You might recall I mentioned, in my post on the Litvinenko poisoning, that i was reading the recently published memoirs of KGB intelligence office Victor Cherkashin, %%AMAZON=0465009689 SpyHandler%%. Cheraskin was, among other things in his long career in KGB coutner-intelligence, the chief “handler” of perhaps the most destructive mole in US intelligence history Aldrich Ames. Whose revelations were responsible for the execution of at least 10 U.S. moles within the then-Soviet spy apparatus, in addition to other devastating revelations.
Now, this gets a little insidery, and if you’re interested in the nuances of my position you can check out my NY Times Magazine story on Kim Philby in %%AMAZON=0060934468 The Secret Parts of Fortune%% or google my several essays on Angelton issues in The New York Observer.
But bottom line is this: defenders of the allegedly brilliant counter-spy Angleton claim that all the chaos, destruction, false accusations, ruined careers, intelligence failures that resulted from his 20 yearMccarthyite mole hunt (he was fired in 1975) were vindicated by the discovery of areal mole at last: Aldrich Ames.
Trouble is, Ames wasn’t recruited untilnearly a decade after Angleton left andmost intelligent intelligence officers and obsservers–those not part of the Angelton cult–make the case that it was the backlash against Angleton’s misguided paranoia that discredited genuine suspicion within the CIA and allowed Ames to skate through for so long.
Now comes Victor Cherkashin who knew Ames-as-mole better than anyone to say the following about one of Ames’ motivations for becoming a double agent:
“Back in 1985,” Cheraskin says, Ames told him that one of the reasons for his fatal disillusion with the CIA was that he “was incensed by the paranoia of former CIA counter-inelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, who betrayed the agency, Ames felt, by exposing American spies he thought were double agents working for the KGB. Among them were TOPHAT and FEDORA who came to public attention in leaked press reports in 1978.”
In other words, in this account, not only does Ames not vindicate Angleton, he attibutes his own devastating defection tothe KGB on the disillusion he felt at Angleton’s betrayal (and the subsequent executions) of two top spies who risked (and lost) their lives for us (and are now gnerally regarded by even the Angletonians as genuine). All for the sake of his (Angleton’s) mistaken mole hunt paranoia about “false defectors”, a distorted world view he imposed (for a time) on the CIA and the rest of the government (with, paradoxical results as I suggest in my Observer stories, wherein I hypothesize that Angleton’s “mistake” whether deliberate or inadvertant may have helped win the Cold War).
It’s even more complexly ironic since Angleton’s source for his paranoia about “false defectors” was in fact a Soviet KGB agent whom Angleton believed was the onlyreal defector, Anatoli Golitsyn. (As I said this is a little insidery, but I’m going to enable comments in case any insiders (i.e. preferably current or former spies have something to add. Only relevant comments will be published).
Of course in the “wilderness of mirrors” that was Cold War espionage nothing should be taken at face value. Cherkashin could be playing a game here, or he could be replaying the game Ames played. But it should give pause to those who seek to revive or perpetuate the Angleton mystique.