Some spy-related nonfiction books for the summer
May 15, 2014 1 Comment
By I. ALLEN AND J. FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
It has been well established ever since we launched IntelNews, nearly six years ago, that readers of this blog are a well-read lot. The subject of books regularly comes up in our conversations with our readers, who often ask us for our personal spy-related book recommendations. We have several, but we thought we would suggest some recently published nonfiction for the summer that is now upon us. Our first suggestion is Dr. Kristie Macrakis’ fascinating new work entitled Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies: The Story of Invisible Ink from Herodotus to al-Qaeda, published by Yale University Press. Macrakis, an internationally recognized historian, is Professor in the School of History, Technology and Society at Georgia Tech, where she teaches classes in science and espionage. She is most known for two books on East German intelligence during the Cold War, the most recent of which was East German Foreign Intelligence (Routledge, 2010). In the book, the author displays her knowledge of both science and intelligence, in explaining how civilizations throughout history have used a variety of ingredients to hide written notes, ranging from citrus juices to cobalt, and even urine and semen. Her examples span the centuries as she highlights the role of secret writing in the American Revolution, the two World Wars, as well as the West’s current confrontation with al-Qaeda. The book is loaded with chemical terminology but it is written with the non-expert in mind and will be enjoyed by all those with a serious historical interest in intelligence. Another book we recommend is Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State (Metropolitan Books). Greenwald was the first journalist that the American intelligence contractor contacted when he decided to defect. Snowden’s actions have divided America, and we are aware that this includes this blog’s readership. But Greenwald’s account will be of interest to intelligence observers no matter where they stand on the issue. The author describes how he first heard from Snowden, via email in December of 2012, when he was a writer for Britain’s Guardian newspaper. He then tells the interesting story of his trip to Hong Kong to meet Snowden, which he undertook along with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. Greenwald’s style comes across as somewhat self-righteous at times, but the account offered in his book is crucial in helping intelligence observers piece together the story of Snowden’s defection, as well as the importance of his disclosures. One final nonfiction spy-related book to consider is The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames (Crown Publishers), by American Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist Kai Bird. The subject of Bird’s book is Robert Ames, a La Salle University graduate who joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1960 and rose to become the Agency’s most prolific and influential operative in the Middle East in the 1970s. Even though Ames joined the CIA at a particularly tense period of the Cold War, when most American spies were focusing on Soviet and East European affairs, Ames concentrated on the Arab world, learning the language before even joining the Agency. He eventually served in posts all over the Middle East, ranging from South Yemen and Lebanon to Kuwait and Iran. His most notable intelligence feat was establishing a back-door channel between Washington and the Palestine Liberation Organization. But, says Bird, Ames’ close contacts with Arab nationalists were cut short by his death in 1983, aged 49. He was killed along with 62 other people at the bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut, leaving behind a wife and six children. Had he lived longer, says Bird, Ames “might well have coaxed out better relations between Arabs and the West”.