Sunday, November 25, 2012

Spies in the Bedroom II


Again, a moment or two of rueful retrospection engendered by the brief rise and unexpected collapse of the CIA career of General David Petraeus, victim of a few misdirected e-mails and a round of raging chick business in Tampa funneled through a starchy minor FBI agent.  Tabloid fodder, except with bewildering national-security implications.

The fact is, at least since David was undone by Bathsheba, or Samson by Delilah, spies have been expected to accomplish their purposes below -- often in -- the fold, to misappropriate a standard term of newspaper jargon.  Sex has been the weapon of choice, and many an otherwise staunch patriot has gone down -- so to speak -- seduced and too often abandoned by the seducer -- or seductress -- of the moment. 

When I was delving into the personal histories that formed the basis of my group biography The Old Boys:  The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA I would rarely have to interview and research very deeply before I became aware that most of the individuals who operated as bad boys and girls in the nation's behalf remained bad boys and girls in every aspect of their private lives.  Misbehavior testified to their necessary deviousness.  Wild Bill Donovan, who created the Office of Strategic Services, the first American intelligence-gathering and covert action entity, was a notorious hound.  The lawyer who pushed operations into the CIA's mandate and himself came to epitomize the "classic era" of Agency machinations around the world, CIA Director Allen Dulles, cut a sensational swath through the bedrooms of Bern and Georgetown.  If you require details, check out the memoir by one of his more articulate conquests, Mary Bancroft.  Allen's anguished sister Eleanor took time to quote me chapter and verse as regarded Allen's antics over many decades.

Secondary personalities were equally active.  Donovan's deputy, that highly regarded diplomat David Bruce, once wrote me a letter explaining in surprising detail how and why he had abandoned his marriage to Ailsa, Paul Mellon's sister, while on station after the Blitz in London and how he had taken up with the divine Evangeline.

Flagrant misbehavior was not necessarily heterosexual.  The rather ominous fixer who virtually controlled U.S. policy toward the East Bloc during the Eisenhower years, Carmel Offie, made very little effort to hide his homosexual preferences.  When I once asked Jim Angleton, founder of counterintelligence at CIA, why Offie -- who was in all probability on the KGB's payroll -- why CIA never investigated Offie's proclivities and contacts, Angleton said that Offie was simply too powerful -- he had too many influential friends.  The Soviets would remain impenetrable --  see The Old Boys.

Insiders were quite open about a lot of this.  I once went to the Watergate apartment of a top CIA official to confirm some information.  Before long he appeared with another top Agency officer; both middle-aged men emerged from the bedroom in matching Japanese kimonos.  Neither of them bothered with an explanation.

Evidently, those were more worldly times.  People kept their jobs based on how they did their jobs.  We are subject to the tabloids today, and we are paying the price.

Best of the season to all of you.

Burton Hersh

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