Cold War Counterfeit Spies

Title:                      Cold War Counterfeit Spies

Author:                 Nigel West

West, Nigel (2016). Cold War Counterfeit Spies; Tales of Espionage; Genuine or Bogus? Barnsley, S. Yorkshire: Frontline Books

LCCN:    2017301253

UB271.G7 W467 2016

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      October 2, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

After World War IL accounts of espionage and derring-do became popular and sometimes profitable subjects in books by journalists and historians. Some were firsthand descriptions as, for example, Sir John Masterman’s The Double Cross System[2] and Ewen Montagu’s The Man Who Never Was[3]. Others, such as William Stevenson’s The Man Called Intrepid[4]—still in print -achieved lasting fame, while Josephine Butler’s Cyanide in My Shoe (This London Books, 1991)—also published as Churchill’s Secret Agent[5]—reached a smaller audience. Both exposed adventures that seemed too good to be true. Nigel West’s 1998 book, Counterfeit Spies[6] showed that they, along with 15 other titles, were indeed largely fiction. In Butler’s case, she had spent most of the war in Holloway Prison. (p. vii) Unhappily, this fondness for deceit and fabrication did not end with WWII stories.

Cold War Counterfeit Spies presents more than 20 published specimens in which fanciful invention is documented. Official Assassin[7] by Peter Mason is typical. Mason claims, inter alia, to have been part of a team that sought out and executed without trial unpunished Nazi war criminals. He says he was also recruited by MI5 to penetrate the IRA in the 1950s (but Special Branch had the IRA responsibility at that time). Mason also describes an undercover mission that required entering East Germany through Checkpoint Charlie some years before the Wall was actually constructed. (p. 8) He also makes numerous factual errors; for example, he identifies Cyril Mills as an MI6 officer, when it was well known Mills served MI5. None of Mason’s adventures is documented.

Perhaps the most egregious example in Cold War Counterfeit Spies is found in The Secret Lives of a Secret Agent[8] by Tim Crook, a purported biography of Brigadier Alexander Wilson, a onetime MI6 linguist and author of espionage fiction. West shows that Wilson was never a Brigadier, though he was a “serial bigamist”—four wives, children by each, unknown to each other until after his death—a philanderer, and a thief. Finally, Crook’s claim that Wilson’s books demonstrated “inside knowledge of SIS” does not stand up to scrutiny. (p.212)

The most outrageous examples of phony Cold War intelligence “literature” are contained in four volumes written under the name (a pseudonym) Gregory Douglas[9]. Among the fabrications he attempts to foist on the public are the claim the WWII Gestapo chief, Heinrich Müller, survived the war, was recruited by the CIA, and was brought to United States for debriefing. Once here, he had dinner with President Truman and worked for the CIA against the Soviets on the condition that Vice President Henry Wallace [West mistakenly says Harry Hopkins] not be informed because he was a Soviet agent. (p. 197) The extensive “documentation” Douglas provided is shown to be fabricated.

Cold War Counterfeit Spies sends a strong message: fact checkers, beware!

[1] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 1 Summer 2017, p. 127). 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

[2] Masterson, J. C. (2012). The Double-Cross System: The Incredible True Story of How Nazi Spies Were Turned into Double Agents. Guilford, DE: The Lyons Press

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

[4] Stevenson, William (1976). A Man Called Intrepid: The Secret War. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

[5] Butler, Josephine (1983). Churchill’s Secret Agent. Ashburton, Devon, UK: Blaketon-Hall

[6] West, Nigel (1998). Counterfeit Spies: Genuine or Bogus? An Astonishing Investigation into Secret Agents of the Second World War. London: St Ermin’s Press

[7] Mason, Peter, Captain (1998). Official AsSASsin. Williamstown, NJ: Phillips. [OCLC: 41567800]

[8] Crook, Tim (2014). Secret Lives of a Secret Agent: The Mysterious Life and Times of Alexander Wilson. Kultura Press. [OCLC: 922550135]

[9] Douglas, Gregory (1995, 1998). Gestapo Chief: The 1948 Interrogation of Heinrich Müller: From Secret U.S. Intelligence Files. Los Angeles, CA: R. James Bender. [LCCN: 96169478]

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