Monthly Archives: April 2016

Stalin’s Agent: the life and Death of Alexander Orlov by Boris Volodarsky

This was a strange book. The topic is very interesting. Alexander Orlov did not defect from the NKVD, he retired and then lived in obscurity in the US. I’m not quite sure that I got a clear picture from the book. But an awful lot is quite obscure. In particular, I did not get a good sense of why he defected. His role in Spain was quite well covered though.

The book could have used some editing, there were quite a quite a lot of spelling/grammatical errors and some of the digressions were long and not necessarily explained how they were useful for the general narrative.


Lady Byron and her Daughters by  Julia Markus

I found this quite a useful biography of Lady Byron and her family.  I found it better written than the Bride of Science. One issue with these books is try to give background and context that are known and to avoid sensationalist speculation — especially trying to ascribe modern motives. I felt this book was quite successful in this regard.

The New Spymasters: Inside Espionage from the Cold War to Global Terror by Stephen Grey

I enjoyed and was stimulated by this.  It wove a consistent narrative that started the familiar tales of the origins of SIS (and MI5) after the Russian Revolution through the Cold War. However, it continued on with IRA connections, through the end of the Cold War with a temporary (and not necessarily successful) detour into anti-crime operations. The final sections moved into operations against jihadist terror organizations both at home and abroad.  The last part was particularly interesting since it really only covered the Al-Qaeda period but definitely looked forward to something else,  eg IS.

I found the different levels of contacts that security organizations have with their opponents most interesting.  How these can range from informers through to a vaguer notion of arrangement. — more of a communication channel.  This seems to have been useful with the IRA.  One wonders what contacts there are with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban or IS.

It also covered the problems that security services have in recruiting informers in modern jihadi groups.  Also how the whole nature of security information has changed with the sheer volume of information that is available (security applications of big data!).