Lost in the Hall of Mirrors

I saw today a reference to James Jesus Angleton, and that got my head spinning.  I wrote a little bit about him a while ago, but here’s some more…

Angleton was a spy’s spy.  In WWII, he served in the OSS, the precursor to the CIA. Following WWII, he was one of the founding officers of the CIA.  He was involved in the political turmoil in Italy, working to keep the country from going communist.  He was involved in many other CIA projects.

Oh yeah, by the way, he was a chess-master.  He was generally considered to be a genius.

Eventually he became Chief of counterintelligence for the CIA.  His role was to make sure that the CIA was free of moles.  During this time it was discovered that the British intelligence agency, the MI6, had several moles.  The list included Kim Philby, Donald MacClean, Guy Burgess, and Anthony Blunt.  Philby’s double-cross struck Angleton particularly hard because he was good friends with him. Angleton was a deep Anglo-phile.

Therefore, he thought that if the MI6 was infiltrated with agents, it only stood to reason that the CIA must be as well.  In his position as head of counterintelligence, he became obsessed with ferreting out the moles that he knew to be in the CIA. He vigorously searched.  He’d identify a suspect and would take apart his life trying to find evidence against him.  Just knowing that a person was under suspicion for being a mole was enough to derail the person’s career.  He pursued this vendetta for over 10 years.  By the end, he’d basically hollowed out a generation of potential CIA future leaders.

Finally, someone began to think…if there was a mole in the CIA, what better job could he have done in destroying the CIA than by doing exactly what Angleton was doing?

Angleton himself came under suspicion of being the mole, and in 1975, he was forced to resign.  Eventually he lapsed into alcoholism and died in obscurity.

Interestingly enough, there are people today that believe that Philby was actually a triple agent…pretending to be a spy for England, and then pretending to be a Soviet agent spying on England, but actually being a spy for the West.  The story is that Angleton was actually the person running him as a triple agent.

Hence my spinning head… This is the ultimate problem with spies.  Spies by nature lie. Double agents are only useful when they lie.  By definition they must be lying to someone.

How can anyone know? Everyone says that the US relies too much nowadays on electronic spying and not enough on human intelligence.  That might be true.  However, to be honest, the United States has at best a checkered history with human intelligence (if in doubt, read Legacy of Ashes by Weiner or Second Oldest Profession by Knightly).  Maybe it’s because of our puritanical/moral/straight-shooting heritage, but American’s don’t seem to do well in situations of complex deceit and questionable morality.

If everyone’s lying, how can you tell what’s the truth?  If you can’t recognize the truth, what value is there in knowing the lies?

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