Peter Wright, Judges and Journalists

R.W. Johnson

Let us first dispose of Spycatcher – a well-written book which eschews a sensationalist style even when dealing with sensational matters.[*] The widespread impression that the book is mainly about MI5 attempts to destabilise the Wilson Government is quite wrong – there are just a few pages about this. Most of the book is an account of the endless mole-hunting undertaken in the aftermath of the Burgess/ Maclean/ Philby affairs and the construction of Wright’s case that the MI5 chief, Roger Hollis, was a Soviet spy. This latter question is, for Wright, very much the heart of the book, but I doubt whether readers will be universally convinced by his case or even that they will be chiefly interested in it. Most, one suspects, will savour more the chillingly casual way in which Wright details how even friendly embassies were bugged and assassination schemes plotted, and also the sheer Le Carré-like richness of the bureaucratic and diplomatic intrigues, particularly when they involve characters as colourful as Edgar Hoover or James Angleton. Wright describes how Angleton ingeniously contrived to enjoy simultaneously his three main hobbies of drinking, smoking and fishing. Having bought a stretch of river, he buried bottles of Jack Daniels at regular intervals in the river bed, so that he could always fish with a whisky and a cigarette in hand.

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[*] Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer by Peter Wright. Viking, 392 pp., $19.95, 10 August, 0670 82055 5.