Desmond Llewelyn, Q, James Bond, Spycraft

Desmond Llewelyn as “Q” (photo: wikimedia.org)

By Robert Wallace, H. Keith Melton, and Henry Robert Schlesinger. Foreword by George Tenet, narration by David Drummond. The digitization and miniaturization everywhere in our daily lives has affected tradecraft in the espionage world, too—and sometimes began there before entering the consumer market. Initially, the CIA tried to heavily censor Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA’s Spytechs, from Communism to Al-Qaeda, but eventually ended up making almost no changes. The book details the history of the Agency’s Office of Technical Services—the department that, since World War II, has come up with all the dead drops, audio surveillance techniques, secret inks, espionage gear, and so on needed by field agents. Q, in other words.

Co-authored by a former OTS director, Spycraft begins with a review of cases involving some of the most notorious and significant, mostly Soviet, spies run by the CIA, then turns to a detailed review of various spycraft essentials and what makes them work—or not—in the field. The history of the Soviet spies, most of whom were discovered and executed, provides an appreciation for the steady improvements in technology, though it’s pretty much a mug’s game, because improvements in detection soon follow. The challenge is to remain one step ahead. I didn’t come away with a satisfactory answer to the key question: with all this amazing technology, how come the CIA has missed the big plays? 9/11, Iraq’s true WMD situation, the Arab Spring?

For anyone writing spy and espionage fiction, Spycraft summarizes innumerable backstory issues and technical details that must be right! But beyond these specifics, the choice of what OTS worked on and how the technical officers solved problems reveals the dilemmas faced by field agents. Other readers may simply be amazed at the scope and persistence of this clandestine effort. (Amazon reader rating: 4.5 stars.)