Most Secret Agent of Empire

Title:                      Most Secret Agent of Empire

Author:                 Taline Ter Minassian

Ter Minassian, Taline (2014) translated by Tom Rees. Most Secret Agent of Empire: Reginald Teague-Jones, Master Spy of The Great Game. Oxford, UK; New York: Oxford University Press

LCCN:    2015301941

UB271.G72 T4713 2014

Summary

  • “Compelling biography of Reginald Teague-Jones (1889- 1988) — the most important British spy you have never heard of. Teague-Jones was feared by Stalin, roamed Eurasia and chameleon-like, vanished, only to reappear in America, decades later, still practicing espionage. Teague-Jones was held responsible for the execution of ‘the 26 Commissars’ after the fall of the Baku Commune in 1918 – an event that inspired a poem by Yesenin, a Brodsky painting and a 1933 feature film.”–Publisher’s website

Subjects

Notes

  • Originally published as Reginald Teague-Jones: au service secret de l’Empire Britannique. Paris: Grasset, c2012.
  • Translated from the French.

Date Posted:      September 16, 2016

Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).[1]

Reviewed by Joseph C. Goulden[2]

Captain Reginald Teague-Jones was assigned to military intelligence at GHQ, New Delhi, in 1917. Educated in St. Petersburg, he was fluent in Russian, German, and Persian, among other languages. After the Bolshevik Revolution, he was sent to Baku to assess the situation and determine whether the local anti-Bolsheviks were likely to remain in the war. On 20 September 1918, 26 Bolshevik commissars of Baku were executed. Initially forgotten—fog of war—when the Bolsheviks recaptured Transcaspia[3] in 1919, they discovered the fate of their colleagues, some of whom had been personally known to Lenin. A lawyer was sent to investigate. His report blamed Teague Jones for the decision to execute the commissars—by now treated as martyrs—and he was publicly accused by Stalin and Trotsky. When in 1922 a Russian book repeated the charges, Teague-Jones, fearing for his life, officially changed his name to Ronald Sinclair and disappeared. Although he kept in touch with a few friends under his birth name, it was only when Sinclair died in 1988 that his obituary revealed his long kept secret.

In Most Secret Agent of Empire, Taline Ter Minassian, an historian at the Paris Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, expands on previous accounts of the Teague-Jones story that mainly concerned the commissar incident and his disappearance. Based on Teague-Jones’s voluminous papers (now in the British Library), Minassian covers his early life—including a brief marriage—and his work for the Indian Political Intelligence (IPI) service prior to WWI, when he worked often disguised as a local in Persia, There is also a fascinating chapter with new material on his later, unsuccessful efforts to capture the German imperial agent, Wilhelm Wassmuss, unofficially known as the “German T. E. Lawrence,” who was attempting to enlist Persian support for Germany.

Of special interest, Minassian explains that Teague-Jones’ name change had been supported by the British intelligence services with whom he was cooperating at the time. He would continue collecting intelligence, sometimes under the cover of working for unnamed “British manufacturers,” (p. 193) on Soviet activities in Transcaspia, Persia, and Tibet until in 1941 when he was assigned as British consul in New York City, a cover assignment. In reality he worked in the MI6 station called British Security Coordination (BSC), which was headed by William Stephenson, all the while remaining attached to the IPI (p. 219). He served, inter alia, as coordination officer for Bermuda and the Caribbean, the resident expert on India. One of the reports furnished to IPI assessed the potential of creating Pakistan. It was prepared by the Research and Analysis Division of OSS and was received “with no more than amused condensation.” IPI was dismayed by “the very fact that (the) research was necessary” and judged OSS “a very peculiar body.” (p. 221)

Teague Jones remained with MI6 in New York until he retired with his second wife—who had worked for MI5—first to Florida in 1952, and eventually to London, via Spain. Most Secret Agent of Empire is a valuable intelligence biography of historical and professional interest.

[1] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]

[2] Goulden, Joseph C. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 2, Spring 2016, pp. 127-128). Joseph C. Goulden’s 1982 book, Korea: The Untold Story of the War, was published in a Chinese-language edition in 2014 by Beijing Xiron Books. He is author of 18 nonfiction books. Goulden is a long-time reviewer of espionage and spy books for The Washington Times, for AFIO’s Intelligencer, for law journals, and other publications. Some of the reviews appeared in prior editons of The Washington Times or The Washington Lawyer (DC Bar Association) and are reprinted by permission of the author. Goulden’s most recent book [as of 2016] is Goulden, Joseph C. (2012). The Dictionary of Espionage: Spyspeak into English. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

[3] Transcaspian Oblast (Russian: Закаспийская область, Zakaspiyskaya oblast), or Transcaspia, was the name used from the second half of the 19th century until 1924 for the section of Russian Empire (and, for a few years, early Soviet Russia) to the east of the Caspian Sea, bounded to the south by Iran’s Khorasan Province and Afghanistan, to the north by the former Russian province of Uralsk, and to the northeast by the former Russian protectorates of Khiva and Bukhara.

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