Wilderness of Mirrors

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

Ever since the revelations of widespread domestic spying by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the subsequent Congressional investigations of CIA activities, numerous intriguing accounts of the twilight world of intelligence have appeared. David C. Martin, a journalist with the Washington bureau of Newsweek, presents a fascinating and highly readable addition to this list.

Martin focuses on the contrasting personalities and careers of two high American CIA officials and is thereby able to project vividly to the reader some of the intensity and bitterness of the struggle between American and Soviet Intelligence. These two individuals, James Jesus Angleton and William King Harvey, are seen by the author as personifying this struggle which has been raging since the end of World War II. They were celebrated as heroes and condemned as villains. Whatever one’s judgment may be, however, they were certainly highly unusual, interesting, and enigmatic men. As has been suggested by others, they could have been straight out of a story by John Le Carré or Ian Fleming. Likewise, many of the events described seem stranger than fiction.

The brilliant Angleton—a “strange genius,” master of deception, Ivy League intellectual, orchid grower, and expert fly fisherman—headed the counterintelligence activities. The blustery Harvey—“hard-drinking and guntoting,” “America’s James Bond,” former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent and Midwestern lawyer—spearheaded some of the CIA’s important clandestine operations and unmasked the infamous double agent Harold “Kim” Philby. The story begins in a Washington hotel room, where a Samuel Ginsberg was found dead. Ginsberg was actually General Walter Krivitsky, the former chief of Soviet military intelligence in Western Europe. Was it really a suicide or, in fact, an execution? The author raises the question as he comments on the change of the American perception of Soviet espionage from an “almost touching” complacency to acute concern shortly after World War II.

When the CIA was created to replace the defunct Office of Strategic Services, the core of its agents devoted itself to counter the Soviet security agency (KGB). These agents were drawn into a bewildering world of intrigue, which Angleton was to refer to later as the “wilderness of mirrors.” Angleton and Harvey played major roles in the secret war; they were also intense competitors. Most obviously, they were a study in contrast. Angleton came to the CIA with extensive experience in the Office of Strategic Services and a background that included tutoring in counterintelligence by Kim Philby, the double agent unmasked by Harvey. That perhaps was the real reason why Angleton held such a grudge against Harvey. Martin surmises that Angleton was attempting to atone for his failure to detect Philby by spending the rest of his professional career in counterespionage. Harvey had made it to the top in the FBI’s counterespionage unit, when a minor infraction of the stringent rules imposed by its director J. Edgar Hoover forced his resignation. He was welcomed in the Office of Special Operations of the newly created CIA and henceforth harbored a strong hostility toward the FBI.

The atmosphere in the agency was charged by the growing awareness of the extensiveness of Soviet operations. The CIA was coming into its own and developed effective countermeasures. Among the most successful was the cracking of the Soviet code, which led to the discovery and conviction of such spies as the Rosenbergs and Klaus Fuchs. Harvey was sent to the Berlin post, the front line of the secret war between the CIA and the KGB. According to Martin, he was well suited for this assignment. Harvey was the “point man,” while Angleton was the “paper man.” In Washington, Angleton developed an elaborate project which, by the mid-1950’s, not only violated the longstanding American concepts of fair play, but the law as well. It was a massive mail opening scheme, involving practically all letters from the Soviet Union coming over the Port of New York. The operation generated a huge watch list...

(The entire section is 1691 words.)