The Anatomy of a Spy

Six - The Real James Bonds

The Secret Agent's bedside reader

The Anatomy of a Spy

The Anatomy of a Spy

Why do people put their lives at risk to collect intelligence? How do intelligence services ensure that the agents they recruit do their bidding and don’t betray them? What makes the perfect spy? Drawing on interviews with active and former British, American, Russian, Euro-pean, and Asian intelligence officers and agents, Michael Smith creates a layered portrait of why spies spy, what motivates them, and what makes them effective.

Love, sex, money, patriotism, risk, adventure, revenge, compulsion, doing the right thing— focusing on the motivations, The Anatomy of a Spy presents a wealth of spy stories, some pre-viously unknown and some famous, from the very human angle of the agents themselves. The accounts of actual spying extend from ancient history to the present, and from running agents inside the Islamic State and al-Qaeda to the recent Russian active measures campaign and operations to influence votes in the United States, penetrating as far as Trump Tower if not the White House.

“A fascinating study of betrayal, the foibles and compulsions that motivated so many traitors to betray their countries and compromise classified information. Definitely an essential handbook for the layman as well as the mole hunter and counterintelligence professional.”
Nigel West

“A forensic, enthralling, and extremely accurate analysis of what motivates spies. Bags of history. Bags of intrigue. The Anatomy of a Spy is an unprecedented and instant classic.”
Matthew Dunn, former MI6 officer and author of the Spycatcher series and Ben Sign series.

“There are very few ex–intelligence officers who know their stuff better than Michael Smith. If you want to know why spies put their lives in danger, this is the book for you.”
Andy McNab, author of Bravo Two Zero and the Nick Stone thrillers.

The Anatomy of a Spy - Glossary

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Six: The Real James Bonds

Six - the real James Bonds

The natural follow-up to The Spying Game was Six: The Real James Bonds a history of MI6 from its creation in 1909 to the start of the Second World War in 1939. MI6 had commissioned its own official history. Written by the late Keith Jeffrey, it is an excellent book based on the Service’s secret archives still held under lock and key at its green and cream Vauxhall Cross headquarters.  

But it made clear the limits on how much material was still held in those secret archives compared to the material held in open UK, US, Scandinavian and Russian archives. Six: The Real James Bonds was based on secret MI6 documents held in all of those archives plus the private papers of a number of former MI6 officers, some of which were astonishingly revealing.

“Engrossing... As a rollicking chronicle of demented derring-do, Smith s book is hard to beat. His research is prodigious and his eye for a good story impeccable, and his book, while perfectly scholarly, often reads like a real-life James Bond thriller.”
Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

“Finely detailed and scrupulously researched. A tour de force in the exploitation of the available open sources plus a thoroughgoing re-examination of the published narratives in the light of these additional sources. Smith s work has, of course, always stood out amongst that by journalists because of his efforts to achieve standards of rigour approaching the scholarly while retaining the accessibility and brevity needed to reach a wider audience.”
Philip H Davies, Intelligence and National Security

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MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall Cross,
south of the Thames

The Secret Agent’s Bedside Reader

The Secret Agent’s Bedside Reader

There is one other good source of material on the history of British intelligence – books written by former spies themselves, and not just their memoirs. A number of former MI6 officers – Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene and John le Carré to name just a few – have written novels that while fiction give an authentic feel of real intelligence work, indeed Maugham’s Ashenden stories are barely disguised accounts of his own genuine exploits as a British secret service officer operating in Switzerland and Russia during the First World War. I selected a range of forty different passages from books written by former intelligence officers to give a rounded view of how our spies operate and published it as The Secret Agent’s Bedside Reader.

Intelligence officers have to be able to tell a very good story, whether it is in an intelligence report or in the ‘legend’ they adopt for an undercover operation. It is not for nothing that this is known as the cover story and the measure of how good it has to be is that for the author it may well mean the difference between life and death. So it is hardly surprising that, over the years, authors and journalists have made good intelligence officers, and a relatively large number of intelligence officers have gone on to become successful writers.

The Secret Agent’s Bedside Reader is a selection of some of their very best work. There are extracts from the fiction of Maugham, Greene and many others; Le Carré’s first extensive description of his eponymous hero George Smiley. Nor is everything contained in the book fiction. There are extracts from memoirs from former top spies like legendary Ace if Spies Sidney Reilly, Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout Movement, and author Compton Mackenzie plus real intelligence reports and memos written by Ian Fleming, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, and other top secret agents. Amazing stuff!

“A compendium of fiction, memoir and archive material, never less than entertaining and surprisingly informative – Spectator Book of the Year.”

The Spectator

“If you crave armchair action and adventure this well-chosen anthology should prove thoroughly satisfying.”

The Good Book Guide

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Kim Philby

Kim Philby, the so-called Third Man in the Cambridge Spy Ring. The Secret Agent’s Bedside Reader includes one of his most important reports to Moscow.