I really didn’t think I needed much help understanding the screams of misery emerging from the CIA’s plush campus over in Langley, but since I’ve always taken a second opinion from America’s most famous spy, I hit the trusty ouija board and very quickly–for once–got the late James Jesus Angleton online (so to speak; as a passionate devotee of fly fishing, he might not care for the metaphor).
Ledeen: Have you been following the hijinks at the agency?
JJA: Hah! Such fun! I wish I were more materially involved, but it’s been a great few weeks, even at this distance. The election, Arafat…
ML: Before we get into the details, I’ve got a quickie for you. I was reading a recent interview with Charles McCarry, the ex-spook who writes terrific books, and he said something quite extraordinary.
JJA: To wit?
ML: He said: “I never met a stupid person in the agency. Or an assassin. Or a Republican… They were, at least in the operations side where I was…wall-to-wall knee-jerk liberals. And they were befuddled that the left outside the agency regarded them as some sort of right-wing threat. Because they were the absolute opposite, in their own politics.”
JJA: Of course. I mean, they all came from Yale, which didn’t exactly preach Social Darwinism. And then remember that during the McCarthy purges, any leftist at State who could get to CIA, jumped, and Allen Dulles protected them all. In the Fifties and early Sixties, the State Department was much more hard-line than the agency.
ML: Well, I think they’ve caught up by now…
JJA: No doubt, no doubt. I see where you’re going.
ML: Yes, I’m sure you do. The CIA didn’t like Bush very much; they wanted him out. He was very reluctant to believe that at the beginning, but he worked it out, didn’t he?
JJA: It was probably the Plame Affair that clinched it. I can’t ever remember the director of central intelligence pulling a stunt like that: asking the criminal division of Justice to investigate a leak at the White House.
ML: Yeah, exactly. Richard Helms once told me that they’d investigated some leaks, and invariably found that they had come from the top guys, and so the investigation ended right there.
JJA: Right. I was involved in a couple of those investigations. Helms was right.
ML: So the call for the Plame investigation was an attempted political assassination, so to speak.
JJA: Yes, and so was that incredible business about “Anonymous.” The very idea of permitting a CIA analyst to publish a book containing his own personal policy views is so unprofessional and so totally political that it took my breath away. And it wasn’t very kind to the president.
ML: I thought it represented a new low. Any intelligence service with a serious claim to professionalism would have gone all-out to prevent publication, and would certainly have terminated “Anonymous” for trying.
JJA: Yes, but “serious” is not a word that fits well with the agency’s performance in recent years, is it? Every single commission or committee that has looked into CIA–and the other agencies too, let’s not forget–has been appalled.
ML: So I take it you’re not sympathetic to the latest torrent of leaks, complaining that Porter Goss is wrecking the place by driving out a whole generation of professional spymasters.
JJA: Spymasters? The crowd that proclaimed East Germany to be the world’s seventh greatest industrial power? The people who claimed to be running scads of agents in Cuba, only to find that every one was a double? The people whose counterintelligence superstar turned out to be a Soviet agent? The organization that didn’t seem to have a single reliable agent on the ground in Iraq? The geniuses who thought that Saddam was in a nonexistent bunker on the eve of the invasion of Iraq? Pfui.
ML: Doesn’t seem so hard to get, does it? So why are so many journalists cooperating?
JJA: Most likely because the purgees are sources of theirs, I’d say.
ML: Well, they are certainly sources now, even if they weren’t in the past.
ML: Some of the articles are suggesting that this housecleaning is being driven by the White House. What do you think?
JJA: Who knows? Goss has been critical of the agency for many years, I don’t think he needs instructions from the Oval Office. On the other hand, it’s not likely he’s doing it all on his own, so let’s call it a meeting of the minds.
ML: Or maybe it’s the result of a conversation at a lower level.
JJA: Quoting John Kennedy again are we?
At which point the usual static shut down the ouija board, and I was left marveling at the spirit’s amazing memory.