Newer maybe shinier, but shinier is not always better. Most books that I read are fresh off the press, or the pre-press, in fact I usually have a stack waiting for me. The ‘dog days’ of summer has found me temporarily out of new books, and so I went digging in my must read pile.

I have always been fascinated by the British secret service, on the one hand it seemed so slick, yet on the other hand it seemed such a disaster. My interest started back in the early 70’s when I first read John Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. This is a wonderful piece of fiction, yet it has some parallels with the real events concerning the infamous Cambridge spy ring.

Over the years I have read way too many books on the subject, and certainly the sanitized biographies of the perpetrators of the crimes, Kim Philby, Donald McLean, Anthony Blunt, etc. I have also read several books by those that were tracking down these spies, most notably Peter Wrights Spycatcher, that was banned in England for several years. And of course there are a whole raft of books written by investigative authors, these vacillate from the factual based through pure fiction. They are all entertaining, and all contain some nugget of information. But none put the story into a true historical perspective, everyone has a spin.

Many modern books refer to The Second Oldest Profession as the bible of all things to do with spying in the 20th century. And indeed it is, Mr. Knightley has created probably the best look at what happened in the 20th century in the art of spying.

The bottom line is that mostly it was just a disaster, inept spies, and even more inept spy hunters. On the rare occasion that one side or another claimed a victory, it was often a hollow victory.

Knightley also elegantly introduces us to the ‘Intelligence Dance’, or maybe it is ‘The Death Rattle’. The concept goes along the lines, ‘if we are doing our best to infiltrate the opposition, then they must be doing the same thing to us’. The only defense to this is to vigorously pursue every indiscretion by every individual. And that is what happened to the CIA and the British MI5 and SIS organizations, careers ruined, lives destroyed, in the hunt for that elusive traitor.

Yes, some were found, some were indeed sharing information with the enemy, yet when put into historical perspective, very few, actually had any effect on the eventual outcome of any situation.

Although this book is 20 years old, it makes for some interesting reading. As far as I can tell it is long out of press, but here is the Amazon link.

Simon Barrett

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