The question I am asked most frequently (besides “are you in the CIA?”) is what books I recommend for further reading on the topics I write about. There are a trove of fascinating true tales of espionage out there, and I find myself diving into book after book on my never-ending quest to uncover the greatest stories of spycraft and espionage in world history. I have shelves full of books which are one of my many resources for the deeply-researched anecdotes I post here and elsewhere. I’ve already covered eight other books that have been great sources of information for me. Now, months later, I want to share with you eight more books that are sure to hold your interest and take you down new paths.
7. Blind Man’s Bluff by Sherry Sontag
Easily the best book in maritime spying, Blind Man’s Bluff is an exciting, epic story of adventure, ingenuity, courage, and disaster beneath the sea. This New York Times bestseller reveals previously unknown dramas, such as the mission to send submarines wired with self-destruct charges into the heart of Soviet seas to tap crucial underwater telephone cables. Other fascinating stories include how the Navy’s own negligence may have been responsible for the loss of the USS Scorpion, a submarine that disappeared, all hands lost, in 1968, as well as the bitter war between the CIA and the Navy and how it threatened to sabotage one of America’s most important undersea missions.
There is also a chapter on the audacious attempt to steal a Soviet submarine with the help of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, and how it was doomed from the start, which I have previously covered in other posts. This book is a frequent go-to for me whenever I want to dive more deeply into the US Navy’s enormous contributions to espionage during the Cold War.
6. KGB: The Inside Story by Oleg Gordievsky and Christopher Andrew
Coauthored by KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky, who famously defected to the United States after decades with Soviet intelligence, KGB: The Inside Story is the most enthralling, the most riveting, and the most thorough history ever written about Soviet intelligence and espionage activities. Together with Cambridge historian Christopher Andrew, Gordievsky provides a vivid analysis of the Soviet’s espionage operations, success, and failures from Lenin to Gorbachev. Packed with fascinating stories and dozens of larger-than-life characters, it’s an important nonfiction book that reads like a bestselling espionage novel.
Gordievsky reveals some incredible secrets here, including the first-ever revelation of the long-sought identity of the fifth British traitor, and why he was considered so valuable to the KGB. There are also numerous details on the liquidatioin of various KGB targets from Leon Trotsky to Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. There is also a great section on the murder of Georgi Markov in London in 1978, which I have covered in a previous post. This book is not to be missed by fans of Cold War history.
5. Spy Vs. Spy by Ronald Kessler
Spy Vs. Spy has some tremendous insights to offer into the work of FBI counterintelligence agents on the hunt for Soviet Spies in the Washington DC area in the 1980s. Written by Ronald Kessler who spent years researching, interviewing sources, and writing this book, it delves into the difficult investigative work that comprises counterintelligence investigations. There are successes and failures to be seen, such as the successful capture of Yevgeniy Barmyanstev, caught while servicing a dead drop in rural Maryland; as well as the failures associated with Karl Koecher’s work as a Czech spy who went undetected in the United States for years. An excellent addition to any collection of espionage books.
4. Special Tasks by Pavel and Anatoli Sudoplatov
According to KGB archives, Pavel Sudoplatov directed the secretive Administration for Special Tasks. This department was responsible for kidnapping, assassination, sabotage, and guerrilla warfare during World War II, it also set up illegal networks in the United States and Western Europe, and, most crucially, carried out atomic espionage in the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. Sudoplatov served the KGB for over fifty years, at one point controlling more than twenty thousand guerrillas, moles, and spies.
But his involvement with the most nefarious Soviet activities– and the rulers who ordered them– made Sudoplatov an unwanted witness, and he was arrested in 1953 after Beria’s fall. Despite torture and solitary confinement he refused to “confess”, disavowing any criminal actions. He spent fifteen years in prison, then struggled two decades more for rehabilitation.
“Special Tasks” is an astonishing memoir and a singular historical document of a man who knew and did too much for the Soviet empire. Some of Sudoplatov’s insights have already made it into my other posts, particularly those about the Chamber, Russia’s assassination laboratory. We rarely get such an incredible peak behind the Iron Curtain as we do with Sudoplatov’s seminal autobiography.
3. Rise and Kill First by Ronen Bergman
In this page-turning, eye-opening book, journalist and military analyst Ronen Bergman offers a riveting inside account of the targeted killing programs: their successes, their failures, and the moral and political price exacted on the men and women who approved and carried out the missions.
Bergman has gained the exceedingly rare cooperation of many current and former members of the Israeli government, including Prime Ministers Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as high-level figures in the country’s military and intelligence services: the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), the Mossad (the world’s most feared intelligence agency), Caesarea (a “Mossad within the Mossad” that carries out attacks on the highest-value targets), and the Shin Bet (an internal security service that implemented the largest targeted assassination campaign ever, in order to stop what had once appeared to be unstoppable: suicide terrorism).
Including never-before-reported, behind-the-curtain accounts of key operations, and based on hundreds of on-the-record interviews and thousands of files to which Bergman has gotten exclusive access over his decades of reporting, Rise and Kill First brings us deep into the heart of Israel’s most secret activities. Bergman traces, from statehood to the present, the gripping events and thorny ethical questions underlying Israel’s targeted killing campaign, which has shaped the Israeli nation, the Middle East, and the entire world.
2. Secret Warriors by Steven Emerson
An award-winning investigative journalist tells the explosive inside story of the covert “black” operations conducted by the military during the Reagan administration. Based on Steven Emerson’s exclusive access to unpublished documents and hundreds of interviews with intelligence agents and officials from the Pentagon, CIA, NSC, NSA, White House, Justice Department, and State Department, Secret Warriors is the story of how the Pentagon, disgusted at the failure of the 1980 Iran hostage rescue attempt, decided it could no longer trust the capabilities of the CIA and instead set up a “miniature CIA” within it’s own walls.
With names like Delta, Yellow Fruit, Seaspray, Task Force 160, Quick Reaction Team, the Intelligence Support Activity, and the Special Operations Division, its clandestine units fanned out around the globe, gathering intelligence and conducting undercover operations, often without Congress ever knowing.
Secret Warriors has been an outstanding reference for several of my recent posts, and I have other posts planned in the future based on what I read here. A must-read book for fans of my blog.
1. The Secret History of the CIA by Joseph J. Trento
Joseph J. Trento’s character-driven history of the flawed and often desctructive Central Intelligence Agency profiles the men and women who have run the agency from its inception through the late 1990s. Using his formidable reporting skills, Trento dissects the agency’s most important successes and failures, from its role as opponent of the Soviet Empire to its work during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War. As the facts pile up, the CIA proves itself to be an organization plagued by alcoholism, bitter antagonism, and stifling bureaucracy.
The result of more than a decade of research and hundreds of interviews with spies and double agents, The Secret History of the CIA penetrates the carefully orchestrated culture of secrecy that has allowed the agency to suffer from the weaknesses of its highest members, away from the media’s scrutiny. Reaching conclusions that are as astonishing as they are impossible to dismiss, this is a fascinating examination of some of the most colorful and deceitful personalities in the history of our nation, and one that will forever alter our awareness not just of our intelligence services but of recent American history.