Skilluminati Research

A Toast to Clare Petty

Posted Jan 01, 2013 5 comments


"It was not a clear cut case." Clare Edward Petty would emphasize that sentence repeatedly during his interviews with author David Martin; he wanted to establish his doubts for the written record. It was the bloody end of the 1970's and Martin was gathering material for his book, Wilderness of Mirrors, a critical assessment of James Jesus Angleton. Petty's legacy today is basically a single paragraph twist in Angleton's obituary, an ambiguous note too sweet for any author to resist recounting. Yet Petty's story took decades to unfold, and represents the life of a remarkable man who could easily be a patron saint for the parapolitical research caste.

So consider the career arc of Clare Petty, a compulsively thorough counterintelligence analyst held in great regard by Langley's leadership class. He was recruited by Angleton for a mission critical project: a fresh investigation into the entire Central Intelligence Agency, especially the Soviet desk, to locate KGB moles. He was groomed to be a front line vanguard against infiltration and deception.

Instead, he found himself indulging the literary imagination of his boss, at one point trying to crack a Canadian KGB spy ring that relied upon carrier pigeons. After destroying a few lives and wasting many thousands of pre-Nixon dollars, he concluded that no such plot existed. He would continue to harbor that same suspicion about many of the missions he executed at SIG. Petty would spend the last two years of his CIA employment covertly building a case to implicate Angleton himself as the primary KGB mole.

It should not go unremarked that Clare Petty made his case and resigned from the CIA in 1974, the same year that John Le Carre published Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a novel advancing the premise that British intelligence had been similarly compromised on the highest level for much of the cold war. If Petty has ever been asked about this fictional synchronicity, the results remain unpublished. Strange resonance aside, his report was instrumental in giving William Colby the leverage to get Angleton out of power and radically remake the Agency.

Speaking to David Martin several baffling years later, Petty claimed that his brief was based on 25 points of evidence and he spent a week being interviewed on tape about his research. (It could also be remarked that David Blee was in the room for much of this testimony. David should not be confused with his equally ubiquitous son, Richard Blee, who figures prominently in the history of the CIA's later relationship with Bin Laden.)

Despite Petty's doubts, all of his 25 points were discarded almost immediately as a rationale to end Mother's reign. James Angleton has been cleared, at least in terms of history and the CIA's public documentation, of being the most audaciously successful KGB agent known to man. Although Petty's actions are usually described today as a cautionary tale about paranoia, I consider him to be an inspirational character, an admirably pure product of his training.

"To this day, there are people who don't want to hear Ed Petty's name." - Mary Ellen Reese

Filed in: Political Science

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  • 1. Fluoride Forrestal on Jan 02, 2013 at 11:18 AM permalink

    Did Petty go crazy, though? Was that slander or diagnosis?

  • 2. Yesferatu on Jan 03, 2013 at 2:21 AM permalink

    “It was not a clear cut case,” would be the answer to the question FF poses above. He died with dementia but then again, so did Ronald Reagan, and most historians do him the decency of not writing his policies and decisions off as the result of mental illness. Surely we can afford Petty the same.

  • 3. Presley Auchwitz on Jan 09, 2013 at 9:39 AM permalink

    First off, Happy new year to you and yours.

    Your return from the bowels of global capital has been long awaited.

    I know you read and produce music, I surmise that you appreciate film which doubles as brain food.

    The Man Nobody Knew is an excellent doc on William Colby by his son, I had no idea that he was approached to investigate the Franklin Conspiracy. The coninfluence between Catholicism and Anti Communism is once again re-affirmed.

    Killing Me Softly by Andrew Domnik is a sublime exploration of the financial crisis and the continuation of crime as capitalism meme. Too slow for the modern audiences attention span and yet will be viewed in hindsight as a coda to the Bush/Barrack axis.

    Modern sci fi is out there, independent and low budget. Brit Marling in Another Earth and Sound Of My Voice is the actress to watch.

    MK Ultra weirdness can be found in Beyond The Black Rainbow.MPSD can be enjoyed in Martha, Marcy,May, Marlene.

    All of the above are current and North American in origin. The old school gem is Je t’aime Je t’aime by Alain Resnais 1968. There is a beautiful copy on YT with fan sub titles.

    Hope all of the above get you through Oscar season.

    Many Thanks for your time and reason.

  • 4. Primus Inter Pares on Jan 12, 2013 at 3:37 AM permalink

    It almost reads like he was a critical theory professor building a meta-critique of CI process as inherently self-defeating; or at best, a system for the mass production of pyrrhic victories. Petty’s thesis was likely more subtle than simple Soviet accusations or linear finger-pointing. He perhaps saw the office of the SIG itself as a destructive force burning through the raw analytical capacity of the Agency as a whole, and he perhaps was not mistaken.

    Wasn’t it Helms who decreed, post-Angletonian Era, that nobody could occupy his desk for more than a few years? This is Taylorism, good clear business sense. I suspect that in 2013, the desk of CIA Director is a vast dashboard of precis bullet points stretching in every direction. Much like those byzantine webs of subsidiaries mapped in the wake of MF Global or Enron, the Agency’s portfiolios are beyond the comprehension of entire teams of auditors. It was always a freewheeling environment but by the 80s it must have been too far out of control to even monitor.

  • 5. Mark A. O'Blazney on Jan 18, 2013 at 7:24 AM permalink

    Don’t pity Petty.  Listen to his words against the others who portend to speak with gravitas.

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