Jim Recommends

Jim RecsDoing a Russian spy themed Jim Recommends today. All of the books I’m recommend are perspective on espionage from the perspective of the Soviet Union.

Spymaster -Tennent H. Bagley

Spymaster is a unique book. It is the biography of Sergey A. Kondrashev, a major figure in the KGB, written by his former adversary, Tennent Bagley, a former CIA agent. The book was originally meant to be an autobiography of Kondrashev’s life, and Bagley (who became friends with Kondrashev in the 1990s) was helping him on it. Then the Federal Security Service (successor to the KGB) disavowed his manuscript as too sensitive to be published. On Kondrashev’s death, Bagley took his manuscript and added his own perceptions to it as a contemporary of Krondrashev’s, albeit on the opposite side. This book lays bare quite a few Cold War espionage mysteries and does so in compelling style. Kondrashev comes across as a thoughtful, loyal and highly principled member of the KGB (a fact that Bagley sometimes takes exception with). Like any book on espionage there are wheels within wheels and the book can be a little hard to follow at times but it’s well worth it.

Spy Handler – Victor Cherkashin

Cherkashin was a KGB agent throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, and recruited such famous spies as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hannson. Spy Handler is his autobiography. As with all autobiographies it has its own particular axe to grind. Cherkashin was accused, after the fall of the Soviet Union, of having a connection to a CIA spy in the KGB, and he is writing to discredit the claim and the person claiming it (Vladimir Kryuchkov a former director of the KGB). This book has a lot of the day to day nuts and bolts of being a spy who runs agents. There’s tons of detail in the process of recurring agents, directing them and the strategizing that went into exploiting the intelligence they got. This book is full of great stories.

Stalin’s Romeo Spy – Emil Draitser

This is the biography of Dmitri Bystrolyotov, one of the “Great Illegals.” In Soviet intelligence jargon, an Illegal is an agent operating in a country under non-official cover (eg cultural attache at an embassy). They might be businessmen, journalists or in any other career that puts them in a position to gather intelligence. They have very complicated cover stories, and they need them since if caught they do not have the luxury of diplomatic immunity that “legal” spies do. The Great Illegals were a group of spies operating in the west in the 1920s and 30s. They are famous in Russian intelligence circles to an almost mythological state. Bystrolyotov definitely fits with that mythology. He was larger than life working as a sailor, artist doctor and writer. He spoke multiple languages. He also specialized in seducing women in key positions and exploiting them for intelligence (thus his nick name The Romeo Spy given to him by Stalin). This book gets at the less than heroic/patriotic side of spying. The back stabbing dirty tricks used to get information. It’s also a look inside the brutal world of Stalin’s intelligence forces. Most of the “Great Illegals,” as famed and vaunted as they were, became victims of Stalin’s paranoid purges.

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