Mini Book Review of ‘Class 11: My Story Inside the CIA’s First Post 9/11 Spy Class’ by T.J. Waters

If you are looking for a comprehensive examination of the CIA, this is not your book. Rather, this is book explores the training of a single CIA class. The 11th Class of spies was the CIA’s first class following 9/11. What made this story interesting to me is that 9/11 marks a pivotal point in the history of espionage in out country. In all appearances, human gathered intelligence had failed us in a major way. This presented a choice for the CIA. Would they continue with business as usual or would they learn from their mistakes. This book explores that struggle by telling the story of the largest class of spies in CIA history.

This book was a bit of a deviation for me. Most of the espionage titles I’ve read center around the Cold War Era. What surprised me was how much of the training and experiences of Class 11 seemed similar to what the CIA has always done. It seems to me that in many aspects, the CIA was playing catchup in an attempt to keep itself relevant. That was a bit of a disappointed. What wasn’t disappointing, however, were the sacrifices and motivation of the would be Case Officers. If you’ve never read anything about the training of CIA Case Officers, you will find this book informative. You will learn what life is like on The Farm and how such training impacts the trainees and their families.

I found this glimpse into the family life of the author very interesting. I’m not sure if T.J. Waters has written anything else, but I would be interested to see what his CIA life was life post training.

Mini Book Review of “Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy” by Lindsey Moran

blowingmycoverI really enjoy true life, behind the scenes, espionage titles. In most cases, truth is far more incredible than fiction. This title from Lindsey Moran should have checked off all my boxes, but in many ways it left me wanting. Her story was incredible enough; as a CIA Case Worker with an interesting foreign post, her story was intriguing. I especially enjoyed the details she shared concerning her time in training. She also did a good job portraying the melancholy I am sure many CIA Case Workers feel. Unfortunately, despite her service to her country, she almost conveys a sense of regret. She doesn’t seem proud of her career (as I feel she should). It’s hard to explain entirely … I could understand a sense of regret, however, she almost seems remorseful and maybe even spiteful. The author conveys a sense of regret for the sacrifices she made regarding her personal life in favor of her professional one and ultimately (no spoilers here) is faced with a decision.

While I enjoyed parts of this book, there are much better ones out there.

Mini Book Review: The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman

spyThis book is the true story of Adolf Tolkachev who delivered Russian secrets to the the CIA for seven years during the Cold War. The sheer impact this one spy had on the United States military, specifically in aviation, is astounding. His secrets contributed to the United States’ air superiority throughout the world for long after the Cold War ended and helped topple the Soviet Union. It is an incredible story. As I read the account of Tolkachev, I couldn’t help but wonder how his story ties in with other known spies of the era. People like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hannsen may have contributed to the ultimate downfall of Tolkachev and it is mind-boggling to consider the interwoven web of espionage that permeated the Cold War. In a world focused technology and “wiki-leaks”, this book reinforces the necessity of human intelligence. I highly recommend it if you are interested in Cold War espionage.

Mini Book Review of Inside the CIA by Ronald Kessler

CIAAlthough I love books about spying, espionage, and the CIA, this one was too bland for my tastes. Ronald Kessler is a journalist who was granted extraordinary access to the inter-workings of the CIA. Unfortunately, he writes like an outsider rather than an expert. He has no personal stories, anecdotes, or first-hand experiences. As a result, this book reads like a distant documentary. While it is chock-full of information, I found myself dreading reading it more and more with each page.

I gave up on it about 100 pages in.

Review of 'Spy Handler' by Cherkashin and Feifer

Spy HandlerTITLE: Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer: The True Story of the Man Who Recruited Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames
Authory: Victor Cherkashin, Gregory Feifer

I first became in interested in Cold War era espionage after watching the movie ‘Breach’ starring Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe. The movie chronicles the true story of the FBI’s attempt to bring down Robert Hannsen who is commonly referred to as the worst spy in US History. Hanssen sold US secrets to the Russians for over twenty years and betrayed our country to the tune of billions. “Spy Handler” tells the story of Russian intelligence operative Victor Cherkashin who handled both Hanssen and and the CIA’s Aldrich Ames, who is credited as being the worst spy in that agencies’ history. Reading their stories from the ‘Soviet perspective’ was quite interesting.

There should be no mistake, Cherkashin was loyal and dedicated to the USSR. Throughout the course of this book, Cherkashin goes into great detail concerning his 30+ year career serving in the KGB and I found it quite interesting the lengths both the KGB and the CIA would go to during the Cold War to recruit and handle double agents. Cherkashin’s story depicts a KGB that is marked by paranoia, back-stabbing, and double-crossing throughout the Cold War. Despite this, he chronicles many successes the agency scored over their western adversaries.

The subtitle of this book, however, does seem to be a little misleading. Billed as “the man Who Recruited Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames,” Cherkashin actually dod no such thing. According to his own story, Ames and Hannsen more or less fell into his lap. Both men were essentially volunteers who approached the KGB offering information in exchange for money. Cherkashin, however, did play a key role in handling Ames and devised strategies for pulling the spy deeper into the game. Cherkashin seemed to play a smaller role in the handling of Hanssen. In fact, the author only discovered the Hanssen’s true identity in 2001 after his arrest was made public.

The book concludes with the authors thoughts on the role espionage and intelligence should play on the current world stage that should probably be taken into account by the leaders of the CIA and the SVR (Russian Foreign Intelligence Agency).

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested the Cold War, however, I must warn that Cherkashin has the tendency to ramble a bit and his story seems a little disjointed as times. If you enjoy this type of stuff, it is certainly worth the read, however, for casual readers there are probably better books out there.