Franklin. Ben Franklin, superspy. This scholarly but readable history unlocks a portfolio of secrets—supersecrets, even.
It seems fitting that Andrew (Modern and Contemporary History/Univ. of Cambridge; Defend the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5, 2010, etc.) spent his academic career at Cambridge given how many spies that august institution fielded in the Cold War. This doorstopping survey begins at the beginning, with the Aristotelean justification for espionage: “Since people also revolt because of their private lives,” reads Politics, “it is necessary to set up some magistracy…to inspect those who live in a manner deleterious to the constitution.” The narrative continues to the present and projects into the future, darkly warning that since all human inventions now tend to proliferate globally, it will only be a matter of time before state-level weapons of mass destruction are used against civilians in the West, at a much deadlier scale than 9/11 and other catastrophes. “Though good intelligence diminishes surprise,” writes the author, “it cannot prevent it.” On that note, he suggests, good intelligence has been harder to come by than in the glory days of the Cold War. He observes that if we had Cold War–quality intelligence on Saddam Hussein, as the West did on the Soviet Union, then the Iraq War, based on the flawed premise of hidden weapons of mass destruction, would likely never have taken place. In between, Andrew takes a deep, sometimes breathless look at such things as conspiracy theories in early-19th-century Germany, the Enigma codebreakers of Bletchley Park and Winston Churchill’s steadfast support of their costly operation, the role of spying in the American Revolution, and the Israeli intelligence service’s rather flamboyant mastery of assassination. Failures of intelligence, notably 9/11 but also the Chinese infiltration of Richard Nixon’s 1972 mission to Beijing, figure as much as successes in Andrew’s spry account.
Fans of Fleming and Furst will delight in this skillfully related true-fact side of the story.