Ralph Stayer, an avid reader and former CEO of Johnsonville Sausage, leads a book club in Naples with about a dozen other high-power friends. The group only reads non-fiction as a way to keep learning and sharpening the mind. Every month, Stayer shares the latest page-turners earning a permanent spot on his ever-expanding bookshelves.
This is spy month, and the three books I am recommending could well make up a course entitled Spycraft 101.
David E. Hoffman’s book about Adolf Tolkachev, The Billion Dollar Spy, gives the reader an inside look into the secret war conducted between the CIA and the KGB from the start of the Cold War until 1985. Tolkachev was a Russian who hated the Soviet regime and became the CIA’s most important asset in Russia, up until he was exposed by Edward Lee Howard and liquidated in June of 1985. Tolkachev was an engineer in the NIIR, an important department of Russia’s military-industrial complex. He photographed thousands upon thousands of documents and gave them to the CIA. This information gave the U.S. military critical information regarding the vulnerability of Russian weapons and also areas of superiority that had to be addressed—an advantage worth billions of dollars.
This is also a coming-of-age story for the CIA during this same period. The years leading up to 1978 found the CIA sorely lacking in tradecraft, equipment and above all, will. The CIA’s Russian operations suffered under the stifling leadership of two successive directors, James Angle- ton and Stansfield Turner. Tolkachev made four contacts with CIA personnel in Moscow and was rebuffed each time on Turner’s orders. He finally shoved a package of important documents through the open window of a CIA car at a gas station. This unlikely event spurred the transformation of a nascent CIA into a formidable foe of the KGB.
The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre is the story of Oleg Gordievsky. He was a KGB agent, posted to Denmark, whose loathing of the Soviet Union was precipitated by Moscow’s crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. The story of his recruitment by MI5, the British version of the CIA, provides a fascinating insight into the haphazard world of espionage. He was eventually posted to the Russian embassy in Lon- don. The information he provided the West may well have prevented World War III. Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire rhetoric fueled the Russian leadership’s paranoia. They came to believe that NATO’s planned war games exercise called Able Archer was going to be a pre-emptive strike. NATO dramatically reduced the scope of the war games when they became aware of the danger, and war was averted.
The excellent intelligence Gordievsky sent back to Russia (provided by his British handlers) propelled him to the top of the entire espionage operation in England. He was named Resident in 1985, but he was betrayed by Aldrich Ames before he could take over. He was called back to Russia for execution. You will need to read the book to see what happened to him. I love the title of this book. Who is the spy and who is the traitor? It depends on which side of the Iron Curtain you are on.
Zero Dark Thirty is the story of the locating and killing of Osama bin Laden. But the heroine in the movie doesn’t exist—she is an amalgamation of many people who worked on locating Bin Laden. These people are called targeters. Nada Bakos is a real-life version of the heroine in that movie. Her book, The Targeter, tells the story of her work to locate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It gives us the opportunity to see how the role of the CIA has expanded recently to deal with terrorism. The book is insightful and well worth the read.