Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

James Jesus Angleton: CIA Spy Hunter

"The Kim and Jim Show"

Cambridge University
Cambridge University

In the 1930s, the KGB seduced several British students at Cambridge University into working for them. These young men would take years to mature as spies, but they would become invaluable to Moscow because to all the world, they were the best and the brightest of British upper-class society, the kind of fine young chaps James Angleton had aspired to become. The "Cambridge Spy Ring," as they were later dubbed, included a man who became very close to Angleton, Kim Philby.

These KGB sleeper agents managed to land solid positions within MI6, Great Britain's national intelligence agency, and in 1949, Philby was sent to Washington to act as liaison between the MI6 and the CIA. He and Angleton became fast friends, lunching together at least once a week at Angleton's regular spot, Harvey's restaurant in downtown Washington, and telephoning three or four times a week. Angleton was known for his marathon martini lunches that stretched late into the afternoon, and according to Edward Jay Epstein, when Angleton and Philby drank together it became "The Kim and Jim Show." Angleton often boasted that he could drink Philby under the table, but in reality Philby could hold his own and only pretended to be inebriated while he milked Angleton for all kinds of juicy information, including agency gossip, internal power struggles, and personnel evaluations. Their cozy comradeship lasted for two years until the spring of 1951, when it was revealed that two other members of the Cambridge Spy Ring had defected to Moscow. Philby, who had been close to these men since college, was immediately called back to London for questioning.

Angleton was stunned. He was the CIA's chief spy catcherhow could a KGB agent have duped him so thoroughly? He refused to believe that Philby was a Soviet spy.

Kim Philby
Kim Philby

But Angleton's colleagues in Washington and London believed otherwise, and they had evidence to back it up. Angleton countered with his own memo on the matter, but it was rambling and irrelevant to the issue of Philby's loyalty. Philby's detractors pointed to roster of failed operations in Southern Russia, the Ukraine, and Albania, as well several covert agents in Eastern Europe who had been inexplicably compromised. These failures could all be traced back to Philby and secrets he most likely culled from the CIA.

For more than a decade, Angleton maintained that Philby was not a spy. Even after Philby defected to the Soviet Union in 1963 and the KGB proudly revealed their accomplishment, Angleton could not bring himself to admit the obvious. Curiously, CIA officers who tried to assess the damage caused by Philby were unable to locate written records of Philby's numerous meetings with Angleton at CIA headquarters. They had been kept in a safe in Angleton's office, but according to Peter Wright, one of Britain's top spy catchers at the time, Angleton admitted to him that he had burned them.

Dr. Jerold Post, a psychologist who consulted with the CIA at the time and who knew Angleton, believed that the Philby affair was "shattering" to Angleton. As quoted in Cold Warrior, Dr. Post said", "There's little doubt it would have contributed to his paranoia."

Wilderness of Mirrors, by David C. Martin
Wilderness of Mirrors, by David C. Martin

Angleton's behavior would increasingly reflect his deep mistrust of nearly everyone he encountered. "Angleton would spend the rest of his professional life in counterintelligence as if he were trying to atone for his failure to detect Philby," writes author David C. Martin in Wilderness of Mirrors.

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