(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In December, 1961, a KGB agent named Anatoly Mikhailovich Golitsin defected to the United States. Included in the tantalizing information he presented to the CIA was the disturbing assertion that the agency had been infiltrated at a high level by a “mole” who was controlled by the KGB. Golitsin’s sketchy knowledge indicated that the agent’s background was Slavic, his name likely ended in “-sky,” he had been stationed in Germany, his code name was “Sasha,” and his actual last name began with the letter K. Although some within the CIA suspected that Golitsin was attempting to manipulate the agency for his own benefit, Counterintelligence Chief James Angleton accepted his assertion and began a secret investigation of anyone with CIA connections who fit this description. During the many years of the Angleton-led molehunt, agents found their careers mysteriously curtailed on the flimsiest of suspicions; they were not even told of the specific allegations against them. Although a few were later vindicated (and no mole was ever found), the paranoia that grew from Golitsin’s charges had a devastating effect on the Agency.

David Wise has specialized in intelligence matters, and his broad knowledge of the espionage game is evident throughout this very detailed and carefully researched book. The picture of the CIA that emerges is not a reassuring one, and were it not for the seriousness of the consequences, the depiction would almost be comic. Wise shows how lives were ruined or, worse, lost because of bureaucratic incompetence or political infighting. Angleton, once revered as a master spy, seems more a madman than genius. The book also proves once again how our national obsession with the Communist threat during the second half of the twentieth century sometimes resulted in deeds as baleful as those we sought to protect ourselves against.