In Legacy of Ashes (which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction), Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Tim Weiner, claims that:

McCarthy's file grew thick with allegations that "the CIA had unwittingly hired a large number of double agents--individuals who, although working for the CIA, were actually Communist agents whose mission was to plant inaccurate data," as his chief counsel, Roy Cohn, recounted. Unlike many of McCarthy's charges, this one was true. The agency could not withstand a whit of scrutiny on the issue, and Allen Dulles knew it.

Later, he goes on to claim that:

After his private confrontation with McCarthy, Dulles organized a team of CIA officers to penetrate the senator's office with a spy or a bug, preferably both. The methodology was just like J. Edgar Hoover's: gather dirt, and then spread it. Dulles instructed James Angleton, his counterintelligence czar, to find a way to feed disinformation to McCarthy and his staff as a means of discrediting him. Angleton convinced James McCarger--the officer who had been one of Wisner's first hires--to plant phony reports on a known member of the McCarthy underground at the CIA. McCarger succeeded: the CIA penetrated the Senate.

  1. Did the CIA run an operation to discredit (the then) Senator Joseph McCarthy?
  2. Did the CIA, during Allen Dulles' tenure, contain Soviet agents?
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    It's entirely possible for the disinformation and counter-intelligence operation being intentional to destroy McCarthy and his credibility, both to protect the CIA and to bring an adversary down, without it validating his claims about infiltration, which is something I don't see the author proving or referencing. I'm looking forward to seeing what the answers bring. +1 Oct 6, 2020 at 19:27
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    @PoloHoleSet, that's an important point. I modified the wording of the questions to make it easier to treat those two propositions separately, since, as you say, they could be true/false independently of each other. Oct 6, 2020 at 20:15
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    FYI - That wasn't a criticism of the wording of the question.... more kind of what I'm hoping some answers will delve into. Looks like I might have to do some research and get the ball rolling on answers. Oct 8, 2020 at 18:24
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    "McCarthy thought he was attacking a nest of Communist spies, whereas in fact he was attacking the American Establishment." ~Carroll Quigley
    – JacobIRR
    Oct 8, 2020 at 20:59
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    @bukwyrm: the "McCarthy underground" refers to people inside government institutions that were acting as informants for McCarthy about what was happening inside those institutions. The CIA knew who some of these people were, and so they targeted one believing that if they gave them false info, that info would later be given to and used by McCarthy. This use of the false info (given to him indirectly by the CIA) by McCarthy would allow McCarthy's opponents to dismiss the rest of his (actually true) claims because he was apparently untrustworthy. Mar 31, 2022 at 19:38

1 Answer 1


That appears to be true.

Per historian Mark Stout, who served in the Directorate of Intelligence in CIA, and hosted on cia.gov:

Grombach knew his situation was untenable, and he did not enjoy working for Dulles. So he turned to a like-minded individual on Capitol Hill, Senator Joseph McCarthy. Though Grombach's appointment books show that he had regular direct contact with a few members of Congress and sporadic contacts with several others, there is no evidence that McCarthy was one of them, at least until 1954. What Grombach did have were connections to McCarthy associates, including a close relationship—featuring frequent leaks of Pond materials—with columnist George Sokolsky, a confidant of both McCarthy and his right-hand man, Roy Cohn. In January 1953, Grombach wrote to Sokolsky: "If my contract as consultant in my extracurricular field winds up as of August 15, 1953, I would like to place my experience, contacts and abilities, and perhaps my organization, at the disposal of Congress...Perhaps you can very cautiously and delicately discuss the availability of `an anonymous party'...being available on a part-time basis."

These blandishments soon came to the attention of the CIA, which was very displeased. The Agency had good reason to be angered, because that summer Senator McCarthy turned his sights on it. In July, he called Allen Dulles to Capitol Hill and gave him a list of 12 alleged security risks working for the CIA. Dulles brought the list back to Headquarters and told Lyman Kirkpatrick to investigate. As Kirkpatrick studied McCarthy's list and the allegations made about the people on it, he experienced a sense of déjà vu. "We went back and checked the files and sure enough some of the phrases were identical to so-called 'dirty-linen' reports that the [Pond] had fed to us about our own people, and some of the names were identical with those that the [Pond] regarded as sinister." Kirkpatrick concluded that Grombach was feeding McCarthy.
During the McCarthy-CIA fight, Dulles organized a group to keep tabs on McCarthy's activities and to feed the senator disinformation. James Angleton and James McCargar, who by this time was out of government, were lunching one day, when Angleton mentioned that he knew of the other's work with the Pond in Hungary. Angleton described his concerns about Grombach and asked McCargar to meet with Grombach from time to time and report back. But Angleton wanted something more. He arranged to provide McCargar with false information, supposedly acquired in France, which would appear derogatory to CIA. Angleton hoped Grombach would pass the materials to McCarthy, who would use them. They could then be discredited, embarrassing the senator and hopefully throwing him off the CIA. In order to provide a pretext for giving this information to Grombach, McCargar was to hint that he wanted back in the intelligence game.

— Mark Stout: "The Pond: Running Agents for State, War, and the CIA. The Hazards of Private Spy Operations", Studies in Intelligence, vol 48, no3, Historical Document, Posted: Apr 14, 2007 08:28 PM, Last Updated: Jun 26, 2008 03:02 PM, https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol48no3/article07.html

This is the basis for Wikipedia and they rely on Weiner. Weiner stating as much in the footnotes of his book:

a down-and-dirty covert operation: The declassified CIA history outlining the CIA's work against McCarthy is Mark Stout, "The Pond: Running Agents for State, War, and the CIA," Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 48, No. 3, 2004, CIA/CSI. The congressional testimony came from William J. Morgan, a Yale-trained psychologist and OSS veteran who had been the CIA's deputy chief of training, in a March 4, 1954, hearing before the McCarthy committee titled "Alleged Threats Against the Chairman." The transcript was unsealed in January 2003. Morgan, who was detailed to Walter Bedell Smith's Operations Coordinating Board, testified that his superior, a CIA officer named Horace Craig, suggested that "the best thing to do was penetrate the McCarthy organization." Failing that, Craig speculated, more severe measures might be taken:

Senator Charles E. Potter (R., 111.): He stated in essence that this man should be liquidated, referring to Senator McCarthy?
Dr. Morgan: It may be necessary.
Senator Potter: And that there are madmen—
Dr. Morgan: For a price willing to do the thing.

No other known evidence corroborates the charge that the CIA was thinking about killing McCarthy. The senator drank himself to death in good time.

—Tim Weiner: "Legacy of Ashes. The History of the CIA", Doubleday: London, New York, 2007. (p564–565)

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    @dan-klasson Well, yeah, I can neither confirm nor deny that your allegations are true or false. And here we have an accused with a confession. Jack Ruby approves. Oct 29, 2020 at 7:38

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