A Must Read!
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SpyCatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer is a book written by Peter Wright and co-author Paul Greengrass. Peter Wright was a former MI5 officer and Assistant Director. It was first published in Australia. Its allegations proved scandalous on publication. This book was notorious when it came out for blowing the lid on the security establishment, exposing its embarrassing secrets and so forth. The British Government attempted to ban it, ensuring its popularity due to curiosity. Spycatcher sold more than two million copies. Peter Wright died in 1995 already a millionaire from the sales of his book.
I bought Spycatcher from a second hand book store. Since I read a lot of nonfiction, this instantly appealed to me.
Spycatcher is the story of the author’s career with MI5, Britain’s secret intelligence service. Peter Wright was an electrical engineer whose work had proven useful to the intelligence services during World War II. By the end of the 1940’s, he was recruited by MI5.
MI5 employed Peter Wright as its first scientist. Military research encouraged innovative uses of technology. Since resources are scarce, this was an environment in which Peter excelled. Spycatcher gives us details in the invention and deployment of various devices. These were for covert surveillance and counter-surveillance.
The book discusses the climate of international espionage as the Cold War began to start. It is fascinating to read about his experience with an intelligence service. The book also discusses the superiority of the Soviet intelligence services. These are in both technology and manpower at that time.
Spycatcher was during the time of double agents and defectors. Much of the book deals with the controversy of moles within MI5. There is discussion on some defections highly publicised at the time. Peter Wright also reveals his part in these affairs. He conducted internal investigations of co-workers suspected of spying for the Soviets. An important topic in Spycatcher is Peter Wright’s allegation that Roger Hollis was a Soviet spy. Roger Hollis was the Director of MI5 from 1956 – 1972. This was a controversial allegation. It was not known that Hollis was suspected of spying. At the time that the book was published, Wright remained convinced of Hollis’ guilt. This was despite the fact that there was a lack of concrete evidence. Hollis was cleared by an internal investigation. The author’s case is convincing. This was due to the fact that the interrogations appear to be very genial occasions. Officers who were colleagues but close personal friends too interrogated the suspects. Also, the suspected moles were familiar with interrogation techniques. Without solid evidence, the suspected moles were able to avoid admitting guilt.
Many of the events spoken of in Spycatcher were known at the time of its publication. There has been some controversy over the book though. There were events revealed unknown to the general public or even to parts of the British government before.
I enjoyed this book. My only criticism is that it was sometimes hard for me to keep track of who was who. It was also hard to keep track of what was going on. Excursions into the future or past disturbed the general chronological progression of the story. This is only a minor criticism. This did not detract from the experience. If you have any interest in this type of subject matter, it’s a recommended read.