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Released JFK files recall James Angleton and ‘golden decade for counterintelligence’

James Angleton
FPI / January 5, 2023

Geostrategy-Direct

In 1974, legendary American counterspy James Angleton sought to reorient the CIA as a strategic counterintelligence service that would target the KGB and related spy agencies in seeking to take down the Soviet Union.

New details of Angleton’s tenure and exit at CIA have been revealed with the release by the U.S. government of once-secret files related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Before being forced out by the CIA in December of 1974, Angleton’s strategy of focusing on the agency’s counterintelligence function was downgraded and removed as an independent function.

Critics say the CIA has never recovered, with the spy agency suffering major intelligence failures most recently involving communist China in the years following Angelton’s departure.

The documents “are revealing new, long-hidden details on one of the CIA’s biggest Cold War controversies, involving defecting Soviet intelligence agents and U.S. counterspy programs targeting the Kremlin’s strategic deception operations against the West,” security correspondent Bill Gertz noted in a Jan. 1 analysis for the Washington Times.

The documents, made public last month, include formerly top-secret interviews with senior CIA counterintelligence officials, including Angleton, “who was at the center of the bitter, long-running dispute inside the agency over the reliability of two top Soviet defectors, Yuri Nosenko and Anatoli Golitsyn,” Gertz added.

The controversy relates to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the role of Nosenko, a KGB agent who defected shortly after JFK was murdered in Dallas.

Angleton and his staff believed Nosenko was a false defector dispatched by Moscow to mislead U.S. intelligence regarding Kennedy‘s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

A 1975 report to a presidential commission probing the agency’s domestic activities includes testimony by the former CIA counterspy chief who was forced out of his job in December 1974.

In the document, Angleton warned the commission headed by then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller that U.S. anti-Soviet counterintelligence efforts had been severely weakened at CIA after his departure. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover considered the program a low priority, Angleton said.

“Angleton told the commission he regarded the defector Golitsyn as a superior source of intelligence, with intimate knowledge of a major Soviet strategic deception operation,” Gertz noted.

The program, according to Angleton, involved the widespread use of false defectors such as Nosenko, and disinformation operations designed to fool and frustrate Western intelligence agencies, he said.

Gertz noted that the Golitsyn intelligence had “set off a major hunt within the CIA” by Angleton in seeking to identify a high-level Soviet agent in the agency only identified as “Sasha.”

The mole hunt led to a backlash against Angleton and counterintelligence within the agency. CIA leaders beginning in 1975 dismantled the independent counterintelligence division and its scores of officials involved in both analysis and operations.

“After Angleton and his top deputies left the CIA, the agency within two decades suffered some of its worst foreign spy penetrations, most spectacularly in the case of turncoat CIA counterintelligence officer Aldrich Ames, who gave Moscow the names of nearly all CIA recruited agents in Russia,” Gertz wrote.

Golitsyn, according to Angleton, gained special access to Soviet secrets and said that U.S.-Soviet detente – the policy of easing of relations that began under President Richard Nixon — was a strategic deception aimed at subverting the West.

More accurate intelligence could be gleaned by intelligence analysts if they relied less on public or overt reporting on Soviet intentions in reports from diplomats, and instead turned to secret information from sources within the Soviet system “whose warnings regarding disinformation have been universally ignored,” Angleton said.

After Golitsyn defected, the Soviets reassigned some 300 people and conducted a damage assessment looking at information known by him, information that he did not have access to and information that he was uncertain about, Angleton said.

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