When the world’s top intelligence agencies fail to do their job right, it can destroy nations at risk
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. Angleton felt proud of his ability to outdrink this spy, that he assumed was from MI6.
Defections to the Soviet Union
During 1951 a couple of Philby’s friends defected to the Soviet Union. Angleton failed to entertain the possibility of Philby being involved somehow, despite this occurrence. In fact, even occurrence investigation into the matter, which lasted years, found no involvement from Philby.
So, was Philby really working for the MI6? Ultimately, Philby’s portrait showed up on a Soviet stamp and those doubts were put to rest. Eventually, Philby confessed that he had been recruited and trained by the USSR when studying at Cambridge.
Angleton is believed to have become paranoid after realizing his error. 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.
What many aren’t aware of even to this day is that American intelligence received warning of an impending attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. Reports suggest that American intelligence had deciphered Japanese diplomatic code signaling the oncoming attack. Yet, they failed to remain prepared.
If that wasn’t enough, reports revealed a military attaché located in Java Indonesia had sent warnings to the Americans about a possible attack on American bases in the Philippines, Thailand, and Hawaii.
The reason for a lack of preparation against the attack has been attributed to the poor information sharing between multiple government agencies and also, the US’s wrong assumptions concerning Japan’s ability to carry out such an attack.
Worst of all is the possibility that rivalries within the US intelligence might have also been a cause for the failure.
It was after the unfortunate incident that the US government established the CIA. The need for a centralized intelligence agency led to the creation of the CIA.
When spring break distracted the Nazis
During World War II, Germany had sent 3 separate spy groups to America. However, we rarely hear of their exploits because these spies weren’t too concerned about their real objective. They had far more important things to attend to, for instance, spring break.
The mission, titled “Operation Pastorius”, saw 2 groups of spies, 8 in total, landing in the US. Their mission objective was to destroy the manufacturing and energy plants within the US, blow up public transportation to spread terror, and bomb Jew-owned stores.
Upon landing at Long Island, they somehow managed to attract the attention of a coast guard officer. The suspicious officer became apprehensive after one of the spies tried to bribe him, namely, the group’s leader, a George John Dasch. His suspicion grew stronger when another group member conversed with Dasch in German.
The coast guard officer returned to the landing spot with a group of his own men and spotted a submarine submerging underwater. He also, along with his team, found boxes containing supplies, water, and German uniforms at the landing spot.
Spring Break Fun
While the coast guard team was inspecting the landing spot, some of the spy group’s members began to indulge in some spring break fun. The leader, Dasch, spent half a day gambling at a game of pinochle and the other half, sleeping.
He then took all the remaining money to Washington and turned himself in to the FBI. He was supported by another member of the spy team, a Peter Burger, who convinced the remaining members to stay back at the hotel. Eventually, the FBI, acting on Dasch’s information, landed at the hotel and arrested all of them.
Dasch also provided information concerning the other team member’s whereabouts. The FBI used the information to track them down and arrest them. In fact, one of the Nazi spy team’s members was an American.
He decided to take the time to visit his parents. Furthermore, he spent his mission money on a brand new car. Another member gave up the secret to a group of friends, who turned him in.
As mentioned earlier, this wasn’t the only Nazi espionage scandal. There was another one in 1944 involving 2 agents. One of the two agents was an American named William Colepaugh. Colepaugh had spent all his mission money on wine, women, and gambling. After spending all his money, he ran away with the other spy’s money as well, completely squandering it also.
Once that was done, Colepaugh saw fit to turn himself in to the FBI and also expose the whereabouts of his fellow spies.