Book Review: Dictionary of Cold War Counterintelligence

Soviet intelligence agencies “rarely used the polygraph, but trained some of their officers with a machine stolen in 1965 by a Counterintelligence Corps sergeant, Glen Rohrer, who defected to Czechoslovakia.”

That curious factoid is just one of many intriguing nuggets contained in a new “Historical Dictionary of Cold War Counterintelligence” by British intelligence writer Nigel West, which is the sixth in a series of historical intelligence dictionaries published by Scarecrow Press.

From “abduction” to “Zlatovsky” the new Dictionary provides brief, capsule summaries of key topics, terms and events in the turbulent history of cold war counterintelligence.

All of the familiar entries are there, and quite a few unfamiliar ones.

“White Knuckle” is “the CIA codename for an operation to recover classified files that had been loaned to the KGB defector Anatoli Golitsyn to assist his research for the counterintelligence staff. The documents were retrieved from his home in New York City, as well as from his mill farm upstate.”

“Eyewash” is “the CIA term for false entries made in files, usually to protect the security of a source, often indicating that a particular target has rejected a pitch, when in fact the offer was accepted.”

An excellent series of Appendices provide a convenient roster of espionage prosecutions in the United States; a list of U.S. defectors to the Soviet Union; a list of Soviet and Eastern bloc intelligence defectors to the United States; and more.

Part of the satisfaction of reading a book like this derives from seeking and finding errors, and there are at least a few of those. There is a “Philip” whose name is misspelled “Phillip.” More significantly, CIA covert action is not limited to, nor does it even consist principally of, “paramilitary operations,” as the Dictionary says.

The entries themselves are not sourced or annotated, so if a reader wants to pursue further information, he has to take his best guess as to where it may be found in the bibliography.

Some readers might wish the author had refrained from publishing speculation about the identities of individuals who he thinks correspond to spies known only by their Soviet code name. If the book is mistaken about the “likely” identity of RELAY, for example, it will have perpetrated an injustice that is difficult to correct.

Just a few writers have immersed themselves in the historical intelligence literature as extensively as the prolific Mr. West and returned to write about it. So almost anyone is likely to learn something new.

Some of the other volumes in the present series have been found wanting by Hayden B. Peake, a former intelligence officer and bibliophile who reviewed them for the CIA journal Studies in Intelligence. But an earlier volume on British intelligence that was also written by Mr. West was ruled by Mr. Peake “quite good,” which is high praise from that quarter.

The very high list price of the book ($115) will make it unaffordable for many readers and will probably limit its acquisition to larger libraries and special collections.

More information, including a table of contents and an excerpt, may be found on the Scarecrow Press web site here.

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