Intelligence in Recent Public Literature
Robert Wallace and H.
Keith Melton, with Robert Schlesinger. New York: Dutton, 2008. 568 pages, with
endnotes, bibliography, appendices, photos, glossary, and index. Foreword by
George J. Tenet.
Reviewed by Hayden Peake
On 11 July 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated William J.
Donovan as Coordinator of Information, with “authority to collect and analyze
all information and data [on a worldwide basis] that may bear on national
security.” To accomplish the mission, the COI was authorized to “employ
necessary personnel…and [provide] services” for what became the first US
government organization with a worldwide intelligence mission.[i] Donovan quickly created the Research and
Analysis Branch and began passing reports to the president. Intelligence
collection and sabotage elements soon followed, but Pearl Harbor postponed the
formation of a research and development capability. Planning for it began in
the spring of 1942, and the R&D unit became official on 17 October. By that
time, COI had become OSS.[ii] SPYCRAFT explains why
an R&D capability was needed, how it was formed, what it accomplished, and
how it evolved into the CIA’s Office of Technical Services (OTS).
After a short
discussion of R&D support operations during WW II, SPYCRAFT
describes the bureaucratically bumpy early Cold War years, as CIA leaders
worked to adapt their wartime intelligence experience to establishing and
running the nation’s first professional peacetime espionage organization. It
was uncharted territory, and the Agency struggled to accomplish its primary
mission—determining the nature and magnitude of the Soviet threat—while hiring
new people, creating a new organization, and developing the techniques and
equipment required for clandestine operations. To add to the level of
difficulty, it soon became clear that CIA’s main adversary, the KGB, had far
more experienced officers and better equipment.[iii]
SPYCRAFT tells how this imbalance was
overcome. The principal authors —both experienced in the field of clandestine
—focus on the R&D Branch, which became the Operational Aids Division, and
then, under Allen Dulles, the Technical Services Staff (TSS) and the Technical
Services Division (TSD). They avoid sterile discussion of wiring diagrams and
budgets, however, by keeping the narrative operationally oriented with short
case studies. For example, the problems of early post-war deficiencies in
equipment are illustrated by a chapter on Soviet Army Colonel Oleg Penkovskiy,
the GRU walk-in who supplied missile data critical to the success of US
management of the Cuban missile crisis. Had the cameras available to him had
greater capacity and the radios he used faster transmission rates, the need for
many face-to-face meetings would have been reduced and Penkovskiy’s arrest
avoided or delayed.
SPYCRAFT points out how technical
limitations in the Penkovskiy case were overcome thanks to some very
innovative, frequently unorthodox, officers who often gave management migraines
and thanks to the transistor, which led to miniaturization and the digital era.
These new technologies reduced the difficulty of handling agents behind the
Iron Curtain, especially in Moscow. Two cases make this point in SPYCRAFT.
The first is that of a Soviet agent codenamed TRIGON, who was recruited in
Latin America. To permit contacts after he returned to Moscow, a plan based on
dead drops was developed. SPYCRAFT tells how TRIGON used a special
document copying camera, the T-100, which was a major improvement over the
Minox, to record his secrets and relay them to his Moscow handler, CIA officer
Martha Peterson. The case ended with Peterson’s arrest as she filled a dead
drop with material for TRIGON—he had been betrayed by a Czech penetration of
the CIA. Photos of Peterson undergoing KGB interrogation and the hollow rock
concealment device she used are among the more than 200 illustrations contained
in the book.
The second example of this type of technical support began in January
1977, by which time TSD had become OTS. A few months before the TRIGON case
ended, Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer working on Soviet stealth technology
projects, made repeated and ultimately successful attempts to convince the
Moscow station and Agency that he was a genuine walk-in, not a KGB provocation.
Between then and 1985, OTS provided Tolkachev with special high-quality and
high-capacity miniature cameras, false documentation, a short-range agent
communication (SRAC) device, and other support that allowed him to become a
very valuable agent with minimum risk. His arrest in May 1985 and subsequent
execution was not due to tradecraft errors, inadequate equipment or superior
KGB surveillance—he was betrayed by former CIA officers Edward Howard and
SPYCRAFT also mentions OTS operations that
didn’t involve foreign agents. CKTAW, for example, referred to a special device
attached to an underground communication cable in the Moscow area that recorded
transmissions between the Krasnaya Pakhra Nuclear Research Institute and the
Ministry of Defense. Other special hardware tasks described include the
development of a quiet helicopter, hard-to-detect audio surveillance and
concealment devices, the development of long-life batteries—a development that
contributed to making pacemakers practical—silent drills, and Acoustic Kitty, a
novel but unsuccessful attempt to implant a clandestine listening device in a
As OTS grew to
meet the demands of operators in the field, so did the breadth of expertise in
the service. SPYCRAFT discusses these areas too: the making of disguises
and the forensic documentation laboratory for the detection of forgeries and
fabrications and creation of documentation for foreign operations. Also
mentioned are the devices developed to monitor activity along the Ho Chi Minh
trail in Cambodia and Vietnam.
Many of the OTS scientists and engineers are given pseudonyms in SPYCRAFT,
though the operations they reveal actually took place. Three who are identified
in true name demonstrate the risks one accepts in the supporting clandestine
service operations in a hostile country. The three were sent to Cuba in 1960
under nonofficial cover, using tourist passports, to install listening devices
in an embassy in Havana before it was occupied. They were betrayed and spent
more than three years in a Cuban jail without admitting their CIA employment.
Terrorism was a problem for the CIA by the late 1970s. SPYCRAFT
has a chapter on OTS’s roles in several counterterrorism operations, including
the identification of the terrorists who blew up Pan Am Flight 103, the
tracking of an al-Qa’ida forger-terrorist, and support to CIA teams in Afghanistan
in 2001. In each case new methods and techniques were developed to solve the
chapters in SPYCRAFT are something of a primer on human and technical
intelligence. They cover the fundamentals of clandestine tradecraft—agent
recruitment, handling, and security—and OTS operations in the era of the
Internet. They also discuss special imagery collection devices, for example,
the Insectohopter, a clever but ultimately unsuccessful device modeled on a
dragonfly. Another technique explained is the use of steganography to hide
intelligence in digital images. The case of Cuban agent and onetime DIA
intelligence analyst, Ana Montes, is used to illustrate the mix of techniques
and equipment—cell phones, digital disks, laptops, steganography, and one-time
pads—involved in modern operations.
As with all
writings by CIA employees, SPYCRAFT was submitted to the CIA
Publications Review Board (PRB) to make sure no classified material was
included. The authors of SPYCRAFT have impishly included in encrypted
form, using a one-time pad, the required statement that the PRB reviewed the
publication. (xxv) Instructions for deciphering the statement are in an
appendix. The clear text is also included, in the endnotes.
foreword, former DCI George Tenet, writes that books about “the CIA’s
operations…often obscure…the technological origins of the gadgets [and] the
people who make them.” SPYCRAFT fills that gap. Well documented and
thoroughly illustrated, it is a long overdue tribute to an unsung group of
“techies” and all who support them in achieving amazing technical breakthroughs
under difficult conditions.
[i]White House memorandum, 11 July, 1941, Designating
a Coordinator of Information, as reproduced in Thomas F. Troy, Donovan
and the CIA: A History of the Establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency
(Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, Inc., 1981), 423.
[ii]Ibid, 39; M.R.D. Foot, SOE in France
(London: Franc Cass, 2003), 31; Thomas F. Troy, Wild Bill and Intrepid:
Donovan, Stephenson, and the Origin of the CIA (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1996), 45ff.
[iii]Among the sources for these data were GRU agent
Peter Popov and KGB defector Peter Deriabin. For details see William Hood, MOLE
(Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 1973), and Peter Deriabin with Frank Gibney, The
Secret World (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1959.
[iv]Robert Wallace is a former director of CIA’s Office
of Technical Service. H. Keith Melton is an author of intelligence books and
collector of intelligence hardware and artifacts. Henry R. Schlesinger writes
about intelligence technologies for Popular Science Magazine.
[v]See Barry G. Royden, “An Exceptional Espionage
Operation: Tolkachev, A Worthy Successor to Penkovsky,” Studies in
Intelligence 47, No. 3 (2003).