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Spy History

What could be more intriguing than a spy story, where truth is stranger than fiction or fiction incredibly true to life? Here are some suggestions for exciting reading material to "spies" up your life!


General History

Operation Dark Heart: spycraft and special ops on the frontlines of Afghanistan--and the path to victory by Anthony Shaffer — Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer had run intelligence operations for years before he arrived in Afghanistan. He was part of the "dark side of the force"—the shadowy elements of the U.S. government that function outside the bounds of the normal system. Operation Dark Heart tells the story of what really went on—and what went wrong—in Afghanistan.

China hands: nine decades of adventure, espionage, and diplomacy in Asia by James Lilley with Jeffrey Lilley — Lilley, a 20-year veteran of the CIA who served in various posts throughout Southeast Asia, offers a firsthand account of American diplomacy from the turn of the last century to the end of the Cold War. He provides an enlightening perspective of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, as he was U.S. Ambassador at the time. This unique personal history distinguishes itself from similar efforts of journalists and is a must-read for students of Asian intelligence work…

Spies in the Vatican: espionage & intrigue from Napoleon to the Holocaust by David Alvarez — Based on diplomatic and intelligence records in Britain, the U.S., France, Spain, Italy and the Vatican, some now sealed after the author had access to them, this history covers ten popes from the time of Napoleon to the Hitler era. Populated with world leaders, professional spies, fallen priests and mercenary informants, his book illuminates the dark areas in papal history and international diplomacy.

Hidden secrets by David Owen — Highlights the most dashing figures in spy history as well as the technology used to support it from the military strategy of Sun-Tzu in ancient times, up to the 9-11 tragedy.

Espionage: the spying operations that changed the course of history by Ernest Volkman — Twenty-eight secret operations are documented in short chapters unraveling the mysteries and providing an assessment of the impact of covert activity on world history. This is frightening, sobering and illuminating.

Spying: the modern world of espionage by Ron Fridell — The FBI, CIA and NSA are covered with the technology and human resources used by these agencies. Useful as a general overview and for grades 7-12 as well as adults.


My father the spy: an investigative memoir by John H. Richardson — A son reconstructs his father's life as one of the founding members of the CIA during the Cold War from declassified documents and extensive interviews with former spies and government officials.

Burn before reading: presidents, CIA directors, and secret intelligence by Stansfield Turner — A former CIA director provides a look into the complex relationships between presidential administrations and the CIA from Franklin Roosevelt to the present day.

Overworld: the life and times of a reluctant spy by Larry J. Kolb — Born into a family of spies and taught to look, act and think like one, the author is eventually coerced into working for the CIA. Here he reveals how the world of espionage and covert statecraft actually works.

The CIA at war: inside the secret campaign against terror by Ronald Kessler — Tells the story of how George Tenet turned the CIA from a risk averse outfit to one that is critically important to winning the war on terror. Discloses highly sensitive information about the CIA's orthodox methods and its stunning successes and shocking failures. This is the definitive history of the CIA and how it works today.

The great game: the myth and reality of espionage by Frederick P. Hitz — A former inspector general of the CIA contrasts spy fiction with real-life espionage cases to prove that truth is stranger than fiction. He uses the works of such well known authors as Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, John Le Carre, David Ignatius and Graham Greene, among others. This is perfect for spy story fans who want an inside view of the reality behind the mystique.

The main enemy: the inside story of the CIA's final showdown with the KGB by Milt Bearden and James Risen — The inside saga of the KGB-CIA wars and how the CIA unltimately destroyed the power of the Soviet Union. Highlights are the crisis years starting from 1985 to the early 90s when all their agents in Moscow were exposed and killed and the covert operations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. This is a densely packed account, based on hundreds of interviews, and written by the CIA's point man in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War.

See no evil: the true story of a ground soldier in the CIA's war on terrorism by Robert Baer — One of the CIA's best field officers recounts his career running agents to gather information in the back alleys of Lebanon and the Middle East. Paints a vivid description of how terrorism works on the inside and of how Washington politics sabotaged the CIA's efforts to root out the world's deadliest terrorists.

Secret empire: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the hidden story of America's space espionage by Philip Taubman — Traces the evolution of American airplane designs, spying capabilities and defense technologies showing how these led up to the current military system.

The secret history of the CIA by Joseph J. Trento — An investigative journalist spent decades researching top-secret files and conducting countless interviews with legendary spymasters to compile this engrossing history of colorful characters and chilling intrigue. Read about Igor Orlov, a Soviet agent who penetrated the highest levels of American intelligence, James Angleton, the CIA chief and infamous mole-hunter who implicated the Soviets in the assassination of JFK and more.

Spy dust: two masters of disguise reveal the tools and operations that helped win the Cold War by Antonio and Jonna Mendez, with Bruce Henderson — Ten CIA agents and double agents disappeared over a period of three years from 1985-88. In 1988, two CIA officers come together to determine how the KGB seems suddenly able to predict the agency's every move; in the process, devising controversial new operational methods to foil them. Demonstrates the sophisticated gadgetry, the triple-think strategies and the lengths to which U.S. intelligence will go to protect a source.

The master of disguise: my secret life in the CIA by Antonio J. Mendez, with Malcolm McConnell — The CIA's Master of Disguise shows how he helped hundreds of people escape potentially fatal situations by combining the cunning of a magician with shrewd psychological insight to create entirely new identities for anybody anywhere. The author was given the CIA intelligence star for engineering the escape of six Americans from Tehran and was named one of the 50 all-time stars of the spy trade for his overall lifetime performance.

The wizards of Langley: inside the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology by Jeffrey T. Richelson — The CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology is charged with devising high tech ways to collect and analyze information about potential adversaries. This is the first full-length study of this branch which introduces the reader to key personalities in its history, as well as high-tech devices used for surveillance such as aerial vehicles that appear to be birds, and not-so-high tech such as psychics, and "bugged" birds and cats for intelligence collection.


The bureau: the secret history of the FBI by Ronald Kessler — Richly detailed history of the tarnished side of the FBI with a great deal on J. Edgar Hoover, Louis Freeh, and a slew of botched cases from Richard Jewell to Wen Ho Lee. The author has written numerous interesting books on behind-the-scenes stories of national security agencies.

National Security Council

Confessions of an economic hit man by John Perkins — Covertly recruited by the NSA, John Perkins was to implement policies that promoted the interests of a coalition of the U.S. government and several U.S. banks and corporations by funneling money from a number of different countries back into the U.S. economy. He documents his travels through Central and South America, Saudi Arabia and Iran and reveals the hidden mechanism behind the fall of the Shah of Iran, the death of Panamanian President Omar Torrijos and the U.S. invasion of Panama and Iraq.

American Traitors

The bureau and the mole: the unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, the most dangerous double agent in FBI history by David A. Vise — The Pulitzer Prize-winning author who broke the story for the Washington Post details how Robert Hanssen, an FBI Soviet counterintelligence specialist, gave information to the Soviets for 25 years. He thoroughly renders how Hanssen was caught, and offers a convincing psychological profile for his behavior. This is a totally absorbing and dramatic account of a shocking story.

The spy next door: the extraordinary secret life of Robert Philip Hanssen, the most damaging FBI agent in U.S. history by Elaine Shannon and Ann Blackman — Two Time Magazine reporters recount their story of Robert Hanssen, the most damaging spy in U.S. history. Based on extensive original interviews, the emphasis is on how the bureau tracked Hanssen, found out who he was, and set a trap for him. This provides excellent research and reporting with first rate sources. With this book and the above title, every known nuance of the case is covered.

Secret Diplomacy

Forbidden truth: U.S.-Taliban secret oil diplomacy and the failed hunt for Bin Laden by Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquié; translated by Lucy Rounds with Peter Fifield and Nicholas Greenslade; introductions by Joseph Trento and Wayne Madsen — Presents the U.S. government's history of secret dealings with the Taliban prior to 9-11. Hoping to help the economy by promoting an oil pipeline through Afghanistan in exchange for the extradition of Bin Laden to the U.S., this is the story of a failed diplomatic attempt.

Secret Subversives

Spy handler: memoir of a KGB officer: the true story of the man who recruited Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames by Victor Cherkashin with Gregory Feifer — A retired KGB officer who was head of counterintelligence at the Soviet Embassy in Washington D.C. provides insight into why Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen became traitors, allowing a glimpse into the inner workings of Soviet espionage practices.

Agent 146: the true story of a Nazi spy in America by Erich Gimpel; foreword by Charles Whiting — Recounted by an agent who was recruited to sabotage the Panama Canal during WWII as well as the U.S. atomic program, this memoir was translated from the German in 1947. (Also available in Large Print format.)

Alger Hiss's looking-glass wars: the covert life of a Soviet spy by G. Edward White — An analysis of the Alger Hiss case providing insight into the character of the Soviet spy who denied his guilt for four decades. The author's father-in-law helped defend Hiss in 1948, but White's continuing research here further dispels the notion of his innocence.

The maharajah's box: an exotic tale of espionage, intrigue, and illicit love in the days of the raj by Christy Campbell — Hoping to regain his throne, the last emperor of the Sikhs and King of the Punjabs organizes an elaborate rebellion against England which involves an intricate amount of agents stretching over several continents. Spies, counterspies and forbidden passions combine to make this work of historical detection read like fiction.

Other Covert Agencies

By way of deception by Victor Ostrovsky and Claire Hoy — Ostrovsky was the youngest officer in the Israeli military, rising to the rank of Lt. Commander in charge of weapons testing. He profiles his rising disenchantment with the goals and methods of the Mossad , where he served as a case officer from 1984-86. This is the #1 New York Times bestselling book the Mossad tried to ban.

Covert Military Operations

Charlie Wilson's war: the extraordinary story of the largest covert operation in history by George Crile — This is the story of how a senator became the driving force in the plans to back arms for Afghanistan during the Russian-Afghan War. It is as amusing, unbelievable, and full of colorful characters as it is a serious study of a cover operation on a large scale.

Hunting the jackal: a special forces and CIA ground soldier's 50-year career hunting America's enemies by Billy Waugh with Tim Keown — This author spent many years fighting on the front lines of terrorism in his 50-year history of serving in 60 countries in the Special Forces and the CIA.

Intelligence in war: knowledge of the enemy from Napoleon to al-Qaeda by John Keegan — One of the best contemporary military historians critiques the blunders, analytical mistakes and communication break-downs in eight separate case studies of battles to show what happens when military intelligence is utilized or discounted.

Spies beneath Berlin by David Stafford — A leading writer on military intelligence details the construction of the $6 million tunnel beneath Berlin from the mid-50's to 1956 which was a joint effort by the British Secret Intelligence Service and the CIA. This is the first full-length study of the tunnel documenting covert operations and intrigue as complex and dramatic as any spy fiction.

Blind man's bluff: the untold story of American submarine espionage by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, with Annette Lawrence Drew — American submarines shadow Soviet subs, watch its missile tests, eavesdrop on conversations and retrieve top secret debris from the ocean bottom. This history includes the most detailed accounting of how the U.S.S. Scorpion disappeared, how the Navy found a lost U.S. Airforce hydrogen bomb and how the U.S. secretly tapped Soviet communication cables underneath the ocean. An important look at cold war espionage.

The secrets of Inchon: the untold story of the most daring covert mission of the Korean War by Eugene Franklin Clark; introduction and epilogue by Thomas Fleming — First-hand account of a crucial operation undertaken before the Korean War, which reads like a novel and is gripping to the end. In 1950, as North Korean forces overwhelmed South Korea, Navy Commander Eugene Clark was given the task of preliminary intelligence gathering to pave the way for the UN invasion to be led by General Douglas MacArthur. This remarkable story of heroism and courage is a modern classic of military history chronicling a little known story which changed the course of the Korean War.

Covert Weapons Programs

Biohazard: the chilling true story of the largest covert biological weapons program in the world, told from the inside by the man who ran it by Ken Alibek with Stephen Handelman — A Soviet defector to the U.S. describes their biological weapons program and how destructively deadly it is capable of being, as well as the routine dangers of his work as well as the devastating results of multiple vaccinations to his body. A fast-paced memoir describing some of the most awful weapons available.

The demon in the freezer: a true story by Richard Preston — The author of The Hot Zone deals with disease threats and viruses that could be used as biological weapons, especially smallpox or variola, considered the deadliest threat. Focuses on individuals involved in fighting epidemics and researching vaccines for biohazards, such as doctors and scientists, devoting a chapter to the anthrax scare in the Fall of 2001, as well as an interview with the FBI's "person of interest," Dr. Steven Hatfill.

Female Espionage Agents

Sisterhood of spies: the women of the OSS by Elizabeth P. McIntosh — A former war correspondent who was recruited by the OSS (precurser to the CIA) tells the story of the women who served undercover with her, among them such celebrities as Marlene Dietrich and Julia Child. True narratives of Nazi interrogations, daring escapes, expeditions across enemy lines and Mata Hari-style affairs make this memoir more gripping than spy fiction.

The spy wore red: my adventures as an undercover agent in World War II by Aline, Countess of Romanones — The heroine was recruited as a spy when she worked as a model for Hattie Carnegie, sent to Madrid to decode secret messages and organize a chain of women spies. Her main duties were to gather information about Nazi and German sympathizers, though her social life among the rich and famous is also cause for interest.

The spy went dancing by Aline, Countess of Romanones — In 1966, the Countess is called back into espionage to help uncover a mole in NATO with the aid of the Duchess of Windsor. Her post WWII life includes social adventures with the Rothschilds, Jacqueline Kennedy and the French Prime Minister, Georges Pompidou.

The spy wore silk by Aline, Countess of Romanones — The Countess recounts her mission with CIA chief William Casey to help prevent a second assassination attempt on Morrocco's King Hassan II after the first attempt in 1971. Set in the back streets of Marakach and the palaces of Casablanca.

The spy who seduced America: lies and betrayal in the heat of the Cold War: the Judith Coplon story by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell — Using recently declassified documents, two authors with initial opposite points of view uncover the truth about this American cold war spy.

Spyglass: an autobiography by Hélène Deschamps; edited by Karyn Monget — Exciting facts about a brave teenage girl working for the French underground during WWII. Should be of interest to teens as well as adults.


Documentary Films

Mata hari [videodisc]: seductive spy by A&E Television Networks — A look at the myth and reality behind the real Mata Hari and whether of not she deserved her fate at the hands of a French firing squad.

Master spy [videodisc]: the Robert Hanssen story by Oakdale Productions, Inc., a Lawrence Schiller production and Fox Television Studios production — Details the history of how and why Hanssen became a spy, how he operated and was eventually discovered.

Feature Films

Dr. No [videodisc] by Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation — James Bond's mission takes him to Jamaica where mysterious energy waves are interfering with U.S. missile launches due to Dr. No, a fanatical scientist who is implementing an evil plan of world domination.

The falcon and the snowman [videodisc] by An Orion Pictures release; Gabriel Katzka and Hemdale present a John Schlesinger film — Two young men decide to sell U.S. government secrets to the Russians in this true story in which the one is a falconer, who is disillusioned with the excess of U.S. power, and the other is a drug addict, who sells the secrets solely for profit.

Foreign correspondent [videodisc] by Walter Wanger presents; presented by Caidin Film Co — An Alfred Hitchcock classic about a newspaper journalist who stumbles upon a group of columnists planning to wreak havoc prior to World War II.

From Russia with love [videodisc] by United Artists Corporation and Danjaq, LLC; Eon Productions, Ltd. — British Secret Service and KGB are unwittingly pitted against each other in an extortion plot to steal a Russian encoding machine for the SPECTRE agency.

Mata Hari [videodisc] by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents ... a George Fitzmaurice production — This dancer turned secret agent in WWI Paris is played by Greta Garbo.

Saboteur [videodisc] by Universal Pictures Corp — An aircraft factory worker is framed for the bombing of his plant after he witnesses a Nazi agent in the act of accomplishing this.

Spy game [videodisc] by Universal Pictures and Beacon Pictures present a Douglas Wick production, a film by Tony Scott — These are the memoirs of CIA agent Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) who recalls the training and spy life of his protégé Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt).

The Manchurian candidate [videodisc] by Metro Goldwyn Mayer — An Army platoon is whisked to Manchuria for experimental drug and hypnosis induced conditioning that transforms one of them into a lethal weapon.

The fourth protocol [videorecording] — In a plot to destroy NATO, Pierce Brosnan is the agent who smuggles an atomic bomb into England to destroy a U.S. Air Base and Michael Caine is the British Intelligence Agent trying to stop him.

The Bourne identity [videodisc] by a Universal Pictures presentation, a Hypnotic and Kennedy/Marshall production, a Doug Liman film — Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has amnesia and must uncover the secret of who he is and why he can't remember before someone else kills him.

Notorious [videodisc] by RKO Radio Pictures; a Vanguard Films production; producer, Alfred Hitchcock; writer, Ben Hecht; director, Alfred Hitchcock — Working undercover for the U.S. government during WWII, it is a woman's dilemma to be married to a vicious Nazi spy, but in love with her American contact.

The tailor of Panama [videodisc] by Columbia Pictures presents a Merlin Films production; producer, John Boorman; screenplay writers, Andrew Davies, John le Carré , John Boorman; director, John Boorman — Harry embellishes stories about the powerful politicians he measures for suits in this dark comedy in which he reports to a ruthless British spy who is hungry for action (Pierce Brosnan) and sets events in motion that threaten his personal life and political catastrophe.

3 days of the Condor [videodisc] by Dino De Laurentiis presents a Stanley Schneider Production — A CIA agent (Robert Redford) who escapes a mass slaughter at his office runs from and must counter both the office assassins and his own employers trying to kill him in this action film.

North by Northwest [videodisc] by Loew's Inc. — In this fast paced Hitchcock thriller, a suave salesman is mistaken for a federal agent and chased 2,000 miles by spies and counterspies across a fast changing landscape.

The 39 steps [videodisc] by Gaumont-British Film Corporation of America — When a beautiful spy is stabbed, an innocent man is accused of murder and must make a mad dash for Scotland to clear his name. This is Alfred Hitchcock's first masterpiece thriller.

The hero [videodisc]: love story of a spy = Ba hīro: eka jāshusa kī prima kahānī by Nanjibhai Shah presents; Time Movies — A military intelligence officer is sent to fight terrorism in Kashmir, where he falls in love and is separated from his love by terrorist action. In English and Hindi with English subtitles.


  • Federal Bureau of Investigation — This FBI website profiles pending cases and internal news as well as milestones in the agency's history, and links to current news articles covering terrorism, domestic crime and agency programs
  • Central Intelligence Agency — The CIA's official website has background information on countries of the world, a virtual tour of their complex, plus speeches by the director, president and other key government individuals. Press releases, key events in the CIA's history, and an overview of American intelligence until WWII, are some of the features
  • International Spy Museum — The website of the International Spy Museum features photos of exhibits, a museum calendar and programs, along with spy games. Lesson plans which use espionage to teach history, geography, math, science and technology, and teach critical thinking skills are also available
  • Secrets of the Spies — This is an interactive page from CBS News where you can read about double agents while learning espionage terminology. Of special interest, though, is the timeline covering notable spying activity from 1518 to 2000
  • Alias: The TV Show — This is the website for the television show that stars Jennifer Garner, in which she "pretends" to work for the evil agency, SD6, and also as an informer for the CIA. Website covers articles about the show and actors, pictures, frequently asked questions, synopses of individual episodes and other links. A fun website for an intriguing show