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Spy Catcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer (edition 1987)

by Peter Wright

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1,007None8,444 (3.51)24
Member:Hanneri
Title:Spy Catcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer
Authors:Peter Wright
Info:Viking Adult (1987), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 392 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:**
Tags:2012, Cold War, Hard Copy, Non Fiction, Espionage

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Spy Catcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer by Peter Wright

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Not a writer of genius, but the book is quite interesting. I wonder how much of the material covered is still state of the art, and I expect that very little of it is. There's quite a gap, one would hope, between escapist literature on this topic and the actual tradecraft of the current operations. But with Edward Snowdon throwing out great heaps of sensitive information, the future's probably full of changes for our invisible grey eminences. By writing this review, have I added to mt file? Does anyone care? I'd like to be fully informed, but I'm afraid of knowing too much. A normal human, I think. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Dec 22, 2013 |
As the subtitle indicates, this is "the candid autobiography of a senior intelligence officer" with Britain's MI5, the domestic intelligence service. My edition, a mass market paperback, is covered with plenty of laudatory quotes. The Financial Post believed that "Margaret Thatcher was quite right in trying to ban the book," while The New York Times said that "anyone with a taste for cloak-and-dagger mysteries should find Spycatcher a compelling read." I can't speak to the accuracy of the statement re Mrs Thatcher, but I will partly agree with the quote about cloak-and-dagger mysteries. Indeed, some parts, particularly in the early days when Wright chronicles the major surveillance operations he was involved in, are fascinating in the same way as a le Carré novel. (Given that le Carré himself worked as an intelligence officer around that time, this is not entirely surprising.)

Those who have read Christopher Andrew's Defence of the Realm may have a slight edge in knowing the major players and events in this book, which is definitely a more personal perspective than Andrew's book. Spycatcher is also a bit dated of course, given that it was published in 1987 (or rather my edition was). I think the book overall was pretty good, but for me personally my interest waned in the events once the 1970s rolled around. This also happened with Andrew's book so it's not necessarily Wright's fault that I find WW2 and the Kim Philby affair much more interesting.

If you plan to read this, beware of copious typographical errors in this edition. Also the chapters don't have any internal section breaks, so some can be tougher slogs than others. But overall I would say the content is good and worth a read if you're interested (at least the first half). ( )
1 vote rabbitprincess | Jan 29, 2012 |
Riveting ( )
  susannelson | Mar 2, 2010 |
Imagine that both the FBI AND the CIA having Directors who are Soviet Moles planted decades earlier and now doing everything possible to not only ensure that U.S. espionage activities are unsuccessful, but passing all information to Moscow. This is what appears to have happened, in effect, to the British Intelligence services MI5 and MI6 from 1945 to 1965. And this was all because the Ox-bridge 'Old Bouy' network did not want anyone to even surmise that 'their kind' could even be suspected of disloyalty, much less treason. Through-out this period, even attempts to expose the traitors were suppressed for political reasons, to benefit the Party in Power. There were so many traitors that the effort to discover them was eventually abandoned on the premise other priorities demanded more attention of limited resources. All this while the spies were giving the Soviets all the information on U.S. advances in submarine warfare and missile technology, electronic warfare and much else; all so that the British 'Upper Claasses' could save face. This whole story is the Intelligence Fiasco of the Century. Now we know whom we cannot trust. ( )
  JimThomson | Mar 29, 2009 |
I devoured this one in two days. I thought espionage movies are interesting, but was blown away by how much more intrigue, deceit, and flashy gadgets there are in the true stories!

Peter Wright was recruited into MI5 following World War II as their first staff scientist. He began in signals technology, designing new methods for detecting and decrypting soviet signals. A rising star, he quickly moved on to counterintelligence, where he spends the remainder of his career trying to ferret out moles in the system. Despite the ultimate futility of his work--every time he finds a mole, evidence of more arises--and what it means for the effectiveness of his organization, Wright passionately pursues his work, though near the end he admits to feeling like he is surrounded by enemies.

The characters in Wright's memoir are larger than life, as spies in the movies never are. There's Pete Harvey, a volatile, alcoholic CIA agent who wears cowboy boots and calls Wright a limey bastard. Anthony Blunt, cultured intellectual with a history for passionate love affairs with fellow spies (mostly men) who lives in quiet luxury after confessing to large scale espionage (Britian has a habit of granting moles immunity if they confess). And Jim Angleton, whose passion for his work and belief that the great game can be won leaves him looking more emaciated each time Wright sees him.

The sheer volume and stature of the moles Wright finds, some of whom are department directors, left me with the initial impression that the entire business of espionage, especially counterespionage, is futile and self defeating. Not only is it impossible to have a large number of people keep a secret, but the work itself damages the people who do it. Few can be in the business of deception and distrust without eventually becoming paranoid, deceitful, or misanthropic.

On the other hand, wiretaps and double agents were the weapons of the Cold War. Though it was, as Wright put it, just a great game, it's a far less destructive way to fight a war than with bombs and guns.
1 vote delirium | May 8, 2008 |
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