, this area would seem at least as interesting and important as Mary Meyer, which Morley spends about ten pages on. To put it mildly, after doing a lot of research on this issue, I disagree with just about every tenet of his discussion of the matter. And I was more than a bit surprised when Morley even brought in the Tim Leary aspect of this mythology. As I showed, Leary manufactured his relationship with Meyer after the fact in order to sell his book Flashbacks. And if one reads the current scholarship on Kennedy’s foreign policy by authors like Phil Muehlenbeck and Robert Rakove, the idea that Kennedy needed Meyer to advise him on this is risible. (See my review of Mary's Mosaic for the details)
Also disturbing in this respect is his use of Mimi Alford and her ludicrous, “Better red than dead” quote she attributed to JFK during the Missile Crisis. Greg Parker did a very nice exposé of Alford and the man who first surfaced her, Robert Dallek, back in 2012 that unfortunately is not online today. It showed just how dubious she was. But suffice it to say, anyone who reads, for example, The Armageddon Letters—the direct communications between the three leaders—can see how fast and hard Kennedy drew the line. (See the letter on pp. 72-73) The missiles, the bombers and submarines were all leaving and they would be checked as they left. In fact, as Parker pointed out, Kennedy had criticized the “better Red than dead school” less than a year before the crisis during a speech at the University of Washington. But he also criticized those who refuse to negotiate. Kennedy was not going to let the atomic armada stay in Cuba for one simple reason: he suspected that the Russians had done this to barter an exchange for West Berlin. Kennedy resisted that because he saw it as unraveling the Atlantic Alliance. Anyone who has read, for example, The Kennedy Tapes, will understand that. (See, for example, p. 518, where Kennedy himself makes the association.) What Kennedy conceded ultimately was very little, if anything. He made a pledge not to invade Cuba, which he was not going to do anyway; and he silently pulled missiles out of Turkey, which he thought were gone already. They were supposed to have been replaced by Polaris missiles, which they later were. So in his actions here, unlike with the Mimi Alford mythology, Kennedy simply lived up to his 1961 speech. Either Morley has little interest in Kennedy’s foreign policy or he has little knowledge of it.
The strength of the book lies in the tracing of the Oswald files through the CIA under Angleton’s dominion. No book on Angleton has done this before. And that is certainly a commendable achievement. Hopefully, this will become a staple of future Angleton scholarship, which I think the book is designed to do.