Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

James Jesus Angleton: CIA Spy Hunter

"As Phony As a $3 Bill"

The CIA's inability to break Nosenko created a problem for Angleton and the Fundamentalists, who held firmly to their belief that the man was a fraud despite all evidence to the contrary. Angleton said that Nosenko's superhuman stamina only proved his point that the KGB was insidious and extraordinarily skilled in the art of espionage. Angleton now feared that there could be moles anywhere, and he vetoed many operational initiatives, particularly those by the Soviet Division. Angleton felt that no one could be trusted, and as a result, Soviet Division programs nearly ground to a halt. The Counterintelligence Staff and the Soviet Division were frequently at odds. It came down to one central question: Whose worldview was the CIA going to accept? Angleton's and Golitsyn's? Or Nosenko's?

Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms
Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms
To settle the issue, Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms  appointed an officer acceptable to both sides to take over the Nosenko investigation, Bruce Solie. In reviewing the details of Nosenko's incarceration, Solie discovered that not only had Nosenko been severely mistreated, the transcripts of his interrogations contained faulty interpretations of his broken English, and the official reports on Nosenko prepared by Angleton with Golitsyn's help often misinterpreted Nosenko's responses.

Solie took custody of Nosenko and had him transferred first to a more comfortable safe house and then to a farmhouse not far from Washington. He interviewed Nosenko intensively but not cruelly, five hours a day, six days a week. Solie learned that in Nosenko's previous interrogations, the defector had revealed the identities of six verified moles in Europe, but Angleton had suppressed that information. When called on it, Angleton passed off these moles as "throwaways," minor players sacrificed by the KGB to deceive the CIA into thinking Nosenko was genuine. Angleton requested that Solie be taken off the Nosenko case, but Director Helms refused, and Solie continued his investigation.

Nosenko agreed to take a third polygraph test, and this time proper procedures were followed. Nosenko was not harassed or threatened before or during the test, and the results showed that he was telling the truth. But Angleton refused to accept these results, holding to his position that Nosenko was a fake sent to discredit Golitsyn. Helms called a meeting to review Solie's report on Nosenko, hoping to put the matter to rest once and for all, but Angleton did not attend. Instead, he sent one of his deputies, who voiced Angleton's and the Fundamentalists' position that Nosenko was "as phony as a $3 bill." Seeing that the CI chief wasn't going to back down, Helms declined to formally sign off on Solie's conclusions, which let Angleton save face.

The CIA allowed the FBI to interview Nosenko for the first time in 1968. With the information he supplied, they were able to apprehend nine Soviet spies operating in the United States.

On March 1, 1969, Nosenko was finally set free. He had been held captive a total of 1,277 days. During that time, he had lost 40 pounds and most of his teeth. The CIA gave him a new identity and hired him as a consultant at an annual salary of $16,500, a fraction of what they were paying Golitsyn. Nosenko rented a small apartment in Maryland and bought himself an American car with the help of CIA loan. Despite all that indignities he had suffered, he was not bitter, and reportedly he was just happy to be free man in America.

He asked just one thing of the CIA: the return of his prized Swiss watch, which had been taken away from him during his four-year ordeal. He was told that it had regrettably been lost, and was offered $500 in compensation. But according to author Tom Mangold, years later Nosenko happened to see the doctor who had given him the sadistic rectal exam and noticed that the man was wearing his watch. Nosenko said nothing and never complained about it.

James Jesus Angleton
James Jesus Angleton

In 1975, out of curiosity, Nosenko looked up Angleton's home phone number and called him, hoping to get some closure on the matter of his detention. The conversation was brief, and Angleton said he had nothing to do with Nosenko's treatment, but he stated point-blank that he still believed Nosenko was a fraud.

The CIA did not give Nosenko full recognition for his help until after Angleton retired.

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