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Shadows of Rome: James Angleton and the Evolution of Allied Counterintelligence 

The appointment of Sublieutenant James Angleton, known by the codename “Artifice,” as head of the Special Counter Intelligence Unit Z (SCI-Z) in Rome marks a turning point in the history of Allied counterespionage during World War II. Founded in Naples in January 1944, the primary purpose of SCI-Z was to dismantle Italian-German stay-behind networks and assist Allied armies in their operations. However, from its inception, the unit encountered numerous difficulties in achieving its objectives, culminating in what its brief head Robinson O. Bellin described as a “disaster” in early October 1944.

Angleton’s arrival came at a critical moment, with the mission originally expected to last only six weeks but extending to three years. During this period, Angleton not only experienced rapid promotion but also succeeded in capturing over a thousand enemy intelligence agents, earning him a prominent place in the history of Allied counterespionage. His management of the Italian X-2 and the wide latitude he enjoyed allowed Angleton to engage in a wide variety of operations, from military security issues to “integral counterespionage,” laying the groundwork for a deeper and more methodical understanding of counterespionage in theory and practice.

Angleton’s operations were characterized by the innovative use of traditional trade tools, such as double agents and document analysis, as well as privileged access to intercepted German communications through Ultra. His service contributed significantly to the fight against enemy espionage networks in Italy and to the collection of vital information for the Allied forces, highlighting the importance of counterespionage and intelligence in modern warfare.

Angleton’s experience in Italy not only strengthened the United States’ counterespionage capabilities but also revealed the complex dynamics and post-war challenges that would influence the onset of the Cold War. His figure becomes emblematic not only for his contribution during World War II but also as a prelude to his role in shaping future American counterespionage operations in the context of the Cold War.

The arrival of Sublieutenant James Angleton, alias “Artifice,” in Rome marked a decisive period for the Special Counter Intelligence Unit Z (SCI-Z), an Anglo-American counterespionage unit born in Naples at the beginning of 1944 with the goal of dismantling Italian-German resistance networks. However, since its start in September 1944, the unit was encountering difficulties in its operations supporting Allied armies and protecting OSS missions. In October, a failed attempt to neutralize infiltrated agents in Rome, described by temporary head Robinson O. Bellin as a “disaster,” highlighted a command problem. Angleton, meant to stay for only six weeks, ended up staying three years, during which he gained rapid promotions and significant successes, including the capture of over a thousand enemy agents, and received several honors.
Being the youngest OSS officer to lead counterespionage in Italy, Angleton benefited from great autonomy, allowing him to divide his work into two distinct phases. Initially focused on military security and liberation operations in the north until August 1945, he later dedicated himself to a broader and more complex approach to counterespionage. Having a wide range of traditional espionage tools at his disposal and the rare advantage, for an officer of his rank, of access to Ultra-intercepted German messages, Angleton also exploited the foundations left by his predecessors.
Deciding against the dissolution of a unit of Italian swimmer-paratroopers in training at Taranto, after the discovery of a German agent among them, Angleton opted for a calculated risk, preferring to collaborate with the Italian Secret Information Service rather than face the consequences of potential betrayals. This led to the formation of an OSS naval sabotage group and collaboration with key Italian figures to reduce the espionage network led by Junio Valerio Borghese, “the black prince.”
Thanks to information obtained from a source called “Ivy,” Angleton devised an ambitious plan to combat enemy activities, closely collaborating with OSS intelligence and Italian public security and national liberation forces. The goal was to extend the influence of X-2 beyond the Allied lines, organizing an effective collection of enemy agents and documents, despite the “Ivy” plan not meeting initial expectations.
Despite obstacles, Angleton managed to negotiate Borghese’s surrender to the OSS, demonstrating notable diplomatic and operational skills. After exfiltrating Borghese from Milan to Rome, Angleton delivered him for interrogation, carefully managing the political and legal implications of his detention.
Angleton’s activities were not limited to northern Italy; in the south, the ongoing post-war fascist ferment required constant attention. Collaborating with Italian services, including the mafia, Angleton engaged in a fight against neo-fascist networks, demonstrating his versatility and ability to adapt to the changing dynamics of post-war Italy. His management of complex espionage and counterespionage plots revealed an innovative approach and unwavering dedication to the security and effectiveness of Allied intelligence.

The news of the Ustasha leader’s location was communicated to the G-2, who in turn informed the CIC in Rome to proceed with the arrest. However, the British Secret Intelligence Service managed to transfer him to Klagenfurt, Austria, before this could happen. In the United States, key personnel from enemy intelligence services and police forces, particularly of German origin, were also protected. Although SCI-Z did not directly participate in Operation Sunrise, led by Allen Welsh Dulles to facilitate the surrender of German forces in the North, it had to manage the repercussions of the operation, which included reduced prison sentences for the German negotiators, members of the Militärisches Amt, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), and the Gestapo. In September 1945, X-2 decided to welcome Hans Wilhelm Eggen and his companions, commanders Waldemar Pabst and Paul Dickopf, who were housed in an American military hospital in Milan from October 1st. When, in August 1946, Colonels Eugen Wenner and Eugen Dollmann escaped from a detention camp, they received help and protection from Italian intelligence and the Archbishop of Milan, Ildefonso Schuster. The former provided forged documents while the latter offered them a hiding place, even attempting to organize their surrender. Angleton interpreted these actions as part of a political maneuver by the Italian right, with the support of the Vatican, to fuel anti-Allied sentiment in the country. Thanks to his contacts with the Carabinieri, on November 13, 1946, he managed to capture the two fugitives and secure them. Subsequently, Dollmann was called to testify in the trial related to the Ardeatine Massacre of March 1944.
Since it was not clear from the American side whether the two Germans were suspects or witnesses, Angleton and the U.S. diplomats stated that, although no immunity had been promised, the Germans had cooperated with the United States and that Dollmann had not been involved in the massacre. This stance aimed to maintain the long-term operational effectiveness of American intelligence. However, not everyone enjoyed such leniency. There were concerns, shared by Angleton and the SSU, regarding Guido Zimmer’s escape from incarceration, justifying it with his role in infiltrating a Nazi stay-behind network. Furthermore, SCI-Z was tasked with conducting security checks on personnel collaborating with Allied forces. On one occasion, on April 27, 1945, James S. Plaut, director of the Art Looting Investigation Unit , requested Angleton’s permission to enlist Dr. Albertina Crico to assist in investigations into looted artworks in central and northern Italy. X-2 checks revealed that the professor, active since the late 1930s, was actually a British undercover agent, Roxane Pitt. SCI-Z was also responsible for interrogating Allied agents who had had contact with the enemy, such as Ventura Policarpo, arrested on July 24, 1945, and Doris Duca, who had collaborated with German propagandist Hans Boettcher during the 1939-1940 period, as well as confronting the threat posed by communist infiltration.

Angleton established his headquarters in a palace located at Via Sicilia 22, very close to Via Veneto and the U.S. embassy, in the heart of Rome’s exclusive district. His life was characterized by intense rhythms: he slept little, ate poorly, favoring chocolate and whisky, and smoked heavily. His effectiveness was based on the vast network of contacts he had developed. Inside the Secret Information Service (SIS), under the codename “Sail,” from 1946, he established ties with about a dozen key figures, including ship captains Agostino Calosi and Carlo Resio (“Salty”). He also maintained relations with the Military Intelligence/Counterintelligence Service (SIM/CS) and had privileged access at the Ministry of the Interior, thanks to Bellin’s contacts with the Public Security, identified by the codename “Pansy.” Among these was Commissioner Umberto Federico d’Amato, with whom Angleton connected to Guido Leto, head of the OVRA. Thanks to the Carabinieri, who were indebted to him for restructuring counterintelligence, Angleton obtained crucial documents, including orders from Moscow to Italian communists to support partisans in the Greek civil war, and viewed letters between Stalin and Tito that foreshadowed their future break in June 1948.

Angleton’s network included various types of agents. “Bloom” was an academic with strong ties in communist circles and the Ministry of the Interior, capable of providing sensitive materials, codes, and ciphers. “Briar” moved within the diplomatic environment of Rome. To these were added about forty double agents, operating in seven different foreign intelligence services, such as the Yugoslav OZNA and the French DGER, for which Angleton had to manage the complex dynamics related to the presence of potential double-crossers, as documented on July 6, 1945. An agent, codenamed “Dagger,” was an officer of the fascist forces. Thanks to him, in February 1945, Angleton recovered the treasure of Emperor Haile Selassie and a vast archive of documents left by Rodolfo Graziani, minister of the Italian Social Republic of Salò. These documents were hidden in the complex of Sant’Agnese outside the walls, Via Nomentana 349, and included a vast collection of telegrams and information on Allied ciphers. Aware of the interest these informations could arouse, especially among British allies, Angleton reported to General Donovan the deployment of significant resources to ensure the utmost confidentiality. Supervising such a large network of informants required careful and rigorous management, to avoid enemy infiltrations or deception operations.

On October 31, 1945, Angleton reported to Francis Kalnay, his delegate in Venice who had suspicious ties with the Yugoslav People’s Liberation Army, the importance of reviewing with scrutiny the reports on the Balkans accumulated in Italy over the last four months, urging to provide detailed feedback. This cautious approach was emblematic of the vigilance Angleton also demanded from himself, especially in his efforts to infiltrate the Vatican. In early November 1944, Vincent Scamporino, assistant to Max Corvo in Rome, began receiving communications from an individual, identified as “Vessel,” who claimed to have contacts within the Vatican secret service. Soon after, Angleton himself began receiving similar information but from a different source, nicknamed “Dusty.” These revelations promised unprecedented access not only to the internal dynamics of the Vatican but also to relevant data on the situation in the Pacific, where the war against Japan was still ongoing. Despite efforts, Angleton failed to verify their authenticity. The comparison of data provided by SI and SCI-Z revealed that “Vessel” was the only sender, eliminating any possibility of internal verification and confirming that, like the SIS, OSS also had no direct channels inside the Vatican.

After the withdrawal of the Sicherheitsdienst from Rome and the isolation of the German diplomatic staff, Ultra information became less decisive. The misunderstanding between SI and SCI-Z blocked any form of dialogue. According to Scamporino, the data were essential, but for Angleton, as he communicated to Donovan on January 2, 1945, they were a mix of trivialities, irrelevant real facts, and false claims. All of Angleton’s attempts, from February to April 1945, to question the validity of the information were interpreted by Scamporino as an attack on his source. On May 3, Scamporino insisted by sending to Washington a list of cryptonyms used by “Vessel.” However, for Angleton, the head of counterespionage at OSS in Rome, the situation was of considerable importance. If the information had been true, it would have represented a threat to American national security, since “Vessel” suggested having access to reports by Myron Taylor, Roosevelt’s representative to the Vatican. The existence of “Dusty” as the only alternative source indicated the possibility of manipulation, presumably by British intelligence. This circumstance, crucial both for the careers of the agents involved and for the entire OSS structure, drew the attention of the leadership in Washington, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Between January and August 1945, OSS found itself paying twice for the same set of information. In mid-February, “Vessel” provided details on an alleged meeting between Taylor and the Japanese envoy to the Vatican, Harada Ken.

The State Department was struck by the news of a meeting unreported by Taylor, and after careful checks on February 17, 1945, it was concluded to have been a setup. An in-depth investigation into the material provided by “Vessel,” completed on June 8, confirmed Angleton’s doubts expressed six months earlier. Describing the information as “messy, inaccurate, and contradictory,” it was concluded that they could not be considered reliable and that “Vessel” was not a source of any value. Despite this, until early 1946, counterespionage officials continued to interact with Fillippo Setaccioli (“Dusty”) and Virgilio Scattolini (“Vessel”) trying to identify any manipulators behind the scenes, eventually discovering that it was a deception orchestrated by Scattolini himself. The latter, a former journalist for L’Osservatore Romano and a failed author, had a history of selling false information to newspapers and the police under the fascist regime, and continued these illicit activities after the liberation of Rome, continuing until 1948 with the Italian Communist Party. Using the network of contacts in Rome, Angleton exploited the post-war subsistence economy, similar to that practiced by the Soviet embassy, to reward his informants with essential goods like cigarettes, essential at that time. On March 18, 1946, he specified how such goods represented the monthly salary of an Italian intelligence officer, attributing to five hundred dollars’ worth of supplies a significantly higher operational value in lire, a practice common also among other secret services.

There were other modes of compensation as well. For example, on December 13, 1945, Angleton made available to Agostino Calosi his postal services for the United States, facilitating communications for Calosi’s brother involved in torpedo design. In the early months of 1946, he provided the SIS with articles from American periodicals, occasionally making use of the Library of Congress. In interactions with the Italian navy, he organized summer holidays for the head of the encrypted code and his wife in Southern Italy, an investment that proved to be beneficial. In early 1946, Angleton reported having partially decoded a Yugoslav cipher, improving the capacity to intercept Soviet communications towards agents in Italy. An agent, known as “Sailor” or JK1/8, stood out for his dissatisfaction with the monarchic regime, proving to be an agent motivated by ideals rather than personal interests. Despite considering leaving his job to move to South Africa with his brother, his reports reflected discontent with monarchism, expressing concerns for the future of the Italian republic. Angleton maintained an apolitical stance, focusing on Soviet activities that, as revealed in reports by Resio (“Salty”) and Setaccioli (“Dusty”), began to cause concern in Washington as early as February 1945. From November 1945, Angleton’s analysis highlighted how the SIS used events related to the Italian resistance to launch accusations against Russia’s alleged subversive ambitions, underlining that none of the information, once verified, had purposes other than provocation.

In response to disclosures from “Dusty,” Washington emphasized how the current political and diplomatic context made it extremely risky to start relations with such sources. Angleton received directives to focus on the potential connections of the received information with current and future German operations, warning that, without adequate analysis and contextualization, much of the data appeared irrelevant. “Sailor,” however, was not subject to such criticism. Indeed, his revelations improved Angleton’s ability to monitor the post-war Italian landscape, also facilitating the management of his relationship with Resio. Between August 1945 and October 1946, “Sailor” provided accurate assessments of the credibility of SIS information, initially revealing links between Italians and Soviet spies and signaling attempts by anti-communist Albanians to acquire resources to dethrone Enver Hoxha. These details were also known through official sources.

In this scenario, Angleton was approached by “S”. In August 1945, Max Pradier attempted to renew contacts with the Italians, while “Sailor” believed that the United States was interested in participating. With the end of the conflict, Angleton’s priority became maintaining his network of informants active. The prospect of the dissolution of the Allied Commission on January 31, 1947, following the peace agreement with Italy, threatened to disrupt his official connections with the Italian police and espionage services, pushing him to focus almost exclusively on advanced counterespionage. As early as September 1945, he observed that the decline of Italian authority and instability in the Mediterranean turned Rome into a center of espionage activity, with a marked increase in suspects in a period of transition towards stability. France, Italy, and Yugoslavia exploited their secret services to gain territorial and political advantages before the peace treaty definitively stabilized borders and governance. On July 23, 1945, he explicitly requested that the DGER be kept out of American-controlled zones or forced to clarify and justify their actions. This request stemmed from the awareness that French ambitions on the Aosta Valley and the searches for war criminals conducted by the “Rossignol” mission could hinder American objectives. By June 1946, the DGER had established a clandestine network in Italy, blurring the traditional boundaries between intelligence and counterespionage. On February 12, 1946, Angleton urged the need to enlist dozens of agents to establish strategic bases, highlighting that major foreign covert operations were orchestrated through espionage networks. Early in 1946, “Sailor” significantly contributed to such initiatives, despite previous reservations expressed in February 1945. The Minister of the Navy, Raffaele De Courten, confirmed in a meeting the exclusive friendship of the United States towards Italy, emphasizing American support in the post-war context.

This comment was inspired by the USA’s stance regarding the conditions imposed on Italy in the peace treaty. Angleton planned a persuasive campaign, anticipatory of strategies that would be adopted by the CIA, soliciting documents and speeches from the Secretary of State from Washington that could favor Italy, in order to assure the Italian secret services that their loyalty towards the American service could bring benefits in the peace negotiations. Angleton assessed that a close and collaborative relationship could continue if the Italians were convinced of the American commitment to minimize economic sanctions and protect the territorial integrity of Venezia Giulia, despite these promises not being kept. In this strategy, Angleton did not act out of opportunism or pragmatism but was moved by his innate skepticism. Attentive to the political context, he aimed to balance his sources across various political currents and to smooth any potential polarizations. Starting from October 1945, he sought to balance the monarchic predominance among his contacts in the SIS, anticipating a possible republican inclination of post-war Italy, to not lose access to his informants. Angleton’s network proved effective; his supervisor in London, Norman Holmes Pearson, praised him for conducting the most fruitful operations in Italy compared to those carried out by the former OSS.

Some compared the effectiveness of the Italian station under Angleton’s leadership to that of Allen Dulles in Bern, highlighting how Angleton excelled in the use of Ultra, in establishing connections with the Italian services, and in conducting infiltration operations. He showed an excellent understanding of counterespionage, knowing how to employ available intelligence and how to identify new informational sources. To expand the monitoring of external activities relevant to American interests, he increased counterespionage missions, focusing attention on the collection and analysis of foreign intelligence and ensuring control of information that could be manipulated by enemies. However, his personal security also had negative aspects, prone to an excessive trust that on some occasions led him away from the fundamental principles of his work, as demonstrated by the “Vessel” episode. His tendency to overestimate his capabilities might also have influenced the lack of coordination with partisans during the “Ivy” operation. However, Angleton was aware of the weight of counterespionage control within the intelligence domain, as he confessed in 1949 to his colleague Rolfe Kingsley, highlighting the centrality of counterespionage in the realm of secret services.

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