Reading "Spycatcher", I was continually struck by this thought: how was it possible for Peter Wright to publish a book which exposes so much of the internal operations of Britain's MI5 domestic intelligence/security service? He names names, describes personalities in often unflattering terms, and details what were surely the most sensitive of investigations undertaken by MI5. What may be MI5's loss is the public's gain, as we get a rare glimpse at the very heart of a (by definition) highly secretive agency, charged with ensuring the security and continuance of one of the Western world's greatest democracies.
Wright is undoubtedly a brilliant man, as are his colleagues (Wright describes how one of them does crossword puzzles completely in his head). Although the book opens with his retirement day, in which he shreds his diaries, he is somehow able to reconstruct the minutest details of operations that span his 20-year career with MI5, from the mid-50s to mid-70s, as well as critical pre-World War II events that he investigated for MI5. Wright is a radio engineer by training and original profession, and he joins MI5 as their first scientist in order to bring the benefits of technology to the agency. As MI5's top scientist, he is immediately charged with carrying out their most sensitive bugging and eavesdropping operations, which indoctrinates him into MI5's most secretive activities. Eventually, he leaves scientific advocacy behind to assume a role hunting down suspected Soviet spies within MI5 itself.
Although Wright has many successes, he is never able to fully prove his most shocking assertion, which is that Roger Hollis, the head of MI5 for many years (and Wright's superior), was a Soviet spy. The circumstantial evidence Wright presents, however, is very convincing.Read more ›
This is one of those books that I came to late in the game (It all started with the DVD "Cambridge Spies" last fall.), but after perusing the first page of "Spycatcher", I couldn't put it down for three days! One of the reasons that I waited so long was that various espionage writers have criticized the book for its inaccuracies (So he got the date of Philby's interrogation wrong!). I'm beginning to think that they are suffering from an overdose of sour grapes because Mr. Wright made the New York Times Bestseller List and they did not!
I am actually glad that I read other books such as "My Silent War," "The Philby Files," "Anthony Blunt," "Philby: The Long Road to Moscow," "Crown Jewels," etc. first, because by the time I read "Spycatcher," I was thoroughly familiar with the multifarious cast of characters. However, as much as I enjoyed the other espionage books, "Spycatcher" surpasses them in one respect: it gives details of tradecraft that are impossible in an account of Kim Philby or Anthony Blunt who, by necessity, had to keep silent about the finer particulars of their work in intelligence (whether Soviet or British). Peter Wright lets the reader peek over his shoulder as he installs sophisticated bugs behind convincing false doors at midnight. He also gives the reader a good chuckle when such operations go disastrously awry and floors collapse or cables are cut, and the work has to begin all over again.
The author also writes a wry account of brazen Russian agents importuning numerous passers-by in various London parks in an effort to "turn" them into Soviet assets, until the British police, at Wright's instigation, out-brazen the agents by threatening to arrest them for harassing Her Majesty's subjects.Read more ›
From the end of WWII until 1965 when Roger Hollis left as head of MI-5, British counterintelligence was almost completely compromised. The Soviets outmaneuvered them continuously with a flood of diplomatic and illegal agents. This was a constant source of embarrassment as people like Kim Philby, Burgess and McLean defected to the USSR. The agents defecting in the opposite direction were frequently clever disinformants sent as ploys creating a "wilderness of mirrors." As former assistant director of MI5 the author was directly responsible for investigating the infiltration and gives a blow by blow account of how morale suffered as one by one potential moles were grilled and either cleared or ousted. Many interesting and authoritative asides keep interest high throughout the work.
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Peter Wright presents an astounding personal history of his experiences within MI5, together with his exploits in conjunction with counterparts in the USA and Canada. The book is so well- written, with amusing escapades blended with potentially explosive international incidents and foreign political intrigue, that it is difficult to place the book down until it has been completely read. Perhaps the most amusing narratives are those in which Wright, the first Physicist employed by MI5, placed a "bug" in the London's Eygptian Embassy to gather secret messages ; also the random numbering from #1 to #20 of merely (8) sophisticated hidden microphone wires during the erection of a new Russian Embassy in Canada, under the auspices of the RCMP; and his personal scrambled message system with an American counterpart because they didn't trust their own contemporaries. On a more serious note, the author persistently contends throughout the entire book, that his former boss was the ninth (unidentified mole) in the complicated networks of international spies within the OSS, CIA, MI5, and the KGB. While detailing the exposure of eight "moles", including defectors such as Kim Philby, Wright makes many accusations against his former boss, and that is perhaps the major reason for the Spycatcher book being banned in the UK. On a sad note, several prominent people killed themselves shortly after being interviewed by the author. Evidently because many of them were cronies and had attended Oxford during the early 1930's, some were "gay", others had personal experiences which they were afraid would become public knowledge and they did not want to cope with the consequences. I believe that this is a "must read" book for all adult readers, especially those who enjoy the suspense of Agatha Christie, Erle S. Garner, & autobiographers such as William Manchester. rings
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