REVIEW: The Main Enemy. The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB


By Milt Bearden and James Risen. New York: Random House, 2003. 563 pages, note on sources, index

Bearden is a former 30 year senior officer of CIA’s clandestine service and Risen is a New York Times investigative reporter. This book covers CIA’s covert operations in Afghanistan to defeat the Soviets. The heart of this fascinating book is the intelligence battle between the CIA and the KGB.

In particular, from the mid-1980s on when KGB penetrations of CIA (Aldrich Ames) and the FBI (Robert Hanssen) wrought terrible damage on a carefully built constellation of CIA penetrations – moles – inside the KGB and GRU (military intelligence) and important Soviet government institutions and ministries. With inside information and details from both sides, this is a revealing account of some of the great Cold War cases run by CIA for many years under the eyes of the KGB. It also relates the tragedies that followed the betrayal of these assets by Ames and Hanssen.

This book is a fine read, and even the contributions from The New York Times are quite worthwhile. In essence the primary author, Milton Beardon, wrote the core of the book, from his experiences with the Soviet Division in the Directorate of Operations at the CIA, and in Afghanistan and Pakistan driving the Soviets in Afghanistan. Journalist James Risen filled in the gaps with really excellent vignettes from the other side. The two authors together make a fine team, and they have very capably exploited a number of former KGB and GRU officers whose recollections round out the story.

This is not, by any means, a complete story. Several other books to be posted in this blog add considerable detail to a confrontation that spanned the globe for a half-century. Yet, while it barely scratches the surface, this book is both historical and essential in understanding two..

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