Reading the Wall Street Journal’s Review section over the weekend, I came across Edward Jay Epstein’s fascinating review of two new books on the post-9/11 anthrax attacks. It is a lucid and illuminating review that displays some of Epstein’s many virtues as a writer and analyst. I learned from the tag appended to the article that Epstein’s latest book is James Jesus Angleton: Was He Right?
How could I not have heard of this book? Epstein is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Angleton, the legendary CIA chief of counterintelligence during the first twenty-plus years of the Cold War. (The photo accompanying this post on the home page is of Angleton.) Epstein has explored Angleton’s thoughts in works including Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald and Deception: The Invisible War Between the KGB and the CIA. The CIA’s look back at Angleton both evidences the residual institutional hostility to Angleton and summarizes Epstein’s contribution to the study of Angleton.
Via his Web site, I wrote Epstein yesterday to ask him about his new book on Angleton. He graciously responded:
It’s all part of an ebook experiment….I met the legendary Angleton in the mid-1970’s while working on my Oswald book (and was allowed to interview Nosenko). Angleton took me on an extraordinary grand tour of his universe of deception, populated with orchids, moles, disinformation, and the key to successful deceit, self-denial. Angleton was not popular with case officers in the CIA, and “leaks” from them led to the media depicting Angleton as a paranoid questing after non-existent moles in the CIA.
To be sure, there were many missing pieces in the puzzle. These pieces came to light after his death in 1987. The most amazing one is a 1992 CIA Inspector General report stating that the KGB was passing the CIA disinformation through a half dozen agents.
Now the astounding part. According to the IG report, even after the CIA discovered these agents were KGB-controlled, it continued to pass their information to the President in its top secret blue-bordered briefings. The other missing pieces were moles by the name of Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen.
So with these pieces of the jigsaw, I revisited the question in my ebook: Was Angleton right?
Angleton is an endlessly interesting subject and the new book is, in my view, must reading.
In a separate message, Epstein itemized the other ebooks that are part of his current “experiment.” Here they are, with Epstein’s notes on them:
Killing Castro: “This book describes how the plot to assassinate Castro likely caused the assassination of JFK. It includes a CIA report so secret in 1967 that all the copies and typing ribbons were destroyed.”
Myths of the Media: “This is a collection of essays showing how the media invented myths such as the Black Panther genocide, the press role in Waterghate, Bin Laden’s lair, etc.”
Tabloid America: “This short book concerns the role of the media in celebrity crimes from the Lindbergh kidnapping to O.J. Simpson.”
The Rockefellers: “An investigation of the Rockefeller family.”