The book’s inscription says “One of my gifts, January 14, 1989.” The gift was given a year or so after Spy Catcher was first published and I found it on a shelf at the End Of The Line bookstore (a charity bookstore in a train car). The selection is vast, but is hit or miss as far as any particular book. I have found some rather unusual and old books. Spy Catcher caught my eye and I thought it was a novel about the world of espionage. Had I paid attention to the cover I would have noted that it was subtitled “The candid autobiography of a senior Intelligence Officer.” Author Peter Wright was indeed a “spy catcher” or perhaps more accurately a spy suspecter.
“Peter Maurice Wright (9 August 1916—27 April 1995) was an English scientist and former MI5 counterintelligence officer, noted for writing the controversial book Spycatcher which became an international bestseller with sales of over two million copies. Spycatcher was part memoir, part exposé of what Wright claimed were serious institutional failings in MI5 and his subsequent investigations into those. He was a friend of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton.”
– – Amazon
Wrght’s story started at the beginning when he was involved in the early days of electronic surveillance. He gives great detail about how early attempts using listening devices were often unsuccessful and frustrating adventures. Unlike in the movies, the operations just as often meant hanging from a utility pole in the middle of the night or burglarizing a construction site for months to build in surveillance only to have a cable guy inadvertently cut your lines. Mr. Wright’s career in surveillance was dogged by a growing awareness that many of the unsuccessful operations were caused by information given to the enemy, often the Russians/Soviets. His skill lead him to the ignoble task of hunting the web of spies through his organization, Britain’s MI5 intelligence service.
Even though I read this book twenty-some years after is was first published I was shocked at how Mr. Wright named names, but as I read further I could almost feel his frustration as he was often hampered by those in his agency and the need to keep things secret. He worked at an agency and government as much interested in not making waves as finding the truth and administering justice. He was “trained” in a dark world of intrigue among characters who could just as easily been friend as foe…boss or underling…British or Russian,
“It would have been nice to have crowned my career with a triumph. It would have been nice to have solved the riddle…But the secret worlds in not so simple, and at the end the shadows remained, as dense as before, shrouding the truth.”
…and about the future of intelligence,
“At first the changes were slight – silly things…He began to promote his own men. They were young and keen, but they were civil servants: men of safety rather than men of arms. I began to realize that a generation was passing. For all our differences, those of us involved in the great mole hunts, on whichever side, were fast disappearing. The age of heroes was being replaced by the age of mediocrity.”
If you are looking for a great spy novel on the order of books by Robert Ludlum or Daniel Silva this is probably not for you. If you want to get a view into the mind of an actual mole hunter and expert in counterespionage then this is a great choice. I found myself riveted by Peter Wright’s accounts.