In his books Legend and Deception, Edward Jay Epstein expounded on the thesis of CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton that KGB defector Yuri Nosenko was a KGB plant to deflect attention from Lee Harvey Oswald’s KGB connections. In his Washington Post column this morning, David Ignatius discusses the new book by Tennent Bagley, the CIA case officer who initially handled Nosenko. Ignatius writes: “Many readers will conclude that Angleton was right all along — that Nosenko was a phony, sent by the KGB to deceive a gullible CIA.” Ignatius concludes:
Bagley’s book, “Spy Wars,” should reopen the Nosenko case. He has gathered strong evidence that the Russian defector could not have been who he initially said he was; that he could not have reviewed the Oswald file; that his claims about how the KGB discovered the identities of two CIA moles in Moscow could not have been right. According to Bagley, even Nosenko eventually admitted that some of what he had told the CIA was a lie.
What larger purpose did the deception serve? Bagley argues that the KGB’s real game was to steer the CIA away from realizing that the Russians had recruited one American code clerk in Moscow in 1949, and perhaps two others later on. The KGB may also have hoped to protect an early (and to this day undiscovered) mole inside the CIA.
Take a stroll with Bagley down paranoia lane and you are reminded just how good the Russians are at the three-dimensional chess game of intelligence. For a century, their spies have created entire networks of illusion — phony dissident movements, fake spy services — to condition the desired response. Reading Bagley’s book, I could not help thinking: What mind games are the Russians playing with us today?