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Michael A. Ledeen
It had been quite a while since I had spoken with my old friend, the late James Jesus Angleton, but the news from Israel that Amos Manor (born Arthur Mendelowitz in 1918 in Transylvania), the legendary early chief of Shin Bet, had died on Sunday night, seemed to warrant several hours with my refurbished ouija board. Finally he came through, a little scratchy, but there he was.
James Jesus Angleton: Good of you to call, I kind of expected it.
Michael Ledeen: Well, I knew how close you were with Amos. Conventional wisdom has it that you were the liaison with Mossad in the late Forties and Fifties, but I know better. When I wrote that novel about you and Teddy Kolleck, I spent some time in Israel doing research, and I met Amos. He was one of your greatest friends, I think.
JJA: Hah! He just said that, in fact. We were talking about old times. . . .
ML: By the time I met him, you couldn’t tell he’d had that fiery red hair, but others told me. He was a big guy, a lot taller than you, and he was the perfect guy, wasn’t he? I mean, somebody who spoke all those languages, and had been in the underground during the war, and then go involved smuggling Jews into Palestine right afterwards.
JJA: He was amazing, just amazing. He spoke Hebrew, English, French, Romanian, and Hungarian, all perfectly. And he was uncanny at understanding how other people think, which is maybe the most important think for a counterintelligence officer. The Israelis knew immediately how good he was. He went to Israel in ‘49, and he became a top officer in Shin Bet within a month. As you know, he ran the organization between ‘53 and ‘63, and then went into private business.
ML: He was one of your most important contacts, wasn’t he?
JJA: Yeah. If it wasn’t for him, I might not have received Khrushchev’s secret speech to the Politburo, which was the great turning point in the Cold War. He gave it to a courier who flew from Tel Aviv to Washington, and came directly to my house. I gave it to Dulles, who personally delivered it to Eisenhower.
ML: He told me lots of funny anecdotes about you. No secrets, of course, just, uh, entertaining.
JJA: Oh really? Like what?
ML: Like the time he took you to an Arab village, and you were the big guest of honor, and they gave you a pile of rice with two lambs’ eyes in the middle, and they were reserved for you, hoho.
JJA: True, true. That was a bad moment. But there were very good ones, he in fact provided us with the only really reliable eyes into the Soviet Empire in the early days of the Cold War.
ML: How did that work?
JJA: The Soviets permitted a lot of Jews to emigrate to Israel–remember they hoped that Israel, since it was a socialist state in their view, would help them–and every one of those emigrants was forced to sign an agreement to work for Soviet intelligence, to spy against both Israel and us. A few did, but most of them cooperated with Shin Bet, and Amos provided us with the raw debriefs. It was a treasure trove, spectacular, unique I dare say.
ML: So you got a window into the Soviet Empire?
JJA: Oh, we got that all right, but we got more than that. We learned a lot about Soviet espionage methods. Some of those wandering Jews told Amos about the real spies, and some of them told him about Soviet methods: secret communications, identities of case officers, what sort of cover they used, their prime targets, the whole shebang.
ML: And he told you.
JJA: He told me a lot. Obviously he didn’t tell me everything, I had no need to know about Israeli secrets, just Soviet secrets.
ML: But what about your personal relations? After all, you were hardly raised in a Zionist environment were you?
JJA: No, quite the opposite. My mother was a traditional Latino Catholic, and Yale University in the early 1940s was pretty anti-Semitic as well. At first, I suspected that many Israelis were fully recruited agents of the Soviets. It took quite some time before I learned otherwise. Amos was one of the reasons I came around to realize that the Israelis were not only loyal allies, but more than that: they were brilliant friends. Nobody was better at counterintelligence, they were the absolute tops.
ML: And Amos must have been a lot of fun, too. By the time I met him he was in his Seventies, but he still outwalked me, and didn’t need much sleep.
JJA: Oh, yes. Tireless. Remember he had barely survived; he had been fighting for years; he knew how fragile Israel was; he really had no time to sleep. None of them did.
ML: It must be nice to see him again.
JJA: It’s wonderful; he’s a hell of a guy. . . .
Which of course raised the usual questions about exactly where Angleton was located, but just as I was going to ask him if that four-letter word had any special significance, POP! The ouija board went dead, and that was that.
Michael A. Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at AEI.
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