his day, Jim was recognized as the dominant counterintelligence figure in
the non-Communist world.”
of Central Intelligence Richard Helms
Over the years,
many great men and women have devoted their careers to the mission of the
Central Intelligence Agency. Perhaps one of the most well-known Agency
figures is James Angleton. In particular, Angleton was noted for his work as
the Chief of Counterintelligence during the Cold War.
Angleton was born in Boise, Idaho, on December 9, 1917. His parents—James
Hugh Angleton and Carmen Mercedes Moreno—met when his father was serving
as a cavalry officer during the Mexican Revolution. Angleton had two younger
sisters and a brother.
youth, Angleton was educated at English preparatory schools, including
Chartridge Hill House in Buckinghamshire, England. He attended Malvern
College in Worcestershire, England, but left in 1936 to study at Yale.
During his time
at Yale, Angleton took an interest in literature and poetry and edited the
school's literary magazine “Furioso,” which published poetry by the
likes of E. E. Cummings and Ezra Pound.
graduated from Yale in 1941 and enrolled at Harvard Law School.
Angleton did not
finish law school because he was drafted into the U.S. Army in March 1943.
During training he was singled out for an interview and offered the chance
to work with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the predecessor to
the opportunity and was assigned to the X-2 Branch, responsible for
counterintelligence. Given his knowledge of the Italian language and
culture, Angleton began at the Italian desk in Washington, D.C. He quickly
grew restless, so he approached the head of X-2, James Murphy, and requested
an assignment overseas. Murphy was so impressed with Angleton that he agreed
and sent him to England.
Angleton proved himself to be a hard worker, often sleeping on a cot in his
office after working late into the night. Six months after joining the OSS,
Angleton became the X-2 chief of the Italian desk in Washington, D.C. In
late 1944 he transferred to Rome and, at the age of 27, became the chief of
X-2 in Italy.
After the war,
Angleton remained in Italy and established contacts with other secret
intelligence agencies that proved useful later in his career at the Agency.
Angleton also played a major role in operations that supported the 1948
Italian general election.
Upon his return
to Washington, Angleton worked for various successor organizations of the
OSS until the CIA was established in 1947. Angleton made the transition to
an Agency employee and is known as one of the founding officers.
During the first
several years of his career at the Agency, Angleton helped establish the
structure of the new intelligence organization. Living up to his reputation
in the OSS, Angleton rapidly rose through the ranks of the Agency.
By May 1949, he
became a senior leader in the Office of Special Operations. This job
required Angleton to call on some of the contacts he made after the war.
Angleton’s relationships with Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet agencies
became especially important during his time working the Israeli desk and
throughout his career at the Agency.
In 1954, Director
of Central Intelligence (DCI) Allen Dulles asked Angleton to become head of
the Counterintelligence Staff. Angleton remained in this position for the
rest of his career at the Agency.
relationship with the Israelis paid off when the Shin Bet provided him a
transcript of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s confidential 1956 speech
denouncing his predecessor, Joseph Stalin. The speech proved valuable
because it showed that Soviet leaders were in the midst of a power struggle.
The Eisenhower administration publicized the speech, embarrassing the Soviet
Angleton also was
involved with debriefing two famous KGB defectors: Anatoly Golitsyn and Yuri
Nosenko. In 1961, KGB Maj. Anatoly Golitsyn defected to the United States
and was interviewed by Angleton. Angleton found Golitsyn to be a source of
accurate information. Golitsyn claimed that the CIA had been infiltrated by
the KGB. He also said that another defector would be sent to discredit his
information and support the mole’s credibility. Angleton believed Golitsyn
and began a mole hunt inside the Agency.
KGB officer Yuri
Nosenko made contact with the CIA in 1962, but was not heard from again
until 1964 when he defected. During his debriefing, he provided information
that contradicted intelligence gathered from Golitsyn’s interviews.
Because Angleton declared Golitysn a genuine source, he concluded that
Nosenko was a false defector who couldn't be believed.
John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963, the U.S. government
briefly suspected that the Soviet Union might have perpetrated the crime.
During Nosenko’s debriefing, he made a startling disclosure: he had been
assigned to watch assassin Lee Harvey Oswald when Oswald defected to the
Soviet Union (1959-1962). Nosenko said the KGB declined to work with Oswald
after determining he was unstable.
surprise decision to defect to the United States and his news that Oswald
was not a KGB asset seemed too convenient for Angleton and other Agency
officials. Moreover, Nosenko contradicted Golitsyn, Angleton's key source on
that Nosenko was a disinformation agent sent both to discredit him and to
hide Moscow's hand in President Kennedy's death. A few years later,
the CIA decided that Nosenko was telling the truth, but Angleton never
changed his mind.
Angleton left the
Agency in December 1974. He died of lung cancer 12 years later on May 12,
Related Stories and
- The James
- A Look Back
… Counterintelligence and the JFK Assassination