The Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf
Compiled and reviewed by Hayden B. Peake
This section contains brief reviews of recent books of interest to both the intelligence professional and the student of intelligence.
Spies In The Vatican: Espionage & Intrigue From Napoleon to the Holocaust. By David Alvarez. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2002. 341pages.
Georgetown University professor Roy Godson and Cambridge University professor Christopher Andrew were two of the pioneering academics whose work has made intelligence a legitimate research discipline. St. Mary’s College professor David Alvarez continues this tradition in his study of espionage and secrecy in “the world’s oldest but smallest power,” the Vatican. He became interested in the subject while doing research in the Vatican archives where he found a pervasive security consciousness, including references to surveillance, ciphers, codebooks, double agents, and documents mentioning Nazi espionage against the Vatican. He had heard the conventional wisdom that “the Vatican had the best information service in the world.” Was it true? If so, what was it like? What was its history? His search for answers produced some surprising results.
When the Vatican governed the secular Papal States in Italy, it was a political force in Europe and had a diplomatic service to deal with other nations. There were also internal subversive threats opposed to any secular role, Alvarez discovered. To counter early 19th century efforts to subvert Vatican secular power, an unofficial Vatican security service was formed. In 1870 when the Papacy was forced to give up its territories, cutbacks were ordered. The diplomatic service remained, but its intelligence and security functions were curtailed. In what became a pattern, Alvarez shows how the Vatican adapted to periodic threats, secular and ecclesiastical, by fashioning ad hoc structures to meet immediate needs, not unlike the experience of pre-World War II America. Rather than establish a formal intelligence service, the Church applied its inherent secrecy and the devotion of its clerics to solving problems of confidential communication and information gathering.
To show how this worked, Alvarez tells about Vatican involvement in a wide variety of intelligence functions, from espionage and counterintelligence to codebreaking and propaganda. The Vatican was also a target of national intelligence services in the 20th century. During World War I, a Bavarian Monsignor Gerlach, a “chamberlain and confidant of the Pope,” was also a German intelligence agent. In the interwar period, the Vatican sent bishops to the Soviet Union on missions to strengthen the Church there—they were no match for the OGPU. Early in World War II, the Pope was involved in communicating secret peace feelers between Germany and Britain. Clandestine communications were a constant problem and Alvarez devotes considerable attention to Vatican cryptographic capabilities. By 1945, the OSS was a player trying to penetrate the Vatican. Its most infamous operation toward this end, the Scattolini scam, is summarized well.
Alvarez disagrees with the views of Walter Laqueur and other historians who argue that the Vatican was among “the first to learn about the Holocaust.” The “intelligence capabilities of the Papacy” are exaggerated, he suggests, and not just when it comes to the Holocaust. More detail on this point would have been helpful. Likewise, little is said about Pope Pius XII and the charges that he favored the Hitler regime and opposed the Jews. For the story on that point, one should read John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope (London: Viking, 1999).
A principal conclusion of Alvarez’s book is that the Vatican had “neither the ability nor the appetite to employ . . . espionage and clandestine operations” to the degree imagined by others, especially where secular matters were concerned. Nonetheless, although Spies In The Vatican is well documented and well told, the image of a super-secret, efficient Vatican intelligence service is not likely to disappear entirely.
The Women Who Lived For Danger: The Women Agents of SOE in the Second World War. By Marcus Binney. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2002. 380 pages.
During World War II, women could serve in the British armed forces only in non-combatant roles; however, the civilian Special Operations Executive (SOE) had no such restriction. Three thousand of the 13,000 individuals who served in SOE were women, many of whom operated behind the lines in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Fifty of them went to France; 15 were caught and sent to concentration camps by the Gestapo; only three survived.
Marcus Binney tells the story of ten SOE women who served behind enemy lines. Most were in their twenties; all were brave. Some have had their stories told before, but recently released material from the British archives—cited in the book—has added new details. One was an American, Virginia Hall. She went to France under journalistic cover, accredited to the New York Post. Despite a wooden leg, which she managed to disguise by her peculiar gate, she served as a courier and contact with the Vichy police whom she wheedled into releasing escaped POWs and captured agents. Her cover was blown when the Germans occupied Vichy France, but she escaped via Spain and returned to Britain. Unhappy with the radio-operator role that SOE planned for her, she joined the OSS and was inserted back into France by torpedo boat in March 1944 to continue her work. After the war, she received the Distinguished Service Cross and joined the CIA as a case officer.
Another American, Marguerite “Peggy” Knight, survived double agents in her French network to support Maj. William Colby and his Jedburgh team when they arrived in France. She was returned to England at the end of the war and lived quietly until her story was reported in the Sunday Express. Violette Szabo and Noor Inayat Khan were not as fortunate; both were captured and executed in concentration camps.
In an epilogue, Binney mentions a number of other women agents about whom lessis known, but who clearly served with equal heroism. One of these, American Elizabeth Reynolds, was captured and interrogated by the Gestapo. Sticking to her cover story as a US citizen who had only recently returned to France from Switzerland, she survived charges of espionage only to disappear into history.
Binney includes chapters on training and agent life that provide essential background. His sources are a mix of interviews and reliable memoirs. The stories are told well and worth reading.
No Room For Error: The Covert Operations of America’s Special Tactics Units from Iran to Afghanistan. Col. John T. Carney, Jr., and Benjamin F. Schemmer. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2002. 334 pages.
The title of this book will seem bizarre to anyone who has ever been associated with secret military operations, or civilian ones for that matter. The Desert One hostage rescue operation and the assault on Grenada make the point. Co-author John Carney was involved in both as part of the Air Force “Special Tactics Units” that he helped create, and which are the central focus of this book. Carney makes clear that Murphy’s Law applied in both operations. And he is candid about the blame in the case of Desert One: It did not fail because President Carter interfered, he writes, but because “the military hierarchy bungled it.” He goes on to tell how he came to form the Special Tactics Units—originally called Brand-X—and how they evolved to perform so well in Afghanistan with the Army’s Special Forces teams and the Navy’s SEALs. These were the elements that located and identified Taliban and al-Qaida targets, among other assignments. Before that, they participated in the Achille Lauro rescue in 1985, Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989, and the 1993 disaster in Mogadishu, Somalia. The authors discuss the reasons for these foul-ups, concluding that the main ones range from excessive compartmentalization to just plain human error. The reader may be excused for some confusion over the multitude of special units mentioned in the book, but that aside, the authors provide an interesting, though subjective, firsthand account of a mode of warfare that has had a crucial impact on military order of battle.
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and The Pentagon Papers. By Daniel Ellsberg. New York, NY: Viking, 2002. 498 pages.
Daniel Ellsberg, onetime cold-warrior turned liberal dove, sought cooperation from Senators and Congressmen to use classified studies—which became known as The Pentagon Papers—to show the public that the government’s portrayal of the Vietnam War was a lie. Failing to gain cooperation, in June 1971 he sent the papers to the New York Times and The Washington Post, which proceeded to publish them. The government objected but the Supreme Court approved, and the seeds for this book were sown.
In many respects, the book, based mainly on notes and memory, is a 500-page apologia in which the author admits that what he did was illegal—he expected to go to jail—but nevertheless justified for the greater good.1 Most of the story is devoted to explaining how Ellsberg—a Harvard graduate, onetime Marine in Vietnam, Defense Department and Rand Corporation analyst, and sometimes friend of John Paul Vann in Vietnam—reached his conclusions about the war and his decision to take unilateral action.
Ellsberg describes in detail the contradictions between what he saw while driving through Viet Cong held territory during visits to Vietnam in the early- and mid‑1960s and what was told to the press and public. He recalls his first reading of the classified documents that would become The Pentagon Papers, and acknowledges that the CIA analysts had it right in many cases though their estimates and analyses were disregarded.
Attempts to rationalize the inconsistencies with policymakers Henry Kissinger, Senator William Fulbright, and others all failed and he made his decision. In a chapter about his “underground period” trying to avoid the FBI’s attempt to contact him after he released the papers, he tells how he came to be interviewed by Walter Cronkite and includes passages from the interview. As he finally entered the federal building June 1971 to give himself up, he was asked how he felt about going to prison. He responded, “Wouldn’t you go to jail to help end the war?”
The case against Ellsberg was dismissed when the illegal break-in at the office of Dr Lewis Fielding, Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, became known during his trial. While he apparently views the result as justification of his disclosure of classified material, the real irony is that he escaped punishment for his illegal act because of another illegal act.
Secert Lives: Lifting the Lid on Worlds of Secret Intelligence. M. R. D. Foot. (selector). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002. 302pages.
The Dictionary of National Biography is a British institution of established reliability as a source of data on famous people, often in greater detail than what is found in Who’s Who. It is now available online, but many of the subjects are not identified as agents or intelligence officers. M. R. D. Foot has remedied that by selecting some 90 entries—individuals who lived between 1400 and 2000—each of whom was involved in secret service in some way. Some—for example, Kim Philby and Ian Fleming—will be familiar to most readers. Others—like Tibor Szamuely, an NKVD agent and later critic of the Soviet Union—are less widely known. Patience Wright, born in the New Jersey colony in the 18th century, went to London where she became a model while an agent of Benjamin Franklin during the War for Independence. Most entries have suggestions for further reading. The collection is a useful adjunct to the intelligence literature.
Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror. By Rohan Gunaratna. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2002. 276 pages.
Rohan Gunaratna is a research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland and an honorary fellow at the International Policy Institute for Counter-terrorism in Israel. He has also consulted with Western intelligence agencies and the United Nations on anti-terrorism. While impressive, these are not the credentials that qualify this book over the many competitors in the field. Of central interest here are the more than 200 terrorist interviews—some confidential—that he conducted in 15 countries over five years (1997-2001), some with al Qaeda members. Gunaratna supplements his interviews with impressive research in primary and secondary sources. The magnitude of detail in this book can be staggering, especially for those accustomed to reading about the traditional Cold War enemies and their behavior.
Based on the interviews and documentary research, Gunaratna discusses al Qaeda’s origins, the initial and subsequent roles of Osama bin Laden, the unconventional global structure of al Qaeda, its hi-tech modes of communication, and the distorted interpretation of the Koran used to justify its acts. He finds the greatest cause for apprehension in al Qaeda’s demonstrated “modes of attack:” assassinations, bombings, “explosive-laden gliders, and crop-spraying aircraft.” He argues that al Qaeda “will have no compunction about employing chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons against population centers.”
After describing the complex al Qaeda elements and principle players in most of the countries of the world, Gunaratna analyzes the likely intentions and potential response necessary to deal with this religious-political threat. He explains what he terms the radical interpretations of the Koran promulgated by Osama bin Laden and then quotes the views of other leaders, for example, Mullah Muhammad Omar, who said in October 2001: “The true terrorists are Islam’s enemies—the United States, India, Russia, and Israel.”
In conclusion, Gunaratna challenges those who say that terrorism “does not work.” It does work, he asserts, when the response is inadequate, and he cites examples to make his point. As he sees it, only a massive multinational cooperative effort by both Western and Muslim nations will defeat this enemy.
Espionage And The Roots Of The Cold War: The Conspiratorial Heritage. By David McKnight. London: Frank Cass, 2002. 226 pages.
As the communists worked to take over the world after World War I, they functioned, from an intelligence point of view, on three levels. First came the overt communist parties in most countries, which served as a source of agents. Second, underground elements were established for each overt party to play a clandestine role, often in connection with the COMINTERN. Third, the Soviet intelligence services—the NKVD and the GRU–operated with support from the other two levels.
In this study, David McKnight, an Australian academic, examines the role of the COMINTERN in the conspiratorial side of communist party operations as well as the links to the Soviet intelligence services. While the COMINTERN underground has been treated in many books, especially memoirs by former agents, Prof. McKnight takes a vastly more comprehensive view, the first study of such scope and depth. Discussing both familiar and unfamiliar (mainly Australian) cases, he concentrates on the efforts to subvert Western military forces, COMINTERN operations in Asia, and the links between the underground and the better-known espionage operations conducted by the NKVD and the GRU.
McKnight also looks at two operational theories that, he argues, led, in part, to the Cold War. The first theory revolves around the fact that those who became enmeshed in the underground or clandestine operations were amateurs rather than professional intelligence workers. The “reason for their success . . .,” he writes, “has never been satisfactorily explained. No doubt fear and ruthlessness play their part, but no amount of fear can induce a skill where none existed before.” Prof. McKnight spends considerable effort explaining why the agents that are well known—Philby, Hiss, Fuchs, the Rosenbergs—and others that are less so—Sorge, Trepper, Clayton— did such a good job despite being amateurs. What he does not realize is that nearly all agents are amateurs in the beginning. Unless the target is an intelligence service, which America, sadly, lacked at the time, inexperienced agents are the norm. Prof. McKnight’s pain to explain their success in the underground by factors other than experience is, therefore, to some degree flawed. Inexperienced agents are trained in the natural course of events—either on the job or in schools—and neither approach had been overlooked by history as he suggests. Linking the inexperienced agents to the roots of the Cold War is a stretch and not persuasive.
The second theory—that the Soviet conspiratorial heritage or “tradition of konspiratsya” was a principal factor in the successes of the COMINTERN and intelligence services operations—is no doubt true in a qualified sense. The services did get up to speed quickly under the Bolsheviks, but the success of operations over the longer term was no better because of the heritage. Good performance is more a factor of dedicated, experienced officers, of which the Soviets had an abundance during the era of the ideological spy. As Prof. McKnight suggests, communist ideology played a key motivational role in the recruitment process. But the key to success was the control by Soviet officers, which, as he acknowledges, often broke down during World War II, especially in the United States. This situation, in turn, caused the Soviet intelligence services to take control of the networks as soon as the war situation permitted. But by then it was too late. A combination of defectors and America’s VENONA decrypts caused the collapse of the Soviet networks and the beginning of the end of the era of the ideological agent.
This is a valuable, provocative, and well-documented study of Soviet COMINTERN espionage in its many forms from the Bolshevik days until 1950. But it is hard to agree with Prof. McKnight’s conclusion that the “tradition of konspiratsya” and espionage were at the roots of the Cold War.
Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations That Helped Win the Cold War. By Antonio and Jonna Mendez, with Bruce Henderson. New York, NY: Atria Books, 2002. 306 pages.
“The code of the spy has always been, ‘Never celebrate your successes or explain your failures,’” write Tony and Jonna Mendez. They then proceed to do a little of both. They begin with short summaries of the Aldrich Ames and Edward Howard cases that set the tone for the book. Then they take turns narrating various operations in which they played important roles in their capacities as experts in disguise, document forgery, and clandestine surveillance. The narrative intermixes comments on their sometimes-turbulent careers, how they came to marry, the CIA bureaucracy, and the many contributions of the Office of Technical Services to field operations.
The names of those involved and the dates of the operations have been changed for security reasons. Nevertheless, the techniques employed and the general results obtained are accurate. In some instances, they reveal long suspected outcomes— for example, that the Pueblo Incident was arranged by the KGB to capture the “codes machines” needed to read the traffic being intercepted thanks to John Walker, KGB agent “number one.”
In more recent examples, they describe how they dealt with some of the losses due to the Ames and Howard cases. Also, several chapters tell the story of a complex exfiltration operation conducted in Moscow. They explain the detailed preparation and training involved, and then describe, step by step, its successful execution in tunnels under Red Square. While the specifics may have been altered, this kind of operation, they argue, has occurred.
For CIA staffers, the changed names will be both frustrating and challenging as they attempt to sort out individuals and operations. For those who want a sense of what really takes place in the field when magicians from the Office of Technical Services are involved, Spy Dust is a rewarding experience.
Treason: How a Russian Spy Led an American Journalist to a U.S. Double Agent. By Bill Powell. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2002. 208 pages.
In August 1992, GRU Col. Vyacheslav Baranov was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow as he attempted to leave Russia to make contact with the CIA. Recruited while based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, sometime in the 1980s—the book is not precise about this period of his life—he had been an agent, not a double agent as the subtitle states, for several years. Convicted of betraying the motherland, Baranov was sentenced to six years and sent to Perm 35, a labor camp, in March 1994. In April 1997, under the Yeltsin regime’s new laws, he was paroled.
From the moment of his arrest, Baranov tried to figure out how he had been caught. He concluded that the CIA was penetrated. At one point, Aldrich Ames appeared to be the culprit. But as he went over every detail of his CIA relationship, Baranov began to doubt; the dates were not right.
After his release from prison, he wanted to contact the CIA for two reasons: first, to get the resettlement help he had been promised, and, second, to tell them of his doubts that Ames was the one who exposed him. There must be another mole, he concluded.
Suspecting that he was under surveillance by Russian intelligence, Baranov decided to contact an American with access to the Embassy, and thus the CIA, in Moscow. He chose Bill Powell, Newsweek’s Moscow bureau chief.
Powell tells the story of how he came to believe Baranov and then convinced the FBI and CIA that they should talk to him and make things right. While in the process of doing just that, Robert Hanssen was arrested. Baranov wondered if he could be his betrayer. If so, how could he have known about a CIA case? Hanssen said he could not recall Baranov’s name and was not sure about his pseudonym Agent Tony.
From the time that Powell became involved, he made clear to all the players that he would eventually write a story about the case. This book is the result. As background, he tells of Baranov’s early life, his career at a pilot in the Soviet Air Force, his recruitment and training by the GRU, a little of his work overseas, and his experiences in Perm 35. It is all interesting, but one is left wishing for more detail about the GRU. In the end, Baranov and his family make it to the United States, thanks to the CIA. The reader is left wondering whose list of betrayed agents should grow by one, Ames’s or Hanssen’s; or maybe a mole yet to be exposed.
Spies Beneath Berlin. By David Stafford. London: John Murray Ltd., 2002. 211 pages.
When former Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles called the Berlin Tunnel operation “one of the most valuable and daring projects ever undertaken,” he knew that George Blake, one of the British MI6 planners had betrayed the secret to the KGB before the tunnel was built.2 After this became public knowledge, several journalists concluded that the entire operation had been a failure and that Dulles’s remarks were meant to deflect or lessen the embarrassment. They argued that the KGB would not have missed such an opportunity to feed the West disinformation. In 1997, David Murphy, S. A. Kondrashev, and George Bailey settled the issue in their book Battleground Berlin. Kondrashev, who had been Blake’s case officer, explained that, in order to protect Blake, the users of the tapped telephone lines had not been told that the British and Americans were listening.
In Spies Beneath Berlin, David Stafford has used these and many other sources to present the most complete story of this amazing operation in one volume. He adds new details and puts down some of the myths, such as the claim by CIA’s Carl Nelson to David Martin that he could read Soviet clear text because of the “echo effect.” 3 He also explains that the origins of the tunnel project were in postwar Vienna where the Soviets and the Allies made tapping each other’s communications a cottage industry.
The Americans apparently conceived the Berlin operation independently, and Stafford explains how the joint operation with the British came together. He names the players involved, and often gives new details provided by the participants. We learn, for example, something of Hugh Montgomery’s role in transporting heavy magnetic tapes in Berlin. And from former case officer Joe Evans, we hear about efforts at the London end to piece together fragments of the Soviet forces mosaic in East Germany. Although reluctant to talk officially, Peter Lunn and some other British participants also cooperated and are mentioned.
Perhaps most important, Stafford does a good job of explaining why the tunnel operation was indeed a success even though the KGB knew about it. He gives examples of the materials obtained and shows how they fit in with other sources to provide a picture of Soviet order-of-battle not previously known. The operation also netted important political intelligence—the first details about Khrushchev’s secret speech defaming Stalin in 1956, to give one example—that allowed Western governments to better assess what was going on behind the Iron Curtain.
The Berlin Tunnel operation—called STOPWATCH by the British, and GOLD by the Americans—was eventually “discovered” by the East Germans and KGB and shut down. How and when this occurred remains a mystery. But the allies even managed to turn the discovery into a propaganda victory. The author tells how the processing of the collected data continued long afterward.
Stafford ends his tale with a description of a meeting between historians and former Soviet and American participants in the tunnel project in Berlin. By this time, the last surviving portion of the tunnel had been found and preserved in a German museum, where the meeting took place. Even the Soviets conceded that it had been a Western success, but they had protected their agent.
Hayden B. Peake Hayden B. Peake is curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection.
1. Secrets is markedly more sympathetic in tone and parsimonious in detail than Tom Wells’s recent biography of Ellsberg. See Tom Wells, Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2001).
2. Allen Dulles, Craft of Intelligence (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1963), pp. 206-207.
3. David Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1980), p. 73.