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SpyCatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer Mass Market Paperback – July 1, 1988
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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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. He also informs us of MI5's system of Watchers, who were posted all over London and its environs, and whose chief duty was to tail diplomats and cypher clerks from the Soviet embassy. (A memorable moment occurs when 105 Russians are declared PNG and expelled from Britain in 1971--an event I recall seeing on television).
Peter Wright relates a particularly poignant anecdote of Klop Ustinov (actor Peter's father), who had served British Intelligence so faithfully and effectively (at great peril) throughout World War II, and who was living in penury without a pension until Wright brought the matter to the attention of the director (Wright was cheated out of most of his own promised pension at the end of his career, and Desmond Bristow of MI6 also tells of similar ingratitude on the part of the Intelligence Services in "A Game of Moles.").
As for the allegations about Roger Hollis, the director of MI5, being a Soviet agent, the criticism of this theory usually cites the fact that Hollis never confessed, and therefore the charges are groundless. The same could be said of Kim Philby, who never confessed (despite Nicholas Elliot's claims to the contrary--with the window conveniently open so that the recorded "confession" was inaudible because of the Beirut traffic noises). Philby even wrote an article stating that a spy should never confess, because the case against him had to be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in order to be prosecuted under British law. Whether Hollis was a Soviet agent or not (Desmond Bristow, who believed that the British intelligence agencies were riddled with Soviet penetration agents echoes Wright's suspicions in "A Game of Moles."), Peter Wright builds an intriguing circumstantial case against him, noting that the leaks to the Russians and the ruined operations stopped after Hollis had retired. Wright suggests that the Intelligence services had no interest in pursuing the matter to the end because of the embarrassment caused by the discoveries that Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt, Cairncross, Blake, et al, were Soviet penetration agents. As far as Wright is concerned, the case against Hollis was not proven but the suspicion remains.