Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

James Jesus Angleton: CIA Spy Hunter

"I've Made So Many Mistakes"

In assessing Angleton's performance as chief of the Counterintelligence Staff, the CIA officially found fault with his leadership and was critical of many of his decisions. His unshakable belief in the gospel according to Golitsyn spoiled many opportunities and kept the Soviet Division from making significant espionage inroads during the latter part of his tenure.

One glaring example is the Soviet defector codenamed MORINE (also known as NICK NACK to the FBI). MORINE was a high-level GRU agent who was so disillusioned with his own country's embrace of Communism that he wanted to help the United States. The information he provided proved to be solid gold, but at the time Angleton rejected it, believing that MORINE was just another Soviet provocation. Angleton's superiors never learned of MORINE until George Kalaris's staff found the defector's file in one of Angleton's locked vaults.

In the final analysis, no one doubted Angleton's loyalty to the United States or his patriotism. It was his paranoia, born of the betrayal by Kim Philby and nurtured by Golitsyn, that was the problem. It tainted the entire CIA and influenced government policy regarding the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War.

Forced to retire at age 58, Angleton had been thrown out of the only place he called home. He tried to fill his time with his lifelong hobbies—fly fishing, cultivating orchids, leatherwork, and jewelry making—but these activities were a poor substitute for his true passion, spy craft.

He and his wife Cecily had separated, but he called her at their second home in Tucson and begged her to come back. When she returned, she found a physical wreck. Angleton was without question an alcoholic. According to author Tom Mangold, for decades Angleton had consumed two to four double martinis at lunch and two bottles of wine or whiskey at dinner. He had also been a chain smoker and an insomniac since his school days.

Angleton was indeed a complex man. He had spent long hours day after day poring over top-secret files, but still found time to devour Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries, featuring a private eye who solves crimes without ever leaving his house, much like Angleton himself who influenced spy operations worldwide and seldom left his office. And at a time when his generation condemned rock'n'roll for being crass, immoral, and even anti-American, Angleton loved it, particularly the music of Elvis Presley.

James Jesus Angleton
James Jesus Angleton

At the age of 69, James Jesus Angleton died after a long battle with lung cancer. According to his wife, one of the last coherent things he said was, "I've made so many mistakes."

The movie, "The Good Shepherd," is a fictional story where Angleton is the prototype of the main character, Edward Wilson, played by Matt Damon.

Matt Damon as Edward Wilson
Matt Damon as Edward Wilson

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