Cleveland Cram, the son of a farmer from Waterville, was educated at St. John's University, a Benedictine in Minnesota. He obtained a master's degree in history at Harvard University before joining the United States Navy. He served in the South Pacific during the Second World War.
After the war Cram returned to Harvard for his Ph.D. He intended to become an academic but in 1949 was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1953 he was sent to work in London where he got to know Kim Philby. In 1958 Cram returned to head office where he ran the British desk. This was followed by a second spell in England before serving as chief of station in Canada.
Cram was appointed Deputy Chief of Station in Europe. After nine years he became Chief of Station in the Western Hemisphere. He retired from the CIA in 1975. The following year he met George T. Kalaris and Ted Shackley at a cocktail party in Washington. Kalaris, who replaced James Angleton, as Chief of Counterintelligence, asked Cram if he would like to come back to work. Cram was told that the CIA wanted a study done of Angleton's reign from 1954 to 1974. "Find out what in hell happened. What were these guys doing."
Cram took the assignment and was given access to all CIA documents on covert operations. The study entitled History of the Counterintelligence Staff 1954-1974, took six years to complete. As David Wise points out in his book Molehunt (1992): "When Cram finally finished it in 1981... he had produced twelve legal-sized volumes, each three hundred to four hundred pages. Cram's approximately four-thousand-page study has never been declassified. It remains locked in the CIA's vaults."
Cram continued to do research for the CIA on counterintelligence matters. In 1993 he completed a study carried out on behalf of the CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence (CSI). Of Moles and Molehunters: A Review of Counterintelligence Literature. This document was declassified in 2003.
In this work Cram looks at the reliability of information found in books about the American and British intelligence agencies. Cram praises certain authors for writing accurate accounts of these covert activities. He is especially complimentary about the books written by David C. Martin (Wilderness of Mirrors), David Wise (Molehunt) and Tom Mangold (Cold Warrior). Cram points out that these authors managed to persuade former CIA officers to tell the truth about their activities. In some cases, they were even given classified documents.
Cram is particularly complimentary about the Wilderness of Mirrors, a book about the exploits of William Harvey and James Angleton. He points out that Martin does “not name his sources, footnote the book, or provide a bibliography and other academic paraphernalia” but is invariably accurate about what he says about the CIA. Cram adds that luckily Martin’s book did not sell well and is now a collectors item (the book was republished in 2004).
In Of Moles and Molehunters, Cram is highly critical of the work of Edward J. Epstein (Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald and Deception: The Invisible War Between the KGB and the CIA). Cram makes it clear that Epstein, working with James Angleton, was part of a disinformation campaign. Cram writes: “Legend… gave Angleton and his supporters an advantage by putting their argument adroitly – if dishonestly – before the public first. Not until David Martin responded with Wilderness of Mirrors was an opposing view presented coherently.”
Cleveland Cram died on 8th January 1999.