REVIEW: British espionage historian pens the complete history of spying: from Biblical times to the present day

REVIEW: British espionage historian pens the complete history of spying: from Biblical times to the present day

Opinion
[Washington Times] At hand is a truly magisterial work, a sweeping history that stretches from the biblical era to the present. Christopher Andrew is the leading academic intelligence historian of our time. A professor at the University of Cambridge, he has written a veritable shelf of books on intelligence.

Dan Snow Interview with Christopher Andrew on his latest book 'The Secret World: A History of Intelligence'PODCAST: Dan Snow Interview with Christopher Andrew on his latest book ‘The Secret World: A History of Intelligence’


“The Secret World” is a must-read for any person with a serious interest in intelligence. But be forewarned. The more than 800 pages of text require more than a casual scan, but are well worth the investment of serious time.

His evidence, buttressed in 111 pages of documentation sources, is rich with anecdotes and opinions of world leaders who relied on — or ignored — intelligence as a tool of office.

Despite his overall admiration of the intel trade, Mr. Andrew is coldly objective about instances where matters were flubbed. Consider, for instance, Israeli spies who scouted Canaan as the Promised Land centuries ago. The Canaanites, they claimed, “included giants who made them feel no bigger than grasshoppers.” He also notes that some glitches are timeless, citing a biblical operation where spies ended up in a brothel, thus melding “the two oldest professions.”

Sixteenth-century tradecraft had its oddities. Officers in the “security service” of Russian Czar IV rode with dog heads attached to their saddles “to sniff out treason,” and carried brooms “to sweep away traitors.” Today’s counterintelligence is somewhat more sophisticated.

But his score card lists far more triumphs than blunders. Most notably, he credits signals intelligence (SIGINT) as a key element in the Allied victory in World War II.

Mr. Andrew’s focus throughout is on the value of pilfering an adversary’s messages, be they scratches on clay slates or electronic signals.

For centuries, he documents, European powers routinely waylaid rivals’ letters and deciphered coded messages. (His book reproduces many of the coded messages; how anyone made sense of them caused me to scratch my head.) He credits the Venetians with establishing the first code-breaking agency in the 1400s.

This article continues at [Washington Times] Looking back at spycraft over times new and ancient

Facebook Comments
Check Also
[von Arx] Why the pope has inked a deal with the Chinese communist government
[von Arx] Why the pope has inked this deal with the Chinese communist government
[American Magazine] On July 12, 1790, in the first year of the French Revolution, the ...