The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB Archives [Hardcover]

The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB Archives [Hardcover]
Mr. Nigel West (Author), Oleg Tsarev (Author)

This lively account of Soviet intelligence activity in Great Britain from the close of World War I to the late 1950s is based on newly released documents from KGB archives-documents so highly valued they were dubbed the “crown jewels.” Adding richly to our understanding of Soviet intelligence, this book offers new insights into the activities of infamous British pro-Soviet spies as well as lesser-known spymasters and recruiters.

In the early 1920s, the newly founded Soviet Union established intelligence-gathering networks in several Western European capitals. Initially charged with spying on White Russians and other enemies of the Bolsheviks, these enclaves soon turned to collecting information on all kinds of political and economic activities in their host countries–and also to recruiting foreign nationals to serve the Soviet regime. The Soviets, write British historian Nigel West and retired Russian intelligence officer Oleg Tsarev, were especially successful in Britain, where they were able to make use of a band of disaffected university-based intellectuals who went into government service and who, in time, turned from coffeehouse revolutionaries to active traitors: John Cairncross, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean, and, perhaps most infamous of them all, Kim Philby.

From the late 1930s to the 1950s, they operated a spy ring in England that gave to the Soviet Union secret information ranging from Allied troop strength in North Africa in World War II to British atomic-weapons development in the early years of the cold war. West and Tsarev reproduce numerous dispatches from these spies, contextualizing them in a detailed narrative that vividly describes the day-to-day hardships involved in forging a career in espionage. For instance, when the East German “atom spy” Klaus Fuchs had to reckon with postwar gas rationing as a factor in arranging rendezvous points with his agents, he had to confine them to London and close to the watchful British counterintelligence service. The story takes as many turns as a John Le CarrĂ© thriller, and students of the cold war will find it of much interest. –Gregory McNamee

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