Ambassadors And Secret Agents

Title:                      Ambassadors And Secret Agents

Author:                 Alfred Cobban

Cobban, Alfred (1954). Ambassadors And Secret Agents: The Diplomacy of The First Earl of Malmesbury At The Hague. London: Jonathan Cape. [Reprinted: Westport, CT: Hyperion Press, 1979]

LCCN:    54004990

DJ202 .C55


Date Updated:  August 24, 2016

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

A most impressive work on secret service. Cobban’s basic belief and premise was that little had been written on the role of secret service activities in British diplomacy. The situation in the 1780s in Holland, about which he wrote, presented an excellent case study for his conviction, quoted halfway through the book, that “there are situations in which secret maneuvers are the real heart of the diplomatic game.” Utilizing official documents and the letters of the principals, he gives a fascinating picture of the secret intelligence, propaganda, and political war waged in the Dutch Republic in the 1780s by the English and the French. Though the activities of the British minister to The Hague, Sir James Harris, and of the British generally get the major coverage, the French are not neglected. Cobban tells of the involvement of Harris in the recruitment and handling of secret agents and of his plotting with Dutch political factions. French and British covert subsidies are named, the British support to the Prince of Orange not being omitted. There are a number of interesting parallels with recent history to be found in the events of this period. One is the secret dispatch of French troops in mufti to the Dutch Republic and the importance of the issue of whether the French had established a camp on the Meuse to stage such movement into Holland—reminiscent of the 1979 Soviet brigade issue in Cuba. The complaints that the French embassy at The Hague was really two embassies, one composed of agents and covert activists, also have a familiar ring. Sir William Eden appears peripherally as the envoy to Paris, but Cobban says nothing of his past intelligence work.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[2]

An excellent account of British and French intrigue during a revolution in Holland during the 1780s. Deals with aspects of agent handling, secret communications, double agents, etc.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[3]

In his introduction the author writes, “Little has been written, except in works of imagination, on the role of secret services activities in British diplomacy.” Cobban examines such activities in detail in writing about the diplomacy of Sir James Harris, British minister to the Hague on the eve of the French Revolution.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, p. 127

[2] 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. 16

[3] 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. 139


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One Response to Ambassadors And Secret Agents

  1. Pingback: Espionage and Counterespionage, Chapter 14 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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