Review: The Art Of Betrayal – Life and Death in the British Secret Service – by Gordon Corera

art of betrayal

They say that truth is often stranger than fiction and this book that I have given a 5 star rating reads very fluently and tells the real story of British secret service agents as they engage in the art of espionage across the globe. True heroes and heroines emerge as you quickly flutter through the pages. From SIS’s early war history through to the heavy espionage focus against the Soviets during the Cold War through to the closer to present military escapades in Afghanistan and Iraq, spies are always at the centre of international events, the front line defences of any country and they are especially important to Britain with the remnants of its empire. The shocks of betrayal are often harsh and blunders in espionage can prove very costly. Although the reality is often different to the popular perception of James Bond, some of the adventures and intrigue of the real espionage world are profound tales that push the human spirit to its limits. I think that the most fascinating tale of the book, one which has haunted the halls of Whitehall and Washington to this day, is that of the Soviet super-spy Kim Philby, of the Cambridge Five. Philby rose to the highest echelons of the secret service on both sides of the Atlantic at the height of the Cold War, all the time working discreetly for the Soviet Union, attracted ideologically by Communism. His deceit actively cost the lives of many and severely disrupted many critical operations. The book details not just Philby but also the defectors coming in the other direction and there are some great depictions of the tasks performed by MI6 and MI5 operatives who had to handle these defectors and also run foreign agents behind the lines. The book leaves a hunger for further research and I shall be looking carefully at the fictitious works of Graham Greene and John Le Carré, both of whose real lives feature in this book as they were both at one time secret agents. The book to me tailed off a bit after the excitement of the Cold War and the last chapter on the political blunderings of the failed Iraq War intelligence was a trifle mundane yet overall the book lived up to all expectations and was laid out very well with a very flowing narrative.

Review: The Rise Of Islamic State – by Patrick Cockburn

rise of islamic state

This is an excellent introductory text for those wishing to better understand the complex details of the rise of Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL. From its arrival due to the Syrian Civil War and its cancerous spread into post-war Iraq, this extremist-terrorist Sunni Islamic (Wahhabi) nation/fundamentalist organisation, has been indefatigable. The best minds and theorists on the region have been unable to prevent ISIS success and growth, even with tacit US military support and backing virtually every possible political rival. This book looks at the reasons for this emergence of IS and it briefly analyses the possible solutions to its successful cessation. It is clear that a lot of the problem comes from the wider Sunni-Shia split across the Islamic world. The failure to establish a genuine alternative to the Saddam Hussein régime in Iraq has left a vacuum in particular among the Sunni populations of Northern Iraq where ISIS predominate. The failure of the Assad opposition in the Syrian revolution/civil war has also created the perfect conditions for this new state, the inheritor of post Bin Laden Al Qaeda, and the recipient of such massive Sunni Wahhabist support across the Middle Eastern oil-rich kingdoms. Every player in the region has its interests invoked and post-imperialist powers plus global nuclear superpowers are all involved in the rising anarchistic conflict. What is clear from the author’s well-studied work is that this ISIS / Sunni Revolution situation is far from an anomaly and is a reality and a problem which is here to stay in the short term at least. In order for any solutions for the problem to be found, then studies on the ISIS phenomenon will become ever so important. A great introductory read, packed full of condensed information.

Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill

Following on from his book on the mercenary force Blackwater, Jeremy Scahill delves into the Dirty Wars of the Bush and Obama era in the War on Terror. The main theatres covered include Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Scahill writes about the excesses of the Bush administration, in particular the detainee programs and he deals with how Obama has ratcheted up the campaign against terrorists with the heavy use of drones and targetted killings. There is a focus on American citizen Anwar Awlaki and his rise within the terrorist ranks and how his targetting by the US raised all kinds of legal dilemmas in terms of assassination by his own government. The Osama Bin Laden death is covered in detail, and perhaps extremely relevant, in light of the Kenya bombings this week, the book analyses the rise of Al Shebab in Somalia and also Al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. The book is very well researched, although I feel that the author is somewhat sympathetic towards the Jihadists and critical of the US government measures to contain them. Obviously, the killing of civilians is wrong from whatever side, and some of the US actions can be compared with those of the terrorists. It is frightening to witness how clandestine operations are from the White House down and the way in which the JSOC has been totally unleashed over the years to a status where it has virtually no oversight, is a scary fact. Since September 11th 2001, the War On Terror has been a real issue to most citizens of the world. Dirty Wars is a book which details this struggle in a very readable, interesting and enlightening manner. I highly recommend this book and believe it is a step up from the Blackwater predecessor. I look forward to future work from the author.