A British military-intelligence specialist exhaustively recounts his country’s woeful 60-year record countering Soviet spying.
Espionage expert Pincher (The Spycatcher Affair, 1988, etc.) digs deep to prove that Roger Hollis, who served from 1936 to 1965 in Britain’s MI-5, was really a Russian agent, code-named “Elli.” Drawing on recently opened Soviet archives, the vast literature recounting British counterintelligence failures and a lifetime of high-level sources developed in England and America, Pincher compiles a damning, if circumstantial, dossier against Hollis, whose lengthy career spans a time made notorious by a number of traitorous names. They include the so-called Cambridge Five—Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess—atomic spy Klaus Fuchs and disgraced cabinet minister John Profumo, whose liaison with model Christine Keeler brought down Harold Macmillan’s government. Pincher also deals with numerous, less well-known characters, notably Ursula Hamburger, or “Sonia,” “the most influential female secret agent of all time.” The author’s surfeit of detail, roll call of shady characters and catalogue of outrageous episodes, misdeeds, deceptions, lies and cover-ups have two effects. First, they underscore Pincher’s immense authority and the overwhelming evidence against Hollis; second, they weary all but the most intensely interested readers. Still, the Hollis matter has for the Brits the same fascination—and features the same furious contention—as the Alger Hiss case once held for Americans. After this book, Hollis’s defenders will be reduced to ascribing the staggering number of documented failures on his watch “merely” to spectacular negligence.
Occasionally tiresome, but Pincher provides a comprehensive, almost irrefutable indictment.