Author: William F. Buckley, Jr
Buckley, William F., Jr. (2000). Spytime: The Undoing of James Jesus Angleton. New York: Harcourt
Date Updated: November 21, 2016
I was surprised to find this book to be a novel. However, James Jesus Angleton (nobody ever used his middle name with him, I have on good authority) provides all the elements for a good novel. He is, for example, a major character in The Company: A Novel of the CIA (Robert Littell, 2002).
To be sure, even to his supporters, Angelton was an enigma, a secretive man whose power was at its peak during the height of the Cold War. Founder of U.S. counter-intelligence, hunter of moles and foes of America, his name has become synonymous with skulduggery and subterfuge.
Angleton pursued his enemies, real and imagined, with a cool, calculating intelligence. Eventually convinced that there was a turncoat within the highest reaches of the U.S. government, Angleton turned all of his considerable skills to finding and exposing him. The result was a near-victory for U.S. Intelligence-and total defeat for himself. A brilliant re-creation of a world that included Soviet defectors, the infamous traitors Burgess, MacLean, and Philby, and American presidents from Truman to Carter, Spytime traces the making-and unmaking-of a man without a peer and, at the end, a man without a country to serve.
Among his intellectual achievements, Buckley was a successful spy novelist. In 1975, Buckley recounted being inspired to write a spy novel by Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal: “…If I were to write a book of fiction, I’d like to have a whack at something of that nature.” He went on to explain that he was determined to avoid the moral ambiguity of Graham Greene and John le Carré. Buckley wrote the 1976 spy novel Saving the Queen, featuring Blackford Oakes as a rule-bound CIA agent, based in part on his own CIA experiences. Over the next 30 years, he would write another ten novels featuring Oakes. New York Times critic Charlie Rubin wrote that the series “at its best, evokes John O’Hara in its precise sense of place amid simmering class hierarchies”. Stained Glass, second in the series, won a 1980 National Book Award in the one-year category Mystery (paperback).
Buckley was particularly concerned about the view that what the CIA and the KGB were doing was morally equivalent. As he wrote in his memoirs, “To say that the CIA and the KGB engage in similar practices is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from the man who pushes an old lady out of the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around.
Angleton’s resignation from the CIA was announced on Christmas Eve of 1975, just as President Ford demanded that Colby report on the allegations and as various Congressional committees announced that they would launch their own inquiries. Angleton was never prosecuted for his involvement in the surveillance of antiwar protesters and domestic dissidents. Three of Angleton’s senior aides in counterintelligence, his deputy Raymond Rocca, executive officer of the counter-intelligence division William J. Hood, and Angleton’s chief of operations Newton S. Miller, were coaxed into retirement within a week of Angleton’s resignation after it was made clear that they would be transferred elsewhere in the agency rather than promoted, and the counter-intelligence staff was reduced from 300 people to 80 people.
Hersh reported that Angleton subsequently called him to claim that Angleton’s wife, Cicely, had left him as a result of the story. A friend of Hersh’s immediately laughed off this claim, telling Hersh that Angleton’s wife had left him years ago and had since returned — and knew well enough that Angleton worked for the CIA. Indeed, they remained friendly for years after they began living apart, and yearly took a vacation together to his beloved fishing spot. Here he was known as a fisherman and a documenter of the river, but not for his profession, although it was quietly known. Rumors swirled around Washington thereafter that Colby was himself the KGB mole, but these were never conclusively attributed to Angleton. Angleton was awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the CIA’s second highest honor, in 1975.
Angleton had become increasingly convinced that the CIA was compromised by the KGB. Golitsyn convinced him that the KGB had reorganized in 1958 and 1959 to consist mostly of a shell, incorporating only those agents whom the CIA and the FBI were recruiting, directed by a small cabal of puppet masters who doubled those agents to manipulate their Western counterparts. Hoover eventually curbed cooperation with the CIA because Angleton refused to relent on this hypothesis. Angleton also came into increasing conflict with the rest of the CIA, particularly with the Directorate of Operations, over the efficacy of their intelligence-gathering efforts, which he questioned without explaining his broader views on KGB strategy and organization.
Golitsyn was considered discredited within the CIA even before Angleton’s ousting, but the two did not appear to have lost their faith in one another. They sought the assistance of William F. Buckley, Jr. (himself once a CIA man) in authoring New Lies for Old, which advanced the argument that the USSR planned to fake its collapse to lull its enemies into a false sense of victory. Buckley refused but later went on to write this novel, Spytime, about Angleton