THE PERFECT ENGLISH SPY by Tom Bower

THE PERFECT ENGLISH SPY

The Unknown Man in Charge During the Most Tumultuous, Scandal-Ridden Era in Espionage History

KIRKUS REVIEW

 An account of the life of the man at the center of British intelligence for much of the postwar period; Bower (The Paperclip Conspiracy, 1988, etc.) suggests that the bureau's failures were even more profound than previously suspected. Bower's book is based on extensive interviews with Sir Dick White, who rose to head MI5, the counterintelligence arm, after WW II and in 1956 became head of SIS, the foreign intelligence branch. When White joined MI5 it was ``a professional backwater,'' filled mainly with retired Indian police officers and widely despised because of the ``inherent prejudice against the very idea of intelligence.'' During the war it gained great prestige through its perfection of the double-cross system, in which German spies were captured and used to feed disinformation to the Abwehr. Even this success, however, was, according to Bower, due more to the incompetence of the enemy than the brilliance of the service. Its record in the Cold War, with one or two exceptions, was almost unbelievably bad. White gained much prestige through his management of Oleg Penkovsky, the so-called ``spy of the century,'' who revealed the inadequacy of the Soviet missile arsenal, but the period was repeatedly punctuated by the discovery of Soviet spies like Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, and others who rose to high levels in British intelligence, the Foreign Office, and other departments. Most of these spies were revealed by Soviet defectors, and Bower concludes that ``if British Intelligence had relied only upon its own resources, without the CIA's assistance, neither MI5 nor SIS would ever have discovered a single Soviet spy in Britain.'' White's achievement in all this was to preserve a measure of American respect and cooperation, but his role in actually improving British intelligence seems to have been dismal. The most authoritative account of a period in which the words ``British intelligence'' seem to have been almost an oxymoron. (24 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-13584-X
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1995




SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionTHE ART OF BETRAYAL by Gordon Corera
by Gordon Corera