My generation came of age in the late 1960s and '70s, at the apogee of that tumultuous time in American history. 1968 was the year we graduated from high school. On March 15, 1968, the Russian spy Kim Philby's book, My Silent War, was released in the United States. The Wednesday morning Washington Post headline article stated Philby tells of his spy role, here in his book released today. My Silent War will be must reading for both the CIA and the FBI, the post reported, not only for its description of clandestine operations but also for its intimate descriptions of the men Philby dealt with and duped within both agencies.
The article reported that James Jesus Angleton, the head of the counterintelligence unit of the CIA since 1954, was Philby's chief contact. When Angleton read the story in the Washington Post on the morning of March 15, he was furious. He called Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Washington Post and a personal friend, to demand an explanation. The Post had blown Philby's cover, yet Bradlee insisted that Philby's book was legitimate news. By the time their conversation was over, their ten-year-old friendship was over, forever.
Angleton, a rabid anti-communist, read My Silent War, not only as a friend betrayed by a Russian spy, but also as the head of counterintelligence exposed. Philby had spent sixteen years in the wolf pack of the capitalist ruling class, while playing the part of an amiable civil servant.
Angleton was raging mad; he had been deceived. My Silent War, Angleton surmised, was the new iteration of Soviet strategic-deception policy. There would be retribution. Angleton was not a political partisan, but he knew how power was wielded or squandered. In late March of 1968, he knew we would have a new president come November, and for him it mattered who it was.
Angleton believed, like Machiavelli had believed, that conspiracies were a key to understanding power. "Many more princes are seen to have lost their lives through plots than by open war," Machiavelli wrote. "For being able to make open war on a prince is granted to a few; to be able to conspire against them is granted to everyone."
Angleton acted as a Svengali to an entire generation of American CIA intelligence officers and intellectuals. Svengali was the fictional hero of a nineteenth-century French novel. He was a show-business impresario who hypnotized a young girl into becoming an international singing sensation and then led her to her ultimate demise. Angleton was a seductive conductor of ideas and covert action, a "master of the world," he said of himself privately to Philby. His theories manipulated experts, editors, spies, journalists, novelists, and diplomats to follow him, many times to their own regret.
He played Iago to four U.S. presidents, and like the villainous advisor to Shakespeare's Othello, Angleton was a sympathetic counselor with his own agenda, which verged on, if was not outright, sinister. He suspected conspiracies everywhere, and he knew you couldn't have a web without a spider.
When Saint Thomas Beckett, 1118-1170, was proving to be an annoyance, the King said, "Who will rid me of this man?" He didn't say to someone, go out and murder him, he said, who will rid me of this man, and let it go as that. Saint Thomas Beckett's threat was not against the King, it was against the way the King wanted to run the government. With no explicit orders, like a whisper in the wind, and with no more authority than that, four of King Henry's knights found and killed this man, Saint Thomas Beckett, inside of his church. That simple statement, "who will rid me of this man," was no more than a wish floating in the air, proved to be all the orders needed.
Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated in April and June of 1968, less than four and a half years after JFK was disposed of in November of 1963. A few months later, Mayor Daley's police busted the heads of anti-war protestors at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The '60s and '70s were a high time in our youthful zeal to transform the world. Few of us realized that we were acting out a much older apocalyptic tradition. Had we understood this, we may have been better prepared for the political challenges that were in our future. The rise of Reagan and the intellectual fraud of supply-side economics, the collapse of communism, and the new wars on the horizon.
It was a newspaper article that finally ended the career of James Jesus Angleton. The article came as a huge shock for Americans who thought they lived in a constitutional republic. It was Seymour Hersh's article in the New York Times that described "a massive illegal domestic intelligence operation during the Nixon administration," named operation CHAOS, that maintained files on at least ten thousand American associated with the popular movements against the war in Vietnam. The article linked the CIA and Angleton as the direct operators of the illegal activities. With his leading role in domestic counterintelligence operations, Angleton made sure that CHAOS was exempted from annual financial audits of Counterintelligence Staff operations.
On Christmas Eve, 1974, millions of Americans heard the name of James Jesus Angleton for the first time. All three TV networks reported on the Times story, along with the categorical denials of former CIA director Richard Helms. All the networks played footage of Angleton emerging unsteadily from the front door of his house. The following Monday morning, Angleton resigned as the chief of Counterintelligence of the CIA.
Angleton's live nightmare grew more intense on February 28, 1975, when Daniel Schorr spoke of a revelation on CBS evening news, that the CIA faced investigation for the assassination of foreign leaders. Angleton knew more than a little about the subject of assassinations.
On March 6, 1975, Geraldo Rivera, host of ABC's Good Night America, aired the footage for the first time of Abraham Zapruder's home movie of the JFK assassination. It showed millions of Americans, for the first time, what had really happened in Dallas on November 22. The fatal shot showed that the blasted head of the president had moved back and to the left, contrary to the Warren Commission report, that claimed the bullet was fired from behind.
The Justice Department's decision in January of 1977 not to indict Angleton set a precedent and sent a message that the secret-intelligence arm of the government could reserve the right to review without warrant or stated cause, the private communication of Americans in the name of 'national security." With the fall of Nixon and the exposure of the full details of CHAOS and other illegal operations, Angleton's position of head of Counterintelligence became controversial and unpopular.
Yet, with the passage of time, Angleton's thinking would prevail. After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the clandestine powers regained their upper hand. With Dick Cheney, now serving as the powerful vice-president and legislative author, Congress passed the Patriotic Act, allowing the government to conduct mass surveillance of Americans' private communications, now focusing on phone calls and emails. This happened because of the 1977 decision not to indict Angleton. Angleton was the founding father of U.S. mass surveillance and assassination policies. Dick Cheney picked up where James Angleton had left off.
In nature, the season that is about to arrive is always the farthest removed from memory. We must constantly remember the horrid open wounds of history. The horrors, the cases of the JFK assassination and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, must be re-opened, for they will forever fester, never forgotten, until the truth prevails.
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