Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Our Smiley

It's always worth reading anything James Jesus Angleton has to say, even when mediated by Michael Leeden's ouiji board.

Note that the quip about "the counter intelligence superstar [that] turned out to be a Soviet agent" is a reference to Yuri Nosenko. JJA claimed that Nosenko was a Soviet plant -- a fake defector -- sent to feed the CIA disinformation. Nosenko claimed that an earlier defector, Anatoli Golitsin, was in fact a plant. As head of counter intelligence at the CIA, Angleton's world view was largely informed by his major source -- Anatoli Golitsin. For Angleton, Golitsin was the real thing, and Nosenko was sent to discredit him. Of course, by the time Nosenko showed up (1964), if you discredit Golitsin you discredit Angleton. So was Angleton's conviction that Nosenko was a plant based on cool analysis, or something else?

Both Golitsin and Nosenko made some pretty wild claims -- Golitsin that the Sino-Soviet split was an act of deception, i.e., that the two countries remained covert allies (for anyone familiar with the history of the Cold War in the 1950's -- meaning primarily the Korean War -- this is a fantastic claim, to say the least). Nosenko meanwhile claimed that the KGB was directly involved in the assassination of JFK.

The Golitsin/Nosenko controversy is one of the more interesting vignettes of the Cold War, and the best account of it I've read is in Edward Jay Epstein's Deception, which is out of print but easy to find on abebooks.com, et al.

My take on it is that both were more or less legitimate defectors, keeping in mind that the concept of legitimacy is strained when applied to former KGB agents. I believe the conflict between their two accounts was essentially a pissing contest between two manipulative, egomanical ex-Soviet spies.

Of course my account is not nearly as interesting as Angleton's labyrinthine interpretation, which imagined or not, makes a great story. And yes, Le Carre's George Smiley is based on James Jesus Angleton.


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