Book Review: Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West

Ken Briggs
5 min readJan 12, 2024

The following is a book review I submitted for an assignment in the Harvard Extension School class Intelligence and International Security

This is one of the most well-written and well-researched history books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Calder Walton is a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and Assistant Director of the Intelligence Project at the Belfer Center. This book reflects this background, and draws on an extensive archive of declassified government records, first hand accounts, and archival research.

Essentially, its a historical survey, split into six sections, of the intelligence war between the Russian intelligence services and those of America and Britain stretching back to the founding of the Soviet Union and the infamous Cheka up to the present day. Walton starts with the Russian revolution and civil war that led to the establishment of the Bolshevik dictatorship under Lenin and the creation of the Soviet intelligence services to ruthlessly enforce Bolshevik rule at home. He draws parallels between these events and the current attempt by Russia to subjugate Ukraine, as well as Russia’s historical use of state security services stretching back to the first Tsar.

Walton goes on to discuss the one-sided intelligence war that occurred through WWII, with the Soviets exploiting vulnerabilities in the disorganized British intelligence services to insert double agents and acquire vast amounts of human intelligence. It wasn’t until…

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Ken Briggs

Engineer, tech co-founder, writer, and student of foreign policy. Talks about the intersection of technology, politics, business, foreign affairs, and history