After Dulles, James Angleton soldiered on for several more years in the CIA’s counterintelligence department until his gloomy paranoia seemed to threaten the gleaming efficiency of a new espionage era and, in 1975, he was forced to retire. Angleton remained a loyal sentry of the Dulles legacy for many years. He had carried the master’s ashes in a wooden urn at Dulles’s funeral. Their stories had been long entwined, from the days of the Nazi ratlines in Rome through the assassinations of the 1960s. Dulles was Angleton’s revered monarch, and he was Dulles’s ghostly knight.
When Angleton’s successors cracked open his legendary safes and vaults, out spilled the sordid secrets of a lifetime of service to Allen Dulles. Among the trove of classified documents and exotic souvenirs were two Bushmen bows and some arrows—which the CIA safecrackers wisely tested right away for poison, knowing Angleton’s reputation. The safecracking team was also horrified to find files relating to both Kennedy assassinations and stomach-turning photos taken of Robert Kennedy’s autopsy, which were promptly burned. These, too, were mementoes of Angleton’s years of faithful service to Dulles.
But as he crept toward death in 1987, Angleton was less bound by the loyalty oaths of the past, and he began to talk about his career with a surprisingly raw clarity. By then, his lungs were cancer-ridden from a lifetime of incessant smoking, and his sunken cheeks and receding eyes gave him the look of a fallen saint. The Catholic Angleton had always needed to believe in the holiness of his mission. And now, as he faced the final judgment, he felt compelled to make confessions, of sorts, to visiting journalists, including Joseph Trento. What he confessed was this. He had not been serving God, after all, when he followed Allen Dulles. He had been on a satanic quest.
These were some of James Jesus Angleton’s dying words. He delivered them between fits of calamitous coughing—lung-scraping seizures that still failed to break him of his cigarette habit—and soothing sips of tea. “Fundamentally, the founding fathers of U.S. intelligence were liars,” Angleton told Trento in an emotionless voice. “The better you lied and the more you betrayed, the more likely you would be promoted. . . . Outside of their duplicity, the only thing they had in common was a desire for absolute power. I did things that, in looking back on my life, I regret. But I was part of it and loved being in it.”
He invoked the names of the high eminences who had run the CIA in his day—Dulles, Helms, Wisner. These men were “the grand masters,” he said. “If you were in a room with them, you were in a room full of people that you had to believe would deservedly end up in hell.”
Angleton took another slow sip from his steaming cup. “I guess I will see them there soon.”