The story will keep returning to Legend Maker #1
The story begins with a man called "Mother". In every sense of the word, he is Legend Maker #1. Always in other people's business, he was a fisherman, a mad genius, and in a category by himself.
James Angleton was the chief of CIA counter-intelligence between 1954 and 1974. During the first days of the CIA, his British intelligence friend Kim Philby dubbed Angleton "the driving force of OSO" the CIA's Office of Special Operations. He got the keys to the kingdom after the bitter end of the Korean War when the Cold War began in earnest.
One of the first things Angleton did was to set up a small super-secret group known as CI/SIG, pronounced see-eye-sig, an acronym for the Counter-Intelligence Special Investigations Group. CI/SIG was the CIA of the CIA. CI/SIG's mission was to hunt within the CIA for enemy agents that might try to infiltrate the Agency. The preferred word was "penetrate", rather than "infiltrate". The preferred term was not "infiltrators", but "moles".
Angleton surrounded himself with other cagy molehunters that will pop up as we sit around the fire telling this story, such as his personal assistant Ann Egerter who controlled Oswald file, his chief of CI/SIG Birch O'Neil, and his trusted compatriot Ray Rocca who helped him direct the cover-up as a liaison to the Warren Commission.
Angleton's molehunts became more and more frequent, at least partially because the CIA was always trying to penetrate other agencies. His focus became an obsession during the fifties when he learned that his old friend Kim Philby from British intelligence was probably an agent of the Soviet Union. Before he fell into disgrace, Philby was nearing the top of the hierarchy of British intelligence. (In January, 1963, Philby defected and made it official.)
Two other British intelligence officials that were colleagues of Angelton and Philby had previously defected, but Angleton never imagined that Philby would become "The Third Man". The already famous 1949 film noir penned by Graham Greene was a cautionary tale. For Angleton, it was a humiliation that changed his life forever.
Angleton used CI/SIG in a ruthless manner, destroying the lives of innocent CIA agents and anyone else in the cross-fire. By the time Angleton was fired in the midst of the Watergate era, he was accused of being a Soviet mole himself.
The CIA was eager for ways to see inside the Soviet Union, which had closed itself off from many aspects of Western society. One way was to cultivate contacts that spoke the Russian language. That led inquiring minds to Harvard University, its Russian department, and a Radcliffe graduate student in the department named Priscilla Johnson.
A wealthy and attractive Long Islander whose father was in the textile trade, Priscilla Johnson, Bryn Mawr '50, was a catch. Internationally minded, she was a member of the United World Federalists and other liberal groups. She applied for a job with the CIA in late 1952 as graduation beckoned the following spring. Just when it seemed that Johnson had successfully jumped through all the hoops, her application was rejected in March 1953 because of her membership in the United World Federalists, the League of Industrial Democracy, and her questionable associates.
Johnson landed on her feet. In April, she joined the research staff of the new senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. In fact, she withdrew her application before the rejection came in. Johnson may have nailed the JFK post thanks to the aid of her mentor and Long Island neighbor the CIA's chief of International Operations, Cord Meyer, Legend Maker #2. Johnson told military historian John Newman that she thought Meyer "was waiting for me to grow up".
In 1947, Meyer was one of the founders of the United World Federalists, a group hoping to stop the spread of atomic weapons and to build a stronger United Nations. He was engaged in postgraduate studies at Harvard while building the movement. However, the tides of history were working against Meyer. In 1948, the Soviets threw up a blockade around Berlin that lasted for months. In 1949, the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb. In 1950, a devastating war broke out on the Korean peninsula, taking millions of lives. Meyer saw his hopes for arms control wane, and his frame of mind steadily became more anti-communist. He left Harvard and joined the CIA's Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), headed by Frank Wisner.
By 1953, Meyer's duties included shepherding Operation MOCKINGBIRD, an infamous program where the CIA used the American news media "like a mighty Wurlitzer". Many reporters did the CIA's bidding and basically churned out stories as unpaid shills for the Agency. It was a great way to develop sources and advance one's career. MOCKINGBIRD established a pattern of a media/intelligence alliance that many believe has only accelerated to the present day. Johnson was willing to sing like a mockingbird, and built her career on it. She was to become Legend Maker #3.
The CIA wanted spotters at Harvard
Claiming that her passion was the oxymoron known as "Soviet law", Johnson made her way to the USSR in December 1955 for a four month trip. The highlight of her stay was landing a temporary paycheck as an "emergency" translator with the State Department, covering the historic Soviet Party Congress where Khrushchev denounced the legacy of Joseph Stalin. Johnson also picked up work at the New York Times office during her Moscow stay.
Upon her return to Boston, the records indicate that Johnson was then vetted by the CIA to work as a "legal traveler into USSR - spotter". Johnson denies knowing anything about this application to use her as a spotter. Without taking Johnson at her word, it's fair to say that the CIA may have used her or planned to use in ways that she did not know about, and the events surrounding her should be analyzed with that in mind.