“Spies and traitors” magazine: American eagle, Soviet mole
The two most fascinating and controversial intelligence professionals of the Cold War were Kim Philby (1912-1988), a British MI6 officer who passed secrets to the Soviets, and James Jesus Angleton (1917-1987), the chief CIA counterintelligence. from 1954 to 1974. In “Spies and Traitors”, Michael Holzman, author of previous biographies of Angleton and British double agents Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, asserts that the close friendship of “Jim and Kim”, “the anti-Communist Cold Warrior and Traitorous Communist Spy, ”was of worldwide historical significance and shaped not only their respective spy agencies, but the Cold War itself.
Son of a famous Arabist, Kim Philby radicalized at Cambridge University, worked underground in Vienna and married an Austrian agent in 1934 before being recruited by the Soviet secret service. In 1940 he joined MI6 – how did the superiors never hear of his Communist wife? – and in 1944 he headed the agency’s section devoted to counterintelligence against Soviet espionage. Philby was posted to Washington in 1949 as a British liaison with US intelligence, an apparent prelude to future promotion to chief of MI6, but was recalled and forced to retire in 1951 after his friends Burgess and Maclean defected to the Soviet Union. Officially authorized by Foreign Minister Harold Macmillan in 1955, he reinvented himself as a Beirut-based journalist. Philby fled to the USSR in 1963, where he taught Russian agents preparing for missions in the West and wrote an autobiography, “My Silent War” (1968), intended to destabilize his former colleagues.
James Angleton was a stark contrast to the friendly and charming Philby. The son of a self-taught businessman who owned a national cash register franchise in Italy, he was much more fascinated by poetry than by politics. As an undergraduate student at Yale, he founded a small and highly regarded magazine which published articles like Ezra Pound, ee cummings and Wallace Stevens. After an unhappy year at Harvard Law School, he joined the Office of Wartime Strategic Services, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency, in 1943. After an apprenticeship in Britain, Angleton built an effective spy organization in Italy. before joining the CIA in 1947 and becoming head of counterintelligence in 1954. His obsessive search for a Soviet mole in the late 1950s and early 1960s destroyed careers and even led some officers in the CIA to wonder if he himself was a Soviet asset. An austere and funereal presence who cultivated orchids and loved fly fishing, he was fired by CIA Director William Colby in 1974 for his involvement in an embarrassing mail-watch operation that targeted American citizens.
Spies and traitors: Kim Philby, James Angleton and the friendship and betrayal that would shape MI6, the CIA and the Cold War
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Angleton met Philby in 1944, when he, a novice OSS officer in London, took espionage lessons from the somewhat older Secret Service professional. The two deepened their knowledge in 1949-51, when Philby was stationed by MI6 in Washington and Angleton in a senior position in the CIA. They shared regular, boozy lunches at a Tony DC restaurant, lived next to each other, and exchanged talks about American and British efforts to destabilize Communist governments in Eastern Europe and Europe. ‘Ukraine. Mr. Holzman tells us – but, alas, cannot spectacle us – that the two “had a lot in common” and “a lot of secrets to share”: no notes of their meetings, whether personal or professional, are known.
Philby turned over to the Soviets everything of value he had obtained from his work and contacts, ensuring the failure of a number of covert operations, most of which were unlikely to succeed even without his betrayal. Mr Holzman says remarkably little about how Angleton reacted to the news that Burgess and Maclean had defected to the USSR, an event which immediately cast doubt on their friend Philby. Angleton at first found it impossible to believe that Philby, of all people, had been a Soviet agent. As recently as 1952, he told another CIA officer that he still believed Philby would be cleared and end up as head of MI6. By then, the British Secret Service had concluded that he had been a destructive mole in Moscow’s service.
According to Mr. Holzman, the shock of realizing he had been duped shaped Angleton’s future actions and devastated the CIA. Counterespionage agents have a professional duty to doubt the good faith of their comrades; learning that a man he admired and trusted had successfully infiltrated the British Secret Service convinced Angleton that what the KGB had done to his former ally could also be done to the CIA. His search for an American Philby was spurred on by a Soviet defector, who persuaded Angleton that such a mole was already in place and provided vague clues to his identity, leading to a ten-year obsession and the ruin of the careers of CIA officers whose backgrounds match one or more of the clues.
A bizarre aspect of the fundamentally impartial “spies and traitors” is Mr. Holzman’s sometimes admiration for Philby. He notes that “with all its virtues,” Philby had apparently “chosen the wrong side”, while Angleton, “for all its faults, had been the good, the ultimately triumphant side.” Philby’s exact virtues, aside from the charisma and hatred of German fascism, are unclear. He served a vicious and bloody regime, lied to his friends, handed over the secrets of his country to an enemy, and by reporting on numerous anti-communist guerrillas sent them to certain death. Angleton may have made tragic mistakes in trying to prevent Soviet infiltration of US intelligence, but his main flaw was trusting Philby.
To compound the perversity of this assessment, Mr. Holzman, who was born in South Dakota and writes from an American perspective, adds that it is now less certain that the Communists really lost the Cold War or that America did. won. “Capitalism”, he asserts, “is on the verge of collapse and, in its recovery, it seems less and less closely linked to democracy”. And, for starters, the Communists now control “practically the whole of the East Asian continent”. What this judgment has to do with Kim Philby or James Angleton is, to put it charitably, obscure. But it is thus, in spite of all the efforts of Mr. Holzman, that the contours of the friendship between the two men take shape.
Mr. Klehr is Emeritus Professor of Politics and History at Emory University.
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