Some Problems with Westy

Nigel West

[I report on a recent incident involving a review by Nigel West in an intelligence journal, and then offer a critique of his latest book.]


Introduction: Yoda and doyens

The Intelligence Journals

Nigel West and ‘The Eagle in the Mirror’

Controversy at IJICI


‘Classified! The Adventures of a Molehunter’

Chapter by Chapter


            *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Introduction: Yoda and doyens

If Christopher Andrew is (pace C.S. Goodman) the Great Yoda of intelligence writing, Nigel West is frequently referred to as ‘the doyen’ of the same. I was for a long time unsure who ‘Yoda’ was: I had assumed that he was some figure from Japanese mythology, but my Media Affairs Advisor informs me that he (or it) is a character in a work of the genre known as ‘talking pictures’, a phenomenon which appears to be have been taking the country by storm in recent years. Apparently there exists a film series known as Star Wars, which I have never seen, but must presumably concern rivalries on Hollywood film locations, probably involving such as Olivia de Havilland and Vivien Leigh competing for the attentions of Errol Flynn. Yoda is apparently a so-called ‘Jedi master’ whose role, I assume, is to advise his clients on Stanislavskian techniques and method acting. Yet he seems to have a rather grotesque aspect, reminding me of the Mekon from my Dan Dare days of the 1950s, and I cannot imagine that Christopher Andrew is very flattered to be compared to this wizened and unattractive character.

The Mekon

So much for cultural references: they can be a dangerous tool in the hands of the careless or the insensitive. I am much more comfortable with ‘doyen’. I believe it was the author and literary agent Andrew Lownie who first granted West that soubriquet, but Christopher Andrew has also been described as such, and I note that Richard Norton-Taylor of the Guardian has been named as ‘the doyen of national security reporting’. So there is competition. In any event, West’s ubiquity in the world of intelligence-writing is indisputable. He has written dozens of books (many of which I own), he is regularly quoted on intelligence matters, and scores of writers pay tribute, in their ‘Acknowledgments’, to the assistance he has given them. He is also a prominent figure with one of the serious Intelligence journals, and it is one of those roles that I want to examine here, before moving on to critique his latest book, titled Classified!  The Adventures of a Molehunter.

I must declare my interest with Nigel West (the pen name of Rupert Allason). We have been in occasional email conversations for years. I met him originally at a conference at Lancaster House over a decade ago, he kindly agreed to attend my seminar on Isaiah Berlin at the University of Buckingham the following week, and, on my last trip to Britain, I was the happy beneficiary of his hospitality at his house near Canterbury. He apparently reads coldspur, if not regularly, then from time to time, as he has made comments on my texts, sometimes in very complimentary terms. We have helped each other out on research quests, with the most recent (when I shared with him a file on MI5 personnel) occurring only a few months ago. Thus I regard our relationship as congenial. If we both played on the same cricket team, I am sure that I would refer to him as ‘Westy’.

I have been very direct in my writings about him, praising him over projects and books that I believe have been well-executed, but also criticizing him quite harshly when I felt that his research had been lazy or incorrect (such as with ‘Gibby’s Spy’), or actions that I judged were misleading (such as the re-publication of his books on MI5 and MI6, presented as new editions when they were simply re-prints). I find it hard to believe that West has not read these passages, but he has not taken any perceptible offence, or tried to refute my claims. I can only conclude that he respects me for my integrity and independence, not reliant on his goodwill – or that of any other intelligence maven or doyen(ne) – for the promotion of my ideas.

The Intelligence Journals

I shall return to that consideration when I review his book, but the event I want to analyze first is a journal review he wrote of Jesse Fink’s book on Dick Ellis, which I reviewed myself on coldspur a few months ago. (See  As a way of providing some useful background, I offer here some brief comments on Intelligence Journals. I am familiar with three prominent entities on intelligence matters published in English: The Journal of Intelligence and National Security (JINS); The International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence (IJICI); and The Journal of Intelligence History (JIH). All are owned by the murky aggregator Taylor and Francis, a division of the British company Informa, which might suggest that they are not actually in competition with each other.

JINS was apparently inspired by its founding editor Christopher Andrew, but reflects some confusion in its mission, since the implied focus on ‘national’ security is dispersed in a coverage of all manner of aspects of international relations. It sports an international team, with its editors split between the USA and the UK, and boasts an amazing 56-member editorial board that includes familiar figures such as Andrew himself, Richard Aldrich, Rory Cormac, Philip Davies, John Ferris, Anthony Glees, Michael Goodman, David Kahn (the Codebreakers man, who actually died this last January: one might expect the institution to have picked that up), Christopher Moran, Sir David Omand, and Wesley Wark, as well as several academics from around the world. What this editorial board actually does is hard to say. Perhaps they all get together on Zoom from time to time, but what happens when they disagree on some matter of policy is not disclosed.

IJICI displays a similar schizophrenia. It is based in the USA, and very much CIA-influenced. It states, however, that it ‘publishes articles and book reviews focusing on a broad range of national security matters’. ‘Focus’ and ‘broad’ do not sit well together: neither does the emphasis here on ‘national’ (which nation?), which undermines its title, and the dissonance is the exact opposite of that of its older stablemate. It likewise sports a large Editorial Board consisting of 49 members: these are indeed a much more varied set of international figures, but dominated by Americans, although Michael Goodman and Philip Davies have been graced with an invitation, and Nigel West also appears in their number.

JIH, on the other hand, is the official publication of the International Intelligence History Association (IIHA), another obscure organization that offers no details about how it is run, or who its members are, or how they are elected, but seems to be dominated by German academics. (Woe betide anyone who attempted to issue an unofficial publication on behalf of that body.) It would appear to concentrate on the histories of various intelligence services, which gives it, on the surface, a more precise remit. Its co-editors are Christopher Moran (of the JINS board) and Schlomo Shpiro (of Bar-Ilan University, Israel, who is in fact a member of the IJICI editorial board as well). I trust all their confidentiality agreements are rigorously obeyed. It maintains a smaller editorial board of just seventeen members, but some familiar names turn up again, such as Lock Johnson (on the JINS board), the very busy Michael Goodman, and Mark Phythian, the editor of JINS. It all seems a bit incestuous to me, but finding good intelligence academics to fill all those seats must be tough. I should mention that none of these journals has seen fit to approach me, the unacknowledged and self-appointed doyen of intelligence blogging . . . .

Of course, I may not be at the top of their list of candidates. I have occasionally criticized Taylor & Francis for its exploitative business model, where it packages out subscriptions through institutions, but makes it penally expensive for the individual researcher or historian who has no academic affiliation to access any of the reports they publish. I do not believe that it pays any of its contributors or reviewers, so it relies on (and exploits) those who are willing to put in a lot of effort for reasons of self-advertisement, or because they need to reach a quota of published papers. Furthermore, my experience with the outfit has not been uniformly stellar. I had a very positive experience with JINS when I submitted my review of Ben Macintyre’s Agent Sonya (see, but a follow-up on David Burke’s book about the Kuczynski family was frustrating, and a waste of my time.

And then I clashed with Mark Phythian, the editor of JINS, when challenging the Journal’s publication of a loose and deceptive article by Francis Suttill, Jr. concerning claims of the betrayal of his father’s eponymous SOE circuit (PROSPER) in France. Phythian also directly contradicted what Suttill openly declared about an agreement concerning the authorization and publication of his article, and it was not clear that the piece had undergone the peer review that the published policies should have ensured. Furthermore, Phythian then said that it was not the Journal’s policy to publish any letters from the public, whether they were positive, or (in my case) questioned in any way what appeared in JINS. Patrick Marnham (author of War in the Shadows) and I therefore composed a response to Mr. Suttill’s undisciplined article, and I published it on coldspur (see ). This seemed to be the only way to challenge both the substance of Mr. Suttill’s piece, as well as the inflexible and non-transparent mechanisms of the JINS editorial policy. The very closed nature of its approach to content and debate hardly makes it an exemplar of creative nourishment of intelligence scholarship.

Nigel West and ‘The Eagle in the Mirror’

And now to turn to Nigel West, and his review of The Eagle in the Mirror, which appeared on the IJICI website on December 13, 2023, titled SpyCatcher Legacy (see, but behind the paywall). It approached Fink’s book in a rambling and oblique manner, and it made some questionable assertions of its own. I shall not examine in detail the technical points of West’s review: it was a typically arch display by West, concealing some of the reasons for his apparent unquestionable authority. On the other hand, as I indicated in my review, I had not been entirely convinced by Fink’s case, and I need to examine closely the sources before offering any informed opinion. I shall instead concentrate on one or two disturbing aspects of the review, and how it passed through editorial channels, and the responses it engendered, first from Fink and then from the IJICI editorial team.

I deem it important here to reproduce the central controversial paragraph in West’s review. He wrote: “The great irony at the center of The Eagle in the Mirror is that the author has undertaken some very impressive research with the declared objective of painting Pincher and Wright (and the author of this review) as charlatans or worse . . . only to discover that, when assessed in toto, it reveals a compelling case for Ellis’ guilt!” This was a strange and highly troubling conclusion to come to. West’s suggestion that Fink had undertaken research with the objective of disparaging all three authors (as opposed to that conclusion being an outcome) could well be considered libellous, since it casts aspersions on the integrity of Fink’s whole research methodology. And nowhere did I read that Fink had declared that his goal was to portray the trio as charlatans! Given Taylor & Francis’s later admonitions of Fink for what it framed as personal attacks, the approval of West’s text was particularly cavalier and hypocritical.

Nevertheless, my judgment was that Fink might have partially contributed to West’s overall misunderstanding by his acknowledged need to market his book with questionable rhetoric that hinted that Ellis could well have been a traitor. The essential lesson from this extract, however, was that West had a personal stake in the resolution of the controversy, but had not declared it when he offered to review the book for IJICI. I should also mention that Nigel West had already read my review of the book, in which I had criticized West’s inconsistent and unscholarly treatment of the case against Ellis. He even wrote to me, congratulating me on my treatment of the ‘double agent’ terminology, but expressed no complaints about my representation of his role in the Ellis affair.

Fink (who has been in regular correspondence with me since the review appeared) seems to have three main complaints about West’s review: 1) that West had requested a copy of the book under false pretenses; 2) that the review itself was superficial, in that it had ignored much of what Fink had written, and misrepresented his opinions; and 3) that West had offended IJICI editorial policy by failing to declare that he had an interest, since Fink had criticized him in his book. He presented his challenges to the Editor of IJICI, Jan Goldman, and for a while received a consistently cold shoulder. He stubbornly persevered, however, and his tenacity was eventually rewarded – to a degree. Yet the saga that unfolded displayed such a combination of institutional dysfunction and managerial incompetence on the part of IJICI that I judge it needs to be described in full. (This saga may not be of broad interest to coldspur readers, but I believe that it is important to lay out for public view how the Journal operates, and the challenges faced by authors whose books are reviewed when policies are either highly unfair, or are casually neglected by those supposed to be exercising them, or both. Otherwise the facts of the matter will remain hidden, since IJICI is determined on control and secrecy.)

Controversy at IJICI

Jesse Fink

West’s review was published on-line on December 13, 2023. The following day, Fink wrote a letter to Jan Goldman, the substance of which ran as follows:

  1. Was there not a conflict of interest in West’s being given the opportunity to review the book, given that he received critical treatment in it?
  2. West conveniently contended that Keith Jeffery did not mention any allegations against Ellis because they were outside his (Jeffery’s) ‘purview’.
  3. What West stated that Jeffery told him privately about the Ellis case tallies with what the historian of MI6, Stephen Dorril, had told Fink, namely that Ellis was involved in some way with co-operation between Nazi Germany and Great Britain over Ukrainian exiles, in the late 1930s. West ignored what Fink wrote about this.
  4. West incorrectly stated that Fink had ignored the judgment of David Horner on Ellis’s culpability, when the author had covered him in an Endnote.
  5. West’s assertion that the testimony of Nelidov in TRIPLEX (2009) ‘might have been adduced [in 1964, by MI6’s Bill Stedman, if he had known about it] as ‘“smoking-gun” evidence that Ellis had been in touch with the Soviets long before the war’ contradicted what West told the Daily Telegraph in 1984, namely that there was only minimal, circumstantial evidence to support the contention that Ellis was ever a Soviet agent. Yet West produced this analysis only when encountering the evidence in the context of Fink’s book, and then used the passages to attack Fink’s integrity.

[This is a very complex, but vitally important aspect of the case. Fink has reminded me that the confessions of Nelidov assert that he conferred with Ellis before passing on information to the Soviets. West, meanwhile, implies in his review that Ellis had been selling German information to the Soviets before Nelidov replaced him in Berlin, whereas the text states that Ellis had at that time simply collected material about the Soviets from German sources. What is also troublesome to me is Nelidov’s claim that, after he arrived in Berlin, and taken over from Ellis, he ‘conferred’ with him about identifying material that ‘might be used to interest Soviet intelligence’. If Ellis had already been transferred to Switzerland to work for the League of Nations, how would such a conference have occurred? The lack of dates in Nelidov’s confession is very frustrating, but, in any case, nowhere does he suggest that Ellis had actually been in contact with the Soviets, unlike Nelidov himself, who admitted that, on his way to Berlin, he had stopped in Vienna to offer material to the head of Soviet intelligence! West distorts Nelidov’s statements to suit his own purposes, and his claim about Ellis’s contact with the Soviets seems utterly spurious. What is more, West had had ample opportunity to explore the implications of Nelidov’s testimony for a re-assessment of Ellis’s reputation when he published TRIPLEX, yet he apparently did not pay attention to the details. His creative re-interpretation of the story in 2024, having discovered it in Fink’s book, is less than honourable. My opinion overall, however, is that both Fink and West grant too much credit to the reliability of Nelidov’s ‘confessions’, and I shall return to this point in a future report. For my own analysis of matters relating to Nelidov, see ‘Gibby’s Spy’ at, from October 2022.]

Fink received a prompt reply from Goldman, who wrote:

Thank you for your email. I take these accusations very seriously and will need to investigate them further. We rely on our authors to tell us if there is a conflict of interest. Do I have permission to share your remarks with Mr. West? I would be interested in what he has to say about your comments. We seek to be objective and balanced in everything we publish.

Fink thanked Goldman, and encouraged him to contact West, at the same time drawing Goldman’s attention to my review of the book. Goldman again replied immediately, inviting Fink to write a ‘Letter to the Editor’, in which he should refrain from personal comments, and focus on explaining why he thought the review was not objective.

Fink was not delighted with this response, as he believed that the journal was evading its responsibilities. He thus wrote back:

I’d be happy to write you a letter for the next edition but I’d much prefer this was investigated fully by your editorial board – how does a man who was the subject of much legitimate criticism in the book get to review it? Who fact-checks his review? Who independently reviews his review? Of course he was going to go to town on it. Mr West really should have not been given this book to review. It was a clear conflict. Or if he was going to do it he could have made it very clear I took him to account in it and any review of his should be treated as being badly coloured by his self-interest.
Worse, Mr West reached out to my publicist, Fiona Atherton, on November 1, where she said, “Nigel West has requested a copy for review in the World Intelligence Review.” We were very reluctant to send a copy, knowing full well he is subjected to criticism in the book, yet now it appears he has reviewed it not for World Intelligence Review but for your journal instead. This in my opinion is a misrepresentation. We had no idea it was appearing in your journal or that Mr West was preparing a review for you. If so, I would have made my reservations clear to you before the review appeared. Your journal is highly respected and widely read.

The review was malicious in my opinion, grossly distorted the arguments made in it, slighted my professionalism as an author, and is not befitting a journal of your reputation. I’d be far happier with a review written by an independent, impartial reviewer. That is a fair outcome.

At this stage, exchanges were still cordial. I encouraged Fink, and I gave him what I thought were one or two useful tips on his original message. He accordingly submitted his letter to Goldman, the text of which ran as follows:

Dear Sir

 I refer to Nigel West’s “review” of my book The Eagle in the Mirror in the latest International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence.

            I find it unusual that a person mentioned critically (but, I believe, very fairly) in the book was granted the opportunity to “review” it. Surely this is a conflict of interest? Your own editorial policies have a section on “competing interests” (, which include: “Personal, political, religious, ideological, academic and intellectual competing interests which are perceived to be relevant to the published content.”

Did Mr West declare to the editorial board on being commissioned to write the “review” that he was featured critically in the book? That he might have one of the competing interests set out in your editorial policies? Mr West can hardly be missed in The Eagle in the Mirror. A photograph of him is published in it. Could not another reviewer for my book be found?

            Mr West requested a review copy of the book from my publicist in Scotland for World Intelligence Review but his “review” instead appeared in your journal. Is that not a misrepresentation? What safeguards are in place to ensure your book reviewers are impartial? Who is reviewing the reviewer’s work? Where was the “thorough peer review” of Mr West’s “review”? It doesn’t appear that there was any such peer review. If so, any competing interest would have been identified.

            After reading Mr West’s “review”, there were no surprises. In my opinion, Mr West was attempting to deflect what I regard as his deficiencies as an intelligence analyst of Dick Ellis. My book contains multiple criticisms of Mr West’s written work regarding Ellis. His dealing with this fact by briefly mentioning “the author has undertaken some very impressive research with the declared objective of painting [Chapman] Pincher and [Peter] Wright (and the author of this review) as charlatans or worse” is insufficient.

            Mr West’s contention that the late Keith Jeffery didn’t mention the allegations against Ellis in his written history of MI6 (MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909–1949) because it was outside his “purview” is also convenient and, I believe, misleading.

            As intelligence historian Antony Percy remarked to me this week while discussing Mr West’s “review”, “Ellis was decidedly in Jeffery’s ‘purview’. Most of the events happened before 1949.” That is, the bulk of the allegations made against Ellis by Pincher, Wright and Mr West in their respective books in the 1980s are concerned with events that happened in Western Europe prior to World War II.

            I’d wager that Jeffery’s private comment to Mr West that “the Ellis case is not quite what you think it is” tallies with the more cogent, convincing argument of MI6 historian Stephen Dorril, who emailed me a few months back to say, “My information was that there was co-operation [between Nazi Germany and Great Britain] on Ukraine exiles in the late 1930s, which is where I think Ellis comes in.”

            I totally concur. Dorril’s case in this regard (featured in his book MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations) is presented in my book, as is John Bryden’s case for Ellis in his book Fighting to Lose: How the German Secret Intelligence Service Helped the Allies Win the Second World War.

            Both writers could be described as defenders of Ellis, but neither Dorril or Bryden is mentioned in Mr West’s “review”. Why is that? Quite a glaring omission, when the central argument I put forward in the book completely corresponds with Dorril’s and Bryden’s. Dorril, incidentally, reviewed the book on Amazon and said, “Fink [does] a very good job of showing the inadequacies of certain writers and that there is little or no real evidence that Ellis was an agent either for the Nazis or the Soviets.”

            Also, Mr West puzzlingly seems to think I’ve “overlooked” David Horner, when endnote 5 of Chapter 16 (on page 299) reads as follows:

            Horner misidentifies Von Petrov in The Spy Catchers: ‘In 1984 the investigative journalist Chapman Pincher revealed that in early 1967 [sic] MI5 interrogated Ellis, who confessed to having passed secret information to the Germans before the Second World War, and that Ellis had passed the information via several White Russians, one of whom was named Vladimir Nikolayvich (not Mikhailovich) Petrov [sic].’ In The Protest Years: The Official History of ASIO, 1963–1975, Vol. II (2015), John Blaxland calls him ‘Vladimir Nikolavich Petrov’.

            Yet Mr West writes in his “review”: 

            Fink overlooked Horner’s verdict, presumably based on the same kind of access granted to his counterpart Jeffrey [sic] in London. This is one of several contradictions undermining Fink’s credibility, for he must have wondered if ASIO had vindicated Ellis, why the organization had placed him under surveillance when he visited Sydney in 1974, as proved by his reproduction of ASIO’s covert photographs.

            Whose credibility is being undermined here? Mine or Mr West’s as a book reviewer? Does Mr West not read endnotes? The redoubtable Antony Percy in his review of the book ( had no trouble consulting the endnotes and said, “Do read the excellent endnotes carefully, and follow up where you can.” How difficult was it for Mr West?

            Moreover, there was no suggestion anywhere in the book that ASIO “vindicated” Ellis, which is why they were monitoring him! I write on page 174, “It is an obvious irony that Ellis, against whom no real evidence of treason was ever produced by the authorities, would be tracked and surveilled in the country of his birth by the very spy agencies he personally set up in Canberra.”

            Regarding Aleksandr Nelidov and the edited quote from his confession, if the supposedly damning full quote from Nelidov from the book TRIPLEX: Secrets from the Cambridge Spies was enough to “implicate” Ellis with the Soviets (as Mr West seems to suggest), why did Mr West say to London’s Daily Telegraph on 4 May 1984, “There is only minimal, circumstantial evidence to support the contention that Ellis was ever a Soviet agent”? Mr West was the co-editor (with Oleg Tsarev) of TRIPLEX, which contains the full Nelidov quote. He should know the material well.

            Keith Jeffery characterised Nelidov as a “purveyor of faked intelligence”, which might more accurately explain what Ellis and Nelidov were up to with the Soviets (as my book makes very clear in extracts from Ellis’s spy playbook written for William Donovan; see pages 87–88), but that appears to be irrelevant in this “review”.

            Instead, Mr West casts the missing part of the quote from Nelidov as “smoking gun evidence that Ellis had been in touch with the Soviets”. Can Mr West make up his mind about Ellis’s role with the Soviet Union? Apparently not.

There is no evidence at all, whatsoever, that Ellis was a Soviet agent, as the book makes abundantly clear.

            I’m left wondering why the “review” was written. To treat the subject of Ellis with some objective seriousness or as an exercise in face saving? If it is the latter, are you comfortable with Mr West seemingly using your journal’s “review” of my book in this fashion?

            Does someone as historically important as Ellis, who wrote the blueprint for Office of the Coordinator of Information/Office of Strategic Services, who was awarded the Legion of Merit by President Harry S. Truman for his contribution to the United States during World War II, deserve such a skewed “review” of what amounts to the only existing full account of his life?

            Ellis deserves a lot more and so do your readers. For Mr West to end his “review” by writing that I was hammering more nails into Ellis’s coffin was beyond the pale. I did no such thing.

            If Mr West can be this sloppy and (as I see it) apparently vindictive, by rights the only “lost cause” is his future career as a book reviewer for International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence

            Yours sincerely

Jesse Fink

This was not what Dr Goldman wanted to read, and Fink had to prod him for a reply. An evasive and temporizing message came back on December 21:

Hi Jesse,

Right now, due to the holiday season, not much will be done. Nevertheless, we do not discuss internal operations. I received your letter, and you will hear from us on it’s [sic] possible publication.

Happy holidays,


Why an intelligence journal has to effectively close down its operations so early, and for so long, was not apparent to Fink or to me. The IJICI machine picked up in late January, however, and the initial response was encouraging:

            I met with the publisher via zoom and your letter was discussed along with other business. The publisher must approve all letters to the editor, but, this is usually not a problem.

I’m waiting to hear from them, and should it be approved, we have enough time to get it in the next issue of the journal.

One would conclude from this tidbit that Goldman was satisfied with the integrity and arguments of Fink’s letter. In fact Goldman had passed the letter to one Amanda Patterson at Taylor & Francis. I looked up her profile on LinkedIn, and discovered that she is Portfolio Manager, Academic Publishing, Journals. Moreover, she declares there that “Through this role, I have been most interested in strengthening the publisher-community relationship by advocating for gender and geographical parity in publishing’, a slice of corporate jargon that I found especially unappealing. What the ‘publisher-community relationship’ is, I have no idea, and why this woman should be focusing on fashionable diversity issues instead of journalistic excellence is likewise beyond me. These were not good signs.

A couple of weeks later (March 5) she wrote to Fink, with the formalities raised a notch, as follows:

Dear Jesse Fink:

Thank you for your patience while the publisher investigated your complaint, assessed it, and actioned a solution. We thank you for bringing this to our attention.

Through the course of our inquiry into this book review, we discovered that the author submitted it to the journal and neglected to include a competing interest disclosure statement either to the journal publisher or to the journal Editor, which violates our publishing policies. All authors of all submissions to all Taylor & Francis journal must disclose if there is a competing interest, or else declare that there is no competing interest present. This was considered to be a major error, and we treated it by publishing a Correction Statement accompanied by the Disclosure Statement that should have been included with the submission.

The Disclosure Statement is visible to the public and appears outside of the paywall. Anyone accessing the piece, whether subscriber or not, is informed that that author of the book review is a subject of the book that he is reviewing, and that he may be affected by that as part of his review.

As far as the publisher is concerned, this completes our inquiry into this case. Separately, you may respond to the book review by writing a letter to the editor, and its publication is determined by Jan (copied to this message). However, since this book review now complies with our ethical policies, and was handled appropriately post-publication, we will not be able to publish anything that disputes these facts.

If you choose to submit a new letter to the editor, please be aware that the author of the book review will have a chance to respond to your letter, and after that, no further discourse may be made.

With best wishes,


This letter constituted both a concession that a major error had been committed, as well as a desperate attempt to shed any responsibility for what had happened. Had Goldman not been aware of this policy, or was he simply not paying attention? Readers can inspect the ‘correction’ at the same link given above: I reproduce Nigel West’s text here:

In accordance with Taylor & Francis policy, I am reporting that I am a party that may be affected by the book that I reviewed in the enclosed paper, and contained within the body of the text I submitted are transparent acknowledgments as such. I have since disclosed those interests fully to Taylor & Francis.

But this is a joke! A retroactive statement of Disclosure, with no apology to Fink, and West implying that the mentioning of Fink’s criticisms of him effectively disqualified him from having to declare his interest, and Taylor & Francis judging that this ‘major error’ had been absolved without any reproof to West, or any public admission that the Journal had messed up as well as West himself! Taylor & Francis did it this way only because they thought they could get away with it. Go hang the ‘publisher-community relationship’!

Naturally, Fink was not happy about this, and sent a rejoinder on March 6, as follows:

Dear Amanda and Jan

The addition of the Disclosure Statement and a Correction Statement doesn’t actually mention the fact it was a ‘major error’, that West violated your own company policies, and that I am the victim here. There is no apology. A review can’t comply with your own ‘ethical policies’ after the fact. The damage has already been done. What does this change for the people who read the review when it came out? They’re not seeing this. 

The fact is, West got to write his hit piece and you published it without any checks and balances. It should be removed online as a basic courtesy to me and you should commission another writer without a conflict of interest to review the book. That would be ethical. 

Jan, you have my original letter to the editor, which you invited me to write, and at the very minimum I expect it to be published. 

Yours sincerely

Jesse Fink

Ms. Patterson tried to wriggle free:

Dear Jesse Fink:

The publication of a Correction in a scholarly text is itself evidence indicative that an error occurred. The error was remedied with a Correction, as is our policy when post-publication errors are discovered.

International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence is an academic journal, and as such, we are unable to remove anything that is published. Book reviews are not subject to peer review (as they are, by their nature, subjective), they are screened by the Editor and published at the Editor’s discretion. The peer review policy is outlined on the journal’s Aims & scope page on

The book review by Nigel West has been accessed 46 times (presumably you, me, and some other internal T&F folks who were working on the Correction account for some of these), and has not yet been assigned to issue (in other words, it has not appeared in print, and thus, has not been sent to the journal’s subscribers). When it is printed and assigned to issue, the Disclosure statement will appear alongside it, which is all in line with our policies for publication. At this point, T&F stands by the Editor and the piece, which are all compliant.

I assure you that everything in this case has been done accordingly, and I do thank you for bringing this issue to my attention.

I will confer with Jan, but if, in the meantime, you want to send me the Letter to the Editor, I will be happy to review it.



The proper thing for IJICI to have done at this stage would have been to withdraw the review, since only a few dozen persons had seen it. (I do not know whence orginates the law that an academic journal may not withdraw an article once it has been published.) It certainly did not suddenly become ‘compliant’ simply because a half-hearted admission by West had been appended on-line, as Fink patiently explained the same day:

Hi Amanda 

You sent me an email on Jan 24 saying you had received it. It was sent to Mr Goldman in December, on his invitation. I have attached it again. The piece was not ‘compliant’, and the posthumous addendum doesn’t change that because it was already published and accessible. The cat was already out of the bag. I had friends with interest in intelligence matters contact me about it.

Make no mistake, as an author I have no problem with a bad review. It’s part of the business. But this is a different issue: honesty, transparency and accountability. My reputation for accuracy and my dedication to producing quality books is of utmost importance to me. 

So conflict of interest in a reviewer is a serious matter and surely you and your editor can see that a person (West) who comes under heavy criticism in my book for (as I see it) posthumously tarnishing the name of Dick Ellis, a man who did a great deal for western intelligence in the 20th century, is not the best or most impartial person to review the work.

Who is served by such a review? Your journal? Your readers? Are they getting an accurate or fair review of the work? Or is this about West saving his own face?

Yours sincerely

Jesse Fink

Ms. Patterson seemed to be unaware that Fink had submitted his letter to Goldman almost three months beforehand, and she then informed Fink that she and Goldman had ‘re-reviewed’ it. Yet her response was measly and sophistical, claiming that the review itself had been ‘corrected’ simply by virtue of West’s statement, and appearing to condone West’s behaviour (only recently classified as a ‘major error’, recall) of indicating within the review that he had been criticised:

Dear Jesse,

Thank you. I have conferred with the Editor, and re-reviewed your letter.

In light of the fact that we have taken action to correct the review and publish the disclosure statement, the first three substantial paragraphs of the letter have been addressed and actioned.

By way of reminder, book reviews are not peer reviewed as a matter of policy, and Nigel West did identify that he was a subject of the book in the text of the review.

Responses to published work in the journal should be a rebuttal of the text of the original piece, rather than contain any sort of personal attack on any individual or on the journal. Together with the Editor we have identified a few paragraphs that border on personal criticism rather than on deconstructing/discussing the original book review as a published piece itself. 

At this point, I would like to invite you to reconsider submitting the letter again, in light of the actions that we have taken since you originally wrote in to us. Jan has reminded me that the word limit for Letters to the Editor to be published is 1200 words.

Also, by way of reminder, the standard procedure for this process is that Nigel West will have the chance to respond to your rebuttal, and then all responses end. I wonder if you might keep that in mind when refining the Letter to the Editor?

Can you please re-submit your letter, with all of this in mind, to Jan Goldman (copied here)?

Thank you


The very feeble Goldman then sent an edited version of Fink’s letter back to him, effectively warning him to toe the line. IJICI was the censor in this situation, and wanted to control the narrative. Fink was not unnaturally aggrieved, and wrote on March 13:

                Mr Goldman, good to hear from you.

No, I don’t approve your edit. It is not an ad hominem attack. You have not once apologised for 1/commissioning West to write that review when he had a conflict of interest, 2/failing to ask West why he wanted to write that review in the first place (after all, he contacted my publicist for a copy and didn’t even mention once that it was for your journal), 3/not getting West to comply with your own policies before the review was published, meaning a correction and disclosure statement was required after it was published. There hasn’t been one iota of actual apology from you or Taylor & Francis, either privately or publicly. We screwed up! We’re sorry, Mr Fink. How can we make it right?

I am the aggrieved party here, who has done nothing more than to dare question West’s repeated ungrounded attacks on Dick Ellis, a dead man who set up the intelligence apparatus of the country you live in. Ellis is an important deal. You call Dorril’s opinion on Ellis hearsay, which it is not – he is a world-renowned intelligence historian specialising in MI6 who is relying on vast reams of information to form an educated opinion and is entitled to express it and for that opinion to be recorded. Ditto Bryden. Both men have written books defending Ellis. You might pick them up and look for yourself. I only have 1200 words to defend my work and an impugned dead man.

Meanwhile, West can freely use a private conversation in his review with Keith Jeffery (‘the Ellis case is not quite what you think it is’) and publish vast books of unsubstantiated hearsay – Ellis was a Nazi double agent! Ellis was a Soviet spy! He was both! – and come to the same conclusion in your journal and you’re happy to publish it without a shred of actual evidence. Imagine if you had applied the same forensic scrutiny you’re applying to my Letter to the Editor to West’s review in the first place? 

Worse, West can breezily state in his review I have no professional credibility when he can’t even consult an endnote and smear me by saying that I have hammered nails into Ellis’s coffin. 

The unedited letter gives background to something that has been going on for four months. It’s not like I just read the review and decided to fire off a letter. This was a ‘major error’, after all. I’ve attached an edited version that I’m happy with. 

Yours sincerely

Jesse Fink

Matters did not become any simpler thereafter. Having heard nothing by April 22, Fink had to remind Goldman about the lack of response to the corrections he had submitted. Goldman confirmed that the letter was currently with the Production Editor. Fink then received

a message from that person, James DiStefano, who showed a complete insensitivity to the dynamics of the negotiations, acknowledging the receipt of Fink’s corrections, but stating that they had been rejected by the journal’s editor. (Why Goldman did not have the courtesy of informing Fink himself of that decision is unclear.) DiStefano proceeded to declare that the letter would therefore be published online without Fink’s amendments, probably around April 29 or 30. Fink pointed out that the ‘corrections’ the journal had made were ‘deletions’, not corrections, and he thus turned back to Goldman to remind him that DiStefano had said that the lines had been cut by him, Goldman, asking:

                Why? Nothing defamatory about them at all. All on point. I’ve been very patient when I was wronged by the journal and by West’s failure to disclose his conflict

Goldman turned very stodgy and formal:


Yes the lines were deleted, given they were directed on the review but, rather the reviewer.


to which Fink riposted:

No, they were not ad hominem. I rightly pointed out with evidence that West has made wildly conflicting statements about Soviet links to Ellis and asked why he thinks I painted him as a charlatan. It was the word he used in his review. Perfectly valid. No reason to be removed. 

By this stage it was clear that the Journal was using its exclusive power to find a way out of the debacle, effectively threatening Fink that he could accept the revised letter, or else have it withdrawn. Ms. Patterson rejoined the exchange:

Dear Jesse:

Content editing cannot happen at the point of production. At the production stage, our teams are readying for publication. Therefore, it is not appropriate to insert or delete text at that point.

The final judge on content is the Editor. At this point, you are welcome to withdraw your letter as it was sent to production, or see it published.

I hope this helps.


Fink had done his best, responding promptly, and all that IJICI had done was to stall and prevaricate, pass the buck, and refuse to do the decent and proper thing. It has been a very one-sided affair, with the Journal cravenly allowing West’s illegitimate review to stand, and without apparently censoring West at all.

The letter was eventually published on-line on May 7, with Goldman’s deletions processed. Of course it sits behind the paywall. IJICI did not have the courtesy of informing Fink that it had been published. (It sent an insensitive pro forma message of congratulation to him on May 11, announcing the publication of the letter.) Yet Nigel West was ready, waiting in the wings: he had obviously been shown a copy of Fink’s approved letter, even if Fink had not, and West had had time to compose a reply, which was published the very next day. Its existence can be verified at If you want to read it, and do not have institutional access, it will cost you $53 for a piece of about 500 words. I advise you not to waste your money. Likewise, Taylor & Francis has not sent the text to Fink, nor has it informed him of its appearance.

As I have already declared, I am not going to engage in a substantive analysis of the arguments here. I need to inspect the original documents myself, and shall probably dedicate a coldspur bulletin to inspecting these fascinating items while they are still relatively fresh in my mind. But I know enough about the case to judge that this letter is arrogant, disingenuous, and sophistical. It should never have been published, and Taylor & Francis show that the institution is in thrall to an influential member of its Advisory Board.


This has been a very undignified performance by IJICI. It failed to heed its policy of reviewer interest. When it acknowledged that major error, it erroneously claimed that a terse and unapologetic ‘correction’ by West restored its integrity. It failed to detect West’s scandalous claim about Fink’s historiographical objectives, and to advise West to remove it. It never apologized to Fink for that slur, or for its breach of policy. Its treatment of him was cavalier and sluggish. When it came to the publication of his letter, it arbitrarily edited it to suit its own sensitivities, and the presumed ones of its reviewer. It did not communicate to Fink appropriately about the appearance of his and West’s responses. Fink has no further chance of redress: IJICI considers the Reviewer’s Response the ‘final word’. It never provided to Fink the text of West’s reply, and clearly failed to ask for a third opinion on a volatile situation, while showing itself utterly incompetent to provide editorial oversight itself. It delegated many of the processes to persons obviously unqualified for the job. And it spouted corporate jargon about ‘the publisher-intelligence community’ when it has no intention of providing a public forum for debate.

I wonder whether any of its 49-member Editorial Board know anything of this disastrous episode? I think they should be told  . . .

Review of ‘Classified! The Adventures of a Molehunter’


I ordered my copy of Nigel West’s latest book with a strong sense of expectation. While I have viewed West more as someone who wrote about molehunts rather than carrying them out himself, the title Classified! The Adventures of a Molehunter, suggested that the doyen would be offering a comprehensive analysis of his involvement with the notorious cases of the past few decades, and presenting some breakthrough judgments. I have for a long time been stating that a forum for clarifying some long-standing intelligence conundrums would be highly desirable, and perhaps West’s book would help initiate such a debate. On the flap of the book, however, appears this very confusing text: “His molehunts have led to the unmasking of spies within MI5, MI6 and the CIA and the identification of numerous others – some of whom were crucial to the Allied victory in the Second World War . . . “ Did West really outperform MI5? Which spies were unmasked by West’s endeavours, and how these would have assisted the victory against the Germans is an enigma left unaddressed: the blurb-writer has clearly lost the plot.

Irrespective of this errant representation, given how the book has been promoted, readers might still be entitled to expect some breakthrough analysis. Would we, for instance, learn some critical facts about ELLI, the person behind the cryptonym divulged by the defector Igor Gouzenko in 1945, which had spawned several investigations, including very solemn projects undertaken by the CIA and academics, provided a prosperous journalistic career for Chapman Pincher, drawn Roger Hollis (and others) into disrepute, saved Peter Wright from penury, excited the Americans, and provoked both MI5 and MI6 into a strenuous hunt for the reputed penetration agent within the Security Service?

But there is no entry for ELLI in the Index of the book, and I found no unindexed reference. Gouzenko receives only two minor mentions. Peter Wright crops up frequently, and a whole chapter is dedicated to Spycatcher, but it is as if the whole ELLI business were irrelevant, or had long been solved. It is like writing about cryptozoology without mentioning Nessie. In his 1989 book, Molehunt, West, after spending many pages speculating on ELLI’s identity, concluded that ‘ELLI probably existed, but the details offered by the defector could have applied to known spies like Blunt and Philby’. The question of ELLI was still alive when West published Cold War Spymaster: The Legacy of Guy Liddell, in 2018. What is going on? Do West’s followers not deserve a better explanation?

A symptom of the malaise is that West seems to lack any serious curiosity about recent research. He recognizes the publication of Andrew’s history of MI5 (2010), and Jeffery’s of MI6 (2011), and offers the briefest of mentions of Ferris’s history of GCHQ (2020), but, apart from his mentioning a few minor works published during this period, his universe is strangely occluded. (He does take the opportunity to criticize Andrew on several counts, however: over his accepting Grenville Wynne’s claim that he and Penkovsky visited the White House, his being taken in by a story about George Blake, on his naivety in stating publicly that he was the first to identify Cairncross as the Fifth Man, on his obstinacy over Canaris and Szymanska, and over his confusion about the identity of INTELLIGENTSIA and NOBILITY from the VENONA transcripts. If West could only show such clarity in the admission of his own mistakes . . .) He makes no mention of all the rich archival material that Kew has released in the past decade and a half, ignores any analysis that has been posted in the serious intelligence journals, as well as the works of such as Helen Fry, and cannot even admit to being stimulated or provoked by coldspur. Admittedly, the latter is not conventionally published material, but if Frank Close (the biographer of Fuchs) and Ben Macintyre can cite coldspur in their Endnotes, one might expect West to engage in the very relevant arguments that I have surfaced there.

The fact is that this is a very indifferent book. It contains glimpses of West’s tenaciousness, analytical skills, and background knowledge, but is nevertheless an ill-conceived and ill-executed compilation. In introducing his chapter on the Falklands Conflict, West writes, with a touch of vanity: “While on the after-dinner lecture circuit, I was often in demand . . .”, and the individual segments have the flavour of such after-dinner speeches gathered here in a compendium. The problem is that this approach results in a large degree of repetition, both internally (we are informed on three separate occasions that Arthur Martin hoped to elicit a deathbed confession from Graham Mitchell), and from West’s previously published books, such as those on VENONA and on molehunts. Moreover, no distinctive theme or narrative emerges across the volume in its entirety, and the reader is left with a series of unconnected vignettes.

Not that these pieces are universally without interest. West adopts an engaging style, although he tends to some lazy journalistic flourishes (which I shall examine later). He has benefitted from a fascinating background, and was steeped in intelligence matters from his teens, because of his father’s occupation, and the friendships that accompanied it. The author has exploited his connections overall very well, and has shown much enterprise in chasing down various leads. Yet being in the thick of the intelligence cliques has its drawbacks, since one has to be very sharp in assessing when one is being fed misinformation of some kind, and West shows a particular frailty in being so much influenced by Arthur Martin, whom he describes as ‘a formidable counter-intelligence officer’. Martin did not join in fact join MI5 until 1947, after a less than distinguished career in the Royal Corps of Signals and GCHQ. That he was recruited and recommended to MI5 by Kim Philby may or may not have ominous implications. Philby was the first to reveal his existence in My Silent War (as one of the investigators in the Maclean affair, and as being present at the Milmo interrogations), but he made no mention of his role in the recruitment process, and no one appears to have questioned Martin’s loyalty and judgment in this episode. I have come to regard Martin as a bit of a buffoon, one easily manipulated by his superior officers, and have documented some of his clumsier exercises (such as the interrogation of Smolka). Moreover, the reputed coups that Martin was supposed to have achieved (such as the confessions of Cairncross and Blunt), were obvious set-ups.

Because of the fragmented state of West’s narrative, I have thus decided to analyze each chapter in turn, spending more time on those sections that are closest to my own research bailiwick.

Chapter by Chapter

Chapter 1: ‘The Venlo Incident’

This is a long, rambling account of how unauthorized intelligence disclosures have encouraged the public’s interest. Why it is called The Venlo Incident I have no idea. It repeats a lot of familiar and well-trodden information about the arrests of MI6’s Best and Stevens in November 1939, and how they passed on hordes of facts about MI6’s organization thereafter. It then introduces Dick Ellis, attributing to him the pre-war selling of secrets to the Germans, and even repeats the bizarre charge that, if Ellis had betrayed MI6 to the Germans before the war, he might well have done the same with the Russians after it. West also questions the date of Ellis’s recruitment by MI6. For some reason he then moves on to Leslie Nicholson’s providing Phillip Knightley with his scoop on Philby, before classifying Philby’s memoir as ‘largely accurate’. From here, he claims that Philby’s book, which revealed aspects of the Double Cross System, provoked a counter-offensive from MI5 and MI6, even though Ladislas Farago had already disclosed that MI5’s secret interrogation centre at Ham Common ‘had persuaded dozens of captured spies to switch sides and act as double agents to deceive their Abwehr masters’ – a gross distortion of what happened. The conclusion of all of this seems to be that there was a public thirst for more disclosures in the 1970s. Why any of this would be considered newsworthy in 2024 is beyond me.

Chapter 2: ‘Spy!’

This chapter describes the creation of the BBC series Spy!, in which West assisted Donald McCormick. Yet this took place forty-six years ago, and the facts of the Venlo Incident (which constituted one of the episodes) are resuscitated. West describes some hitches in the project, which included the unreliable contributions of Montgomery Hyde.

Chapter 3: ‘TATE and the Double Agents’

This is another rambling account, which strays far from TATE (Wulf Schmidt, aka Harry Williamson), to such as Philby and Blunt and Jeremy Cartland, relating also how West was encouraged to write his book on MI5 after interviewing Dick White. It contains some fascinating material, but much is recycled from West’s chapter on TATE in his 1991 book, Seven Spies Who Changed the World. On the other hand, he inexplicably offers no mention of Tommy Jonason’s and Simon Olsson’s Agent Tate: The Wartime Story of Harry Williamson, translated from the Swedish and published in 2011, for which West offered a blurb on the cover. Moreover, West presents a distorted view of the double-agent exercise: he claims that neither Farago nor Masterman ‘had really explained exactly how MI5 had accomplished the extraordinary feat of transforming hardened Nazis into committed supporters of the Allied cause’ (another gratuitous repetition).

But of course MI5 had done no such thing: TATE himself admitted that he allowed himself to be used because he was threatened with the gallows, and it would have been madness to allow any ‘turned’ agents loose in the belief that they had had an ideological change of heart, since they could immediately have informed the enemy of the deception, and blown the whole scheme. And that was what happened later with some German POWs whom the British believed they had turned, and sent into Austria and Germany. As an example of the lack of focus in the chapter, West also throws in the fact that one informant ‘even flew the kite that he [Philby] had always been a loyal MI6 asset’. This is the insight that Helen Fry so mysteriously bequeathed to us a few years ago in her profile of MI6’s Kendrick in Vienna, Spymaster. I note that, in her latest book, Women in Intelligence, Fry boldly resurrects the claim as follows: “Kendrick, his agents and secretaries were tracking their [communist activists’ and spies’] movements through journalists like Eric Gedye and a young graduate, Kim Philby.” Is that a fact? West provided an enthusiastic blurb for her book, complimenting the ‘fascinating, minutely researched study’, so he presumably must have read this passage. His insertion of this gem so casually without analysis is thus vastly disappointing. After all these years, does the episode not truly deserve a more detailed inspection than that?

Chapter 4: MI5 and ‘A Matter of Trust’

The events covered in this chapter occurred over forty years ago, yet West astonishingly does not bring any retrospective analysis to the table to introduce corrections to what is a very dubious memoir, full of errors and misapprehensions. It starts off with an introduction to West by his publisher to a ‘molehunter’, namely Arthur Martin, whom West met on December 1, 1981. He presents him as ‘someone who could truly be described as an authority’, offering West ‘a tremendous experience’. He adds that Martin was married to Joan, who had been Dick White’s secretary, as if that granted Martin more substance: whether this lady was the same secretary with whom White had been having an affair (see p 298) is not explained. On the other hand, West, in his Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, informs us that Joan had in fact been Guy Liddell’s secretary. While outsiders such as I struggle to accommodate the implications of these relationships, it appears that such romances were part of the fabric of MI5, since we also learn that Graham Mitchell’s wife was the sister of James Robertson (who conducted the investigation into Maclean) (p 86), and are reminded that Roger Hollis had a long-term affair with his secretary (p 94).

West’s major revelation is to describe Martin’s strong conviction that Mitchell was the ‘culprit’: West declares that he found his argument ‘utterly compelling’, and that he was encouraged to support it by the very evasive interview that Dick White gave him about possible moles in MI5. West relates how Martin and his MI6 cohort Philip de Mowbray were so taken in by the claims that the defector Anatoliy Golitsyn made about penetration in MI5 that they even co-authored the latter’s ‘memoir’. What West does not mention is that the CIA officer James Angleton (who had felt gravely betrayed by Philby, and was also taken in by Golitsyn’s bluster) was exerting a baleful influence as well, threatening the British authorities that the USA-UK relationship would be endangered unless the stables were cleansed. Martin felt this pressure severely. (Angleton does not warrant a mention in this chapter, or anywhere else in the book, which is bizarre.) The fact is that West never comes to grips with the substance behind the allegations.

The author then moves on to catalogue the list of supposed intelligence failures that Peter Wright later recapitulated in Spycatcher, including MI5’s failure to run any successful double-agent operations against the KGB. To my mind, such ventures would have been non-starters from the get-go, but West seemed to be impressed. Yet he never identifies these presumably hostile agents who were discovered, then ‘turned’ –  through blackmail, I suppose –  nor does he investigate how in fact it might have been more fruitful for the KGB to have kept these disinformation exercises running than to have each one closed down immediately. Nor does he speculate on what might have happened to these ‘double agents’ when their Moscow bosses learned that they had traitors on their books. He also echoes Martin’s belief that MI5’s inability to trap any spies in the act (e.g. Nunn May, Cairncross) was evidence of deep penetration, and reminds us that those who were identified gained MI5’s attention only because of tips from defectors. But West then starts to drift: he repeats the false claim that Burgess and Maclean made good their escape just hours before a hostile interrogation was scheduled for Maclean – which is simply not true.

He also garbles the facts of the interrogations of Blunt and Cairncross (if he has read my analysis, he appears to ignore it), and then goes on to write that ‘Martin and Wright had pursued dozens of suspected spies, including Bernard and Peter Floud, Christopher Hill, Jenifer Hart, James Klugmann, Bob Stewart and Edith Tudor-Hart, but none had co-operated’. That is simply not true. Apart from the fact that, if they pestered ‘dozens’ of suspected spies (as opposed to communist sympathizers) most of them were surely innocent and would have bristled at any harassment, the names listed did ‘co-operate’ to some extent. Bernard Floud committed suicide when MI5 was on his trail, after the revelations of Phoebe Pool; Christopher Hill confessed to Anthony Glees on the condition that his admission not be revealed until after his death; Jenifer Hart openly admitted to having been recruited by the NKVD and penetrating the Home Office; Edith Tudor-Hart also admitted to espionage at a time when her contribution had become irrelevant. West mentions Ursula Kuczynski, zu Putlitz and Pontecorvo as a trio who had managed to escape MI5’s reach, but the failure to press home in all these cases was the recognition that the embarrassment that would arise from the facts coming out into the open would be so unsavoury that it was better to bury them, and to pretend that they had never happened.

Thus the Molehunt focused on Cumming, Hollis and Mitchell. In a quick aside, West mentions Ray Milne as a spy who had been employed in the MI5 registry. Yet Milne (née Mundell) worked for MI6, not MI5. West then discounts Cumming, before expanding on a long encomium of Martin’s skills and achievements, which turns out to be bogus, as well. I get the impression that West believed everything that Martin told him about his ‘achievements’, including his role as guardian of the NKVD telegrams that compromised Fuchs, and the claim that he had been the ‘liaison link’ between MI5 case officers chasing up leads in the HOMER investigation. I say this because West asserts that Martin was indispensable in the HOMER molehunt, and that in December 1951 ‘he was tasked to collate the evidence against Philby, which was presented effectively to Helenus Milmo’. If West had studied closely the file on the investigation (from which he quoted liberally in ColdWar Spymaster), he would have learned that the project of gathering information on Philby had started back in May 1951, when Martin worked with Jane Archer, under Dick White’s clandestine guidance, before taking the conclusions with him to the USA to show Robert Lamphere of the FBI. No doubt Martin did not tell West about that. On the contrary, “Martin’s assiduous research and highly professional brief effectively demolished Philby.”

After a spell in counter-insurgency in Malaya, Martin returned to London in 1958 to carry on with the investigation into Soviet assets, and was provided with technical support in the shape of Peter Wright in 1962. West lauds Martin’s achievements: “During his MI5 career, Martin would extract confessions from Cairncross, Michael Straight, Leo Long and Blunt.” Yet, as I have shown, the ‘confessions’ of Cairncross and Blunt were carefully staged affairs, Straight confessed to the FBI, not to Martin, and Straight simply volunteered the information that led to Blunt – and Long. Long had been caught red-handed in 1944, was also later shopped by Blunt, and was eager to confess as soon as he was challenged. These were not masterstrokes of counter-espionage engineered by Martin. Oddly, given West’s high estimation of his career, Martin was then transferred to MI6 as he was considered ‘disruptive’. It was only after he had retired, in the early nineteen-eighties, that he engaged West to help him extract a deathbed confession from Graham Mitchell, after the Hollis inquiry ‘had run into the sand’. West then shifts the story to his project to write A Matter of Trust, based on his conversations with Martin, whereupon he received an injunction from the Attorney-General claiming that highly classified information had been passed to him by an ‘unnamed individual’. West avoided this prohibition by having his book published in the USA.

West then uses the publication of his book as an excuse for being unable to settle the issue of whether Mitchell had been a spy or not (the reasoning is not clear), but then ends the chapter by invoking the evidence provided by Gordievsky (who defected in 1985) and Mitrokhin (1992) that there had never been a spy within MI5 after Blunt’s retirement in 1945. He then closes his account with the open-ended rhetorical question: “But does the necessarily incomplete knowledge of Gordievsky and Mitrokhin mean that Martin and Wright had been deluded? Only time will tell.” Since Martin and Wright owned diametrically opposed opinions about the mole, at least one of them had indeed been deluded. When I led a team of analysts at the Gartner Group in the late nineteen-nineties, I forbad them to deploy the following three phrases in their reports: ‘Only time will tell’; ‘The jury is still out’; and ‘In the foreseeable future’. Experts are not paid to waffle. That was a weak and evasive conclusion by West.

It also astonishes me that West makes no reference to the conclusions of the Great Yoda from Defend the Realm. Andrew devotes Chapter 10 of Section D (‘FLUENCY: Paranoid Tendencies’) to demolishing the wild imaginations of the ‘conspiracy theorists’, Martin and Wright, describing how they fell under the baleful influence of Angleton and Golitsyn, and how they poisoned the atmosphere of MI5 to no purpose. (‘Conspiracy theorist’ was an odd term to choose, but it is a favoured term by Andrew for persons he wishes to disparage. There was no doubt that the KGB was ‘conspiring’ against British intelligence: the only point of debate was the depth of the penetration.) Andrew is also very dismissive of Martin’s skills as a counter-espionage officer. Despite the shameful fact that this chapter relies almost exclusively on unidentified material from the Security Service Archives, and thus cannot be verified, it has the ring of truth, as it cannot seriously serve any MI5 propaganda purpose. While Martin and Wright were picked out as the clear culprits, White’s overall responsibility is presented uncompromisingly. West’s silence in the face of this evidence is unfathomable.

What makes West’s analysis doubly ineffective is the fact that in his book Molehunt (published in 1987, i.e. after Gordievsky’s arrival) the author offered a stinging accusation against Mitchell in the final chapter, titled ‘Conclusive Proof’, pointing to Mitchell’s September 1955 White Paper on Burgess and Maclean, and its ‘multiple errors’ (some of which were not in fact errors) as ‘proof’ that Mitchell was responsible for all the penetration and betrayals that had occurred. Moreover, West showed himself to be utterly convinced that such malfeasance had been real, and that there was thus an influential mole to be unearthed. Meanwhile, Peter Wright was still 99.9% convinced that Hollis was the culprit. Yet even Martin, in his retirement working in the House of Commons, eventually voiced his doubts that there had been any mole in MI5, thus leaving West rather high and dry. How could those two brilliant counter-espionage officers have both been so wrong? One explanation is that Martin was in fact rather dim, and that Wright was essentially a technician.

If he had a serious regard for clarifying the facts, West could have used the occasion of a new memoir published in 2024 to bring some cooler assessment of the vain hunts of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, maybe even to make an apology concerning his gullibility and ability to jump to conclusions, and to provide a forum where the turmoil artificially created by White, and willfully stirred by Chapman Pincher, could receive a more rational re-appraisal. But no. It is a very lazy and dishonest offering.

Chapter 5: ‘The Hunt for Garbo’

Most of this story has already been told in the work in which West collaborated with Juan Pujol (the controlled enemy agent GARBO), Operation GARBO: The Personal Story of the Most Successful Double Agent of World War II, published in 1989. In his Introduction to that volume, West explained how he had been able to hunt down Pujol in Caracas, Venezuela, from the flimsiest of clues, and meet him in New Orleans, with the result that Pujol was able to attend victory celebrations in London in 1984, receive his award, meet again some of his wartime colleagues, and visit the Normandy beaches. The main purpose of this update to the story would appear to be to show how the release of GARBO’s Personal File in 1999 to what was then the Public Record Office subsequently caused some embarrassments. This archival material shed light on the somewhat tempestuous relationship between Pujol and his first wife, Araceli, in London during the war, events that Pujol had left out of his narrative. Pujol had neglected to tell his second wife of his first marriage, and the offspring they had, and Araceli had re-married after Pujol had faked his own death. Apart from reminding us that many of our heroes have deep personal flaws, this chapter has little new to relate on the mechanics and outcomes of the GARBO deception.

Chapter 6: ‘Cabinet War Room 2’

A very minor piece about Churchill’s highly secure and well-protected underground citadel known as ‘PADDOCK’, and related trivia.

Chapter 7: ‘Admiral Canaris’s Mistress’

A tale that takes some time to arrive at the subject of its title, with West introducing Nicholas Elliott, and his success in helping the Vermehrens to defect from Istanbul in 1943. The knock-on effect was the degree to which their escape had helped to doom Canaris, as one of the plotters against Hitler’s life. Vermerhen, when West interviewed him, seemed to be unaware of that outcome, and that brought West to address what Elliott had described to him as ‘the fact that Canaris had actively collaborated with a woman he knew to be a British agent, who was also his mistress, was probably ‘the last great secret of the war’. (I know a few more, of course.)

This led West on a fascinating hunt for the woman, Halina Szymanska, whom he tracked through her daughter in London to the unromantic venue of Mobile, Alabama. She gave solid evidence that Canaris had given her messages to pass on to MI6. After Szymanska’s husband had been arrested in 1939 in Berlin at the Polish Embassy, and presumably deported by Stalin, she returned to Warsaw, and ‘quite by chance’ bumped into Canaris, whom she knew from before the war. He subsequently arranged for her and her three daughters to gain the safety of Berne, and the affair and subsequent passing of secrets occurred. Despite the flimsy nature of these meetings and movements, West was convinced by her story, with evidential material in the shape of passports, etc., but his arch-rival Christopher Andrew in 1985 denied that there was any evidence, mysteriously and irresponsibly citing unavailable MI6 archives. That was almost forty years ago. Why do these two not simply get together and thrash it out? As Confucius said: “When the Yoda and the Doyen clash swords, it is the Truth that suffers.”

Chapter 8: ‘Spycatcher’

Readers will not be surprised to learn that Our Hero was at the core of the Spycatcher controversy, and that it was the ‘legendary’ molehunter Arthur Martin who was the source of the saga. Martin had reputedly been influenced, alongside Stephen de Mowbray, recently retired from MI6, by the somewhat excitable defector Anatoliy Golitsyn, who claimed there was deep penetration of MI5. West characterizes Martin in somewhat melodramatic terms: “Martin had dedicated his life to the unpopular cause of sniffing out the clues to treason. Among those he investigated were two former directors general, Sir Michael Hanley and even the revered Sir Dick White. Martin had been a terrier, not driven by instinct or prejudice but by the evidence.” This is all palpable nonsense, of course, as Martin had come rather late in his career to MI5, and he had no direct evidence at all that any MI5 insider had been passing information to the KGB in the post-Blunt era. Rather than a terrier, he had been Dick White’s poodle.

Yet it was not until Martin had retired that he engaged his protégé to ‘follow up the clues he had been unable to pursue himself’. Whether that was because he had been banished to the MI6 Directory by then as a trouble-maker, or was simply incompetent, is not stated. But then West switches quickly to Peter Wright, who takes over centre stage, as he (who had worked for Martin) had been providing privileged information to Chapman Pincher before retiring to Australia. Wright felt himself abused by Pincher over royalties, and decided to publish his own account after Prime Minister Thatcher had, in 1981, effectively absolved MI5 of any further penetration after Blunt.

The resulting Spycatcher affair turned out to be a disaster for the Government, primarily because of the embarrassing performance by Sir Robert Armstrong, but also because MI5 and MI6 had been shown to be selectively releasing information when it suited them –  a point that West only lightly touches, since he had been the beneficiary when Dick White decided that he wanted a history of MI5 published after the Thatcher administration had turned the project down. “The fiasco caused Thatcher much discomfort, but doubtless she would have endured rather more if my unseen role in the affair had become public knowledge”, writes West. What this role had been is not immediately obvious, but it seems that West simply gave Wright’s telephone number to the two Granada TV journalists who had bought the rights to his book A Matter of Trust. How that revelation would have intensified the suffering of the Iron Lady is not explained. West then bounces off this coup to switch to ‘two further cases in which I had played yet another unseen hand’ – the publication of Joan Miller’s One Girl’s War, and that of Inside Intelligence, the memoir of the ex-MI6 officer Anthony Cavendish, ‘with which I was closely associated and encountered significant legal problems’. Since this book was not published by West’s outfit, it is not clear exactly what West’s earth-shattering contribution was.

His conclusion is certainly debatable: that MI5 was responsible for giving bad advice to Thatcher in 1979 by not admitting that ‘there had been a suspicion of hostile penetration up until at least September 1963’. He asserts that MI5 could simply have omitted the offending sentence in her statement (which it prepared for her in 1981), presumably the one where she claimed that all the evidence of hostile penetration could be attributed to Anthony Blunt. West declares with glib omniscience –  but without any evidence –  that ‘every other counter-intelligence officer who had studied the problem’ knew that Blunt could have not have been responsible ‘for compromising so many operations’. But that is not what Margaret Thatcher said. As Hansard reports, she was responding specifically to the mischievous and erroneous assertions made by Chapman Pincher in Their Trade Is Treachery that the now deceased Roger Hollis had been a Soviet mole, and that the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Burke Trend, had confirmed the fact. She correctly admitted that investigations into senior officers had taken place, carefully explaining the context as ‘the last years of the war’, and that the project had included Hollis, but she strongly denied the allegations that Pincher made in his book that Trend had concluded that the leads discovered pointed to Hollis.

Even if MI5’s senior officers had seriously believed that it had suffered from post-Blunt penetration (because of no other evidence apart from ‘failed operations’), it would have been absurd to advise the Prime Minister to discuss such hypotheses in the House of Commons. West could have performed deeper justice to the saga by analyzing the substance and origin of the suspicions with the hindsight of today’s knowledge, and by comparing the need for the defector Golitsyn to earn his meal-ticket with the facts of so-called failed counter-intelligence operations. That would have been more enlightening than the exaggeration of his (West’s) less-than-honourable contribution as a manipulator behind the scenes, and as a facilitator for intelligence officers who wanted to avoid the implications of the Official Secrets Act. He could also have been a bit more open about his infatuation with Arthur Martin, which now all looks rather embarrassing to the outsider.

Chapter 9: ‘Greville Wynne’; Chapter 10: ‘Bill Casey’; Chapter 11: ‘Farzad Bazoft’

All relatively insignificant.

Chapter 12: ‘The Fifth Man’

I am not sure why West dedicated a chapter to his involvement with John Cairncross, as it was not the most illustrious episode of his career. The Fifth Man had revealed to West, in April 1981, that he had confessed to espionage in Cleveland, Ohio, in February 1964. When they met again, in France, on September 30, 1994, Cairncross explained that he had started writing a draft of his memoirs, but was ‘crestfallen’ when West pointed out to him that he would be in breach of his commitment to confidentiality by virtue of the Official Secrets Act. West then proposed that he ghost-write the ‘memoir’, confident that he could persuade MI5 that he and Cairncross would comply with any reasonable request for excisions. Why Cairncross was taken in by this story is uncertain, as it would be crystal-clear that the autobiographical information would have derived from him. Yet, somewhat extraordinarily, MI5 gave permission for the publication to go ahead, and even allowed the exiled and severely ill Cairncross to return to the UK for medical treatment.

Cairncross died in October 1995, a few days after West had delivered the final draft of the book, now titled The Enigma Spy, since Cairncross’s influential brother, the economist Sir Alec Cairncross, had resented any connection with the ‘Fifth Man’. In an elliptical passage, West writes that Cairncross’s partner, Gayle Brinkerhoff (who was behind these negotiations) had engaged a literary agent who wanted to renegotiate the terms of ‘our’ agreement. “We had reached an impasse and, upon the repayment of the St Ermin’s advance, we quietly slipped away”. (St Ermin’s was the publishing house that West set up with Geoffrey Elliott.) But who were the ‘we’ here? And, if the advance had been repaid, had West lost the rights to the manuscript he had prepared? He does not say. And that ‘quiet’ withdrawal carried with it a lot of resentment, as I shall show.

Suddenly, West is in Moscow, trawling through the KGB file on Cairncross. I do not believe that West knows Russian, so he was presumably helped by his collaborator, Oleg Tsarev, and some of the documents were in English. What became clear to him, nevertheless, was that Cairncross had lied about the duration of his espionage. He had previously claimed to West that he had spied only during the war years, yet the Moscow archives showed that he had been active way beyond that, and that he had passed on critical nuclear secrets. West had been able to insert a short item on Cairncross in his 1981 book on MI5, where he reproduced what Cairncross had told him, namely that in Ohio he had made a ‘full statement’ on his role as a Soviet agent. Of course, he had done no such thing, just like Blunt and Philby. (What is it with these people? When they are offered immunity from prosecution, the agreement is that they will give a complete account of their espionage and contacts, and yet they all hold back on critical items! It’s just not right!) West does not explicitly mention that he had been taken in by Cairncross’s incomplete set of assertions.

West now knew that, contrary to what Andrew and Gordievsky wrote in KGB: The Inside Story (October 1990), Cairncross had been a much more damaging spy than he and others revealed, and had accordingly understated his achievements. The KGB archive showed that he had been very productive right up until the summer of 1950, until he was transferred from the Treasury to the Ministry of Supply. Nevertheless, working with Yuri Modin, as late as June and July 1951 (when Burgess and Maclean had decamped) he was still able to pass over a thousand confidential documents. He was eventually trapped because MI5 discovered incriminating information on him in Burgess’s flat, and he was forced to resign. As West points out, ‘the fact that Cairncross was never prosecuted caused much embarrassment to the government law officers familiar with his case’.

But what is West’s conclusion from this fiasco? “To compound the embarrassment, Cairncross outlived the other members of the Cambridge Five and even returned to the UK and published a self-serving web of lies, ‘The Enigma Spy’.” Yet the book was published posthumously, and the text was presumably all West’s, including Chapter Thirteen, ‘Superspy’, where ‘Cairncross’ provides a very expert analysis of why West believed that ELLI was Mitchell, not Hollis. What went on? Brinkerhoff and West must have had a serious falling-out. Gayle Cairncross (as she now styled herself) wrote the Acknowledgements, but there is no mention of West’s contribution as ghost-writer. That other doyen, Richard Norton-Taylor, wrote a mendacious and cringe-making Introduction, where he presented Cairncross as a man of ‘deeply-held convictions’, stated that he believed the integrity of Cairncross’s account, and challenged the Russian government ‘to correct the widespread errors of his association with the KGB’. Pass the sick-bag, Alice. On recently reading that passage anew, I even began to feel a tinge of sympathy for Westy.

All of this must have brought West close to distraction. He had put in all the work, yet received no recognition (for a ‘self-serving web of lies’, of course) –  and presumably no royalties. What happened when that agreement fell apart can only be imagined. Yet the story then turned very sour for him. If we can rely on the Wikipedia entry on him (which quotes from the Independent), West sued Random House in 2001. He claimed that he had written The Enigma Spy in return for the copyright and 50% of the proceeds. He lost the case, however, and had to pay costs of around £200,000. What added to his mortification must have been the opinion of the trial judge, Mr. Justice Laddie, who described West as ‘one of the most dishonest witnesses I have ever seen’.

What is bizarre is that Laddie’s chastisement of West (according to contemporary accounts) appeared to concern his misrepresentation of his role as a director at St Ermin’s Press, which points to more complex layers to the controversy. Yet instead of clarifying what happened, or even attempting to justify himself, West obscures the issues, and overlooks most of the facts in his description of the events. The conclusion, moreover, is equivocal and unflattering to his competence. Why he would want to resuscitate this business when it is quite clear that he is being deceptive is astounding.

It is difficult to think how West could have entangled himself in such a mess unless he had foolishly signed a contract that exposed him dramatically. But ending up slamming a book for being a web of lies when you have written it yourself, and not receiving any reward except high legal costs would be enough to crush even the most debonair adventurer. Two biographies of Cairncross appeared a few years ago: Chris Smith’s The Last Cambridge Spy (2019) and Geoff Andrews’s Agent Molière (2020). They both refer to the lawsuit, and the fact that West was not recognized as the ghost-writer. While The Enigma Spy had benefitted (and I use the term advisedly) from a few other editors by then, West seems to have been hardly done by in one sense, although the inexperience at St Ermin’s Press in contract negotiations turned out to be disastrous. West does not acknowledge the existence of these new biographies in the misleading recollection of his dealings with Cairncross, which omission leaves his ruminations sounding very dated and stale. But the moral of the story is clear: you can’t have ambitions of being a leading intelligence analyst while dabbling with ghost-writing for an established traitor.

Chapter 13: ‘The Falklands Conflict’

I have not studied the intelligence aspects of these events, and they are outside my realm of special interest. They also have little to do with molehunting, so I pass this chapter by.

Chapter 14: ‘George Blake’

I found little new in this account of West’s thoughts on George Blake, including a brief snapshot of his interview with him in Moscow, in which re-tells the story of Blake’s treachery –  including the theory that he was brought to it because the father of the girl he loved, Iris Peake, a secretary in MI6, told him that he couldn’t possibly marry her. Yet West informs us that Blake later married into another MI6 family, and even names the father (Colonel Arthur Allan), but surprisingly not the bride. Blake then betrayed them all. The piece contains a comparison of Blake and Philby, in which the latter comes off better because ‘he did not inflict lasting damage to MI6 in operational terms’ – a subject for possible debate. West also echoes Philby’s dubious claim that his Section IX ‘was studying the NKVD but was not actively engaged in espionage against it. He also throws out some thoughts about defectors in general, but this is overall a lightweight piece.

Chapter 15: ‘VENONA’

I have always thought that West’s book on VENONA (the joint GB/USA exercise of decryption of wartime and post-war Soviet cables, which led to Maclean and Fuchs, among others, being identified) was one of his better compilations. VENONA: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War was published in 1999: has West fresh light to show on the project? Apparently not. This chapter is essentially a re-hash of what he wrote before, with whole chunks of text re-presented, and pages of transcripts reproduced. The main point that West wants to make is that Christopher Andrew, in his authorized history of MI5 published in 2009, resisted West’s painstaking conclusions that the cryptonym NOBILITY equated to Ivor Montagu, and that of INTELLIGENTSIA to J. B. S. Haldane. He also criticizes two books on Haldane, by Tredoux and Campbell, published in 2018, which likewise got the facts wrong. The chapter is thus a valiant and necessary step in setting the record straight, but too long-winded for the reader who has already studied West’s book. West also draws our attention to the fact that certain cryptonyms (such as BARON and MINISTER) have remained undetected, and calls on us amateur sleuths to work on the mysteries.

Chapter 16: ‘Guy Liddell’

Over five years ago I wrote about West’s admiring but still equivocal treatment of Guy Liddell, the competent counter-intelligence officer who was thwarted in his ambition to become Director-General of MI5. (See West’s opinion has not changed, and it comes through early: “In many ways, Liddell was the personification of the consummate intelligence professional: wise, unassuming, considered trustworthy by colleagues, occasionally enigmatic and always anxious to prevent others from drawing the Security Service into some nefarious enterprise that would damage the organisation’s reputation or bring it into controversy.” He provides a detailed account of Liddell’s career, from being awarded the Military Cross in World War I, through working for Basil Thomson’s Directorate of Intelligence and the Special Branch, up to his transfer to MI5 in 1931 and subsequent role as deputy to Jasper Harker in the counter-espionage branch.

I believe that West has read my counter to his general encomium of Liddell, and my correction of certain facts (such as the details behind his estrangement from his wife), but he has not reflected any of my points here. And I shall not repeat in detail the reasons why I think Liddell was not well fitted for the top job: too cerebral and flimsy, too trusting of dubious characters (such as Blunt and Burgess), too retiring to promote and argue his views, not politically astute enough. West makes the accurate point that Liddell was seriously outmaneuvered by his one-time protégé and rival Dick White, and West’s last statement in the chapter is to assert that White ‘was hardly a safe pair of hands in which to entrust the defence of the realm’. True. Yet my view is that Liddell severely let down the service at a time when he was supposed to be steering it under the leadership of two outsiders (Petrie, Sillitoe) who did not really understand what the challenges were. West does not perform justice to this dynamic.

Chapter 17: ‘The Moscow Archives’

This chapter satisfies as a moderately intriguing account of West’s collaboration with Tsarev in working on KGB files for the creation of The Crown Jewels, but suffers again from a lot of repeated information – such as that of the Cairncross saga, and the astonishing discovery that he had lied about the extent of his espionage! Further explorations led to West’s book TRIPLEX. It is quite useful as a summary of the disclosures that the study of the files led to, but contains nothing fresh or startling, so far as I could judge.

Chapter 18: ‘St Ermin’s Press’

I learned a lot from this chapter, as West explains that he established St Ermin’s Press with the retired banker Geoffrey Elliott, after the later contacted him for information regarding his father, Kavan, who had been an SOE agent in Hungary in World War II. Coldspur readers may recall my interest in Elliott, who had been taught by my father at Whitgift School (where Dick White was a teacher when he was recruited by MI5), and with whom I later exchanged several emails and telephone calls during my researches. I also compiled an obituary of him a couple of years ago. (See  Elliott’s very engaging biography of his father, I Spy, was the first book to come off the St Ermin’s production-line.

West provides a fascinating account of the books he and Elliott subsequently published, including the work by a KGB officer named Igor Damaskin, who wrote a biography of Kitty Harris, Donald Maclean’s handler and lover in Paris. Elliott himself translated the book. The tale is a remarkable one, and West should be proud of the coups he achieved. “St Ermin’s Press proved to be a wonderful experience for the authors and publishers alike” . . . , West writes, “. . . and apart from the acrimony over John Cairncross’s memoirs, which would be so comprehensively contradicted by his voluminous KGB file in Moscow [yes, Nigel: we get the message], the books were generally important contributions to intelligence literature.”

This claim puzzled me, as I thought that the whole point of the Cairncross disaster was that The Enigma Spy was not published by West and his crew. Moreover, I suspect that there is more to the story of West and his partnership with Elliott than is written here. When, in one of my email messages to Geoffrey Elliott, I brought up a question about one of Nigel West’s books, he immediately insisted that I never mention that name again, otherwise I would be cut off at the knees. I thus do not believe that the relationship between the two turned out to be as harmonious as West presented it. The conundrum of that fall-out, however, will probably have to remain as elusive as that of the identity of BARON.

Chapter 19: ‘Molehunting in the Twenty-First Century’

So molehunting in the Twentieth Century has been sorted, right? All lesson learned, and all moles successfully trapped? Wrong. This chapter is a strange mixture, and it is not about hunting down today’s moles. It covers a lot of twentieth-century issues, concentrating mainly on Australia, and then relates some details about other unsolved cases, mainly to do with the FBI and the CIA. Yet West’s point in this rambling segment is that dedicated amateurs should keep on the track of moles from the last century, using what archival material is released. “Closing counter-intelligence files, a task accomplished these days by assiduous pursuit of pensioners and access to dusty archives, is immensely gratifying and serves the cause of accurate history”, he writes.

Well, I think I know what he means, although I am not sure what ‘closing’ files represents in this context, I don’t like the idea of pensioners like me being pursued like moles, and the archival material is not ‘dusty’ but served up to a large degree electronically these days. The problem is that there is a lack of complete material to work with: we know that MI5 interviewed dozens of possible moles, couriers, informants, fellow-travelers, agents of influence and communist sympathizers, and kept files on them. The frustration comes from the fact that a large number have not been declassified. Moreover, when MI5 did uncover a mole, all it seemed to do was grant him immunity from prosecution, on the basis that he would then reveal more names for them, which they would investigate and then decide they could do nothing . . .


So there it is. ‘Classified!’ is a strange mélange. I hinted earlier at the smooth journalistic sheen that West applies to his writing, eliding with apparent authority some of the subjects that deserve greater inspection, as if we amateurs should not concern ourselves with such paradoxes. And that lazy style permeates his narrative. For instance, he loves referring to his subjects as ‘legends’. Thus we learn of the following:

P xx Maxwell Knight, a legendary agent-runner

P 20 Steedman was something of a legend in the counter-intelligence world

P 23 the legendary Antony Terry

P 56 Dick White was widely regarded as something of a legend

P 62 Miles Copeland, the legendary CIA veteran

P 96 Martin was part of MI5’s legendary Malaya Mafia

P 149 origins of the Spycatcher saga can be traced to the legendary molehunter Arthur Martin

P 157 the legendary agent handler Maxwell Knight (again)

P 178 Buckley was something of a legend in the CIA’s clandestine service

Now, I don’t know whether by this West means:

A) These characters were mythical, and didn’t actually exist;

B) They tell stories about these fellows in the ‘Coach and Horses’, but I wouldn’t trust the half of them; or

C) These chaps were quite well-known within the services, as they achieved something or other, unlike those not classified as ‘legends’.

Who knows? It probably signifies nothing, but it is an indolent substitute for rigorous thinking, and a good editor would have snipped them out.

Lastly, there are the blurbs – and one review.

The Blurbs

“This book will become a spooks’ bible. . . Nigel West always provides clear thinking and sane, no-nonsense analysis.” (Andrew Roberts, on the cover)

“West masterfully delivered a succession of astonishing scoops . . . Describing his remarkable career with more revelations in this gripping memoir, he rightly claims applause for his triumphs.” (Tom Bower)

“Told with real verve and with the eye of an insider, ‘Classified!’ Will have you gripped.” (Damien Lewis)

“Nigel West offers a unique perspective and research on some of the most fascinating cases in espionage history.” (Helen Fry)

One wonders: Did they actually read the book before they rolled the logs? And were they really qualified to comment on the material?

As for the review, West’s old nemesis from the Cairncross debacle, Richard Norton-Taylor, was invited by the Times Literary Supplement to provide a review, which appeared in the issue of March 29. (I wonder whether Norton-Taylor had to declare an interest, and whether he had a tinge of conscience, and was keen to compensate for his semi-treacherous contribution in the Cairncross business?) It is overall a sympathetic assessment, competent but shallow. The writer has no doubt learnt from his previous dishonourable attempt at analysis. When describing West’s discoveries concerning Cairncross in Moscow, Norton-Taylor unsurprisingly overlooks his own disastrous contribution to the Cairncross memoir. He does add some valuable commentary concerning the government’s breaching of its own rules, but in my opinion he is overall too trusting of West’s judgment and accounts of what happened. Norton-Taylor thus contributes to the lore of West as a first-rate, entrepreneurial but somewhat roguish investigator.

I believe that the problem is as follows: once you become a doyen (or even a ‘Yoda’), protecting the image is everything. You must be seen as an infallible guide, and all earlier errors must be hushed up. (Rather like MI5, in fact.) You must engage your mutual admiration society to burnish the reputation – which is what happened here, of course, with all those blurbs. And then the Public is taken in, and continues to believe, and pay homage. Of course, the whole charade is simply not right and proper. But then Westy is something of a legend, is he not?


  • I have posted a synopsis of ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’, for easier reading. It can be seen at AirmenSynopsis.
  • Owing to personal commitments, next month’s bulletin will appear a few days later than the regularly scheduled last day of the month. Look for it on about July 6.
  • This month’s Commonplace entries can be seen here.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Economics/Business, Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Management/Leadership, Media, Politics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *