Andrew Long, Secrets of the Cold War (Pen & Sword, 2022)
Mention the Cold War and what comes readily to mind is a stand-off between the two superpowers, USA and USSR. Both armed to the teeth, guarding themselves against the other’s imminent attack, while their proxies fought small wars across the globe. Beneath the surface, however, both sides worked feverishly to determine the capabilities of the other through clandestine intelligence activities. In this book, Andrew Long surveys many of those operations and the warriors who fought in the shadows.
Long opens with tables that, while useful, could have better served as appendices: a list of Dramatis Personae, a glossary of abbreviations, and a basic chronology of events. His narrative begins in the Stalin era with a survey of Soviet intelligence and the quest for atomic weapons. The Soviets deployed the Rosenberg network among others to boost their atomic knowledge, quite easily too, so it seems because the US and UK were shocked when the USSR conducted their first atomic detonation. The traitor Klaus Fuchs leads Long’s British contingent of spies into the 1950s and 1960s. It took a while, but the Soviet spy rings began to fall apart when a defector in Canada exposed them. Then came the brilliant counter-intelligence work of the Venona programme that finally dismantled the rings, though Long notes that some high profile spies escaped detection, and that the whole episode was a remarkable success for Stalin.
A relatively lengthy biography of British spy George Blake kicks off a new phase of the Cold War intelligence battle. His name will always be linked to the mind-boggling Berlin tunnel operation, though his long prison sentence and subsequent escape have somewhat masked his role in the betrayal and deaths of up to forty people. Long moves on to three cases that exemplified tradecraft, the skills needed for effective intelligence work: the Portland spy ring, the Oleg Penkovsky story, and the Gerald Brooke case. The latter led to UK involvement in spy swaps for the first time. We then move onto a chapter revealing how NATO intelligence operations, including ‘tours’, worked along the blurred lines between east and west from the end of WWII, until the reunification of Germany made them redundant. In his conclusion, Long ties up the loose ends from the stories in his book and reflects on a war played out in the shadows, some of which have yet to reveal their secrets.
They say never trust a book by its cover, or in this case, title. There is very little in Secrets of the Cold War that should be considered as ‘secret’. Indeed, most of what Long includes is well-trodden ground, particularly for readers of a certain age. The emphasis is on the early Cold War for the most part, leading to some curious omissions from the latter period. That said, newcomers to Cold War espionage will find this a fascinating read, even if some of it is a bit dry, and Long’s book should have them reaching for more.