WASHINGTON — James J. Angleton, whose 31-year career as a spy and counterspy inspired a novel but ended with disclosures that the CIA was spying on U.S. citizens, has died at 69.
Angleton died late Monday at Sibley Memorial Hospital of lung cancer. His wife, Cicely, said he had been ill since December.
Angleton, who was a Yale graduate with a fondness for poetry, began his intelligence career during World War II. He was director of the CIA's counterintelligence department from 1954 to 1974, when he was forced to retire after disclosure of a widespread program of domestic surveillance by the agency.
Angleton headed that effort during the Administration of Richard M. Nixon, whose own mail had been opened by CIA agents shortly before he became President.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the late Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey and the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also were among at least 1,300 Americans targeted by the CIA for surveillance during the 20-year program, according to witnesses at congressional hearings in 1975.
Angleton's official responsibilities included ensuring that Soviet agents did not infiltrate the CIA, and he conducted a futile, decade-long search for a KGB "mole" he was convinced had reached the agency's top echelons.
Angleton's zeal was criticized after his departure, with some of his successors saying the search diverted resources and energy from the CIA's traditional overseas intelligence-gathering role.
A number of senior CIA officials came under suspicion during Angleton's search for the elusive double agent, leading to inner turmoil and even an allegation that Angleton himself was the infiltrator.
Then-CIA Director William Colby forced Angleton's retirement because the mole hunt was tying the agency in knots.
Angleton, an avid orchid grower, was the thinly disguised model for the protagonist in a spy novel by Aaron Latham titled "Orchids for Mother."