Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book Commentary: Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA

In 1968, when Colby was appointed chief of the Soviet and East European Division, he points out that his responsibility was to collect intelligence on the countries "behind the Iron Curtain", while James Angleton's CI Staff was carrying on an "unrelenting campaign" to frustrate the KGB operations against the United States. It is stated here that Angleton worked closely with the FBI. Not so. He had denied the FBI information from KGB defector Yuriy Nosenko from 1964 on, and tried unsuccessfully to get the FBI to accept the paranoid reporting and analysis by KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn.

Colby found the SE Division and the CI Staff to be in almost total conflict. The CI Staff considered all of CIA's Soviet assets and defectors (except Golitsyn) to be under KGB control , suspected several CIA staff officers of working for the KGB, and doubted the existence of a Sino-Soviet split.

While Colby was being briefed on this new job, before taking over the SE Division, he received a message from Helms that the president wanted him to return to Vietnam. And he did.

As Executive Director to DCI Schlesinger when he took over in 1973, Colby tried to get Schlesinger to remove Angleton, along with the other senior CIA officials Schlesinger was replacing. He refused to that, but allowed Colby to shut down the Operation CHAOS mail-intercept program, transfer the Israel-CIA relationship to the Near East Division, and terminate the CI Staff responsibility for liaison with the FBI. A possible reason for Schlesinger’s being unwilling to remove Angleton is said to be his "undoubted brilliance”.

The term "brilliance" has appeared in descriptions of him in other books, with no examples given, but the history of his performance as chief of the CI Staff reveals no examples of decisions or actions which support that description. Quite the opposite, every important judgment and operational decision he made of CIA's Soviet assets, defectors, and suspected foreign intelligence and government officials was wrong. As the officer assigned to review the entirety of his operational decisions and evaluations after his departure, I identified no brilliance—quite the opposite—only serious mistakes affecting the national security of the US and allied countries negatively in several respects. When a later biography of him stated that practically every course he took at Yale ended up with the grades "D" or "F", the reference to "brilliance" seemed even more contradictory.

Colby's conclusion after becoming DCI, and finding Angleton’s "brilliant" analysis impossible to follow, with his evidence not adding up to his conclusions, he "looked in vain for some tangible results" of the CI Staff and "could not figure out at all what the Staff was doing. The devastating damage of the Staff decisions and analysis to operations against the USSR, to national security, was real and increasing. When Colby confronted Angleton with his decision to alter the counterintelligence responsibility, remove Israel from the Staff and transfer Angleton to other work, Angleton refused to accept those changes, but was removed from the CI Staff by Colby after a news article exposing many of domestic affairs"—Angleton's essentially illegal activities, was published a day or two later.

Angleton’s tenure of the CI Staff for over 20 years , with unjustified responsibility for CIA relations with Israel and liaison with the FBI, and some operational activities which should have come under the jurisdiction of other CIA elements, is explained in large part as having been authorized by his former OSS colleagues, Helms and Dulles. After that, his personality played a large part. Having been a poet, later a fly fisherman and orchid grower, and alcoholic to the point of requiring time off for treatment, his sensitivity to the paranoid influence of Golitsyn is not too surprising.

Angleton was imaginative, a gifted speaker, insightful, and friendly. When he encountered questions or comments in an operational or analytical discussion which countered his own position, he would often say that there was information about the matter which he could not expose to his interlocutor or audience, as is stated here. Like several of his OSS colleagues, he had little or no experience with clandestine operations, so his evaluation of operational developments, asset behavior, defectors, and case officer handling and assessment of assets generally was dependent on factors which originated in his personality rather than in actual counterintelligence aspects which were gradually gaining in confidence and comprehension as CIA involvement in clandestine operations and liaison relationships advanced over time.

Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA, William Colby and Peter Forbath, 1978

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