Eclipse: The Last Days of the CIA
The Bear Trap: Afghanistan’s Untold Story
The Red Web: MI6 and the KGB Master Coup
The FBI–KGB War: A Special Agent’s Story
Cold Warrior: James Jesus Angleton: The CIA’s Master Spy Hunter
Molehunt: The Secret Search for Traitors that Shattered the CIA
No Other Choice: The Cold War Memoirs of the Ultimate Spy
The Cambridge Spies: The Untold Story of Maclean, Philby, and Burgess in America
The Central Intelligence Agency: An Instrument of Government, to 1950
General Walter Bedell Smith as Director of Central Intelligence, October 1950–February 1953
Moscow Station: How the KGB Penetrated the American Embassy
The Old Boys: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA
America’s Secret Eyes in Space: The U.S. Spy Satellite Program
American Espionage and the Soviet Target
The secret war concealed within the cold war achieved a kind of climax one chilly morning in the early 1960s in the Congo, when two boats slowly approached each other along the western shore of Lake Tanganyika. These were no native dugouts, but long, sleek craft with powerful engines. Whether it was someone in the southern boat heading north or someone in the northern boat heading south who first distinguished the low diesel rumble of the approaching boat over the growl of his own, I cannot say, for my informant is now dead. Nor can I say who spied the other first, or who fired first, or what was shouted in the panic and confusion as bullets were exchanged during the frantic moments before engines were revved up and the two powerful craft veered off into the mist. But I can report that the shouts of alarm that echoed over Lake Tanganyika, uttered by the hired warriors of the United States and the Soviet Union, were in both cases Cuban Spanish, mother tongue alike of the Cubans who went to the Congo to make a revolution with Che Guevara at Soviet expense and the Cubans dispatched to foil them by the intelligence agencies of America.
This brief encounter, a kind of bump in the night, summed up for my friend Sam Adams, a former analyst for the CIA, the loony quality of the secret cold war—a clash of proxies in an out-of-the-way corner of the world which was nevertheless freighted with heavy strategic significance for the policy makers of Washington. What gave Adams’s story its power for me was the fact that Adams had never set foot in Africa, much less the Congo. What he loved was the stacks of secret documents that crossed his desk at the Central Intelligence Agency. A morning’s work memorizing the correct pronunciation of the names of native tribes made him the house expert on the Congo. It became his job to read the Congo cable traffic every morning, and there he found the story of the battle of Lake Tanganyika. He passed it on to me a decade later with such conviction that for a year I assumed he had been in the CIA boat with the CIA Cubans looking death in the eye.
Adams’s story came to my mind following the collapse of the Soviet Union two years ago, so like the disintegration of an army routed in wartime. The manner of its ending revealed some fundamental things about the cold war: it really was a war, and prosecuting it took conscious effort and resolution. The control of nations was at stake, one side lost, and the other prevailed. In every way it was like the other great political contests of history save one: there was no spasm of bloodletting at the end. Why this was so is a question intimately related to another one, also central: How important to the outcome of the cold war were the battle …
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A Very Important Spy June 24, 1993