Intelligence / Personalities / Spycatching

Barron, John. Breaking the Ring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987. 244 pages.

This book is the story of the spy case involving John Walker, his family, and Jerry Whitworth. Walker began spying for the Soviets in 1968, and until the arrests of 1985, Walker's spy ring had furnished the Soviets with over a million messages and the keys to decipher them. When Vitaly Yurchenko defected briefly in 1985, he said that the KGB, which regarded the Walker-Whitworth case as the greatest in its history, couldn't believe that his wife had turned him in; they figured the U.S. must be protecting some counterintelligence assets that they didn't know about. But Walker himself once said that K-Mart has better security than the Navy.

John Barron was a naval intelligence officer in the 1950s, and since then has written two books on the KGB, with assistance from his sources in the CIA. His reputation as a U.S. intelligence booster allowed him excellent access to the FBI agents who built the case against Walker and Whitworth, as well as to some intelligence specialists who were concerned with damage assessment. He also interviewed Walker, who turned state's evidence, and attended Whitworth's trial.


Blitzer, Wolf. Territory of Lies: The Rise, Fall, and Betrayal of Jonathan Jay Pollard. New York: Harper Paperbacks, 1990. 342 pages.

Israel has long enjoyed a special relationship with the United States, which derives mainly from a well-organized Jewish community in America. The two country's intelligence services are also close. Beginning in 1951, James Angleton made many visits to Israel, and was the CIA's principal liaison with Mossad for the rest of his career. There's a plaque outside of Jerusalem with his name on it in English and Hebrew, commemorating the "Memory of a Good Friend." William Casey picked up where Angleton left off.

When the arrest of Jonathan Pollard hit the headlines in November, 1985, it threw a wrench in the "special relationship." Pollard was an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy who had been giving thousands of pages of classified documents to his handlers from Israeli intelligence, Aviem Sella and Sella's boss Rafi Eitan. Defense secretary Caspar Weinberger told the Israeli ambassador that "Pollard should have been shot," but then contented himself with a 46-page memorandum to the judge that spelled out the damage to national security. This got Pollard a life sentence. Next, Israel tactlessly promoted Aviem Sella, whereupon angry U.S. authorities responded by indicting him. American Jews were starting to wonder if they should pick sides. As for Pollard himself, he was motivated by his love of Israel, but also enjoyed spending the money Israel paid him for his spying.


Goulden, Joseph C. The Death Merchant: The Rise and Fall of Edwin P. Wilson. New York: Bantam Books, 1985. 438 pages.

Maas, Peter. Manhunt: The Incredible Pursuit of a CIA Agent Turned Terrorist. New York: Random House, 1986. 301 pages.

These books detail the activities of Edwin Wilson, from a CIA contract agent to an arms dealer and terrorist for Libya. While working for the CIA Wilson became an expert at creating and organizing CIA front companies, most of which were engaged in the transport of weapons by cargo ships. Wilson was fired by the CIA in 1971 and began working for the U.S. Navy's secret Task Force 157, but was fired in 1976 after Bobby Inman pulled the plug on his budget.

Next the ever-resourceful Wilson used his contacts to begin sales of arms and C-4 plastique to Libya. His services to Libya later involved a more direct approach to terrorism when he attempted to have a Libyan dissident assassinated. Wilson was finally imprisoned for his activities, but argued at his trial that he was still working for the CIA while engaged in arms smuggling. (This "CIA defense" was later used by contra supporters and drug smugglers who felt that their services entitled them to a "get out of jail free card.") Also featured in this book is ex-CIA officer Frank Terpil who worked with Wilson in Libya. Terpil, a well known confidant with Middle East terrorists, had also worked for the infamous Idi Amin of Uganda.

-- Wendell Minnick


Kessler, Ronald. Escape from the CIA: How the CIA Won and Lost the Most Important KGB Spy Ever to Defect to the U.S. New York: Pocket Books, 1991. 210 pages.

On November 2, 1985, Vitaly Yurchenko walked away from his CIA guard and returned to the Soviet Embassy after three months of spilling secrets to the CIA's debriefers. If he were a real defector, presumably he'd be taking a massive risk by returning to the clutches of the KGB. After all, some of his information helped the CIA identify Ronald Pelton, a spy in the NSA, and Edward Lee Howard, a former CIA officer who spied for the Soviets. Not only wasn't Yurchenko shot, but he wasn't even fired; in 1989 Ronald Kessler was able to interview him in Moscow. What to make of this case?

Professional opinion is split on the issue. Many feel that Yurchenko was a false defector who gave up Pelton and Howard because these two no longer had access, and their exposure might satisfy the CIA as to why their spies in the USSR had fared so poorly. In other words, throw the CIA a couple of crumbs so that they stop looking for the rest of the loaf. The 1994 arrest of CIA mole Aldrich Ames has added considerable currency to this view. Others feel that Yurchenko was genuine, but couldn't put up with the shabby treatment he experienced at the hands of the CIA. Certainly the CIA was less professional than the FBI in this regard. In any event, Yurchenko and the KGB seem content to keep us all guessing.


Wise, David. Nightmover: How Aldrich Ames Sold the CIA to the KGB for $4.6 Million. New York: HarperCollins, 1995. 356 pages.

America's premier CIA-watching journalist has exceeded my expectations with this book, which I consider his best since he started CIA-watching in 1964 with "The Invisible Government." I am flattered to be included in Wise's acknowledgements, and hope that the use of NameBase saved him at least a little bit of shoe leather. That still leaves a few pairs of worn- out shoes. Wise digs out the names of CIA officials high and low, and except for sources who were promised confidentiality, he prints these names. (Too many journalists pretend to be intimidated by a 1982 law about naming names that they've never bothered to read, and hide behind this as an excuse for their reportorial laziness.)

Wise reports the story without moralizing and without obvious outrage; he lets the reader draw his own conclusions. I conclude from this book that secret agencies are destined to fail in the long run. Secrecy precludes accountability; it's an ultimate form of power that eventually turns little mistakes into disasters. Secret agencies commit major sins and do tremendous damage without realizing it; their inbred culture encourages deniability and above-the-law elitism. Hegel would say that history always generates its own contradictions from within. But secret history, it would appear, is on a fast track to self-destruction. -- D.Brandt


Wise, David. Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed America. New York: Random House, 2002. 309 pages.

In 2001, Robert Hanssen was sentenced to life without parole for spying for Russia for 22 years. Hanssen was a counterintelligence expert for the FBI. His unit analyzed the "feed" from operational agents and suspected double agents, and tried to determine whether operations were penetrated. There are not many positions in U.S. intelligence that would be more useful to a mole paid by Russia. Ironically, after the CIA's spy catchers had missed Aldrich Ames for nine years, President Clinton issued a directive in 1994 that gave the FBI much better access to the CIA's Counterintelligence Center.

Hanssen's motives were curious. He was a devout Catholic and member of the reactionary Opus Dei, and also had some unusual sexual interests -- a combination that produces conflicting speculations. The U.S. paid out $7 million to a defector who furnished Hanssen's file from a well-guarded building in Moscow, and then resettled him in America. Hanssen's name was not in the file (Hanssen never told Moscow his name), but his fingerprint was on a plastic bag retrieved from a drop, and his voice had been recorded. For three years the CIA and FBI investigators knew they had a mole problem, and had quietly focused on a CIA officer during that period. When they got this file they discovered that they were pursuing the wrong man.


Wise, David. The Spy Who Got Away. New York: Random House, 1988. 289 pages.

The subtitle reads, "The Inside Story of Edward Lee Howard, the CIA Agent Who Betrayed His Country's Secrets and Escaped to Moscow." Wise was able to interview Howard, who defected to the USSR in 1985 while under FBI suspicion and surveillance for espionage. Wise also took full advantage of his many contacts in U.S. intelligence and counterintelligence to fill out the story, making the book particularly valuable for the names he included.

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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