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Spy Wars: Moles, Mysteries and Deadly Games Hardcover – 4 May 2007
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This is perhaps the most amazing non-fiction spy book that has
ever appeared during or after the Cold War. There is little doubt that all
intelligence historians interested in the past 50 years of espionage games
played by the CIA and the KGB will read it as we did -- in one take. -- The Spectator, May 19, 2007
About the Author
Tennent H. ("Pete") Bagley served twenty-two years in the CIA, handling spies and defectors in Clandestine Services and rising to Chief of Soviet Bloc Counterintelligence. He is now a writer and researcher based in Brussels, Belgium.
Top customer reviews
Controversies over Nosenko's defection in 1963 - was he a genuine defector or was he a KGB plant? - have always had a wider significance, for two primary reasons. Nosenko presented evidence about what JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald got up to in Russia. In addition, the Nosenko case was central to the beliefs of a group of CIA officers, led by James Jesus Angleton, the long-serving head of the CIA's counter-intelligence department, that the CIA and other Western intelligence services were riddled with KGB infiltration and frequently misled by false information planted by the KGB. Subsequent senior CIA staff, along with most of the published accounts of the time, have been highly critical of Angleton and his supporters, painting them as people who became paralysed by paranoia as they saw treachery everywhere.
By focusing in so heavily on the Nosenko case, Bagley's book avoids these wider questions. A reader unacquainted with the wider contest would not realise from the book that, for example, one of the molehunters Angleton set to work ended up concluding (possibly tongue-in-cheek) in a written report that Angleton himself must be a KGB mole because of the disruption that all his suspicions had caused. Nor would such a reader be aware of just how paranoid and inaccurate another KGB defector, Anatoli Golitsyn, became. Golitsyn's credibility is important because Golitsyn did not believe Nosenko was genuine, whilst Nosenko's evidence often contradicted that of Golitsyn.
However, the strength of Bagley's book is that by concentrating in on a narrow argument - that Nosenko was a fake because of the errors and contradictions in his evidence - he makes a persuasive case. He also, to his credit, makes some effort to explain why so many people took a contrary view, though these arguments are not always convincing thanks to the silence about the wider context. The one piece of context Bagley does provide - and convincingly - is the record of the KGB and its predecessors at running large scale disinformation campaigns, particularly during the Second World War. Added to what we know about the successful disinformation campaigns around D-Day, Bagley rightly makes the point that apparently complex and paranoid concerns about being the victim of a sophisticated disinformation campaign are sometimes well-founded.
The heart of the book is a long and detailed examination of many claims that Nosenko made which Bagley, the CIA case officer who initially handled him, was intimately involved in checking. Bagley does this in a well-written and fast-paced account that, though detailed, reads more like a spy novel for long periods rather than a detailed academic examination.
The difficulty for the reader is in evaluating the claims he makes without knowing in full the reasons others had for dismissing them. It is notable, for example, that Christopher Andrews - a regular historian of intelligence matters and who has had extensive access to official British records and to prominent defectors - was not convinced by this book, even if his review for the Sunday Times was light on detail.
For those interested in the assassination of Oswald, the book implies that the truth over Nosenko does not really matter - either he was genuinely telling the truth about the lack of KGB contact with Oswald when he was in the USSR, or he was sent with a false story - but a false story to reassure the Americans of the truth that the KGB had indeed not been involved with Oswald.
A note if you get the audio version of this book: it is read by the author who has a voice well suited to tales of mysterious intrigue. He also has a habit of pausing at odd places in sentences, so you need to quickly adjust to his way of speaking if you are not to find that style irritating.
It is well written, has all the necessary details for the reader to be able to make up his own mind regarding the correctnes of Mr Bagley's (and Peter Deriabin's) conclusions and gives a plausible explanation of CIA's "reluctance" to accept the obvious: Nosenko was part of a - in hindsight not very professional - deception game, played by the KGB. It should be compulsory reading for anybody interested in the continuing saga of espionage, especially for those who have to make the political decisions in this complex area of human actions.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Controversy raged in the CIA for decades as to whether Nosenko was an authentic defector or a CIA disinformation agent. Well-documented books on both sides of this subject abound. James Jesus Angleton, the CIA's long serving Director of Counter-Intelligence, together with this book's author "Pete" Bagley, was always convinced that Nosenko was under KGB orders and control. Others chose to believe that Nosenko was a genuine defector.
The thesis of this piece is that Nosenko was a disinformation agent, hastily prepared by Moscow in order to deflect suspicion from the Soviet Union concerning Oswald's motives in the Kennedy assassination. The author is extremely persuasive, and writes with authority and conviction. I have read widely on this subject, and in my opinion this piece is the definitive work on the subject of Nosenko. There is so much detail here that the casual reader, myself included, has trouble following all the threads of the author's thought. In fact, this piece is really aimed more at CIA insiders than the general public. I came away completely convinced that Bagley was correct and that Nosenko was a disinformation agent. (To be fair I had already reached that conclusion which I derived from other readings.)
Author Bagley goes into considerable detail to describe the KGB's main approach to espionage, which it terms frankly to be "aggressive" tradecraft. Put simply, the KGB is not content to infiltrate a target country and steal its secrets. It seeks to insert agents within the target country's own intelligence service in order to control the foreign agency as well as to protect the KGB by destroying the target agency's counterespionage apparatus. Further, the Soviets (now the Russian SVR) will produce false defectors to provide carefully tailored disinformation to divert attention away from authentic KGB/SVR moles. This is, in fact, how Aldrich Aimes and Robert Hanssen, two arch-traitors within the CIA and FBI respectively, were able to operate for decades, doing incalculable damage to American security.
I deprived this one of five stars due to its chaotic and confusing organization. However, the writing in this book is quite good, and the subject matter is rivetting. If you are interested in the CIA-KGB cold war, this one is for you. Recommended. RJB.
The bottom line is this - if you take the author at his word concerning the interviews and documents he was involved in, as well as those of others, there is no way one can see Nosenko as anything but a false defector. However, the question in my mind is why they would willingly send someone so blatantly unprepared - certainly they thought better of CIA than that? I have to wonder if the actual decision to 'defect' was in fact Nosenko's - he was a drunk and womanizer and going no where fast at KGB. His 1962 Geneva trip was probably a real KGB operation, but the subsequent trip could have seen Nosenko go off reservation figuring he had a ticket to a better life (ultimately) in the US if he defected rather than work in place as a 'double' as per KGB orders. This would have put KGB in quite the difficult situation.
Anyone interested in intelligence opertations, especially those of the cold war period should read this book. We can only hope now that Nosenko is dead that the CIA will release *all* the files, at least those that were not destroyed in the late 1960s.
This snow blindness also explains why we were caught flat-footed by the 9-11 tragedy, and the subsequent inability to fix the very real blame--beyond the cliché of "institutional problems"; problems are caused by people who, all-too-often are allowed to glide by without any accountability.
Bagley's story, bitter as it is because the many warnings about Soviet infiltration of our and other western intelligence services were ignored. The book is largely a story of the travesty of the trust placed in Yuri Nosenko, despite all the evidence revealing that he was a double agent.
Spy Wars is a very good read (although slightly too repetitious) that has important lessons for all policy makers today. Sadly, we've been spoiled by fictional spy thrillers, who teach us that the heroes are skilled, caring, and not swayed by group-think--would that were true!
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