Secret Servants

Title:                      Secret Servants

Author:                  Ronald Seth

Seth, Ronald (1957, 1975). Secret Servants: A History of Japanese Espionage. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press

LCCN:    75000393

UB271.J3 S4 1957



  • Reprint of the ed. published by Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, New York.

Date Updated:  October 20, 2015

This review based on a KIRKUS REVIEW

From accredited sources, many of them Japanese documents recently made available, this integrates the story of Japanese espionage, a talent native to this people, along with the techniques and tactics used over the last hundred years.

Based on the system inaugurated in Germany by Wilhelm Stieber, Bismarck’s great spymaster who developed a secret police force which operated on an international as well as national basis, Japan also added the patriotic society as a means, sex as a weapon. With world domination in view, their greatest success was at Port Arthur in 1904; later, under Doihara, called the Lawrence of Manchuria, they achieved infiltration there; and with the ‘30’s, began their assault against the Americas—achieved largely through the flux of fishing boats. Pearl Harbor, of course, caps and writes a temporary conclusion to this history.

A calm handling of material which could be open to sensationalism—and a popular overall.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

There are few books on Japanese intelligence and espionage despite the events and wars in which that country was involved in the last hundred years and the capture of some Japanese archives in 1945. Seth’s book in no way fills the need—the DIS Bibliography (see below) is correct when it notes that Secret Servants is not particularly valuable or accurate. Seth has written what he calls a history of Japanese espionage based on Foreign Office material and other documents and on previous books on the subject without once indicating a source in the text or identifying the specific Japanese documents he has drawn from. The results are unacceptable to researchers, who cannot assess many of his statements and conclusions without knowing the documentary or other sources and support. One is constantly alerted to the book’s poor quality by its failure to indicate sources and by excessive claims and errors. Colonel Nicolai, the German chief of military intelligence in World War I, is pictured as the man who was in contact with the Japanese to arrange intelligence cooperation in the 1930s and the man “who was later to become director of German military intelligence.” Sorge is said to have advised Moscow that Japanese were to attack Pearl Harbor on 6 December 1941. He did no such thing—he only advised the Soviets in early October that it was safe to assume that war between the United States and Japan would start that month or the next. Seth calls the Japanese admiral in the 1904 war Tojo instead of Togo. He speaks of the fantastic Japanese system of espionage whose vastness in Manchuria and Russia, for illustration, made the purported forty thousand agents of the German Stieber in France in 1870 “pale into insignificance”—claims that are as unsupported as they are incredible. The amateurishness of some of the cases he describes should have alerted him, one would have thought, to the possibility that the Japanese were not as highly proficient as he makes them out to be.

It is only when he quotes from the newspaper accounts and trial papers on such espionage cases as those of the Americans Thompson and Farnsworth and the German Kühn family that we have something resembling the facts. As for the rest, Seth can be said to distort the reality of Japanese intelligence judging from what was learned of it after World War II unless he can better document his case. For the Pearl Harbor attack, the reader is referred to Wohlstetter’s Pearl Harbor[2], which tells in dear terms the results of postwar interrogations of Japanese. These show them consistently playing down the role of foreign agents in the intelligence provided them for the attack.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[3]

One of the very few books on Japanese intelligence activities. Not considered particularly valuable or accurate in providing an insight into Japanese intelligence operations.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[4]

The author, a member of British intelligence during World War II and a teacher, consulted hundreds of original Japanese documents captured at the end of World War II in order to compile this detailed and dramatic history of Japanese espionage. He describes Japanese infiltration of Hawaii as early as 1876, the role of Japanese intelligence in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, and the penetration of the United States as well as Central and South America. Most sources listed in the bibliography are accessible only with difficulty, but a few are available books of the early 1940s.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 408-409

[2] Wohlstetter, Roberta (1962). Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press

[3] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 56

[4] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 29


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  1. Pingback: The Rape of Nanking | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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