Sunday, January 5, 2014

Book Commentary: The Man Who Kept the Secrets

This book, by a former CIA officer, is a mostly accurate and positive history of CIA during the assignments of Richard Helms between the founding of CIA in 1947 and Helms' reassignment from the DCI position to ambassador to Iran in 1973.

The first issue raised as controversial in his career is the defection in February 1964 and bona fides evaluation of KGB officer Yuriy Nosenko. It is described here as a continuing dispute in CIA. Whatever some former officers may believe, CIA properly approved the bona fides of Nosenko in 1969, in a meeting chaired by Helms.

It is stated here that Nosenko claimed to have handled Oswald's case when he defected to the USSR in 1959—not so, Nosenko claimed to have recovered Oswald's file from Minsk after President Kennedy was killed in 1963. In 1964, Helms told the Warren Commission not to trust Nosenko’s bona fides, an evaluation he received from CI Staff chief James Angleton, thus discounting Nosenko's evidence of lack of KGB/Soviet involvement in the assassination.

As for the statement here that no one knew of Angleton’s "deeper operations"- no doubt there are some missing details about those operations, as in the case of the total lack of the numerous memoranda for the record of Angleton’s countless meetings with Kim Philby, but Angleton's operational and evaluative actions are generally known, and the DD/P’s Richard Bissell and Desmond FitzGerald were entirely justified to want to dispose of him, but failed, before DCI William Colby finally took that action.

The statement that there was little doubt about Philby's bona fides in CIA is quite untrue. After he was declared persona non grata by CIA in 1951, he continued to have the confidence of Angleton until he defected to the USSR from Beirut in January 1963.

The comment here that CIA has never been penetrated was untrue when it was made—Larry Wu Tai Chin having been working for China in CIA from 1951 to 1985, Czech/KGB agent Karl Koecher 1972-1978, but none of that was known in 1979. In view of those two cases, the comment that Angleton had kept the KGB out of GA for 20 years makes no sense, but that was not Angleton's job at all. He did made several attempts to do that, all of them totally unjustified and eventually disproven, resulting. Among other things, in congressional compensation to three staff officers falsely accused by him.

The description here of a supposed significant lead from Anatoliy Golitsyn is entirely inaccurate. First of all, there was no contact with Golitsyn before he defected in December 1961. Soon after his defection, he was asked by DCI Allen Dulles if CIA was penetrated by the KGB. Golitsyn said it was not, but later raised a case which he said was a penetration, supposedly a high- level CIA officer who had served in Germany. After a good deal of investigation, and interviewing of Golitsyn, it turned out that it had been a low- level contract support officer who had been fired some months before Golitsyn defected. He is given credit for having identified KGB assets in several European countries—entirely untrue, as the closest he came to actually identifying one, in the UK, was by providing misleading information about him until Yuriy Nosenko defected in February 1964 and provided details leading directly to the British Admiralty penetration. If any (unjustified) charge was to be made that Angleton was responsible for keeping the KGB out , Kim Philby was the obvious evidence that he had utterly failed.

The removal of Angleton by DCI Colby is described as a feud having a lot to do with Colby's dislike of Angleton, but at least there is reference to Colby’s believing (correctly) that Angleton's (Golitsyn's) suspicions were close to paranoia. It is alleged that nobody could know what Angleton suspected, but that is directly contradicted by the false charges he made against numerous CIA officers, and officers of foreign intelligence services which surfaced in the CI Staff and were corrected after his departure.

In the commentary on the Nosenko case, Angleton is described as uncertain of his bona fides—in fact, he is entirely responsible for the false CIA decision that Nosenko had been dispatched by the KGB. After Nosenko was released from solitary confinement and his bona fides was certified in a 1969 meeting of senior CIA officers, chaired by DCI Helms, Angleton, Helms, and the Soviet Bloc Division continued to doubt his bona fides (Tennent Bagley, "Spy Wars").

The Man Who Kept the Secrets, Thomas Powers, 1979

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