What separates this compelling biography from many others about public figures of the 20th century is that Angleton left no letters, no diaries, no memoirs…a few self-serving videos survive after his disgraced exile from the CIA but invariably he never says anything revealing and falls back on biblical references, eg., “My father’s mansion has many rooms…” Morley thus uses all his wits and journalist’s skills (and the substantial knowledge from his excellent biography of Mexico City CIA Chief Winston Scott) and gets probably as close as one can get to the make-up of this “neurotic maniac.” The reader will want to de-louse the room after finishing, for the evil and venality of this master of deceipt is pervasive and disturbing. Whether he’s opening mail of innocent people, harassing anti-war protesters, ruining careers of officers as he searched in vain for a Russian “mole,” rescuing Nazis and fascists after WWII thinking they could spy for us (they didn’t) or deliberately concealing from the Warren Commission the CIA’s active monitoring of Oswald and attempts to assassinate Castro, Angleton leaves a 40-year trail of powerful paranoia.
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A couple of minor quibbles. Wonder if too much is made of the Yale English Lit influence, and not enough of his family background, ie, he referred to himself as a “Chicano” but the author never fleshes that out or wonders of its effects, if any, on Angleton. That he comes from family wealth–not fully explained. The behavioral effect, if any, of his conversion (with family) to mysticism, becoming swamis, changing names…
But those are minor concerns and given the total lack of a record as spoken by Angleton, this is a monumental achievement. It is essential reading for anyone interested in how our intelligence network operated during the Cold War. It also makes for an excellent companion to such seminal works as Tim Weiner’s prize-winning “Legacy of Ashes” and P. Shenon’s “A Cruel and Shocking Act.”
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