Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf
Compiled and reviewed by Hayden Peake
The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television, by Tricia Jenkins.
Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How To Detect Deception, by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero, with Don Tennant.
Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed, by Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille.
Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns that Killed Bin Laden and Devastated al-Qaeda, by Aki Peritz and Eric Rosenbach.
Getting To Know The President: Intelligence Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952–2004, by John L. Helgerson.
Pinkerton's War: The Civil War's Greatest Spy and the Birth of the U. S. Secret Service, by Jay Bonansinga.
Privileged and Confidential: The Secret History of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board, by Kenneth Michael Absher, Michael C. Desch, and Roman Popadiuk.
The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict With Iran, by David Crist.
Good-bye Dracula!: The Story of a Transylvanian Defector, by Traian Nicola.
Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, Second Edition, by Gordon Thomas.
Indian Intelligence: Missing In Action, edited by M.K. Singh.
Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars, by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman.
Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba, by Stephen Tankel.
Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day, Stephan Talty.
Guy Burgess: Revolutionary in an Old School Tie, by Michael Holzman.
The Queen's Agent: Francis Walsingham at the Court of Elizabeth I, by John Cooper.
The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville, Britain's First Female Special Agent of World War II, by Clare Mulley.
The Young Kim Philby: Soviet Spy & British Intelligence Officer, by Edward Harrison.
The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television, by Tricia Jenkins. (University of Texas Press, 2012), 167 pp., endnotes, bibliography, index.
Tricia Jenkins is an assistant professor in the Film, Television, and Digital Media Department at Texas Christian University. She has published two articles on the relationship between Hollywood and the CIA and now returns to that topic in The CIA in Hollywood. The book’s title accurately reflects the theme of the book. Her documentation relies heavily on what journalists and scholars have written about movies and TV dramas that depict the CIA and on interviews of some former intelligence—mainly CIA—officers.
The outcome is a six-chapter book that tracks the CIA’s initial Cold War contacts in Hollywood and follows their evolution into the digital era. The theme of each chapter is how the agency goes about influencing to its advantage the “texts in both the production and preproduction stages of filmmaking.” (11)
Chapter five is of particular interest. It scrutinizes the legal and ethical issues associated with CIA-Hollywood collaboration. Here, Jenkins writes that “the Agency refuses to assist any filmmaker depicting it in an unfavorable light.” (97) And while she discounts agency claims that “the CIA frequently stresses that its work in film and television serves to educate the public about the role of intelligence and the mission of the CIA. It also claims to increase the ‘accuracy’ of texts.” But she goes on, “By using this rhetoric the CIA evades the fact that its efforts amount to propaganda that is frequently self-aggrandizing.” (104) She argues that CIA cooperation should not depend on the subject matter or whether or not a script is favorable to the CIA. Jenkins acknowledges that others hold different views, and she quotes several authorities who present forceful arguments. (135)
Another chapter of contemporary interest analyzes the contributions of former CIA officers to Hollywood’s products. Here she is most concerned about the factual accuracy of films versus their box-office appeals. She discusses the CIA’s reaction to The Good Shepherd and includes a chart from an article in Studies in Intelligence that compares fiction and fact. In the end, though, her preference for “Oliver Stone history” shines through.
As to documentation, secondary sources predominate. They offer some interesting anecdotes, with many familiar names describing the CIA-Hollywood relationship. But not all of her claims about particular “CIA agents” are accurate. At one point she writes about “the CIA’s 1950s recruitment of [Luigi] Luraschi, the head of domestic and foreign censorship at Paramount Studios” (7) and cites a lengthy article in a scholarly journal to support her point. (emphasis added) But that source does not mention recruitment. And her reference to the Office of Policy Coordination as “a think tank housed at CIA” is inaccurate. The office was the CIA component that conducted covert actions under the direction of the State Department from 1948 to 1951, when it was brought fully under CIA supervision.
In her conclusions, Jenkins returns to her theme that although the CIA seeks to influence Hollywood to create propaganda for moviegoers, scripts that present the CIA negatively should not prevent the Agency from cooperating. She does present alternative views but is not persuaded by them. The CIA in Hollywood is an interesting account of one author’s point of view.
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Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How To Detect Deception, by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero, with Don Tennant. (St. Martin’s Press, 2012), 258 pp., index.
The primary authors of Spy the Lie are former CIA polygraph examiners. Philip Houston is the principal originator of a methodology for detecting deception in human subjects, and he claims it “can be employed with a degree of effectiveness that equates to or even surpasses what is achieved by means of a polygraph.” (3) Does that mean the end of polygraph examinations for certain government employees? The authors don’t say, but probably not. They do present a model based on their methodology and then illustrate its use in the field of security and in everyday situations.
After reviewing some general guidelines for trying to detect deception and stressing “that there is no such thing as a human lie detector,” (29) they describe “the model.” It has one—not immediately intuitive—strategic principle and two specific guidelines. The principle is: “if you want to know if someone is lying, you need to ignore, and thereby not process, truthful behavior.” The examples make clear how the principle is applied and why. The two guidelines are timing and clusters. Timing imposes the rule that the examiner “look and listen for the first deceptive behavior to occur within 5 seconds” (31) after the stimulus question is asked. Clusters are two or more deceptive indicators, which may be verbal or nonverbal. (32)
The authors provide specific examples and conditions for the method’s application, and graphics to show how these techniques are performed. Casual social interaction on the job is not likely to produce results. Houston provides an example of this when he notes that he worked with Harold Nicholson for more than two years and got no indication that he was a KGB agent. (37–39)
Most of the examples deal with a specific point. But the case of former Congressman Anthony Weiner is presented as a “textbook case study of many of the deceptive behaviors” the authors have discussed. (159ff.)
The authors conclude with a list of questions designed for everyday practical situations, each with some explanatory narrative. (201ff.) A final illustration applies “the model” to the Bob Costas interview of Jerry Sandusky, with analytical comment by the authors.
Spy the Lie will make you think about deception in new ways. It is an interesting, provocative, and valuable contribution to the security profession.
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Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed, By Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille. (Naval Institute Press, 2012), 240 pp., endnotes, photos, index.
Jeanne Vertefeuille (pronounced: ver-te-fay), who died on 29 December 2012, began her CIA career in 1954 and specialized in counterintelligence (CI), working the Soviet account. Sandra Grimes, a 26-year veteran of the clandestine service, spent much of her career working against Soviet targets. Their book, Circle of Treason, is the first published work that truly offers an insider perspective on the mole hunt that identified Aldrich Ames as a KGB agent. 
In the first two chapters of the book, the authors summarize their CIA careers and explain how they came to be assigned to the mole hunt. The next four chapters provide background about how the CIA worked against the Soviet target. They also discuss how the Angleton era influenced CI operations and affected subsequent CI procedures. Detailed attention is given to the case of Dmitriy Fedorovich Polyakov, a Soviet military intelligence officer and the “highest-ranking spy ever run against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.” (26) This case introduces the reader to how agents are run by both the FBI and the CIA and does not avoid the controversies that arose between those two agencies.
Having laid the groundwork, Grimes and Vertefeuille then discuss the extraordinary number of agents that were compromised—discovered by the KGB—in the mid-1980s. They identify the key players—including their codenames—and the CIA, FBI, and KGB organizational elements involved. The reader gets a good idea of the complexities of agent handling in the field—especially in Moscow—and how they were supported at CIA Headquarters.
When a series of compromises occurred in relatively quick succession for no obvious reasons during 1985 and 1986, CI alarms went off. Grimes and Vertefeuille learned that some of the cases ended for explainable reasons—the agent, Aleksey Kulak, for example, died of natural causes, and another agent, Sergey Bokhan, was exfiltrated from Athens in May 1985 after he concluded he was under suspicion. (72) Some of the other compromises were eventually explained by KGB defector Vitaliy Yurchenko. He exposed former CIA officer Edward Howard, who defected to the Soviet Union and gave up the prized agent Adolf Tolkachev. Similarly, Czech intelligence officer Karl Koecher, who had penetrated the CIA as a translator, identified Aleksandr Ogorodnikov. But many more losses appeared inexplicable. It was at this point that the CIA formed what came to be called “the back room” group—which included Grimes and Vertefeuille —and the mole hunt began.
Circle of Treason looks at what was done—and by whom, and when—and includes operational details. These range from the formation of databases of thousands of reports, to the creation of detailed chronologies, to the handling of KGB deception ploys that at first glance seemed to be promising explanations for the losses. Grimes and Vertefeuille explain the other possible causes that were considered. Throughout this process, bureaucratic factors complicated matters, including disagreements with the FBI and reassignments of back-room group members. When new compartmentation measures were established to protect new recruitments and the losses stopped as suddenly as they had begun, it appeared that the worst was over, although the original compromises had not been explained. The authors persevered and devised extraordinary measures to finally expose Ames.
Grimes and Vertefeuille’s discussion of these matters helps explain why Ames was not identified until 1992 and not arrested until 1994. Only one issue is not dealt with directly: why a list of officers with knowledge of all the compromised cases was not compiled until 1991.
Grimes and Vertefeuille conclude their narrative with some candid comments about the aftermath of the case. They are critical of the FBI public statement “that gave the impression that they [the FBI] had done all the real work while we [the CIA] had provided cooperation and support.” (149) The authors are equally hard on themselves in their discussion of the lessons learned—failure to keep Congress informed and poor documentation in terms of periodic progress reports are but two examples. On the positive side, they note that generally excellent cooperation with the FBI at the working level was an important factor in the group’s eventual success.
The endnotes do not refer to primary source documents, as this is a firsthand account. The authors do comment critically on other books on this and related cases, and they include a useful chronology that aids in following events.
Circle of Treason is an enormously important account of a complex, often frustrating case, written by those who did much of the work to solve it.
Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns that Killed Bin Laden and Devastated al-Qaeda, by Aki Peritz and Eric Rosenbach. (Public Affairs, 2012), 308 pp., endnotes, appendices, index.
The concept of “find, fix and finish” will be familiar to those who have served in the military and have studied its history. The authors have used it here as a guide for thinking about how the United States has functioned in the war on terror. They show with many examples how the concept was used before 9/11 and how it has been adapted since then to deal with key members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Throughout, they demonstrate the key role of intelligence as it has adapted to the antiterrorist mission—including the use of rendition and various collection and interrogation techniques, the controversy surrounding them, and the use of intelligence obtained through these methods.
Their examples include operations in war zones and in “friendly” countries—Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia—to capture or kill wanted terrorist leaders, and against homegrown terrorists. Each case illustrates the complex legal conditions that must be met to pursue the target, whether overseas or in the United States. The successful hunt for Abu Zarqawi, one of the last important figures to be killed in an F-16 strike, shows what it takes to operate in a war zone. The case of Najibullah Zazi, who pled guilty to planning to blow up New York City subways, is an important domestic exemplar. On the joint action front, the authors examine at length the British-US efforts—Operation Overt—that caught UK homegrown terrorists planning to place bombs on aircraft flying to America. And then there is a special category of the bumbling terrorist—the “shoe bomber” and the “underwear bomber,” whose bad luck acted as wake-up calls.
There is a chapter on the killing of Bin Laden, in which the authors summarize how the evolution in tactics since 9/11 made success possible. They do not dwell on the assault itself, but rather discuss the clues and miscues that led to the operation. They also explain why the SEAL team was placed under the authority of the CIA, rather than that of the Defense Department.
The final chapter covers 13 lessons and succinctly reemphasizes points touched on earlier. Most are straightforward. A few examples will establish the tone. First, “too much bureaucracy impedes counterterrorism and harms national security.” And the characterization of Pakistan as “a critical but deeply unreliable ally” points to the difficulty the US government faces. A more controversial point is the authors’s recommendation that all captured terrorists be tried in US courts. Also really tough is their suggestion that we need a narrative to counter the jihadi message and persuade less-than-fully dedicated radical Islamists to change sides.
Find, Fix, Finish is documented by well-known, mostly secondary sources, so there is little new in it. Still, the insights and context the authors provide make this a thoughtful, worthwhile contribution.
Getting To Know The President: Intelligence Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952–2004, by John L. Helgerson. (Center for the Study of Intelligence, CIA, 2012), 208 pp., footnotes, photos, index.
Ten days after the 1992 presidential election, John Helgerson, then serving as deputy director for intelligence at the CIA, briefed President-elect Clinton and his staff on the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) and other intelligence matters. While preparing for the briefing, Helgerson discovered that the “CIA had provided preinaugural support to all eight presidents elected since the Agency was founded but had no systematic records of those efforts.” (3) After reviewing what material was available, Helgerson determined to create a record of past briefings and make sure detailed records were kept in the future. Drawing on these data in the mid-1990s, Helgerson wrote a summary of the arrangements made with and the general topics briefed to all the presidents—and some candidates—from Truman through Clinton. That work was published in 1996 as Getting to Know the President: CIA Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952–1992. The present work updates that edition to include the George W. Bush administration.
President Truman originated the briefings because, as he recalled, “there were so many things I did not know when I became President.” (10) Helgerson describes the Eisenhower briefings, some given by the DCI, Gen. Walter Smith, who had been Ike’s wartime chief of staff. Helgerson doesn’t include much on the substance of the briefings, but there is a good deal on the atmosphere and the effort to establish a sound relationship. He takes this approach throughout the book, showing how each president and vice president viewed intelligence and the need for briefings differently. Some wanted direct contact with the CIA’s briefer, as was the case with George W. Bush. Others—Carter and Reagan, for example—preferred to read the material in private or be briefed by the national security advisor. In any case, the agency had to accommodate these varying desires and the challenges of time and travel.
From the CIA’s perspective, an ancillary purpose of the briefings was to take advantage of the opportunity to establish a relationship with the president for continued briefings. As Helgerson relates, however, the relationships with Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Carter were never what agency leaders had hoped, though each for different reasons.
In the final chapter, Helgerson presents some observations of his own and many from presidents he interviewed for the study. These add immensely to the value of the book because they include comments about the relationship between the CIA and the president when he was in office. In an overall assessment, Helgerson concludes that the relationship “went downhill after Truman” (178) for the next 25 years. How and when it was improved makes interesting history.
Getting To Know The President is a historical treasure for those interested in intelligence and the presidency.
Pinkerton’s War: The Civil War’s Greatest Spy and the Birth of the U.S. Secret Service, by Jay Bonansinga. (Lyons Press, 2012), 235 pp., endnotes, photos, index.
The Civil War sesquicentennial is an appropriate time to publish tributes to those who made major contributions to the war effort. Jay Bonansinga has attempted to do just that with Pinkerton’s War. The book covers all the usual topics: Pinkerton’s Scottish origins, his role in getting Lincoln safely through Baltimore, and his service as General McClellan’s intelligence officer. The narrative is replete with exciting stories and reconstructed conversations. It is a genuine entertainment.
Unfortunately, Bonansinga relies on some mediocre secondary sources and embellished, firsthand accounts. The best source on Civil War intelligence was written by the late Edwin Fishel, a retired National Security Agency analyst. Using primary source documents, Fishel presented an accurate story of Pinkerton’s role. He also discussed the many fictional accounts that have contributed to the persistent myths surrounding Civil War espionage. Pinkerton’s memoir, The Spy of the Rebellion, heads the list of largely fictional, embellished accounts, followed closely by Rose Greenhow’s memoir, My Imprisonment. Bonansinga relies heavily on both and on other undocumented accounts that repeat the same stories. Thus his unsourced statement that “Lincoln and his top men agreed to establish a new agency to be known as The Secret Service of the Army of the Potomac—under the management and control of one Allan Pinkerton” (143) is at best exaggeration and, at worst, fiction. Similarly, his account of Greenhow’s espionage, based on her discredited memoirs, should be discounted.
In short, Allan Pinkerton was not the Civil War’s greatest spy, nor did he have anything to do with the US Secret Service. Readers desiring to know about Civil War intelligence should look elsewhere.
Privileged and Confidential: The Secret History of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, by Kenneth Michael Absher, Michael C. Desch, and Roman Popadiuk. (The University Press of Kentucky, 2012), 515 pp., endnotes, appendices, index.
The President’s Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities (PBCFIA) was established in 1956 by President Eisenhower. (1) It was renamed the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) in 1961 by President Kennedy. (52) It acquired its present name, the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB) under President George W. Bush in 2008. (310) With one exception, the board has served every president since its establishment. The exception was Jimmy Carter, who did not activate the board. The bipartisan members are appointed by the president and have varied in number from eight to 12, except during the Reagan administration, when there were 19. Members serve part-time without pay (expenses are reimbursed), meet about twice a month, and have a small permanent staff in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building by the White House. The board conducts studies at the request of the president, though it can choose topics on its own.
Privileged and Confidential, the first history of the PIAB, tells the story of this “smallest and most obscure part” (1) of the Intelligence Community. The authors note at the outset that the PIAB “has developed something of an inconsistent reputation among the intelligence cognoscenti as either a cushy ‘do-nothing’ panel that simply offers additional slots for the ‘plum book’ with which to reward political cronies or a highly politicized cabal that can meddle in Intelligence Community affairs to the annoyance of the director of central intelligence (DCI), the director of national intelligence (DNI), and even the president.” They go on to stress, however, that it has also “made some signal contributions,” especially in the technology area. (1)
The book has a chapter on each administration, describing how and when the board was reconstituted and employed. The narrative includes descriptions of the studies, the turf battles, the advice given the president, and the authors’ assessments of its overall contribution. Appendices at the end list the members, meeting dates, and reports produced. The chapter on the Reagan administration exemplifies PIAB operations, both helpful—as in its study of CIA security practices (251)—and irritating to the DCI, as in its unwanted examination into the “Year of the Spy” cases.
The documentation for Privileged and Confidential is excellent, even though most PIAB files are exempted from normal FOIA rules. There have been enough files declassified to provide basic details, and the balance of the story has been acquired through interviews and reliable secondary sources.
A chapter of conclusions is well worth close attention. The authors summarize the PIAB’s record, comment on its bumpy contributions, and make recommendations for improvement. The final portion of the book contains biographical sketches of the PIAB members. Privileged and Confidential fills an information gap, one many didn’t know existed.
The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict With Iran, by David Crist. (Penguin Press, 2012), 637 pp., endnotes, photos, maps, index.
The mention of Iran today brings to mind its nuclear enrichment program, Western sanctions, the antics of its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Stuxnet, the cyberwarfare weapon. These issues have increased tensions between Iran and the United States, which have existed since the Iranian revolution in 1979. In The Twilight War, David Crist, a Defense Department historian with a PhD in Middle East history and former Marine intelligence officer who served in the Middle East, examines the history of the entire postrevolutionary period with a view to understanding the bilateral relationship and the efforts of both sides “to bridge their differences.” (572)
Crist notes that after the 1979 revolution, the United States only gradually realized its Cold War policies toward prerevolutionary Iran no longer applied. He cites a CIA officer’s summation: “We now had a plan to defend those who don’t want to be defended against those who are not going to attack.” (81) New plans were required. Crist describes how they were developed and applied at both the strategic and tactical levels. And, as a subtheme, he explains the supporting role of the intelligence agencies.
Many of the events Crist covers—the hostage crisis, the Iran-Contra affair, the Iran-Iraq War, and the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon and the Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia—will be familiar to most readers. Others—for example, Iran’s ship-mining operations and the actions in Iraq of its Quds force, the extraterritorial operations unit of the Revolutionary Guard—have received less media attention. Of particular interest are the shooting engagements between US units and Iranian naval, air, and ground forces in the Persian Gulf during and after the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88). These Crist describes in vivid detail from two perspectives. The first is that of the participants themselves—the pilots, ship crews, and Special Forces units involved. The second considers the command structure—civilian and military—at CENTCOM and in Washington. Crist reveals an illustrative bit of spiteful intra-Navy flag officer rivalry during the 1980s that involved his father, Marine Corps Gen. George Crist, then the commander of CENTCOM. But the book’s primary emphasis is on the prickly military issues and the foreign policy aspects of these engagements.
With regard to US intelligence and Iran in the postrevolutionary era, Crist begins the story with a chapter titled “A Den of Spies.” Here we read of CIA efforts to rebuild its spy networks in the 1980s despite Director of Central Intelligence Casey’s primary concern with the Soviet threat. The focus was on agent recruitment and handling, and the results were mixed. Crist notes that “the agents did provide useful information that helped Washington undermine Iran’s military adventures.” (76) One agent reported an attempt by Iran to purchase Exocet missiles. Another provided coordinates for command and control facilities. And Reza Kahlili, a member of the Revolutionary Guard, alerted the CIA to a planned Iranian attack in Saudi Arabia that was brutally thwarted.
On the negative side, after a failed recruitment attempt was reported to the MOIS—Ministry of Intelligence and Security—most of the agents were arrested and, by 1989, executed. Thus Crist concludes, the “final act of the Reagan Iranian saga turned into one of the biggest disasters in the history of American intelligence.” (373) Crist describes attempts made during subsequent administrations to neutralize the MOIS in Iran, the contribution of defectors, and the struggle by Special Forces units to shut down the Quds Force operations. (536)
In the end, Crist concludes that despite attempts by both sides to “bridge their differences…distrust permeates the relationship. Three decades of twilight war have hardened both sides.” (572) Crist provides a fine account of US Iranian relations since 1979, but he holds out little hope of a solution any time soon.
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Good-bye Dracula!: The Story of a Transylvanian Defector, by Traian Nicola. (Outskirts Press, 2012), 178 pp., photos, no index.
Traian Nicola and his family defected to the United States in December 1979 while he was stationed in Islamabad as an officer of the Romanian Foreign Intelligence Department (Departamentul de Informatii Externe [DIE]). They settled in Virginia, where he is now retired. Nicola decided to write his memoir for two reasons. The first was to show what life was like in communist Romania even for members of the elite DIE, whose officers had privileges most others did not. The second was his impression that “nostalgia for Communist times is increasing in the former Soviet Bloc countries as well as in Russia.” (1) He writes that he hopes his story will be a reality check for those inclined to return in that direction. There is at least one other reason for giving the book attention: Nicola is the only former DIE officer to publish an English-language memoir with firsthand insights into Cold War counterintelligence history.
Nicola’s story of his childhood and education under the strict Romanian communist regime is typical of the period. He attended university and graduated with an economics degree, although music had been his first choice. On graduation, he was assigned to Chimimport, an export-import organization connected to the Ministry of Foreign Trade. A brief trip to West Germany gave him a taste of the West, and foreign travel became his career goal.
Just over a year later, he was asked to join the DIE. He jumped at the chance—especially since foreign travel was a real possibility. He describes the DIE and military training that prepared him for recruiting Romanian citizens who traveled overseas. Eventually, he was selected to serve as a press attaché in the Romanian embassy in Japan. By then, he was married with children. The family spent two happy years in Japan. Nicola describes his activities there in some detail. Then, in May 1978, he and his family traveled to Bucharest on vacation. Before Nicola could return to Japan, Maj. Gen. Ion Pacepa of the Securitate (the moniker for Romania’s domestic security agency, Departamentul Securitătii Statului) defected, and all assignments for DIE officers were put on hold. Told he was being reassigned to Islamabad, Nicola at first refused to go. When the pressure became too great, he accepted, only to be told he would have to leave his baby daughter behind in Bucharest. Faced with that condition, he again refused. In the end, he was given a waiver and allowed to bring his family to Pakistan, a decision the DIE would regret.
Good-bye Dracula! is a moving story and an impressive reminder of what life was like for anyone seeking freedom in a Soviet Bloc nation during the Cold War.
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Gideon’s Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, Sixth Edition, by Gordon Thomas. (Thomas Dunne Books, 2012), 756 pp., bibliography, index.
Welsh author Gordon Thomas has written more than 50 books, several of them on the British, American, and Israeli intelligence agencies. His books on these agencies share features that, for serious readers of intelligence literature, have become Thomas's trademark: they are well written, badly documented, and packed with errors. The revised and updated edition of Gideon’s Spies does not disappoint.
The first 405 pages are the same as the 2005 edition, errors included. For example, Thomas repeats his claim that the man who assassinated Georgi Markov with a poison pellet shot from an umbrella was “a KGB agent” rather than a Bulgarian. (128) The new edition has 12 new chapters (296 pages) that update selected topics and add new ones. An example of the former is an update on agent MEGA, the purported Mossad penetration (never identified) of the White House during the Clinton administration. According to Thomas, the FBI got it wrong in the first place now says that the penetration occurred during the George H.W Bush administration. (453) One new item deals with the death of Usama bin Ladin; Thomas notes that “on 2 May 2011, technology led the US Navy SEALs to bin Ladin’s redoubt in Pakistan.” (723, emphasis added) Another new case is the account concerning Ashraf Marwan, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s son-in-law. Mossad claimed him as a critical agent. The Egyptians said he was their double agent. Thomas doesn’t present the arguments for either position but adds, without documentation, that Marwan was “cultivated [by] the KGB, MI6, and the CIA.” (702) Finally, Thomas’s judgment can be called into question for the comment that Mossad is “the one service that still insisted [sic] on a prime role for its human spies.” (723)
The problem with these and all the other cases discussed in Gideon’s Spies is that old errors persist, new ones have been added, quotes are not sourced, and there is no other documentation. The work is entertaining but not reliable.
Indian Intelligence: Missing In Action, edited by, M.K. Singh. (Prashant Publishing House, 2012), 280 pp., bibliography, index.
M.K. Singh, a social science graduate from Delhi University, is a scholar of India’s intelligence system. The subtitle of his book sums up his belief that the intelligence profession occupies a secondary position in India’s government. It is, he suggests, subordinated in terms of advancement to all other professions. Thus, he argues, “it is only the second grade that thinks of gravitating towards intelligence,” a field that requires the highest-quality personnel. (4)
To put the present situation in perspective, Singh reviews the four intelligence agencies that comprise India’s intelligence community—the Intelligence Bureau (IB), responsible for domestic security and modeled after MI5; the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which functions like Special Branch of Scotland Yard; the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), which conducts foreign intelligence operations like MI6; and Military Intelligence, which is under the Army.
Indian Intelligence has a chapter examining each agency in detail. These are followed by chapters on intelligence failures caused by leaks to the media, inadequate training, technical deficiencies, poor performance by clandestine personnel, and the agencies’ failure to cooperate with one another and with other nations’ services. Examples are provided.
Having defined the problem, Singh proposes reforms, the principal one being legislative charter and oversight. An entire chapter is devoted to how these should be applied to RAW operations. A final chapter looks at the intelligence community from the top down, with emphasis on knowledge management, essential leadership characteristics, and recommendations for a “new intelligence system.” (259ff.)
Indian Intelligence has no source notes and thus must be used with caution. But for those interested in studying foreign intelligence services from an organizational and operational perspective, it provides a good starting point.
Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman. (Levant Books, 2012), 353 pp., endnotes, index.
CBS journalist Dan Raviv and Israeli journalist Yossi Melman published their first book on Israeli intelligence, The Imperfect Spies, in 1989 in the United Kingdom. A revised version, Every Spy A Prince, appeared in the United States in 1990.Spies Against Armageddon is an update of both, with some excisions and much new material. The book treats the three principal agencies—Mossad, Shin Bet, and Aman (military intelligence)—as seen through the eyes of their directors. The Lakam, or the Science Liaison Bureau, the agency that recruited Jonathan Pollard, the authors note, has been disbanded, although they state that another unnamed group—responsible for “Israeli’s deterrent capability”—has taken its place. (x) Two other agencies have been added to Raviv’s treatment: Malab—Security of Defense Information—and Nativ, which is responsible for Jewish immigration.
Spies Against Armageddon begins with an account of how Israel has dealt with its most important external threat, Iran. The story focuses on the changes Mossad Director Meir Dagan made during his tenure (2002–2010) and addresses the mostly covert political, diplomatic, economic, and psychological operations the Israelis have conducted. (4ff.) According to the authors, Israel employed Iranian Jews, who had fled to Israel after the 1979 revolution, to undertake risky missions in Iran. (14)
The balance of the book covers Israeli intelligence operations from the early 1950s to the present. Some will be familiar, for example, the capture of Adolf Eichmann in 1960, the aftermath of the killings of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, battles with the PLO, and the Pollard affair. Many are new to this book. Take for example, the honey trap run in 1954 against Avner Israel, an immigrant to Israel from Bulgaria who had decided to work for Egypt. (21–23) Another new case is the recruitment of Otto Skorzeny while he was assigned to train Nasser’s bodyguards. (92–93) The assassination of various terrorists receives considerable attention. One operation employed “death by chocolates,” a case in which Wadi Haddad’s favorite chocolates were poisoned, leading gradually to his death. (220) The Dubai operation (302–307) in which the Israelis used false passports while following their target created an international incident. The failed attempt to kill Khaleid Meshaal in Jordan (293) is also included.
There is also an account of raids in 1981 on Osirak (the Iraqi nuclear facility) (223–24) and in 2007 on a Syrian nuclear reactor. (316–18) The unusual case of double agent Ashraf Marwan, Nasser’s son-in-law, is of interest since the Egyptians say he was really their mole in Mossad. (165–68) One recent story may have solved a mystery. According to the authors, the Israeli ambassador in Washington called a colleague on an open phone and mentioned MEGA—the Israeli name for the United States. The call was intercepted by NSA and passed to the FBI, which concluded MEGA was an Israeli agent. The hunt was on. A number of Jewish Americans associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) were surveilled, and several were indicted on unrelated charges before the FBI learned the meaning of MEGA. (244–45) British author Gordon Thomas heard a different version of the story and wrote in Gideon’s Spies (a book also reviewed here), that the Israelis had an agent code-named MEGA in the White House. Thomas still insists he is correct. Unfortunately, neither book cites a source.
In the end, Spies Against Armageddon returns to the topic of the Iranian nuclear threat, one that is now complicated by new political uncertainties in the Middle East and by the emergence of cyberspace as a new theater of war. Relying mainly on interviews, many unattributed, the authors present a balanced, often exciting view of Israeli intelligence.
Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba, by Stephen Tankel. (Columbia University Press, 2011), 352 pp., endnotes, index.
In November 2008, 10 terrorists conducted an attack in Mumbai, India. They struck 2 hotels—setting one on fire—as well as a restaurant filled with foreign tourists, a railway station busy with travelers, and a Jewish community center. One hundred and sixty-six people died. Lashkar-e-Taiba (the Army of the Pure) was responsible. Stephen Tankel, an assistant professor at American University, had been studying the group before the attacks, and he continued his research in Pakistan and India after they occurred. Tankel argues that Lashkar promotes its own version of Islam and at the same time “is both a proxy used to further Pakistan’s national interests against India and a pan-Islamist group dedicated to waging jihad against all enemies of Islam.” (2) Storming the World Stage presents his case.
Tankel begins with a historical review of Pakistan as the defender of Islam against Hindu India. This mission becomes the fundamental element of Lashkar ideology, its reason for waging jihad. Tankel discusses at length Lashkar’s rise in importance, its organizational base in Pakistan, its finances, and its implementation of various social programs that promote its ideology in Pakistan. But most important to its long-range survival is its complex relationship with Pakistan’s government and its institutions, particularly the military and its intelligence service, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
As Tankel shows, Lashkar also deals with competing militant groups and their frequently shifting alliances. By the end of the 1990s, Lashkar was the best-trained group fighting in the Hindu-Muslim struggle in Kashmir. It was also supporting militant groups in India proper. (61, 183) And though its links to al-Qaeda remain obscure, after 9/11, the idea of contributing to the global jihad became a major goal. The attack in Mumbai “launched Lashkar onto the world Stage.” (205).
Much of what is known about the planning for the attacks comes from a Pakistani-American—David Headley, born Daood Galani—who was arrested by US authorities in connection with another terrorist plot (221) and gave up information as part of a plea agreement. He said had been recruited to do the site surveillance for the Mumbai attack, and he had records to back up his story. Tankel used media accounts, interviews, and court documents to piece together the gruesome story. Among the many details he provides is how their leader in Pakistan directed the terrorists in Mumbai by cell phone. Sadly, India was warned of the attacks beforehand but was unable to react in time.
In his analysis of the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks Tankel examines the actions taken by both India and Pakistan. He concludes that Lashkar will survive, as its links to the Pakistani government and its institutions are firm, and the group’s infrastructure is well established. And more importantly, he answers yes to the question, “Does Lashkar threaten the United States and its Western allies at home and abroad?” (266) Storming The World Stage is sobering analysis.
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Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day, Stephan Talty. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), 301 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.
The story of WW II double agent Juan Pujol—codenamed GARBO—is so well known that the first question that comes to mind is, what more can be said? Author Stephan Talty has found some new material, based mostly on family letters and US National Archive documents, that does add a bit to Pujol’s personal story. He tells more about Pujol’s origins in Spain than has been revealed previously, including the comment that he “had failed at almost everything he’d tried in his thirty-two years: student, businessman, cinema magnate, soldier.” (xv) Only after WW II began did Pujol find his calling—espionage.
Talty tells how MI6 and MI5 came to accept Pujol after repeatedly rebuffing his attempts to volunteer his services. Talty goes on to recount how Pujol—as GARBO, a name he chose for himself—helped convince the Germans that he was a valuable agent. When he reported that the main D-Day invasion landing would be at the Pas de Calais, not Normandy, the Germans accepted his assessment.
After the war, writes Talty, MI5 gave Pujol half of the £17,554 (nearly $1 million in today’s currency) he was paid by the Abwehr—money MI5 held during the war —and sent him on his way. (236) His marriage disintegrated, and Talty adds some details to what is known of this phase of Pujol’s life. When it became too much to bear, Pujol, with the help of MI6, was declared dead and disappeared into South America. In the early 1980s, he was found there by author Nigel West, a story West and Pujol tell in their book, GARBO: The Personal Story of the Most Successful Double Agent Ever. Based on interviews with Pujol’s family, Talty tells of their life following his faked death and of their surprise when they learned he was still alive.
Talty’s Agent GARBO is a good portrait of Pujol the man, weaknesses and all.
Guy Burgess: Revolutionary in an Old School Tie, by Michael Holzman. (Chelmsford Press, 2012), 386 pp., end-of-chapter notes, bibliography, appendix, index.
Hundreds of books have been written about the so-called Cambridge Five—Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross and Guy Burgess. Philby and Cairncross wrote memoirs. The careers of Maclean and Blunt were recorded in biographies. Only Burgess escaped the attention of historians. Michael Holzman has now filled that gap.
Drawing on correspondence, diaries, and secondary accounts, the book reveals something more than was previously known about his family background and his education at Dartmouth Naval College, Eton, and Cambridge Trinity. At each venue, we learn about the friends who would play roles later in his life. Then, as if to explain or justify Burgess’s turn to communism, Holzman comments at length on Britain’s class structure and the social and political conditions of the era. But as Holzman points out, Burgess was a member of the upper class and took full advantage of that condition. At Trinity, he was considered a brilliant, if eccentric, student. Later, at the BBC and the Foreign Office, he did well.
This is the reputation Holzman clearly thinks should be Burgess’s legacy. Thus, early in the book, Holzman says that his reputation as a “traitor, exceptionally alcoholic, a homosexual [with its then negative implications], dirty and so forth. A person of no importance” should be balanced against his entire life. (9) But with the exception of his importance as a Soviet agent—which few have discounted—Holzman’s views notwithstanding, the narrative does go on to point out that Burgess possessed all the negative characteristics and displayed them without apparent regret. (282)
The balance of the book follows Burgess’s social and professional life after Cambridge including his travels, his work with the BBC, MI5 (171), Section D of MI6, and the Foreign Office. The subplot during these episodes is his recruitment by the NKVD and his relationships with the rest of the Cambridge Five. To all this, Holzman adds some new items about Burgess’s health and his expertise in Far Eastern Affairs, (279, 281) but there is little new, if anything, about his espionage.
From time to time, Holzman adds an interesting item without any documentation. For example, a footnote that alludes to difficulties Burgess suffered from a case of the mumps leaves readers wondering how Holzman could know such an intimate detail. (19) In another instance, while discussing a British military plan to attack the Soviet Union at the end of WW II, Holzman writes that “Burgess was best positioned to obtain it” for the Soviets, but he does not provide a source or explain why, since Burgess worked in the Foreign Office at that point in time. (220)
There are several errors worth noting in the book. Philby was not in MI5, as stated, though this may have been a typo since he gets it right elsewhere. (221) More important, Holzman’s claim that Burgess “maintained the network initiated by Arnold Deutsch” is incorrect. There was never a network, and Burgess was an independent agent, as were the other four. Likewise, Holzman claims that Burgess facilitated the work of “Blunt, Cairncross and Philby” (349)—not so for the first two, and only occasionally for Philby, whom he served as a courier from time to time.
Guy Burgess: Revolutionary in an Old School Tie argues that Burgess was a dedicated communist and notes that he claimed to be happy in Moscow. But for some readers at least, the opposite impression is created, perhaps unintentionally. One question that Holzman does not address is why Burgess defected when he did. That is left to the next biographer.
The Queen’s Agent: Francis Walsingham at the Court of Elizabeth I, by John Cooper. (Pegasus, 2013), 448 pp., endnotes, photos, map, index.
Sir Francis Walsingham’s modern reputation, writes British historian John Cooper, “depends more than anything on his work as a spymaster, his ability to infiltrate and expose Catholic plots which were attempting to dethrone Elizabeth I.” (92) And while it provides historical background that tracks Walsingham’s rise to power and his life at Elizabeth’s court, The Queen’s Agent focuses on his role as spymaster.
Cooper is by no means the first to follow this path, and he draws heavily on his predecessors. His treatment of the Throckmorton and Babington plots to overthrow the queen and put Mary, Queen of Scots, on the throne offer nothing new, though the tradecraft employed by Walsingham’s agents makes for interesting reading. The same is true of Cooper’s discussion of Walsingham’s role in detecting the Spanish Armada.
Cooper does offer a new interpretation of the Ridolfi plot, one of the three main conspiracies that Walsingham and his colleagues managed to thwart. Cooper’s account is notably different from that provided by Conyers Read in his three-volume biography of Walsingham. That Ridolfi, an Italian Catholic banker in London, had plotted against the crown was well documented. It was the failure to put him in prison after interrogation that raised questions. Read notes that “it is a little hard to understand why Ridolfi got off so easily.” Derek Wilson suggested that Ridolfi may have been “turned” but does not pursue the matter. Stephen Alford hints that Ridolfi was a plant. Cooper, on the other hand, makes a plausible case that Walsingham, in conjunction with William Cecil (his boss) and the Queen, recruited Ridolfi as a double agent.
In the chapter titled “Security Services,” Cooper reviews the development of Walsingham’s unique espionage network. He also describes the network’s similarities and differences when compared to modern services. He adds that “if the Elizabethan security services had a headquarters then it was at Walsingham’s own house.” (167) The details surrounding some of the agents mentioned—for example, Christopher Marlowe—are a mix of fact and myth, as Cooper points out. (179)
The Queen’s Agent tells a famous story well, while adding some new ideas.
The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville, Britain’s First Female Special Agent of World War II, by Clare Mulley. (Macmillan, 2012), 426 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.
Krystyna Skarbek, the daughter of Count Jerzy and Countess Stefania Skarbek, was born in Warsaw (part of Russia at the time), on 1 May 1908. Her British death certificate records the passing in 1952 of one Christine Granville, age 37, a “former wife.” The Spy Who Loved is the story of why she changed her name, cut 7 years off of her age, and became a British subject, (2) only to be stabbed to death by a would-be lover in a cheap London hotel.
British author Clare Mulley is not the first to write about Granville. Madeleine Masson and one of her former resistance colleagues penned a 1975 biography that was considered hagiographic, as was a similar treatment by another of Masson’s wartime colleagues that was never published. Granville is also mentioned in many accounts of wartime resistance operations. All agree about her courage—“steady nerve, feminine cunning and sheer brass.” But the details of her life vary, in many cases thanks to her own embellishments, which obscured her promiscuity and the reality of her accomplishments. The Spy Who Loved sets the record straight.
Mulley follows Christine from her society-loving days in prewar Warsaw (where she was crowned “Miss Ski” in a Polish beauty contest), through two marriages, (23) to her travels with her second husband in Europe and South Africa. In Cape Town when Poland was invaded in 1939, they boarded a ship bound for Southampton, England. From then on, the story focuses on Christine’s wartime exploits as a British agent, her many affairs, the awards she received, and her attempts to adjust to civilian life after the war.
After the fall of Poland, Christine decided that she wanted to help her native country by returning clandestinely with documents that would show the resistance movement developing in Poland and that Britain had not forgotten them. The story of how she convinced the Secret Intelligence Service to let her join Section D, its prewar covert action arm, and conduct several extremely difficult missions into Poland from Hungary is exciting reading.
But Christine’s adventures didn’t end there. When the Germans were about to occupy Hungary in 1944, she induced, if not seduced, the British ambassador in Budapest to issue her a British passport with the name Christine Granville—her name from then on—and escaped to Cairo via Bulgaria and Turkey. It was in Cairo that she joined the SOE and was made a FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry), a distinction that gave her the official status used by female SOE agents. While she waited for an assignment, the war in North Africa ended, and after an extended period of inactivity, Christine decided she could be of service to the resistance in occupied France.
How Christine managed to gain approval, be promoted to honorary captain in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), and be dropped by parachute into France is an extraordinary adventure in itself. Her operations in France, using her fluency in French and German, were the highlight of her career. At one point, she entered the prison camp where the leader of her resistance group was awaiting execution, contacted the Gestapo, and persuaded the officer in charge to release the leader and surrender to the resistance. When the Germans were driven from France, she arranged to be sent back to Poland to join the resistance there, but the war ended before she could undertake that mission.
Christine Granville thrived on excitement and danger and never adapted to a postwar life in which women were expected to return to homemaking, secretarial, or administrative avocations. Mulley explains how Christine tried to do so while keeping in touch with various lovers from her days in the resistance. Her final job as a stewardess on a cruise ship led to her murder.
The Spy Who Loved is very well documented and a pleasure to read.
The Young Kim Philby: Soviet Spy & British Intelligence Officer, by Edward Harrison. (University of Exeter Press, 2012), 232 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.
The first book about Kim Philby, the Soviet agent in the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), was published in 1968. Since then, more than 150, including Philby’s memoir, My Silent War (also published in 1968), have dwelled on various aspects of the case. These include his adoption of communist ideology at Cambridge, his underground activities in Vienna after graduation, his recruitment by the Soviets, his time in Spain as a journalist reporting on the Franco side for The Times, and his career in the SIS.
In The Young Kim Philby, British historian Edward Harrison also covers these topics, but with a difference. Using newly discovered letters and diaries, recently released archival documents, and interviews with former acquaintances and colleagues, he fills in some gaps in Philby’s career. For example, he reveals that Philby’s socialist ideas were first instilled at his prep school, Westminster, and not at Cambridge, as others have suggested. (174) With respect to Philby’s reporting from Spain and France for The Times, Harrison has provided lengthy quotes from the articles themselves. These show that Philby was a talented reporter.
Turning to Philby’s service in the SIS, Harrison reports new details on how the organization functioned during the war, with emphasis on its personalities and bureaucratic struggles. Harrison adds considerably to the understanding of Philby’s personal relationships, his use of ULTRA material, and the operations he ran while in charge of counterintelligence in the Iberian section.
Harrison’s treatment of how and why Philby was selected as head of Section IX, the element in charge of dealing with Soviet espionage overseas, is particularly interesting. As Harrison does with other events elsewhere in the book, he compares what Philby wrote in his memoir with what the documentary evidence shows. In several cases, Harrison demonstrates embellishment on Philby’s part—his description of his selection to head Section IX is good example. In that instance, the evidence strongly suggests Philby was at best misleading, if not deceptive, in his exaggerated claim that he manipulated his superior out of contention. Harrison concludes that Philby was promoted because he was the best fit for the job.
There are several instances in which Harrison resorts to questionable speculation in interpreting events. For example, his description of Philby’s introduction to his recruiter, Arnold Deutsch follows Philby’s own account, but Harrison speculates that if MI5 had been following Philby’s escort, known communist Edith Tudor-Hart, his career in espionage would have ended before it started. True enough, but Tudor-Hart, an experienced agent herself took a very roundabout route, much to Philby’s annoyance—which Harrison acknowledges—to the meeting. Harrison does not allow for the likelihood that she would have noticed any surveillance and aborted the meeting. (33) Then there is the relationship between Philby and his father. Harrison’s claim that Philby’s examination of his father’s papers as requested by his handler amounted to “betrayal” and was “utterly sordid in its subservience” (4) to the cause is a bit strong. Likewise, Harrison suggests that Philby chose communism at Cambridge to “escape from St. John’s [his father’s] hegemony,” (15) but Philby’s reasoning is open to other interpretations.
There are a few errors worth noting. The definition of a double agent as one “controlled by the service which employs him secondly” (3) is incorrect. Control could be by either service. Passport control officers were posted to all British embassies, not just to those in countries with reciprocal arrangements. (90) Deutsch was not branded a traitor, nor was he the cause of NKVD suspicion that Philby was an SIS provocation. (156–57) The statement that the KGB had about 250 agents in Britain (177) should have read that the KGB knew the identities of about 250 British undercover intelligence officials in Britain. In regard to Philby’s service in Washington, he did not assume “joint command of an SIS/CIA operation to subvert the communist regime in Albania”—he merely participated in the early planning. (179) The VENONA traffic did not commence in 1939, (181) and Anthony Blunt did not search Burgess’s flat before MI5 did; it was a simultaneous effort. And finally, Nicholas Elliott was not the obvious choice to interrogate Philby once the SIS finally realized the truth; that would have been Arthur Martin, but he was replaced by Dick White of MI5. (183)
Overall, The Young Kim Philby is a positive contribution to a familiar topic—solidly researched, well documented and informative.
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