The London reviews of Spymasters

UScoverThumbNail2New Spymasters, my new book, went on sale in 2015 the USA with St Martin’s Press in the USA and Viking Penguin in the UK. It’s had some good reviews. Here are some of the comments and links to the full text:

“For almost 50 years, British and American intelligence officers went toe-to-toe with their counterparts at the Lubyanka, suppressing the threat from communist Russia by recruiting agents inside the Soviet system. Those days are long gone. As Stephen Grey explains in his exceptional new book about spying, the unique political circumstances of the post-9/11 world, combined with rapid developments in weapons and telecommunications technology, have permanently shifted the espionage paradigm…. a blueprint for productive, sophisticated espionage in the age of Islamist terror”

(Charles Cumming; Full review: Daily Telegraph)

“Convincing … a lucid, well-written analysis” (Malcolm Rifkind; Full review: The Spectator)

Grey is a Reuters reporter who has previously written books about the UK-US military campaign in Afghanistan and the CIA’s rendition programme. He has now turned his attention to espionage, and the result — revelatory, deeply informed and subtle — is an antidote to any view of the intelligence agencies as being all-knowing or, conversely, all over the place. Their world…is a dark one, but one in which agents can sometimes discern flashes of colour that offer clues, leads and, sometimes, a licence to kill….Grey’s book reveals above all the relentless uncertainty of spy work, beset with human error and technological over-optimism.

(John Lloyd: Full review: The Financial Times)

“Valuable and thought-provoking .. breaks new ground ..” (Richard Norton-Taylor, Full Review: The Guardian)

Many books on intelligence are a mixture of rehashed secondary sources, salted with speculation. Grey’s is not. He draws on an impressive array of interviews with current and serving intelligence officers, as well as official documents, and provides some notable new insights into the most tangled tales of recent years…..a page-turner for those outside the secret world, and also a thought-provoker for those inside it.” (Edward Lucas, Full review: The Times

“An exposé with real intelligence … Stephen Grey, one of the best investigative journalists in the business, explores the industry’s transformation in a detailed and highly readable book.” (Paul Callan, Daily Express)

NewSpymasters was rated the No 1 Bestseller in Non-Fiction in London by the Evening Standard on July 2nd.

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Much of Grey’s book demonstrates that “intelligence” is often blunder, bluff and worse, and that only the “cult of intelligence” prevents these spies from being seen as a waste of taxpayers’ money (Ed Vulliamy, Full review: The Observer)

“Stephen Grey is a good writer with a reputation for doggedness. He goes where a story leads, even if it doesn’t suit his preconceptions.” (Liam Clarke, the Belfast Telegraph.)

UK made use of CIA 'torture' evidence

Right or wrong, Britain did benefit from evidence obtained by from the CIA’s now-notorious programme of High Value Target (HVT) interrogation, the use of methods like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, confinement in boxes, and throwing prisoners against (specially-modified) walls.

That’s what emerged from an investigation I did for BBC Radio’s File on Four and BBC World Service ‘Assignment‘ into the vexed question of alleged UK complicity into the methods used by the United States in combatting terrorism. (Download the PODcast of this program here or Listen to File on Four now 0r World Service version here. )

The former No 2 at Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6, Sir Nigel Inkster, was among those on the program. Asked by me if the UK agencies reap the benefits of the most controversial US methods, he said:

“To some degree I would say that the answer to that question is yes they did…Lets not forget that we’re dealing with a situation in which both the UK and the US had significantly under-invested in intelligence and security capacity for the preceding decade, so neither the CIA nor their British counterparts were exactly staffed up to deal with this global insurgency. And the material that came from these detainee interrogations was unquestionably valuable; one has to say for better or worse because as it now becomes evident you know some of the ways that information was obtained are ones that the UK government could never willingly have gone along with.”

What’s interesting is that, like some ex high-ups in the CIA I interviewed for this program, the significance Sir Nigel makes of these HVT interrogations is not their revelation of great plots but rather the way they filled in the details of an Al Qaeda network that on 9/11 was still largely un-canvassed. Not much of a ticking bomb scenario, in other words. That’s not really how it worked at all. Continue reading UK made use of CIA 'torture' evidence