Engineering Communism

Title:                      Engineering Communism

Author:                 Steven T. Usdin

Usdin, Steven T. (2005). Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin And Founded The Soviet Silicon Valley. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press

LCCN:    2005015436

UB271.S652 B47 2005

Contents

  • Initiation — Washington, spring 1940 — Fort Monmouth, 1940-1942 — Western Electric, 1942-1945 — Sperry Gyroscope, 1946-1948 — Prague, 1950-1955 — Special laboratory 11, 1956-1962 — Zelenograd, the Soviet Silicon Valley, 1962-1965 — Leningrad Design Bureau, 1965-1973 — The minifab, 1975-1990 — The strange case of Iozef (Josef) Berg AKA Joel Barr, 1990-1998.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      October 20, 2017

Review by Robert M. Goldberg[1]

Engineering Communism is an engrossing and quintessential tale of two American immigrants—Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant—using their entrepreneurial skill and inventiveness to create a high tech empire. Except that in this case the arrivistes took their can-do spirit to the Soviet Union after spying against the United States in hopes of creating the worker’s paradise.

In writing what amounts to a dual biography, Steve Usdin—who met Barr in Moscow while writing an article on Soviet-American technology transfer—lets the personality of the two spies shape both the direction and structure of the book. Barr was part of the circle of communists whose outlook and commitment to communism was shaped by conversations, a daily stream of lectures, books and classes held at City College of New York. It was there that Barr would meet the more infamous Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Sarant’s and Barr’s paths would cross while working, at all places, for the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps.

Risk-taking was clearly part of Barr’s character, as it was with Sarant. It was that trait that probably allowed them to avoid arrest by what appears to be a fumbling FBI. (The agency knew that Barr, Sarant, and Rosenberg were spying but never seemed to connect the dots or acted on the information it had on all three. Sound familiar?) Both Barr and Sarant were more than willing to make a clean break with life in America to build up the Soviet Union’s defense and high-tech industry. Rosenberg was more cautious and less inclined to leave home, and that more than anything else led to his capture.

Incredibly, Barr and Sarant’s story is that of boy makes good. Their Soviet spy handlers give them new identities and new names, Philip Staros and Joseph Berg (a not-so-veiled reference to Barr’s Jewish heritage). The two buck the rigid Soviet bureaucracy and anti-Semitism to create the Soviet equivalent of a skunk works. They were less than interested in holding party meetings at their facility. “Seeking to attract top-level talent, they ignored the unspoken but universally understood rules regarding the employment of Jews”, Usdin writes. They had their own budget, access to anything they wanted in terms of parts and equipment. The result was the components essential to tracking radar needed to launch the Sputnik.

It also launched the creation of Zelenograd, the Silicon Valley, Soviet-style. The goal was to create, design and produce computers that could operate the military might of the socialist paradise. Then-premier Khrushchev was their patron—he built them the city they dreamt of and gave them control over one of the largest budgets of any bureau in the Soviet Union, clearly the largest awarded to anyone who was not a minister or party powerbroker. They lived a bourgeois existence, complete with maids, mistresses, and huge apartments, shopping at stores reserved for party members. And it seemed that their vision of centrally planned computer industry crushing the capitalist competition was to be realized.

But it was not to be. Their dream would drown in what Usdin calls “the swamp that doomed Soviet industry to mediocrity.” Ironically what doomed Berg and Staros was the harsh political edge that centralized planning always possesses and what Berg clearly saw:

The men…responsible for deciding how state funds would be invested were selected for their political reliability, not for their technical knowledge. They reported to men who were even less qualified to make technical decisions, who ultimately reported to the Central Committee, which with a few exceptions was composed of poorly educated political operatives. At the same time, failure was harshly punished…In this environment, there was very little incentive to innovate. Managers who weren’t competent to judge between competing proposals adopted a simple stratagem: invest only in technologies that had already been proven in the West, particularly in the United States.

Ultimately, when Khrushchev was purged from power, Berg and Staros lost their patron, their status, budget and position. Staros died in 1979 bitter and defeated, half regretting he had allowed Berg to convince him to become a spy. A proposal to revolutionize the production of semiconductors—Berg called it the “minifab”—was frustrated time and again until glasnost came and Barr was given funding to complete his work and showcase the process for, ironically, American investors.

With glasnost came the opportunity to return to America and, not unpredictably, some fame as a recently discovered espionage agent associated with Rosenberg. Barr was not immune to the celebrity virus and tried to play it for what it was worth, even hoping to use an interview on ABC’s Nightline to market his semiconductor process. How American.

This is Steve Usdin’s first book and he tells this emotionally and historically complex tale well. Usdin writes crisply and engagingly. And it is refreshing to read a historical biography devoid of cattiness and judgment. Rather, he allows Barr’s and Sarant’s actions to speak for them.

In many respects, Barr is the inverse image of Jay Gatsby the man who moved East from Minnesota, reinvented himself and built a dream world to win a girl. Much like Jay Gatsby, Joel Barr “sprang from his Platonic conception of himself.” And as Usdin notes, though Barr had to come to grips with his past actions when he returned to America, “the future had always been more attractive for Berg than the past.” So too with Gatsby who “believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us.” Barr moved East as well and then home again. He was loyal to communism but ultimately it was his American capacity for invention and reinventing oneself that allowed him to live out his dreams and his desires.

[1] Robert M. Goldberg, American Spectator (July 11, 2006), accessed at https://spectator.org/46754_engineering-communism-american-style/

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Spymaster: The Life of Britain’s Most Decorated Cold War Spy

Title:                      Spymaster (Pearce)

Author:                 Martin Pearce

Pearce, Martin (2016). Spymaster: The Life of Britain’s Most Decorated Cold War Spy And Head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. London: Bantam Press

LCCN:    2016436054

UB271.G72 O447 2016

LC Subjects

Other Subjects

  • Oldfield, Maurice, Sir, 1915-1981.
  • 1900-1999
  • Espionage.
  • Great Britain.

Date Posted:      October 13, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

Sir Maurice Oldfield was born in the Derbyshire Peak district of England on 16 November 1915 to a family of farmers. The oldest of 10 brothers and sisters, he was educated locally and won a scholarship in 1934 to study at Manchester University. In June 1941, he was called for military duty and served most of the war in Cairo with military intelligence, initially as a private. He was soon commissioned and transferred to the Security Intelligence Middle East (SIME), an element ofMI5, where one of his subordinates was Alistair (later Sir) Home (author of A Savage War of Peace[2] (about the Algerian insurgency). Oldfield ended the war as a lieutenant colonel, MBE, and, having decided he liked the work, in 1947 joined the counterintelligence section of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). In 1973, he was appointed “C,” the chief of MI6. Spymaster looks at the man, his professional career, and his final assignment, undertaken at the request of the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Author Martin Pearce is Sir Maurice’s grandnephew; his grandmother was “Uncle M”‘s sister. Growing up, Pearce met his uncle during visits home from his uncle’s many travels and recalls discussions about the places on the postcards Sir Maurice had sent. He first learned of his uncle’s intelligence work when Kim Philby mentioned “the formidable Maurice Oldfield” (p. 244) in his memoir, My Silent War[3]. In 1985, one of Sir Maurice’s journalist friends, Richard Deacon, published a biography of Oldfield[4] that Pearce found “something of a disappointment” (p. 2) because it “didn’t describe the person I knew”—so he decided to do it himself.

Pearce’s main sources were family stories, passports, diaries, and letters Oldfield was careful to give to family members so they would not end up in MI6’s archives. He also relied on media coverage, interviews with former colleagues, and his many journalist friends.

Pearce is able to document Oldfield’s many assignments, the important cases in which he was involved, and the bureaucratic skirmishes he overcame. Oldfield’s time as head of station in Washing ton will be of interest to US readers. To put his CIA colleagues at ease, Oldfield voluntarily underwent a polygraph examination. When he was asked, “Are you now or have you ever been a practicing homosexual?”, he lied—but he passed the test. (p. 183) Pearce’s claim that Oldfield “was the conduit for the voluminous intelligence HERO” (Penkovsky) (p. 199) was providing—among other events said to have occurred during Oldfield’s time in Washington—is not supported by other accounts.

Pearce portrays Oldfield as ebullient, incisive, subtle, and quietly professional. These descriptions are the strong point of the book. His too-frequent comparisons of Oldfield to James Bond and George Smiley, however, get a bit tiresome, though he accepts David Cornwell’s statement that Oldfield was not his Smiley model.

When Pearce turns to historical events to bolster his story, he is frequently incorrect. For example, William Melville did not “found the Secret Service Bureau” (p. 21); Philby’s father never became “head of British intelligence in Palestine” p. 88); Philby did not teach “Angleton all he knew” (p. 93); and the CIA’s Bill Harvey was not the first “to publicly air the link between Burgess and Philby.” (p. 127)

Oldfield’s final assignment as coordinator of intelligence in Northern Ireland led to his exposure as a homosexual shortly before his death. While Pearce does not attempt to diminish the impact this had on his reputation, he does point out that it was Oldfield’s honesty (admitting that he had previously lied about it) that did the damage.

Spymaster presents the best account to date of a very professional and skilled intelligence officer and is an important contribution to the literature.

[1] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 1 Summer 2017, p. 133). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at http://www.cia.gov

[2] Horne, Alistair(2006).A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954-1962. New York: New York Review Books

[3] Philby, Kim (1968). My Silent War: The Soviet Master Spy’s Own Story with an introduction by Graham Greene. London: MacGibbon & Kee

[4] Deacon, Richard (1985). “C” A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield . London: Macdonald

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The Spies of Winter

Title:                      The Spies of Winter

Author:                  Sinclair McKay

McKay, Sinclair (2016). The Spies of Winter: The GCHQ Codebreakers Who Fought The Cold War. London: Aurum Press Ltd

LCCN:    2016364829

JN329.S4 M38 2016

Summary

  • Following on from the enormous success of his bestseller, The Secret Life of Bletchley Park, Sinclair McKay now uncovers the story of what happened after the Second World War was over. Many of the men and women who had worked at Bletchley Park moved on to GCHQ, the British government’s new facility established to fight a new foe – Stalin’s KGB. McKay has interviewed various members of this secret organisation, from codebreakers and radio listeners to mechanical engineers and computer programmes who all shared the common desire to build a new Britain and protect it throughout the Cold War — Source other than Library of Congress.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      October 11, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

In 1901, Rudyard Kipling’s Kim popularized the “Great Game” as a reference to classical espionage and the geopolitical confrontation between Russia and Great Britain. In The Spies of Winter journalist Sinclair McKay employs the term to describe two different forms of the British-Soviet Cold War relationship: chess and codebreaking. He deals with chess mainly in the prologue and the final chapter where codebreaker and chess amateur Hugh Alexander takes on two Soviet grand masters in 1954. The balance of the book is devoted to how British—and, to a lesser extent, American—wartime codebreaking programs evolved to meet early Cold War threats.

McKay’s approach does not include the details of codebreaking; rather, he concentrates on the people who did the work and the practical challenges they overcame. Many of them, for example, Joan Clarke, a brilliant Cambridge university mathematician and one-time fiancée of Alan Turing, had worked at Bletchley Park during the war. In telling her story and others, he flashes back to the Bletchley experience to provide background. The practical challenges McKay deals with include Clarke’s decision to remain in government service; the difficulties associated with moving twice to new and improved quarters, when Bletchley Park proved inadequate; securing financial support; and the bureaucratic conflicts over who would have government responsibility for codebreaking.

In addition to the general techniques of code-breaking and the difficulties of signal collection, McKay considers the everyday professional challenges involved in operational security at a time when some Soviet codes were actually being broken. On the other hand, circumstances were complicated because Soviet agents had penetrated both British and American governments. McKay’s discussions of the now-familiar penetrations of Fuchs, Philby, Burgess, Blake, and Melita Norwood (whom he persists in calling double agents—but they were just Soviet agents) are not always accurate. For example, he attributes to American Elizabeth Bentley and Kim Philby the exposure of the VENONA secret to the Soviets. In fact, Bentley had merely passed on agent rumors and Philby learned of the program a year after the real culprit, American Army officer William Weisband, had passed on hard facts in 1948. After Weisband’s reporting, “all Soviet systems were changed, overnight, on 29 October 1948,” ending British and American access. (p. 229) McKay does describe the partially successful operations undertaken to restore the capability in the years before satellites changed everything.

There is little new in The Spies of Winter, but for those unfamiliar with the early Cold War cryptologic story, it provides a well written introduction.

[1] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 1 Summer 2017, p. 131-132). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at http://www.cia.gov

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The Secret History of World War

Title:                      The Secret History of World War

Author:                 Neil Kagan

Kagan, Neil (2016) and Stephen G. Hyslop ; foreword by Kenneth W. Rendell. The Secret History of World War II: Spies, Code Breakers and Covert Operations. Washington, DC: National Geographic

LCCN:    2016023892

D810.S7 K23 2016

Scope and content

  • “From spy missions to code breaking, this richly illustrated account of the covert operations of World War II takes readers behind the battle lines and deep into the undercover war effort that changed the course of history. From the authors who created Eyewitness to World War II and numerous other best-selling illustrated reference books, this is the shocking story behind the covert activity that shaped the outcome of one of the world’s greatest conflicts–and the destiny of millions of people. National Geographic’s landmark book illuminates World War II as never before by taking you inside the secret lives of spies and spy masters; secret agents and secret armies; Enigma machines and code breakers; psychological warfare and black propaganda; secret weapons and secret battle strategies. Seven heavily illustrated narrative chapters reveal the truth behind the lies and deception that shaped the ‘secret war’; eight essays showcase hundreds of rare photos and artifacts (many never before seen); more than 50 specially created sidebars tell the stories of spies and secret operations. Renowned historian and top-selling author Stephen Hyslop reveals this little-known side of the war in captivating detail, weaving in extraordinary eyewitness accounts and information only recently declassified. Rare photographs, artifacts, and illuminating graphics enrich this absorbing reference book”– Provided by publisher.

Contents

  • Setting Europe Ablaze/A War of Nerves — Artifacts of War: The Global Need for Secrecy — Deciphering Japan’s Secrets/Surprise Attacks in the Pacific — Artifacts of War: Enter the OSS — Resisting the Reich/Secret Warriors — Artifacts of War: Tools for a Dangerous Trade — Artifacts of War: Escape and Evasion — Unlocking the Enigma Code/Man Versus Machine — Artifacts of War: The Reich’s Long Reach to America — Endgame Europe/A Web of Lies and Deception — Artifacts of War: Black Propaganda, a Secret War of Words — Zero Hour in the Pacific/Guarding the War’s Biggest Secret.

LC Subjects

Other Subjects

  • HISTORY / Military / World War II.
  • HISTORY / Military / General.
  • HISTORY / World.

Date Posted:      October 10, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

The phrase “secret history” appears frequently as part of book titles, despite the semantic inconsistency—unless, of course, the book itself is secret. What is no doubt intended in books about intelligence operations is that the subject matter itself was once secret. That is certainly the case with The Secret History of World War II, an elegant, oversized volume with many color photographs and informative commentary discussing artifacts of WWII intelligence.

The wide variety of artifacts represent most countries that were involved in the war. Examples include a false-bottom baby carriage used to transport resistance radios; special cameras; agent documentation; war plans; Enigma machines; weapons; war posters; and photos of officers, agents, and the aircraft they used.

The acquisition adventures and present location of the artifacts is a story in itself. It is told in the book’s foreword by Kenneth Rendell, founder and executive director of Boston’s Museum of World War II that exhibits 7,500 of the half-million items in the collection; a selection from this collection appears in The Secret History of World War II. Although not mentioned in the book, Rendell is an expert in the forensic analysis that he applies to artifact provenance certification. He is most well-known for his investigation of the so-called Hitler Diaries, which he revealed to be forgeries in 1983.[2]

The commentary accompanying the artifacts is provided by the National Geographic editors, Neil Kagan and Stephen Hyslop, with help from experts like historian Ann Todd of the University of Texas, andmilitary historians Lee Richards and Harris Andrews. They reveal Dr. Seuss’s contribution to the war (pp. 52-53); add details about the Midway codebreaking (pp. 97-100); explore Josephine Baker’s role in the resistance (p. 140); describe the grizzly guillotine employed by the Gestapo; explain artifacts associated with OSS (there are pages devoted to Virginia Hall and Betty McIntosh) and SOE in resistance operations; and discuss artifacts linked to many espionage cases, to cite just a few informative aspects of the compendium.

The Secret History of World War II is a major contribution to intelligence history.

[1] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 1 Summer 2017, p. 130). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at http://www.cia.gov

[2] Kenneth Rendell, ‘‘Forgery-Uncovering the Hitler Hoax,” Newsweek (16 May 1983).

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A Season of Inquiry Revisited

Title:                      A Season of Inquiry Revisited

Author:                 Loch K. Johnson

Johnson, Loch K. (2015). A Season of Inquiry Revisited: The Church Committee Confronts America’s Spy Agencies. Lawrence, KS : University Press of Kansas

LCCN:    2015026513

JK468.I6 J64 2015

Summary

  • “An updated re-issue of Loch Johnson’s classic “insider” study of the US Senate’s so-called Church Committee investigations (ca. 1975-1976) into the activities and abuses of our intelligence agencies (especially CIA and FBI). Named after Frank Church, its charismatic Democratic chair, the committee confirmed numerous cases in which agencies greatly overstepped the limits of their assigned powers and initiated reforms to curb future violations. Johnson, one of the deans of American intelligence and national security studies, served on the committee as a special assistant to Church himself”– Provided by publisher.

LC Subjects

Other Subjects

  • POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / Intelligence.
  • HISTORY / United States / 20th Century.

Date Posted:      October 9, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

University of Kansas Press, 2015, 345 pages, endnotes, chronology, index.

Loch Johnson was a special assistant to Senator Frank Church, chairman of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities—popularly known as the Church Committee. The investigations occurred during 1975-1976 and initially focused on, inter alia, charges of domestic spying, assassinations, and covert actions by the CIA. Senator Church soon expanded his charter to include the entire Intelligence Community and published a 14-volume report documenting the committee’s findings[2]. In 1985, Johnson published his account of the committee’s work in book entitled A Season of Inquiry[3]. It was, as Johnson claimed, a candid “warts and all” description of the investigations that did indeed prove to be “a benchmark in the history of intelligence oversight.” (p. 272) The present edition adds a new foreword, a lengthy postscript, an updated chronology, and new organizational charts.

The foreword summarizes the reasons for the committee’s creation and the difficulties it encountered executing its mandate. The postscript adds perspective to what Johnson describes as “the high-water mark of intelligence accountability.” (p. 285) It also reveals that Senator Church’s famous “rogue elephant” charge about the CIA originated with McGeorge Bundy. (p. 290) He then reviews the Intelligence Community principal investigations undertaken by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), formed after the Church Committee was dissolved. Johnson’s intent is to demonstrate the value of oversight in holding the Intelligence Community to account, and he does that. Unfortunately, though, his lengthy description of the SSCI report on the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques as displaying “laudatory tenacity” reflects a disregard for the facts that is atypical of Johnson’s usual objectivity. He does note that “the intelligence agencies are vital to the security of the United States, and intelligence officers are among the brightest and most dedicated of America’s public service.” (p. 291) This truth notwithstanding, his general conclusion is that “intelligence accountability should be taken more seriously by lawmakers, presidents, and their presidential aides, judges, and most of all, the public.” (p. 291) By “more seriously” perhaps he means as seriously as the Intelligence Community itself regards accountability.

For those unfamiliar with the tumultuous events of the intelligence services in the 1970s, A Season of Inquiry Revisited is worth close study. It presents a view of the intelligence profession from the outside and should be understood by all officers. A really valuable, firsthand contribution to the literature.

[1] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 1 Summer 2017, pp. 129-130). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at http://www.cia.gov

[2] Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (1976). Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to the Intelligence Activities United States Senate, Hearings Before the Select Committee To Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of U.S. Senate. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office

[3] Johnson, Loch K. (1985). A Season of Inquiry: The Senate Intelligence Investigation. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.

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House of Spies

Title:                      House of Spies

Author:                 Peter Matthews

Matthews, Peter (2017). House of Spies: St. Ermin’s Hotel, The London Base of British Espionage. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: The History Press

OCLC:    991642666

UB271 .G7 M38 2016

Subjects

Date Posted:      October 5, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

In his memoirs, My Silent War[2], Kim Philby wrote that in the summer of 1940, he was interviewed at the St. Ermin’s Hotel for a position in the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). In retrospect, this was a signal event in the hotel’s history. In addition to rooms for recruiting interviews, MI6 had other offices in St. Ermin’s during World War II because the hotel was a block from its headquarters on Broadway (the offices were given up after the war). Thus the book’s claim that the hotel—still in operation today—was, as its subtitle suggests, the London base of British espionage does not apply after World War IL This contradicts the dust jacket blurb that states, “St. Ermin’s has been at the centre of British intelligence since the 1930s,” adding that “Ian Fleming and Noel Coward were found to be in the hotel’s bar.” Neither is mentioned in the book.

Author Peter Matthews does not account for these discrepancies. Moreover, his book adds a few more of them—for example, the omission of Philby’s recruitment story. Equally surprising, St. Ermin’s itself is barely mentioned in House of Spies. There is a chapter entitled “London Spies,” that comments on “the Cambridge spy ring” and its “association with St. Ermin’s Hotel,” but no association is ever established in the book and the occasional mention of the hotel bar makes no reference to any espionage operations. The chapter does discuss the recruitment of the Cambridge spies by the Soviets, but those events did not involve the hotel in any way. In short, the book has too many inexcusable errors. These might have been avoided had source notes been provided.

The bulk of the book is devoted to intelligence matters in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War—with only incidental mention of St. Ermin’s; interesting, but not on topic. House of Spies does not live up to the promise of its title.

[1] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 1 Summer 2017, p. 128). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at http://www.cia.gov

[2] Philby, Kim (1968). My Silent War: The Soviet Master Spy’s Own Story with an introduction by Graham Greene. London: MacGibbon & Kee

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Rebellion in the Ranks

Title:                      Rebellion in the Ranks

Author:                 John A. Nagy

Nagy, John A. (2007). Rebellion in The Ranks: Mutinies of The American Revolution. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing

LCCN:    2012288760

E209 .N34 2007

Contents

  • Break open the guard house: mutinies of command and control—Hungry, naked, and broke: mutinies of destitution—Firecake and water: the difficulty of supply—A perfect storm: no food, no money, no soldiers, no officers—The mark of Cain: The Pennsylvania Line Mutiny I—A sleeping giant awakes: The Pennsylvania Line Mutiny II—Spies at the College of New Jersey: The Pennsylvania Line Mutiny III—Mutiny in Independence Hall: The Pennsylvania Line Mutiny IV—Negotiations: The Pennsylvania Line Mutiny V—Hanging spies: The Pennsylvania Line Mutiny VI—The end of the line: The Pennsylvania Line Mutiny VII—The domino effect: The New Jersey Line Mutiny—General Greene’s travails: Mutiny in the South—The Newburgh conspiracy—Congress held hostage—Peace is declared—Walking the plank: Continental Naval Mutinies—The madman and the pirate—The king’s problems: British and Hessian Mutinies on land and sea—Appendices: A : Mutinies by date—Appendix B : Continental army mutinies by location and cause—Appendix C: Oliver De Lancey’s journal—Appendix D: Round Robin list—Appendix E: Pennsylvania Line return of December 11, 1780—Appendix F: First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry—Appendix G: Officer’s letter at Newburgh—Appendix H: George Washington’s speech at Newburgh—Appendix I: Proclamation by Elias Boudinot.

Date Posted:      October 4, 2017

Reviewed by James Kirby Martin[1]

John A. Nagy did not claim that his history of mutinies during the American Revolutionary War is exhaustive, but rather representative of hundreds of mutinous incidents, both large and small. At the outset, he indicates that “Hollywood history has led us to think that mutinies are strictly a naval event.” However, states Nagy, “[g]roups of men, usually armed, acting in defiance of authority happened both on land and at sea” (p. xv). With the exception of two chapters that describe uprising on patriot naval vessels, the bulk of this volume focuses on soldier mutinies, in most instances involving Continentals.

At the outset, Nagy takes note that about six percent of all recorded patriot courts martial involved allegations of mutinous behavior. He observes that the largest-scale mutinies occurred later in the war when essential supplies, especially food and clothing, too often were lacking or non-existent. Early on, by comparison, mutinies were usually smaller in scale and involved some type of defiance toward command authority. Nagy’s first chapter, “Break Open the Guardhouse,” thus recounts command and control mutinies while eight chapters ( pp. 65-166), more than a third of the text, narrate in some detail the famous uprising of the Pennsylvania line in January 1781. Other chapters look at mutinies during the southern campaigns of 1780-083, the threatened Newburgh Conspiracy coup of 1782-83, and a smattering of British and Hessian mutinies, among many other instances of insubordinate soldierly behavior during the Revolutionary War.

In regard to primary sources, Nagy points out that surviving records are often not only incomplete but also make little or no distinction between what might be depicted as minor cases of soldierly disobedience and insubordination, on one hand, and more consequential acts of mutinous behavior, on the other hand. Rather than offering a clear definition of what he means by the term mutiny, Nagy seems to add to this descriptive muddle by not making basic distinctions among the large number of incidents that he presents, most of which fell well below the mark of forcible attempts to overturn constituted command authority. Had Nagy offered some form of a working definition he might have saved his readers the annoyance of trying to separate so many trivial acts of disobedience from mutinous clashes serious enough to have affected the direction and outcomes of the Revolutionary War.

With rare exception, such as the 1781 Pennsylvania line mutiny, readers will find themselves wading through incident after nasty incident in what is largely a catalogue-like listing of soldierly flare-ups, all with little attempt to construct some level of interpretive significance. Chapters rarely feature conclusions, and Nagy’s closing remarks more or less repeat points made at the outset of the book. Certainly, the author has the prerogative to eschew analysis, but he could have offered his readers so much more had he consulted the published works of Charles Van Doren, Charles Neimeyer, Mark Edward Lender, Charles Royster, and others, including this reviewer [James Kirby Martin], that have sought to derive broader meaning from what all this soldier protest and defiance meant in regard to comprehending the true character and nature of the American Revolution.

In the old but worthy Dragnet television series, the late actor Jack Webb, playing Sergeant Joe Friday of the Los Angeles Police Department, would often repeat his famous investigatory phrase, “Just the Facts, Ma’am”. For readers wanting just the unadorned facts, lots and lots of them, Rebellion in the Ranks will prove to be a satisfying volume. For those seeking something more, they might well begin with Van Doren’s enduringly valuable Munity in January, originally published in 1943, and go forward from there.

[1] James Kirby Martin in Pewnnsylvania Histor4y: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies(76, 3, Summer 2009, pp. 370-372). Martin was at the University of Houston (TX) at the time of writing.

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