Hidden Secrets

Title:                      Hidden Secrets

Author:                 David Owen

Owen, David (2002). Hidden Secrets: The Complete History of Espionage and the Technology Used to Support It. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books

LCCN:    2003265572

JF1525.I6 093 2002


Date Updated:  August 25, 2015

A brief but very good review of this book is on the CIA “Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf” website.

This “complete history of espionage” is presented in five parts that the author labels: HUMINT, SIGINT, ELINT, False Intelligence, and IMINT. Each is illustrated with photographs, many in color, and they cover a span of time from China’s Sun Tzu to 11 September 2001. The details are necessarily sketchy since the coverage is broad and the number of pages relatively few, but most of the main espionage figures and technical collection systems are mentioned. There is much less coverage of the toys of espionage. Those interested in that aspect had best consult Keith Melton’s Ultimate Spy.[1]

Owen’s big picture is accurate, but the details in many cases are not. For example, Operation MINCEMEAT, popularized in Ewen Montagu’s book, The Man Who Never Was[2], was not the “totally successful” deception Owen makes it out to be. When discussing the Hanssen case, Owen repeats the story that Hanssen was influenced “as a boy” by Philby’s memoirs. This could not have happened, of course, since Philby’s book was not published until Hanssen was 24 years old. On the topic of the Cambridge spies, Anthony Blunt was not their leader, nor did the group include four undergraduates—all were recruited after they left Cambridge as students. MI5 (the British Security Service) was not the Army counterintelligence service, Donald Maclean was not suspected of leaking nuclear secrets—though in fact that is part of what he had done—and Philby was not allowed to remain in MI6.

As a brief introduction to the topic of espionage, Hidden Secrets will be of value to those seeking a general overview, but it is far from the “Complete History” indicated in the sub-title, and all facts should be checked with other sources before being accepted.

[1] Melton, H. Keith (2009). Ultimate Spy: Inside the Secret World of Espionage: Expanded and Updated Edition. New York: DK Publications

[2] Montagu, Ewen (1953). The Man Who Never Was: World War II’s Boldest Counter-Intelligence Operation. London, Evans Bros


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