The Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf

Intelligence in Recent Public Literature

Compiled and reviewed by Hayden B. Peake

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


Jennifer E. Sims and Burton Gerber, eds., Transforming U.S. Intelligence. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2005. 285 pages, end of chapter notes, index.

This timely volume, with valuable contributions from authors with various levels of experience in the intelligence profession, presents a challenging series of articles that comment on the changes now underway and needed soon in the Intelligence Community. It has three parts: New Requirements, New Capabilities, and Management Challenges. The titles do not really prepare the reader for their content. Chapter one, by historian Ernest May, gives a historical overview of the origins of intelligence at the national level while suggesting challenges for the future. In the next two chapters, Georgetown University professor Jennifer Sims deals with understanding our friends, our enemies, and ourselves. She is concerned with topics like the theory of intelligence, strategic culture, cognitive biases, intelligence stovepipes, open source intelligence, and intelligence as secrets. Her grasp of these issues is remarkable, but even for an experienced intelligence officer the meaning of her words may not be readily apparent. Take, for example, her comment that there is “a tendency to equate intelligence with secrets, which has led to a neglect of open-source intelligence.” She goes on to state that the “fixation on secret sources amounts to a debilitating cognitive bias.” She also suggests that of “all the influences on strategic culture, the first, relating to the neglect of open sources may be the most insidious” (37). Without elaboration, the reader is left trying to dissect the distracting semantic ambiguities and wondering who neglects open sources, who equates intelligence with secrets, and what are the consequences?

This open-source topic is continued in the next chapter by Amy Sands. She argues that since the threat has changed since the Cold War, “the traditional reliance on classified information must also change . . . [and] open-source information is essential to developing high-quality relevant intelligence assessments.” The logic of the first proposition is not immediately obvious, unless she means it must get better; and the second has always been so, as the examples she herself supplies indicate—therefore, she has posed a strawman issue. Her suggestion that computer-secrecy concerns limit use of open sources is puzzling at best.

These views on open sources and secrecy are misleading, and the chapter by former CIA operations officer John MacGaffin on clandestine human intelligence does a better job of putting such issues in perspective. No matter what has happened or what lies ahead, he states, “clandestine HUMINT will nonetheless remain the indispensable element of national intelligence collection.” He goes on to make very clear that HUMINT is appropriate when “no other option [is] available or has a real possibility to succeed” (80). He also describes how counterintelligence and covert action fit in the clandestine operations arena and calls for managerial consistency as a key element to long-range success.

In a chapter called “The Digital Dimension,” James Gosler, from Sandia National Laboratories, discusses what Information Technology has come to mean for intelligence in terms of volume, timeliness, importance, and security of data. He sees “need to know” as an artifact of the past to be replaced by the “need to share,” and he tells why.

Retired CIA senior analyst Douglas MacEachin challenges the reader as well as prospective analysts in an article on “Analysis and Estimates.” He argues, inter alia, that the Cold War collection architecture needs to be reshaped, that the growing importance of non-state actors needs to be recognized, and that the lessons of history should not be forgotten. Particular attention should be paid to his valuable comments on analytic performance measures.

A chapter by Donald Daniel on “Denial and Deception” looks at the pros and cons of that topic as well as the sensitive requirements for its successful application. James Simon follows with a contribution that looks at the question of how intelligence officers get the intelligence they think they need from a system that has become something of a Frankenstein monster over the years. He does not deny that it works, but he has some suggestions to make it work much better.

Two chapters by retired CIA operations officer Henry Crumpton deserve close attention.[1] The first discusses the early CIA role in Afghanistan, an all-source, joint-element intelligence operation that worked. He explains why. His second article is on intelligence and homeland security and the many obstacles to success in that domain. He stresses the differences associated with using a law enforcement agency for domestic intelligence work, the consequences of doing this, and ways to deal with the disconnects.

In an insightful, challenging chapter on managing HUMINT, former senior operations officer Burton Gerber looks at the predictable cause and effect relationship between trying to do more and better intelligence operations with fewer people and resources—it does not work, and he tells why. He promotes new approaches to training, upgraded personnel skills and qualifications, a different emphasis on cover, ethnic diversity, ethical behavior, career retention, metrics for advancement, and a more routine, but serious, use of after-action studies.

Most of the articles in this book mention the reports of one or more of the post 9/11 investigating commissions. But the former senior CIA officer Mark Lowenthal, in his chapter on “Intelligence Analysis,” is the only one to point out the irony that while the commissions were all very critical of assorted analytic shortfalls, their recommendations dealt largely with organizational changes— which seldom solve operational problems. Gerber goes on to provide recommendations to fill the gap, emphasizing the critical importance of people—managing analysts and the processes with which they work.

The next-to-last chapter comes from Britt Snider, former CIA inspector general and general counsel of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He looks at the history of the two congressional intelligence oversight committees, commenting on their growing pains and current weaknesses. Then he makes suggestions for much needed improvement. The committees can “reestablish themselves as credible authoritative voices,” he concludes, but failing this, “the Intelligence Community is going to suffer” (255).

The editors contribute a summary chapter that highlights the key points in the book. For newcomers to the topic, this chapter might well be read first. In any case, it is an excellent synopsis of this very significant work. Overstatement? Not so. The problems dealt with are contemporaneous and, just as important, are likely to surface in related forms in the very near future. Lacking sufficient semantic originality to think of alternative phrasing, this book should have wide appeal to students of the current international situation and also be mandatory, testable reading for new and would-be intelligence officers.

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Carol Dumaine and L. Sergio Germani, eds. New Frontiers of Intelligence Analysis. Washington, DC, and Rome, Italy: Global Futures Partnership of the Sherman Kent School for Intelligence Analysis, the Link Campus University of Malta, and the Gino Germani Center for Comparative Studies of Modernization and Development, 2005. 177 pages, footnotes, appendix, no index.

Whatever their specialty, analysts of all stripes—from photointerpreters to regional specialists—know the problem of “information overload.” Is it realistic to expect the problem to be solved? Gilman Louie, former CEO of In-Q-Tel, suggests in his contribution to this volume that Generation-X may grow up with a solution. Today’s teenagers talk on cell phones, watch TV, do homework, use laptops for writing and searching, and listen to music, almost simultaneously. Louie argues that “volume is an asset” (131) and then explains why.

The Louie paper was one of 15 interesting presentations at an April 2004 conference in Rome, jointly sponsored by the publishers of this volume. While the term “New Frontiers” is something of a cliché, the idea that changes are necessary in order to cope with the increasing volume of data and complexity of analysis was taken seriously by the participating academic and intelligence professionals, who came from 12 countries and represented 35 organizations. The Introduction by conference co-directors Carol Dumaine and Luigi Sergio Germani outlines the major themes of the book and provides a useful series of guideposts for improving intelligence analysis.[2]

Several of the papers look at transnational issues. One by Rob Johnston discusses the value and problems encountered when integrating methodologists into teams of substantive experts.[3] His comments on the poor track records of analytic experts who make forecasts are surprising and supportive of the value of secret intelligence. Phil Williams provides one of the more sophisticated looks at the problem of coping with ever-increasing complexity by applying “complexity theory” and the new approaches it involves.

David Chuter takes another tack, considering “The Buddha as an Intelligence Analyst.” At several points, Chuter challenges the reader with such comments as: “Changes in recent years . . . move towards an Open Source model of violence, coordinated by peer-to peer networks” (123). He leaves one asking “So what?” and seeking examples that even management can understand. In the end, though, he invokes Buddha, who “claimed to have the power to see things as they really were” (124), and, from this, one can infer that analysts should strive for the same goal, making it a matter of course.

For analysts who neglect the lessons of history because of information overload—or any other excuse for that matter—Christopher Andrew provides a health warning for a new malady: HASDD—Historical Attention Span Deficit Disorder. Failure to recognize the symptoms and take corrective action risks more than repeating history; it increases the chances of new and even more damaging surprises.

From network-centric thinking to GOOGLE-like analytical innovations, this volume does indeed stimulate thought and deserves serious attention.

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Timothy Naftali. Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism. New York: Basic Books, 2005. 399 pages, endnotes, index.

Book IV of the six-volume 1976 Church Committee Report on American intelligence contained a short and useful history of the Central Intelligence Agency.[4] The 9/11 Commission intended to follow that precedent and hired University of Virginia historian Timothy Naftali to write a history of US counterterrorism policy. He did that, but then the 9/11 Commission decided not to include the history in its final report. Naftali, although paid by the commission, was allowed to turn his work into Blind Spot.

The history of terrorism for America begins toward the end of World War II, when, according to Naftali, Allied counterespionage concluded “that a Nazi terrorist campaign would follow the collapse of the German army . . .” (9). This is a curious turn of phrase since most historians write of the threat of postwar German resistance and guerilla warfare activities — not Nazi terrorism. Following the same line of thought, Naftali then discusses the early Cold War activities of the “KGB’s Department 13 . . . assassination and terrorism service,” a unit that did not include terrorism in its name. In those days, Department 13 was concerned with sabotage, not terrorism as the term is used today. This attempt to link America’s initial contacts with terrorism to World War II and the early Cold War is a historical — force-fitting contemporary terms to past events where they do not apply.

Subsequent chapters in Blind Spot recount the well-known events of modern terrorism, beginning with the hijacking of commercial aircraft in the 1970s and concluding with 9/11 and the various corrective measures taken to prevent another attack. Naftali carefully explains the intelligence available before, and the actions taken after, each event. What is never made clear, however, is the nature of the “blind spot” these events are supposed to epitomize. His narrative is more persuasive of judgmental error than of a failure to see the problems with which the nation was faced. If there is a blind spot in this book, it is the author’s curious interpretation of intelligence history and how it relates to contemporary counterterrorism.

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Stansfield Turner. Burn Before Reading: Presidents, CIA Directors and Secret Intelligence. New York: Hyperion, 2005. 320 pages, photos, index.

This is a very interesting book. Former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Adm. Stansfield Turner has given us an insightful, top-down look at the relationships between all heads of American intelligence from William Donovan to George Tenet and the presidents they served. It is based on his own experience, documents, and interviews he conducted with other former DCIs, presidents, and key National Security Council staff. He describes how each president viewed all phases of intelligence and what they did when the news was not good. He is gently tolerant, but nevertheless factual, when describing the tours of DCIs VAdm. William Raborn and John Deutch, although with the latter he omits the problems with security that followed him back to MIT.

When it comes to his own tenure as DCI, Adm. Turner is unexpectedly candid in discussing the “Halloween Massacre” of 1979, when xeroxed letters informed experienced employees of their dismissal: “In retrospect, I probably should not have effected the reductions of 820 positions at all, and certainly not the last 17.” He also comments on another aspect of his tenure, his futile attempts to increase the DCI’s authority to manage the Intelligence Community. He takes no glee in the fact that most of his recommendations as DCI were echoed in the 9/11 Commission Report, as if they were the sudden realizations of new and brilliant experts. While discussing the DCIs under President Clinton, Turner mentions a 1997 article published in Studies in Intelligence that “predicted ‘from the vantage point of 2001, intelligence failure is inevitable,’” which deserves more attention than it received at the time.[5]

In the end, Turner suggests that breaking up the CIA, whose “reputation in the country is at a nadir today” (258), would be best for the nation “and the professionals in the CIA as well.” There is historical food for thought and discussion here, especially for prospective and new Intelligence Community staff. But Adm. Turner leaves one question unmentioned, let alone answered: why the title, Burn Before Reading?

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Brian Latell. After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castros Next Leader. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 273 pages, endnotes, index.

Information overload is a problem with which intelligence analysts trying to fathom Fidel Castro are well acquainted. In the public domain alone, GOOGLE provides over 3 million hits. One solution might be to use some of the new data management techniques suggested in New Frontiers of Intelligence Analysis;[6] another might be to apply the strategies discussed by Richards Heuer in his Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, topics taught in Intelligence Community analyst training courses.[7] Former CIA senior analyst Brian Latell suggests a different path: on-the-job training. He peremptorily dismisses the formal setting “with pretentious bureaucrats posing as deans or department chairs, and not much codified wisdom about analytic tradecraft” (1). Of course, that is easy for him to say after 40 years of experience, during which monitoring the Cuban maximum leader was a much more gradual process. This is important to understand, because analysts today do not have the same options. But that does not mean their results will suffer, wherever they learn their tradecraft. Put another way, how will contemporary Castro analysts view After Fidel?

Latell has not given us a biography; there are plenty of those. He has recognized, however, that they do not dwell on Fidel’s brother Raul in any great depth and that they tend to assume Raul will succeed his brother.[8] So Latell asks, is it still likely that Raul will follow his brother and, if so, what kind of person is this man; what is his relationship with his brother; what kind of a leader will he be?

Answers to these questions were distilled from interviews with some of Fidel’s children, a sister, former Cuban communists, defectors from the Cuban security forces, journalists, and, thanks to the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, from the long speeches given by both brothers. Raul and Fidel do not look like brothers, and Latell suggests some good reasons why they may share only one parent. They both were radicals in Bolivia, with Fidel taking to the streets, while Raul dealt with the opposition differently—his first murder took place there. It was Raul who first dealt with the Soviets—they found they could do business with his more structured approach to politics. But throughout their nearly 50-year reign, ever since becoming defense minister and even after taking over the security agencies, Raul has remained number two, apparently without bitterness. He was obedient to the point of engineering the trial and execution of his best friend, at Fidel’s insistence. Both have public wives and families, and secret ones as well, with Fidel being the more obsessively private. Fidel will be 80 in 2006; Raul is five years younger. There have been rumors of Fidel’s failing health since 1985, but he shows no signs of turning over power and retiring.

As to the issue of what kind of leader Raul might be, Latell suggests that question would have had a different answer had Raul succeeded in earlier times, when his strict ways would have predominated. Now, he cannot even be sure that younger revolutionaries will not take the helm. Still, Latell does see signals of a more reasonable, if not benevolent, Raul. A sign of this came when Raul told reporters that if an al-Qa’ida detainee were to escape from Guantanamo to Cuba, he would be returned to US authority. This is just one of several indications, says Latell, of “Raul’s changing attitude toward the United States.” Latell continues, “I believe . . . that once in power in his own right, he will place an early and high priority on improving relations with the United States.” That is a course of action that Fidel, says Latell, is incapable of pursuing.

When Latell became National Intelligence Officer for Latin America, he had a series of contacts with Anna Montez, the DIA Cuban analyst recently convicted of spying for Fidel. He admits candidly that there were several occasions when her behavior and reporting should have alerted him and others to a problem . . . but did not.

The title, After Fidel, has two meanings: What happens after Fidel dies, and whether his brother has orchestrated the circumstances to assure his succession. Like the questions raised above, Latell cannot be sure of the answers. But, having laid out the facts in his book, if required to submit one last NIE on the topic, Latell would pick Raul as successor, unless, of course, he dies first. After Fidel reads well, is economically written, and is a valuable contribution to the estimative literature.

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Lance Collins and Warren Reed. Plunging Point: Intelligence Failures, Cover-ups and Consequences. Sydney, Australia: HarperCollins, 2005. 383 pages, bibliography, appendices, charts, no index.

In his classic book, The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, Sir Edward Creasy begins with the Battle of Marathon whose outcome determined “the whole future progress of human civilization.”[9] Former Australian intelligence officers Lance Collins and Warren Reed would call Marathon a plunging point in history. The first third of their book discusses how intelligence should work today and how it operates in fact, which is to say, corrupted in its application by national leaders of the “Club”—America, Australia, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand. With echoes of personal experience, they contend that it is sure “bureaucratic death” for an intelligence officer to “attempt to set the record straight,” to tell truth to power (11).

The next third of the book is a historical review of intelligence as it evolved among “Club” members after World War II. Here, the authors are a bit distracted by how spy novels have shaped reality, and at one point they claim that “a number of US traitors went undetected . . . among them Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames.” Of course, Hanssen and Ames may view things differently. But overall it is a good summary. The last third of the book considers intelligence in war, ways to spot upcoming failures, and where the threat is likely to originate.

The final chapter gives guidance to would-be whistle-blowers so that they know the risks and penalties. An appendix records an interview with Sandra Jenkins, the wife of an Australian diplomat in Washington accused of being too friendly with the CIA. The authors imply that it illustrates one of the book’s important (but not supported) points about intelligence: “There is nothing that an intelligence system pursues with more vigor than a cover-up” (263). Personal bitterness aside, Plunging Point gives an interesting picture of how at least some of our allies view the intelligence profession.

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Riaan Labuschagne. On South Africa’s Secret Service: An Undercover Agent’s Story. Alberton, South Africa: Galago Books, 2002. 304 pages, bibliography, photos, index.

Gordon Winter’s 1981 book Inside BOSS: South Africa’s Secret Police was an exposé by a South African journalist-agent recruited by the Bureau of State Security (BOSS) to spread “disinformation” about South Africa’s dissidents in the British press. The book was less than complimentary about BOSS’s methods and objectives. On South Africa’s Secret Service tells the story of the organizational successor to BOSS, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), from the point of view of one of its professional counterintelligence officers, Riaan Labuschagne—Labuschagne penetrates the opposition in covert action operations and traditional intelligence collection. The operational parameters of the NIS included assassination, counterintelligence operations, and traditional forms of espionage. Labuschagne gives many examples of each, although he was apparently confined to counterintelligence. Little different from its predecessor, the NIS was feared by the public for its harsh methods. There was little remorse when the NIS ceased to exist on 1 January 1995, replaced by the National Intelligence Agency of the new South African government.

On South Africa’s Secret Service is not documented and is written with reconstructed conversations whose accuracy can only be judged by the few references to well-known events. Whatever the degree of professional accuracy it possesses, it does support an old axiom: An intelligence service can influence, but not dominate or control, political events.

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L. Parker Temple III. Shades of Gray: National Security and the Evolution of Space Reconnaissance. Reston, VA: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc., 2005. 613 pages, end of chapter notes, index.

This book presents a detailed, well-documented, top-down look at America’s national space programs—including planning, management, and congressional politics—from 1947 to the present. There is much on the evolution of space policy and doctrine, the contributions of space scientists, and the bureaucratic battles for operational control, from the days of fixed-wing overflights of denied areas to the introduction of satellites. Lengthy discussions of the “complex interactions” of various early collection systems are limited, however, by the glaring omissions of more recent SIGINT and PHOTINT systems—CORONA is the only imagery system discussed. Although the author says at the outset that the civil space program is not a major topic, he discusses it at some length. For students of America’s history in space, there is much to be digested. But Shades of Gray is not easy reading, and it lacks a thematic coherence that limits its value.

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Nigel West. Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2005. 666 pages, bibliography, index.

Facing an overabundance of intelligence dictionaries and encyclopedias—at least 10 in the last two years, most of which have genuine reasons for modesty—the prospect of a new contribution to the genre is likely to encounter restrained enthusiasm. Happily, Nigel West avoids the pitfall of mediocrity with his Historical Dictionary. It is primarily about people, places, and organizations, not tradecraft, equipment, or weapons. While focused on the British intelligence services, there is much of interest to Americans, since many operations and cases overlap. For example, Philip Agee, the former CIA officer who wrote Inside the Company, which identifies serving Agency officers by name, earned an entry because of his “unwelcome activities in London” while writing the book. On the other hand, West states that in the Oleg Penkovskiy case, the CIA rejected Penkovskiy’s initial contacts “as rather crude provocations orchestrated by the KGB.” That this myth persists in the UK is as unfortunate as it is untrue and West’s own sources provide the proof.[10] Remarkably free from errors overall, the Historical Dictionary has a fine bibliography and begins with a witty essay about the eccentricities of British intelligence. When used along with SPYBOOK, whether by reader or researcher, the result is the best reference source on intelligence in English.[11]

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Stephan Budiansky. Her Majesty’s SpyMaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage. New York: Viking Penguin, 2005. 235 pages, endnotes, bibliography, photos, no index.

In 1925, Harvard historian Conyers Read published his epic three-volume biography of Sir Francis Walsingham, principle secretary to Queen Elizabeth I and the man in charge of intelligence during much of her reign. Although packed with documented details about the diplomatic, religious, economic, and espionage activities of this extraordinary man, now known as the father of British intelligence, it was not a bestseller. At $300.00, neither was the modern reprint. Mathematician and historian Stephen Budiansky encountered Walsingham during research for an earlier book on codes and decided to write the intelligence biography of Sir Francis in a more succinct form.[12] Her Majesty’s Spymaster is the result.

This splendid little book tells of Francis Walsingham, the Cambridge University student, who went on to study law in London and Italy before returning to England, where he was elected to Parliament in 1562, at age 36. In 1568, he began his life of secret work under Principle Secretary William Cecil; in 1570, he went to France, where he became the queen’s ambassador. Recalled from France in 1573 to replace Cecil as principle secretary, his life as spymaster began in earnest.

It was a time of religious wars—Protestant England challenged by Catholic France and Spain, with Elizabeth’s cousin, the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, just one of the plotters seeking the thrones of Scotland and England. Walsingham worked to foil these plots and in the process recruited networks of agents from all levels of society throughout Europe. To maintain secret control, he developed codes for communications in invisible ink, opened the mail without disturbing the seals, conducted surveillance of opposing agents, recruited double agents, and devised deceptions to learn the plans of the queen’s enemies. Perhaps his most famous counterintelligence operation occurred after Elizabeth had confined Mary Queen of Scots at Chartley manor house. Security was so tight that Mary could not contact her supporters, so Walsingham arranged with one of her guards to be her “clandestine” courier—hiding the letters in a beer keg—and, of course, delivering them to Walsingham before sending them on. One of these letters led to her execution. Walsingham’s agents also monitored military threats, Spain in particular, and reported accurately on the upcoming sorty of the Spanish Armada.

As Budiansky describes these events, it becomes clear that Walsingham developed many of the techniques of intelligence still in use, despite having no prior training in the craft. His skill was based on knowledge of the threat, common sense, and the ability to deal with people discreetly. Finances were always a problem because he served a stingy queen. Sir Francis died in debt in 1590. Budiansky makes his fascinating life good reading.

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Richard Zacks. The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805. New York: Hyperion, 2005. 431 pages, endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

In the 1700s, the Arab states of the Barbary Coast—Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli—seized European and, later, American ships, holding the crews in horrible conditions as slaves or hostages for ransom. Between 1785 and 1794, Algiers alone seized more than a dozen American ships. All rescue attempts failed and a six-figure ransom was paid before a peace treaty was signed. Then in 1801, Tripoli repudiated the treaty and declared war on the United States. The new US navy dispatched the frigate Philadelphia to blockade the port of Tripoli in 1803 and renegotiate the peace treaty. Unfortunately, the frigate ran aground in the harbor and was captured along with its crew of some 300 sailors. President Jefferson reacted by sending William Eaton—an eccentric, Arabic-speaking, former US consul in Tunis—on a covert rescue operation. The Pirate Coast tells the story of this extraordinary mission, the first covert action sponsored by the United States.

Eaton’s plan was to enlist the support of Arabs in Egypt (who wanted to overthrow the Tripoli government) and then march across the Libyan desert and force the release of the captives. Even before Eaton left the United States, the president withdrew financial support because he did not want to meddle in the affairs of another state. Notwithstanding this monumental disadvantage, Eaton went to Egypt, “borrowed” several marines from the US embassy there, secured funds from some British merchants, recruited an Arab force with promises he could not keep, and eventually rescued the hostages. The Marine Corps Hymn commemorates this victory on “the shores of Tripoli.” Eaton returned to claim his glory but made the mistake of publicly criticizing the president for withdrawing his support. Ostracized by the Jefferson government, he struggled to be reimbursed for his rescue mission. Although he married well and was elected to the Massachusetts legislature, his finances were again shaky after the Aaron Burr treason trial, where he testified against Burr and gambled heavily on a conviction, which never happened. In debt and drinking excessively, neither he nor his reputation recovered.

The Pirate Coast is a carefully documented, exciting, little-known story, which conveys at least two important lessons. The first is that dealing with the Arabs of the 19th century has much in common with contemporary events. The second is that covert actions, even when successful, are politically risky and not always career enhancing.

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Ann Blackman. Wild Rose: Rose O’Neale Greenhow, Civil War Spy. New York: Random House, 2005. 377 pages, endnotes, bibliography, appendices, photos, index.

Rose Greenhow’s direct effect on the Civil War has been a subject of historical controversy since the publication of her memoirs that one historian characterized as “egocentric, spiteful, [and] unreliable.”[13] A subsequent biography claimed her “espionage system was largely responsible for the Southern victory at Manassas.”[14] Author Edwin Fishel thought Greenhow’s reputation was “embellished for history” or “even fabricated by [her] admirers” (306).[15] Which view is correct? Wild Rose answers this question persuasively and in the process gives a thoroughly documented biography of this widowed mother and outspoken Washington socialite who owned slaves and spied for the Confederacy.

Greenhow’s potential as an agent followed from her social status and personal contacts in Congress and the cabinet, formed mainly when her friend, President Buchanan, was in the White House. Recruited by a Union officer soon to join the South, she was given a cipher and asked to report what she learned from her high-placed political and military contacts. And that is just what she did. In fact, she did it so vigorously that her neighbors became suspicious of the men coming and going at all hours and contacted the authorities. Detective Allan Pinkerton was assigned to investigate. Caught red-handed and placed under house arrest, she kept up her contact with the Confederacy until she was confined, with her daughter, in the Old Capitol Prison—where she had once lived when it was a boarding house.

Eventually paroled, Greenhow was sent to Richmond where Jefferson Davis praised her work and then dispatched her to Europe to promote the Confederacy. While there, she kept an encrypted diary. Blackman, in a neat bit of scholarship, tracked down a clear-text copy from which she presents much material for the first time, including the fact that Greenhow realized she had failed in her mission to Europe.

The final chapter of Wild Rose tells of Greenhow’s death while trying to run the Southern blockade in 1864. But the book does not end there. An appendix, “Assessing Rose’s Spycraft,” presents a good summary of that historically contentious subject. Wild Rose is not only a pleasure to read, it is a valuable contribution to the literature of Civil War intelligence.

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Christopher Ford and David Rosenberg. The Admiral’s Advantage: U.S. Navy Operational Intelligence in World War II and the Cold War. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2005. 219 pages, endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

The authors are both experienced intelligence officers in the Naval Reserve. Their book is based on results from seminars and interviews with senior naval intelligence officers. The objective was to assess lessons learned in the field of operational intelligence (OPINTEL), which they define as: “the art of providing near-real-time information concerning the location, activity and likely intentions of potential adversaries” (1). After assessing the demands of intelligence in the early Cold War environment that led to the worldwide Ocean Surveillance Information System (OSIS), the authors show how the all-source, near-real-time approach became an essential element of OPINTEL. They go on to argue that the Navy became proficient in this area sooner than the other services, because of mission necessity (47). While the importance of the mission is not in doubt, the contention that the Navy’s concept of all-source operational intelligence was in any sense pace setting is open to question. In any case, The Admiral’s Advantage tracks the evolution of OPINTEL as OSIS adapted to changing technology and new missions. At one point, the authors discuss the problems of “information overload” and the difficulties caused by the “ever larger blizzard of information ‘noise’” (134-5). By definition, of course, noise has no information content; the problem is one of too many potentially valid signals. Little has been published on the topic of naval OPINTEL and this book fills that gap admirably. While it is replete with acronyms (over 130) and turgid Pentagonese, its basic message comes through loud and clear: Intelligence is the admiral’s advantage.

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Sarah Helm. A Life in Secrets: The Story of Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE. London: Little Brown, 2005. 463 pages, sources essay, bibliography, index.

Fritz Rosenberg and Karen Atkins were married and had three children. The only daughter, Vera, was born in Romania in 1908. She eventually took her mother’s surname to avoid the problems of being Jewish in Europe. The family moved to England in the 1930s but Atkins had not become a citizen by the start of World War II. Nevertheless, and contrary to regulations, she was recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Britain’s sabotage and resistance-support organization. She quickly became the very influential special assistant to the head of the French branch, F Section, with particular responsibilities for selecting and training personnel. She was commissioned before the war ended.

SOE sent more than 400 agents and officers to work with French resistance behind enemy lines. Atkins prepared many of them for their missions. Over 100 were reported “missing, believed dead.” After the war, Atkins wanted to know what happened to them. There were few records in England, so, on her own initiative, she went to Europe and interviewed everyone who might know something, especially about the 12 women she knew personally. In Germany, she interviewed former Gestapo officers—including Rudolf Hess, onetime commandant of Auschwitz—visited Natzweiler, Dachau, and Ravensbruck concentration camps, and slowly pieced together the final days of her agents. In the process, she discovered that many had been captured due to careless errors, as, for example, failure to recognize an agent’s secret code indicating he/ she was under enemy control and continuing to communicate as if everything were normal.

Author Sarah Helm interviewed Vera Atkins once, but learned little about her SOE service. After her death, with the help of former SOE officers and Atkins’s relatives, Helm slowly pieced together much of Atkins’s life. By retracing her trips to Europe and interviewing survivors that Atkins had met earlier, Helm learned how the missing agents were tracked down and accounted for. Vera Atkins never married; her one love was killed during the war.  Before her death in June 2000, she spent much of her time supporting the Special Forces Club. A Life in Secrets tells a fascinating tale about an exceptional woman.

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Tessa Stirling, Daria Natęcz, and Tadeusz Dubicki, eds. Intelligence Co-Operation Between Poland and Great Britain During World War II: The Report of the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee, Volume 1. Portland, OR: Vallentine Mitchell, 2005. 586 pages, end of chapter notes, photos, index.

Appendix 30 of the multi-volume history of British Intelligence in the Second World War corrects significant errors found in the first volume that understated the magnitude of the Polish contribution to the breaking of the Enigma encryption system.[16] But for the Poles, the problem was only partially corrected. Polish historians knew that Poland’s wartime intelligence services made weighty contributions to the allied war effort in other ways that had never been acknowledged due to restrictions on research imposed by the Cold War communist government.

After the collapse of communism, efforts began to correct that part of history, too. In 1999, the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee was formed to examine all available records of World War II Polish intelligence operations. For its part, Britain, in an unprecedented move, agreed to conduct research in the “closed archives of British Intelligence agencies” (xx). The Polish scholars undertook research in all open source archives, including those in the United States. This six-part, 59-chapter book contains the results of those investigations. Part I deals with the “structure and operations of the intelligence of the Polish High Command.” Parts II and III are concerned with the British intelligence services and cooperation with the Polish services. Part IV describes Polish operations in the field in 19 different countries, including the Soviet Union. Part V recounts the intelligence role of the Polish home army, and Part VI summarizes the “principal achievements of Polish intelligence.”

Foreign Office historian Gill Bennett is the major British contributor to this volume. In her summary of the Anglo-Polish wartime relationship, she describes both the difficulties and the successes resulting from the collaboration. She leaves no doubt that the Polish contribution was a positive one whose recognition was long overdue. This book is a major contribution to intelligence history.

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Erasmus H. Kloman. Assignment Algiers: With the OSS in the Mediterranean Theater. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2005. 126 pages, endnotes, bibliography, appendix, photos, index.

After early graduation from Princeton, Erasmus Kloman went through artillery training and then was selected for OSS in November 1943. After more training at “Area F” (the Congressional Country Club in Washington), he departed for the Mediterranean theater of operations, where he expected to be assigned to the Yugoslav desk in Algiers. As things worked out, despite the book’s title, Kloman spent barely four months in Algiers, where he was on the OSS operations staff. In September 1944, he was assigned to a similar position in Caserta, Italy, where he spent the rest of the war. Two chapters are devoted to his activities there. Kloman’s narrative is something more than a first-hand account of OSS operations from a staff officer’s perspective. While he does tell of the OSS role supporting the French partisans before and during the invasion of southern France and, similarly, the Italian resistance in northern Italy, he also includes the day-to-day difficulties encountered with the often uncooperative British and the persistent confusion within OSS itself—both of which limited the impact OSS had on the war. One well-publicized example, with which Kloman had peripheral contact, was Operation Sunrise, run by Allen Dulles out of OSS/Berne. The objective was to end the war in Italy early in 1945, but bureaucratic hassle delayed the achievement until just a few days before V-E Day in May.

In his perceptive epilogue, Kloman looks back on his wartime OSS service and the influence of the organization on postwar intelligence. He comments on Donovan’s attempt to form a civilian postwar intelligence agency and the negative public reaction to the idea, which he attributes to leaks from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Kloman is incorrect on this point, as Thomas F. Troy has documented; the leaks came from the White House.[17] Perhaps the most valuable element of the OSS legacy, he suggests, was the cadre of experienced intelligence officers that eventually formed the CIA. Kloman himself joined the Agency before transferring to the State Department in 1949. His memoir makes clear that his OSS experience was an important influence on his life and on American intelligence.

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Steven T. Usdin. Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005. 329 pages, endnotes, photos, index.

In February 1950, when the NKGB learned that atomic physicist Klaus Fuchs had confessed to MI5 that he had spied for the Soviets at Los Alamos during World War II, they correctly assumed that Fuchs would identify his courier, Harry Gold, to the FBI. Since Gold had also been a courier for David Greenglass, one of Julius Rosenberg’s agents, the entire network was told to stand down and flee. Only two made it. Joel Barr was in Paris at the time and went first to Czechoslovakia and then to Moscow. Alfred Sarant waited until he was interrogated by the FBI and then managed to escape, leaving his wife and two children behind. Engineering Communism tells the story of Rosenberg’s recruitment of Barr and Sarant; their wartime espionage; their lives in the Soviet Union, where they helped create a scientific laboratory complex called Zelenograd; and what happened to them after the Cold War. Curiously, the State Department never revoked their citizenship and Barr eventually got an American passport, applied for supplementary social security, and voted for Jerry Brown for president! Author Steven Usdin met Barr, then called Joel Berg, at a technology conference in Moscow in 1990. Although initially unaware of his true identity, he struck up a friendship with Barr and this book is the result. It is well written and well documented and probably puts full-stop to the Rosenberg network story.[18]

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Roland Perry. Last of the Cold War Spies: The Life of Michael Straight, The Only American in Britain’s Cambridge Spy Ring. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2005. 395 pages, endnotes, photos, index.

In his 1983 memoir, After Long Silence, the late Michael Straight tells of becoming a communist and a Soviet agent while he was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, in the late 1930s. Anthony Blunt, one of the so-called Cambridge Five, told him to return to America and spy from Wall Street; he chose the State Department instead. According to Straight, his spying enthusiasm died early in the war when he stopped all contact with his NKGB handler. At that time, he could not bring himself to turn in his Cambridge colleagues (Blunt, Burgess, and Maclean); he managed that only in 1963—hence the “long silence.”

Author Roland Perry challenges Straight’s version of events. Straight, he asserts, was a Soviet agent while working as an unpaid intern at the State Department, and as editor of The New Republic. Wherever he went, he “was on a KGB assignment” (x). There are genuine reasons to doubt the Perry account, however. First, he presents only speculation about Straight’s continuing espionage. Does he really expect anyone to believe, without providing any documentation, that at one point Straight reported to Mao (238)? Second, Perry gets too many documented facts wrong. For example, he credits Donald Maclean as the first to give British atomic research plans to the Soviets, and he calls Victor Rothschild the fifth man of the Cambridge ring—in both cases, the honor belongs to John Cairncross. In another astonishing example, Perry wrote that Straight “made some lasting friendships, one of which was with Hayden Peake, whom he continued to meet twice a year in Washington.” My one meeting with Straight, which occurred on an airplane, was the subject of an article in Studies in Intelligence.[19] Finally, although Perry correctly recounts Straight’s public life as a writer, arts patron, and editor, he provides little new and no hard evidence that Straight was a continuing “agent of influence, and agent provocateur for the KGB . . .” or that “Stalin and the Communist cause held him for life” (352, 355). Whatever Straight’s reality, Perry’s has been distorted by poor research and analysis, which has led to assertions not proved.

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Curtis Peebles. Twilight Warriors: Covert Air Operations Against the USSR. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2005. 330 pages, endnotes, bibliography, index.

Despite the subtitle, this book is really a summary of US covert action operations since World War II. It reviews how the CIA got into the business, discusses the KGB deception operations in Poland, and covers the joint attempts by the CIA and MI6 to penetrate the Baltic states, Russia, and Albania, but it has little on overflights of the Soviet Union. Next come the covert operations during the Korean War, the advent of the CIA Civil Air Transport proprietary, and the failed attempts to penetrate mainland China. There is even an interesting chapter on the CIA’s Domestic Contact Division and how its resources were used to collect against the Soviet Union. A chapter on CIA support to the Tibetan resistance, which contains nothing new, is followed by a discussion of how the CIA cooperated in the filming of the James Bond movie Thunderball. This includes an obliquely related but interesting description of a navy operation to visit an abandoned Soviet weather station above the Arctic Circle. The team parachuted into the station and was extracted by a “hook pick-up” of the kind used in Thunderball. Several chapters address Air America in Southeast Asia and the failed attempts to penetrate North Vietnam.

The final chapter summarizes the book and concludes that the attempts to penetrate Soviet-controlled territory failed for complex reasons; however, the author gives far too much credit to the efforts of the “double agents” [sic] Philby, Maclean, and Burgess. Twilight Warriors presents an interesting but less than comprehensive review of the field, based mainly on secondary sources.

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John H. Richardson. My Father, The Spy: An Investigative Memoir. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. 314 pages, endnotes, photos, no index.

William Hood’s 1981 book, Mole, told the story of the CIA’s first recruitment of a Soviet intelligence officer, GRU Capt. Peter Popov. Hood was required to use pseudonyms for Agency personnel working on the case in Vienna. This restriction was relaxed in later editions of the book that revealed the true names of some of the officers, but not the station chief. His turn came many years later while serving in Saigon, when reporter Richard Starnes wrote in the Washington Daily News that John H. Richardson was the CIA’s head man in Vietnam. At the time, the disclosure was not a crime and Starnes’s source was never publicly identified. But the story told of conflicts between Richardson and Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and the combination of circumstances that led to Richardson’s recall and the beginning of the end of his long career.

In My Father, The Spy, Richardson’s son tells the story of that career intertwined with the family tribulations that accompanied it. The former is more interesting. The father was born in Burma, grew up in California, and was educated at Cal Berkeley, the Sorbonne, and the University of Chicago. Initially rejected as an army enlistee, he was later drafted, assigned to military intelligence, and sent to Africa, Italy, and Austria. He liked intelligence work and at war’s end accepted an offer to join the Strategic Services Unit, the clandestine follow-on to the OSS. From there it was an easy transition to the CIA. Before he had ever been to Headquarters, he was chief in Vienna. Subsequently, he held similar positions in Greece, the Philippines, and Saigon. Several chapters of the book are devoted to his troubling, politically convoluted, tour in South Vietnam. After being recalled, Richardson headed CIA training, and then served as chief in Korea before retiring to Mexico.

Richardson, the son, adds much—too much—detail about their family life, telling the reader more than needs be said about his own hippy, LSD lifestyle, which contributed to periodic estrangement from his father. The final chapters recount a gradual reconciliation as his father dies from congestive heart failure, although the focus on his bodily functions is excessive. Richardson, the father, adhered rigidly to his vows of secrecy and did not tell his son much about what he did, so the book’s account is spotty. The sources for the book are a few of the father’s papers, some letters, declassified CIA reports, and interviews with former colleagues. Still, we do learn the attributes of a good clandestine services intelligence officer and, family difficulties aside, they have changed little since those days in Vienna.

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[1]Crumpton currently serves as Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department.

[2] Carol Dumaine is chief of the Global Futures Partnership of the Sherman Kent School of Intelligence Analysis in Washington, DC. Prof. Luigi Sergio Germani directs the Gino Germani Center for Comparative Studies of Modernization and Development in Rome, and is academic director of the Link Campus University of Malta Master of Arts Program in Intelligence and Security Studies, also in Rome.

[3] See also Rob Johnston, “Reducing Analytic Error: Integrating Methodologists into Teams of Substantive Experts,” Studies in Intelligence 47, no. 1 (2003).

[4] Final Report of the Select Committee To Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities, Book IV, “Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Foreign and Military Intelligence” (Washington, DC: GPO, 1976), Senate, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, Reports No. 94-755.

[5] Russ Travers, “The Coming Intelligence Failure,” Studies in Intelligence, Semiannual Unclassified Edi­tion, no. 1 (1997).

[6] See review above.

[7] Richards J. Heuer Jr., Psychology of Intelligence Analysis (Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1999).

[8] For example, Georgie Anne Geyer notes in passing that “Raul . . . was named Fidel’s successor.” See her book Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro (Boston: Little Brown, 1991), 390. See also, Tad Szulc, Fidel: A Critical Portrait (London: Hutchinson, 1986), 7, 30, 532.

[9] Sir Edward Creasy MA, The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: From Marathon to Waterloo (London: Richard Bentley, 1861), 1.

[10] See, for example, the fine study of the Penkovsky case: Jerrold Schecter and Peter Deriabin, The Spy Who Saved the World (New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1992).

[11] Norman Polmar and Thomas Allen, SPY BOOK: The Encyclopedia of Espionage (New York: Random House, 2004).

[12] Stephen Budiansky, Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II (New York: The Free Press, 2000).

[13] Rose O’Neale Greenhow, My Imprisonment and the First year of Abolition Rule at Washington (London: Richard Bentley, 1863). Quote from George S. Bryan, The Spy in America (Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1943), 180.

[14] Ishbel Ross, Rebel Rose: Life of Rose O’Neale Greenhow, Confederate Spy (New York: Harper Brothers, 1954).

[15] Author’s conversation with Edwin Fishel. See also Fishel’s Secret War For the Union: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence in the Civil War (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1996).

[16] F. H. Hinsley, et al., British Intelligence in the Second World War, Vol. 3, Part 2 (London: HMSO, 1988), 945 ff.

[17] Thomas F. Troy, Donovan and the CIA: A History of the Establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1980).

[18] See Steven Usdin, “Famous Espionage Cases: Tracking Julius Rosenberg’s Lesser Known Associates,” Studies in Intelligence 49, no. 3 (2005), which covers the key points of the Barr/Sarant story.

[19] Hayden B. Peake. “The Apostle in Seat 4F,” Studies in Intelligence, Winter (1984).


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


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Historical Document
Posted: Apr 15, 2007 09:38 AM
Last Updated: Jun 26, 2008 11:55 AM