Big Intel: How the CIA and FBI Went from Cold War Heroes to Deep State Villains, by J. Michael Waller (Regnery Publishers, 379 pp., $22.99)

Every American concerned about the dismal state of the nation’s intelligence agencies should read J. Michael Waller’s riveting book, Big Intel. A fine writer with extensive experience in information warfare and foreign subversion, Waller explores the origins of the nation’s increasingly suicidal self-image and sinking global influence.    

A century ago, Waller contends, America’s already-compromised body politic was unprepared to resist a most sophisticated ideological virus, whose origin, like Covid, was alien. Conceived in Germany and boosted by the Kremlin, that virus—critical theory—was implanted in the United States.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, American elites had become mesmerized by eugenics and scientism. Republicans and Democrats alike admired strong European leaders like Napoleon, Bismarck, and Mussolini, who all seemed devoted to a technocratic pursuit of collective welfare. Intellectuals of all stripes gravitated toward various strands of socialism, whether nationalist or internationalist, English or Continental.

Among American elites’ favored pilgrimage destinations was Frankfurt am Main, home of Goethe University’s Institute for Social Research. Established in 1923 through a donation by the wealthy Argentinian-German Marxist Felix Weil, the Institute became known as the Frankfurt School, which birthed the critical-theory movement. Its scholars, inspired and strategically networked by the triumphant Bolsheviks to the east, used Marxism to understand society. Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 forced the school’s adherents westward to Switzerland, and two years later, to New York.

At that time, writes Waller, New York served as “the epicenter [of] . . . both Nazi and Soviet networks in the United States.” The Frankfurt School scholars who maintained strong ties with the Soviet Union were safely housed at the Rockefeller Foundation–funded Institute for Social Research at Columbia University. The U.S., having just recognized the Soviet regime that same year, scrutinized its agents less closely than those of the Nazis. Hede Tune Massing, for example, an actress and Austrian Communist Party leader who had moved to America with the Frankfurt School, also worked for Amtorg, a Soviet trading company. But American officials apparently did not consider Amtorg, co-founded by American businessman Armand Hammer, to be suspect, even though Hammer’s father, Julius, had helped fund the Bolshevik Revolution, and Hammer himself was a Soviet spy.

Hede’s other employer finally brought her to the attention of the FBI: the USSR’s military intelligence, the GRU. Her latest husband, Paul Massing, was a German Communist Party member who handled Stalin’s American networks of “illegals,” or deep-cover agents. Waller writes that, unknown to Heda, “the U.S. Army Signal Corps, under its super-secret, brilliant Venona program, intercepted and decrypted a message in which Paul Massing informed his GRU handlers that the OSS [Office of Strategic Services] had just enlisted one of his trusted friends.” That friend was only one of about 350 Soviet spies Venona had uncovered. At least 15, though probably many more, had penetrated the OSS, the CIA’s precursor.

Vital as they were, however, the FBI’s findings did not offset infiltration elsewhere: State, Treasury, Defense, Interior, and other agencies soon teemed with spies and Soviet collaborators. When at last America set up the OSS, an intelligence agency modeled on the British MI6, the spies penetrated it, too. Even as “the FBI rooted out Soviet agents to shut them down, the OSS was recruiting them,” writes Waller.

Those agents would become Big Intel’s Achilles’ heel. Organized by the brilliant but mercurial and arrogant “Wild Bill” Donovan, the OSS “made itself a magnet for Communist operatives and Soviet agents.” The handsome Irishman never suspected that notorious British spy Kim Philby, his most trusted British friend and one in whom he confided heedlessly, was one of the Kremlin’s greatest assets. “For all his experience and beliefs,” laments Waller, “Donovan took a naïve view about Stalin.” The CIA would inherit the OSS’s deafness to subversion.

The FBI succumbed later, but no less disastrously, to such infiltration. During the 1940s and 1950s, the agency informed Democrats and Republicans about Communist penetration of America’s bureaucracy and warned them about subversion of the nation’s educational system. “Over the years, the American Communists have developed a propaganda machine and a nefarious and elaborate school system of their own,” FBI director J. Edgar Hoover said in 1944. “Brazenly, they have urged the development of courses, lectures, and assemblies as media to espouse the ideologies of Marxism as a school of thought in the United States.”

Within a few years, critical theory scholars like Herbert Marcuse (himself hired by the OSS) did just that. Marcuse founded the New Left and was idolized by the Vietcong-enamored radicals who hated repressive “Amerikka.” Marcuse’s star student at Brandeis University, Angela Davis, was the Communist Party USA’s vice presidential candidate twice in the 1980s. A convicted felon who purchased the gun her Black Panther lover used to assassinate a judge, Davis in 1972 earned three honorary doctorates from Moscow State University, the University of Tashkent, and Karl Marx University in the German Democratic Republic.

For the critical theorists, the movement’s incremental advances were not enough. Marcuse claimed in 1972 that the new zeitgeist was “not (yet) political and economic revolution.” Despite advances, Marcuse wrote, “in the arts, in literature and music, in communication, in the mores and fashions, [where] changes have occurred which suggest a new experience, a radical transformation of values, the social structure and its political expressions seem to remain basically unchanged, or at least to lag behind the cultural changes.” 

The critical theorists and their ideological heirs would have to wait until Barack Obama’s election to see anything approaching such transformation. Now, more than a decade after Obama’s ascent, critical theory has thoroughly infiltrated both the nation’s politics and its intelligence agencies. On this score, Waller cites as proof FBI director Christopher Wray’s failing to investigate the masterminds of the “Black Lives Matter and Antifa rioting and murder sprees [notwithstanding that they] cost billions of dollars in property damage and innocent lives.”

The book ends with commentary and practical recommendations. Regarding the CIA, Waller warns that “the political correctness and wokeness that have swept the agency will end up damaging or abusing the agency’s covert and technical capabilities, and will force the public to question their necessity.” Parts of the FBI and CIA’s missions— fighting crimes like espionage and human trafficking, and producing accurate global intelligence, respectively—are essential. But reform of either agency is impossible, Waller writes, until we acknowledge the underlying problem: “Critical theory, the ideological matrix that now dominates the core missions of the FBI and CIA, requires a constant search for enemies from fellow law-abiding countrymen to American constitutional institutions themselves.”

Waller’s book reveals that the time is late for a vaccine against the critical-theory virus. It must be isolated, exposed, and curbed before it ruins our republic.

Photo: DoraDalton/iStock / Getty Images Plus


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