Intelligence in Public Literature

Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf

Compiled and reviewed by Hayden Peake


Current Topics
Terrorist Financing, Money Laundering, and Tax Evasion: Examining the Performance of Financial Intelligence Units, by Jayesh D’Souza.

Trading Secrets: Spies and Intelligence in an Age of Terror, by Mark Huband.


Decoding Organization: Bletchley Park, Codebreaking and Organization Studies, by Christopher Grey.

Talk at the Brink: Deliberation and Decision during the Cuban Missile Crisis, by David R. Gibson.

Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer, by J. C. Carleson.


Historical–US and Worldwide
A Brief History of the Spy: Modern Spying from the Cold War to the War on Terror, Paul Simpson.

The Houseguests: A Memoir of Canadian Courage and CIA Sorcery, by Mark Lijek.

Intelligence in the Cold War: What Difference Did It Make? edited by Michael Herman and Gwilym Hughes.

The Rice Paddy Navy: U. S. Sailors Undercover in China—Espionage and Sabotage Behind Enemy Lines in China During World War II, by Linda Kush.

Saul Steinberg: A Biography, by Deirdre Bair.

Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government, by M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein.


Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire, by Calder Walton.

The Imperial Security State: British Colonial Knowledge and Empire-Building in Asia, by James Hevia.

The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham, by Michael Jago.

Spying for the People: Mao’s Secret Agents, 1949–1967, by Michael Schoenhals.

Under Every Leaf: How Britain Played the Greater Game from Afghanistan to Africa, by William Beaver.

Women of Intelligence: Winning the Second World War with Air Photos, by Christine Halsall.


Intelligence Abroad
India’s Spy Agencies: Shaken Not Stirred, by Lt. Col. Sunil S. Parihar.





Current Topics

Terrorist Financing, Money Laundering, and Tax Evasion: Examining the Performance of Financial Intelligence Units, by Jayesh D’Souza (CRC Press, 2012), 212 pp., end-of-chapter references, index.

How do terrorists pay for travel, weapons, training, and all the day-to-day costs of communication, web monitoring, computers, food, and more that allow them to function? In Terrorist Financing, Canadian author and financial management specialist Jayesh D’Souza identifies potential sources of funds and various money laundering techniques employed by terrorists and their sympathizers. D’Souza’s primary focus is on interrupting the flow of money to terrorists. The key organizations working toward that goal, he suggests, are national financial intelligence units (FIUs).

After a review of changes made to intelligence organizations in order to track money after 9/11, D’Souza uses case studies to describe the nature and types of terrorist financial dealings and how they are done. (65ff.) The case studies are really illustrations with few specifics, and the “how” is hard to see, although he does describe the kinds of things that are done.

D’Souza then turns to risk management, performance measures, various administrative impediments, and the functions of the FIUs in nations where they exist. His scope is worldwide, and he discusses the principal countries one by one, highlighting key organizations and their functions. The US merits three pages and Canada one, for example.

The two final chapters deal with what FIUs need to do in order to improve performance, the role of the private sector, and the gains possible with better cooperation. As a guide to the problem, Terrorist Financing, Money Laundering, and Tax Evasion is a valuable source.


Trading Secrets: Spies and Intelligence in an Age of Terror, by Mark Huband (I. B. Tauris, 2013), 260 pp., endnotes, bibliography, index.

Mark Huband became an “expert” on spies and intelligence agencies while serving as the Financial Times security correspondent between 2001 and 2003. In a statement that will astound those who remember the Church Committee era in the United States and the Peter Wright kerfuffle in the United Kingdom, he writes that, thanks to 9/11, “never before had the CIA, SIS, MI5 and other intelligence services been under such scrutiny.” (2) He then observes that “part of the trauma to the Americans and the wider world has lain in the realization that the ability to surprise has been lost to the other side.” (3) Thus it follows from his line of thinking that gaining an intelligence advantage over al-Qaeda “necessitated an understanding of just how redundant the established practices of intelligence gathering had become.”(9) Redundant is used here in the sense of “no longer needed.” He argues, but never really demonstrates, that “trading secrets” is an obsolete objective.

To make his point historically, he invokes a comparison with Irish nationalism since 1798. From then until 9/11, he argues, espionage had been based on “the ‘trade’ in secrets.” (6, 9) “As all intelligence agencies failed to learn of al-Qaeda’s most devastating attack until it was too late, so the British in Ireland failed to detect just how strong were the nationalist sentiments that in 1922 brought an end to centuries of occupation in all but six counties of what became Northern Ireland.” (40–41)

Huband devotes several chapters to the Irish precedent. Then he examines the Cold War practices of the CIA, with emphasis on Africa and to a lesser extent the Middle East, in order to show how the West failed for so long to see the “emerging trends…as threatening Western interests.” (95) This is followed by a summary of how Bin Laden operated and a review of CIA pre-9/11 attempts to deal with what some saw as a genuine threat. But, he adds, “even the best secret intelligence on al-Qaeda’s intentions might not have averted 9/11…because it was al-Qaeda’s destiny.” (118) Then, after a digression discussing the intelligence failures he claims preceded the most recent Iraq war, Huband assesses the post-9/11 rendition and prisoner interrogation issues. In each case he draws parallels with the Irish experience to show how traditional espionage—or “spying” as he calls it—was inadequate.

Trading Secrets doesn’t supply an unambiguous alternative to the “redundant” trading of secrets. He acknowledges that the “trade in secrets” is still practiced, but he argues, without evidence, that the secrets needed today are in the hands of those “who have no interest in selling what they know.” (226) He concludes that “eavesdropping has taken the lead” and hints that private security firms staffed by former intelligence officers seeking personal gain have major roles to play. (227) Huband’s suggestions point to the conclusion that he has not acquired sufficient understanding of the intelligence profession to be regarded as an expert.

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Decoding Organization: Bletchley Park, Codebreaking and Organization Studies, by Christopher Grey (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 322 pp., end-of-chapter notes, bibliography, appendix, glossary, index.

Professor Christopher Grey chairs the Organizational Studies Department of Royal Holloway University of London. His man objective in writing Decoding Organization was “to develop a way of conducting organizational studies” (5) and only secondarily to discovering why Bletchley Park (BP), with its unique operating circumstances, was able to function successfully. He recognizes that, given the complexity of many organizations, there is doubt that “what works within one organization can ever be replicated within another.” (21) Thus his title has a double meaning: decoding or understanding BP’s structure in order to decode the underlying organizational theory.

What, then, is the potential takeaway for the intelligence officer? Grey’s discussion of BP’s structure and how it evolved in an ad hoc fashion while accomplishing its mission under great stress is of interest historically and to managers who may have to consider similar situations. Toward this end, Grey evaluates cultural aspects, personnel conflicts, and managerial disputes. But, as he admits, with its emphasis on organizational theory, the “book contains some extremely detailed empirical material” that “may be a confusing swirl of acronym, special terms, events and people.” (39)

For those not schooled in organizational theory, it may be useful to read the conclusions first. Here, Grey explains in greater detail the “decoding BP” metaphor. Also valuable are the appendices, which provide a timeline of major BP events, a list of interviewees, a summary of the roles of key players, and organizational charts that show structural development.

Decoding Organization considers many factors—human trust, leadership, culture, and management styles, as well as organization—that affect intelligence officers in their careers. It is an unusual perspective into the intelligence profession and that itself can be of value.


Talk at the Brink: Deliberation and Decision during the Cuban Missile Crisis, by David R. Gibson (Princeton University Press, 2012), 218 pp., endnotes, bibliography, index.

David Gibson is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania specializing in the meaning of conversation, or talk. He characterizes the main argument of Talk At The Brink as follows:

Insofar as a decision arises out of talk, and there is no “right” answer simply waiting to be discovered or decreed, that decision emerges from an intersection of individuals’ perspectives and interests; conversational rules, procedures, and vicissitude; and external events that may impinge on the decision making process before it has run its course. (159)

Gibson’s analysis is based on the now-public recordings of conversations of President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Committee (ExComm)—the core group of NSC members and White House advisors that met throughout the crisis. Although Gibson acknowledges that “Kennedy was the person who would ultimately make the crucial decisions and who would principally be held accountable for them,” (72) the concept that the president’s decisions resulted from a spirited exchange of ideas is too simplistic, from his point of view. Those who have accepted that interpretation are judged incorrect for reasons Gibson enumerates.

To make his point, Gibson provides an extensive review of the ExComm and how it functioned, quoting many exchanges. There follow several chapters of detailed analysis of the conversations, many portions of which are reproduced. He notes that Kennedy himself described “the decision making process as impenetrable…mysterious even to those most intimately involved.” He goes on to suggest that Kennedy would have been surprised if he thought that decisionmaking involved “a cerebral exercise in which the decision maker was entirely in charge and at the mercy of his… cognitive limitations [and] the information available.” (165) No one knows what Kennedy thought on the subject, but Gibson does not make clear why he would have been surprised.

Gibson relies heavily for his views on the disorganized and repetitive nature of the ExComm’s discussions. Here he employs often esoteric social science concepts. Nevertheless, for nonsociologists, the interpretations found in Talk At The Brink do not discount the simpler explanation that Kennedy considered all the evidence, as disorderly as it was, and simply made the decision that he thought would avoid a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union.


Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer, by J. C. Carleson (Penguin, 2013), 198 pp., index.

After returning to private life, former CIA case officer J. C. Carleson realized that many of the skills acquired during 10 years in the clandestine service could be used to enhance performance in the corporate world. Work Like a Spy identifies those skills and illustrates their application. But Carleson is quick to emphasize that her book is not about, nor does it advocate, industrial espionage. And it is not a traditional memoir, though the examples she uses to draw parallels with business practices are based on firsthand experience.

The book has three parts. The first is a review of the basics of human intelligence, the practices involved, and how they relate to business. Of particular interest is a chapter on business counterintelligence, or security, in which corporate and personal vulnerabilities are discussed.

In part two Carleson reviews personnel recruiting and screening techniques for forming good teams. The work ethic is important here, and the 12 principles she introduces were drawn from lessons she learned in dealing with agents and intelligence officers. The final chapter in this part considers crisis management strategies and how leaders and corporate managers can implement them successfully.

Part three deals with getting people—targets as she calls them—to make a sale. Carleson describes a number of techniques, then considers various methods of control or supervision likely to enhance success while underlining the merits of “the unorthodox approach” she recommends. She reviews techniques for handling suppliers and competitors and in each case draws on her CIA experience to illustrate her ideas.

In conclusion, Carleson points out that good case-officer tradecraft produces results in the business world, as demonstrated by her own experience since leaving the CIA. Dirty tricks are not the answer, she writes: “Today’s rival can be tomorrow’s ally.” (192) The key to acquiring information in the business world is finding the right people and adhering to “firm ethical parameters…while maintaining your integrity.” (192) Work Like A Spy is interesting and provides a valuable, if unfamiliar way of thinking about the intelligence and corporate worlds.

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Historical–US and Worldwide

A Brief History of the Spy: Modern Spying from the Cold War to the War on Terror, Paul Simpson (Constable and Robinson, Ltd, 2013), 288 pp., bibliography, glossary, index.

Most books on intelligence history discuss a single agency, a war, or a geographic area. This one is different. It is a chronological narrative, beginning—the title notwithstanding—with a brief account of the events that led to the creation before WW I of Britain’s principal agencies, MI5 and MI6. It then turns to the interwar period and reviews the operations of MI5 and MI6 and the successful recruitment of British agents by the Soviet services. This is followed by a summary of WW II activities, bringing in Bletchley Park and the roles played by the Allied and Axis agencies.

The next 11 chapters, with an occasional digression into espionage and popular culture, are devoted to the Cold War and its major cases, which are well summarized. In his coverage, Simpson discusses principal officers, agents, defectors, and organizations from both sides of the war. The final two chapters cover intelligence and the “war on terror” up to 2013.

Despite the absence of source notes, there are relatively few errors, and most are minor. For example, Admiral Canaris, head of the German Abwehr, was hanged, not shot. (9) Guy Burgess was not “the prime mover” who “set out to create his own ‘light blue ring of five.’” Kim Philby was the first, and he had Burgess on his list. And Philby was not recruited by Teodor Maly in Vienna; that task was handled by Arnold Deutsch in London, after Philby had returned from Vienna. (11) Finally, James Angleton’s tenure as chief of the Counterintelligence Staff ended in 1974, not 1975.

For a single book, Simpson has provided a very good introduction to modern intelligence.


The Houseguests: A Memoir of Canadian Courage and CIA Sorcery, by Mark Lijek (, 305 pp., photos, no index.

After Antonio Mendez was named one of 50 Trailblazers during the CIA’s 50th anniversary ceremonies in 1997, he revealed the reason for the award in a Studies in Intelligence article, “A Classic Case of Deception,” which mentioned the word “Argo”—the name of the operation he led—for the first time.[1] In 2012, it became a household word when Mendez published his book, Argo, and the motion picture based on it won three Academy Awards, including one for best picture.[2] Before 2012, Robert Wright published a book describing the crucial Canadian role in the Argo operation.[3] Each of these accounts told the story—from a slightly different perspective—of the six American foreign services officers who escaped capture by the Iranians when the US Embassy in Tehran was overrun in 1989. Houseguests author Mark Lijek, one of the six, adds further details from a first hand point of view.

The first two of the five parts of Houseguests are something of a memoir about college, joining the US Foreign Service, training, and “volunteering” for a first assignment—in Lijek’s case, Tehran. After Mark had spent two months there, Cora Lijek joined her husband. Two months later, on 4 November, Iranian “students” seized the embassy, and the hostage ordeal began. Lijek describes how each of the six houseguests ended up in the home of Canadian diplomat John Sheardown and their fears as they thought about what might happen if they were caught by the Iranians. Lijek’s concern was heightened since he learned that the previous attack on the embassy, in February 1989, was not the relatively peaceful event the State Department spinners had claimed—people had died. (110)

Thanks to the Sheardowns, day-to-day life was reasonably comfortable for the six. Lijek tells how they occupied their time while wondering what to do next. Anxiety increased when they learned that word of their presence had leaked and the Iranians were looking for them. (178) They then began considering options for escape presented by the Canadians, but none seem likely to succeed. The situation changed when two men from the CIA showed up with a new option, and they realized they had not been abandoned. The actual escape went more smoothly than depicted in the film Argo.

Lijek concludes his story with the events that occurred after they returned home. These included a visit with President Carter, TV appearances, and after-action debriefings. And Lijek explains why many of the escape details remained secret for years. When it was decided to make Argo the film, the couple observed production on the set. Lijek makes it clear he was upset that the film did not give appropriate recognition to the Canadian efforts. This was one of the reasons he decided to write the book. An epilogue discusses what happened to each of the six in the years that followed.[4]

Houseguests is exciting reading and fills an important gap in a history-making story.


Intelligence in the Cold War: What Difference Did It Make? edited by Michael Herman and Gwilym Hughes (Routledge, 2013), 150 pp., footnotes, index.

The Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies in Oslo has sponsored two conferences since 2000 on a crucial question for historians and intelligence officers alike: did intelligence matter in the Cold War?[5] In 2009, it was the subject of the annual workshop of the Oxford Intelligence Group at Nuffield College. Intelligence in the Cold War presents the papers delivered at that conference by seven scholars, some with direct experience in the field.[6] Beyond the central question, three subtopics were addressed: Did intelligence speak truth to power? Did governments listen? Did intelligence make the Cold War hotter or colder?

Aberystwyth University Professor Len Scott considers the questions as applied to the Able-Archer ‘83 exercise. Analyst John Prados examines them based on studies of the military balance. British intelligence analyst Peter Davies reports on estimating Soviet power by the Defence Intelligence Staff. Cambridge University Research Associate Julie Fedor surveys conspiracy theories in Soviet literature, with emphasis on “the mythical so-called Dulles Plan,” (89ff.) which is seldom mentioned in Western literature. Bar-Ilan University Professor Shlomo Shpiro looks at KGB operations in Israel since 1948 and how they affected security issues. Oxford University professor and former GCHQ analyst Michael Herman sums up the topic.

Not all the papers examine the subtopics directly. Most, however, agree that despite estimating errors, the technical accomplishments of the intelligence agencies made a difference when it came to monitoring nuclear arms agreements and in some other areas. When it came to the adversary’s intentions, however, the authors’ judgments were expressed with fortune-cookie ambiguity, a result that may be the best that can be expected.

This is a very valuable collection of views that should remind intelligence officers that “What Difference Does It Make?’ is a question worth serious consideration.


The Rice Paddy Navy: U. S. Sailors Undercover in China—Espionage and Sabotage Behind Enemy Lines During World War II, by Linda Kush (Osprey Publishing, 2012), 294 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

The Rice Paddy Navy tells the story of an unusual US Navy intelligence unit, the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO), and its operations in China during much of WW II. Two other books have been written about SACO, both by former members of the unit.[7] The first, SACO—The Rice Paddy Navy, appeared in 1950. The second was by SACO’s commander, Captain (later Admiral) Milton ‘Mary’ Miles, who was always known by the nickname given him by his Naval Academy classmates in honor of the silent movie star Mary Miles Minter. Author Linda Kush provides a more substantial view.

By the end of the war, SACO had a complement of 2,500 US servicemen—Navy, Marines, Army—as well as 97,000 Chinese guerrillas and 20,000 pirates. Kush explains SACO’s origins and mission, interservice rivalries, tension with OSS, its relationship with the not always cooperative Chinese, and what its members tried to do.

SACO’s nominal mission was to provide weather data for the Pacific Fleet, to monitor Japanese ship movements along the China coast, and to assess potential landing sites for an eventual Japanese invasion. On his own initiative, Miles also conducted some sabotage and “secret operations.” (253) The Army objected that since SACO’s mission involved land operations, it should have been assigned to the Army. But General Joseph Stilwell, the commander of the China-Burma theater, liked Miles. Furthermore, Miles had served in China, spoke the language, and had established a working relationship with the ruthless head of nationalist Chinese intelligence, Tai Li.[8] The OSS had been denied the right to operate in the Pacific Theater under MacArthur’s command. OSS head William Donovan decided to establish a presence in China and persuaded US Chief of Staff General Marshall to also make Miles head of OSS China, which Kush sometimes calls the Office of Special Services in China.

Kush describes how poorly these arrangements worked in practice. Miles continually fought with the OSS, and those ties were soon severed. The OSS, a source of money and supplies for the Chinese, nevertheless expanded operations in the China-Burma theater, though Donovan had his own confrontations with Tai Li. SACO remained to work with the Chinese and accomplished its mission to a degree. In the end though, Miles was viewed by many “as a hostile renegade gone native.” (254) Despised by the new theater Army commander, General Albert Wedemeyer, his authority eroded until SACO was disbanded when the war ended.

The Rice Paddy Navy is an interesting and balanced view of SACO, one of the most controversial military units in WW II.


Saul Steinberg: A Biography, by Deirdre Bair (Doubleday, 2012), 732 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

In its early years, the New Yorker magazine did not have a table of contents, and loyal readers paged through each issue to see what was offered. Its unique cartoons soon became a popular feature. In 1942, Romanian artist Saul Steinberg joined the New Yorker. Except for a period of service during the war, he never left, and he went on to draw many of the journal’s cartoons and 90 covers.

Steinberg was born in 1914. He studied philosophy at the University of Bucharest before going to Italy, where he earned a degree in architecture in 1940. When Italy passed anti-Semitic laws, he began a circuitous journey to the United States. With the help of Cornelius Vanderbilt and the New Yorker, Steinberg was granted resident alien status in the United States in 1942. While waiting to be drafted, Steinberg came to the attention of a friend of New Yorker editor Harold Ross, Colonel William Donovan, who was searching for artists to serve in the Morale Operations Branch of the OSS.

Donovan sent a naval officer to interview Steinberg in New York. The officer’s report lists Steinberg’s principal strengths: he was fluent in Romanian and Italian, with good German and French; he had traveled widely; and he could draw. His weaknesses were equally dramatic. Steinberg’s English was poor, and the doctors diagnosed a mild “psychoneurosis,” a heart murmur, and heart disease. Plus, he was an alien, and his qualifications for a commission in the Navy were nil. Donovan was nonetheless interested, and had Steinberg “reexamined.” On 19 February 1943, he became a citizen and an ensign in the US Navy.

In her engaging biography, author Deirdre Bair devotes two chapters to Steinberg’s OSS service. He served first with the Sino-American Cooperative Organization in the Pacific under Admiral Milton Miles, who wrote him a glowing fitness report. (128) His job was to prepare drawings to convey allied propaganda to those who could not read English. Later he was assigned to an Army unit in Italy and served as an interpreter in the Psychological Warfare Branch. During his exit interview before returning to the states, Steinberg noted that “he found very little tangible value in the work he did as a morale officer…there is no way of measuring effectiveness.” (127) But he added, he enjoyed his OSS experience.

Bair has provided a glimpse into the life of an OSS officer whose contribution, while not well known, is characteristic of OSS service.


Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government, by M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein (Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2012), 294 pp., endnotes, photos, index.

With the publication of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America,[9] the claims of many authors that Soviet spies hadn’t really existed, or, if they had it didn’t really matter, were debunked with irrefutable evidence. What more was left to say? M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein hint at the answer, quoting Whittaker Chambers: “The power to influence policy has always been the purpose of Communist Party’s infiltration. It was much more dangerous…and more difficult to prove than espionage.” (8) While Chambers did not have access to material that supported his judgment, Evans and Romerstein have found documents in the heretofore unexamined papers of former secretary of state Edward Stettinius that, they argue, do just that. Stalin’s Secret Agents states their case.

A principal focus of Stalin’s Secret Agents is on the extraordinary influence exerted by Alger Hiss at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. Roosevelt’s foreign policy advisor, Stettinius, had been secretary of state for only two months and often allowed Hiss to speak for him in the presence of the principals. The authors provide examples. One instance involved China policy, a topic Hiss later claimed he didn’t address. Stettinius’ diary—the page is reproduced in the book—shows that Hiss had indeed raised the question, encouraging “support for an agreement between the Comintern” and the anticommunist Chiang Kai-shek government. The official State Department record omitted the exchange. (43–44)

The authors discuss many other examples of known communist agents, for example Harry Dexter White and Lauchlin Currie, working to influence US policies. In one case, they describe a report written by OSS officer, Linn Farish—named as an Soviet agent in the Venona decrypts—that praised Tito and compared the Chinese communist movement to the “American revolution.” Somehow the document found its way from OSS files to the White House and was shown to Stalin. (163–64)

Evans and Romerstein do not neglect espionage performed by Americans serving as Soviet agents. One example involved Duncan Lee, the OSS officer who supplied a list of suspected communists to the Soviets through Soviet agent Elizabeth Bentley. The list, heavily redacted in the Venona decrypts, is reproduced in full for the first time in this book.

Will Stalin’s Secret Agents put to rest the view that Hiss and the other agents mentioned really acted in the best interests of the United States? Probably not. The actions of “agents of influence” will likely be interpreted by some as simply aiding an ally in the war. Evans and Romerstein have made that judgment much more difficult to support.

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Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire, by Calder Walton (HarperCollins, 2013), 411 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

After two world wars, imperial Britain no longer had the capacity to deal simultaneously with economic crisis at home, a growing Soviet threat, and rising independence movements in its colonies and protectorates. As the world watched, one former colony after another achieved nationhood in what appeared at the time to be a relatively orderly process. In Empire of Secrets, British historian Calder Walton reveals these events were anything but orderly, despite attempts by the UK’s intelligence services to achieve that goal.

Walton’s account focuses on the British Security Service (MI5), the agency responsible for imperial security and intelligence at home and in the colonies, but he includes the contributions of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the SIGINT agency (GCHQ), military intelligence, and local Special Branch sections with arrest authority. He begins with the story of a bomb placed in a London Colonial Office restroom by an agent of the Stern Gang, an Israeli paramilitary organization fighting to get the British out of Palestine. The bomb was detected by chance and failed to go off because of a faulty timer. The contemporary echoes are obvious, and more will be found in later episodes in which insurgent elements competed for power throughout the empire.

Britain’s period of decolonization involved counterinsurgency and counterterrorist operations in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, and Walton deals with each in considerable detail. MI5 had personnel—some declared, some undercover—in nearly every country involved. In the immediate postwar era, combatting terrorism was its priority. MI5 failed in Palestine, where terrorism was a major contributor to the British withdrawal. (111) Later in Malaya, where dollar earnings exceeded the entire industrial output of Britain in 1948, the MI5 branch struggled against the communist-inspired insurgency. Years of jungle warfare followed and sometimes “interrogators tortured detainees” while recruiting double agents, a topic that Walton discusses at length. (188–97) Ultimately, he notes, the Malaya operations stabilized the local economy and was considered a qualified success.

Elsewhere, the results were mixed at best. MI5 stations in the African colonies trained indigenous security elements while monitoring sources of local political unrest and supporting American attempts to neutralize Soviet penetration operations. Here, too, the record shows occasional “shocking levels of violence” before the British withdrew. (286) In several cases, MI5 elements remained after independence to continue training, deal with security matters, and provide cryptographic equipment—thus allowing GCHQ to monitor local communications.

Most of the details Walton presents are based on recently released archival documents. When he turns his attention to Cold War counterintelligence, however, he is on less firm ground. For example, Roger Hollis was not “a wartime entrant to MI5” (68); he joined in 1938. Kim Philby was not the first head of Section IX; he succeeded John Curry. And Walton’s claim that Anthony Blunt was named as a Soviet agent by Andrew Boyle in his book The Climate of Treason: Five Who Spied for Russia (1979) is inaccurate. For legal reasons, Boyle used the pseudonym Maurice for Blunt.[10] Finally, the Soviet bug in the US Great Seal was discovered in the ambassador’s residence, not the embassy—and in Moscow, not in London. (144).[11]

Empire of Secrets is an impressive work and reveals the role of Britain’s intelligence services in decolonization. It offers many parallels for any country struggling to help new nations establish representative government where none existed before.


The Imperial Security State: British Colonial Knowledge and Empire-Building in Asia, by James Hevia. (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 304 pp., footnotes, bibliography, photos, maps, index.

If asked about the components of modern day intelligence, most people would be likely to think of recruiting and handling agents, SIGINT, satellites, cybersecurity, and analysts briefing policymakers. In The Imperial Security State, James Hevia, professor of international history at the University of Chicago, examines an earlier era, when intelligence informed the imperial state on different topics and in different ways. His focus is on the origins and evolution of British and Indian Army intelligence organizations in the so-called “Great Game” era in South Asia. His objective is to convey how both contributed to shaping contemporary Asia and modern intelligence practices.

Hevia begins by demolishing a familiar, if not cherished, metaphor: the term “Great Game.” The “Anglo-Russian rivalry,” he points out, was not the romantic adventure characterized by Kipling. During the 19th century, the British fought two bloody wars with Afghanistan, in addition to “repeated clashes on the Northwest Frontier of India.” (9) He also makes a strong case that the term was not coined, as Peter Hopkirk and others have suggested, by Arthur Conolly shortly before his execution.[12] (10–11) It evolved as a metaphor as historians wrote about the era.

Early in the 19th century, intelligence needs concerned terrain, security of supply lines, and statistics about the enemy. Initially, the requirements were met by officers leading small groups to map terrain and collect data about people and conditions in regions they visited. Sometimes they were charged with negotiating agreements with local chieftains. By the late 1870s, the British army was responsible for providing intelligence for India’s defense.

Hevia discusses the gradual reforms in intelligence organization, training, collection, and reporting that occurred and gives examples of their application in Afghanistan, India, and China. Espionage is not forgotten, and the need to weigh carefully information from spies is stressed. At the same time, he shows how local culture gradually became an important factor in collection and assessment.

In the chapter on the “uses of intelligence,” Hevia describes a well-organized intelligence system whose products—route books, maps, intelligence reports, and area handbooks—were considered by leaders in India and London during planning and war games. Sometimes the conclusions drawn by different staff elements were not the same, and disputes arose. In one example, strength figures and other statistics were challenged, as was the failure to adequately address military capabilities. (155–56) In other instances, there were political disagreements and challenges from the press. Hevia deals at length with the impact both had on public opinion and military intelligence.

Many of the intelligence and geopolitical issues dealt with in The Imperial Security State have a contemporary resonance, and Hevia concludes with a discussion of the parallels for Britain and the United States. He also recognizes the new aspects of modern insurgency, including “social network analysis,” which is an extension of the need for cultural awareness. (263) On this point, the book ends with an Afghan poem that shows another side of the culture. This book is thoroughly documented and will be of value to military historians, analysts, and contemporary critics alike.


The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham, by Michael Jago (Biteback Publishing, 2013), 308 pp., photos, index.

“There are currently two schools of thought about our Intelligence Services. One school is convinced that they are staffed by murderous, powerful, double-crossing cynics, the other that the taxpayer is supporting a collection of bumbling, broken-down lay-abouts.”[13] And so began John Bingham’s most famous book, The Double Agent, published in 1966. Bingham’s comments, suggests author Michael Jago, were directed at his onetime protégé, John Le Carré for Le Carré’s “brutally inhuman” characterization of MI5 and MI6 in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1963) and The Looking Glass War (1965). Accurate or not, Bingham continued, “They could do no good to either service…and only encourage the enemies of democracy.” (191) Despite the harsh critique, Bingham’s friendship with Le Carré “was not irreparably damaged.” (193) The Man Who Was George Smiley explains how Bingham became Smiley.

When David Cornwell—Le Carré—joined MI5 in 1958, he found John Bingham leading a double life as a respected agent handler and a successful author writing under his true name. These unusual circumstances, Jago explains, were the one constant in Bingham’s life. Born in 1908 into an aristocratic family—he would later become Lord Clanmorris—he watched his parents squander much of the family fortune. His public school education didn’t lead to university, so he traveled to Europe to learn French and German, necessary qualifications for the Colonial Service. While there, he acquired both languages, a mistress, and a wife who was not in favor of service in the colonies. Through connections, he tried his hand at journalism, eventually becoming a successful but low-paid humor columnist. To add income, he joined the Royal Engineers. As war approached, Bingham decided to apply to MI5, though as Jago writes, he never told how he did it. He did reveal that he was interviewed by a legendary agent recruiter, Maxwell Knight, known as “M,” who became a valued friend.

Guided by Knight during the war, Bingham did well. But he was only a reserve officer, and when the war ended, MI5 had no full-time positions. Thus he spent two years interrogating ex-Nazis and POWs in Europe before returning to London and journalism. But he wasn’t happy, and in 1950, as the Cold War intensified and MI5 expanded, he contacted Knight. The extraordinary arrangement they worked out allowed Bingham to pursue a writing career and serve as a full-time agent handler. He had found his calling. Jago tells of one agent that Bingham ran successfully for 20 years. This was the John Bingham that Le Carré later acknowledged served as a model for George Smiley. Others argued that Smiley was based on MI6 officer Maurice Oldfield, an allegation Le Carré vehemently denied and, for reasons not explained, Jago does not mention.[14]

Bingham’s wife, Madeleine—she also worked for MI5 and was herself a writer—knew Le Carré well and always insisted her husband was the sole model. But, as Jago notes, Smiley possessed qualities that Bingham did not. The added qualities were supplied, he suggests, by the Rev. Vivian Green, whom Le Carré had known at Oxford.[15] (251)

The Man Who Was George Smiley reveals that Bingham performed occasional tasks for MI5 after he retired in 1979, while still pursuing a writing career that turned out to be less successful than it was in his early years. After a slow decline into dementia, Bingham died in 1988.

This is a very interesting account of an unusual man, and it provides a link between espionage fiction and reality.


Spying for the People: Mao’s Secret Agents, 1949–1967, by Michael Schoenhals (Cambridge University Press, 2013), 266 pp., footnotes, index.

Michael Schoenhals is a professor of Chinese studies at Lund University, Sweden. As he was conducting research on Chinese society, it became obvious to him that the “Maoist surveillance state” was a part of everyday life in China. Moreover, he concluded, it was a topic long “underexploited” by historians.

Schoenhals eventually solved the daunting problem of finding sources in ways only possible in post-Mao China. He found materials from “the official CCP’s declassification regime” and “primary data…once intended exclusively for in-house consumption” in various university libraries throughout the world. Then there were the “chance discoveries in flea markets and backrooms of antiquarian bookshops in urban China of archival material.” One example was a “tattered copy of a 1957 book, Lectures on the Subject of Agent Work.” (vii, 12) The outcome of this research is Spying for the People, a work that adds domestic security intelligence collection by citizen-agent informers to the existing history of China’s Cultural Revolution.

The period of agent activity Schoenhals treats ends in December 1967 (only a little more than a year into the Cultural Revolution) because in that month, Mao ordered the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) to institute an “indefinite suspension of all operational use of agents…as well as the decommissioning of safehouses nationwide…[and persons] who [in the trite-sounding translation of the minister’s words] had ‘done any bad stuff.’”(1) This extraordinary move applied only to the government’s own domestic agents, who monitored mainly urban Chinese civilians and foreigners in the country. Spying for the People focuses on the purpose of domestic agents—as provocateurs and collectors—as well as the system’s command structure, duties, technical capabilities, and historical context.

Readers will find echoes of Stalin-era methods in the performance of officers of the MPS, whose training included and dealt with ethical issues—“no sex please” (101)—in addition to agent handling, and political circumstances. Schoenhals identifies three types or categories of agents used by the MPS during 1949–67. One typed served as spotters or “informers.” The second, called “enablers,” or case agents, might investigate or penetrate targets. The third, “guardians” performed CI functions primarily, at important institutions. The assignment of agent targets was done by dividing areas into geographic or functional sectors. An example of the latter was the national railroad grid, said to have required “10,000 agents,” though records are not precise. Operations of this magnitude posed significant administrative problems for the MPS and its supervising officers in terms of control—including corruption, payments to sources, debriefings, and “orderly termination” of sources or cases. (231)

In a postscript to Spying for the People, Schoenhals questions the meaning of it all. Beyond dealing with foreign spies, what did the PRC accomplish with its blanket domestic espionage? Even Mao, before the agent program was shut down, expressed a wish to see the public and legal sectors “beaten to a pulp.” (234) In the end, Schoenhals concludes only that he has documented that the system existed legally, and the lessons yet to be learned will be part of Mao’s legacy. This is an extraordinarily fine work of historical scholarship on a topic about which little had been known.


Under Every Leaf: How Britain Played the Greater Game from Afghanistan to Africa, by William Beaver (Biteback Publishing, 2012), 341 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

It February 1855, the British Secretary for War created the Topographical and Statistical Department, subsequently renamed the Intelligence Department (ID). It was staffed by specially selected military officers and made answerable, over the outraged objections of army generals, to War Department civilians. Its mission was to furnish analyzed intelligence directly to the department, bypassing senior generals, if necessary. The secretary could do this because he controlled the military’s purse strings. The ID had a very impressive record and became a part of the newly created General Staff before WW I. The ID’s story, based mainly on memoirs and letters, has been summarized in several intelligence histories.[16] Working with new material found in the British National Archives, Oxford historian William Beaver provides the first complete account in Under Every Leaf.

The title of the book is taken from a Farsi expression that reflects the pervasiveness of Victorian empire: “Anywhere in the world that a leaf moves, underneath you will find an Englishman.” (7) Managing the empire fell to the War Office, and that required intelligence. The ID was created to provide it in finished form, unprejudiced by military biases. One example of how the ID worked in practice concerned the “Great Game” in the mid-1880s. The generals in India foresaw a major threat from Russia on the northern frontier and proposed moves to thwart it. The ID was tasked to assess the situation and concluded a “Russian attack on India would be so difficult as to be unlikely…[and] well nigh impossible.” (56) The Army turned its attention to Afghanistan and was supported by the ID with maps and other essential data.

The ID did more than make assessments. It established its own agent networks, a library, and a print plant. The presses were a source of real power, allowing the ID to produce its own reports and maps. But the ID’s reports were not heeded. When war loomed in South Africa, ID warnings of upcoming trouble with the Boers were ignored. (278)

The ID’s capabilities were not acquired quickly or without difficulty, and much of the book is devoted to the incessant bureaucratic battles with the Horse Guards and key figures on both sides. The principal lesson from the ID experience is that intelligence without organizational parochialism is critical to sound government policy. This view may sound commonplace today, but Under Every Leaf shows it was not always so.


Women of Intelligence: Winning the Second World War with Air Photos, by Christine Halsall (The History Press, 2012), 192 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

There were no photo interpreters (PIs) in the US Navy in early 1941. When the US naval attaché in London learned of the extensive British capabilities in this area, he arranged for LCDR (later admiral) Robert Quackenbush to come over and observe the British PI program. He returned three months later and established the Naval School of Photographic Interpretation in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, DC. His model was the British program at RAF Medmenham. Women of Intelligence tells the story of Medmenham and the allied personnel—men and women—that made the British effort a success.

Author Christine Halsall, BBC consultant and curator of today’s Medmenham collection of photographs, used archival records and interviews to document her story. She chose the book’s title to emphasize the precedent-setting role that women played during WW II as PIs, target plotters and analysts. She quotes one former female PI as recalling, “I do not remember any tinge of the ‘old boy network’ at Wembley [the first location for PI work] or or woman it didn’t matter.” (20) Sometimes this was hard for the Americans eventually assigned there to accept, but they adjusted

But it wasn’t that way in the beginning, when women were hired as clerks and secretaries, regardless of their qualifications. The story of their rapid transition to equal-status PIs and managers is a major theme of the book. Ability was the key. Prior experience was not a major consideration. There were actresses—and one male actor Dirk Bogarde—university graduates, draftees, former MI5 officers, journalists, photographers, balloonists and pilots. At least one, Sarah Churchill, had political connections. Getting through introductory training was all that mattered.

Women PIs did the preparatory terrain analysis for Operation TORCH, the amphibious landing in North Africa; Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily; and OVERLORD, the D-Day invasion. Perhaps the best known PI was Flight Officer Constance Babington-Smith, who headed the team that found the V2—quickly labeled Doodlebug—launching sites. PIs were also crucial to bomb damage assessment, the results of which caused controversy when PI results contradicted initial pilot reports.

Halsall also provides background and insights into the personal lives of many of the PIs. Some married while at Medmenham. Nearly all disliked the government-issue stockings. And from time to time there was interservice rivalry and a struggle to get preferred assignments—women PIs eventually served in all war zones.

Women of Intelligence tells an inspiring story of accomplishment, where the job came first and doing it well was everyone’s objective.

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Intelligence Abroad

India’s Spy Agencies: Shaken Not Stirred, by Lt. Col. Sunil S. Parihar (Manas Publications, 2012), 235 pp., endnotes, index.

After graduating from the Indian Military Academy, Sunil Parihar served in the infantry and in a number of intelligence assignments. India’s Spy Agencies expresses his concerns about the performance of India’s intelligence services and how they compare to similar agencies in other nations.

Pakistan’s 1999 surprise invasion of Kargil—India’s Pearl Harbor—in the Kashmir region, is the focus of Parihar’s concerns. A postinvasion study of the operation listed numerous failures by the Indian army and the intelligence agencies. (60) Parihar reviews the organization and track record of each of India’s services with regard to Kargil and other operations in which they have been involved. He includes a discussion of the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI and some of their failures in order to demonstrate that India is not the only service to experience such difficulties. This is followed by a discussion of “what ails India’s spy machine,” (83ff.) with separate chapters on “dirty tricks,” the role of analysis, and suggestions for reform.

A chapter lists the “top ten spy agencies” (149ff.) in the world, in reverse order—Pakistan’s ISI comes out on top, the CIA is fourth—followed by a listing, by title, of the “world’s major intelligence agencies” (161ff.). The final chapter is a timeline for 2011 that summarizes significant intelligence events in India for that year.

India’s Spy Agencies is a somewhat disjointed account of an important topic by a firsthand participant.

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[1]Antonio J. Mendez, “CIA Goes Hollywood: A Classic Case of Deception,” Studies in Intelligence 42 No. 2 (June 1998), 1–16; reprinted in Studies in Intelligence, Winter 1999–2000, 1–16. Available at

[2]See CIA Chief Historian David Robarge’s review of both the book and the movie in Studies in Intelligence 57, No. 1 (Unclassified Extracts, March 2013).

[3]Robert Wright, Our Man In Tehran: The True Story Behind the Secret Mission to Save Six Americans During the Iran Hostage Crisis and the Foreign Ambassador Who Worked with the CIA to Bring them Home (Other Press, 2011).

[4]John Sheardown died on 30 December 2012. His role was widely recognized in obituaries published throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. See, for example, Douglas Martin, “John Sheardown, Canadian Who Sheltered Americans in Tehran, Dies at 88,” New York Times, 4 January 2013.

[5]Michael Herman, J. Kenneth McDonald, and Vojtech Mastny, Did Intelligence Matter in the Cold War? (Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, 2006).

[6]The papers presented in this volume first appeared in the journal Intelligence and National Security 26, No. 6 (2011).

[7]Vice Admiral Milton E. Miles, USN, A Different kind of War: The little known story of the Combined Guerrilla Forces Created in China by the U.S. Navy and the Chinese during World War II (Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1967); Roy Olin Stratton, SACO—The Rice Paddy Navy (C. S. Palmer Publishing Co, 1950).

[8]See the extraordinary biography of Tai Li by Frederic Wakeman, Spymaster: Dai Li and the Chinese Secret Service (University of California Press, 2003) and Bob Bergin’s review of the book in Studies in Intelligence 53, No. 1 (March 2009).

[9]John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev, (Yale University Press, 2009).

[10]Boyle did identify Blunt in the 1982 edition of The Climate of Treason, and Walton cites that edition in his bibliography, but he names the wrong publisher; it was Coronet-Hodder & Stoughton, not Hutchinson, which published the 19779 edition.

[11]This incident has been widely discussed. For a summary and numerous sources of more information see

[12]Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia (Kodansha, 1992).

[13]John Bingham, The Double Agent (Victor Gollancz, 1966), 5.

[14]Tod Hoffman, Le Carré’s Landscape (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001), 46–47. David Stafford suggests that David Cornwell himself was a convincing model for Smiley; see The Silent Game: The Real World of Imaginary Spies (Lester& Orpen Dennys Ltd., 1988), 198.

[15]Hoffman cites an article by George Plimpton in the Paris Review 39 (1997), which quotes Le Carré as agreeing that Green also served as a model for Smiley.

1[6]Sir George Aston, Secret Service (Faber & Faber, 1930); B.A.H. Parritt, The Intelligencers: The Story of British Military Intelligence up to 1914 (Intelligence Corps Assoc., 1983); Thomas G. Fergusson, British Military Intelligence 1870–1914: The Development of a Modern Intelligence Organization (University Publications of America, 1984).

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All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed in this journal are those of the authors. Nothing in any of the articles should be construed as asserting or implying US government endorsement of their factual statements and interpretations. Articles by non-US government employees are copyrighted.

Posted: Dec 19, 2013 08:56 AM
Last Updated: Dec 19, 2013 08:56 AM