From the Angleton conference

Edward Jay Epstein is the author of notable books including several that are derived in one way or another from his relationship with the late, legendary CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton (fired in 1975), as well as a forthcoming book on l’affaire DSK to be published later this month by Melville House. Ed has filed this report on last week’s Wilson Center Angleton conference:

Last Thursday (March 29), I spoke at a conference on Moles, Defectors, and Deceptions: James Angleton and His Influence on US Counterintelligence. The conference was was organized by the Woodrow Wilson Center and Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies.

I was invited because of my book James Jesus Angleton: Was He Right?. And I believed it would be interesting to have a retrospective discussion of James Angleton and his continuing influence on American counterintelligence.

Alas, with one notable exception, the other speakers, seemed determined to repeat all the canards about Angleton’s pursuit of moles and deception. The exception was the lead speaker, Tennent Bagley, who was deputy head of the Soviet Bloc division of the CIA in Angleton’s era. He made the case that “The Fictional image of Angleton –- and it is fictional -– has done more to damage counterintelligence than any failure or misstep of the real Angleton in the real world.”

In pointing out that “mole hunts are an indispensable part of counterintelligence,” he revealed that after in the 1980s, after Angleton had been fired, the CIA got a “shocking wake up call when the KGB arrested “all CIA sources inside the Soviet intelligence services.”

In my talk, I argued that the CIA is still vulnerable to deception because it continues to ignore Angleton’s precept that intelligence is most vulnerable to deception when it believes it is invulnerable. The other panelists, including those from the CIA, continued to insist that strategic deception, if it exists at all, is not a problem.

After the conference, Bagley wrote me that the mindless repetition of labels such as “paranoia” to dismiss Angleton struck him as little more than “the baying of a pack of hounds after a false lure, not the real fox.” That may be an accurate description of an intelligence service that rejects the concept of deception.