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Mole-Hunt: How the Search for a Phantom Traitor Shattered the CIA – Book Review

MoleHuntby: David Wise

Publisher: Avon Books

Copyright: 1992, ISBN: [0380721279]

Type: Paperback

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, September 2, 1994

 

Summary: Highly recommended tour of the world of espionage and the veil of secrecy that everyone in the dark.           

Reprinted from Crushies Book Review, September 1994 Volume I, Issue No. 4:

 

Imagine you are the Director of a government agency like, say, the ClA, charged with protecting the vital interests of the United States. In October of 1968, you are dragged before a House of Representatives committee investigating the reported abusive treatment by your agency of a Soviet political defector subjected to imprisonment without trail, mind-altering drugs to control behavior, etc.. Naturally, being called before such a committee and confronting such allegations, you are defensive.

 

You are asked by Representative Harold S. Sawyer of Michigan whether your agency violated the law. Well, uh, you’re not sure. The person involved was in a “gray area”. He wasn’t a citizen, he could have been a spy. You’re just not sure.

 

Okay. Representative Sawyer then asks accusingly, “Well, he was a human being, wasn’t he?”……

You respond: “I believe so.”

 

This little vignette is reported on page 171 of David Wise’s MOLE HUNT which is replete with such made for-make-believe scenarios. Place yourself in the position of a Director, a counter-intelligence supervisor, a counter-intelligence agent. As the make-believe Director of the CIA in 1968, you or I probably would have answered a simple Yes to the question of whether a defector–even a defector from the Soviet Union who may have been a spy–was also a human being. Fat lot we know.

 

Wise chronicles the twenty-year search for a mole within the staff ranks of the Central Intelligence Agency. The search was set-off by the words of another Soviet defector, Anatoly Mikhailovich Golitsin, who said the mole was code named “Sasa” and his real name began with the letter K. What more do you need, right? Indeed, the CIA counter intelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton, inaugurated the twenty year search by focusing on ClA employees whose last name began with the letter K. The rest is history as they say.

 

By Wise’s count, the lives of 122 people were adversely affected by the mole-hunt. It cost the government–that’s us folks–well over a million dollars in settlement costs.

 

There is a lot of spy history in MOLE HUNT–CIA versus KGB, CIA and France’s DST, CIA and other NATO intelligence services. But the most fascinating aspect of MOLE HUNT is what it reveals about human nature and why nations such as the United States have laws to address human nature problems. Human nature problems such as the simplistic approach of investigating everyone whose last name begins with the letter K because such people are suspected of being one of “them”: Human nature problems such as leadership which evaporates as soon as it is confronted with responsibility: Human nature problems such as the inability to distinguish an “it” from a human being.

 

If you enjoy the crime detective genre, you’ll love this book. One caveat however–there is no detective hero. There are only the little people: the ClA agent who gets shunted-off to a non-sensitive assignment because, unbeknown to him, he is on the K-list; the ClA Director who wrings his hands in the agony of decision-making until forced to “fire” his counter-intelligence chief because the chief’s activities have become an embarrassment; the elected representatives of the American people who bemoan the fact that agencies of the government lie to them.

 

When Richard Helms, Director of the CIA, was called before that House investigating committee in 1968, Yuri Nosenko, the Soviet defector, had been a virtual prisoner of the CIA for nearly four years. Nosenko became a prisoner because he contradicted earlier revelations of spies in the CIA made by the defector, Anatoly Golitsin. But the issue was not about who was telling the truth. The issue was a human nature problem–those who had power within the CIA and those who did not. Angleton, who believed Golitsin, had power. Angleton also had that seemingly rare quality in the nation’s capitol we call leadership. He was a man with a purpose. That his purpose resulted in the CIA being tied-up in knots for twenty years says more about the agency and the cult of secrecy than it does about Angleton. That he had leadership qualities says more about the men and women who were supposed to be his leaders than it does about him.

 

Consider: Wise relates the appearance of Angleton before Senator Frank Church’s Select Committee on Intelligence in 1975. Before an executive session of the committee, the then former counter-intelligence chief had answered the question of why the ClA disobeyed a presidential order to destroy one of its biochemical weapons by saying, “It is inconceivable that a secret intelligence arm of the government has to comply with all the overt orders of the government.” In a later session, Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania asks Angleton whether he had really said that. Angleton replied, “Well, if it is accurate, it shouldn’t have been said.” Not that the conduct was wrong, not that the words were insubordinate and just possibly treasonous. The moment of truth, according to Angleton, should never have happened.

 

Compare Richard Helm’s answer to the question of whether a defector was a human being to Angleton’s answer to whether he had been quoted correctly.

 

Throughout MOLE HUNT, throughout the chronicle of dead-end investigation after dead-end investigation, flawed Sherlock Holmes deduction after flawed Sherlock Holmes deduction, you wait eagerly for some sane voice within the ranks of the ClA. But there is no sane voice. It is the cult of secrecy, feeding on itself–the little people doing little things for little reasons.

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