THE GHOST: THE SECRET LIFE OF CIA SPYMASTER JAMES JESUS ANGLETON
By Jefferson Morley
St. Martin’s Press, $27.95, 336 pages
As a holiday gift, permit me to save you 28 bucks and however much time you might waste on the sorriest excuse for an investigative book that has ever crossed this desk.
Jefferson Morley sets out to prove that James J. Angleton, the longtime — and controversial — head of counterintelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency — was guilty of a medley of sins, including complicity in the murder of President Kennedy.
His “research” consists chiefly of sweeping up every bit of anti-Angleton dung he could in previous books. The more damning the allegation — and the more ridiculous — the better.
One must blink at some of Mr. Morley’s outlandish claims. An example: that Angleton had a homosexual relationship with Kim Philby, the British intelligence officer who also spied for the Soviet Union.
To be sure, the two men knew one another: Angleton was Philby’s liaison for CIA when the latter was assigned to Washington. They had many a chat over a bottle and lunch.
Mr. Morley’s evidence? A comment made by another officer to another author of another book. No substance is visible, just a suspicion. No matter; such is enough for the likes of a “historian” such as Mr. Morley.
To be sure, Philby’s treachery damaged Angleton. He spent his last years searching for “moles” in the CIA, an ill-guided effort that smeared many innocent people. He eventually was fired.
But Mr. Morley has little favorable to say about a career that began in the OSS and had a number of high spots. Brief mention is made of his acquisition of the famed “Stalin speech” in which successor Nikita Khrushchev shook communism to its core.
Why such a book? Mr. Morley is prominent in a claque of deniers who have spent decades trying to prove that someone other than Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy.
Their campaign even reaches the White House. Donald Trump’s intimate friend Roger Stone published a book in 2014 blaming Lyndon Johnson for the murder.
But the main target has been — and will be for eternity, it appears — the Central Intelligence Agency.
For the media, CIA is an easy target. Journalists love writing about “CIA murder plots” against foreign leaders, ignoring the fact that orders came from the White House.
Too, a deceased target can do nothing to rebut outlandish lies. For that matter, even living officers have trouble gaining redress from courts that hold them to be “public figures.”
Enter the deniers and their politics. A strong element among the deniers, like Mr. Morley, are on the far-left of the political spectrum. Hence, they are incapable of fingering a leftist for the most outrageous crime in American history.
Thus their need for a scapegoat, and the utility of Angleton. As Mr. Morley writes, carefully casting his accusation in the form of a question, “Was Angleton running Oswald as part of a plot to assassinate President Kennedy? He certainly had the knowledge and ability to do so.”
Mr. Morley posits that Oswald came to Angleton’s attention because of his journey to the Soviet Union soon after his discharge from the Marine Corps.
Oswald was one of thousands of persons covered by a CIA operation called HTTL/LINGUAL, a mail intercept operation of letters going between the USSR and the U.S. that began in 1952. As CIA counterintelligence chief, Angleton would know what was discovered.
Ergo, since the agency had a file on Oswald, as it did on uncountable other persons, Angleton perhaps knew — or should have known — of his assassination plans.
Here the key element of Mr. Morley’s indictment — such as it is — was a visit that Oswald paid to the Cuban consulate in Mexico City a few days before Kennedy was killed.
Oswald’s visit was recorded in a video that was either made by the CIA station or passed on to it by cooperative Mexican security. (That the CIA would monitor visitors to a Soviet installation on the U.S. border makes considerable sense.)
In any event, the CIA came up with Oswald’s name, and neither Angleton nor his counterintelligence staff did anything. (One explanation is that no adverse information on Oswald was discovered.)
No matter. Mr. Morley does concede that “whether Angleton manipulated Oswald as part of an assassination plot is unknown.”
Then the zinger: “He certainly abetted those who did. Whoever killed Kennedy, Angleton protected them. He masterminded the JFK conspiracy cover-up.”
Disclosure: Angleton was a flawed man his last years. We were Arlington neighbors and lunched together several times.
Jim would knock back two or three whiskeys, then most of a bottle of red wine and a brandy or two. And he would expound his favorite conspiracy theory: that the Soviet/Chinese Communist “split” was a subterfuge to deceive the West.
Zany? Perhaps, but a man who devoted his life to protecting America does not reserve such an error-laden hatchet job.
• Joseph Goulden writes frequently on intelligence and military matters.