Guy Liddell. Dairies of a Cold War Spymaster.

Guy Liddell. Dairies of a Cold War Spymaster.

Nigel West
ARRSE Rating
3 Mushroom Heads
A closely printed book of 260 pages, which in another form would have been twice the physical size.

This reviewer found this a very difficult book to read as it is very ‘dry’ as it has produced Liddell’s dairies almost verbatim in places. The author in my opinion has produced something nearer to a textbook of the Security Service documenting its failings, rather than a page turner of a work. These diaries would make an excellent reference work for those undertaking a study of the history of the period. The one thing missing is a form of abridged organisational chart for the relevant government departments that are spoken about and where the various players fitted into the overall picture. Other authors of books in this genre have combined information but have made the work far more readable.

To his credit the author has shown how the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Government Code and Cypher Service (GCHQ in a previous life) and the Foreign Office had been penetrated by the Soviet Union at quite a high level and for how over a period of time these individuals may have affected how the Soviet Union responded towards the UK. This book shows how the Cambridge Spy Ring was recruited at university and operated until eventually they defected or admitted their guilt to an extent but not to the point of a prosecution case.

The surprise in the book is how knowing the personal foibles and contacts, affairs, marriages and activities of partners and spouse’s that these individuals had, were not dealt with at a much earlier stage before they could do damage to the UK interests. There does seem to be and it’s reflected in the times that this book reflects on that the protagonists were in the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby (Yes Minister) that they were ‘one of us’ or they were ‘sound’ so there foibles were tolerated.

The American contacts are much spoken about by the author, in particular with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and its mercurial director J Edgar Hoover and the influence he had in the murky world of espionage and to a lesser extent the US Signals intelligence organisation and the, as renamed, Central Intelligence agency (CIA). The fear of the Americans actually cutting off any intelligence product to the UK was uppermost in the minds of the British security establishment rather than dealing with and admitting to the problems described in the book.

When interrogated, Philby sometime after Burgess and Maclean had fled the author this was more a gentlemanly chat to someone who had had training to resist interrogation. Some security services would have used far more robust methods of interrogation and indeed in some cases the post interview result would probably been terminal for the interviewee as demonstrated by the Penkovsky case.

This also reveals that people did know, that treason was almost as a matter of course, tolerated and when investigated it was almost at a leisurely pace, no urgency to interrogate or apprehend the protagonists. Political masters it appears were kept very much in the dark about activities of these individuals.

Guy Liddell never made it the top position; maybe these diaries could give an answer to that?

This reviewer awards a score of 3/5 and in my opinion a treatment for insomnia.

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