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Operation Rollback: America's Secret War Behind the Iron Curtain Hardcover – May 4, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

The early years of the cold war were marked by America's so-called containment strategy, which meant, in short, keeping Communism penned within its existing borders. Former New York Times reporter Peter Grose, however, suggests that this was merely window-dressing. In Operation Rollback, he writes:
Even as containment was being scorned as appeasement and timidity in the first months of 1948, a high-level staff within the State Department was devising a remarkable initiative to confront communism aggressively through clandestine action. The secret program would start with innocuous propaganda and persuasion, then proceed directly into sabotage, subversion, and paramilitary engagement.
This book is a history of that effort, kept under wraps until recently, says Grose, because both sides had a motive to avoid the publicity: the Soviets didn't want to acknowledge resistance movements inside their client states, and the Americans refused to admit their failure. Grose writes that the rollback was never revealed to Congress and that public monies didn't even pay for it; funding came from a secret account maintained by the Treasury Department and linked to Marshall Plan repayments. Operation Rollback is a groundbreaking work of cold-war history, and an engaging one to read. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

As WWII came to a close, the Soviet Union and the United StatesDuneasy allies in the agonizing struggle to defeat HitlerDbegan maneuvering their intelligence agencies against one another into what would eventually become the dangerously polarized Cold War. Grose (Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles, 1994) is a former New York Times foreign correspondent, the former executive editor of Foreign Affairs and now a Kennedy School of Government fellow at Harvard. He tells a fascinating and well-documented tale of intrigue and double-dealing during this heady period of covert policy making and secret actions. He reveals that it was none other than legendary Sovietologist George Kennan who helped orchestrate American strategy, advocating containment of the Soviet Union with one hand, and secretly working against his own official policy with the otherDculminating in a secret plot to throw the Communists out of Eastern Europe. Kennan's plan, Operation Rollback, aimed to subvert the Soviet empire by stirring up resistance in its satellite countries. Grose, using newly declassified material from both the U.S. and former U.S.S.R., takes us through the intricate machinations of Rollback and its architects, presenting a hitherto untold tale of a project that was kept secret even from the CIA, and includes enough revelations throughout to sustain the tension. He writes, for example, that Rollback's planners circumvented Congress entirely and funded the operation with unaudited U.S. Treasury and Marshall Plan dollars, and that Soviet authorities were tipped off about the operation by such spies as the British Kim Philby. Students of American politics will be surprised to learn that a prominent figure from 1960s' antiwar activism, William Sloan Coffin, trained undercover saboteurs for Rollback missions. Thorough, thought-provoking and entertaining, this is a work that casts considerable light on a topic that has long lingered in the shadows. Photos not seen by PW. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (May 4, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395516064
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395516065
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,965,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In early 1946, Averill Harriman became personna non grata with Stalin and left Moscow as ambassador to the Soviet Union. His temporary replacement was George Kennan who soon sent the famous "long telegram" that espoused a foreign policy of attempting to overthrow communist regimes. This policy was soon printed in public by Kennan after he temporarily left the State Department as Mr. X.
Based on this argument, the Truman administration took up a dual position of "containment of communism" in public and a private approach of using propaganda, secret operations, and establishing spies behind the Iron Curtain. All of this private approach was unknown to Congress and to the American public. As Truman was publicly lambasted by those who wanted to overthrow communism for the policy of containment, these pro-overthrow policies were already in active implementation. In this book the hitherto unpublished full story of those operations is revealed.
Primarily funded from the Marshall Plan, these operations included some successes. For example, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty transmitted into communist countries and helped establish an alternative to communist propaganda. Both were secretly subsidized by the U.S.
But for the most part, the operations were unsuccessful. A very large percentage of the agents introduced behind the Iron Curtain were quickly rounded up, and many were executed. The reasons seem to be twofold: Kim Philby (the British spy for the Soviets) was aware of the details of many of these operations and passed the information along to his Soviet masters, and the Americans had waited too long to get started.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth S. Smith on July 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In January 1946, George F. Kennon, a career diplomat trained in Soviet Affairs, became the ambassador to the U.S.S.R. when Averell Harriman returned to the United States. Kennon wrote many dispatches about the turmoil within the Soviet Union, but they were largely ignored. When asked to write an "Interpretive Analysis" of Soviet statements regarding international institutions, Kennon let loose with both barrels. This paper became the basis for future American policies towards the Soviet Union.
This is a fine account of the people and early (if inept) efforts by the U.S. to subvert the Soviet control of Eastern Europe just after WWII. The book traces the political background and the maneuvering of the World Powers and is instructive as to the current environments in Albania, Hungary, Romania, Poland, and the emerging Balkan States.
The early efforts of the OPC (Office of Policy Coordination), that were mostly thwarted by the infamous spy Kim Philby (British Liaison Officer), are covered in some depth. The OPC was later absorbed by the CIA. Also discussed are the secret ways the OPC was financed and its existence kept hidden from the American public. I had never heard of the OPC, but these guys were responsible for covert operations. They tried to stir up trouble within the Soviet sphere of influence, including the Soviet Union itself. They trained operators recruited from Eastern European Refugees, arranged and carried out parachute drops of agents behind the Iron Curtain, smuggled weapons, and dispersed money to agents and sympathizers. They also carried out propaganda campaigns and started Radio Free Europe.
It is interesting that the Soviets had so penetrated the political parties and intelligence agencies of the U.S.
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23 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Mark R. Whittington VINE VOICE on May 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
While this book is a fascinating account of early attempt to combat the Soviet Empire, the narrative is somewhat spoiled by the author's obvious political bias. The author gives the impression that he doesn't think Soviet tyranny was worthy of much concern and that people who were concerned about it were ill-advised. President Truman's anti-communism is at one point called "petulence." Even so the book is an invaluable piece of history about a little known subject. One of the most fascinating revelations is the fact that one of the figures of the radical sixties, one Reverand William Sloan Coffin, was a participant in Operation Rollback.

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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By on January 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
If you enjoy spy thrillers, cloak and dagger novels, and James Bond movies, you will want to read this true life account of early American espionage efforts in post-war Europe and the Soviet Union. .....>This account, drawn from now declassified source material, makes for a fascinating read. Author Peter Grose expertly weaves together detailed information in a riveting style that will keep you turning the pages.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Walters on December 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Grose's effort is sharp and to the point. On the one hand it is not really surprising: Who really believed that the Bay of Pigs was America's only rollback attempt?! On the other hand, this book was downright shocking, revealing that Rollback's chief architect was none other than Mr. Spyphobia himself, George F. Kennan. The great diplomat obviously packed two lines of sharply-contradictory reasoning.
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