Why Spy?: The Art of Intelligence

Title:                      Why Spy?: The Art of Intelligence

Author:                  Brian T.W. Stewart

Stewart, Brian (2015) and Samantha Newbery. Why Spy?: The Art of Intelligence. London: Hurst & Company

LCCN:    2015509079

JF1525.I6 S85 2015


  • Why Spy? is the result of Brian Stewart’s seventy years of working in, and studying the uses and abuses of, intelligence in the real world. Few books currently available to those involved either as professionals or students in this area have been written by someone like the present author, who has practical experience both of field work and of the intelligence bureaucracy at home and abroad. It relates successes and failures via case studies, and draws conclusions that should be pondered by all those concerned with the limitations and usefulness of the intelligence product, as well as with how to avoid the tendency to abuse or ignore it when its conclusions do not fit with preconceived ideas. It reminds the reader of the multiplicity of methods and organisations and the wide range of talents making up the intelligence world. The co-author, scholar Samantha Newbery, examines such current issues as the growth of intelligence studies in universities, and the general emphasis throughout the volume is on the necessity of embracing a range of sources, including police, political, military and overt, to ensure that secret intelligence is placed in as wide a context as possible when decisions are made.
  • With practical experience both of field work and of the intelligence bureaucracy at home and abroad, Stewart examines successes and failures via case studies, considers the limitations and usefulness of the intelligence product, and warns against the tendency to abuse or ignore it when its conclusions do not fit with preconceived ideas.


  • Three Asian cases. The Malayan emergency : an intelligence success story ; Vietnam : a can of worms ; Chinese affairs — The machinery and methodology of intelligence. The organisation and machinery of intelligence ; Types of intelligence collection methods ; Assessment : problems and common fallacies ; Moral dilemmas — Famous cases of intelligence in practice. Pearl Harbor ; Cuba : the Bay of Pigs and the Missile Crisis ; Iraq : the intelligence imbroglio and the Butler review — Non-information gathering intelligence operations. Special operations ; Deception operations ; Assassination.


Date Posted:      March 10, 2017

Complied and Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

The late Brian Stewart had 40 years of experience in British intelligence. He left Oxford University to join the Black Watch in 1942 and fought in France after the D-Day invasion. After the war, he joined the Malayan Civil Service, learned  Chinese in China, and then began a career in intelligence during the Malayan emergency before joining MI6 in 1957. His Asian assignments included Burma (now Myanmar), Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, and Shanghai. He gained an unusual perspective on the Vietnam War in Hanoi, where he was Consul General during 1967-1968. Returning to London in 1968, he served as the secretary of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) until 1972. It was there that he “persuaded the intelligence knights of the day to commission” a precedent-setting, five-volume, official intelligence history of WWII (p. xviii) It was at this time, too, that he began writing a book on the basics of intelligence. But the demands of work hindered progress and only after Samantha Newbery— now a lecturer on intelligence at the University of Salford—sought his counsel for her Ph.D. dissertation did he seek her help in completing the manuscript. Why Spy? is the result.

Throughout the book Stewart refers to the CIA and its operations. When discussing special operations, he includes the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Iraq War, with emphasis on the British political consequences. He also devotes a chapter to Vietnam as seen from his perspective in Hanoi, and relates exchanges with Bill Colby and later DCI Helms during a meeting at CIA Headquarters. In the chapters on intelligence methods, he refers to CIA’s policies regarding HUMINT during the late 1970s, discusses the U-2 and other overhead collection techniques, comments on defectors in China, and discusses agent handling principles.

The book’s most surprising aspect is a discussion of “commonly discussed methods” (p. 84) that may, in fact, not be so common to US professional or civilian readers: EXINT (exile intelligence), HUNCHINT (hunch intelligence), TRASHINT (trash intelligence), CABINT (cab intelligence), DOCINT (documentary intelligence), and RUMINT (rumor intelligence). One wonders whether they will catch on. Not to be overlooked, the authors also discuss a variety of assessment techniques that deal with how to handle the information collected by the more conventional techniques.

The chapter “Moral Dilemmas” has a lengthy treatment of the history and current policies on interrogation and torture. Stewart acknowledges that “pressure should be banned,” but he allows for a category of “hard individuals [who] seldom succumb to kind words, cups of tea, or intellectual dominance”—he cites Philby as an example. (p. 102)

Why Spy? provides a useful historical and practical firsthand perspective of intelligence, as seen from both sides of the pond.

[1] Hayden Peake in The Intelligencer (22, 2, Fall 2016, p. 118.  Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. Other reviews and articles may be found online at  www.cia.gov.

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