A cat named Gourmand

William Safire

July 30, 1991|By William Safire

Washington -- A TALENTED and beautiful artist is murdered on the towpath along the canal in Georgetown. She is the former wife of a CIA station chief and the illicit love of the president of the United States.

Partly to investigate what he suspected may have been Soviet complicity in the murder (unsolved to this day) but primarily to protect the president's reputation, the chief of counterespionage for the agency -- an angular warrior who reads poetry and raises orchids -- rushes to her home ahead of the police. He searches for, and at last finds, the woman's diary. He slips it into his pocket, later to read its private revelations and then to consign it to a fire. He starts to leave but is startled by the sound of crying.

A hungry kitten appears. Rather than let the victim's pet starve, the cadaverous counterspy scoops it up and takes it with him into the night.

How's that for a grabber of a lead?

I was drawn to write it, and you were hooked to read it, by our mutual fascination with espionage -- a surreal but real world replete with mystery, violence, deception, the suspension of morality and the interplay of human intelligence.

The 1962 episode above -- at least 90 percent true -- was called to mind by a book and television show attacking the record of James Jesus Angleton, the longtime protector of our intelligence system from the Soviet penetration agents that riddled other Western agencies, and his most trusted KGB source, the 1961 defector Anatoli Golitsin.

Nothing splits our spooks like the matter of Golitsin. If you believe his story and adopt his strategic vision, as Angleton did ,, so fiercely before he was fired in 1974 by Director William Colby, you see the Soviets embarked on a long campaign of disinformation.

It began with the dispatch of a possible "dangle" -- the supposed defector Yuri Nosenko, who arrived after the Kennedy assassination to dissociate Moscow from Lee Harvey Oswald -- and continued through the Cold War, misleading the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover with the U.N.'s "Fedora," who supported Nosenko's story.

On the other hand, if you disbelieve Golitsin, you see the James Angleton as a paranoid counterspy, ruining careers of loyal spies on misplaced suspicion and returning real defectors to their death.

Most Langley bureaucrats, and those driven out of the service and seeking vengeance, hold that view today. Their mind set gains credence by the kooky assertion by Angleton and Golitsin that the whole Sino-Soviet split was part of a master deception.

Overly suspicious Angleton was, but in one former intelligence rTC chief's words, "no Soviet penetrations took place on his watch," and he was right to suspect the Brezhnev detente. Since his kindred spirit, Golitsin, was being pronounced "clinically paranoid" by a former CIA shrink with a curious set of medical ethics, I asked to see the defector, who has never given a press interview.

We met the other day, I can't say where because he still thinks the Russians are after him. He reminds you of the actor Akim Tamiroff after a rough night. Amiably manipulative, he refused to answer such direct questions as, "Was there ever a mole in the CIA higher up than Larry Wu-tai Chin?" He'll save that for his memoirs. But he expounded freely on the continuing strategy of Moscow maneuvering, making me feel like a euphoric Gorbamaniac, which is not easy.

My new source Anatoli remains on the CIA payroll, contributing anti-conventional memos that are read by analysts holding them with tongs, and must be useful: Only a few years ago, he was secretly awarded the U.S. government's Medal for Distinguished Service; added to Britain's CBE, that makes him history's most decorated defector.

Does he ever think of Jim Angleton and the Cold War days of

debriefings and roses?

"He once gave me a kitten," the defector mused, "said he saved it from starvation. Such a picky eater it was, we named it Gourmand. That cat lived with us for 16 years. Still miss her."

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