Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Espionage Library - Spy Books you should read

Spycatcher – Peter Wright

It's easy to forget the impact Peter Wright's book made. His memoirs of his career as MI5's first scientist is unique. A born scientist, Wright's childhood was happy – his father was a Marconi engineer who made breakthroughs intercepting German signals in the Great War. Things changed in 1931 when his father was a victim of circumstances – wireless research budgets were, unbelievably, slashed and Wright senior took to drink. As war approached, however, Wright's father was again sought out and his signal plans for D-Day were crucial to its success. The Second World War faded into the Cold War. Now recruited by MI5, Wright was put to work to solve a mystery. The bug in the Great Seal of the US Ambassador's Office was of a new type, unknown to Western scientists. Working under strict secrecy, Wright managed to uncover its secrets and scored a major triumph for Anglo-US Relations. Our stock with the rising star of US intelligence was up.

Over the next 25 years, he rose to become a legend within British intelligence – starting with Bread and Butter jobs planting bugs, hunting Soviet spies and, ultimately hunting for the Mole at the very top of MI5. Wright's memoir is compelling, remarkable and occasionally tainted with bitterness at his shabby treatment by MI5. A comparable employee at the NSA or FBI would have retired wealthy. Predictably, the Thatcher government tried it's best to ban Spycatcher – but this descended into farce when Scottish bookshops discovered they could legally sell copies. Scottish newspapers happily reported the debacle. Finally published in England in 1988, Peter Wright's book became a global best-seller. He died, a millionaire, in 1995.

One Girl's War – Joan Miller

Another book the British government tried to ban, Joan Miller's wartime memories cover her time as secretary to MI5's eccentric Maxwell Knight. Her first job was to penetrate a Fascist group, which she did successfully. The book itself collects a fairly odd group of disparate characters – spies, occultists and foreign agents who all add colour to the book, none so much as the enigmatic Knight himself. A popular postwar naturalist, photos of Knight invariably show him with a bird or animal of some description. Miller alleges he was both an occultist and homosexual. A remarkable young woman, Miller's book is by turns odd and informative, endearing and captivating. She died at her Malta home in 1984.

Ian Fleming's Commandos – Nicholas Rankin

The saying 'Knowledge is Power' never rings stronger than in time of war. Fleming's appointment to Naval Intelligence is well-known, but only more recently has the story of 30AU been told fully. The idea of a small group of commandos to go in ahead of (or alongside) the main force to gather intelligence was Fleming's main contribution to the war effort. Perhaps it's finest hour was the capture – in its entirety – of the entire German naval archive at Castle Tambach. Rankin's book is a fascinating look into a fledgling world of military spying, with amateurs, dreamers and professional soldiers co-existing – not always in harmony – to defeat the Axis.

Double Cross – Ben Macintyre

Spaniards, Croats, Slavs, Lesbians and Germans – a motley assortment of characters from all walks of life. Under the auspices of the ultra-secret Twenty Committee, a subtle game was played against the masterminds of German intelligence. The Roman numerals for Twenty, 'XX' give the first indication of the purpose of this shadowy organisation – a Double Cross. A Double Agent is an agent who, ostensibly is spying for a country when, in reality working for another. These highly courageous and complex people were working for the Allied cause feeding the Germans false and misleading information. Often laced with 'Chickenfeed' – low grade, but factual intelligence, to bolster the credibility of the agent, this stream of misinformation acted to convince the highly professional Abwehr that whole fictitious spy networks were operating in England. The culmination? - using all the agents in a co-ordinated campaign, misleading the Nazis into beelieving the impending D-Day landings would take place in the Pas de Calais and not those (now legendary) beaches in Normandy. Ben Macintyre's books have two common features; a massive amount of intelligence, facts and information with tremendous readability. Page-turners every one.

Agent ZigZag – Ben Macintyre

Eddie Chapman's story is true. It happened. It's worth keeping that in mind as you read through Macintyre's exceptional biography. (The first Ben Macintyre I read, ZigZag remains a favourite.) Born in Durham in 1914, Edward Chapman was 'intelligent, but lazy, insoleent and easily bored.' Underage, he joined the Coldstream Guards, going awol – over a girl – and was dishonourably discharged. Drifting from job to job in London's notorious Soho it wasn't long before he turned to petty crime, specialising in blackmail. In prison he met a safebreaker and, before long the 'Jelly gang' (Named for their use of gelignite) was notorious. Now able to mix in society, Chapman became friends with no less than Nöel Coward, Ivor Novello, Marlene Dietrich and the young Terence Young. (Young would go on to direct the first two Bond films.) Caught in Scotland, Chapman fled to Jersey, where he fell for a girl named Betty. Trouble was his habit, as always and while he was in custody there War broke out. Interrogated by the German occupiers, Chapman convinced them he was an ardent anti-British and Pro-German, assisted no doubt by his grasp of the language – he had learnt to speak it from his fianceé. Chapman was recruited and trained as a spy, and in late 1942 Agent 'Fritz' was dropped by parachute into Cambridgeshire.

After a perilous descent, a bloodied Chapman went straight to the nearest house – and asked for the Police!. When they arrived, he handed them a pistol and requested to be put in touch with British Intelligence. After careful interrogation, Chapman was eventually declared ideal for Double Cross operations. A long period followed with a frustrated Chapman under close guard, now codenamed 'ZigZag' he sent coded messages to mislead the Germans into believing – amongst other things, that he had sabotaged the De Havilland aircraft factory, which produced the famous Mosquito bombers. The legendary (there is no other word) Magician Jasper Maskelyne altered the appearance of the factory to suggest it had, indeed been attacked. In 1943, Chapman returned to Germany via Lisbon. After the usual suspicious routine of questioning, Chapman was reunited with his old spymaster in Norway, where he fell in love... with an agent of the Norwegian resistance!. By this time he had become the only UK citizen to be awarded the Iron Cross, so high was his stock with the Abwehr.

Amusingly, Chapman realised than Von Groning, his handler was onto him and didn't care – so long as he kept up the charade. Life in Norway was better than the Russian Front and profitable too; Von Groning was skimming the funds the Abwehr was throwing at Chapman. All good things... Germany was losing U-boats and had no idea why. German Intelligence had only a hazy idea of possible British scientific developments; Agent Fritz was tasked to investigate. With a shortage of spies, every branch of the German forces wanted a piece of Chapman; by the time he was dropped over England he had a veritable shopping list of objectives memorised. Of course, he contacted his MI5 handlers and gave them his own list of suitable German targets in Norway. After sending some subtle misinformation about the accuracy of the V-1 flying bombs and Britain's submarine hunting equipment, Chapman fell foul of his new case officer. This new man, perhaps best described as a 'Tosser' (English Vernacular) was determined to have Chapman kicked out of MI5.

Inevitably, Chapman started drifting back to crime – albeit now with an unofficial pardon from the Home Secretary. Using some fairly dubious skulduggery, the new case officer had Chapman sacked; Agent ZigZag was no more. Going into partnership with the underworld boss Billy Hill, Chapman resolved to find his old Jersey flame, Betty, whom he had last seen in 1939. After an incredible million to one co-incidental meeting, he found her. They were husband and wife for fifty years. Eddie Chapman became a newspaper crime columnist, stayed a crook and drove a Rolls Royce. He died in 1997 aged 83.

The Spying Game – Michael Smith

Describing this book alongside the others here makes it seem rather dull. A comprehensive book covering British espionage from the dark days of the Elizabethans to, well the dark days of the Elizabethans – this book is a concise and informative overview of MI5, MI6, GCHQ and Military Intelligence. From the Bolshevik threat through the World Wars to the Northern Ireland conflict the book covers everything right up to the present day conflicts in the Middle East. Indispensable, even if my vignette makes it seem otherwise.

The Big Breach – Richard Tomlinson

Richard Tomlinson was born in New Zealand in 1963 to English parents. They returned to rural Cumberland in 1968. Exceptional by any definition, Tomlinson won a scholarship to Cambridge where he was talent-spotted by MI6. For four years, Tomlinson was an Intelligence Branch Officer; in real-life James Bond would be one, but without the gun or the Aston Martin. Dismissed mid-operation, Tomlinson left under a cloud for reasons that remain unclear and was arrested for breaching the Official Secrets Act. He was prosecuted, hounded and harassed over his plans to publish this book and – Deja Vu – it was printed in Scotland. The book contains some unique and fascinating glimpses into the World of modern spies, covering as it does the transition from the old Century House to the world-famous HQ building immortalised in the recent Bond films.

A word of caution; I have been told, by a source I cannot divulge, of some deliberate 'inaccuracies' contained within The Big Breach. As MI6 themselves aren't likely to set the record straight, I shall simply urge the reader to use a pinch of salt and their own discretion.

A Spy among Friends – Ben Macintyre

Yes, him again.(This is the book I am reading at the time of writing). Harold Adrian Russell Philby? - you've never heard of him. Kim?, Kim Philby? - the spy?. If you want a biography of Philby – the Cambridge Communist who betrayed his country – there are plenty to choose from. This book sets out, boldly, cleverly to bring the World around the man to life through the focusing lens of those around him. Step by step, the picture is sharpened, re-focused and viewed from two principle angles; that of Philby's MI6 colleague Nicholas Elliott and James (Jesus) Angleton of the CIA. These three men cut their teeth in the intelligence war against the Nazis, Elliot and Angleton were Philby's closest friends, men whom he worked alongside and who – unwittingly were sharing their secrets with a Soviet spy. A complex character – Philby was inconsolable over a dead pet fox, but sanguine over the spies he sent to their deaths – Kim Philby betrayed them all for his belief in Communism. The irony was that his intelligence was mistrusted by Moscow Centre. This only changed over time and when he had proved himself genuine.

The book covers the period from just prior to World War II through the Cold War. Ben Macintyre has produced a masterwork – on one level a new type of history, on another a story of Cold War espionage that entertains as much as any Le Carré. The picture that emerges is that of the three men, bound by treachery and their shared notions of Britishness. The photographs in the book show the trio as they age, a curious vulnerability emerging in Philby with age. (In one shot, Elliott manages to resemble George Smiley – or is it the other way around?.) No Espionage library is complete without A Spy among Friends.
BRIXMIS – Tony Geraghty

Imagine a form of legal spying, designed to ensure neither side in the Cold War was secretly breaking the rules. The British Commander in Chief's mission to the Soviet Forces of Occupation in Germany, shortened to BRIXMIS was a military unit set up in East Germany to do just that. As well as the official mission, BRIXMIS teams kept an unofficial eye out for new Soviet equipment, weapons and any secrets they could sketch, photograph or steal. So vital were these eyes and ears on the ground that at one point they were the ONLY warning of a possible imminent invasion by the Soviet Union. There were nine indicators of impending hostilities and when Brixmis signalled all nine, GCHQ dismissed their reports as they had heard nothing over the airwaves. The Soviets had moved in total radio silence – an important lesson in the value of human eyes and ears over technology. Starting with old staff cars and even horses, Brixmis soon raised the game, using souped up Opel Käpitan saloons and RAF Chipmunk training aircraft which occasionally returned to base with bullet holes in the wings or fuselage after overflying a sensitive area. Ingenuity, inventive thinking prevailed; one NCO used an apple to take an impression of new Soviet equipment.

Brixmis was mirrored by SOXMIS in West Germany, but on the Allied side there were also American and French Missions. By and large, if the teams stuck to permitted areas they would be followed by the Stasi in their awful Wartburg cars, often losing them when required. Teams risked a beating if caught in prohibited areas, perhaps even shot and deaths were not unknown. Brixmis is a fantastic, original work and worth the price for the photographs alone. Must have reading.

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