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An insider's evenhanded and engrossing account of the circumstances surrounding the attempted quashing of Peter Wright's best-selling Spycatcher--a first-person account of the author's 20-year career with M15 (the UK counterpart of the FBI). The book became a succÉs de scandale last year in the wake of the British government's ultimately abortive efforts to block its publication--but, in fact, Wright revealed little in the way of new information, let alone state secrets. Indeed, through the good offices of Victor (Lord) Rothschild, the retired counterespionage operative had acted as the unidentified (albeit handsomely compensated) source for Pincher's 1981 exposÉ, Their Trade Is Treachery, which first aired allegations that Roger Hollis (an erstwhile MI5 chief) was a Soviet agent. A highly regarded and well-informed journalist who covered the defense/intelligence beat during his Fleet Street days, Pincher (now 73) has made a global name for himself as the author of follow-up books like Too Secret Too Long (1984), The Secret Offensive (1986), and Traitors (1987). Here (in an updated version of a work published in England last year under the title A Web of Deception), he sets fire record straight on his part in the noisy debate precipitated by Spycatcher and shrewdly critiques those who have played leading roles in the tawdry drama. For openers, Pincher leaves little doubt that Wright is more a mercenary than a patriot. Nor does he accept the simplistic notion that the courtroom battles conducted in Australia and elsewhere were tests of free speech versus national security. The Crown, Pincher argues persuasively, had to pursue Wright (who breached a pledge of lifelong silence), lest future intelligence officers go public with genuinely damaging memoirs. On the other hand, the author faults Whitehall for bungling its case through an overzealous regard for need-to-know doctrine. A judicious and cautionary briefing on the perils of official secrets in the context of geopolitical realities and the public's perceived interests.

Pub Date: Dec. 16th, 1988
Publisher: St. Martin's