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Spies in the Vatican: Espionage and Intrigue from Napoleon to the Holocaust (Modern War Studies) Hardcover – November 4, 2002


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Spies in the Vatican: Espionage and Intrigue from Napoleon to the Holocaust (Modern War Studies) + The Pope's Soldiers: A Military History of the Modern Vatican (Modern War Studies)
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern War Studies
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas (November 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700612149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700612147
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 6.9 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #691,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A professor of politics at St. Mary's College of California and author of a study of WWII-era codes, Alvarez emphasizes diplomatic relations throughout much of this carefully considered blend of Vatican and intelligence history, though he does detail the careers of several spies and works in some cryptology. The opening chapter details the Vatican's cooperation with European monarchies against burgeoning revolutionary movements, as well as depicting the Italian police commissioner who spied on the pope for the Italian crown. The creation of an intelligence department in the Vatican by Umberto Benigni takes Alvarez to the beginnings of WWI, which found the nation courting Italy through the Vatican (Italy joined the Allies in mid-1915); the German spy Valente cuts a noteworthy figure here. After WWI, the Vatican covertly supported the Russian Orthodox Church against the newly founded Soviet Union. The Vatican's relations with Fascist Italy under Mussolini included the pope's support of anti-Nazi German resistance activities; Alvarez also recounts the activities of German agent Father Michael in staid tones. The best WWII story concerns Alexander Kurtna, a convert from the Russian Orthodox Church who studied at the Vatican and became a Soviet spy in 1940. As a double agent working for the Germans, Kurtna was arrested by the Italians, who thought he was only a Soviet agent, in 1942. Freed by the Germans in 1943, he worked for the Soviets while posing as a German agent in 1944, was arrested by the Italian government now allied with the Allies, released and ended up in a Soviet labor camp. The book's last section proposes that Allied governments knew of the Holocaust earlier than the Vatican did, a stance counter to most recent scholarship. While the title and subtitle indicate "trade book," most of the discussion builds on a footnoted case; casual readers will have to pick through to the few thrills.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This well-documented study covers two centuries of espionage in the Vatican, including the Catholic Church's supposedly far-reaching intelligence network. Alvarez counters the popular perception of a powerful secret organization by arguing that the Church has little staff, expertise, funds, equipment, or even desire to participate actively in the secret world. The 19th century saw what was perhaps the Church's most active intelligence efforts, as it was beset by deadly political turmoil, threats against the Popes, and the elimination of the Papal States. In fact, most of the espionage activity seems to have involved other governments trying to ferret out what international policies the Popes would follow, but the Church's small, tight, close-mouthed bureaucracy has been its best defense. Naturally, the Vatican's controversial actions during World War II have garnered the most public interest, a period Alvarez covered in Nothing Sacred: Nazi Espionage Against the Vatican, 1939-1945. The author concludes that the Vatican recognizes its limitations and depends on the kindness of others for information and protection. This reviewer hopes for a similar volume on the postwar years. Suitable for the espionage collections of all libraries. (Index not seen.)-Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Zabiega on February 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Though a book on espionage and the Vatican from the mid 19th century to the end of WWII, its first chapters are rather awkward and biased by the religious views of the author, the later chapters on the 1920's through the 1940's are truly brilliant. In an exciting but well researched manner, Alvarez shows that the biggest problem in Vatican relations with others was that the major powers completely misunderstood the Vatican, and the Vatican completely misunderstood its intelligence capabilities (e.g. only one of several Vatican codes was ever broken, despite the fact that everyone from the Nazis to the Americans was trying to break them, but the Vatican had the false belief that they had already been broken). This book, simply through facts, exonerates Pope Pius XII, who did everything possible to fight Nazi Germany, including personally warning the Belgians and French about the impending invasion of their countries by Germany, giving them the exact dates of the invasion as given to him by the anti-Nazi German opposition, and simply shunning any Germans in Rome who had any pro-Nazi leanings. It also shows, like few other books, that Nazi Germany considered Catholics and the Vatican as their second major enemy after the Jews, and while they could not start a Catholic Holocaust because of the millions of Catholics conscripted into the German Army, the Nazi leaders, and especially the SD chief, the architect of the Holocaust, Heydrich, was determine to destroy Catholicism as soon as Germany won the war. And Alvarez isn't even trying to be pro-Vatican or pro-Catholic, but his research brings out objective facts that show the complex world of the Vatican, but one where a concern for the good of others permeated through its walls, something other countries, whether in the Axis or the Allies, could scarcely understand, and still to this day don't understand.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ann Lackey on December 7, 2010
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I read this book to further develop my understanding of the Vatican's inner workings from 1870 through WWII, so my writing and its premise reflect the true historical context. This is a necessary resource in achieving such a purpose.

Don't be put off by the slowness of your initial read in the first chapter. Alvarez provides solid background for understanding the Vatican during this time frame. His assessment of why the Vatican succeeded or failed in areas of communication and intelligence are well substantiated by his presentation of facts. He does a nice job of demonstrating the different countries attempts at infiltrating the Vatican. I did not expect this book to be one of amusement. Those moments proved to be a pleasant surprise.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 6, 2003
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Professor Alvarez has done his homework, although I do believe his presentation on how the Vatican has conducted its intelligence does not actually reflect the sometime morbid tone Vatican efforts sometimes undertook. I believe Profesor Alvarez could have been more helpful with the issue of the Croatians and the Vatican as to the terrible treatment of members of the Jewish faith there is concerned in WW II, and the terrible conduct that some clergy exhibited in Croatia. The Professor would have been well advised to look more into the role of members of the Sovereign Military Order of St. John Hospitaller, as some of its membership in WWII was of deep significance and use to the Vatican's overall intelligence attempts to understand and combat Facism and Nazism.
Alvarez has done yeoman work in sifting through mountains of material, and I congratulate his effort. For all interested in understanding how wrong Stalin was when he asked "How many legions has the Pope?", read Spies in the Vaticam. One may be surprised.
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This is quite an extraordinary work. It seeks to correct the impression, held by Allen Dulles, many world leaders, and myself, that the Vatican, as with other select religious organizations like B'Nai Brith, is a world-class intelligence network.
Although the book spends as much time discussing efforts by the Italians, Germans, and others to penetrate the Vatican, as it does discussing the Vatican's mixed and often non-existent intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities, on balance this is an extremely good personal effort, based on some unique documents and research, and it can be regarded as a cornerstone for any future research into Vatican intelligence.
The book suggested to me three "big" ideas that need to be considered by every national intelligence service:
1) Structure and capabilties are needed to study religious intelligence and counterintelligence. Renegade mid-level drop-outs from the specified religious order should be identified and leveraged as required. Taking the Muslim brotherhood as an example (see Robert Baer's new book, SLEEPING WITH THE DEVIL), it is absolutely unforgivable and unprofessional of both the US Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency to have been prevented from studying the fundementalist and extremist religious movements in Arabia from the 1970's forward. Bottom line: we need to have relgious "orders of battle" and a clear understanding of what this important international player has in the way of capabilities and perceptions.
2) Secure communications make a very important contribution to candor and accuracy.
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