A CENTURY OF SPIES: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century by Jeffrey T. Richelson

A CENTURY OF SPIES: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century

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A dispassionate reference work on modern intelligence gathering. Rather than a romantic or riveting story about espionage, Richelson (American Espionage and the Soviet Target, 1987), a senior fellow at the National Security Archive, offers an extended encyclopedia entry detailing the progressively more complex methods countries have devised to steal and conceal their secrets from each other. He traces the development of the 20th century's major spy services, describes many of their important players, chronicles key events in the modern history of espionage, and evaluates governments' use and misuse of intelligence gathering. At times, the book is fascinating almost in spite of itself, as when Richelson describes Stalin's scorn for predictions of the 1941 Nazi attack on the Soviet Union. Mostly, however, his technique of presenting the facts with virtually no commentary or color is stupefying to the layperson. It also seems excessively myopic: For example, the author doesn't tell us whether there was any debate over the morality or legality of America's 1945 recruitment of Nazi spy Reinhard Gehlen, eventual head of West Germany's intelligence service, and he discusses only the narrowest part of the 1986 debate about giving Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan, describing the CIA's concern that the missiles could be traced to the US but ignoring the broader argument over whether Islamic fundamentalists should be trusted with such lethal weapons at all. Other serious omissions include the lack of a chapter on the CIA's secret wars in Central America during the 1980s and the absence of a discussion of the CIA's failure to anticipate the collapse of the Soviet Union. Of value to researchers but little interest to a general readership.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 019511390X
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.