clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

20-YEAR SEARCH FOR CIA MOLES WAS `SHATTERING'

The Central Intelligence Agency conducted a 20-year search for moles within its own ranks that bordered on paranoia and paralyzed the spy agency throughout the Cold War era, according to a new book by intelligence expert David Wise.

The CIA found no moles, and Wise said there probably were none. But the careers of more than 120 people were either damaged or destroyed.Each CIA officer who suffered secretly later received compensation from the agency under a so-called "Mole Relief Act."

In "Molehunt: The Secret Search for Traitors That Shattered the CIA," Wise blames the late CIA counter-intelligence chief James Angleton for starting the destructive purge in a hunt for a phantom Soviet spy whose name began with the letter K. A defector who had Angleton's ear had told him he believed there was a mole.

Angleton forced the resignation in 1963 of former officer Peter Karlow, a World War II hero who was the No. 1 suspect in the hunt for the mole. In 1989 Karlow secretly received close to $500,000 along with a secret medal.

The CIA declined comment about Wise's book, saying it does not comment on books or movies.

The book, which Wise compiled over 10 years through interviews with 200 people, including past and present CIA staff, also reveals intelligence nuggets like these:

- Controversial KGB agent Fedora, a trained chemist and scientific attache at the Soviet U.N. mission, also known as Fatso, worked as a double agent for the FBI and was fed information by J. Edgar Hoover to advance his KGB career. Fedora, says Wise, was Aleksei Isidorovich Kulak, who was never exposed. He died in Russia of natural causes.

- Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet defense researcher who was the most important spy for the United States in the 1980s, was turned down three times in his efforts to work for the CIA because of the paranoia about Soviet agents that was a holdover from the Angleton years.

- Angleton believed the KGB had poisoned his bourbon on a trip to Israel and the local station chief believed Angleton was on the verge of a mental breakdown. Then-CIA chief William Colby, who later fired Angleton, said he would have dismissed him then but he feared he would kill himself.

- Angleton tried to persuade British intelligence to send a Soviet defector, Yuri Krotkov, back to the KGB and almost certain execution because he believed the man was a plant.

Wise also provides an account of the downfall and execution of Oleg Penkovsky, the West's top double agent in Moscow. The author says that one of Penkovsky's "dead drops" to be used to warn of a Soviet nuclear strike against the United States was discovered by the KGB.

He also says Penkovsky offered to conceal miniature nuclear bombs in suitcases in 29 strategic places in Moscow to destroy the Soviet capital in event of war. The CIA refused to let him do it.

Wise said in a telephone interview he had found no proof that a mole ever existed. A low-level German agent named Igor Orlov was fingered and investigated, but the FBI never proved that Orlov was a spy.

Further, said Wise, "because of pervasive suspicions that prevailed at the time, the CIA was paralyzed at the height of the Cold War. They stopped trying to recruit inside the Soviet Union because of the belief that everybody was a double agent."

"This brought the operations of the CIA to a screeching halt when they should have been gathering information on, for example, Soviet missile strength."

Wise, who has written earlier books about the CIA, said he considers counter intelligence an important responsibility of the CIA, "but they have to act on the basis of clear and compelling evidence . . . not on whimsy and undocumented rumors."

All the men accused by the CIA of being moles, he said, "were, as it turned out, all loyal Americans."