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Books: How to Spy Without Being Caught Trying

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A SHORT COURSE IN THE SECRET WAR (314 pp.)—Christopher Felix—Dutton ($5).

The cold war provides the proper natal temperature at which secret agents are born and flourish. This book, by a pseudonymous author who served the U.S. Government in a variety of intrigues over a 16-year period, aims at—and intelligently succeeds in—explaining the theory and purpose of cloak-and-dagger work. It also argues that every serious U.S. failure, from the U-2 to the Bay of Pigs, “has either been caused or compounded by those responsible ignoring or brushing aside the classic principles of secret operations.”

The Code. But the book is less an ex pose than a primer on how a government goes about collecting information that other powers want to keep hidden. The key operative, known as a “case officer,” is given the authority and funds to build up the necessary network of agents, cutouts, line crossers, drops and cover organizations. His assignment can generally be classified as either “clandestine” or “covert.” A clandestine operation (the Bay of Pigs invasion, Russia’s secret installation of missiles in Cuba) is one that is recognized as a hostile act carrying with it the risk of war. A covert operation, however, is one accepted as “a peacetime avenue of action which, when used, will not upset international apple carts.” In Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 state visit to Britain aboard a Soviet heavy cruiser, British Frogman Lionel Crabb mysteriously died in Portsmouth harbor while trying to examine the cruiser’s hull. Yet the state visit continued and official relations remained unruffled because London followed the code by calmly disowning the dead frogman. The rule here, says Author Felix, is that “a covert operation’s patent hostility can be ignored by the victim who uncovers it only if he receives the cooperation of the author of the act.” Hence Khrushchev’s discomfiture after the U-2 incident when he told newsmen he was certain that President Eisenhower had no personal knowledge of the U-2 overnights of Russia-only to have Eisenhower publicly take full responsibility.

The Fundamentals. Another tacit understanding between the big powers, according to Felix, is that political assassination will not be included in secret operations, on the theory that the murder of chiefs of state cannot resolve the existing conflicts between East and West. The recruitment of good U.S. secret agents is difficult, largely because gait, posture, manner and even physique make Americans readily identifiable abroad. As a result, U.S. intelligence services draw largely on naturalized U.S. citizens—which makes it somewhat easier for the Russians to penetrate the system by planting a counterspy in the guise of a recent defector.

After describing the fundamentals of the game in the first part of the book (including the curious fact that the CIA, though differing in important respects, corresponds more closely to the Russian Committee on State Security than it does to the secret services of Britain or France), Author Felix concludes with an account of a job he did in Hungary in 1946-47-He was sent to Budapest to take over a secret intelligence network, but, as the Communists tightened their grip on Hungary, his job evolved into a political operation, and finally became an escape chain that helped 74 political and scientific leaders get away to the West. Felix wound up the operation in Budapest with the only Hollywood touch in the book: he drove across the border taking with him a hidden 75th escapee—the Hungarian woman who became his wife.

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