The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton

The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton

by Jefferson Morley


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"The best book ever written about the strangest CIA chief who ever lived." - Tim Weiner, National Book Award-winning author of Legacy of Ashes

A revelatory new biography of the sinister, powerful, and paranoid man at the heart of the CIA for more than three tumultuous decades.

CIA spymaster James Jesus Angleton was one of the most powerful unelected officials in the United States government in the mid-20th century, a ghost of American power. From World War II to the Cold War, Angleton operated beyond the view of the public, Congress, and even the president. He unwittingly shared intelligence secrets with Soviet spy Kim Philby, a member of the notorious Cambridge spy ring. He launched mass surveillance by opening the mail of hundreds of thousands of Americans. He abetted a scheme to aid Israel’s own nuclear efforts, disregarding U.S. security. He committed perjury and obstructed the JFK assassination investigation. He oversaw a massive spying operation on the antiwar and black nationalist movements and he initiated an obsessive search for communist moles that nearly destroyed the Agency.

In The Ghost, investigative reporter Jefferson Morley tells Angleton’s dramatic story, from his friendship with the poet Ezra Pound through the underground gay milieu of mid-century Washington to the Kennedy assassination to the Watergate scandal. From the agency’s MKULTRA mind-control experiments to the wars of the Mideast, Angleton wielded far more power than anyone knew. Yet during his seemingly lawless reign in the CIA, he also proved himself to be a formidable adversary to our nation’s enemies, acquiring a mythic stature within the CIA that continues to this day.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250167309
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/30/2018
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 244,400
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

JEFFERSON MORLEY is a journalist and editor who has worked in Washington journalism for over thirty years, fifteen of which were spent as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post. The author of Our Man in Mexico, a biography of the CIA’s Mexico City station chief Winston Scott, Morley has written about intelligence, military, and political subjects for Salon, The Atlantic, and The Intercept, among others. He is the editor of JFK Facts, a blog. He lives in Washington, DC.

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THE YOUNG AMERICAN PEERED through the viewfinder at the naked poet. James Angleton squeezed the shutter once and then again. Ezra Pound went right on talking, as if he didn't care. Jim, as Pound called him, had just come down from Milan. Upon arrival, the Yale man with black hair and high brown cheekbones had spotted the abode of the expatriate poet from the waterfront below. It took some ingenuity to locate the entrance to number 12 via Marsala in the narrow cobblestone street around back. He hiked up the darkened stairs to the fifth floor and emerged into the bright light of the terraced apartment, where Pound and his wife, Dorothy, welcomed him like an old friend.

In fact, that summer day in 1938 was the first time Jim Angleton and Ezra Pound had met. Pound was fifty-two years old, Angleton a rising college sophomore and expatriate resident of Italy. He knew of Pound through the crystalline poetry of his books Personae and the Cantos ("Songs" in English). He felt something of a personal connection, too. During his freshman year, he had come across a sketch of Pound in a campus magazine, above the caption "From Idaho to Rapallo." Jim had made that same intercontinental journey. Born in Boise, he had lived there and in Dayton, Ohio, until he was sixteen years old, when his family moved to Milan. In the poet's odyssey from Idaho to Italy, Angleton might have seen the arc of possibility in his own life.

Angleton was taller than his host. He had a Latin complexion and the lithe build of a soccer player. His English accent announced old- world courtesy and quiet good manners. His piercing dark eyes and the perpetual hint of a smile suggested an ironic approach to life.

The couple welcomed Angleton into their neat apartment. Pound, ever alert for potential patrons, knew of Jim's father, a parvenu who ran the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce in Milan. Hugh Angleton was one of the best-known Americans in northern Italy. He mixed easily among the businessmen and officials associated with the government of Benito Mussolini. For Pound, who admired Mussolini, this was recommendation enough. He also supposed that the young Angleton could derive from his teaching a necessary education in the complexities of debt, trade, and paper money. And eventually (the poet may well have calculated), Jim's father might be of some service.

For five days in August 1938, Angleton made himself at home with the Pounds. He had come in search of greatness and found it. He had read the dense poetry of The Fifth Decade of Cantos, published in 1937. He especially admired an early poem of Pound's, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, about the universal beauty of poetry. Angleton knew, too, of Pound's interest in economics, articulated in a series of publications with pedantic titles such as ABC of Economics, Social Credit, and Jefferson and/or Mussolini — the latter a frankly laudatory portrait of the Italian fascist leader. Poetry could not be insulated from revolution and money, Pound insisted. So Jim gave close attention to his political writings as well as to his poetry.

JAMES JESUS ANGLETON WAS born on December 9, 1917, the first of four children of James Hugh Angleton and his wife, Carmen Moreno Angleton. Hugh, as he was known, had grown up in central Illinois, working as a schoolteacher until he moved to Idaho, where he started out as a candy salesman. He was serving in the Idaho National Guard at a U.S. military post in Nogales, Arizona, when he met Carmen Moreno, born in Mexico but naturalized as a U.S. citizen. It was, according to one account, "a case of love at first sight." The bride was "one of the Spanish beauties of Nogales and exceedingly popular." They were married in December 1916 and returned to Boise, where their first child was born, a son. They named him James, and Carmen gave him a Spanish middle name, "Jesus," which later he would shun. The Angletons lived in a two-story, two-bedroom bungalow on Washington Avenue in Boise. Hugh took a job as a sales agent for the National Cash Register Company. Sociable and engaging, he was soon promoted.

In 1927, Hugh and Carmen Angleton moved their family to Dayton, Ohio, where Hugh became a vice president of National Cash Register. Jim attended Oakwood Junior High, a public school. In 1933, Hugh bought out NCR's Italian subsidiary and moved the family to Milan, where he opened his own company, selling cash registers and business machines. Suddenly, the candy salesman was a wealthy man.

In raising their children, Hugh and Carmen emphasized the importance of education and travel. They sent Jim to Malvern College, an exclusive redbrick boarding school in Worcestershire, England. It was there, he said years later, that he learned the importance of duty. His younger brother, Hugh, was sent to Harrow, an even more exclusive English prep school. Carmen, the elder daughter, went to a convent school in Milan and then a girls' school in Switzerland. Delores, the youngest, would also go to school in England. In the summers, the family reunited in Milan.

Angleton's upwardly mobile childhood was formative. By the time he arrived at Yale in September 1937, he had resided in three countries, attended public and private schools, spoke three languages, and had lived in circumstances both modest and luxurious. He was an outdoorsman with advanced tastes in poetry, an athlete with an original mind. He displayed a distinctive social style, and — perceptible under the surface — an ambition fueled by the rapid success of his father.

After his freshman year at Yale, he returned to Milan for the summer. He called up the American embassy, asking for the address of the expatriate writer Ezra Pound, and he didn't relent until he was given it. Then he wrote straightaway. Jim explained he was the photography editor of The Yale Literary Magazine, not mentioning that said journal did not actually publish photographs. Receiving no answer, Jim wrote another letter in longhand ten days later.

"I want only to get a few spirited ideas from you together with a photo...."

This plea extracted the desired invitation from the Pounds. And so Angleton drove down from Milan to Genoa and then traced the coastal road to Rapallo. In their summer idyll, the esoteric master and the voracious schoolboy talked and smoked.

Pound doted on the company of disciples, and Angleton was looking for wisdom. Angleton wanted to find coherence in the world, and Pound's mythic poetry offered a place where he could speak a higher language of art. Angleton felt free to wield his camera around the apartment. When they went out onto the apartment's rooftop terrace overlooking the Gulf of Tigullio one overcast day, Pound stood up and stared into the distance. Jim snapped another photo and later gave it to the poet. Pound thought it the best picture of himself that he had ever seen.

BY THE TIME ANGLETON got back to New Haven in September, his five days with the world-famous Ezra Pound had become, in the retelling, close to five weeks. In one gulp, Angleton had taken in the surface effects of a worldly education. Pound's reckless ambition, his will to cultural power, his elitism, his conspiratorial convictions, his self-taught craftsmanship, and his omnivorous powers of observation — all these would have influence on the maturing mind of James Angleton.

Angleton took a room at 312 Temple Street with his best friend from freshman year, another aspiring poet, Reed Whittemore. Reed had led a more prosaic childhood as a doctor's son in New Haven. Whittemore recommended T. S. Eliot's poem "Gerontion" to his roommate, and Angleton loved it. With its apparent insight into history and its obscure intimations of danger, Eliot's poem foreshadowed the life of adventure to which Angleton would aspire.

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions, Guides us by vanities. Think now She gives when our attention is distracted And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions That the giving famishes the craving ...

"He was quite British in his ways," Whittemore said of his friend. "He was a mixture of pixiness and earnestness, very much at home in Italian literature, especially Dante, as well as the fine points of handicapping horses."

Angleton's solitary style was already evident. A student of fly- fishing, he liked to borrow Whittemore's car and drive off to streams in northwestern Connecticut, where he would spend long hours casting for trout. Yet Whittemore said he never saw a single catch. Angleton spoke of visiting a female friend whom he knew from some other life, but Whittemore never saw her, either. With his English accent, Italian suits, and lofty manner, he was, in Whittemore's words, "a mystery man."

YALE COLLEGE OCCUPIED a high position in American intellectual life. Not as patrician as Harvard, nor as provincial as Princeton, Yale served students from a wider range of backgrounds, and it served them differently. The classrooms scattered around the campus in New Haven contained intense islands of scholars, students, and aspiring poets who spoke of a new way of thinking about literature. Angleton, it turned out, had entered one of the more powerful intellectual milieus of midcentury America. Yale was the place where the enduring influence of New Criticism began to be felt.

The New Critics were a cohort of literature professors who converged on Yale in the 1930s. They favored a canon of English poetry centered on Shakespeare; the metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century, led by John Donne; and select moderns, such as William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot. Angleton took English 10, an introductory course on poetry, fiction, and drama, with Maynard Mack, a young professor who admired Pound's poetry. Mack encouraged Angleton's interest. Mack's undergraduate seminars were presented as laboratories for young literary scientists, the model for research being drawn from two original-minded English critics, I. A. Richards and William Empson. Richards had been an influential lecturer in English and moral sciences at Cambridge University. In 1939, he became a professor at Harvard. Bill Empson was his most gifted student, a mathematician and poet whose undergraduate thesis became a famous work of literary criticism, Seven Types of Ambiguity.

In the book, Empson offers an argument, supported by interpretations of poems, for the relationship between verbal ambiguity and imaginative value. From its first publication in 1930, Seven Types of Ambiguity has never gone out of print. Yet at the time, it had not been published in the United States — a neglect that surprised Angleton. When Empson visited Yale, Angleton introduced himself and took the critic out for a long evening of wine and literary talk. He said he would find Empson an American publisher.

The New Criticism that Angleton treasured was a powerful method, not merely for its insights into poetry but for its implicitly conservative worldview. It was not value-free. On the contrary, its proponents would argue vigorously that it was a method deeply rooted in a particular set of values, a method, in the final analysis, for promulgating those values. The elevated strictures of the New Criticism that exalted his favorite poets would prove formative for Angleton. He would come to value coded language, textual analysis, ambiguity, and close control as the means to illuminate the amoral arts of spying that became his job. Literary criticism led him to the profession of secret intelligence. Poetry gave birth to a spy.


ANGLETON EXTRACTED A FISTFUL of letters from his mailbox in the cramped confines of Yale Station. One of the letters was postmarked "Rapallo." When he sliced open the envelope, he had to decipher Ezra Pound's inimitable orthography.

Dear Jim,

All this is vurry fine and active. How the hell am I to do my own work and take two months off to collect my own bibliography I don't see. Does the Yale lib/[rary] expect to BUY ...?

The poet was steamed that Angleton had not fulfilled his promise of compiling a complete bibliography of Pound's work. Ezra wanted to sell some manuscripts and pay some debts. He was always short of money.

By return mail, Angleton responded with flattering familiarity: "Dear Ezra."

He reported he was rereading Confucius's Ta Hio and Pound's opera Cavalcanti. He saved his biggest news for the last page: He and Reed Whittemore were launching a new magazine called Furioso. "Would you be the Godfather of this?"

Angleton was pleased to get Pound's response ten days later.

"Yes, I'll back up any and all the proposals in yrs. 19 instant," Pound wrote. "But we had better think out WHAT will do the job best. The 'text book' ought to be ready soon/you can quote from advance copy of that."

The idea that the great Ezra Pound was sending them a "text book"— whatever that was — sounded more than promising. Angleton described himself as "a very excited piece of protoplasm."

Nonetheless, he was disappointed — no, dismayed — when Pound sent him the long-awaited "text book." It was not a canto. It was not even poetry. It was a list of Pound's favorite quotes about coinage, paper money, and debt from John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers. Angleton wasn't pleased.

He wrote to Pound, deflecting the gift and asking for something more literary.

"Right at this moment Ezra, we are awaiting a canto or something," Angleton said. "We have to have some verse from you."

Pound did not answer. With Whittemore's help, Angleton improvised a solution. They dressed up the "text book" quotes with some Roman numerals and stashed it at the back of the issue before they went to press. The red-trimmed first issue of Furioso, adorned by an impish devil wielding a switch, was mailed out in May 1939. Costing just thirty cents, the publication was a literary bargain. In its twenty-eight pages, there was Pound's odd contribution, and a letter from the poet Archibald MacLeish arguing that the new communications medium of broadcast radio would be the salvation of poetry. Angleton's friend E. E. Cummings, also a known poet, contributed a poem. The soon to be renowned Dr. William Carlos Williams added three more.

One canny Yale graduate student named Norman Holmes Pearson was especially impressed with this collection of fresh, arresting literary work. Pearson was a gimpy young man, almost a hunchback. He smoked a pipe and read Sherlock Holmes detective stories for pleasure, which proved to be good cover for the unlikeliest of spies. Pearson made a point of introducing himself to Angleton.

WHEN YALE CLASSES ENDED in May 1939 Angleton returned to Milan by boat. The ten-day voyage took him from New York to Genoa. A train took him to Milan and a reunion with his parents and siblings. Angleton wrote a letter to Pound, asking if he might visit him in Rapallo again. He wanted Pound to meet his father.

Hugh Angleton, then fifty years old, was not a poet or a writer. He was a man of business. Like Ezra Pound, he admired the ambitions and spirit of Italian fascism. "Hugh Angleton was a very tough character," recalled William Gowen, a young army captain, who would meet both father and son in Rome a few years later. "Jim worshipped his father. Hugh was very aggressive and masculine. Jim was not."

Hugh was an outgoing man, solidly built at five foot eleven, with serious gray eyes. He had installed his family in the Palazzo Castiglioni, an art nouveau palace in the center of Milan. An extrovert and a fine horseman, he betrayed few traces of the raw western frontier from which he came. In the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce, he cultivated friends, dinner companions, and business partners.

In his office on via Dante, Hugh Angleton received visitors from all over Europe. From friends in manufacturing, he learned about the German arms industry. At the Rotary Club, he talked to financiers and industrialists. As a member of the Knights of Malta, he knew influential Catholics. As a Mason, he drew on his friends in the secretive order to keep himself informed about Italian politics. As a man with connections, Hugh wanted to get to know his son's friend, the great poet, who dared to say fascism and Americanism were two sides of the same coin. Angleton gravitated toward Pound's view that Italy and America were not enemies. Hugh didn't disagree.

The newspapers brought more foreboding news every day. Armies were mobilizing across Europe. In August 1914, a global war had erupted, seemingly out of nowhere. In the summer of 1939, the older generation could sense another cataclysm coming.

A few weeks later, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and the war in Europe had begun. Two days later, England and France mobilized to fight Germany. Mussolini rallied to Hitler's defense, passing a series of anti-Semitic decrees in November 1939. The United States then sanctioned Italy. Angleton's adopted country was now an enemy of the United States of America.


Excerpted from "The Ghost"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Jefferson Morley.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Part I: Poetry





Black Prince




"Homo Circles"




Part II: Power









"Hit Him"





Part III: Impunity



"Go Easy"

Mole Hunts

Oswald Again


Noah's Creek








Two Bozers


Kim Again

Part IV: Legend







Smoking Gun









Bibliographic Note



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