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A monument to strange nature of government intelligence

 
Published July 2, 1992|Updated Oct. 11, 2005

As monuments go, it's about as modest as they come, almost embarrassingly nondescript.

Near an isolated, dusty crossroads high in the mountains west of Jerusalem and with no signs to herald its presence, you'll almost certainly miss it unless you know exactly where to look.

The monument is little more than a pile of rocks cemented together, about 4 feet high and surrounded by a jumble of boulders, a low stand of dried-out dandelions, empty candy wrappers and broken bottles. But despite its neglected, even abandoned appearance, it commemorates a man who was as responsible as just about anyone for what has become the close, nearly symbiotic, relationship between the United States and Israel.

The shiny black plastic plaque screwed to the stone doesn't even hint at the monument's significance. The inscription, in Hebrew and English, reads simply:

In memory of a dear friend

James J. Angleton

1917-1987

Angleton _ James Jesus Angleton _ was for almost a quarter of a century the chief of counterintelligence for America's Central Intelligence Agency. He was America's consummate Cold Warrior, the man who was responsible for making sure that communist intelligence agents were kept off balance.

These days, Angleton is mainly remembered as the man who almost single-handedly paralyzed the CIA for years with paranoid fears that its highest level had been penetrated by a Soviet "mole," or counterspy.

Here in Israel, Angleton's obsession about Soviet penetration is irrelevant. The reclusive intellectual who spent his spare hours developing exotic strains of roses, is best recalled here _ by the few who recall him at all _ as a hero who helped Israel when it needed it most, in the formative years after it was established in 1948.

Among those few here, Angleton is not the suspicious paranoid who saw a "Red under every bed," but the architect of a close and enduring cooperation between the CIA and its counterpart in Israel, the Mossad.

Angleton died in bitter disgrace, drummed out of the agency and spending his final years tending the rose bushes at his home outside Washington. But a few months after he died, a small group of his fellow spies, Israelis and Americans, gathered on this barren mountain slope to eulogize their old friend and dedicate the simple monument.

The gathering and dedication went unnoticed here as well as in the United States.

The strange alliance between the rough-hewn Israelis and the patrician American began in 1951 when Israel was trying to break its dependence on covert assistance from the Communist Bloc and forge lasting ties with the United States.

True, President Harry Truman had been among the first to recognize the fledgling Jewish state in 1948 and on the surface, at least, relations between the two countries were cordial.

In fact, Truman and Dwight Eisenhower after him distrusted Israel, which was officially neutral in the Cold War then coming to a boil between Washington and Moscow. Israel's prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, was determined to change that. His young country needed massive amounts of economic aid and he knew the only country that could provide it was the United States.

The big question was what Israel could give the United States in return. Israel had only one thing to trade _ information, information that could be obtained nowhere else. It had a well developed intelligence service and, most importantly, extensive contacts throughout the Communist Bloc.

The man who managed the deal for the American side was Angleton, who developed the exchange of information into what has become probably the most extensive military and intelligence cooperation between two governments in our time.

Over the years, Israel's information about what the Soviets were up to came to be eclipsed in importance by its unmatched intelligence on the Middle East. In the 1980s, the country's Mossad even became a prime source of intelligence and covert cooperation in America's own backyard, Central and South America.

It's the Central American connection where things eventually went wrong, where the full extent of the covert cooperation between America and Israel first became known.

When the Iran-Contra scandal first broke, it became obvious that Mossad agents were major players. They not only stepped in to procure and deliver arms to the Nicaraguan contra rebels, but were just as active on the other side of the equation, facilitating the delivery of American weapons to the Iranians.

Knowing what we do now, it seems fair to say that the entire Iran-Contra operation might have been impossible without Israeli guidance, intermediaries, arms dealers and agents in the field.

The Israelis also got themselves embarrassed in the United States when it was revealed that one of their senior agents, a man named Mike Harrari, was the key adviser and weapons dealer to Panama's Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. There were indications that the Israeli may have gotten himself involved in some of Noriega's drug trafficking as well.

All of this came out long after James Angleton left the CIA. Indeed, no one has suggested he was involved in any of the seamier side of the U.S.-Israeli intelligence cooperation.

Angleton's main sin in American eyes was that his paranoid obsessions probably harmed rather than helped U.S. counter-intelligence efforts.

In Israel, he's still a hero to the few who worked with him _ even if the monument they put up in his honor seems abandoned and shabby.