In the first third of this “untold story of East-West espionage,” Edward Lucas creates the strong impression that he knows a lot more than he chooses to reveal – both about specific operations and individuals. He lifts the curtain only half way, partly to protect sources, but mainly because of English libel law. To avoid ending up in court, he has prudently decided against naming all the names he could.
While understandable, still this makes for a somewhat disappointing start. Yet "Deception" is a book that improves the deeper one goes into it; as Lucas provides more detail, the reader is increasingly likely to find challenges to accepted wisdom. Anna Chapman and the other members of her ring, for example, are routinely treated as something of a joke in the West. After all, they had access to few if any secrets, cost their handlers a lot of time and effort, and had cover stories that were in part risible (one of them, when questioned by a neighbor, claimed to have “a Belgian accent,” which makes little sense when speaking of a multi-lingual country). Lucas himself is withering on Chapman’s lack of professionalism, and strongly implies that she got her assignment mainly because of family connections. All the same, he advises that refusing to take this group seriously, which was the approach adopted by the media at the time, means uncritically swallowing the soft line pushed by US counter-intelligence. The reason? During the heady days of the famous “reset,” Washington was interested in promoting closer ties to Moscow, not in rocking the boat. Presumably if Chapman and her fellow moles were to be uncovered today, they would be presented in a much more sinister light.
The Soviet rule of thumb was "one in ten" – that is, they were happy if only ten percent of their sleeper agents in the West turned into useful sources. The percentage might seem low, but it is a realistic figure, based on experience. Measured by this yardstick, the group which included Chapman might well have exceeded expectations, had they been given more time.
The final third of the book deals with the Baltic states, a part of the world close to Lucas’ heart. He is scathing about SAS bungling in the post-war years, while expressing admiration for the brave (and mostly doomed) Estonians, whose activities were thoroughly penetrated by their Soviet counterparts.As Arnold M. Silver (not quoted by Lucas) put it so well: "Given the scale of Soviet penetration of the groups, it could not be expected that such operations would benefit anybody but the KGB, and of course for the next four years or so CIA and MI6 suffered one disaster after another. There was not one successful operation…. This did not hinder the careers of the responsible officers."
Lucas does hold out the disturbing possibility that the British were not in fact totally incompetent in running their Baltic spies, so many of whom were rounded up. Rather, he suggests the SAS might well have trained, transported and knowingly sacrificed many agents it cared little about, in order to better protect the few it did. We can identify which ones it valued, because they were precisely the ones who managed to survive. In the end, the reader is left wondering whether to believe their British spymasters were clueless or callous.
A selection from Lucas’s insights (not all are original with him): What is Russia’s main export? Not oil and gas, but corruption (pg. 79 – this from Don Jensen). A bad intelligence agency is more damaging than none at all (pg. 90). For Russians, ex-Soviet Georgia is like Florida for Americans – a source of countless sentimental holiday memories (pg. 112). The Soviet legacy created a cohort of Trojan horses welcomed with open arms into Western alliances, states, services and agencies (pg. 314).
The original hardcover edition covered the period up to September 2011. The postscript for the paperback edition brings the story forward to October 2012, when events such as mass demonstrations in the streets of Moscow were still fresh. The footnotes are extensive and include many useful sources. These can easily be accessed by following the links at [...]
- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks; 1 edition (1 June 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1408831031
- ISBN-13: 978-1408831038
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 281 g
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