The Main Enemy

Title:                  The Main Enemy

Author:                Milton Bearden

Milton Bearden (2003) and James Risen. The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB. New York: Random House

LCCN:    2003271051

JK468.I6 B399 2003

Date Updated:  February 25, 2016

Bearden is a former 30 year senior officer of CIA’s clandestine service and Risen is a New York Times investigative reporter. This book covers CIA’s covert operations in Afghanistan to defeat the Soviets. The heart of this fascinating book is the intelligence battle between the CIA and the KGB. In particular, from the mid-1980s on when KGB penetrations of CIA (Aldrich Ames) and the FBI (Robert Hanssen) wrought terrible damage on a carefully built constellation of CIA penetrations – moles – inside the KGB and GRU (military intelligence) and important Soviet government institutions and ministries. With inside information and details from both sides, this is a revealing account of some of the great Cold War cases run by CIA for many years under the eyes of the KGB. It also relates the tragedies that followed the betrayal of these assets by Ames and Hanssen.

This book is a fine read, and even the contributions from The New York Times are quite worthwhile. In essence the primary author, Milton Beardon, wrote the core of the book, from his experiences with the Soviet Division in the Directorate of Operations at the CIA, and in Afghanistan and Pakistan driving the Soviets in Afghanistan. Journalist James Risen filled in the gaps with really excellent vignettes from the other side. The two authors together make a fine team, and they have very capably exploited a number of former KGB and GRU officers whose recollections round out the story.

This is not, by any means, a complete story. Several other books to be posted in this blog add considerable detail to a confrontation that spanned the globe for a half-century. Yet, while it barely scratches the surface, this book is both historical and essential in understanding two facts:

1) Afghanistan was the beginning of the end for USSR and

2) CIA made it happen, once invigorated by President Ronald Reagan and DCI William Casey

It may not be immediately apparent to the casual reader, but that is the most important story being told in this book: how the collapse of the Soviet effort in Afghanistan ultimately led to the collapse of Soviet authority in East Germany, in the other satellite states, and eventually to the unification of Germany and the survival of Russia as a great state but no longer an evil empire.

There are two other stories in this book, and both are priceless. The first is a tale of counterintelligence failure across the board within both the CIA and the FBI. The author excels with many “insider” perspectives and quotes, ranging from his proper and brutal indictment of then DCI Stansfield Turner for destroying the clandestine service, to his quote from a subordinate, based on a real-world case, that even the Ghanians can penetrate this place.

He has many “lessons learned” from the Howard and Ames situations, including how badly the CIA handled Howard’s dismissal, how badly CIA handled Yuchenko, to include leaking his secrets to the press, how badly both CIA and FBI handled the surveillance on Howard, with too many “new guys” at critical points of failure; and most interestingly, how both DCI Casey and CIA counterintelligence chiefs Gus Hathaway (and his deputy Ted Price) refused to launch a serious hunt for Ames and specifically refused to authorize polygraphs across the board (although Ames beat a scheduled polygraph later). The author’s accounting of the agent-by-agent losses suffered by the CIA as Howard, Ames, and Hansen took their toll, is absolutely gripping.

The second story is that of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and how the anti-Soviet jihad nurtured by America and Pakistan ultimately turned back on both countries. It may help the reader of this book to first read Milt Bearden’s novel, The Black Tulip, a wonderful and smoothly flowing account in novelized terms. From the primary author’s point of view, it was Afghanistan, not Star Wars, that brought the Soviet Union to its knees. The primary author provides the reader with really superb descriptions of the seven key Afghan warlord leaders; of the intricacies of the Pakistani intelligence service, which had its own zealots, including one who launched jihad across in to Uzbeckistan without orders; and how the Stingers, then anti-armor, and then extended mortars (with novel combinations of Geographical Information System computers and satellite provided coordinates for Soviet targets, all 21st century equipment that was quickly mastered by the Afghan warriors) all helped turn the tide. As America continues to fail in its quest to reconstruct the road of Afghanistan, having severely misunderstood the logistics and other obstacles, one of the book’s sentences really leaps out: the supply chain to the rebels “needed more mules than the world was prepared to breed.”

This book is a collector’s item and must be in the library of anyone concerned with intelligence, US-Soviet relations, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Saudi funding of terrorism. It is a finely crafted personal contribution from someone who did hard time in the CIA, and made an enormous personal contribution, in partnership with the hundreds of CIA case officers, reports officers, all-source analysts, and especially CIA paramilitary officers (including Nick Pratt and Steve Cash, forever Marines).

The convention seems to be that there must be at least four or more books published about a spy case for it to be regarded as a major case. This book, along with some others, also containing this caveat, are regarded by Dan Mulvenna as the best books on some of the notable U.S. spy cases.

Nigel West is a author and consultant on counterintelligence matters. I had the privilege of hearing a series of his lectures about the Queen Mary II in the summer of 2010. This book was one of the ten best books on the Spying Game. Here is the entire list.

Bearden, Milton (2003) and James Risen. The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB. Fascinating version of the end of the Cold War and the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan by a senior CIA officer.

Benson, Robert Louis and Michael Warner. VENONA: Soviet Espionage and the American Response 1939-1957. The official history of the VENONA cryptographic project declassified in 1996.

Bentley, Elizabeth. Out of Bondage. The story of the NKVD defector in New York in 1945 who implicated numerous Communist Party agents, edited by Hayden Peake.

Burrows, William E. Deep Black. Most accurate history of the development of reconnaissance satellites, and an overview of aerial intelligence collection platforms.

Dallin, David. Soviet Espionage. Earliest, most reliable history of early NKVD activities, the first of a genre.

Hinsley, F. H. British Intelligence in the Second World War. Comprehensive study of ULTRA and other intelligence sources and their impact on the war, in five volumes, released as an official history series.

Masterman, J.C. The Double Cross System of the War of 1930 to 1945. Magisterial analysis of the development and exploitation of double agents and the genesis of strategic deception.

Schecter, Jerrold. The Spy Who Saved The World. Best account of Oleg Penkovsky’s espionage in Moscow during the Cuban missile crisis based on CIA transcripts.

Sonntag, Sherry, and Christopher Drew with Annette Lawrence Drew. BlindMan’s Bluff. Detailed account of the U.S. Navy’s deployment of clandestine submarine operations during the Cold War

Wise, David. Nightmover. An accurate account of the investigation in Aldrich Ames’ espionage inside the CIA, with the counter-intelligence background.


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13 Responses to The Main Enemy

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