A Century of Spies Summary
by Jeffrey T. Richelson

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A Century of Spies

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Marconi’s wireless (1896) and the Wright brother’s airplane (1903) expanded intelligence in an unprecedented way. The first aerial reconnaissance flight over enemy territory took place in 1911 in the Italo-Turkish war. When the Great War struck in 1914, intelligence became a first priority with all contestants. By 1917, they had constructed wireless intercept stations to monitor each others’ diplomatic and military communications. Listening-in required codebreaking organizations such as Britain’s Room 40. Thus significant advances occurred in cryptoanalysis that allowed the solution of the notorious Zimmermann telegram.

Spies and saboteurs were plentiful in World War I. In France, alluring dancer Mata Hari coaxed military secrets from Allied officials. In the United States, the German spy Walter Scheele was quite active. After the war ended in 1918, intelligence remained very important. Britain established the Government Code and Cypher School. The United States established an intelligence organization known as the Black Chamber, which lasted until 1929. It kept tabs on Japan when it wished to become a party to the Five Power Treaty. The Communist Soviet Union had its intelligence organization commonly known as the NKVD. By the 1930’s, the NKVD succeeded in penetrating important branches of the British and American governments with spies.

When the United States joined the Allies in World War II in 1941, it had the FBI to protect it at home but no organization to conduct intelligence and counterintelligence abroad. Therefore, it immediately formed the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to perform this necessary service. With the hot war over, the Cold War began. President Harry Truman abolished the OSS in 1945, but he established the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1947 for the purpose of engaging in foreign espionage. Richelson gives a stirring account of the Cuban Missile Crisis and describes the latest intelligence techniques; reconnaissance satellites, high-altitude photography, sophisticated sensing and listening devices, economic intelligence, and computer analysis.