When you hear the terms “intelligence agency”, “spy” or “espionage”, your head automatically fills up with images of attractive and intelligent people who can take down the bad guys and save the world, all in a day’s work.
But, those images are the result of watching too much TV. In the real world, espionage isn’t all that glamorous. It’s a tough and dirty job that has its fair share of failures.
Speaking of intelligence agency failures, here are some of the most significant. In fact, a few of them are downright hilarious.
When a CIA chief became friends with a KGB spy
CIA counter-intelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton, is credited as being a stellar civil servant and one of the most admirable spy hunters. What makes him even more worthy of respect is that he became the chief of counter-intelligence after his most significant failure. That’s how good he was at his job.
Angleton’s greatest failure came through the appearance of Kim Philby, a rising star in the MI6 (British Intelligence). Philby had landed in Washington in 1949 to serve as a liaison between the MI6 and the CIA. It so happened that Angleton and Philby developed a rapport of sorts and would often enjoy lunch together at Harvey’s restaurant.
Angleton, it seems, found Philby to be an impressive individual and would often engage in Martini drinking contests with the young spy. It is believed that Angleton was proud of his ability to outdrink this spy, supposedly from MI6.
It was during 1951 that a couple of Philby’s friends defected to the Soviet Union. Despite this occurrence, Angleton failed to entertain the possibility of Philby being involved somehow. In fact, even the MI6’s investigation into the matter, which lasted years, found no involvement from Philby.
So, was Philby really working for the MI6? Well, those doubts were put to rest after Philby’s portrait showed up on a Soviet stamp. Eventually, Philby himself confessed that he had been recruited and trained by the USSR when studying at Cambridge.
After realizing his error, Angleton is believed to have become paranoid. He was under the impression that the KGB had systematically managed to penetrate the CIA. In fact, Angleton remained in a state of paranoia till he resigned from the agency.
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