18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 1997
It has been some time since I read this book which I found completely by chance in a used book store. Having an interest in the subject, I purchased it and subsequently found it to be full of information about the intelligence community and what the agents do when they leave the FBI, CIA, NSA (you fill in the blank) etc. In one paragraph on Prince Barnhard of the Netherlands, the author provides more background and insight into the powerful structures that govern the world than could be found in years of reading Time magazine. If you see this book, buy read it and do not lend it to anyone.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 1998
I, like the previous reviewer, found this book quite by accident, but it had only recently been published as a paperback. I loaned it out, it never came back, and I searched relentlessly for a hard-bound. I keep it in my safe. It is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. I learned a great deal about the machinations behind which Vescoe, Hughes, Maheau, Nixon and many other heavy-hitters of the 50's and 60's carried out their agendas and their whims. Again. Your mission is to find it. Read it. Lock it up. If you loan it out, 'they' will get it.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2009
Jim Hougan's 'Spooks' provides a well written, informative and indeed entertaining exploration of the world of "spooks". America, Hougan maintains, is "haunted" not by ethereal spooks from beyond the grave but the flesh and blood variety, from the underworld where power politics, government, big business and organised crime merge.
Hougan's subtitle addresses the 'private' use of spies. 'Private' is meant to be distinct from 'public' sector spy agencies' like the CIA, FBI etc. Of course, as Hougan demonstrates, telling 'private' from the 'public' in the spookdom is more séance than science. It is this nether region, contrary to his subtitle, that is the real focus of Hougan's book. Apart from Howard Hughes' use of detectives to tail prospective girlfriends, Hougan doesn't really spend any time on "purely private" espionage, for example, industrial espionage or marital snooping.
Hougan, who is also the author of "Secret Agenda", one of the key books of the Watergate revisionist movement, spent four years investigating and interviewing real spooks. So this is real journalism, indeed history, and not just a kennel of pet conspiracy theories.
Of course, and I am sure Hougan would agree, disentangling threads, most of which were deliberately hidden or obscured to begin with, is inherently difficult and error prone. This is perhaps the real reason why mainstream scholars reflexively reject 'conspiracy theories'. To prove or disprove them, and to have all that verified, requires too much work and there is a high probability that the investigator will return nothing more than questions. This is hardly an ideal outcome for the investigator but it is, after all, what the instigator had in mind.
Spooks, published in 197x, is constructed like a good spy novel. Hougan has since retired from nonfiction and has become a spy novelist. Each chapter is a 'case study' and each case is linked to subsequent chapters.
What emerges is a cobweb. Hougan shows how the threads of (say) Watergate link back to Howard Hughes. How the battle for the control of the Hughes empire links to the mafia, Las Vegas and the campaign to kill Castro. And thus Kennedy. The Kennedys used private spooks to expose Hoffa. And the Kennedy clan's main spook supplier was Inter-Tel, a private investigation agency staffed by enough ex-NSA, FBI and CIA personnel to fight a secret war. One of the original Watergate plumbers proposed to build a "Republican Inter-tel" to give their black bag operations the cover of 'plausible deniability'. Had this advice been taken Watergate would not even be a word in the dictionary. Inter-tel was itself owned by a Bahamas based gambling, resort and "dirty money" operations. Here Robert Vesco , IOS and the world of financial pirates converges with the world of spooks.
There are some interesting side threads too. That the CIA and mafia collaborated to get Castro is well known. I was surprised to learn that the whole operation may have been compromised with some gangsters cutting deals with Castro, whilst other hoods seem to have been motivated by genuine patriotism. (And why not?) Hougan also explores the private (or was it public?) secret war against Onassis in the late 1950s. Nixon, again was a key player.
Hougan leaves his big picture theorizing to the end. He details the crossover between oil interests and national security. Exactly who was using who is hard to say. This mutual entanglement, Hougan reasons, shaped US Middle East policy, with the exception of Israel. His analysis here is fascinating in the light of recent events, even when wrong. Hougan, writing in the 1970s, believed pro-Arab pro-oil interests in the foreign policy establishment had just decisively won out over rival pro-Israel interests. Interestingly, this is time usually given for the origin of "the neocons". Perhaps their growth was a reaction.
Whilst in "theorizing" mode, Hougan also details the history of "the prince of phones" Sosthenes Behn, founder of IT&T and the spook / dirty money connections in the 1970's Lockheed scandals. In hindsight, this scandal didn't seem to impact Lockheed's subsequent fortunes much at all. And, as any reader of 'Rolling Stone' knows, Lockheed has it's own "neocon" connections too.
Threaded through Spooks there is some of Hougan himself too. A left of center writer of the Vietnik era, elsewhere he has said he thought of Nixon, like many did at the time, as a nazi, Hougan, during his years of hack work, manages to build unlikely friendships, if only of the "drinking buddy" kind, with some of his spook subjects. I get the impression those drinking sessions may have been memorable.
It is a shame Spooks has not had a sequel to cover subsequent decades. Of course the spooks and their sponsors are still out there.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2008
'A ground-breaking investigative survey of parapolitical America, "Spooks" was one of the first books to report on the privatization of the intelligence function: the application of intelligence practices to commercial activities, and the emergence of CIAs-for-hire in the private sector. Within this general framework, Hougan unearths great chunks of America's "secret history." The war between Jimmy Hoffa and the Kennedy family is seen to have had a public and a private side, with the latter fought by countermeasures genius Bernard Spindel against "an archipelago" of public and private intelligence agencies working for Bobby and Jack.
Calling Howard Hughes "an American Dracula," Hougan offers a blow-by- blow account of the bedside battle fought by Intertel and former CIA agent Robert Maheu for control over the drug-addicted billionaire's body and empire. Other sections of the book describe Robert Vesco's assault on Investors Overseas Services; Richard Nixon's "French connection" to industrialist Paul Louis Weiller; the efforts of paramilitary wizard Mitch WerBell and CIA superspook Lucien Conein to introduce a "final solution" to the War on Drugs; and the World War II background of Japanese and German agents who played key roles in the Lockheed bribery scandal. Packed with anecdotes, footnotes, and proper names, "Spooks" is a classic.'
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2000
This book is excellent. Like the previous two, I have to say that I found the book quite by accident then never found another copy. The material is excellently researched, thouroughly referenced and is just amazing in the level of detail. Although the book is somewhat dated, if you want to know about the situations that are still affecting us including oil prices, defense spending and nuclear proliferation, this book is the one for you.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
It's a shame that this book seems to never have taken off. It's chock full of great information that I have not really seen elsewhere. It only takes you so far given that its publication date is close to 30 yrs ago. in 1978. But the information is, as the other reviewers have remarked, spot on and super fascinating. It's written well, too, not boring. I came over to it's info page here on Amazon to see if there was any other book like it. If you can find a copy, buy it you won't be disappointed. Just again keep in mind that you won't find info after 1978.