Review of “The New Spymasters” by Stephen Grey

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Author:  Stephen Grey

Publication Date: July 14, 2015

Publisher: St. Martin’s

ISBN: 978-0-3123-7922-3

Agent: Not known

Source of Book: I obtained this book by scanning the shelves at my local library.



Blurb: The old world of spying-dead-letter boxes, microfilm cameras, an enemy reporting to the Moscow Center, and a hint of sexual blackmail is history. The spymaster’s technique has changed and the enemy has, too. He or she now frequently comes from a culture far removed from Western understanding and is part of a less well-organized group. The new enemy is constantly evolving and prepared to kill the innocent. In the face of this new threat, the spymasters of the world shunned human intelligence as the primary way to glean clandestine information and replaced it with an obsession that focuses on the technical methods of spying ranging from the use of high-definition satellite photography to the global interception of communications. However, this obsession with technology has failed, most spectacularly, with the devastation of the 9/11 attacks. In this searing modern history of espionage, Stephen Grey takes us from the CIA’s Cold War legends, to the agents who betrayed the IRA, through to the spooks inside Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Techniques and technologies have evolved, but the old motivations for betrayal-patriotism, greed, revenge, compromise-endure. Based on years of research and interviews with hundreds of secret sources, Stephen Grey’s The New Spymasters is an up-to-date exposé that shows how spycraft’s human factor is once again being used to combat the world’s deadliest enemies.

(Source of Blurb: Macmillian Publishers)

Review:  “The New Spymasters”,  a non-fiction book by Stephen Grey published in 2015, was challenging to read, but highly informative, and very wide-ranging. Case studies were presented in readable, but rich detail. The author tried to draw together some overarching themes, including the conflict between technological intelligence and human intelligence gathering, and the difficulties inherent in each as well as ethical conflicts. The differences and conflicts between obtaining information and covert action are clearly described and illustrated. For an aspiring author searching for plotlines and conflicts to make a story richer, this book provides a wealth of possibilities. Spying is not easy, and it is not glamorous, and “The New Spymasters” pulls no punches. These stories are all very real and very well documented.

The book starts with a glossary in the front.  I imagine that was a signal from the author that this was going to be a difficult read. I found the glossary useful, especially the names and abbreviations of the intelligence services of many foreign countries.  The author is not afraid of complexity, and the glossary is helpful. “The New Spymasters tells the story of spying from the British Empire up to Afghanistan and al-Queda. It takes a case approach, focusing on a famous spying episode in each chapter, including Sidney Reilly, Kim Philby, the IRA, Andrew Antoniades, as well as several post 9-11 spying successes and failures, probing deeply into what is known about each episode. The book highlights the evolution of the spying business, and is quite clear about the difficulties involved in spying on an organization such as al-Queda.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

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