Author Topic: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies  (Read 8775 times)

Mister Six

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Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« on: September 04, 2019, 03:42:29 AM »
Been enjoying John Le Carre's George Smiley novels (you know - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and all that) and am in the mood for more of that kind of thing - especially factual books/memoirs from spies active between the 60s and today.

I imagine the Official Secrets Act gets in the way somewhat, but surely there must be something out there? Any suggestions?

Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2019, 08:28:18 AM »
For fiction, Len Deighton's Bernard Sampson books are in a similar vein to Le Carre (nine books in three trilogies: Game-Set-Match, Hook-Line-Sinker and Faith-Hope-Charity).

For non-fiction, I have a couple on my shelves:

- DK's Ultimate Spy, which is a kind of Eyewitness Guide, but for spy equipment and techniques.
- A Spy's London by Roy Berkeley. This is a gazetteer of almost every spy-related building and location in central London, but it also tells the story of British Intelligence and Soviet spy rings via the locations.

Bennett Brauer

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Mister Six

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Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2019, 10:50:51 AM »
Coo, thanks! These look great!

Inspector Norse

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Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #4 on: September 04, 2019, 01:49:26 PM »
I read Christopher Andrew's The Secret World earlier this year.

It was very long and very knowledgeable and did its job, a history of intelligence from ancient days to the present, but I found it a tad dry in the way it dragged through every period of history even though by the author's own admission, intelligence from the Dark Ages to about the 19th century was rubbish, mostly involving some king or other employing a man with a moustache and a quill to read somebody else's letters, meaning that occasionally some other man got arrested when he was boarding a boat or drinking some ale, over and over again for hundreds of years and pages. All very historically accurate and gap-covering, but lacking a bit of real juice, you know? Some good anecdotes and detail if you have the patience to plough through it all, though.

Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #5 on: September 04, 2019, 11:05:19 PM »
Kim Philby’s autobiography ‘My Silent War’ would seem a good starting point for the Cold War/Soviet Era stuff - https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1036093/my-silent-war/9781787461284

There’s quite a few other books about the Cambridge spy ring, I think?

From the point of view of investigative journalism as opposed to a first hand account, you’ve also got the books of Chapman Pincher - ‘Their Trade is Treachery’ and so on...

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2356117.Their_Trade_is_Treachery

Ex-MI5 man Peter Wright’s ‘Spycatcher’ was the subject of a controversial court case in its day.

All these books are decades old now (1960s -80s) but probably still worth a look.


Mister Six

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Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #6 on: September 04, 2019, 11:46:44 PM »
Smashing, thanks Clarity and Norse!

Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #7 on: September 05, 2019, 12:07:33 AM »
Phillip Agee’s Inside the Company and Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe.

Victor Marchetti’s The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence

Richard J Aldrich - The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence. He wrote a decent book about GCHQ as well.

David Talbot’s book about Allen Dulles (The Devil’s Chessboard), The Second Oldest Profession by Phillip Knightley, Max Hasting’s wrote one about the secret war in WWII as well...

Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #8 on: September 05, 2019, 09:10:10 PM »
You could also try Gordon Corera's books. He's the BBC's Security Correspondent (you sometimes see him on the news), but his books are all on different aspects of spying, and he also made this potted history of MI6 on Radio 4: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00ls8ll/episodes/player

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Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #9 on: September 06, 2019, 02:06:24 PM »
Maybe a bit broader than what you're after, but Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA is very good.

Cuellar

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Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #10 on: September 06, 2019, 08:33:09 PM »
Macintyre's A Spy Among Friends was quite good too, about Philby and that crowd.

Funcrusher

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Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #11 on: September 06, 2019, 10:39:46 PM »
Maybe a bit broader than what you're after, but Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA is very good.

Yeah, Legacy of Ashes is really good. David Simon has said he wants to adapt it for TV.

I think the problem with non fiction on British Intelligence is that the reality is more boring and also more cunty than the fictional version ie methodical spying and undermining of the British left. Most of the books on MI5/6 are by hacks who've been given access because they will toe the line. After seeing him give a fairly chilling performance on a panel a few years ago I read a book called Securing The State by David Omand who is ex GCHQ and government intelligence advisor which gives an insight into how these people think. I remember that he considered it to be inevitable that environmental activists and radical Islam would eventually team up.

Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #12 on: January 01, 2020, 01:16:58 PM »
I've always been interested in number stations, like the Lincolnshire poacher. Was just wondering if any of the books mentioned cover this?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincolnshire_Poacher_(numbers_station)

Mister Six

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Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #13 on: January 01, 2020, 01:59:35 PM »
Load of good suggestions here. I started off with The Spy and The Traitor, which was a cracking read (if weirdly laced with repetition and redundancies that the editor should have weeded out) and also provided a great introduction to, and explanation of, the wider spy world. Thanks!

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Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #14 on: March 28, 2020, 12:07:14 AM »
Load of good suggestions here. I started off with The Spy and The Traitor, which was a cracking read

Valerie Pettit died a few weeks ago.  She was "Veronica Price" in the book to protect her identity.



The obituary recaps the great escape:
Quote
At 7.30pm on July 16, 1985, a man stood outside a bread shop on Kutuzovsky Prospekt, the wide avenue running from the centre of Moscow. In one hand he held a plastic bag from Safeway, the British supermarket, adorned with its distinctive red “S”.
His name was Colonel Oleg Gordievsky of the KGB, the Soviet intelligence service. He was also a spy for MI6.
At exactly 7.46pm an Englishman carrying a green Harrods bag walked towards Gordievsky, eating a Mars bar. The two men made brief eye contact, but exchanged no words.
The British shopping bags and the chocolate bar were the triggers for Operation Pimlico, an elaborate and daring escape plan to spirit Gordievsky, Britain’s most valuable Cold War spy, out of Moscow. The Safeway bag was Gordievsky’s signal to MI6 that he was in mortal danger; the Mars bar was the acknowledgement that he had been seen, and the exfiltration plan was underway.
Operation Pimlico was the brainchild of Valerie Pettit, an MI6 officer. Her death means that Pettit’s pivotal role in one of the greatest espionage stories of the 20th century can be publicly revealed for the first time.

Gordievsky, the son of a Russian intelligence officer, had been recruited by the KGB while at university in Moscow. Ambitious and highly intelligent, he rose swiftly through the ranks and was deployed to Denmark under diplomatic cover from 1966 to 1970, and then again in 1972.
Disillusioned by the Soviet system and profoundly impressed by western democracy, Gordievsky was recruited as an agent by MI6 during the second of these postings. At regular meetings in a safehouse in the northern suburbs of Copenhagen he furnished MI6 with a large quantity of highly valuable intelligence, including the identities of numerous Soviet spies and intelligence officers operating in the West.
Before leaving Denmark to return to Russia in 1978 Gordievsky asked his British handlers to devise an escape plan, should he need to get out of Moscow in an emergency. That task fell to Pettit, a 48-year-old former secretary in the Soviet section of MI6.
Under the Vienna Convention, diplomatic vehicles are usually not subject to search. Pettit worked out that if Gordievsky could be hidden in the boot of a British embassy car, he might conceivably be smuggled across the border into Finland.
Thus was born Operation Pimlico. If Gordievsky needed to escape, he should go to a specific street corner outside the bread shop on Kutuzovsky, a signal site chosen because it was opposite an apartment complex housing foreigners, including Britain’s MI6 officers under diplomatic cover. The corresponding signal, to indicate he had been seen, required one of those officers to walk past him eating a British bar of chocolate, either a Kitkat or Mars bar, while carrying a Harrods bag.
In the second phase of the plan, Gordievsky would then have to make his way to a secluded rendezvous in a lay-by near the Finnish border; there he would be met by two MI6 officers in diplomatic cars, concealed in the boot and, in theory, smuggled into Finland. Every Tuesday evening for seven years MI6 monitored the signal site, looking for a man with a Safeway bag. This was done whether or not Gordievsky was in Moscow, because the MI6 officers were themselves under surveillance and any change of routine would be spotted. Every MI6 officer got used to carrying a chocolate bar, in case it might be needed. “I never want to see another Kitkat,” said one, years later.
In London Pettit constantly monitored, revised and updated Operation Pimlico; MI6 officers and their spouses deployed to Moscow were briefed on the plan, and even taken to a wooded area near Guildford to experience climbing in and out of the boot of a car.
Many of the MI6 officers involved believed the chances of the plan working were extremely low and fervently hoped it would never have to be tested. But Pettit, the prime architect of Operation Pimlico, was never in any doubt that, if activated, it would succeed.
In 1982 Pettit met Gordievsky for the first time when he was deployed by the KGB to the Soviet embassy in London. Over the next three years she arranged meetings with him in a safehouse in Bayswater, where he was debriefed over beer and smoked salmon.
With access to top-level Soviet intelligence, he was able to pass over reams of information, providing Britain with an insight into Kremlin thinking at the height of the Cold War. Much of this intelligence was passed on to the CIA, but with its origin disguised. This did not stop the American intelligence service from carrying out its own investigation, without informing MI6, and successfully identifying Gordievsky as the Soviet mole.
In May 1985 a disgruntled CIA officer named Aldrich Ames approached the KGB in Washington and offered to sell information to the Russians. As a senior officer in the anti-Soviet section Ames had been able to work out the identities of spies behind the Iron Curtain working for the West. The next day Gordievsky was recalled to Moscow.
Pettit described his decision to return as an act of outstanding bravery. On arrival Gordievsky knew immediately that he had been betrayed. But instead of arresting, torturing and then killing him, the KGB put him under close surveillance, possibly hoping to catch him making contact with his MI6 handlers.
On July 16 he eluded his pursuers and flew the Safeway bag escape signal. Four days later, two MI6 officers and their wives collected him from the lay-by south of Vyborg, wrapped him in a heat-reflective blanket to prevent detection by infrared cameras at the border and bundled him into the boot of one of the cars.
At the border sniffer dogs deployed by the Soviet guards detected the hidden body and began to circle the car. The wife of one officer opened a bag of cheese-and-onion crisps to try to distract them; the wife of the other, deploying a weapon never used in the Cold War or any other, dropped her child’s dirty nappy under the boot hiding Gordievsky to disguise his smell.
As the car entered Finland, the officer driving put Sibelius’s Finlandia into the cassette player, and turned it up to full volume to indicate to the spy in the boot that he was now in Finland.
A few minutes later the cars drew into a clearing in the Finnish forest to link up with a second MI6 extraction team. Pettit was waiting. “She opened the boot to let me out,” wrote Gordievsky, now 81 and still living in a safehouse in Britain. “She was the first person I saw as a free man.”
Gordievsky seized both her hands, raised them to his lips and kissed them, a distinctively Russian gesture of liberation and gratitude. “I was betrayed,” he told her. Then Gordievsky climbed into the back of a Finnish rental car and the escape team headed north for the Norwegian border, with Pettit at the wheel. Pettit did not approve of emotional displays, but according to one officer present she was visibly moved, “her expression a mixture of recognition and love”.
Valerie June Pettit was born near Lord’s cricket ground in 1929, the eldest daughter of Charles Pettit, a solicitor who was badly wounded during the First World War, and Valerie Douglas, a Scottish dancer. After boarding at Queenswood School, Hertfordshire, she took a degree in English at Exeter University and then joined the Foreign Office. Possessed of a sharp mind behind a modest persona, patriotic and rigorously discreet, she was transferred to MI6, the foreign intelligence service (also known as the Secret Intelligence Service, or SIS) and served in MI6 stations in Warsaw, Baghdad, Amman, Mexico City and Prague, before moving back to Britain to live in the village of West Clandon with her widowed mother and sister.
By 1978 Pettit had risen to become deputy to the head of MI6’s P5 section, which ran Soviet agents and operations. Gathering experience and authority with the passing years, she made herself the indispensable expert on the nuts and bolts of operations behind the Iron Curtain: meetings, communications, the passage of documents. Unless all these were meticulously planned and executed not only would unique sources of intelligence dry up but brave people would be killed.
One of the few women in MI6 at the time to attain such a high level of responsibility, she faced an unprecedented problem: how to extract a KGB officer from a country under constant surveillance, with the most heavily policed borders in the world.
Quintessentially English in manner and dedicated to the service, Pettit had a meticulous eye for detail and a profound sense of duty coupled with a gentle humanity and a sharp sense of humour. She brooked no nonsense, particularly from men. “Valerie was a perfectionist who always showed me great kindness and a lot of patience,” wrote Gordievsky. “Valerie was, and always will be, my angel.”
Even when asked in old age what she did, Pettit invariably replied that she had been a Foreign Office secretary, and then changed the subject. In The Spy and the Traitor, an account of the Gordievsky case by the Times writer Ben Macintyre, she is disguised by the pseudonym “Veronica Price”.
Pettit spent her retirement caring for her mother and sister, attending the theatre and her local church, and campaigning to preserve the natural landscape around her home. Outside a tiny handful of MI6 officers, no one knew that the unassuming Miss Pettit of West Clandon had been a most important spy.
Valerie Pettit, OBE, MI6 officer, was born on June 13, 1929. She died on December 28, 2019, aged 90

Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #15 on: May 15, 2020, 08:48:47 AM »
Can we pivot this thread to an all-purpose general deep state, realistic conspiracies, intelligence agencies stuff thread?

If so, I am reading Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties by Tom O'Neill, and it is very interesting, completely discrediting the whole official Helter Skelter story manufactured by the careerist crank Bugliosi. The author was on Joe Rogan and Chapo if you don't want to read the actual book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J36xPWBLcG8

Is Biggy still around? For 2020 I plan to ruin my brain with books about the CIA and JFK and such, so better ask the expert.

Mister Six

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Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #16 on: May 15, 2020, 03:13:32 PM »
Don't summon him, for god's sake.

Gerald Posner's Case Closed is the main JFK conspiracy book. Read it decades ago for a history dissertation. I'll see if I can recall any of the others.

There was a really good website that laid out the case for a lone gunman, explaining (with photographic evidence) how the "magic bullet" was actually possible, among other things. I'll try to recall what it was - it's a useful counterbalance to Posner (although as it dismantles his arguments directly you should read his book first in any case).

EDIT: Ah! Here we go! And it looks like he was updating it as recently as 2017, too: The Kennedy Assassination by John McAdams.

samadriel

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Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #17 on: May 15, 2020, 03:22:58 PM »

Kryton

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Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #18 on: May 15, 2020, 04:00:30 PM »
Operation Mincemeat is a great read. And one of the coolest bluffs in warfare after the Trojan horse.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Operation-Mincemeat-Story-Changed-Course/dp/1408809214

Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #19 on: May 15, 2020, 06:25:08 PM »
Ben McIntryes Double Cross
Ben McIntyres Agent Zigzag
Agent Snow

Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #20 on: May 15, 2020, 06:57:31 PM »
Operation Mincemeat is a great read. And one of the coolest bluffs in warfare after the Trojan horse.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Operation-Mincemeat-Story-Changed-Course/dp/1408809214

If you can't be arsed with reading it, the doco is on the iPlayer at the moment: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00wllmb/operation-mincemeat

dr beat

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Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #21 on: August 06, 2020, 05:32:38 PM »
Currently working my way through Chinese Spies by Roger Faligot.  Its a lengthy tome which covers the history of the PRC's intelligence from the 1930s through to the current day, and its fascinating reading.  I wasn't aware of the author before, but he's a French investigative journalist with seemingly great experience of intelligence services.  Its covers a plethora of actors, and while there are there occasional dry passages concerning the organizational histories of the various agencies, its shot through with rich anecdotes, and seems impeccably sourced with plenty of first-hand accounts. 

I'm currently at the section discussing the late 90s following the Hong Kong handover, and it seems clear that the future of that territory was doomed from the outset, if not before 1997.

rack and peanut

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Re: Good factual (or "realistic") books about spies
« Reply #22 on: August 06, 2020, 09:02:02 PM »
Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire by Calder Walton.

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