The Barnes & Noble Review
For nearly 50 years, William F. Buckley Jr. has successfully pursued a number of concurrent careers: magazine editor, newspaper columnist,
television personality, staunch (and vociferous) conservative ideologue. In the midst of all this, Buckley has also found time for a secondary career as a popular, if lightweight, novelist whose books reflect an obsessive fascination with the issues and events of the recent Cold War. His 1999 novel, The Redhunter, is a sympathetic portrayal of the life and times of Senator Joe McCarthy. His long-running Blackford Oakes series (Who's on First, Stained Glass, Saving the Queen concerns a Yale-educated CIA agent whose adventures take him to one after another of the Cold War's hot spots: Soviet Russia, Castro's Cuba, East and West Berlin, etc. Buckley's most recent novel, Spytime, once again examines that turbulent era through a fictionalized portrait of legendary spymaster James Jesus Angleton, long time Chief of Counterintelligence for the CIA.
Angleton (1917-87) was, for many years, one of the principal figures of the American intelligence community. Buckley's account of his long career begins during the waning days of World War II, when Angleton -- a novice agent for the Office of Strategic Services -- plays an unexpected role in the capture -- and subsequent execution -- of Benito Mussolini. With admirable economy, Buckley then sketches in the high points of Angleton's post-war career, a career which carries him into the ruling inner circle of the Central Intelligence Agency, and which eventually culminates in dismissal and disgrace in the radically altered political climate of the mid-1970s.
Buckley portrays Angleton as a dogged, diehard anti-Communist driven by the belief that Soviet agents have infiltrated -- and compromised -- the major Allied intelligence services. Spytime explores the roots of Angleton's belief by re-creating an era in which duplicity did, in fact, proliferate, in which a series of scandals -- most of them concerned with the notorious Cambridge Spy Ring -- rocked the West. The first of these scandals erupted in
1951, when Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean -- Cambridge graduates who occupied sensitive positions within MI6, the Foreign branch of the British Secret Service -- were revealed as "moles": long-term, deep-penetration Russian agents. A number of other moles -- among them George Blake, Sir Anthony Blunt, and the charismatic traitor Kim Philby -- were subsequently uncovered. Much of Spytime concerns Angleton's attempts to discover whether Philby -- his longtime associate and sometime friend -- is a loyal English intelligence agent or a Communist spy.
The bulk of the action takes place in the early 1960s, a particularly eventful period in the history of the Cold War. Angleton's search for the truth about Philby is set against a backdrop of momentous historical events, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the building
of the Berlin Wall. Buckley populates his crowded narrative with a gallery of the era's iconic figures: Allen Dulles, John and Robert Kennedy, Robert McNamara, William Colby, McGeorge Bundy, and the Russian defector Anatoliy Golitsyn, a former KGB agent who helped shape Angleton's belief in the prevalence of treason in the British and American governments.
Spytime is a detailed, authoritative account of a fascinating time, but it is not a perfect novel. In fact, for all his intelligence and vaunted command of the language, Buckley doesn't strike me as a natural-born novelist. Whenever it descends from the political to the personal, whenever it addresses such unruly topics as love, sex, and human relationships, Spytime stumbles and grows irredeemably stilted. But whenever Buckley turns his
attention to his central subject -- the ideological underpinnings of the Cold War -- the novel relaxes and regains its footing. Spytime isn't for everyone, but it comes highly recommended to anyone with an interest in espionage, in contemporary history, and in the Realpolitik of an era that ended with the astonishing collapse of the Soviet Union, some 15 years ago. At its best, it re-creates the ambiance and anxieties of a world that has receded into history and brings that world to vivid, believable life. (Bill Sheehan)
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).
Read an Excerpt
My name is James Jesus Angleton, he wrote. And then spoke the lines out. "Yes, that's J-e-s-u-s. For most of my professional life I went out of my way to suppress my middle name." He would explain that: "One picks up quirky inhibitions, when young, inhibitions we have no reason to be proud of. One of mine was to hide my middle name." He sipped from his glass, fought briefly what had proved was a losing battlehis onetime resolution not to write a journal of any kind. He closed his eyes and summoned his determination to do what he thought his duty. To himself.
How is it I came by such a name, you might wonder?
I was given that name by my Mexican mother. She was seventeen when my father, Hugh, married her, in Nogales, Arizona. "Na--CI-- en la fronTERa / A-CAAA--d'este LA-do . . ." She used to sing that to me. Born-n-n over he-eeer, / On this si-i-i-de of the border. Sounds better in Spanish. For a long while they (Mum and Dad) spoke to each other mostly in Spanish (my father learned how to do that while fighting in Mexico under General Pershing, chasing after Pancho Villa). Pancho Villa. A popularized rogue, I pause to remark. My father, when I was very young, let me in on the true character of that wild-west hero, and I tucked it away. A piece of intelligence.
Tucked it away where? Tucked it away in my memory, which is copious. In Mexico the name Jesús is quite commonly given to a son, especially as a middle name. The spoken use of it isn't disruptive, unlike here, this side of a barroom. I'm not pretending I know a lot about barroom palaver, though I know something about what saloons stock. In the Latin-speaking world you might hear a formal old lady remark, "Jesús, María, José, cómo habla esa señora!" Commonplace, but you would not expect a well-mannered woman in America (outside of an asylum), to go about saying, "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, how that lady runs on!"
You will guess, with the launch of these few lines, that I have got about a bit in my life. That is so, I have. We lived briefly in Idaho and when I was still a boy, my father and mother moved the family (I had a younger brother and two sisters, also younger) to Milan where he practiced his trade. He was an executive of the National Cash Register Company.
Then I went to a British public school, about which there is also, as in Pancho Villa, a set of public attitudes, namely that such schools are all centers of vice and sadism. (I never had sex with one of my fellow students, nor was proffered sex, notwithstanding that I was an egregiously handsome boy and young man. I was beaten exactly twice. I should have been beaten six times. But, very young, I was acquiring those skills that have taken me to the top of the profession from which they now propose to disengage me. I learned something about guile, in my school, something about maneuvering around the rules. No skill is more important in the practice of counterintelligence.)
Then there was Yale. As a student I was undistinguished. I took comfort (though gave none to my father) by reminding myself from time to time that if academic eminence was what I wanted to achieve, I'd have taken the pains to achieve it. If you want to be the first boy in the class who knows when the Punic wars were fought, go ahead. And if I had had trouble penetrating The Cantos, I wouldn't have looked for a trot, I'd have asked Ez what it was he was being abstruse about; because I came to know Ezra Pound when, as an undergraduate, I pursued poetry in the special way I have pursued poetry ever since. I did go on to Harvard Law School, but going there was never disguised as other than filial docility. I never plumbed the motives of competent young men who labor with the law and spend whole lives arguing with one another in behalf, as often as not, of moneyed men and women they would not wish the company of at dinner. So when the war came I quit law school, eschewing the immunity I'd have had from the draft if I had stayed on in Cambridge. I then discovered that my eyesight was below the GI margin, but had no trouble devising a way of faking a test.
So I went to war. Something about my background had been uncovered by an unruly corporal at the processing center who took more than the usual ten seconds to examine the qualifications of incoming soldiers. He discovered that I was fluent in Italian and passed the word up. So I was marked for intelligence work and sent to London. There I did clerical work on the Brits' supersecret Ultra but only briefly. They needed agents in Italy.
My qualifications as a linguist were augmented by analytical skills I must have been born with. In the spring of 1945 it had become a practical necessity to establish, by the application of skills in detection and surmise, which of those Italian Fascists put into camps as the Allies approached victory were enthusiastic creatures of the grisly partnership of Hitler and Mussolini, who were simply doing as instructed to do by their superiors. My research resulted in not a few Italians executed, but resulted also in not a few Italians who, but for me, would have been shot, settling down, instead, for detention, until the war ended.
I made lively contacts in Italy, with the Resistance, of course, but also with the diaspora. These were Jews who had two goals in mind, the immediate goal of defeating Hitler and the Zionist goal of establishing a homeland. Except that practically everything I have done in my life is shrouded in secrecy it would be known internationally what I accomplished in the way of expediting the passage of Jewish exiles into Palestine well before the partition, what I have done for them in the two decades since then, in the way of channeling to Jerusalem information vital to the state's welfare and, indeed, its survival. I have to admit that my mood tonight takes me to the outer edge of propriety, where I pose willingly for the grateful orisons of history, hoping for some little measure of what is owing to me.
It is distasteful to dwell on it, but I cannot help from recording tonighten passantin my journal.
My journal! An exception: spies aren't supposed to keep journals. I am not, technically, a spy. I am a counterspy. Counterintelligence has been my business. There: I said it. It has been my business, because today I have concluded that what they intend to do is to fire me. That would be a most extraordinary feat of bravura, to fire me, James Jesus Angleton. The mind strains for a comparable act of national self-mutilation. I would not liken it to turning down Winston Churchill, as the British voters did in 1945, because Churchill was, of course, a chief of government. I wasI am, I suppose, until the door closes finally . . . the principal intelligence officer in the West. Will they actually remove the keys to my office? Ha! As though they could keep me from the office, if I set out to enter it.
(Angleton went back to the punctuation and reworded the phrase with an exclamation point.)
. . . if I set out to enter it! I do not conceal that anything Houdini was capable of, mutatis mutandis, I am capable of.
But I was describingto whom, ultimately? Perhaps only to myself. Describing my formal position. I am and have been for twenty years Chief of Counterintelligence for the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency. It is my responsibility to winnow the information that comes in from the one thousand sources we woo, generate, stimulate, reward, punish, encourage, for the purpose of recommending counteraction at the operating levels of government. Counteraction can involve everything from a surgical nuclear strike to escorting an alien to an airship and telling him never again to step foot on American soil.
Many journalistic observers have described what it is the CIA does, this side of recommending a nuclear strike yet a little brawnier than merely chauffeuring a spy or a courier to Dulles Airport. They will never catch up. The spy profession, including its language, is always on the move; changing; adapting. I leave it here, in thisso fardiscreet appearance as an autobiographer that nobodynobodyhas seen all the things that I have seen. And now that fool Colby, I suspect he's behind it all, actually proposes to close me out of my office! Close me out of my office and the recesses of my office. Recesses no other human being has examined. (It was only Anatoliy I gave access to my deeper files, and then only when I was with him, of course.) Anatoliy . . . Golitsyn. He wouldn't believe it possible, if Colby goes through with it.
James Angleton rested his pen on the broad red blotting board on his mahogany desk with the withered old Italian golden braid along the edges. He took the pen up again. His features seemed gaunt now, as he concentrated, allowing his hand to work along the lined paper pad as if transcribing what was passing through his mind. He refilled the liqueur glass.
He could go to the President.
I've never liked meetings with the President. Wherever the President is, he is conspicuous. There is no such thing as a furtive meeting with the President of the United States, at least not for an official in government.
An old friend once begged me to plead with President Kennedy that he agree to meet, however briefly, with Don Juan, Count of Barcelona, claimant to the throne of Spain, while Kennedy was on his illustrious visit to Paris in 1961. I had to explain it to himgrand dukes do not understand relatively simple things. I said to him that any meeting with the President while in Paris, with one thousand authorized cameras focused on him and ten clandestine cameras focused on him, ruled out any secret encounter with a rival contender to Spanish primacy. Prime Minister Franco would learn about it. If Franco's ambassador had requested the audience, in behalf of the Count of Barcelona, it would be granted; otherwise, the President would be thought to be conniving with the restoration movement behind Franco's back. . . .
No, I doubt I'll go to the President, even assuming Dr. Kissinger would permit me in the Oval Office. Though I would not want to think that at age fifty-six I am without the resources simply to materialize in the Oval Office, if I set my mind to it. But I suspect I have got gabby, chiacchierone. The result, no doubt, of that second B & B (whom am I deceiving by saying that? Moi.)that fourth
B & B. But I will do something about this crazy situation. Something éclatant.
He half smiled. Maybe I'll tell them I've figured out who the Fifth Man is.
Copyright (c) 2000 by William F. Buckley Jr. Reprinted by Permission, All Rights Reserved. Harcourt, Inc.