Intelligence in Public Literature

Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf

Compiled and reviewed by Hayden Peake


Current Topics
Cyber Warfare: How Conflicts in Cyberspace Are Challenging America and Changing the World, by Paul Rosenzweig.

Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry, by Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady.

Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, by Jeremy Scahill.

The Professionalization of Intelligence Cooperation: Fashioning Method Out of Mayhem, by Adam D.M. Svendsen.


Conspiracy of One: Tyler Kent's Secret Plot against FDR, Churchill, and the Allied War Effort, by Peter Rand.

The Coup: 1953, the CIA and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations, by Ervand Abrahamian.

Dead Drop: The True Story of Oleg Penkovsky and the Cold War's Most Dangerous Operation, by Jeremy Duns.

The Great Game in Cuba: How the CIA Sabotaged its Own Plot to Unseat Fidel Castro, by Joan Mellen.

The Greatest Traitor: The Secret Lives of Agent George Blake, by Roger Hermiston.

It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past, by David Satter.

Patton's Oracle: Gen. Oscar Koch, as I Knew Him-A Biographical Memoir, by Robert Hays.

Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839–42, by William Dalrymple.

Spy Sites of New York City: Two Centuries of Espionage in Gotham, by H. Keith Melton and Robert Wallace with Henry R. Schlesinger.

Spy Sites of Philadelphia: Two and Half Centuries of Espionage in the City of Brotherly Love, by H. Keith Melton and Robert Wallace with Henry Schlesinger.

A Spy Like No Other: The Cuban Missile Crisis, The KGB and the Kennedy Assassination, by Robert Holmes.


Born Under an Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy's Daughter, by Sara Mansfield Taber.

Harbor Knight: From Harbor Hoodlum to Honored CIA Agent, by Ralph A. Garcia.

Stories from the Secret War: CIA Special Ops in Laos, by Terrence Burke.

Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda, by Philip Mudd.

Uncovered: My Half-Century with the CIA, by John Sager.

The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, A Son, and the CIA, by Scott C. Johnson.



Current Topics

Cyber Warfare: How Conflicts in Cyberspace Are Challenging America and Changing the World, by Paul Rosenzweig (Praeger, 2013), 290 pp., endnotes, bibliography, glossary, index.

Since 9/11, the topic of securing and sharing information has received much attention in the media and from various government organizations. Cyber Warfare examines the problems that result when other nations and unfriendly organizations seek unauthorized access to cyberinformation. While no specific technical solutions are recommended, author Paul Rosenzweig, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has suggested some general guidelines. As to who should be responsible for the cybermission, Rosenzweig candidly advises against those who favor civilian control of cybersecurity because DHS does not yet have the requisite expertise. For the time being, he writes, “NSA does it better.” (226)

Rosenzweig describes the nature of the problem by discussing the many attacks US cybernetworks have and are experiencing. He discusses the inherent vulnerabilities of commercial and government networks, the Internet itself, privacy issues, and the legal issues that must be a part of potential solutions. In a section on “Intelligence or War?,” (53ff) he examines the conflicts that have arisen between the military and intelligence agencies in cybersecurity operations that involve overlapping responsibilities. The search for Usama bin Laden is one example.

Cyber Warfare outlines the immensity of the problem and what is likely to happen if it is not addressed.


Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry, by Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady (John Wiley & Sons, 2013), 323 pp., endnotes, index.

Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady write that their book is about “government secrets—how they are created, why they are leaked, and what the government is currently hiding.” They suggest that “whether driven by politics, paranoia, or cynicism, every citizen has wondered at some point, what terrible thing is the government hiding from us today?” This work represents something of an answer to the question. They describe the customary bureaucratic reasons for creating secrets and provide some general comments on why they are leaked. (3)

Deep State—the term is never defined—attempts to clarify various aspects of leaks, secrets, and security practices. As to “leaks,” the authors assert that “eventually all secrets leak.” (5) Of course this is impossible to know. In any case, one key point in their discussion is that in the end, the decision to publish a leak rests with journalists—a somewhat disturbing thought. They also point out that there are good and bad leaks. The former include secrets revealed by whistleblowers doing what they consider is necessary for justice. The latter concern leaking for personal gain. Many examples are given in each category.

Regarding secrets and the steps—sometimes excessive—taken to protect them, the authors make the point that “there are more people with security clearances than ever before” and thus more potential leakers. (6) Ambinder and Grady do not address how limited access and compartmentalization work to severely restrict the number of personnel with knowledge of secrets. On these issues, too, the authors provide examples of secrecy properly and improperly applied, from Bradley Manning to various military organizations and installations —Area 51—to operations like the hunt for Usama bin Laden.

Several additional points are worth attention. First are the book’s factual errors. For example, in a section intended to provide a historical setting for government secrecy, the authors promote Herbert Yardley to colonel, a rank he never held. Then when discussing President Truman’s contribution to intelligence, they claim that he compared the FBI and the OSS to the Gestapo, something he never did. A second point to be considered is that there is little new in Deep State. Even the security problems associated with social networks and cyberspace have been much discussed in the media. Finally, few can argue with the authors’ view that the government has yet to find a way of “allowing people uncomfortable with certain secrets to protest them without leaking to the public.” (284)

But the conclusion that “the only way for the government to keep secrets from being stolen is to proactively give them away” is questionable on its face. Deep State serves mainly to promote the authors’ view that the media is best qualified to decide what government secrets are published.


Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield, by Jeremy Scahill (Nation Books, 2013), 642 pp., endnotes, photos, index.

In his book Blackwater,[1] journalist Jeremy Scahill conveyed his antipathy to private security firms—Blackwater in particular—performing tasks normally assigned to the military in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Dirty Wars he takes a broader view of the war on terror—from before 9/11 to the present—and argues that neither the military nor the civilian leadership with all their internecine bureaucratic conflicts is doing much right.

His working premise is that the post 9/11 situation amounts to an “expansion of covert US wars, the abuse of executive privilege and state secrets, [and] the embrace of unaccountable elite military units that answer only to the White House.” (xxiii) The last of these conditions may be dismissed as muddled analysis since any unit answering to the White House is accountable.

The balance of the book questions the designation of those “deemed to be enemies of America” and the methods used to deal with them. The book also looks at who authorizes using such tactics, the organizations that undertake them—mainly DOD, CIA, and the Joint Special Operations Command—and the sometimes contradictory official explanations of ensuing events. While few leaders or operations escape detailed examination, the story of Anwar Awlaki—including his family—is used throughout the book to emphasize Scahill’s opposition to “targeted assassination,” drones, and the term “high value targets.”

Scahill provides over 80 pages of source notes to support his accusations. Many document well-known events. Many others are from secondary sources that share his views. But neither the sources nor the author comment on three topics missing from the entire account. The first is any consideration of the fact that combating the kind of terrorism advocated by al-Qaeda and its affiliates necessitates new approaches to war and that these are intended to prevent another 9/11 while minimizing loss of life by those fighting it. The second is any suggestion of more suitable alternatives to fighting this type of terrorism. Finally, Scahill does not recognize that all wars are dirty and result in mistakes and civilian casualties on both sides.

Dirty Wars is a good if unbalanced summary of the war on terror and, in hindsight, what might have been done differently in specific instances. But overall, it fails to make the case that the current approach should be abandoned, and it does not emphasize the point that none of the events discussed would have occurred had Usama bin Laden not attacked on 9/11.


The Professionalization of Intelligence Cooperation: Fashioning Method Out of Mayhem, by Adam D.M. Svendsen (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 244 pp., endnotes, bibliography, index.

Adam Svendsen is an educator and researcher in intelligence studies at the University of Copenhagen. In an earlier book on intelligence cooperation, Svendsen focused on some of the problems he observed in the UK-US relationship.[2] In this latest work, he expands his scope to include intelligence relationships globally. Early on, he equates the term “cooperation” with “liaison” and thus does not restrict the latter to counterintelligence relationships, as do some intelligence services.

Svendsen employs the Oxford English Dictionary definition of “professionalism,” but when it comes to the specifics of intelligence cooperation and liaison, he is less precise. Liaison, he acknowledges, is difficult to study because it is surrounded by secrecy. A companion complication is what he terms the “poacher-gamekeeper” (43ff) challenge: some intelligence services like to find out answers secretly, and others put obstacles in their way even though, quoting the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “it is our duty to work together as an integrated team.” (135) Thus in The Professionalization of Intelligence Cooperation, Svendsen analyzes ways to create “method out of [the] mayhem [of] liaison.” (5-6)

Two impediments inhibit easy understanding of the substance of Svendsen’s approach. First, he never makes quite clear what factors will improve cooperation—or whether it is even reasonable to assume there are any that can be applied generally. The chapter on “professionalization of intelligence cooperation in action” quotes from a series of CIA documents from which, Svendsen claims, “many noteworthy insights can be extracted,” but he does not say what those are. (112) He does conclude that “optimum outreach” is the “holy grail of intelligence liaison,” but just what that means in practice remains obscure. (148) Likewise, platitudes such as “optimizing intelligence initiatives and enterprises while simultaneously addressing conditions of complacency [must be taken]” and “greater leadership and creativity of vision remain essential” leave readers with no ideas of just what to do next.

The second impediment is that Svendsen’s academic, sometimes pedantic style—coupled with the frequent, serially listed citations included in the text—can be bewildering and complicate understanding. The Palgrave editor should have stepped in.

Still, The Professionalization of Intelligence Cooperation is the product of intense research and deserves serious attention.

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Conspiracy of One: Tyler Kent’s Secret Plot against FDR, Churchill, and the Allied War Effort, by Peter Rand (Lyons Press, 2013), 254 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

Tyler Kent was born in 1911 in China, where his father, a member of Virginia’s gentry, was serving in the Foreign Service. After Kent’s early education in several European countries, where he acquired a taste for the diplomatic lifestyle, the family returned to Washington, DC, where Kent, by then a handsome young man, attended St. Albans School. From there he went to Princeton. Leaving after three years, he continued his education in Madrid and Paris, graduating from the Sorbonne skilled in six languages. Kent returned to Washington in 1932. By then he was self-centered, arrogant, anti-Semitic, socially inept, and egotistical. He applied in the middle of the Great Depression for the Foreign Service, only to learn that there were no openings. Eventually, thanks to Ambassador William Bullitt—making a decision he would regret—Kent was given a clerical position in the Moscow embassy, becoming the only clerk clothed by Brooks Brothers. Another attempt to become a Foreign Service Officer faltered when Kent failed the oral examination.

Conspiracy of One tells of Kent’s progress from ordinary clerk to code clerk during the mid- to late 1930s. Despite his boring, low-level job and the restrictions of Stalinist Moscow, Kent acquired a gun and a car, lived on the economy, and maintained a studio where he photographed his Soviet-furnished mistress in the buff. Kent also began keeping copies of official messages for “historical purposes.” While these facts might suggest that Kent was working for the NKVD, his State Department superiors, if they were aware of his activities, never pursued the issue. In 1939, Kent was transferred to London to be the code clerk in the US embassy there. He arrived in London with a suspected German agent MI5 was expecting, and both were put under surveillance. Kent was subsequently seen having an affair with the Russian émigré wife of a British soldier and meeting with another suspected German agent, the Baroness Anna Wolkoff.

In 1940, MI5 suspected that Wolkoff had given Kent evidence of her fifth column activities for safekeeping, and approval was obtained from the American embassy to search Kent’s flat. Kent was caught in bed with his mistress, and the search yielded evidence against the Baroness. But to everyone’s surprise, except Kent’s, the searchers also discovered hundreds of classified US embassy cables, many of which were private exchanges between Churchill—not yet prime minister—and President Roosevelt. Churchill was pressing for US war support, which was then illegal in the United States, and Roosevelt was shown to be sympathetic while running for a third term. Kent, an anti-interventionist, planned to use the cables to thwart Roosevelt’s reelection. Author Peter Rand explains how the British kept the fact of the Churchill-Roosevelt correspondence quiet while persuading Ambassador Kennedy to waive Kent’s diplomatic immunity so that he and Wolkoff could be tried in camera; both were convicted.

This is not the first book about the Kent affair,[3] but it is the first based on Kent’s personal papers and on interviews with some of the participants and their descendants. Thus Rand has added details about MI5’s role and suspicions that Kent’s Russian émigré mistress was a Soviet agent. Rand concludes with a summary of Kent’s life after his release from prison at the end of the war—he married a wealthy lady, publicly defended his actions, and ended his days in a trailer park in Arizona.


The Coup: 1953, the CIA and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations, by Ervand Abrahamian (The New Press, 2013), 277 pp., endnotes, bibliography, index.

In 1951, Iran’s newly elected premier, Muhammad Mossadeq, nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, putting Britain’s investment and oil supply at risk. US-brokered attempts to reach a compromise failed. Britain considered a military invasion and then severed diplomatic relations. The crisis was resolved after a coup orchestrated by the CIA and British intelligence in August 1953 removed Mossadeq and restored the shah as Iran’s leader. Many books have been written about the underlying motivations for this covert action.

In The Coup, City University of New York history professor Ervand Abrahamian, challenges the two principal explanations for the coup and presents a third version. The first explanation asserts that the British and Americans tried to reach a good faith allocation of assets but that the quirky Mossadeq was intransigent. The second common explanation for the coup views it as a consequence of Cold War politics and the danger of communist influence over Iran. Professor Abrahamian analyzes both of these theories in terms of the players, politics, economics, and military factors. He finds that Mossadeq was anything but inflexible, and the threat of communist influence cited by the United States lacked substance, though it fit with US foreign policy objectives. A third explanation, he argues, was the importance of maintaining control over oil production.

The Coup concludes with a review of the coup’s short- and long-term consequences. It produced a period of relative stability until 1979, when the Iranian revolution finally nationalized Iranian oil production. Professor Abrahamian leaves the impression that dealing with Mossadeq at the time would have avoided the problematic Islamic state of today.


Dead Drop: The True Story of Oleg Penkovsky and the Cold War’s Most Dangerous Operation, by Jeremy Duns (Simon & Schuster, 2013), 358 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

After 50 years, the event that put the KGB on the trail of CIA/MI6 agent Col. Oleg Penkovsky, is still uncertain, although several authors have suggested answers. British novelist Jeremy Duns is the latest to do so. He begins his account with a description—in italics—of how Penkovsky was lured to his arrest. Then, after asking, “Is this how it happened?” he replies “I have imagined many of the details in the above scenario.” This is followed by several more pages of imagined dialogue describing what happened after his arrest. (1–13) At the end of Dead Drop, Duns presents another imagined scenario that “reveals” how the KGB could have learned of Penkovsky’s treachery and the key player involved.

In between, he reviews the familiar details of the case and gradually amplifies the role of journalist Jeremy Wolfenden, before concluding he was “absurdly qualified” to have betrayed Penkovsky. (236–52) In an author’s note, Duns lists the books and documents he consulted for Dead Drop, but none of them directly support his conclusion. There are also endnotes—some very lengthy—but their format is awkward, and not all dialogue and facts presented in the narrative are accounted for.

In the end, Duns’ candid speculation has only fortune-cookie plausibility and fails to illuminate this dark corner of counterintelligence history. Readers interested in the Penkovsky case would be better informed by reading another account, The Spy Who Saved the World.[4]


The Great Game in Cuba: How the CIA Sabotaged its Own Plot to Unseat Fidel Castro, by Joan Mellen (Skyhorse Publishing, 2013), 332 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

Joan Mellen is a professor of creative writing at Temple University. She begins her book with a curious discussion about her decision to refer to CIA without employing the definite article “the,” which she explains is in keeping with “the Agency’s own practice both in written and spoken form. No one with more than a passing acquaintance with CIA is likely to affix the definite article ‘the’ before ‘CIA.’” (ix) A visit to, or a reading of Allen Dulles’ The Craft of Intelligence, John Ranelagh’s The Agency, Robert Gates’ From the Shadows, or Richard Helms’ A Look Over My Shoulder, to cite a few examples, refute this claim and raise doubts about Mellen’s grasp of the subject of her book. Other qualms arise on the first page of The Great Game in Cuba. There, Mellen asserts, “Within CIA, the Agency comes before the nation. CIA uses ‘United States’ and ‘CIA’ interchangeably.” She continues on page 2, “CIA’s first illegality was to violate its own charter.” A final example, but not the final absurdity, occurs on page 4, where Mellen claims “CIA rendered into law in the form of a National Security Directive…its freedom to commit acts of murder, terrorism and sabotage, crimes that CIA had already embraced in the year of its birth.” No sources are provided for any of these allegations, though they set the tone of the book.

The Great Game in Cuba purports to tell the story of CIA’s attempts to overthrow Castro with the help of a large and complex cast of characters from the King Ranch in Texas, commercial firms, and various patriotic Cubans. The book also briefly discusses operations associated with the Cuban Missile Crisis but adds nothing new. Mellen asserts that “CIA Cuban operations were a game with no apparent objective, or at least no serious intention of unseating Fidel Castro.” (205) Two chapters tell the story of individual Cuban agents, one of whom survived time in a Cuban jail and decided to publish his story. Mellen concludes that his attempts “revealed CIA to have infiltrated Reader’s Digest at the highest levels.” (229) Here, as in most of the book, the facts cited are less than proof. In sum, The Great Game in Cuba recounts a confusing story, and there is no way to tell what is right and what is not. The only issue Mellen makes absolutely clear is her less-than-positive opinion of CIA.


The Greatest Traitor: The Secret Lives of Agent George Blake, by Roger Hermiston (Aurum Press, 2013), 362 pp., bibliography, photos, index.

In 1966, onetime MI6 officer and KGB agent George Blake made a spectacular escape from Wormwood Scrubs Prison in London and made his way to Moscow, where he still enjoys a quiet retirement. A number of books about his case, including Blake’s memoir in 1990, have been published.[5] So the surprising publication of another biography, The Greatest Traitor, suggests there is something new to learn, which is what biographer Roger Hermiston contends. He does not, however, contest the basic facts and reviews them in detail. They include Blake’s Dutch origins, his WW II service in the Dutch resistance, his recruitment by MI6, his capture in June 1950 by invading North Korean forces while he was in Seoul serving in the British Embassy, his recruitment by the KGB, and the “confession” in which he gratuitously expressed remorse over those who died because of his revelations while he was a KGB mole in the British service.

What Hermiston adds comes mostly from sources not available to previous writers, including Blake. For example, he found taped interviews Blake made for a BBC documentary, legal files and trial transcripts, an autobiographical paper Blake wrote for his lawyers, and government documents released in 2008. In addition, there were letters and interviews with various participants, including Blake’s Dutch resistance colleagues, his lawyers, his first wife, and those who aided his escape. A book by an American POW who was held in the same camp in North Korea as Blake was also helpful.[6] Hermiston did contact Blake, and they exchanged e-mails, though those are not reproduced in the book.

With one exception, the information from the added sources doesn’t change the facts of the case, merely adding background on Blake’s family, personal relationships, and the specifics of his legal defense. The exception is the claim that “the decisive move to bring Blake into the KGB ranks” was made by Nikolai Loenko, a name not mentioned in other accounts. But while Hermiston provides details about Loenko’s techniques, he does not identify his source for this important information. (131)

The one important topic that Hermiston does not bring up is the assertion by former CIA case officer William Hood that Blake played a key role in the exposure of Peter Popov, a GRU officer and CIA agent.[7] Since Blake denied the claim, some uncertainty remains.

The Greatest Traitor is the most complete and well-written account of the Blake case. But since Hermiston fails to make any comparison with other KGB agents—for example, Philby or Maclean—the claim that Blake was the greatest remains unproven.


It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past, by David Satter (Yale University Press, 2013), 383 pp., endnotes, bibliography, index.

The Solovetsky Stone sits just off the sidewalk at about three o’clock, on the right side of Lubyanka Square, facing the old KGB headquarters building. Named for the Solovetsky Islands, the site of the first Soviet political prisoner camps, it was dedicated in 1990—during the Gorbachev era—as a monument to the victims of the camps there. In the post-Soviet Union days, however, “Russia has neither a national monument to the victims of Communist terror nor a museum,” only locally sponsored memorials. (3) The current Russian government, analyst David Satter argues, chooses instead to ignore selected physical and social facts linked to the terror, and to emphasize different elements of the Soviet past.

Examples of current emphasis include the importance of centralized control, Stalin the great war leader, adoption of the melody of the Soviet national anthem, implicit support for the restoration of Dzershinsky’s statue in Lubyanka Square—though not yet done—and especially the policy of placing the needs of the state over those of the individual. It Was A Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway examines the social, economic, and political impact of these policies.

Of particular interest to intelligence history is the chapter titled the “Odyssey of Andrei Poleschuk.” Codenamed WEIGH, he was one of the KGB officers exposed by Aldrich Ames as a CIA agent. Satter uses this case to explain life in the KGB era and to compare the Soviet and contemporary Russian bureaucracies, both with respect to traitors and their families. Using American and Russian sources, Satter describes Poleschuk, the father, in terms of the effect his case had on son Andrei. Satter explains how, after his father’s arrest while servicing a dead drop in Moscow, Andrei was repeatedly frustrated in trying to visit him in prison. Satter also discusses the shocking way Andrei learned of his father’s trial and execution. The promises made and broken by the KGB, and the FSB response to Andrei’s persistent and varied efforts to learn where his father was buried, are understandable by Soviet standards. Despite individual expressions of sympathy from serving officers, Andrei learned only that his father had been cremated. After Andrei became a journalist, he was allowed to study in the United States, where he contacted the CIA. He and his wife now live in Virginia.

Satter concludes that the Russian effort to ignore the country’s horrendous past and to keep future generations from learning of it sets a dangerous precedent. He is convinced that only when the individual is recognized over the state’s ambitions will there be hope for a better future in Russia.


Patton’s Oracle: Gen. Oscar Koch, as I Knew Him—A Biographical Memoir, by Robert Hays (Lucidus Books, 2013), 263 pp., endnotes, photos, index.

In the late 1960s, while Robert Hays was helping Brig. Gen. Oscar Koch—pronounced “kotch”—polish his memoir,[8] Koch received a letter from Frank McCarthy, the Hollywood producer getting ready to make the movie Patton. McCarthy included portions of the script with lines attributed to Koch, Patton’s G-2. Koch said they made him out to be a fool and refused to cooperate. McCarthy created a fictitious G-2—Col. Gaston Bell—and ignored Koch. The film won an Oscar, but Koch never regretted his decision. He had suffered the bad reputation of intelligence officers and often quoted General Omar Bradley on the subject: “Misfits frequently found themselves assigned to intelligence duties.” (15) Koch was the exception. Patton’s Oracle explains why.

Koch’s service with Patton began before the war at Ft. Riley, Kansas. Since Patton had been an intelligence officer, he knew what he wanted and arranged for Koch—then a 42-year-old lieutenant colonel—to join his staff, which at the time was planning Operation TORCH, the invasion of North Africa. Koch admired Patton, who had warned in 1937 that the Japanese were capable of attacking Pearl Harbor. Few paid any attention. Koch would later have a similar experience, when he warned that Hitler was preparing for a surprise attack in the Ardennes—the Battle of the Bulge. Koch remained Patton’s G-2 throughout the war.

Hays includes many stories from the general’s memoir, published just after his death in 1970, and adds new material—for example, how Koch used the ULTRA decrypts, still classified when the memoir was written—about Koch’s service under Patton and as a division commander in Korea. And he goes on to tell of Koch’s life in retirement.

Patton’s Oracle reveals the story of a modest man who never—well, almost never—let his commander down. It is the only biography of a WWII G-2.


Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42, by William Dalrymple (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), 515 pp., endnotes, bibliography, glossary, photos, 12 maps, index.

Millennial followers of modern rock and roll may instantly recognize the phrase “graveyard of empires” as the title of a 2012 album by the Canadian rock band Evans Blues. Earlier generations may be reminded of Seth Jones’ book, In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan, which reviews the origins of the phrase.[9] In Return of a King, historian William Dalrymple presents an exhaustive study of one episode in Afghanistan’s history, Britain’s first Afghan war (1839–42). In his analysis of the geopolitical, military, and cultural factors of that disaster, Dalrymple suggests the phrase has contemporary relevance.

Return of a King is not the first book on the subject,[10] but it is the first to include Afghan sources and to consider in great depth their viewpoints as affected by tribal jealousies and competing allegiances. Furthermore, Dalrymple examines closely the role of intelligence and the principals involved in what would become known as the Great Game that had the British seeking to protect colonial India from imagined Russian encroachment.

The king to which the book’s title refers is Shah Shuja, who, overthrown by his half-brother, was eventually offered asylum in Ludhiana, India, by the British in 1816. After three failed attempts to regain his throne in Kabul, he was still in India in 1837, in western Afghanistan, Lt. Henry Rawlinson, a member of the intelligence corps, encountered a party of Russian Cossacks. Leading the group was Captain Ivan Vitkevitch—the first Russian player of the Great Game (xxiv)—who explained his presence by saying he was on a diplomatic mission to Persia. For various reasons, Rawlinson doubted Vitkevitch’s story and reported his presence to headquarters.

Rawlinson’s concerns were justified when Vitkevitch later appeared in Kabul seeking an alliance with the then ruler, Dost Mohammad. The British agent in Kabul at the time, Alexander Burnes, favored a British alliance with Mohammad. He was opposed by Major Claude Wade, whom Dalrymple calls “one of the first two spymasters of the Great Game” (48), who favored the restoration of Shah Shuja. Wade won the day with the British government. Thus in October 1938, the British declared war on Afghanistan in order to restore Shah Shuja to power and provide a friendly state as a barrier to Russian desires— false as it turned out—to invade India.

Return of a King describes the successful invasion of Afghanistan, the return of Shah Shuja in 1939, and the escape of Dost Mohammad. Everything went downhill from there. Gross mismanagement by the British political governor, Sir William Macnaghten, led to the gradual deterioration of Shah Shuja’s power, a rebellion by Afghan tribes, the assassination of Burnes and Macnaghten, and the tragic retreat of the British Army to India. Except for the commanding general and a few others taken hostage, only the army surgeon survived the retreat. The “Army of Retribution” was eventually dispatched to Kabul and wreaked a brutal revenge while freeing some captives before it returned to India. But a permanent British presence was at an end, and Dost Mohammad returned to power.

Dalrymple does a magnificent job of describing the intricacies of 19th century Afghan tribal politics and what would today be called their insurgency approach to warfare. He demonstrates what can happen when these factors are ignored by politicians. In the end, Dalrymple suggests some obvious lessons for contemporary Afghan events. He has told a wonderful story that justifies his conclusion that Afghan wars are fought for no wise purpose.


Spy Sites of New York City: Two Centuries of Espionage in Gotham, by H. Keith Melton and Robert Wallace with Henry R. Schlesinger (Foreign Excellent Trenchcoat Society, Inc., 2012), 160 pp., photos, maps, glossary, index.


Spy Sites of Philadelphia: Two and a Half Centuries of Espionage in the City of Brotherly Love, by H. Keith Melton and Robert Wallace with Henry Schlesinger (Foreign Excellent Trenchcoat Society, Inc., 2013), 118 pp., photos, maps, glossary, index.

Since the Revolutionary War, spies have lived and operated in New York and Philadelphia. Intelligence historian Keith Melton and retired CIA officer Robert Wallace have located the sites associated with many of those spies’ operations and the monuments that honor participants. The Spy Sites books provide descriptions of operations, photographs of the sites as they appear today, and maps to aid visitors.

For example, in New York City, one can see a replica of the Samuel Fraunces Tavern, where George Washington actually slept. It is also where Fraunces’ daughter helped uncover the Hickey plot to assassinate the general and where he said farewell to his officers after the war. The authors also found the memorial plaque that honors Mary Elizabeth Bowser, the freed slave who was part of Union agent Elizabeth van Lew’s Civil War network. Other sites include the apartment house in which Julia Child lived, the residence of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the locations where Russian illegal Anna Chapman conducted espionage with her Russian masters, the place where the blind Sheikh conspired to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993, and the home of the FBI double agent Katrina Leung (“Parlor Maid”).

The authors begin the Philadelphia tour with Independence Hall, where Benjamin Franklin and the Secret Committee met to make contracts with the French to help supply the revolutionaries. The home of little-known Washington agent John Clark, who ran a network of agents, and the Isaac Potts house, which served as Washington’s headquarters while his army was encamped at nearby Valley Forge, are also included. Civil War entries include the self-promoting Lafayette Baker, and the safe house—now a museum—for the Underground Railroad. The home of WW II Soviet agent Harry Gold and the workplace of Soviet agent George Koval are also described. Perhaps the most unusual entry concerns “Jihad Jane,” Colleen LaRose, who confessed to attempting to recruit Islamic terrorists and threatening to kill a Swedish artist.

The Spy Sites books provide a worthwhile introduction to our espionage history and a convenient guide to travelers interested in the subject in Philadelphia and New York City.


A Spy Like No Other: The Cuban Missile Crisis, The KGB and the Kennedy Assassination, by Robert Holmes (Biteback Publishing Ltd., 2013), 325 pp., footnotes, appendices, photos, index.

According to author and former British diplomat Robert Holmes, this book began as a volume about Col. Oleg Penkovsky, his relationship with the CIA and MI6, and the part they played in the Cuban Missile Crisis. As his research progressed, he discovered “a chain of intrigue, betrayal, and revenge that suggested a group of maverick Soviet intelligence officers had plotted the crime of the century,” the assassination of John F. Kennedy. And that is what the book attempts to reveal.

The principal “mavericks” are General Ivan Serov, Yuri Andropov, and Vladimir Kryuchkov. Holmes reviews their post-WW II careers, giving primary attention to Serov and his rise to power in SMERSH, the KGB, and the GRU. With a single exception, Holmes presents nothing new about the Penkovsky case. Only the story that the mavericks led by Serov arranged Kennedy’s assassination is new, and Holmes doesn’t support his contention with source notes. Holmes does admit in a comment on Serov that “one can only speculate on these matters.”

To make matters worse, his comments about the mavericks’ plot itself are riddled with speculative qualifications like, “it would have been natural,” “it seems likely,” and “who may have rejoiced when.” (236-7) Returning to the subject later, Holmes continues in the same vein with, “he may have,” “the possibility,” “one of them could well have mentioned,” “it would be reasonable,” (270-71) and so on.

A Spy Like No Other amounts to semantic spam. Not recommended.

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Born Under an Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter, by Sara Mansfield Taber (Potomac Books, 2012), 361 pp., photos, no index.

Sara Taber was born in 1954 in Japan, where her father, Charles Taber, served under cover as a CIA case officer. In general, her memoir is the very candid story of a young girl growing up in the countries—in Asia, Europe, and America—where her father served. The central, underlying theme of the book is her relationship with her father, his work, and the impact both had on her social and political views. These she makes crystal clear.

A tipping point in her life occurred during the Vietnam War when her father revealed that he was a CIA officer. Her younger brother was not surprised. But she knew “the CIA was one of the prime enemies of the peace movement,” and yet she writes, “I should be outraged at Pop but I was intrigued instead of aghast.” (243) She struggled unsuccessfully to resolve the conflict of her love for her father and the intense sympathy she felt for the antiwar movement. This, she said, led to her experimenting with alcohol and drugs, and a period of hospitalization. And when her father experienced some major career disappointments, her antagonism with the “crass, ruthless and demeaning” Agency only increased. (342)

Charles Taber’s last tour of duty was in Vietnam. It ended in April 1975, when he helped evacuate hundreds of Vietnamese who had served America loyally. He would later successfully battle the CIA to write a book about the experience, and this further skewed his daughter’s view of the Agency.[11] But in the end Taber wrote in his memoir that Sara’s “mobile” life (358) left her with some positive attributes. Born Under An Assumed Name is good reading for those interested in Agency life.


Harbor Knight: From Harbor Hoodlum to Honored CIA Agent, by Ralph A. Garcia, with a foreword by Michael Sulick (iUniverse, Inc., 2013), 234 pp., photos, index.

Ever since the CIA was created in 1947, a college degree has usually been a prerequisite for a professional position. Ralph Garcia was accepted without this credential, but he had some other important qualifications. Harbor Knight tells what they were, how he acquired them, and how he used them to craft a career as a case officer.

Garcia grew up in a section of East Chicago, Indiana, called “Da Harbor” by locals. Home life was difficult and “clubs” were more fun than school, so he dropped out. The only goal in his life was to avoid working in the steel mills. Married and a father in his teens, he joined the Marines in 1959, and his professional life began its upward climb. He discovered an aptitude for foreign languages while in Vietnam and decided he would pursue a career in the CIA. By the time he left the Marines and entered on duty with the CIA in the early 1970s, he was a multilingual NCO who had served in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

Harbor Knight provides a typical, if occasionally wide-eyed, description of Garcia’s first impressions of CIA headquarters. He discusses his tradecraft training and assignments to Latin America and Europe. In between, there were exciting “flying squad”—emergency quick duty—trips throughout the world. Then came a challenging tour with the Drug Enforcement Administration. But Garcia preferred the CIA and returned several years later. After assignments in Africa and other locations, Garcia returned to Washington for advanced management training and advancement to GS-15, an achievement he equated with a “Knighthood” when he reflected on his origins.

In 1992, Garcia retired from the CIA and formed a security company. He later served on congressional panels and participated in several National Hispanic Leadership Summits in Washington, DC. These duties brought him to the attention of the Navy, and he was appointed as the information officer for the US Naval Academy, where he also served on the Academy Nominations Panel.

Harbor Knight is not just the story of Garcia’s professional career. Throughout, he tells of the often difficult strains on home and family life and how he dealt with them. For those wondering what a CIA career is like and what one can do when motivated to serve his country, Garcia’s story is a fine model.


Stories from the Secret War: CIA Special Ops in Laos, by Terrence Burke (La Plata Books, 2012), 150 pp., photos, no index.

Terrence Burke began his 30 years of government service as a Marine in the 1950s. It was a time of relative peace, and his duties as a “BAR Man” (he carried a Browning Automatic Rifle) offered little excitement, so he applied and was accepted into the elite Embassy Security Guard program. His class began with 110 candidates; 36 finished, and he was one of the top three. This meant Burke could have his choice of three assignments. He listed Moscow, Brussels, and Madrid, but he was sent to Rome. It was there that he became friends with a number of CIA officers, and the idea of a CIA career was planted. At the end of his tour, Burke began college at Georgetown and contacted the Agency in 1959. Stories from the Secret War tells of his 10-year career, first in CIA’s Office of Security, then as a paramilitary officer in Laos, and later as an operations officer in Vietnam.

Burke’s initial CIA duties involved security assignments dealing with war protestors and making sure safes were locked each night. A break came when he was placed on the security detail of Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles. On one occasion, Burke accompanied the director to Capitol Hill for a committee session on Russian ballistic missiles. During a lunch break, he was assigned to guard the classified material in the hearing room. He never did get his lunch, but he did use the time to examine the notes each congressman left at his desk as well as the materials to be used by DoD participants. After making notes on what the congressmen planned to ask and what the DoD materials revealed, he informed the director of what was coming. Back at headquarters, Burke was reprimanded by the director of security. It seems that Dulles wanted him to know that his actions were contrary to the CIA charter. Then he was offered the director’s personal thanks.

Burke’s demonstration of initiative led to his posting to the Agency training center (“the Farm”) as assistant director of security. There he found that the mess hall and motor pool still had signs “designating ‘colored’ and ‘white’ toilets and water fountains.” From then on, he used the “colored” facilities. While enjoying the less-than-demanding life at the Farm, Burke was attracted to the paramilitary program, and when the Special Operations Division (SOD) was formed, he applied and was accepted. Burke describes the extensive—with many humorous incidents—training that set him on the path to Laos with his wife and two children.

During his two years working alongside the Meo tribesmen in the fight against the communist Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese, Burke experienced the combat that did not come his way in the Marines. The daily routine included establishing communications, arranging for supplies, supporting roadwatch teams, handling informants, weapons training, and flying from base to base to monitor operations. Planes and helicopters were shot down so often that Burke formed an ad hoc rescue group. The most dramatic, frustrating, and finally rewarding rescue concerned Navy pilot Lt. Charles Klussman, who was shot down over the Mekong river; Burke tells the story well.

On returning to CIA headquarters in 1965, Burke received the Intelligence Star for Valor and was accepted for the case officer program. After language school, it was back to Southeast Asia for three more years. When personnel reductions in the clandestine service began in 1977, and the demand for paramilitary specialists diminished, Burke decided to move to the Drug Enforcement Agency. After serving all over the world, he ended his government career as the deputy administrator of DEA.

Stories from the Secret War is the tale of a genuine risk-taker who overcame a low tolerance for bureaucratic niggling and achieved high office. It will serve as a model.


Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda, by Philip Mudd (The University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 200 pp., index.

One hundred years before Philip Mudd applied to the CIA, his ancestor, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, was convicted of aiding John Wilkes Booth after he shot President Lincoln. What would the CIA say about that? It never came up, Mudd writes, and he accepted an entry-level analyst position. He would resign 25 years later as the FBI’s senior intelligence adviser (after having served for several years as the deputy director of the Bureau’s National Security Branch). Takedown, tells about the years in between, with the focus on the post-9/11 era.

Mudd was serving at the National Security Council on 9/11. He quickly became the CIA member of a State Department team that went to Afghanistan to aid in setting up the new government. When he returned to CIA headquarters, he was assigned to manage analysts in the rapidly expanding counterterrorist effort in the Directorate of intelligence (DI). Much of this book is devoted to how Mudd and the DI adapted to the demands that resulted from the war in Afghanistan and, later, Iraq. He provides an analyst’s view of training new personnel, including managing analysts who did not want to become managers. He also provides insights into the bureaucratic battles with other elements of the Intelligence Community. Within the CIA, his analysts wrote for the President’s Daily Brief, and he explains in detail how this tasking was met. With regard to the war in Iraq, Mudd describes the support given to Secretary of State Powell in preparation for his UN speech and the management shakeup that resulted when it became apparent there was no WMD threat.

It was then that Mudd was appointed deputy director of the CIA Counterterrorist Center. His new duties involved frequent, often difficult contact with the media. But more important was his support to the White House and the congressional committees concerning the growing threats from al-Qaeda, its developing affiliates in the Middle East, and Taliban operations from Pakistan.

In 2005, when the FBI created the National Security Branch, Mudd became its CIA representative and deputy director, and he tells how that group functioned under the close supervision of Director Robert Mueller. One of the issues Mudd dealt with during this time was a proposal that the United States form a new security organization similar to Britain’s MI5. Mudd discounts this idea in his book, making the very practical point that whatever advantages it might have had, it would have taken “at least ten years to get on its feet.” (179)

Mudd’s final career opportunity in government came in 2009, when he was nominated to become deputy under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. But it was not to be. His association with the Counterterrorist Center and its controversial role in extraordinary rendition programs meant his chances of confirmation were poor, and he withdrew his name.

After 24 years with CIA, Mudd decided it was time to move on, and he resigned. In Takedown, he has left an absorbing account, from a senior analyst’s point of view, of the CIA and its efforts to combat al-Qaeda and conduct the war on terror.


Uncovered: My Half-Century with the CIA, by John Sager (WestBow Press, 2013), 387 pp., photos, appendix, no index.

Careers in the CIA BTI (Before The Internet) and the Beatles can only be imagined by many reading about the Agency today. Those reading this memoir by octogenarian John Sager will not have to imagine. A long-retired operations officer, Sager has gotten around to telling his story at long last. He begins with a summary of his early life and education at the University of Washington, where he graduated in 1951. There he learned Russian and survived attempts by a communist-inspired teacher to convince him that Stalin was a great man. He also volunteered for the American Junior Red Cross and gained valuable experience traveling throughout the United States, speaking about the European relief program for displaced children.

Inspired in part by Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946, he applied to the CIA and joined the after graduation. Sager describes the junior officer training (JOT) experience that prepared him for overseas duty. He served first in Iran, where he and others monitored Soviet missile launches and recruited agents. After Tehran, he returned to CIA headquarters, where laid the groundwork for a visit by Oleg Penkovsky to Seattle. Penkovsky was arrested before he could be exfiltrated. Sager served in Moscow in the early 1960s. He was there during the Cherepanov affair—an attempt to pass KGB documents that went awry—and the US Embassy bugging revelations exposed by Yuri Nosenko. Sager’s final years in the Agency—he retired in 1991—were spent in the United States, working mainly on foreign student matters. The concluding chapters of Uncovered are devoted to life in retirement with his fourth wife—a high school sweetheart. Finally he was able indulge his passion for fly fishing and his devotion to religion. Sager provides a useful glimpse of a valuable career.


The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, A Son, and the CIA, by Scott C. Johnson (W.W. Norton, 2013), 304 pp., no index.

Scott Johnson is a freelance journalist and former foreign correspondent for Newsweek in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was born in India, where his father worked in the US embassy, and the family traveled from time to time over much of the world. In 1987, after his parents divorced and his father remarried, he was living in Michigan when his Dad confessed, “I’m a spy.” (48) Nothing was the same for young Johnson from that moment on. The Wolf and the Watchman looks at the emotional impact the revelation had on Scott and the influence it had on the relationship with his father.

Although initially surprised when he learned his dad’s secret, Johnson realized there had been clues, especially the tour of duty in Virginia in his early teens. Asked by his father not to disclose the location, which meant helping keep his cover, he “struggled with the idea that there was something fundamentally illusionary and maybe even shameful” about their life, a feeling that would persist. (59)

In the early 1990s, after he had finished college and his father had retired, Scott roamed the world, eventually ending up in Paris, where he secured a job as a journalist. He would later serve tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. On one assignment, he had a clandestine meeting with a terrorist leader for a story and gained insight to how the other side thought and worked. Whether in the field or between assignments and even during bouts of depression, he maintained frequent contact with this dad. Their contact grew closer when his father was called back to the CIA after 9/11 and they both worked in the Middle East. It was during this period that Johnson realized their work had much in common, though it is uncertain whether this eased his persistent doubts.

The Wolf and the Watchman is the story of an extraordinarily close relationship between a CIA father and his son, one that is dominated by the son’s continuing struggle to understand the clandestine world and its morality. It is probably not a typical story, but it will be of interest to families whose members have chosen or are contemplating careers in intelligence.

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[1]Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (MJF Books, 2008), fully revised and updated.

[2]Adam D. M. Svendsen, Intelligence Cooperation and the War on Terror: Anglo-American Security Relations after 9/11 (Routledge, 2010). See a review in “The Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf,” Studies in Intelligence 55, no. 1, available online at

[3]Ray Bearse and Anthony Read, Conspirator: The Untold Story of Tyler Kent (Doubleday, 1991).

[4]Jerrold Schecter and Peter Deriabin, The Spy Who Saved the World: How a Soviet Colonel Changed the Course of the Cold War (Scribners, 1992).

[5]George Blake, No Other Choice: An Autobiography (Jonathan Cape, 1990).

[6] Larry Zellers, In Enemy Hands: A Prisoner in North Korea (University Press of Kentucky, 1991; second edition, 2000).

[7] William Hood, MOLE (Norton, 1982), 223–24.

[8]Brig. Gen. Oscar W. Koch with Robert G. Hays, G-2: Intelligence for Patton (Army Times Publishing Company, 1971).

[9]Seth Jones, In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan (W. W. Norton, 2009).

[10]John William Kaye, History of the War in Afghanistan (Richard Bentley, 1857), in three volumes, revised and corrected.

[11]Charles Eugene Taber, Get Out Any Way You Can: The Story of the Evacuation of House Eleven, The CIA Propaganda Force in Vietnam April 1975 (Infinity Publishing Company, 2003).

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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: Feb 12, 2014 11:13 AM
Last Updated: Feb 12, 2014 11:13 AM