(April 2, 2018 / Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.) James Jesus Angleton, was born in 1917 in Boise, Idaho, and served in the CIA for more than 30 years, since its inception in 1947.
Maintaining the rank of counter-intelligence chief for more than two decades, Angleton was a widely respected figure in the world intelligence community. He was known particularly for his efforts to uncover Russian espionage and for preventing what he believed to be of utmost concern: infiltration of the CIA by Soviet intelligence agents at the hands of the KGB. However, one of Angleton’s indelible legacies is the intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel.
Angleton’s connection with Israel began early in his career, when he was given the responsibility to lead the CIA’s secret relationship with the Mossad and Shin Bet, Israel’s main intelligence agencies. This fledgling relationship proved to be fruitful for both nations. The first major exchange paved the way for decades of intelligence-sharing. In 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave a shocking speech to the 20th Soviet Communist Party Congress, in which he delivered a scathing criticism of Josef Stalin and revealed details of the dictator’s gruesome crimes. This top-secret text was highly guarded and shared only with leaders of the Eastern Bloc.
However, a Polish-Jewish journalist fortuitously obtained a copy from his girlfriend, a secretary for the Polish Communist Party. Having recently decided to move to Israel, the journalist offered the document to an intelligence officer at the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw. As a result of Angleton’s fostered relationship, Israeli intelligence immediately delivered the coveted text to the CIA, greatly helping the United States at a critical time in the Cold War.
This incident reinforced Angleton’s belief that maintaining a powerful and trusting relationship with his Israeli counterparts was critical for achieving America’s strategic goals.
Angleton continued to cultivate close ties with Israel over his career, a relationship that resulted in combating Soviet infiltration, countering terrorism and planning covert operations around the world. In 1978, George F. Keegan, the former chief of U.S. Air Force Intelligence, declared that the American military “ … owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it does to any other single source of intelligence.”
The extraordinary alliance between America and Israel is tightly bound to intelligence-sharing, for which the foundations were laid by the tireless efforts of James Angleton. His death was marked in Jerusalem in 1987 by a secret tree-planting ceremony and memorial-stone dedication. Attended by the highest-ranking members of the Israeli intelligence establishment, this special event was a testament to James Angleton’s unique contribution to the Jewish state.