Who Was James Jesus Angleton, and Why Is He So Important to American History?

We should all know his name.

James Jesus Angleton

So, who is he?

James J Angleton, known in his time as "Jim," was the chief of CIA Counterintelligence for 21 years. He started what is now a subject of great historical debate by suggesting there was a high-ranking mole in the CIA. He also was known to be anti-communist, and he strived to irradiate corruption. This was, and is, still highly controversial, as some believe he was on a witch-hunt, while others believe he was seeking truth and integrity.

His father was a United States Army Cavalry officer. Angleton joined the United States army himself in March of 1943, serving in the second World War under Pearson in the counter-intelligence branch. Working from London offices, he met Kim Philby, a famous double-agent. Philby is known for being high-ranking in British intelligence, and in the contemporary world is now know for having been a famous double-agent.

After the war, Angleton placed himself in Italy to ensure the establishment on connections with other secret intelligence services and further his own career. He also played a major role in the victory of the US-supported Christian Democratic Party, over the USSR-supported Italian Communist Party in the 1948 elections.

Career With the CIA

James J. Angleton had an extraordinary career. He ranked highly in the CIA, and was made head of Staff A of the CIA's Office of Special Operations in May of 1949. In 1954, he was named head of the Counterintelligence Staff. Angleton remained in this position for the majority of his remaining time with the CIA. Angleton resigned in December of 1974, after a news article was published in the New York Times by Seymour Hersh, reporting that the CIA had been spying domestically on American citizens under the supervision on James J. Angleton. It was claimed that these underground counter-intelligence activities were against anti-war protesters. (If you are interested, you can read the article published by Seymour Hersh for the New York Times the night of Angleton's resignation here.)

However, less than a year after this resignation, it was discovered that James J. Angleton had continued to work for the CIA for the same salary, after being silently re-hired via a secret contract.

What did he leave behind?

James J Angleton died on the 11th of May, 1987. After such a poignant career, he was always going to leave a significant legacy. As mentioned previously - it was he who began rumours of moles in the CIA. This not only began the fight against institutional corruption, but inspired many fictions in popular culture. This includes a film released in 2006 called 'The Good Shepherd', which is loosely based on Angleton's role in the formation of the CIA.

In hindsight, academics often view Angleton's obsession with finding a CIA mole more damaging than productive. After his official retirement, counter-intelligent missions were not conducted with the same zeal as before, suggesting his views damaged this branch of the CIA in ways that could not be fixed. Some say his passion for discovering corruption was overcompensation for his oversights during his career. Under his name, the CIA was compromised many times. During the 1970s, the CIA experienced a time of change. Several employees of the CIA claimed that Angleton was investigating them with no justification, and three of these were paid compensation by the CIA after his departure.

It was he who began and incited citizens paranoia about being spied on by their government. Over time we are becoming more and more aware of the information collected from us, making his behaviour relevant to this day.

However, despite this all, Angleton is regarded highly by many academics, as well as many in his field. Clair Booth Luse, the United States Ambassador to Italy between 1953-1956, described James Jesus Angleton as "the most interesting and fascinating figure the intelligence world has produced, and a living legend".

And why is this important?

He is known for being increasingly certain that there was a mole in the CIA. He became convinced that the KGB (the Soviet Union's law enforcement, who collect information) was manipulating the West. He believed that the war in Vietnam was crucial, as it was his view that America's relationship with China was distorted by deception on the part of the KGB in regards to the Sino-Soviet split. China had a lot of influence in Vietnam, and during the war China sought to weaken Vietnamese communists. China, too, invaded Vietnam in 1979, but their role in the Vietnam war is largely forgotten about by America. He influenced popular culture, lead to the downfall of CIA CounterIntelligence, and created intense debate since his initial claims of CIA corruption. It is my view that all of us, especially those of us living in America, should be aware of how James Jesus Angleton impacted the history of national security.

Further Information:

If you are interested in further reading, this journal article - Nolan, C. (1999). Seymour Hersh's Impact On The CIA. International journal of intelligence and counterintelligence. 12 (1), 18-34—which can be accessed here, is very insightful, displaying exactly how Hersh overturned corruption and gives details about the CIA. It is a very interesting read which I strongly recommend.

If you're interested in political articles, you can find my others here:

Terrorism: Find it here.

Poverty: Find it here.

An Evaluation on the life of Jon Venables: Read it here

The Issue of Gun Control in America: Find it here.

If you would like to read more articles on this topic by Seymour Hersh (all published in the New York Times, and found in their online archives):

You can read 'THE ANGLETON', originally published in 1978 here. This article contains information about the extent of Angleton's cover within the CIA, and demonstrates the talent of Hersh.

You can read 'CLIFFORD FAVORS A SPECIAL INQUIRY INTO C.I.A. ‘SPYING’', published in 1974 here.

You can read 'Underground for the C.I.A. in New York: An Ex‐Agent Tells of Spying on Students', originally published in 1974, here.

You can read 'Ex‐C.I.A. Aides Say Secret Security Unit Avoided Written Reports', published in 1975 here.

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