Blog

Truth and Spies: David E. Hoffman Recommends the Best Books on Espionage

Posted on 7th August 2018 by Martha Greengrass

David Hoffman, the author of our Non-Fiction Book of the Month for August The Billion Dollar Spy, considers why espionage remains vital today and recommends some of the best further reading on spying.

William Hood, a long-time CIA officer, wrote a book, Mole, about an early Cold War espionage operation in Vienna during the 1950s. Spying, he wrote, is a dirty business. Strip away all the ‘claptrap of espionage’, he added, ‘and the spy’s job is to betray trust’. The only justification a spy can have, according to Hood, ‘is the moral worth of the cause he represents’.

These words are worth recalling now, in days of a budding new Cold War between Russia and the West, at a time when spying is again front-page news around the globe. There is a tendency to dismiss all espionage as a dirty war, to say ‘everybody does it’ and therefore everyone is equivalent. Yes, everybody does it, but no, not everybody is the same, not when it comes to what Hood called ‘the moral worth of the cause’.

Like it or not, the world today remains divided between those who cherish freedom and those who would destroy it. There are those who believe in democracy, rule of law and civil society as universal values and defend them, and those who believe in strongman power, repression, political prisons and autocracy. 

For the United States, United Kingdom and other democracies, it is vital to discover the intentions and capabilities of adversaries. That’s why we have spies, and why we ask people to betray their country – in service of liberty. Spying is a dark alley, somewhere between peace and war, the unrelenting contest that must be fought to preserve and protect that liberty. 

Today, espionage is just as often carried out by cybersleuths and digital warriors as by old-fashioned foreign agents. But the human dimension cannot be ignored. Satellite imagery and cyberattacks can reap tons of information, but they cannot see inside the minds of men and women. There is an essential role for running human spies, whether in Russia or China, or in other dark corners of the globe, like North Korea.

The Billion Dollar Spy offers a picture of one Cold War operation that was based on a single human source inside the Soviet Union. While the events happened a generation ago, they suggest just how vital espionage can be – and still is. 

At the centre of the story is Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer at a top secret military radar facility. In the 1970s, Tolkachev began to feel something eating away at him. He was angry about the past, because of how Stalin had sent his wife’s mother to be executed as an enemy of the people, and her father to the gulag for eight years. He was also angry about the present, because all around him he saw nothing but empty promises. He decided he had to act – to do something. He volunteered to spy for the CIA, and eventually they ran him as an agent. He provided the United States with tens of thousands of pages of secret documents about Soviet air defenses and military technology, an incalculable trove that provided insights into Soviet capabilities and intentions – including research plans a decade into the future.

Asked his motives at one point, Tolkachev was vague. ‘I am a dissident at heart’, he said. But later he wrote to the CIA that he didn’t spy because he loved America. ‘I have never seen your country with my own eyes’, he wrote, ‘and to love it unseen, I do not have enough fantasy nor romanticism’. No, Tolkachev spied out of hatred. He was driven to espionage by this terrible system, from Stalin’s dictatorship to Brezhnev’s long, suffocating stagnation. It was a hidden hand that pushed him forward.

Years later, his wife Natasha said Tolkachev did it ‘for freedom in our country’. I think that was a pretty remarkable motive for a man who had never lived in a country with freedom, or even visited one. 

Tolkachev became a spy because of the moral worth of a cause, the cause of freedom, and his revulsion at what Soviet communism had become. 

Hopefully, there are other Tolkachevs out there today who can see the world as clearly as he did, who might come forward to provide insight into the minds of the men who lead Russia, China, North Korea and other places. 

This Cold War story is not only about history, but about the world we live in today.

Good reading on spying – some suggestions

I am looking forward to Ben Macintyre’s new book, The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War forthcoming in September, the story of the operation to run Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB officer turned agent for the United Kingdom. 

£25.00 £20.00
Hardback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
On a July evening in 1985, a man stood on a pavement in the heart of Moscow, holding a plastic carrier bag. The bag was mildly conspicuous, printed with the red logo of Safeway, the British supermarket. The man was a spy for MI6. The Safeway bag was a signal: to activate his escape plan to get out of Soviet Russia. So began one of the most extraordinary episodes in the history of espionage.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

A major CIA clandestine source during the Cold War was Ryszard Kuklinski, a Polish army colonel. The best book on the case is Benjamin Weiser’s A Secret Life: The Polish Officer, His Covert Mission, and the Price He Paid to Save His Country (New York: Public Affairs, 2004).

£14.99
Paperback
We can order this
Usually dispatched within 3 weeks
For almost a decade, Col. Ryszard Kuklinski betrayed the Communist leadership of Poland, cooperating with the CIA in one of the most extraordinary human intelligence operations of the Cold War. Through extensive interviews and access to the CIA's secret archive on the case, Benjamin Weiser offers an unprecedented and richly detailed look at this secret history of the Cold War.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

The CIA has published a study of the intelligence provided by Kuklinski, as well as earlier agents Pyotr Popov and Oleg Penkovsky in the 1950s and early 1960s, as it pertained to the Warsaw Pact and the Cold War standoff in Europe. The study is free and can be found here.

Those interested in an authoritative history of Cold War spying must delve into the extensive and comprehensive works of Prof. Christopher Andrew – including his latest, The Secret World: A History of Intelligence.

£35.00
Hardback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
The first mention of espionage in world literature is in the Book of Exodus. From there, Christopher Andrew traces shifts in the ancient world from divination to what we would recognise as attempts to gather real intelligence in the conduct of military operations. What difference have security and intelligence operations made to course of history? This fascinating book provides the answers.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

Readers interested in technology and gadgets should devour Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton’s book, with Henry Robert Schlesinger, Spycraft: Inside the CIA’s Top Secret Spy Lab. Also, Melton’s Ultimate Spy is a richly-illustrated and fascinating volume.

£9.99
Paperback
Publisher out of stock
Currently unavailable to order
Spycraft tells amazing life and death stories many of which have never before been revealed. Against the backdrop of some of the most critical international events of recent years - including the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the war on terror - the authors show the real technical and human story of how the CIA carried out its most secret missions.

This product is only available to collect in store.

  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

£14.99
Hardback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
DK's Ultimate Spy is filled with stunning, specially commissioned photographs that show details of equipment including spycams, bugs, weapons and drone aircraft. From the earliest intrigues at royal courts through the covert operations of the CIA and KGB during the Cold War to the revelations from Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, delve into the secret world of espionage.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

Not all spying was with clandestine sources. For an example of an incredible CIA operation involving machines as well as men, read Josh Dean’s The Taking of K-129: The Most Daring Covert Operation in History, a gripping account of how the CIA attempted to recover a Soviet submarine in the Pacific. 

£10.99 £8.99
Paperback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
The incredible true story of a lost Russian submarine and the most outlandish and expensive covert operation even undertaken by the CIA, at the height of the cold war.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

One of the best accounts of an espionage operation outside the Cold War is Uri Bar-Joseph’s account of an Israeli agent deep inside the Egyptian leadership, The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel.

£10.99
Paperback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
Soon to be a Netflix original movie, The Angel is a gripping feat of reportage that exposes-for the first time in English-the sensational life and mysterious death of Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian senior official who spied for Israel, offering new insight into the turbulent modern history of the Middle East.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

Comments

There are currently no comments.