The Wilderness of Mirrors

Russian counterintelligence nails Polish spies who were spying for NATO. Great Story.

The XX Committee

Greg Treverton, a brainy wonk who has worked on the high margins of the U.S. Intelligence Community, famously explained that puzzles and mysteries are fundamentally different: the former, with their pieces, can be solved, while the latter, with inexact pieces and no firm map, defy easy solution. And some mysteries will defy solution indefinitely.

One of the best things about working in counterintelligence, if you’re comfy with imprecision, is that it’s all about mysteries (one of the worst things is that it can make you crazy), some so vexing and intellectually challenging that they elude agreed-upon solutions for decades, in some cases in perpetuity. James Angleton, the poet-turned-counterspy who became CIA’s genius/flake chief of CI for much of the Cold War, referred to this experience as “the wilderness of mirrors,” which captures the enduring mystery of never quite grasping up from down in a case, or knowing who’s…

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