Monday, September 9, 2013

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones's "In Spies We Trust"

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones was born in Carmarthen in Wales and was a postdoc at Harvard after obtaining his Ph.D. from Cambridge University. He has been an anti-apartheid campaigner and radio and TV broadcaster. President of the Scottish Association for the Study of America, he writes about US social and intelligence history, his latest books being In Spies We Trust: The Story of Western Intelligence (Oxford University Press, 2013) and The American Left: Its Impact on Politics and Society since 1900 (Edinburgh and Oxford University Presses, 2013).

Jeffreys-Jones applied the “Page 99 Test” to In Spies We Trust and reported the following:
In Spies We Trust traces the rise, fall and obsolescence of the Anglo-American special intelligence relationship from 1909 to the present. It goes on to discuss alternative intelligence solutions that might benefit the US and its allies, for example at the UN and the European Union.

Page 99 touches on some of the book’s themes. One is the phenomenon of mutual learning. The UK taught the US some of the rudiments of spying. However, the US taught the UK how to make spies accountable to the electorate, not just to a secretive government elite. Freedom of information and congressional oversight were American gifts to western intelligence.

Moreover, the CIA was not, as many have supposed, the result of British tuition. From page 99:
Was the CIA a British invention? Not really, ... as we shall see after a review of the real causes of the agency’s creation. Here, we can start with the long-term underlying cause of the rise of intelligence agencies in general—the aversion to war, the desire to seek out ‘intelligent’ and bloodless solutions to international problems.
As page 99 reminds us, intelligence for peace is a popular concept in our democratic age with its aversion to physical warfare and its body bags.

Developing the theme of American roots of American intelligence, the page alludes to ‘a consciousness of American tradition. There were particular strands of memory: for example Evangeline Bell’s recollections of U-1 may have affected the outlook at OSS London.’

The reference here is to a woman who spoke twelve languages and became the second wife of David Bruce, the OSS London station chief. Evangeline was the daughter of Ned Bell, a key US intelligence official in World War I. From his base in America’s London embassy, Bell liaised with Room 40, the UK code breaking unit that intercepted and decoded the Zimmermann Telegram, an event that helped precipitate US entry into the war.

The Anglophile Bell – he ditched his American wife in favor of an English society lady – could not prize cryptological methodology from British control. To remedy the deficiency, he and his colleagues at U-1 favored the creation of a US code breaking unit, soon known as the American Black Chamber – ‘ABC’ was NSA’s precursor.

And what was ‘U-1’? It was a central intelligence unit run from the department of state. It was so secret that even today few people recognize the term. ‘Central intelligence”. Sound familiar?
Read more about In Spies We Trust at the Oxford University Press website.

Learn about Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones's top ten classic spy novels.

--Marshal Zeringue