Born in 1916 in Boise, Idaho, moved to Italy in 1933 when his father was transferred for his job with the National Cash Register Company. He attended Malvern College in England and then entered Yale University in 1937 where he roomed with E. Reed Whittemore Jr., the poet. He graduated in 1941 from Yale, a time the Ivy League Schools were seen as military friendly colleges, and entered the U.S. Army in 1943, placed in the Office of Strategic Services.
During the war, Angleton directed agents working against Nazi Germany. He later worked in Rome running operations aimed at the Italian Fascist intelligence service. After the war, he worked closely with Italian counterintelligence to learn about Soviet operations.
When he returned to the United States, he began to specialize in studying the K.G.B. Mr. Angleton built huge files on the espionage operations of the Russians, and was authorized in 1954 by Allen W. Dulles, then the director of agency, to set up its first counterintelligence staff.
While working in London, was transferred into X-2, OSS’ counter-intelligence division. Was later transferred to Italy to head up the Italian desk of X-2. During and after the war, cultivated friendships and contacts throughout Europe, including relationships with Kim Philby and a priest who would later become Pope Paul VI. More importantly, became friendly with members of the Jewish underground in Europe, the forerunners of Mossad, Israel’s chief intelligence service.
Joined the CIA in 1947, one of its original officers. He also helped to establish the counterintelligence office of the CIA. He was designated to head up the Italian desk of the CIA. Helped to finance the defeat of the Communist Party in the 1948 Italian general election. Was considered obsessed with the KGB and the possibility that it had infiltrated the CIA. Russian defector Anatoli Golytsin had made this claim and Angleton followed up on it by searching for the mysterious mole from 1961 to 1974. During this time, he often dined with Kim Philby. Philby believed that Angleton was unaware that he was a Soviet spy. Angleton, however, had reported his suspicions to his superiors years before Philby was exposed.
Enjoyed great autonomy and authority in his position, often reporting to the CIA chief at all hours. Had an enormous budget at his disposal with 300 employees working under him. However, he fell under a great deal of criticism for his ongoing search for moles within the CIA. Numerous agency personnel saw their careers ruined after falling under his suspicions, many without any charges being brought against them. Was relieved of most of his duties and power in 1974 by the new CIA chief William Colby, retained only as a consultant. Colby felt that Angleton’s actions were harming the agency.
Colby and Angleton had had a strained relationship from the days when both worked for the OSS. Colby, in a final attempt to run Angleton out of the CIA, whispered accusations that Angleton was engaged in spying on CIA agents who were not active suspects.
After resigning from the CIA after 20 years heading up the counter-espionage division, Angleton retired to a life of fly-fishing. Was awarded the CIA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Intelligence Medal in 1975 and was called the “most professional counter-intelligence officer” in the OSS. In recent years, disclosures from former higher -ups in the agency about highly damaging Soviet espionage operations suggest that Angleton was far more accurate in his suspicions and assessments than was once believed.
Angleton died of lung cancer on May 12, 1987 at 69 years of age.