Must be something to do with the hurricanes and typhoons–or maybe it’s the street demos in New York–but it took longer than usual for me to get in touch with my late friend, James Jesus Angleton. The ouija board kept giving me a “no service available” message, but finally I got through. There was a lot of static on the line.
ML: Lots to talk about, huh?
JJA: I’ll say! I knew counterintelligence had been gutted, but I had no idea how bad it was.
ML: Don’t you believe the stories about a mole hunt in the Pentagon?
JJA: Of course there are mole hunts. That’s what CI people do. But they’re supposed to be secret. Once you go public with the story, you’ve alerted your targets, and sabotaged your own investigation.
ML: So you’re not impressed with all the news stories?
JJA: Look, as you’ve said, if the FBI has a real case, they don’t go whispering to the press about it. They go to the grand jury. They don’t leak, they indict and prosecute.
ML: Plus, they promised their media agents–I mean the journalists–that there would be arrests, and pronto. Nobody’s been arrested, and some of the latest stories even quote the “sources” as saying that the Pentagon target–my pal Larry Franklin–may well be exonerated. That’s quite a turnaround in a couple of days, isn’t it?
JJA: It’s embarrassing. At this point, given the state of the “news stories,” you’d have to conclude that the CI folks in the bureau are either incompetent or McCarthyites. Either they leaked information that should have been kept secret–if there is indeed any case against Mr. Franklin or others–or they are trying to smear him and some of his friends and colleagues. Including you, I might point out.
ML: Thanks for noticing, but it’s same old, same old. But maybe it’s not the bureau. Apparently people on the intelligence oversight committees were briefed on the investigation, so maybe they’re the leakers.
JJA: It’s an attractive theory, and I’d love to believe it, because it would mean that the FBI isn’t going through one of J. Edgar Hoover’s worst moments. But as I read the stories, there are specific references to FBI sources. I doubt those are invented by the journalists to protect pals on the House or Senate committee staffs.
ML: If you were a serious journalist working on this story, what questions would you be asking?
JJA: Well, first of all I’d be trying to find out whether the wiretap stories are true, because that would be an indicator of the seriousness of the investigation. If the bureau wants to listen to somebody’s telephone conversations, they need explicit permission from a special court, and for the court to approve a wiretap, or whatever the electronic equivalent is nowadays (you’d be amazed how low-tech life is around here, confound it!), the bureau has to provide reasonable grounds to believe a crime has been committed, or is about to be committed.
ML: So if there were such approval, it would give weight to the leaks?
JJA: Yes. Conversely, if there were no such approval, it would suggest that they don’t have much of a case. I’d be interested in knowing specifically how many wiretaps were approved or rejected. For example, I’d be quite astonished if a court approved a wiretap of AIPAC–which, according to the stories, is the alleged intermediary of the “classified information” Franklin is supposed to have passed to the Israelis.
ML: What’s your gut reaction?
JJA: I can’t really tell, because the “story” doesn’t make any sense. What do we know about Franklin? The main fact is that he’s an intelligence professional. He spent his career in the DIA. Like everyone else who handles classified material, he knows the rule by heart: You cannot disclose such information to “unauthorized persons.” So if a professional decides to do that, he’s always going to do it very carefully. You’ve read enough spy novels to know the methods: dead drops, secret writing, codes, the whole nine yards.
ML: Yeah, John le Carre.
JJA: Oh for heaven’s sake! That hack.
ML: Sorry, sorry. But the “stories” say that Franklin walked into a restaurant where one or two guys from AIPAC were having lunch or coffee or something with some Israeli, and dumped the documents on the table.
JJA: Not good spycraft, is it? More like Laurel and Hardy.
ML: Yeah. Reminds me of the old Neapolitan joke, where Mr. Smith goes to Naples, takes an apartment, lives quietly for ten years, and then one day a new face shows up at the front door and asks the concierge whether a Mr. Smith lives there. “Oh, Smith the spy? Yes, second floor, first door on the left.”
JJA: Worse even. Because, to use your metaphor, Franklin would have a big sign over the door saying “Franklin the Israeli agent.”
ML: But countries, even friendly countries, certainly spy on one another, so theoretically there might be friendly espionage operations in Washington.
JJA: There are certainly espionage operations here, from all our friends and enemies. But Israel is one of the countries least likely to recruit agents in the American government.
ML: Because of Pollard, right?
JJA: You bet. That damn near wrecked the relationship, and they don’t want a repeat. And I keep coming back to the professionalism question. If someone in the U.S. government were passing secrets to Israel, I just can’t imagine that it would take place in a restaurant, or that AIPAC–which knows it has endless enemies in the counterintelligence community–would do such a thing.
ML: So what do you think an AIPAC guy would do if somebody walked up to him in a restaurant and said “Here, I’ve got some interesting documents for you about American policy debates on Iran.”
JJA: The AIPAC guy would run away as fast as he could. Are you kidding?
ML: I agree. And I also agree that we’re dealing with incompetence or McCarthyism. In either case, it’s disgusting.
JJA: Yes it is. Counterintelligence is a very complex and frustrating art. You’re going to get things wrong, inevitably. Look at the guy who’s reportedly in charge of this case. He was totally off base when he was involved in the Ames investigation. So be it. It happens, and you can’t lose your morale just because you get something wrong from time to time. But it’s totally unprofessional for the story to be leaked, and it’s morally repugnant for a mid-level civil servant to be ruined if there is no serious case against him.
ML: You had some bitter experiences along these lines didn’t you?
JJA: Yes. Sad to say, I thought I had strong cases against some people who, in the fullness of time, turned out to be innocent. I ruined their careers, for which I’ve paid in the last few years. But at least it happened quietly. I didn’t go talk to some television producer and whisper that we’d found a Soviet mole. And when their innocence was established, they got some compensation. That was bad; this, at least so far as we can tell today, looks worse.
ML: Let’s come back to the journalists for a second. Aren’t they culpable too?
JJA: That’s a bit more difficult, but they certainly haven’t covered themselves with glory. Whenever they’re approached with a story like this, they should ask the FBI: If you’ve got such a strong case, why haven’t you obtained indictments from a grand jury? And if there aren’t any indictments, and if nobody’s been arrested, then why are you asking me to do your dirty work for you?
ML: So put up or shut up, right?
JJA: Amen, brother. Put up or shut up.
ML: I’ll get back to you if there are further developments.
JJA: Thanks. I’ll look forward to it.
ML: Me too.