‘The Spy’ offers a real-life, high-stakes spy story. We get a glimpse at NSA history in the ‘70s and ‘80s, learning about rivalries, motivations and persistence that continue to drive 21st-century global espionage.
The world is captivated by spy thrillers, 007 movies, exciting around-the-globe chases and battles against the clock to save humanity and our way of life.
Add in popular rivalries between domestic and foreign government intelligence organizations like NSA, CIA and the KGB, and the intrigue only grows.
But many people wonder: What really happens behind the scenes in these international three-letter agencies? How far will governments truly go in using technology to spy? Are the capabilities (and stakes) overblown? Who were the really important players?
While most of the current details regarding 21st-century intelligence battles between the USA, Russia and other countries remain classified, we do, after decades, get access to declassified details about real-life events and amazing technology used by three-letter agencies. True, those stories are from the 1970s and 1980s (and earlier), but the details are captivating and reveal a tremendous amount about the lengths that governments will go to gain intelligence advantages as we head into the 2020s.
Put simply, there is no technology that will not be manipulated in order for governments to gain access to the data they seek from adversaries. This reality should strike fear into anyone who dares to use a computer of any kind in the middle of 2019.
The Spy in Moscow Station
But how can these realities of technology, communication and spying in the world we live in be made clear and understandable to the masses?
I think The Spy in Moscow Station: A Counterspy’s Hunt for a Deadly Cold War Threat by Eric Haseltine is an exceptional book that describes what really happened behind the scenes in the 1970s and 1980s at NSA, CIA and in the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
Here’s an excerpt from the foreword by Gen. Michael V. Hayden (Retd.), former director of NSA & CIA:
“In the late 1970s, the National Security Agency still did not officially exist — those in the know referred to it dryly as the No Such Agency. So why, when NSA engineer Charles Gandy filed for a visa to visit Moscow, did the Russian Foreign Ministry assert with confidence that he was a spy?
Outsmarting honey traps and encroaching deep enough into enemy territory to perform complicated technical investigations, Gandy accomplished his mission in Russia, but discovered more than State and CIA wanted him to know.
This is the true story of unorthodox, underdog intelligence officers who fought an uphill battle against their own government to prove that the KGB had pulled off the most devastating penetration of U.S. national security in history. If you think 'The Americans' isn't riveting enough, you'll love this toe-curling nonfiction thriller.”
I also really like this short review by Admiral William O. Studeman, U.S. Navy (Retired), former director NSA, deputy director of Central Intelligence and CIA:
“In the cat and mouse, twists and turns and tradecraft of modern technical espionage and counter-espionage (and now the field of Cyber and Information Warfare), Eric Haseltine’s book once again reminds us of the high stakes and brilliant personalities involved in the relentless and often life and death struggles around intelligence and national security. The lessons of this book are to be neither naive nor complacent, especially against a determined and capable adversary.”
Several of My Favorite (Brief) Book Excerpts
Here are some of my favorite excerpts from The Spy in Moscow Station:
I learned so much from this book. And I had fun reading it and was entertained at the same time — a rare combination.
I found it captivating and personally very relevant, since the timeline of events occurred just before I started as an NSA civilian (just out of college) in 1985. The outcomes described made me ponder if my recruitment and NSA’s mid-'80s hyper growth in staff numbers would have even happened if Gandy was not successful in his persistent quest.
Further, the references to Catonsville, Md., where I grew up, and other places described in Maryland and Washington, D.C., bring back memories of a different era. Even the intrigue described during visits to Russia will remind anyone who’s visited Moscow about the tensions and environment involved.
But even for those not involved in any way with the intelligence community or who live nowhere near Fort Meade, Md., The Spy in Moscow Station is eye-opening in numerous ways. The book's ending reminds us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It is clear that nation-state hacking and other forms of espionage have only increased in the past 40 years, with more countries than ever getting into new cyberbattles.
Meanwhile, the rivalries and competition between agencies continue in government at both the federal and in my experience also at the state level. The fascinating stories of office politics, partnering with different leaders and even verbal back-stabbing of enemies contained in this book remind me of similar situations in my 17 years within Michigan state government, even if the stakes were not nearly as high.
In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed The Spy in Moscow Station. I highly recommend this book be added to your summer reading list for both technical hackers and political leaders. Going further, anyone who just likes a good read and wants to know the truth behind U.S./Russian spying and the lengths that both sides went (and will go in the future) to capture classified information will certainly enjoy this book.