Sunday, January 16, 2011
SPYCATCHER - Peter Wright
Subtitled "The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer".
Peter Wright spent twenty years as a MI5 Intelligence Officer,from the mid 1950's until 1975. He started as MI5's first scientific officer, his background being in radio.
He spent years bugging embassies and offices across Britain and various other countries.
The first part of the book relates to these early adventures, great fun and we see the innovations that were made in electronic intelligence gathering. More Marconi than James Bond.
The latter part relates to is attempts to gather the evidence to have former MI5 boss, Roger Hollis unmasked as a spy.
Wright does become a wee fixated with this but the evidence was such that eventually Hollis was interviewed, although there was no admission and he continued into his retirement. Wright is correct when he states that with spies you either catch them with physical evidence or they admit it, there is nothing in between.
What is apparent in this memoir is just how appallingly slack vetting procedures were for intelligence operatives, just a joke. He was asked 7 questions including..ever been queer by any chance?..... It is no wonder, Philby,McLean etc were able to spy for years and cause huge loss of life. The Philby situation was particularly bad as it was apparent he was a spy but nothing was done.
This is a great read. The conclusion I've drawn over the attempts to stop it being published in 1987 was not because Wright was exposing operational matters but rather he was exposing the gross incompetence of the people running the intelligence departments.
Recommended for anyone interested in the Cold War or the spy genre. Reading this you realise how good and accurate Le Carre is with his fiction.