The Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf

Intelligence in Recent Public Literature

Compiled and Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake

CORRECTION: Thomas Sileo’s recently published book was incorrectly identified in a review in Studies in Intelligence 49, no. 2 (2005): 79. The correct title is: CIA Humor: A Few True Stories from a 31-Year Career

This section contains brief reviews of recent books of interest to intelligence professionals and to students of intelligence.

L. V. Scott and Peter Jackson, eds. Understanding Intelligence in the Twenty-First Century: Journeys in Shadows. New York: Routledge, 2004. 234 pages, end-of-chapter notes, index.

Anthologies of academic articles on the need to define and study intelligence have appeared with regularity since the groundbreaking work of Roy Godson at Georgetown University and Christopher Andrew and David Dilks at Cambridge in the 1980s. The topics covered in the present volume are not new, but each one of the thoughtful papers conveys a need for wider understanding and study within academia and the public in the post-9/11 world, where terms like threat and globalization place increased demands on intelligence agencies to get it right the first time.

The first chapter, “Journeys in Shadows,” summarizes the 12 that follow. Christopher Andrew then provides a historical analysis of the need for better understanding of what intelligence is supposed to do—the so-called “under-theorization” of the topic. Here he points out, inter alia, the need for better defined criteria for success and failure. Wolfgang Kriefer discusses what he calls the scant attention intelligence history received in Germany—as opposed to press coverage of spy scandals, which is prevalent. He sees a need for greater public understanding in Germany that can only come from serious historical study in the universities, and he explains why that has not yet occurred. Military historian John Ferris describes the concepts of “netcentric warfare” and C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), that comprise the “infosphere” (the total information pertaining to an event). Put another way, these terms indicate how the military collects, analyzes, and acts on information. He points out the many benefits, as well as the risks associated when four-star generals use high-tech networking to pick targets a continent away.

In the area of security and personal freedoms, Gary Marx considers the definition and dimensions of human surveillance, comparing what he calls “traditional” with “new surveillance” practices. He develops some elaborate theories and adds an ethical dimension. But in the end, common sense will lead most thoughtful people to the same conclusions.

Michael Smith provides a common-sense historical analysis of the charge, made by Prof. Richard Breitman in his book Official Secrets, that Winston Churchill knew from Bletchley Park intercepts that the Nazis were murdering thousands of Jews and should have made that fact known at the time.[1] Breitman argues that Churchill acted immorally; Smith makes a powerful argument that he is wrong.

Intelligence historian Nigel West contributes an article that documents the paradoxical point that in Britain, with all its prohibition against unauthorized disclosures of intelligence by members of the profession, more intelligence disclosures have been produced “than anywhere else in the world.” This article is followed by Jeremy Black’s “Geopolitics of James Bond,” which shows how the fictional world of the Fleming character has had serious influence on public attitudes toward the intelligence profession.

In the only article to focus on the specific features and functions of intelligence in the 21st century—“Hunters, Not Gatherers”—former CIA officer Charles Cogan, now senior research associate at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, argues that the Intelligence Community in the United States is not “properly centralized” to meet the intelligence needs of the post-9/11 world. Furthermore, he suggests, existing internal security organizations are weak and ineffective. With the changed world, what is needed is a return to a risk-oriented culture usually associated with wartime, coupled with an “offensive hunt strategy” (156) against terrorists, an aggressive approach that was not policy in the pre-9/11 era.

Len Scott, professor of international politics at the University of Wales, contributes a paper on clandestine diplomacy and covert action in the 21st century. The former involves talking secretly to adversaries; the latter involves operations designed to influence events in a given country. Scott looks at the possibility that 9/11 may have given the former more credibility than it enjoyed during the Cold War.

The final two chapters evaluate the question of ethics in intelligence. In “Ethics and Intelligence after September 2001,” Michael Herman begins by noting that “Perhaps there is no need to mix intelligence and ethics.” But while his admirable objectivity forces him to consider the idea in principle, he is not a believer. After discussions of why ethics are essential to operations, he suggests that “perhaps what is needed is a new paradigm,” although he acknowledges that this issue is “not society’s greatest problem,” A somewhat different view is found in Toni Erskine’s “‘As Rays of Light to the Human Soul?’ Moral Agents and Intelligence Gathering.” The title comes from comments on intelligence made by Thomas Hobbes in 1647. Erskine reviews them in light of what she terms the realist, consequentialist, and deontological approaches advocated by others (210). The practical distinctions among these “vitally important endeavours” are not made clear and thus it is not surprising that she concludes “further investigation into ethics and intelligence is essential.”

Understanding Intelligence in the Twenty-First Century is a thought-provoking, valuable collection of ideas. There is much here for doctoral dissertations and today’s intelligence practitioners.

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I. C. Smith. Inside: A Top G-Man Exposes Spies, Lies, and Bureaucratic Bungling Inside the FBI. Nashville, TN: Nelson Current, 2004. 394 pages, appendices, photos, index.

In at least 165 books on intelligence, an author promises an inside story in the title. Most disappoint. Ivian Charles Smith is the exception. He gives us a genuine inside look at the FBI and his own life. Both make absorbing reading.

Born in Louisiana during World War II and raised by his paternal grandparents, I. C. grew up in an era when youngsters were respectful of authority and polite to teachers, attributes that remained with him. Graduating from high school in 1960, he tried college briefly before joining the navy where he saw the world while serving aboard the USS Razorback, a submarine that had once had convicted spy John Walker among her crew. Four years later, I. C. returned to Louisiana and college, joined the police force, married, and became a detective. His police duties sometimes brought him into contact with FBI agents and they encouraged him to apply to the Bureau when he graduated from college in 1971. In May 1973, I. C. Smith began his own FBI career.

Inside is a roughly chronological summary of Smith’s FBI career, which took him from St. Louis to Washington via most major countries of the world. He worked routine criminal cases, congressional corruption investigations, and, while in charge in Little Rock, Arkansas, the controversial Whitewater case, involving real estate irregularities. But intelligence professionals will be even more interested in his insights into the familiar counterintelligence cases of the era. In this category, he adds details about Larry Wu-tai Chin, the Chinese mole at the CIA; recounts the FBI side of the Aldrich Ames spy case, including the Bureau’s self-serving cooperation with author Peter Maas; discusses the Parlor Maid, or Katrina Leung case; and is harshly critical of the Bureau’s handling of putative Chinese agent Wen Ho Lee. Although the Robert Hanssen espionage case came to a close after Smith retired, he knew Hanssen and is not reticent about contradicting Director Louis Freeh’s assertion that the case was a “counterintelligence coup” (303). He also takes issue with those who thought Hanssen was anything but a mediocre special agent motivated by greed. “Had the Soviets not paid him,” says Smith, “he would not have continued to spy for them.”

There are several themes running through the book that have added value because they are discussed by one who has paid his dues. The first is Smith’s very candid comments about the directors under whom he served. He leaves no doubt that many of the Bureau’s problems follow from their excessive egotism and poor leadership. A second theme concerns the working relationship between the Bureau and the Department of Justice. Examples can be found in the discussions of CAMPCON (the charges of Chinese campaign financing irregularities in the 1990s); the Whitewater investigation; the handling of the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents involving extremists; and the author’s comments on inaccurate affidavits (281). A third theme concerns the subtle ways in which the Bureau protects its public image. Of interest here is the Bureau’s tendency toward intolerance of dissenting views, its hesitancy to assign responsibility for failure, the rationale for its pre-9/11 policies, and its anti-terrorism record in general. In the book’s epilogue, Smith looks at the latter topic in some detail.

After 25 years with the FBI, Smith became a former special-agent-in-charge on 31 July 1998. In writing this book, he has added to recent critical, although constructive, assessments of the Bureau.[2] Inside is a valuable contribution to current intelligence issues and to the literature of the profession.

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Rodney P. Carlisle, ed. Encyclopedia of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. 2 volumes. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 2005. 750 pages, references, appendices, photos, index.

Professor Carlisle’s earlier book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Spies and Espionage, was reviewed in Studies in Intelligence 47, no. 3 (2003). The current work is a much improved, more scholarly effort, whose entries have greater scope and depth, are more informative, and are still easy to read. Each of the 72 mostly academic contributors has, for the most part, used multiple reliable sources that are indicated at the end of the more than 400 entries—see, for example, those of former DCIs Richard Helms, James Woolsey, and George Tenet, by State Department officer Laurie West Van Hook. Equally well crafted is the Allen Dulles entry by James J. F. Forest at West Point. While the principal focus is on all aspects—operational, technical, political, analytical—of American intelligence, the encyclopedia covers other countries and their services as well. For example, the entry for Canada, written by Michael Butt of Dalhousie University, is a discussion of the history of Canadian intelligence. Entries under other country names follow the same format. The appendix contains excerpts from the 9/11 Commission Report, without analytical comment.

One might well ask how this encyclopedia compares with the revised edition of Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage.[3] While the present work has fewer entries than Spy Book, there is greater detail in many of them, and each entry lists recommended sources (Spy Book does not cite sources for each article). The topic coverage is close, but not a complete overlap. For example, Carlisle has entries for Italy and Ivan the Terrible, while Spy Book does not. The Encyclopedia of Intelligence and Counterintelligence is hardbound and sells for about $200 for both volumes; Spy Book costs about $22 (softcover).

When it comes to accuracy, the Encyclopedia has, with one exception, about the same number and type of errors as Spy Book. The exception is the unrivaled collection of misstatements in Carlisle’s entry for Cambridge spy Donald Maclean. Maclean was not identified by the FBI—the Brits did that—and Maclean learned of it not from Philby, but from Burgess. Furthermore, the clue to Maclean’s guilt was not that he went to London to visit his pregnant wife, but to New York where she was living with her mother. Maclean did not attend Eton or Oxford, nor was he a classmate of Cairncross—Maclean and Philby had graduated by the time Cairncross entered Cambridge. And Maclean was not recruited on a channel ferry or any other boat—that happened while he was still in London before he went overseas. As for Krivitsky (mentioned in the Maclean entry), he did not “seek refuge” with the British—they asked him to come and be debriefed, and he did. Soviet agent Kitty Harris was, first, Maclean’s handler-courier and, second, his lover. Maclean wed Melinda in Paris, not London. And Philby did not join Maclean “on his escape to Russia”— Burgess did that. Finally, John Cairncross did not live out his life in England, though he died there after a brief residency (406).

A few other relatively minor discrepancies were found, as, for example, the assertion that the so-called Lucy Ring was a conduit for Bletchley Park (402). This has been debunked by Hinsley, et al.[4] Similarly, Elizabeth Bentley’s testimony did not lead “to the arrests and eventual convictions of noted atomic spies Harry Gold, David Greenglass, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg”— VENONA deserves the credit for that. Lastly, the concept that “the defector remains the best source of invaluable information whether in place or a one-time crossover” is nonsense on its face. In the long run, a defector ranks second to an agent-in-place or mole since by definition a defector cannot remain in place.

Professor Carlisle’s Encyclopedia of Intelligence and Counterintelligence is a good place to start when readers, students, or analysts look for historical background. Nevertheless, as a matter of prudence, check other sources where particular facts are important to the case at hand—intelligence requires multiple source validation whenever possible.

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Sally Bowen and Jane Holligan. The Imperfect Spy: The Many Lives of Vladimiro Montesinos. Lima, Peru: Ediciones PEISA S.A.C., 2003. 493 pages, photos, chronology, no index.

In December 1996, 14 masked Cuban Marxist guerrillas invaded the Japanese ambassador’s residence during a reception in Lima, Peru, taking several hundred hostages. President Alberto Fujimori acted decisively but cautiously. Over the next four months, all but 72 hostages were released. In April 1996, after tunnels had been dug under the residence and listening devices placed in the building , all but one hostage was successfully rescued and the terrorists shot dead. Fujimori’s point man for the rescue operation was his de facto national security advisor, Vladimiro Montesinos.

The Imperfect Spy tells the story of this ambitious, amoral man, whose rise to great power was as unusual as his descent to prison, where he now resides. He began his spying by informing on classmates and perfected his skills in a military career, where he first came to the attention of the CIA in the 1970s. Between then and 1990 when he gained real power with Fujimori, he spent a year in jail, assisted Colombian drug dealers while banking a fortune, obtained a law degree, built a personal security force, married, and acquired several mistresses. As head of the National Intelligence Service, or “SIN” (Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional), Montesinos also collected information, converted it to power and solved problems for the powerful, often eliminating those unwise enough to oppose him. Throughout his career, he had official contacts with the CIA and occasionally the FBI. Both kept him at arms length.

British journalists Sally Bowen and Jane Holligan have lived and worked in Peru for many years. They have done a splendid job telling the often gruesome, but always interesting, story of Montesinos and the secret police he created, so appropriately called SIN. The lack of source notes is largely compensated for by the chronology and references to known people, dates, and events. The authors have provided an important exemplar of how a corrupt security service can influence an entire country.

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Vin Arthey. Like Father Like Son: A Dynasty of Spies. London: St. Ermin’s Press, 2004. 288 pages, endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

In his book Strangers On A Bridge, James Donovan tells the story of KGB illegal, Col. Rudolf Abel, who was betrayed by a KGB defector to the CIA. Arrested by the FBI in 1957, Abel was sentenced to 30 years in prison. In February 1962, he was exchanged for U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers.

Several books were written about the case. One, by Abel’s friend Kyrill Khenkin, published only in Russian, had a real surprise. Reviewed by scholar-author Walter Laqueur in 1983, Khenkin’s book claimed that Rudolf Abel was really Willi Fisher, born in Newcastle, England, in 1903. Years later while working as a television producer in Newcastle, author Vin Arthey learned about the Willi Fisher story and decided to determine whether Khenkin was right. Like Father Like Son makes it clear that he was.[5]

The book has two parts. The first focuses on Willi’s growing up in England. His German father and Russian mother were both active communist organizers working clandestinely for the party. The Russian revolution was motivation to return to Russia, where they were given quarters in the Kremlin. After finishing his education and serving a tour in the Red Army, Willi married and had his only child, a daughter, Evelyn. His knowledge of English got him a job as a translator-interpreter, first with the KOMSOMOL (Young Communists) and later with OGPU (a predecessor of the KGB).

Building on his language skills, Fisher was trained as an illegal; his first assignment was to Scandinavia. In 1935, he was sent to London to work with another illegal, Alexander Orlov, who, along with Arnold Deutsch, was busy recruiting the Cambridge ring, a fact Fisher never revealed that is acknowledged for the first time publicly in this book. After Orlov’s defection in late 1938, Fisher was sacked. Although he survived the purges, he was forced to work in an aircraft factory until recalled by the NKVD (successor to the OGPU) in September 1941 as a radio operator. He was assigned to train illegals—for example, Kitty Harris, who became Donald Maclean’s handler. At some point, he went to work for Pavel Sudaplatov, who directed the NKVD Special Tasks directorate, and ended the war a hero, having run successful radio deception operations, Operation MONASTERY among them.[6] Nevertheless, he was then dismissed from the NKVD for a second time, before being rehired again and sent to the United States in 1948 as Willie Martens— just one of his cover names—where his English could be put to use.

Arthey adds considerable detail to Fisher’s stay in the United States, where he worked as an artist while supporting the Rosenberg network, atomic spy Ted Hall, and Morris and Leona Cohen. (The latter escaped just before the Rosenbergs were caught and eventually became KGB illegals in Britain.) When arrested, Fisher adopted the name of another KGB colonel, then dead, so that his masters in Lubyanka would not acknowledge him by any of his cover names. Abel never revealed his true identity or the details of his work to the FBI.

After his return to the Soviet Union, despite his adherence to the KGB code of silence during interrogation—protecting his knowledge of Philby and the Cambridge agents—Fisher was never again accepted as an active intelligence officer. He was involved with training young officers but was never fully trusted. When he was hospitalized in October 1971, the suspicious KGB had his room bugged. He died a month later. His tombstone reads Willi Fisher and Rudolph Abel.

During his research for this book, Arthey contacted Fisher’s daughter and from her learned the details of his final years. His book adds much to the story of one of the KGB’s most famous illegals, who suffered the sad fate of official obscurity in the final five years of his life.

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Ljubica Erickson and Mark Erickson, eds. Russia: War Peace and Diplomacy: Essays in Honour of John Erickson. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004. 365 pages, endnotes, index.

The late professor John Erickson learned Russian in grammar school; served in the British Army Intelligence Corps, where he studied Serbo-Croatian, German, and other European languages; and was an interpreter for the Allied War Crimes Commission. He then went to Cambridge before joining St. Antony’s College, Oxford, where he became the world’s leading military historian specializing in the Soviet Union. In 1968, he accepted a post at the University of Edinburgh, where he remained until his death in 2002. His writings on the Red Army, especially The Soviet High Command (1962), became standard works, and he was respected and trusted by the Soviet High Command as no other Western historian. He is a figure familiar to any student of Soviet military history.

Erickson’s colleagues, students, and friends contributed the 20 essays in this festschrift. Eighteen deal with military history: Several discuss the Soviet and German armies; two cover the research Erickson did for his books on Stalingrad; another looks at the lesser known battles of the Soviet-German war; and one discusses Jomini versus Clausewitz. Two are on military intelligence: One by John Chapman is on “Russia, Germany and Anglo-Japanese Collaboration, 1989–1906;” the other, by Donald Cameron Watt, is a provocative piece typical of the author, titled “Rumours as Evidence.” The final chapter, by former US Air Force officer Lynn Hansen who studied with Prof. Erickson at the University of Edinburgh, recounts the “Edinburgh Conversations” that Erickson held with senior officials of the Soviet government.

John Erickson set the standard for history with work that was always thoroughly researched, well argued, and well written. He would be proud of this collection in his honor.

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Daniele Ganser. NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe. London: Frank Cass, 2005. 326 pages, index.

As part of the planning that led to NATO after World War II, the Western European nations decided that they should prepare and equip stay-behind networks for use in the event of a Soviet invasion. Agents would be trained to operate much as their World War II resistance predecessors. Their mission would be to provide intelligence, perform sabotage, and disrupt communications. This time, however, initial supplies would come not from hastily organized, often inaccurate, air drops, but from prepositioned caches for use by the secretly trained teams.

The existence of such stay-behind networks remained “Europe’s best kept secret” until 1990.[7] About the same time, then Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti acknowledged that Italy had established what Ganser calls “a secret army” coordinated by NATO (1). The response to Andreotti’s disclosures included a series of newspaper stories that labeled the Italian role in the secret NATO network as Operation GLADIO, although other participating nations had different codenames.

Swiss scholar Daniele Ganser has written the first book on this subject. In it, he asserts that the CIA and MI6 were the prime movers behind the networks, unknown to “parliaments and populations” (1). He goes on to charge that the CIA in particular, with its covert action policies that are by definition terrorist in nature, used the networks for political terrorism.

After acknowledging the validity of the stay-behind networks, Ganser quickly clarifies his argument. He alleges that, since the Soviets never invaded, some GLADIO members became right-wing terrorists in Italy. In the 1970s and 1980s, using the explosives and other supplies in the prepositioned caches, they were responsible for hundreds of terrorist attacks whose real purpose was to discredit the communists. Although Ganser’s sourcing is largely secondary— newspapers and the like—his argument is convincing to the extent that both things happened. What is in doubt is the relationship between the attacks and government policy. Were the caches made available officially to terrorists, and were the terrorist attacks part of Operation GLADIO? Or were they separate acts by groups whose members had been trained as part of the now defunct stay-behind networks and knew the location of some of the caches? Ganser takes the former position, charging the CIA—and to some extent MI6—with responsibility for the terrorist acts. (14)

But proof is a problem for Ganser. He complains at the outset that he was unable to find any official sources to support his charges of the CIA’s or any Western European government’s involvement with Gladio. Nevertheless, his book devotes 14 chapters to the “secret war” in various Western nations on his list. Much of the narrative is historical. The chapter on Portugal, for example, begins with background in 1926; the chapter on Spain, with the Spanish Civil War. The history of how relationships were established among Western nations after World War II is interesting and valuable, as is the survey of pubic reaction to Operation GLADIO. But Ganser fails to document his thesis that the CIA, MI6, and NATO and its friends turned GLADIO into a terrorist organization.

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Lucas Delattre. A Spy at the Heart of the Third Reich: The Extraordinary Story of Fritz Kolbe, America’s Most Important Spy in World War II. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003. 308 pages, bibliography, photos, no index.

In The Craft of Intelligence (1963), Allen Dulles alludes to but does not name the man whom he later called his most productive agent in Switzerland during World War II. Three years later, in The Secret Surrender (1966), Dulles identifies him by his codename, George Wood. In his 1968 anthology, Great True Spy Stories, he gives even more details about his agent’s life, but not his true name. Others did their best to learn Wood’s identity and, in 1971, author Ladislas Farago came close when he identified a “Fritz Kople” in his book Game of the Foxes. Official acknowledgement of Wood as Fritz Kolbe, the former Nazi Foreign Office senior clerk, came when OSS files were declassified in June 2000. Then, in September 2001, the German magazine Der Spiegel published an article on Kolbe describing him as an “anonymous hero of the Second World War.” Until this article, Kolbe was largely unknown in Germany—he had not been mentioned in the official history of the Federal Republic of Germany, which did credit others who had acted against Hitler and the Nazis. Lucas Delattre, a journalist with Le Monde, decided to look into the case and A Spy At The Heart of the Third Reich is the result.

Although Fritz Kolbe was never a member of the Nazi party, he performed his administrative duties in the Foreign Office so well that he survived several purges and retained access to sensitive classified material throughout World War II. A truly closet anti-Nazi, he arranged a trip to Switzerland in 1943 to try to pass documents to the British—but he was rebuffed. He next went to OSS station chief Allen Dulles, who cautiously accepted him. In the end, after many more trips, his services earned the sobriquet “prize intelligence source of the war.”

Delattre conveys admiration for Kolbe’s contribution and is perplexed that he did not get more credit at the time. He nudges the British for downplaying some of Kolbe’s reports. Subsequent events, however, show that they had good reason for doing so. For example, the secret transmitter in Dublin that Kolbe revealed was already known to the British because they were breaking the German code. Making a fuss about the new intelligence might have alerted the Germans that London knew about the transmitter, if a leak were to have occurred. Similarly, Delattre tells how Kolbe alerted OSS to the German penetration of the British embassy in Ankara. He is concerned that here, too, the British response was less than enthusiastic when told about it. What he does not realize is that the British already knew what the situation was from their code-breaking efforts at Bletchley Park. Moreover, though the British did not tell OSS, the penetration, code-named CICERO, was not the only mole in the embassy. One was never caught; the other, the ambassador’s chauffeur, was only identified after the war.[8] When Kolbe reported about CICERO, it was obvious there was a leak and London therefore discouraged discussion of the penetration so as not to alert the Germans they were on to them while they continued to hunt for the other moles.

As for the United States, the skeptical War Department intelligence staffs only reluctantly accepted the Kolbe material late in the war, further diminishing its utility. At one point, they refused to send it to the president, and Delattre describes the ensuing inter-organizational battles. There is no doubt that Fritz Kolbe took many personal risks and delivered much order-of-battle and other data—2,600 Foreign Office documents in all. But this material tended to confirm sources unknown to Dulles.

Kolbe’s espionage for the Allies was known by some trusted friends who helped him with accommodation addresses and the like during the war. After the war, using the name George Wood, he permitted an interview that resulted in a sketchy biographical story in True Magazine (1950). Dulles tried but was unable to stop its publication in Germany, so a much wider audience became aware of Kolbe’s wartime activities. Many viewed him as a traitor, and he did not live to see his vindication in the Der Spiegel article mentioned above. Delattre’s chapter “Disgrace” tells how Kolbe’s efforts to find a meaningful existence in Germany failed.

Despite the irritating absence of specific source notes and an index, this is a worthwhile book on an important case. Delattre is right when he ends with the thought that “Fritz Kolbe was without any question democratic and pro-Western. His only mistake was to have been those things before everyone else” in Germany (223).

The book concludes with a remembrance of Kolbe by OSS and CIA veteran Peter Sichel, who helped handle Kolbe after the war. His firsthand account adds much to the image of a true German patriot.

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Ruth Price. The Lives of Agnes Smedley. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 498 pages, endnotes, photos, index.

During the 1976 budget crisis in New York, classes at City College were cancelled and graduate student Ruth Price used the free time to read a semi-autobiographical novel, Daughter of Earth, by the controversial author Agnes Smedley. Thus began an interest that simmered until the mid-1980s when then-professor Price turned her full attention to Smedley’s life and made the decision to write this biography.

Born in Missouri on 23 February 1892, Agnes Smedley was the daughter of a failed cattle broker and sometime farmer and his part-Indian wife. Her birthplace was a two-room cabin without plumbing or electricity. In the early 1900s, the Smedleys moved to Trinidad, Colorado, the first of several towns where Agnes went to school and worked washing clothes after classes. It was a period of labor unrest and economic depression, but she managed to get part way though grade school, supplementing her formal education with voluminous reading. At 17, Agnes passed exams for a one-year secondary school teaching certificate, and began teaching for $40 a month. When her certificate expired, she accepted an offer to study in Phoenix, and with that she was on her way to becoming a progressive, a communist, and a writer. She would write mostly about China, teach at Berlin University, and later lecture at Harvard.

Price examines Smedley’s life in great detail, explaining how she became involved in the radical movement of the times and describing the many communists who played important parts in her life. Smedley traveled widely. In Germany, she worked for the COMINTERN under chief propagandist Willi Muenzenberg. In India, she participated actively in the left wing movement before going to China, where she met and was captivated by Mao and other communist leaders. It was her activity in China—working for Soviet military intelligence agent Richard Sorge—that brought her to the attention of the post- World War II anti-communist movement in the United States. Smedley denied US Army charges that she was or had been a Soviet agent, and she threatened to sue for libel if the army did not admit it was wrong and did not apologize. And that is what the army did. She had worked against the Nazis and the Japanese, not directly against the United States, they rationalized.

Nevertheless, in 1950, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, using the same evidence available to the army—supplied by Maj. Gen. Charles Willoughby, Gen. Douglas Macarthur’s G-2—upheld the charges and planned to have her testify. In London at the time, Smedley died after an operation for ulcers before she had to decide whether to return. For 50 years, Price notes, the political right maintained her guilt, charging that she was indeed a communist and had spied for China and the Soviet Union. With at least equal vigor, the “left has maintained that Smedley was an unblemished heroine, the tragic victim of a McCarthyite smear” (even though Smedley died before McCarthy began his crusade). Price writes that “as a self-identified leftist, I, too, initially dismissed the accusations against Smedley. My Smedley was an uncompromising liberal.”

Then, as her research progressed, Price discovered the Smedley archives in Moscow; interviewed her former colleagues in China, India, and the United States; examined contemporaneous FBI interviews with communists who worked with Smedley, including her Soviet case officer; and found Smedley’s arrest records in Germany. Furthermore, she came across statements by Sorge that she had been his agent. That is not all. When the British released the MASK decrypts of communist party pre-war message traffic, Smedley was mentioned frequently. All these sources supported the fact that Smedley has been Sorge’s agent and a COMINTERN agent, and had worked in the Chinese Bureau of Information as well. The right in this case was correct. Smedley had had a clandestine life and, to Price’s great credit, she documents it wonderfully, although she admits that “this was the last thing I wanted to establish.”[9]

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David Oliver. Airborne Espionage: International Special Duties Operations in the World Wars. Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 2005. 250 pages, bibliography, photos, index.

By the start of World War I, flying ace Jules Védrines was 33 and too old for frontline service in the French air force (Aviation Militaire). However, experienced at flying by moonlight, he was soon a special-missions pilot taking agents behind enemy lines in airframes made of wood. A new solution to the perennial problem of insertion had been implemented. Special-mission flying continued during the interwar period in the Far East, the Soviet Union, Italy, Germany, and Spain, in anticipation of another conflict. World War II became the glory days of what the Allies called Special Duty (SD) Squadrons. In Airborne Espionage, David Oliver tells the story of the special pilots, their aircraft, and the agents they inserted behind enemy lines.

Some of the pilots and their passengers became well known. Capt. George Hill, a British Russian-speaking military intelligence officer, learned to fly in the Balkans so he could insert his own agents behind enemy lines. He would go on to author two books and to work with Sidney (“Ace of Spies”) Reilly in Moscow. T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) employed special-mission flights in the Middle East. Australian Sidney Cotton, who would later support OSS, pioneered clandestine aerial-photography flights covering many of the denied areas in Europe, including Berlin.

During World War II, over 100 of the agents inserted were women, like Noor Inayat Khan, a British wireless operator who had lived in France. These already high risk operations were made even more dangerous because the Gestapo had penetrated many of the resistance networks the SD squadrons were supporting. The SDs also played a part in the British DOUBLE CROSS (XX) operation and worked with OSS and various allied elements throughout the world. For balance, Oliver includes many of the Nazi and Japanese operations against the Allies and also describes their aircraft.

In a postscript, Oliver reviews the postwar life of some of the SD pilots, agents, and opponents who survived. A few were ignored and fell on hard times. Some went into politics. Others, especially the female agents, wrote books. They had filled a need that still exists, albeit the aircraft and communications equipment have changed. Airborne Espionage documents their contribution for the first time.

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Hugh Popham. The FANY in Peace and War: The Story of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, 1907-2003. Revised edition. Barnsley, Yorkshire, UK: Leo Cooper, 2003. 174 pages, bibliography, photos, appendices, index.

Service with Lord Kitchener in the Sudan campaign of 1898 convinced cavalry Sgt. Maj. Edward Baker that troops wounded in the field needed skilled medical attention before the ambulance arrived. He envisioned “women riding sidesaddle round the fringes of a traditional battlefield dressed in vivid scarlet tunics and voluminous skirts” tending the wounded and freeing soldiers for combat (2). He finally launched his all volunteer organization—although with a different dress code—in England in 1907, where the headquarters of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) Corps is still located today.

In the British army, the yeomanry initially consisted of non-combat support troops. A yeoman in the royal household, on the other hand, was a highly qualified servant or aide. Baker had both concepts in mind when he recruited for his unorthodox unit in the local newspapers. Qualifications included education, horsemanship skills, and foreign language ability. Training in first aid, map reading, and radio communications would be provided. Enrollment cost the applicants 10 shillings. The women had to provide their own uniforms and horse, and commit for one year’s service.

The initial response was positive although the Corps was to have its difficult times. The FANYs, as they are called, have since served in both peace and war, and author Hugh Popham reviews their entire history while telling how the tasks they performed soon departed from nursing to ambulance driving, eventually focusing on communications support.

A principal point of interest for the intelligence professional is the FANY’s service in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II and their operations with the resistance in occupied France. Some 73 were trained as agents and 39 went to France. Several were caught by the Gestapo and ended their lives in Dachau and other camps.

At a time when women in the intelligence services was not an everyday occurrence, the FANYs established a powerful precedent. Popham summarizes their story well, and the bibliography provides sources where more detail can be acquired. In this regard, Leo Marks’s Silk and Cyanide (HarperCollins, 1998) is to be recommended.

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Thomas Boghardt. Spies Of The Kaiser: German Covert Operations in Great Britain during the First World War Era. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. 224 pages, endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

In 1901, with its ship-building program well underway, the German Admiralty created a naval intelligence department (designated “N”), a first for Germany, to keep track of foreign navies in general, and Britain’s Royal Navy in particular. Agents were recruited and dispatched to Britain to report on naval order-of-battle and make damage assessments after the anticipated naval engagements, which never materialized. It was just as well, because the German agents were too few in number and poorly trained, and they consequently produced little of value. Thomas Boghardt is the first to write about the role of “N” in World War I.

Spies of the Kaiser also examines British counterintelligence capabilities before and during the war. At the outset, from the British perspective, the German espionage threat was muddled to put it politely. In 1903, Erskine Childers published his novel Riddle of the Sands with the aim of increasing public awareness of the threat of a German invasion. Although the British Admiralty was not convinced, the public was indeed aroused (23). In 1906, capitalizing on the public mood, British journalist William Le Queux published his The Invasion of 1910, which sold over 1 million copies. The battle was joined. Despite the lack of evidence to support the novelist’s claims, the government responded to public pressure by forming a subcommittee of the Committee of Imperial Defence to reexamine the threat of invasion. Although not a direct consequence of the subcommittee’s actions, by 1907 there were calls for a department to collect foreign intelligence to establish the nature of the threat. But the War Department resisted. Then in 1909, Le Queux published his masterpiece of fiction, Spies of the Kaiser, with claimed that 5,000 German spies were operating in Britain. Adding fuel to the fire, he stated that his novel was based on fact. That same year, the War Office established new intelligence elements that would become what is known today as MI5 and MI6.

In contrasting the development and operations of MI5 and “N,” Boghardt shows how the former, created on the basis of faulty intelligence, was a public relations winner and, despite parsimonious resources, had a reasonable record of success. There were in fact German agents in Britain, although nowhere near the number proffered by Le Queux and his supporters. MI5’s task was hampered from the start, in part because before the war there were more German agents than MI5 intelligence officers. The situation was further complicated because the public responded to the spy scare with hundreds of reported sightings of German spies, which had to be investigated. Nevertheless, all the important agents were identified and arrested or neutralized. “N,” on the other hand, while formed for the right reasons, failed to develop the professional capabilities to do the job and in the end never posed a serious threat to British security.

When war was declared, the press claimed that all German agents in Britain had been arrested. Many historians have accepted this view as accurate. But because Boghardt had access to recently released German and British archival documents, he was able to correct that conventional wisdom and show that MI5 manipulated the record to reflect that position. Several spies had indeed been arrested, but some were never found. During the war, “at least 120 agents operated in Britain” and MI5, with Special Branch, arrested 31 of them (105). The principal method of detection was mail monitoring, although a number were caught because the agents they attempted to recruit turned them in.

Spies of the Kaiser provides summaries of the major wartime cases of “N” espionage operations in Great Britain and discusses several that involved agents operating in the United States. The latter include instances of biological warfare in which “N” agents in Washington created anthrax to infect the horses being shipped to Britain—they were unsuccessful.

Boghardt finds little to suggest that either service made a difference in the war. After the war, “N” was disbanded along with the Imperial Navy. MI5, however, survived with its reputation enhanced and many lessons learned and went on to be exceptionally successful in World War II.

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[1]Richard Breitman, Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned, What the British and Americans Knew (New York: Hill & Wang, 1998).

[2]See for example: Peter Lance, 1000 Years For Revenge: International Terrorism and the FBI–The Untold Story (New York: Regan Books, 2004) and Richard Gid Powers, Broken: Troubled Past and Uncertain Future of the FBI (New York: Free Press, 2004).

[3]Norman Polmar and Thomas B. Allen, Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage, 2nd ed. (New York: Random House, 2004), reviewed in Studies in Intelligence 49, no. 1 (2005).

[4]F. H. Hinsley, British Intelligence in the Second World War, Vol. 2 (London: HMSO, 1981), 60. The so-called Lucy Ring is a journalistic fiction; the net that is meant was the Rote Drei.

[5]Louise Bernikow, ABEL (New York: Trident, 1970); Kyrill Khenkin, Okhhoynik vverkh nogami [The Hunter on His Head] (Paris: Posev, 1980); Walter Laqueur, “From HUMINT to SIGINT,” The Times Literary Supplement, 11 February 1983.

[6]For more detail on Operation MONASTERY, see Robert Stephan, Stalin’s Secret War (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004), reviewed in Studies in Intelligence 48, no. 4 (2004).

[7]Hugh O’Shaughency, “Gladio: Europe’s Secret Networks,” The Observer, 18 November 1990.

[8]Nigel West, The Guy Liddell Diaries: WALLFLOWERS, Vol. II (London: Routledge, 2005), 460.

[9]Not all readers agree with Price’s judgment. One from George Mason University writes: “I'm sorry to see that Price has acquiesced, to some extent, to cold-war anti-communism in failing to affirm Smedley's hard and dangerous work for anti-imperialism in India and in favor of the Comintern which, whatever its man­ifold failings, was at least on the right side—the side of those who opposed class exploitation and imperi­alism—as the US, UK, et al. were not ( For another look at The Lives of Agnes Smedley, see the review by Prof. Harvey Klehr in The Weekly Standard, 31 January 2005.


Hayden B. Peake is the curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection.


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Historical Document
Posted: Apr 15, 2007 09:05 AM
Last Updated: Jun 26, 2008 12:34 PM