Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

James Jesus Angleton: CIA Spy Hunter


Nosenko was a large man with large appetites who drank and smoked heavily. When he first approached the CIA in 1962, he said he did not want to defect physically to the West, preferring to be what the CIA called a "defector-in-place," working from his home country. In his first interviews with his CIA handlers, Nosenko, who was given the code-name AEFOXTROT, provided information that led to the arrests and convictions of three KGB spies: a closeted homosexual officer in the British Admiralty whom the KGB had blackmailed; an American Army sergeant working in Europe; and a Soviet double agent. AEFOXTROT was proving his worth.

Transcripts of the Nosenko interviews were routinely sent to the Counterintelligence Staff at Langley for review. Always suspicious of defectors, Angleton dug deep into his vaults and found nothing that proved the existence of a Yuri Nosenko. The CI chief consulted with Golitsyn, who studied the transcripts and came to the conclusion that Nosenko was a fake sent by the KGB to disseminate disinformation.

In the meantime, Nosenko changed his mind about being a defector-in-place and decided he wanted to live in the United States. He had his supporters within the CIA, and so he was brought into the country in early 1964, just two months after the Kennedy assassination. Tensions were high in Washington, with the country demanding to know who was behind the murder of the President. The Warren Commission was already sifting through the evidence, trying to get to the bottom of it, and many in Washington, including FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, wanted Nosenko to testify before the commission regarding Oswald's time in the Soviet Union and the KGB's assessment of him. But Angleton and the Counterintelligence Staff had their knives out for Nosenko before he even arrived in America, and they spread the word that he was not credible, which prevented him from testifying. Even the all-powerful Hoover couldn't get his way this time.

For Angleton, the stakes were too high to give even an inch. Nosenko had presented a picture of the Soviet Union that was far less nefarious than Golitsyn's. Nosenko said that there was no Monster Plot. If he was taken seriously, Angleton's work would be undermined.

Angleton managed to sway the agency's opinion of Nosenko, convincing them that the defector was in fact a threat to national security. As a result, in March 1964, Nosenko was illegally imprisoned and tortured in an attempt to get the "truth" out of him.

He was taken to a safe house in suburban Washington, where he was kept in an attic room and interrogated from morning until night. He was strip-searched and verbally abused by his guards. His interrogators forced him to take a polygraph test under duress, threatening him the whole time. They lied to him, saying that they had a machine that could monitor his brain waves to reveal when he wasn't telling the truth. Under these stressful conditions, Nosenko failed the polygraph.