Thursday, June 4, 2020

How The CIA learned to rock by Jeet Heer (excerpt)

Tsog update in the words of Jeet Heer, bravo. Bang on.

James Jesus Angleton, chief of CIA counterintelligence from 1954 to 1975, was nicknamed “the Poet.” Before he was a spy, he had literary aspirations. As an undergraduate at Yale, he wrote verse and, more impressively, coedited the literary journal Furioso, which published poets like E.E. Cummings, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams.
Angleton was an aesthete turned tormentor. The two facets of his personality were combined in disturbing ways. His literary sensibility was nurtured on the close reading taught by the New Criticism, with William Empson’s classic Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930) being an especially formative influence. Empson taught Angleton that no line of poetry had just one meaning, that the job of the reader was to squeeze out every ambiguity and hidden implication. Angleton notoriously applied this methodology to the interrogation of Soviet defectors, never taking them at face value but constantly pressuring them to reveal their covert intentions, always postulating that they might be double agents, and sometimes torturing them.
Strange as it may seem, Angleton’s use of high modernism for spycraft was hardly unique. The CIA in its first few decades was led by Ivy League eggheads. Angelton’s protégé Cord Meyer often hired literary critics from The Kenyon Review, an organ of the New Criticism, to work as spies.