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April 12, 2007

Conspiracy theory — spy novelist extraordinaire David Ignatius lunches with 'Mother' (aka James Jesus Angleton)


In his op-ed column in yesterday's Washington Post, Ignatius described his late 1970s meetings with the legendary CIA counterintelligence chief.

His piece follows.

    A Ghost of the Cold War

    Roll back the tape to January 1964: America is still reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and investigators don't know what to make of the fact that the apparent assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, lived for three years in the Soviet Union. Did the Russians have any role in JFK's death?

    Then a KGB defector named Yuri Nosenko surfaces in Geneva and tells his CIA handlers that he knows the Soviets had nothing to do with Oswald. How is Nosenko so sure? Because he handled Oswald's KGB file, and he knows the spy service had never considered dealing with him.

    For many spy buffs, the Nosenko story has always seemed too good to be true. How convenient that he defected at the very moment the KGB's chiefs were eager to reassure the Warren Commission about Oswald's sojourn in Russia. What's more, Nosenko brought other goodies that on close examination were also suspicious -- information that seemed intended to divert the CIA's attention from the possibility that its codes had been broken and its inner sanctum penetrated.

    The Nosenko case is one of the gnarly puzzles of Cold War history. It vexed the CIA's fabled counterintelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton, to the end of his days. And it has titillated a generation of novelists and screenwriters — most recently providing the background for Robert De Niro's sinuous spy film "The Good Shepherd."

    Now the CIA case officer who initially handled Nosenko, Tennent H. Bagley, has written his own account. And it is a stunner. It's impossible to read this book without developing doubts about Nosenko's bona fides. Many readers will conclude that Angleton was right all along — that Nosenko was a phony, sent by the KGB to deceive a gullible CIA.

    That's not the official CIA judgment, of course. The agency gave Nosenko its stamp of approval in 1968 and again in 1976. Indeed, as often happens, the agency itself became the villain, with critics denouncing Angleton, Bagley and other skeptics for their harsh interrogation of Nosenko. In its eagerness to tidy up the mess, the agency even invited Nosenko to lecture to its young officers about counterintelligence.

    It happens that I met Angleton in the late 1970s, in the twilight of his life in the shadows. I was a reporter in my late 20s, and it occurred to me to invite the fabled counterintelligence chief to lunch. (Back then, even retired super-spooks listed their numbers in the phone book. I can still hear in my mind his creepily precise voice on the answering machine: "We are not in, at present....") Angleton arrived at his favorite haunt, the Army and Navy Club on Farragut Square, cadaverously thin and dressed in black.

    He might have been playing himself in a movie. He displayed all the weird traits that were part of the Angleton legend, clasping his Virginia Slims cigarette daintily between thumb and forefinger and sipping his potent cocktail through a long, thin straw.

    And he was still obsessed with the Nosenko case. He urged me, in a series of interviews, to pursue another Russian defector code-named "Sasha," who he was convinced was part of the skein of KGB lies. The man ran a little picture-framing shop in Alexandria and seemed an unlikely master spy. I gradually concluded that Angleton had lost it, and after I wrote that he himself had once been accused of being the secret mole, he stopped returning my calls.

    Bagley's book, "Spy Wars," should reopen the Nosenko case. He has gathered strong evidence that the Russian defector could not have been who he initially said he was; that he could not have reviewed the Oswald file; that his claims about how the KGB discovered the identities of two CIA moles in Moscow could not have been right. According to Bagley, even Nosenko eventually admitted that some of what he had told the CIA was false.

    What larger purpose did the deception serve? Bagley argues that the KGB's real game was to steer the CIA away from realizing that the Russians had recruited one American code clerk in Moscow in 1949 and perhaps two others later on. The KGB may also have hoped to protect an early (and to this day undiscovered) mole inside the CIA.

    Take a stroll with Bagley down paranoia lane and you are reminded just how good the Russians are at the three-dimensional chess game of intelligence. For a century, their spies have created entire networks of illusion — phony dissident movements, fake spy services — to condition the desired response.

    Reading Bagley's book, I could not help thinking: What mind games are the Russians playing with us today?


As it happens, I just watched "The Good Shepherd" last evening on DVD.

Completely absorbing, all two hours and forty-eight minutes of it.

The only false note was Angelina Jolie, playing Angleton's wife: all those lip injections have not been kind to her.

Matt Damon and the rest of the stellar cast (Robert De Niro — who also directed; William Hurt; John Turturro; Timothy Hutton; Keir Dullea; Billy Crudup; Alec Baldwin) are excellent, playing their parts in a grey world where red blood runs often as a result of their nods and silences.

Last week in the Financial Times James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, was asked what were his favorite spy novels.

He chose two: John le Carré's "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" for its pure literary merit and Ignatius's first book — "Agents of Innocence," published in 1987 —


as the other.

I ordered that one instanter.

After reading Ignatius's op-ed piece up top I ordered Tennent H. Bagley's new memoir, "Spy Wars,"


if only because it appears to cloud the big picture of CIA v KGB during the Cold War even more than it already is — if such a thing is even possible.

On a related note, Aaron Latham's 1978 roman à clef about Angleton, "Orchids For Mother" ($2.99 and up used at Amazon) is superb.

April 12, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ultimate Flip-Flop


Res ipsa loquitur.

[via dixi]

April 12, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New York City Ballet's 'Romeo and Juliet' — Episode 2: Free tickets for April 29, 2007 dress rehearsal


In today's New York Times "Arts, Briefly" feature, Roslyn Sulcas wrote that this coming Sunday, April 15, 2007 beginnning at 9 a.m. at the New York State Theater box office, free tickets for the April 29, 2007 final dress rehearsal of the ballet's May 1, 2007 world premiere will be distributed.

You'll find more on the subject here in Episode 1, just up this past Monday, April 9.

Here's today's Times item in its entirety.

    Free ‘Romeo’ at City Ballet

    New York City Ballet has announced that it is offering free tickets to a final dress rehearsal of its new production of “Romeo and Juliet” on April 29. The tickets will be distributed beginning at 9 a.m. on Sunday at the New York State Theater box office. “I’ve wanted to do this for years,” said Peter Martins, the ballet master in chief of City Ballet and the choreographer of “Romeo and Juliet,” which is to open on May 1. “We finally found someone to underwrite it.” CIT Group is the sponsor of the rehearsal and also of the $15 tickets available throughout the spring season. Mr. Martins said these gestures were partly a tribute to Lincoln Kirstein, the co-founder of City Ballet, whose birthday centennial will be celebrated throughout the season. “He believed that there could be an American audience for ballet,” Mr. Martins said. “And he was right.”

April 12, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

OXO Cherry Pitter


OXO, fresh from the mango wars, turns its attention to the cherry space.

From websites:

    OXO Cherry Pitter

    With the OXO Good Grips Cherry Pitter, baking cherry pies, canning cherries and making homemade preserves are no longer the pits.

    The Cherry Pitter features a removable splatter shield that directs juices downward and prevents them from spraying you and soiling your work area.

    When not in use, the splatter shield fits inside the front chamber and a lock holds the Cherry Pitter closed for convenient storage.

    Sturdy, die-cast zinc construction removes pits with ease, and soft, comfortable, ergonomic nonslip santoprene handles absorb pressure while you squeeze.

    The cherry holder is extra large to accommodate Bing and Rainier cherries and has a recessed cup to securely hold smaller varieties when pitting.

    Also try the Cherry Pitter to prepare fresh cherries for small children.

    The Cherry Pitter should be placed in the dishwasher in its unlocked position.



Note: one website bills this device as a "Cherry/Olive Pitter."


April 12, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

savvysource.com — 'Zagat Guide for Preschoolers'


That's what Sue Shellenbarger called this website in today's Wall Street Journal review.

55,000 preschools plus the opinions of 10,000 parents in 12 cities.

For some, more [anxiety] is never enough when it comes to this subject, so why not up the ante a bit more?

April 12, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Stone Bath Mat


Sure, you could make one yourself — but you didn't, and they did.

'Nuff sed.*

From the website:

    Stone Bath Mat

    Polished smooth by river water, the flat stones in this bath mat create a wonderful spa experience, gently massaging the bottom of your feet in total comfort.

    Our absorbent, durable backing ensures that the mat sheds water, dries completely and holds its shape.

    Away from the bath, it works equally well as a doormat.

    20"L x 29.5"W.


Note to self: Forward this post to Phillip Torrone over at MAKE.


*My rap name

April 12, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

askthedecorator.com — Meghan Carter will sort you out

Ms. Carter (above), who emailed me this past Monday to inform me of her new interior design video project, comes from good stock: her father, Tim Carter, is the nationally syndicated newpaper columnist who writes "Ask the Builder."

There's her website: www.askthedecorator.com.

There's her YouTube channel, with 40 original architecture-, design- and decorating-related videos already in the can and more coming all the time.

The last time I put down new caulk the results were less than optimal — maybe I'll check out her video on the subject before my encore.

April 12, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Pocket-Sized Precision Scale


Because you just never know when you're going to need to weigh something.

From the website:

    Shirt Pocket Precision Scale

    Object too small to accurately weigh on your household scale?

    Lightweight, pocket-sized scale has got it covered.

    Weighs objects up to 5.5 oz. in ounces or grams with the touch of a button.

    Portable, compact design fits shirt pocket or briefcase.

    Requires two AAA batteries (included).

    Features auto-power off, backlit LCD and cover.

    4" x 2-1/2" x 1".



Just think of the postage savings alone.



April 12, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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