Philby's boss was Sir Stewart Menzies, who, we are told, "rode to hounds, mixed with royalty, never missed a day at Ascot, drank a great deal, and kept his secrets buttoned up behind a small, fierce mustache. He preferred women to men and horses to both." Menzies was an amateur at a time when his adversaries were professionals. Philby's fellow Soviet spy Donald Maclean was a mess. But since he was a mess with the right accent and background he easily found a home in the British spy service. At one point, Macintyre says, Maclean "got drunk, smashed up the Cairo flat of two secretaries at the U.S. embassy, ripped up their underwear, and hurled a large mirror off the wall, breaking a large bath in two. He was sent home, placed under the care of a Harley Street psychiatrist, and then, amazingly, after a short period of treatment, promoted to head the American desk at the Foreign Office."
Kim Philby, the Soviet spy who infiltrated MI6, is the subject of a Malcolm Gladwell article in The New Yorker
. Gladwell argues that Philby's story is not about spying but "the hazards of mistrust." He is interviewed on a New Yorker podcast
about his article. Gladwell's article is also a review of Ben Macintyre's book on Philby, A Spy Among Friends
. Gladwell reviewed Macintyre's previous book, Operation Mincemeat
and argued that spy agencies might be more trouble than they're worth
The only known recording of the Cambridge spy Guy Burgess
, made just before he defected to Russia in 1951, has been recovered from FBI files by researchers at City University London. Speaking late at night, and clearly the worse for drink
, Burgess describes his meeting with Winston Churchill in September 1938, shortly after the Munich Agreement, and recreates Churchill's side of the story with a number of amusing impressions
It doesn't matter whether you hate the spies and believe they are corroding democracy, or if you think they are the noble guardians of the state. In both cases the assumption is that the secret agents know more than we do. But the strange fact is that often when you look into the history of spies what you discover is something very different. It is not the story of men and women who have a better and deeper understanding of the world than we do. In fact in many cases it is the story of weirdos who have created a completely mad version of the world that they then impose on the rest of us.
—Bugger: Maybe the Real State Secret Is that Spies Aren't Very Good at Their Jobs and Don't Know Very Much About the World
by Adam Curtis. It's about the checkered history of the MI5.
In 1941, the Special Operations Executive
forged documents, including passports, in order to help the resistance. Here's the one they made for Adolf Hitler
, with a better view of the photos available on this site
Interested in Soviet era spying by the KGB in the United States? Bummed that you cant get into the KGB archives? Well it turns out that someone copied all the good stuff already
, and you can take a peek. [more inside]
The Mystery of Ales
:: a new take on the Alger Hiss problem
You've probably heard of the WWII Navajo "code talkers"
who managed to baffle crack Japanese cryptanalysts and were credited with enabling US success at Iwo Jima. Civil engineer, journalist and photographer Philip Johnston
was the determined mind behind the "windtalkers". The son of missionaries, Johnston grew up on a Navajo reservation and was one of only a handful of outsiders fluent in the Navajo language. A bit of his background is included this article
, and you can read a complete history
of his plan, view an archive of photos by Johnston
, and see copies of his enlistment application
letter to the Marine Corps commandant, as well as a recommendation letter
from the Commanding General. (more inside...)
"You will have heard, Dr Sir I doubt not long before this can have reached you that Sir W. Howe is gone from hence. The Rebels imagine that he is gone to the Eastward. By this time however he has filled Chesapeak bay with surprize and terror." - Sir Henry ClintonSpy Letters of the American Revolution
is an excellent site offering such gems as a captured letter written from Rachel Revere to husband Paul, a message from a colonial scientist written in invisible ink, and Benedict Arnold's encrypted message to the British offering to surrender West Point for £20,000. The site includes photos of the documents, back-stories on each letter, profiles of the people involved, and descriptions of methodology, as well as a timeline and route map.
"Julia Child and a few of her male compatriots got together and literally cooked up a shark repellent"
The "Clandestine Women" exhibit at the Women in Military Service to America Memorial (Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, DC) tells how the French Chef, as well as Josephine Baker and many others, used to work for American intelligence.