Intelligence / Agencies / Counterintelligence

Bearden, Milt and Risen, James. The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KGB. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004. 561 pages.

James Risen, a New York Times reporter who covers national security, and Milt Bearden, a thirty-year veteran of CIA operations in the USSR and Pakistan, have teamed up to produce this history of cold war espionage that sets a new standard for the genre. Readers who have consumed a great deal of espionage nonfiction will find it refreshingly different. Earlier books that disclosed as much as this one were usually written by ex-insiders who became anti-CIA. Bearden is not anti-CIA, and Risen is about as straight-laced and pro-Establishment as a journalist can get. Nevertheless, this book has lots of names, and it doesn't paint the KGB as all bad, nor the CIA as all good.

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The time frame for this showdown is 1985-1991. Despite the diary format, it's not only Bearden's experiences that are chronicled. Bearden is referred to in the first person even in those sections that were written by Risen, and the book is based on hundreds of interviews conducted with dozens of CIA and KGB officers over the course of three years. This literary technique is not one that a historian would use. Nevertheless, it makes for easier reading, and it presents a little bit of continuity across various diverse topics, such as the CIA's hunt for suspected moles, various KGB spies and defectors, and the CIA's war in Afghanistan beginning in 1986.


Epstein, Edward Jay. Deception: The Invisible War Between the KGB and the CIA. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989. 335 pages.

Edward Jay Epstein began as a Warren Commission critic ("Inquest," 1966) -- not because Oswald wasn't the lone gunman, but because he was a tool of the KGB ("Legend," 1978). This perspective came from James Angleton, whom Epstein began interviewing in 1976, and from an interview with Yuri Nosenko arranged by CIA-connected editors at the Reader's Digest.

Between 1979 and 1985 Epstein attended a series of academic conferences on KGB deception, sponsored by universities, foundations, and the CIA. From these he began to see deception as a strategic problem. The second half of this book examines some major deceptions in the twentieth century: the Soviet "Trust" in the 1920s, Hitler's armament inventory in the 1930s, Soviet faking for our spy satellites, and the mole wars. Then Epstein looks at Glasnost in the Soviet Union. It's all happened before -- five times by his count -- so Gorbachev's Glasnost must be fakery as well, designed to provide the USSR with easy cash and credits from the West.

Epstein is sincere and honest, he's a good writer, and he generally names his sources in the intelligence community. That makes him worth reading, even after Angleton has been largely discredited and Epstein's premise is forced to fly in the face of almost all available evidence.


Kessler, Ronald. Spy vs. Spy: Stalking Soviet Spies in America. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988. 308 pages.

Most of this book recounts the story of Karl F. Koecher and his wife Hana, whom Kessler interviewed in 1987. In 1965 they orchestrated a phony defection from the Czechoslovak Intelligence Service, after which Karl became a naturalized U.S. citizen, worked full-time for the CIA beginning in 1973, and continued as a contract agent after 1977. He spoke four languages, earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Colombia, and spent many of his weekends as a "swinger" at spouse-swapping parties with Hana. By 1982 the FBI's counterintelligence squad was getting suspicious. In 1984 Karl Koecher admitted that he had been spying for the East all along, and in 1986 he and Hana were traded for Natan Sharansky.

Award-winning correspondent Ronald Kessler spent fifteen years at the Washington Post, and has also been a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. His books include "Spy vs. Spy," "Moscow Station," and "The Richest Man in the World: The Story of Adnan Khashoggi." The first two are remarkable for his excellent contacts within current U.S. counterintelligence circles, while the book on Khashoggi was an international bestseller. Kessler lives in Potomac, Maryland.


Martin, David C. Wilderness of Mirrors. New York: Ballantine Books, 1981. 233 pages.

Journalist David C. Martin tracks a CIA Odd Couple across the years of the high Cold War: James Jesus Angleton, the CIA's patrician counterspy- in-chief, and William King Harvey, the ex-FBI fat man who nursed a grudge against Ivy League spooks.

In the case of the most famous spy of the century, Harvey's instincts were better than Angleton's. Englishman Kim Philby of Britain's MI6 was close to Angleton, whom he had known in wartime London. But he was also a KGB penetration agent, and it was Harvey rather than Angleton who figured this out. Philby's defection to Moscow set off Angleton's long-running, destructive CIA "mole-hunt," whose excesses eventually brought down Angleton himself. (See Mangold's "Cold Warrior," indexed in NameBase.)

The pistol-packing Harvey, meanwhile, oversaw the famous Berlin tunnel that briefly tapped Soviet communications. Later he ran the CIA's notorious Operation Mongoose, whose avowed object was to assassinate Castro. Harvey got so close to mobsters like John Roselli that he was eventually fired by Robert Kennedy -- a biographical detail that has not escaped the authors of JFK assassination books. What these two radically unlike men shared was their fanaticism. -- Steve Badrich


Trento, Joseph J. The Secret History of the CIA. Roseville CA: Prima Publishing (Forum), 2001. 542 pages.

Joseph Trento has been an investigative reporter on the national security beat since 1968. He had some scoops in the 1970s, and kept at it through the 1980s and 1990s by cultivating insiders such as James Angleton, William Corson, and Robert Crowley. Through them he managed to interview dozens of other retired spooks. Now he is president of the Public Education Center in Washington DC.

This book covers roughly three intermingled topics. The first is the CIA's early years at the Berlin base, where high-flying corruption and Soviet penetration was rampant, and even seemed to help one's CIA career. William Harvey was a key player here. The second involves the migration of some of these players to Vietnam, and also to Chile. The primary source on Chile is Edward Korry, whose story is told here in some detail. The third aspect of this book is the mole wars, where Angleton plays a major role. Trento makes a strong case that Igor Orlov and George Weisz deserve top billing as moles, but is less convincing when he describes Angleton's theories about Oswald. In the end, the point of the book -- that the Soviets consistently ran circles around a corrupted and incompetent CIA -- is rock solid. It wasn't our self-serving Keystone Cops who won the Cold War; it was simply that our arms race outlasted the Soviet economy.


Wise, David. Cassidy's Run: The Secret Spy War Over Nerve Gas. New York: Random House, 2000. 228 pages.

From 1958 to 1980, the FBI ran a counterintelligence operation with the help of Joseph Cassidy, an army sergeant untrained in espionage. Some 4,500 pages of classified documents about the U.S. nerve gas program were passed to Cassidy's Soviet handlers. Some were real and others were doctored; the army and FBI hoped to mislead the Soviets by suggesting that a powerful new gas was part of the U.S. arsenal. In fact, this gas had proven unstable. The assumption was that the Soviets would spend good money on a dead-end program in an effort to keep up with the U.S.

Over 23 years, two FBI agents working the case were accidentally killed when their small plane crashed, and the operation flushed out ten Soviet spies, including University of Minnesota professor Gilberto Lopez y Rivas. (Lopez is now a congressman in Mexico.) Wise notes that ironically, this operation can be considered a failure because it spurred the Soviets on to greater efforts in the area of nerve gas research, which were ultimately successful. To make this point, Wise interviewed various officials in Moscow, as well as Vil Mirzayanov, a nerve gas scientist who was arrested in 1992 for revealing the existence of Novichok. This gas was developed in 1973 and is between eight and ten times more toxic than anything in the U.S. arsenal. Until Mirzayanov blew the whistle, no one knew the Soviets even had Novichok.


Wise, David. Molehunt: The Secret Search for Traitors that Shattered the CIA. New York: Random House, 1992. 325 pages.

Along with "Cold Warrior" by Tom Mangold, "Molehunt" tells the story of defector Anatoli Golitsin and his protege James Angleton. Golitsin's tall tales, together with Angleton's paranoia and power, led to a hunt for double agents that effectively ended the careers of some loyal CIA officers. Mangold concentrates on Angleton himself and manages to interview Yuri Nosenko, a defector who was locked up in solitary by the CIA for over two years and mentally tortured, all because Golitsin and Angleton decided he was a false defector. Wise's book is more name-intensive and takes a closer look at the careers of some of the other players affected by this drama.

With all of the literature about the CIA over the past two decades, it is easy to forget that for the first half of the Agency's history, almost nothing was in the public domain. Washington journalist David Wise changed all of that with "The Invisible Government" in 1964. CIA director John McCone called in Wise and co-author Thomas Ross to demand deletions on the basis of galleys the CIA had secretly obtained. When that didn't work, the CIA formed a special group to deal with the book and tried to secure bad reviews, even though the CIA's legal counsel had found the book "uncannily accurate." As the unofficial dean of intelligence journalists, Wise is still working on future books from his Washington office.


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