Intelligence in Public Literature

Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf
Compiled and reviewed by Hayden Peake

The Character of a Leader: A Handbook for the Young Leader,
by Donald Alexander

Spy Chiefs: Intelligence Leaders in the United States and the United Kingdom, Volume 1, edited by Christopher Moran, Mark Stout, Ioanna Iordanou, and Paul Maddrell

Spy Chiefs: Intelligence Leaders in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, Volume 2, edited by Paul Mad­drell, Christopher Moran, Ioanna Iordanou, and Mark Stout

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II,
by Liza Mundy

Double Agent CELERY: MI5’s Crooked Hero, by Carolinda Witt

Foxtrot in Kandahar: A Memoir of a CIA Officer in Afghanistan at the Inception of America’s Longest War, by Duane Evans

Maverick Spy: Stalin’s Super-Agent in World War II, by Hamish MacGibbon

Trotsky’s Favourite Spy: The Life of George Alexander Hill, by Peter Day

The Secret Anglo-French War in the Middle East: Intelligence and Decolonization, 1940–1948,by Meir Zamir

e Character of a Leader: A Handbook for the Young Leader
, by Donald Alexander. (CreateSpace, 2015) 121, footnotes.

During more than 40 years as a CIA officer, Donald Alexander, a penname, served under leaders at all levels of the agency and the organizations with which it cooper­ates—intelligence, military, and civilian. He also held a variety of leadership positions at CIA Headquarters and overseas. In all cases, he concludes, success or failure depended “very much on the quality of its leaders.” (xvi) In The Character of a Leader, Alexander discusses the amorphous nature of leadership as a concept and suggests some “anchor principles” that officers, especially aspiring young officers, can learn and apply to “craft yourself into the best leader you can be.” (viii)

The Character of a Leader promotes two central themes: “character counts” and “effective leadership is necessarily predicated on the consent of the led.” (xxi) As to the former, Alexander stresses that character, integrity, and personal values are key components of leadership. With regard to the latter, he points out that while one can be appointed to a position of leadership, it is only the men and women serving with you that can confer the “honor of the title ‘leader.’” (xxiii) Alexander develops these themes throughout the six chapters in the book, offering examples and often referencing others who have written on these and related topics.

After a detailed discussion of what leadership is from various points of view, Alexander considers selected defi­nitions and elements of character. He then probes each of the 17 leadership traits he has identified, giving examples of what is expected of a leader. In one example, he quotes William Donovan’s biographer, Douglas Waller, who wrote that Donovan was “by any measure a bad manager . . . but a remarkable leader . . .” with “charisma . . . intel­ligence and open-mindedness, personal courage and a vision for the future.” (66)

In the chapter “Becoming a Leader,” Alexander ponders the inscrutable question, “Are leaders born or made?” That others have also found the question perplex­ing is captured by the quote that “Leadership flows from the core of a personality and cannot be taught although it may be learnt.” (79) (How one can learn without being taught in some form is unexplained.) Alexander presents his own views on the matter: among other considerations, he identifies four prerequisites, “without which you can­not excel as a leader.” He does not maintain that they must be possessed at birth, but he insist they be acquired “before you report for leadership duty.” (80)

The problems of collaboration that challenge a leader are dealt with in a chapter on what Alexander terms tribal­ism, a kind of bureaucratic turf war that every leader will encounter. “Unless you can master tribalism across orga­nizations and in yourself, your undertaking is doomed to mediocrity.” (104)

In his concluding chapter Alexander raises the rhetori­cal question, “Why should the reader accept [this] concept of leadership through integrity?” (108) He provides some interesting answers, and three other leaders add support to his arguments. George Tenet, former director of central intelligence; Adm. Bill Studeman, former director of NSA and deputy director of central intelligence; and LTGEN John Sattler, USMC (Ret.), each contributed to the fore­word of The Character of a Leader.

This stimulating and worthwhile contribution to the literature of intelligence will benefit those early in their careers, cause those still serving to question whether they got it right, and leave some retirees wishing they had pos­sessed its insights.

Spy Chiefs: Intelligence Leaders in the United States and the United Kingdom, Volume 1, edited by Christopher Moran, Mark Stout, Ioanna Iordanou, and Paul Maddrell. Foreword by LTG Patrick M. Hughes. (Georgetown Univer­sity Press, 2018) 330, end of chapter notes, photos, index.

Spy Chiefs: Intelligence Leaders in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, Volume 2, edited by Paul Maddrell, Chris­topher Moran, Ioanna Iordanou, and Mark Stout. Foreword by Sir Richard Dearlove. (Georgetown University Press, 2018) 274, end of chapter notes, photos, index.

In the introduction to volume 1 of Spy Chiefs, the edi­tors present six interesting questions that are “at the core” of both books and should be kept in mind when reading the 23 contributions:

  • How do intelligence leaders operate in different na­tional, institutional, and historical contexts?
  • What role have they played in the conduct of interna­tional questions?
  • How much power do they possess?
  • How secretive and accountable to the public have they been?
  • What qualities make an effective intelligence leader? and
  • Does popular culture (including the media) distort or improve our understanding of intelligence leaders? (2)

Volume 1, Part 1, contains eight articles. Four are about former directors of central intelligence, William Donovan, Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, and William Casey. The fifth concerns William Odom, a former NSA director (or DIRNSA), and the sixth is an assessment of all former NSA directors. The articles about the CIA directors discuss selected aspects of their careers, though in some cases with questionable objectivity. For example, the article on Helms, subtitled “Secrecy Stonewalling and Spin,” is overly concerned with Helms’s keeping secrets.

Two articles hint at religious connections, fuzz­ily implying relevance. The first, “A Jesuit in Reagan’s Papacy” is saved by its subtitle, “Bill Casey, the Central Intelligence Agency, and America’s Cold War Struggle for Freedom.” It is impossible to say anything to commend the second, “Studying Religion with William Donovan and the Office of Strategic Services.”

The other two contributions in Part 1 are devoted to heads of lesser organizations. One concerns the so-called “Pond,” a would-be mirror image of the CIA. The Pond was headed by John Grombach, a maverick Army colonel who opposed the CIA. Curiously, Grombach ended up as an agency contractor before his demise. The author, Mark Stout, is the leading authority on “The Pond.”[1]  The sec­ond deals with Gen. Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, and his efforts to control its security and enforce secrecy. Characterizing Groves as a “Spy Chief” is, at best, charitable.

Part II of Volume 1 presents five articles on British intelligence notables—sort of. Two concern the Secret In­telligence Service (MI6). The first explores the life of Eric Welch—little known in America—an SIS officer who was the British link between intelligence and atomic science during and after World War II. The second examines the role of “C,” in this case Sir Stewart Menzies, and covert British action. The third article discusses the leadership of Patrick Dean, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Commit­tee during the Suez Crisis.

The final two articles are literary non sequiturs in that they are devoted to Ian Fleming’s “M” in one case, and to British television spy series in the other. They reflect a misplaced tendency expressed from time to time in both volumes to suggest that solutions to real world intelli­gence problems may be found in the fictional adventures of popular espionage heroes and organizations.

Spy Chiefs: Intelligence Leaders in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, Volume 2, also seeks “to identify what intelligence leadership is” (1) and that objective is met by Sir Richard Dearlove, retired chief of SIS. His foreword on leadership in general—and on intelligence services in particular—is the most incisive short essay on the topic in the intelligence literature and contains some forthright opinions.

The first of the 10 contributions in Volume 2 is also on leadership in intelligence. But besides relying too heavily on a corporate leadership model, there are two additional statements that must be read with great caution: (1) “an intelligence chief cannot be a charismatic leader” and (2) “the authority of intelligence chiefs is derived entirely from their position.” (6–7)

Of the remaining nine articles, two consider spy chiefs in ancient intelligence systems—one in Renaissance-era Venice, the other in 16th century Istanbul. A fourth article asks whether Feliks Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka, was “a perfect spy chief.” (97) While the question answers itself, the author’s analysis is interesting.

There are two contributions on the former East Ger­man intelligence services, one about Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, and the other about his subordinate, Markus Wolf, longtime chief of the HVA, the East German for­eign intelligence service. The latter repeats the story that Wolf considered himself “the man without a face,” since he believed he had never been identified. In fact, he was unaware that the CIA had identified his photograph with the help of an East German agent in the late 1950s.

There is also an article on the West German foreign intelligence service (BND) that focuses on its first presi­dent, Reinhard Gehlen, and how he kept dossiers on West German politicians and dignitaries—a “Hooverian” style of leadership.

The final three articles are interesting, both because of their content and the countries involved. One is about India’s struggle to create its Intelligence Bureau (IB) after gaining independence. The other two cover the Lebanese Sûreté Générale and the General Intelligence Service (GIS) of Egypt. The former focuses on the contributions of Emir Farid Chehab, the longest-serving chief of the Sûreté Générale (1948–58). The article on the GIS covers the three most influential former chiefs, from Nasser to the present.

Returning to the questions raised by the editors above, the articles do not answer them directly. Moreover, the terms “power,” “operate,” “secretive,” “accountable,” “ef­fective qualities,” and “leadership” go undefined—or in the case of “leadership,” defined in different ways. Thus the Spy Chiefs volumes are a subjective and qualitative assessment of selected intelligence leaders by a group of academics and former intelligence officers, many of whom have written extensively elsewhere on intelligence. Their contributions are interesting, stimulating, challeng­ing, and worthy of serious study, but remain subject to other interpretations.

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ode Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, by Liza Mundy. (Hachette Books, 2017) 416, endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

American industry and military services recruited women for many occupations during World War II. Besides being available, they had special qualifications and inherent risks: “women were better equipped for bor­ing work that required attention to detail . . . lower level calculations . . . (21) bad at keeping secrets . . . [but] less problematic at least when it came to drinking and brag­ging.” (28) One recruiter qualified his request for engi­neers with the admonition to “select beautiful ones, for we don’t want them on our hands after the war.” (29)

The British codebreaking establishment at Bletchley Park recruited men through the “old boy network” in 1940, but by the end of the war 75 percent of the staff was female. Its American counterparts in the Army and Navy began later but at war’s end “nearly 70%” of the Army’s codebreakers were female.” The figure for the Navy was close to 80 percent. (30) Code Girls tells how they were recruited, how they performed, and how they overcame deep-seated social prejudices in the process.

It was standard procedure for WWII codebreakers to sign secrecy agreements that prohibited them from ever revealing the details of their work. Thus their story remained untold until recently, when the records were declassified and made available in the National Ar­chives. After journalist Liza Mundy began studying these materials, she filed additional requests that resulted in the release of oral histories conducted with women code breakers. She also conducted interviews with “twenty surviving code breakers” and members of their families. (xiii) The result is the most complete account of the role women played in this vital intelligence function during the war.

Unlike Bletchley Park, which centralized cryptological functions, the US Army and Navy had their own wartime code-breaking and code-making units. For most of the war, the Army facilities were housed in Arlington Hall, Virginia, a former girls’ school just outside Washington, that today houses the State Department School of For­eign Service. The Navy eventually settled in quarters on Nebraska Avenue in Washington, DC.

Mundy explains how each went about recruiting, training, and utilizing female code-breakers. Initially, both sought college graduates—often school teachers, who exhibited mental skills Mundy describes—thought to be necessary. Later, female candidates were allowed to join the Navy and Army, albeit with some restrictions and serve as code-breakers.

Code Girls is much more than the story of organi­zational elements. Mundy discusses individual cases describing their background and recruitment experiences, as well as their on-the-job performance. The Navy’s Dot Braden is a good example. Mundy follows her career from school teaching, which she didn’t like, to code-breaking which she did. She was one of the few hired to remain after the war. Another example was Ann White, who worked in the Enigma unit, where she translated decryptions of communications with German naval units that threatened Allied shipping in the Western Atlan­tic. And then there was the controversial Agnes Meyer Driscoll, who became “one of the great cryptanalysts of all time,” (74) though she despised William Friedman, whose team solved the code generated by the Japanese diplomatic cryptographic machine, codenamed “Purple.” Friedman was several grades higher than Driscoll—a discrepancy she found grossly unfair.

On the Army side, Mundy includes Elizebeth Fried­man (née Smith), William Friedman’s wife, who had a distinguished career as a code-breaker and manager with the Treasury Department. Perhaps best known today, Army cryptanalyst Ann Caracristi “was in a class by herself.” (221) She later become the first woman deputy director of NSA. Lesser known but also of great impor­tance was Gene Grabeel, who started the Venona Project, where “90% of those involved were women.” (343) Each of the female code-breakers contributed a great deal in a variety of jobs while battling regulations, liv­ing quarters problems, unequal pay and male colleagues while sometimes supervising them. Mundy conveys their dedication, patriotism, and accomplishments that until now have remained hidden in the archives. Code Girls is a fine book, well written and documented, and a major contribution to the intelligence literature.

Double Agent CELERY: MI5’s Crooked Hero, by Carolinda Witt. (Pen & Sword, 2017) 271, endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

In late 1945, John Masterman wrote an internal MI5 history of the Double Cross Committee that he had chaired during World War II. By the late 1960s, Mas­terman concluded it was time to inform the public of the Double Cross Committee’s wartime successes and suggested to MI5 that they declassify the report. When they declined, he submitted his copy of the manuscript to Yale University Press, where it was promptly accepted for publication. Alerted that Masterman had kept an illicit copy of the report, MI5 was forced to either prosecute or negotiate deletions of materialdeemed still classified—mainly names of agents and MI5 officers. They chose the latter option, and The Double-Cross System, 1939–1845 (Yale University Press) was published in 1972.

Masterman’s now classic book reported many opera­tions and identified most double agents only by their code names. The little he had on CELERY noted that he was sent on two missions to Europe and “subsequently entered the business world and disappeared from our ken.”

CELERY, however, would reappear in the ken of author Carolinda Witt as a result of complicated and surprising research into her family history. One unexpected product was the discovery of a cousin she had not known existed. As she pursued details of that family branch, she would discover CELERY’s declassified MI5 file, which identified him as Walter Dicketts: her grandfather. One relative described him as a “spy, a crook, a hero, a con­man, a bigamist, and the father of four children” (227)— including the author’s mother. Double Agent CELERY tells the story of Walter Dicketts’s life.

Dicketts had been an intelligence officer during World War I and had worked briefly for MI6. At the start of World War II, he tried to rejoin the military and had been rejected due to “some fraudulent activities in his past.” (1) When he met Arthur Owens by chance at the Marlbor­ough Pub in London, their conversation led him to suspect Owens was a German agent, and he reported him to MI5. Owens was indeed an agent but he worked for MI5 and was the first of their double agents, codenamed SNOW.

MI5 didn’t tell Dicketts about SNOW’s MI5 links for two reasons. First, they were suspicious of SNOW and second, they had to be sure Dicketts was genuine. Ac­cepting Dicketts after a lengthy and unusual background investigation, MI5 sent them both to Portugal, where SNOW had German intelligence contacts. Dicketts, by then codenamed CELERY, was tasked to keep an eye on SNOW and to be recruited by the Germans; he succeeded in both. Under the constant threat of discovery, CELERY was introduced to the Germans as SNOW’s new recruit. He was then sent to the Hamburg station for debriefing and weeks of training. After convincing the Germans of his authenticity, he went on to Berlin and other German cities before returning to London via Lisbon.

After an extensive debriefing, SNOW’s often contradictory account of their operations raised suspicions about whether he had betrayed CELERY, and he was “retired” as a double agent. CELERY was returned to Lisbon on one more assignment concerning the possible defection of a German officer. After that, it was considered too danger­ous to return again. His file shows he worked again briefly for MI6 before returning to the business world.

CELERY’s final years were anything but successful. Desperate for money, he reverted to his conman skills and spent time in prison. Witt recounts these stories and those of his four marriages and two mistresses, throughout the narrative constructing a picture of a talented, patriotic man whose desire to live above his means led to his sui­cide in 1957.

Double Agent CELERY tells the complex, often con­voluted story of a Double Cross agent who bravely served his country behind enemy lines and the families he left behind who only learned about him and each other after his death.

Foxtrot in Kandahar: A Memoir of a CIA Officer in Afghanistan at the Inception of America’s Longest War, by Duane Evans. (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie LLC, 2017) 174, photos, no index.

In Directorate S, author Steve Coll makes a single ref­erence to “Team Foxtrot, another Pentagon-commanded Special Forces-CIA collaboration” unit that was incorrect in one detail: it was commanded by CIA officer Duane Evans.[2] Foxtrot in Kandahar is the story of how that came about and what the team did in Afghanistan.

After 9/11, Evans immediately volunteered for duty in Afghanistan. An operations officer and former chief of station in Latin America, (1) Evans did not have the lan­guage skills sought by the Counterterrorism Center (CTC) as it worked to put people in the field to defeat the Taliban and find Osama Bin Ladin, but he did have compensatory experience, and Special Forces service with the 83rd Air­borne Division. Convincing the CTC to accept him for an overseas mission took time. He encountered unexpected bureaucratic and leadership issues that he handles skill­fully in his book. In the end, it was his case officer skills working with an Afghan source in Washington that made the difference.

By the time Evans received an assignment in Octo­ber, the first team sent to Afghanistan—headed by Garry Schroen, a Dari speaker and former station chief in Pakistan—had been in Afghanistan since 26 September and was functioning in the north. Evans was to go first to Pakistan and then southern Afghanistan. Attached to Team Echo, he became Hamid Karzai’s aide and got to know him well.

One of Team Echo’s missions was to assist Karzai, pu­tatively in Afghanistan, but actually in Pakistan, to return to Kandahar without alerting the Taliban. Unfortunately, the secretary of defense announced Karzai’s whereabouts during a press conference. That increased the risk and changed the schedule. When Team Echo left for Afghani­stan, Evans remained behind, but his flak jacket did not: he had given that to Kazai. While waiting to follow in the second lift, Evans received a call from Headquarters: he was to lead Team Foxtrot and “infiltrate into Kandahar province and link up with Gul Agha Shirzai,” and see him safely to Kandahar, where he would once again be governor.

At this point, Evans ran into a turf tussle with the local station that wanted to replace him with one of its offi­cers. Evans’s account of how he overcame that challenge makes interesting reading.

Team Foxtrot went to Kandahar overland and were resupplied by airdrops one of which included horse feed. The cable informing Headquarters they did not have horses was uncharacteristically forthright.

They fought several battles along the way to Kanda­har and Evans found his leadership skills challenged in several instances. On this point he has some kind words for CIA Headquarters—not a common occurrence—for refraining from “dictating actions from thousands of miles away . . . allowing the team leaders to call the shots as each saw fit. ” (151)

In Kandahar, Team Foxtrot was reunited with Team Echo and Hamid Karzai. Now there were Taliban safe­houses to inspect, boxes of captured documents to examine, tribal conflicts among the Afghans to settle, and Afghan agents to debrief. One of the agents reported the Taliban had mined the roof of the Governors Palace, “2500 lbs of explosive, it turned out”—where a confer­ence of leaders was going to take place. An explosive ordnance team (EOD) team was sent to neutralize that threat. (150)

It was now December 2001—time for Evans to return to Headquarters, an order he accepted with mixed feel­ings, since much remained to be done.

In his new assignment, he began to have concerns. He found the “lack of our in-depth understanding of Afghan culture and history [was making] it difficult for us to achieve positive results . . . for the long term.” (168) Looking back he asks, “Was it worth it?” (170)

Foxtrot in Kandahar is a well written, firsthand ac­count from memory. It has the ring of truth and fills a gap about the Afghan war that illuminates the problems that continue there to this day.

Maverick Spy: Stalin’s Super-Agent in World War II, by Hamish MacGibbon. (I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2017) 228, endnotes, bibliography, appendices, photos, index.

It may be reasonably inferred that the British intelli­gence services find little continuing interest in the histori­cal record of the Cambridge spy cases. Not so the schol­ars, readers, and publishers who have generated the more than 750 volumes that deal with the subject—with no end in sight. Maverick Spy is a recent contribution to the genre. The principal subject here is James MacGibbon, the author’s father.

Born in 1912, James attended an English public school, joined a publishing firm, traveled to Germany to work for a printing house, and married in 1934. Return­ing to his publishing duties in London, he soon became enamored of the good life that included travel and sailing. Politically, reports of Nationalist atrocities during the Spanish Civil War motivated the young couple to join the Communist Party in June 1937, (24) while at the same time the Soviet show trials and executions were dismissed “as so much anti-Soviet propaganda.” (36) Less than a year later, James and his wife came to the attention of MI5 (the party headquarters was bugged) and were sub­jected to sporadic surveillance for the rest of their lives.

When the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact was announced in August 1939, James resigned his party membership and when the war started he joined the army, where he was promptly commissioned. When questioned about his party membership, the army accepted his word that he was “for us,” not Stalin. James was assigned to the intelligence corps and posted to the War Office, where he soon became convinced that not enough was being done to help the Soviet Union. He then volunteered his ser­vices to Soviet intelligence and was given the codename DOLLY.

James told his son, Hamish, about his espionage for the Soviets shortly before he died in 2000. Hamish pur­sued traces of his father’s treason—though he does not call it that—in the British archives and in Moscow, where he found additional material that showed that James had provided ULTRA decrypts, the plans for OVERLORD (the D-Day invasion) and details about the “Big Three” Tehran Conference to his Soviet masters. After being transferred to New York, he served on the Joint Staff Mis­sion and continued supplying material to the Soviets.

Demobilized in 1945, James rejoined the Commu­nist Party and soon MI5 renewed its interest during the early 1950s. The original bugs in party headquarters, removed after Cambridge spy Anthony Blunt informed the Soviets of their existence, had been replaced. James’s phones were tapped again, his mail intercepted, and he was placed under surveillance from time to time. After a call to the Soviet embassy, MI5’s principal interrogator, William Skardon, talked to him but was unable to extract a confession.[3]  In 1956, after the Soviet invasion of Hun­gary, James again resigned from the Communist Party.

James MacGibbon spent the balance of his life in publishing and as a literary agent. At one point he formed his own company, MacGibbon & Kee, the firm that would publish Philby’s memoirs in 1968, though James had left the company by then. His son covers these events in detail.

MacGibbon’s espionage was finally revealed publicly in a 2017 Times article.[4] When queried, Hamish replied that his disclosure “was exactly the right thing to do.”

Maverick Spy is hardly an account of a super-agent, but it does further document the extent of Soviet success recruiting British agents and, perhaps more importantly, shows that not all of them were Cambridge graduates.

Trotsky’s Favourite Spy: The Life of George Alexander Hill, by Peter Day. (Biteback Publishing Ltd., 2017) 291, endnotes, bibliography, photos, glossary, index.

Question: what do the tall, slender, handsome, and polished British actor Hugh Fraser (Poirot’s sidekick) and George Hill have in common? Answer: It was Fraser who played the 5’6”, plump, unsophisticated George Hill in the 1983 made-for-TV movie Reilly, Ace of Spies that starred Sam Neil. In Trotsky’s Favourite Spy, with one exception (noted below), author Peter Day avoids any hint of artistic license and portrays Hill as he was: a pilot, army officer, MI6 agent, SOE officer, linguist, philan­derer, author, playwright, and father.

Born in Czarist Russia, Hill acquired his linguistic abilities traveling throughout Europe and the Balkans with his British merchant father. Schooled in England, he returned and entered his father’s business in Riga before joining a firm north of Vancouver, Canada. At the start of World War I, he lied about his age and enlisted in the Canadian infantry. Sent to France, he was wounded at Ypres. In short order, after recovering, he married, was commissioned, and assigned to the intelligence staff at the war office. Trained in counterespionage, he also learned Bulgarian in four weeks and was sent on a secret mission to Bulgaria. Upon his return, he joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and learned to fly at a base near Cairo. He was then assigned to serve with the RFC in Russia, where he did indeed meet Trotsky—and this is where the excep­tion noted above comes into play.

The book’s title asserts Hill spied for Trotsky and the chapter entitled “Trotsky’s Troubleshooter,” implies a close relationship. But in fact, the narrative makes no mention of spying for Trotsky and in the “Troubleshoot­er” chapter, they are never shown to have met. Subse­quently, Day writes that Trotsky, then minister of war, was grateful for Hill’s support for the Bolshevik air force, and for his efforts to get the railroads functioning. (57) But that didn’t make him Trotsky’s spy.

It was during this same period of 1918 that Hill joined forces with MI6’s agent, Sidney Reilly, and Day tells of their adventures in Moscow recruiting agents, their role in the failed Lockhart plot to overthrow the Bolsheviks, and their eventual escape.

Shortly after Hill and Reilly returned to London, MI6 dispatched them to southern Russia to report on the activities of White Russians attempting to overthrow the Bolsheviks. Eventually Hill was given other assignments to help the anti-Bolshevik armies, but all failed in the end, and Hill returned to London.

During the interwar years, Hill struggled to make his mark in business and writing. His plays were not sensations, but his memoirs did better. Day notes that “spies were not supposed to write their memoirs and Hill encountered strong opposition from MI6.” (139) Day does not mention that Sir Paul Dukes had been allowed to published his memoir of the same period in Moscow, and that may be why Hill persisted and published Go Spy The Land and later Dreaded Hour, which Day describes as embellished.[5]  He was then paid for three articles on sabotage that were published, further infuriating MI6.

When World War II began, Hill, then 46, applied to rejoin MI6 but was rejected. But his sabotage articles had come to the attention of the unit that would become SOE, and he promptly accepted an offer of employment. He was assigned initially to training at the same school as Kim Philby, who mentioned “jolly George Hill,” in his memoir.[6]

When the opportunity arose to place an officer in Moscow to liaise with the NKVD, Hill was an obvious choice and, to the surprise of the Brits, he was accepted despite the Soviet knowledge of his experiences with Reilly during the revolution. He was posted with the rank of colonel.

The chapters covering Hill’s WWII service in the Soviet Union are among the most interesting in Trotsky’s Favourite Spy. Hill was promoted to brigadier and had many fascinating experiences, often controversial. Toward the end, almost as an aside, Day includes a chapter that summarizes Hill’s view of the espionage profession and his role in it and what the Soviets thought of his mem­oirs, which had been translated into Russian. The Soviet authors’ views “were by no means unremittingly hostile,” he writes. (242) It is an analysis worth reading.

Hill’s post-war years were spent in business and reporting to MI6 about his various ventures. “He had become respectable,” Day concludes. (252) He died of leukemia in 1970.

Trotsky’s Favourite Spy is based on interviews with Hill’s survivors and recently released government reports of his work. It adds much to what was previously known about a colorful secret agent, whether or not he was Trotsky’s favorite.

The Secret Anglo-French War in the Middle East: Intelligence and Decolonization, 1940–1948, by Meir Zamir. (Routledge, 2015) 485, end of chapter notes, index.

Professor Meir Zamir is a scholar at Ben-Gurion Uni­versity’s Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy. The Secret Anglo-French War in the Mid­dle East: Intelligence and Decolonization, 1940–1948, analyzes how the British and French intelligence services, while cooperating in the European and Asian theaters dur­ing World War II, battled each other in the Middle East in what he terms a secret war. Each employed espionage, co­vert action, and clandestine and conventional diplomacy.

Throughout the 1940s, official British government policy was aimed at preserving a British presence in the Middle East. They were successful, initially, by evicting France from its competing mandates in Syria and Leba­non in 1945. But official British policy, argues Zamir, was actively and secretly opposed by elements of the Secret Intelligence Service and political “British Arabists” in Palestine. With the creation of Israel, they even supported the Arab revolt on the newly formed state (164) while the French collaborated with the Zionists. (409)

These are serious charges, and Professor Zamir provides extensive documentation—most of which he dis­covered in French archives—to support his conclusions. The archival records contained “hundreds of Syrian and British documents. These included top-secret reports on covert activities of British agents, and private and official correspondence between Syrian leaders and Arab heads of state . . . [and] documents from the files of the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” (xi) Of particular interest are documents that describe the failed British intelligence conspiracy, thwarted by Ben-Gurion and his associates, from July 1947 to May 1948. (165)

The book is divided into parts, the first of which cov­ers the events summarized above in three chapters, each with its own endnotes. The focus is on the intelligence rivalry—the so-called secret war, especially chapter 3. Part two contains translations of 346 documents, many of which are Syrian intelligence reports. The index con­tains the number of the document(s) linked to the topic concerned. Most, however, are concerned with political exchanges that describe official positions.

Professor Zamir has contributed much new material on a subject heretofore primarily understood from Western sources. Those unfamiliar with these events may find it useful to read the epilogue first to get an overview of the events.

The Secret Anglo-French War in the Middle East provides new critical detail for intelligence aficionados and historians unfamiliar with the unusual French-British clandestine relationship in the Middle East during World War II with Arab views factored in.

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Hayden Peake has served in the CIA’s Directorates of Operations and Science and Technology. He has been compiling and writing reviews for the “Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf” since December 2002.

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[1] See Mark Stout, “The Pond: Running Agents for State, War, and the CIA: The Hazards of Private Spy Operations” in Studies in Intelligence 48, No. 3 (September 2004). Available at

[2]Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Penguin, 2018), 99.

[3] Nigel West, Historical Dictionary of Cold War Counterintelli­gence (Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2007), 209.

[4] Magnus Linklater, “Son reveals father’s role as top Russian spy,” The Times (London), 9 September 2017, 22.

[5] Sir Paul Dukes, Red Dusk and The Morrow: Adventures and Investigations In Red Russia (Doubleday, 1922); George Alexander Hill, Go Spy The Land: Being the Adventures of I.K. 8 of the British Secret Service (Cassell, 1932); George Alexander Hill, Dreaded Hour (Cassell, 1936).

[6] Kim Philby, My Silent War (MacGibbon & Kee, 1968), 8.

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Posted: Apr 12, 2018 02:40 PM
Last Updated: Apr 12, 2018 02:40 PM