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Review: Soldier Spy by Tom Marcus

Soldier Spy

I initially bought the second book in this series, I Spy, but on learning that this volume preceded it I thought it apt to try this one out first. It’s not a huge book and is very accessible. The autobiographical account of a soldier from the streets, recognised for his unique skills and recruited to the frontline of British domestic terrorist services as an MI5 agent. Tom specialises in urban warfare of the 21st century. Surveillance and counter-surveillance operations are detailed. Sometimes an overuse, I felt, of the Alpha-Bravo codes that gets a bit confusing to a non-specialist, these operations span a variety of different cases across the UK, in MI5’s daily battles to preserve national security. We go from standard fighting Islamic terror cells, to murky traditional cold war -esque battles with traditionalist Russian agents, trying to steal military technologies on a vast scale from UK businesses. Tom isn’t frightened to mix it up, smashing hell out of a copper as part of his cover in an IRA pub in Scotland makes interesting reading. In the background of his flat out work where often he doesn’t even get to piss or eat, this brave young soldier tries to switch off at the end of the day and is a family man, on the pittance wages MI5 pays their employees he is left with the typical British task of every day workers of paying off mounting debts and grappling with mortgage etc. Eventually, the book sadly crumbles away with Marcus’ post traumatic stress difficulties getting the better of him ultimately ending in a medical discharge from the service. I feel it is MI5’s loss and not his really and hope he makes some nice dollar off producing decent readable material for years to come.

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Review: The Billion Dollar Spy – by David E. Hoffman

the billion dollar spy

This espionage thriller tells the true life story of one of the Cold War’s most valuable assets, a Russian spy working for the CIA in the heart of the Soviet military aerospace sector. Adolf Tolkachev made the first tentative moves to reach out to the Americans in January 1977, in the heart of Moscow. At first, due to a faltering lack of human resources in the spy game for the Americans, it was seen with suspicion and Tolkachev was viewed as a KGB dupe. After he started to produce information from his workplace, the Scientific Research Institute for Radio Engineering, it was seen as a genuine defection and his material would prove absolutely vital in the arms race for the USA over a critical decade during the last years of the Cold War. Tolkachev became a billion dollar spy and his work would reach the Oval Office directly. In Moscow, the spying game is so difficult as it was seen as the hardest place on earth to work as an agent. Yet through cat and mouse cutting edge deception, the CIA were able to clandestinely successfully run their asset for a long time. It was only a crude defection from within that disrupted the operation and led to the arrest and execution of a Russian man who is a true hero for the West during this dark period. The story dovetails through risk and amazement and surprise yet is balanced out by the simple needs of a hardworking quiet family man that Tolkachev was. It is a well researched, gripping tale of a bygone era when Cold War espionage was at its critical heights.

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Review: The Big Breach – From Top Secret To Maximum Security – by Richard Tomlinson

the big breach

Richard Tomlinson was a controversial MI6 whistleblower that made international headlines during his messy fallout with Britain’s foreign intelligence service. Initially after a first class degree from Cambridge he was approached for recruitment by SIS but he postponed this work, beginning a career in the city and in his spare time qualifying for the SAS regiment in the Territorial Army. eventually he decided to follow up the MI6 interest and embarked upon a career with the secret service. He was a high flyer in qualification and the interview and was given top jobs following his employment. He was trusted to head out to Moscow and had a rough and ready role in Sarajevo during the Balkan conflict where he got into trouble for not wearing a tie during a diplomatic meet with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadic. His early years looked promising and then suddenly, mid operation whilst dealing with Iranian terrorists, Tomlinson found his security clearance at the spanking new MI6 headquarters revoked and his unpleasant personnel management announced that he had been fired. An angry ex agent, Tomlinson wanted justice and tried to appeal his sacking and to take his employers to an industrial tribunal. Using national security as a barrier to any court action MI6 frustrated Tomlinson’s attempts to overturn the firing. An angry Tomlinson felt he had no recourse but to write a book and tell his story to the world. A manuscript was seized from an Australian publisher and in breach of the Official Secrets Act, Tomlinson was arrested and banged up in the high security Belmarsh prison. On his release Tomlinson had an international cat and mouse game with MI6. Funded by large amounts of taxpayers money they disrupted his life internationally leading to his arrest in various countries where he tried to rebuild his life. His revelations about his work led him to the Princess Diana death tribunal where he revealed an almost identical audacious MI6 plot to assassinate Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic using high powered strobes to disrupt a car whilst travelling through a road tunnel. Eventually Tomlinson had his bitter memoirs published and this book offers a fascinating insight into the murky world of espionage. Ultimately this former spy’s campaign for justice led to MI6 employees getting union rights and employment statuses within the UK as they would working for any other company. This is a fascinating read and a must…

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Review: MI6 – Fifty Years of Special Operations – by Stephen Dorril

mi6

This detailed 800 page book covers fifty years of MI6, the UK’s foreign espionage service. From relatively humble beginnings during the second world war, MI6 grew to become a leading foe of Soviet Russia and its notorious KGB. The book documents in detail issues that affected the service from the beginning and I especially was enamoured by the division of early chapters covering each of the spheres of influence where MI6 were working in the aftermath of World War 2. The book amalgamates knowledge I have of this service from other reading and often due to its sheer volume, will analyse in depth details that were previously unknown. It often is critical of the service’s failures and sometimes questionable morality in its operations. The obvious exposure of the country by moles within MI6 such as Kim Philby were very damaging to our nation. It is clear that there was much frustration during the Cold War with a failure to penetrate the Soviet system properly. Also, as the years have moved on, the critical importance of US intelligence – the CIA and NSA – to UK intelligence services – becomes paramount. Our declining empire has meant that MI6 has had to do all it can to keep our position as a global power propped up in the world. There is a very good section on the often blunderous years of operations in the Middle East, culminating in the Suez crisis which was a clear debacle. Moving into the modern era (Book concludes just before second Gulf War) the author successfully identifies future directions for the service and there is interesting coverage of MI6 whistleblower Richard Tomlinson, who has revealed his life as an operative in a controversial book. I enjoyed this large book and feel that it will be useful for reference in any further research I may do on intelligence services.  

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Review: The Last Gangster – My Final Confession – by Charlie Richardson

the last gangster

Charlie Richardson was an important figure in the London Underworld during the 1960s. The Krays often overshadow The Richardsons in terms of their notoriety as London gangsters but, as is clear from the revelations in this book, The Richardson family were certainly equally as important in the capital’s underworld. Whereas the Kray twins had fame and used to use a lot of violence, the Richardsons tended to be more business-orientated. The two families met each other and were interlinked, sometimes having nasty fallouts during their periods as rivals. Charlie Richardson begins his book back in his youth, remembering the harsh days of World War 2 and what growing up during the blitz and subsequent years of suffering under rationing etc meant to his character formation. He had an early acumen for business and started off as a scrap metal dealer, something that he built his whole operations around. His reputation as a South London hard man led him to brush shoulders with the rich and famous and very powerful. What struck me was not so much the run of the mill criminal tales but the way he was used by high society politicians and espionage networks. Ultimately, his trumped up 25 year jail sentence in 1966 due to allegedly torturing some of his debtors using an electroshocking ‘black box’ – a crime he still refutes – was probably so severe due to his involvement in a South African spy plot to bug Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s Downing Street telephones. The chapter when he dodged out of his military draft ending up in his first big prison spell was interesting. Charlie Richardson was certainly a ladies man and could charm the women, moving through several before finally settling with his final partner, Reggie, on his release from jail. The businessman shows in his overseas mining ventures and it was clear that he can not be regarded as just a tough typical cockney criminal. He was a thinking man and his university studies whilst serving his jail sentence showed how he was certainly of a high intellectual ability. What strikes the reader about Charlie Richardson, in his honest and straightforward autobiographical account, is that, aside from his illicit activities and tough reputation, he was above all a family man with values. It is certain, in particular from the character testimonies bequeathed after his death, that Richardson was held in very high esteem…

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Review: A Spy Among Friends – Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal – by Ben Macintyre

a spy among friends

Telling the remarkable story of Kim Philby, who was probably the most effective spy in history, this book reads fast and furiously, a real page-turner. The book focuses on the dramatic relationship between two friends, both rising stars in the world of British espionage, Nicholas Elliott and Kim Philby. The intrigue of Philby is that he was working for the Soviet Union after being drawn to communism through his time at Cambridge University, from where a ring of five key defectors were recruited. Philby managed to infiltrate MI6 at a top level, ultimately serving as the liaison officer between US and UK secret services in Washington DC. He had access to information from leading CIA agents such as James Angleton and through his public schoolboy charm he was adept at getting colleagues to drunkenly reveal all their secrets, secrets that he discretely passed to the KGB centre in Moscow, from where he took his orders. Even after the fall of fellow Cambridge conspirators, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, Philby managed to shake the tale of a particularly suspicious MI5 and continued to operate in the clandestine world of espionage. His ultimate confrontation with best friend Elliott, after the game was finally up, left the door open for him to finally defect to a relatively anonymous retirement in Moscow. He chose political ideology over loyalty to friends and the story of Kim Philby is one of ultimate treachery. In his wake he left much damage and must have throughout the Cold War caused the death of hundreds, even thousands of people who were involved in Western operations. The book tells a most exciting tale and its global spanning and most exceptional debauchery and intrigue make it a real life James Bond adventure. Certainly worth a read and proof that real life is often stranger than fiction. Five star rating.

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