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By John Helmer, Moscow

Sir Max Hastings, author of a new book claiming to be the first to compare the secret intelligence performances of the British, Americans, Germans, Japanese and Russians in World War II, has posted a picture of himself on the dust-jacket as a weasel.

“The best single volume written on the subject” is the blurb on the dust-jacket as the opinion of the Sunday Times, whose proprietor Rupert Murdoch, is also Hastings’s paymaster as owner of the book’s publisher, William Collins. Everything about the history of Russian spying offends Hastings almost as much as everything Russian offends Murdoch. This isn’t so much a history as it’s a textbook in info-warfare – and the antithesis of the conclusion Hastings suggests we should all come to. This is that in war force wins, not words – and that secret intelligence and propaganda are largely a waste of money and lives. “Allied intelligence contributed almost nothing to winning the war, ”Hastings quotes an American friend and expert, demurring that “this seems too extreme a verdict”, while adding his own: “official secrecy does more to protect intelligence agencies from domestic accountability for their own follies.” The exception proving both rules, according to Hastings, is the record of British intelligence compared to German, and to Russian.

Deception, that’s another story – unless The Secret War is an example of how Hastings has fooled himself. On this score, Hastings’s 612 pages are an unprecedented achievement in decoding his own text, and warning his readers off it. Murdoch and his media have been duped by Hastings out of the truth, though not out of the profit.

Hastings believes Russian spies shouldn’t have drunk champagne, worn smart suits, roomed in grand hotels, had sex while on the job, had sex with women not their wives, enjoyed sex in any circumstances, been reared by “strongly socialistic parents”, made a profit in their cover businesses, played the currency market, or ridden motorbikes at high speed. “It is hard to assess the contribution of Soviet agents,” Hastings concludes, because “all were compulsive liars, bent upon inflating their own roles.”

Hastings wrote these words on what he advertises as a junket to a place called Datai, Langkawi – an island off the cost of Malaysia. Hastings signs off his book from this place. He also confided in another of the Murdoch media that at Datai Langkawi he had found “the best beach in the world”, where “it might inspire you, like me, to write a book”.

Source: http://www.thedatai.com/langkawi/

Datai Langkawi – £1,680 per person for 7 nights, including economy-class flight and transfers — made it possible for Hastings to write his book “in some tropical paradise [rather] than in an English February”. If that’s not quite the patriotic tone Hastings aims to strike in The Secret War, he makes up for it by the end of his travelogue, whose itinerary “makes one proud to be descended from imperialists”. Not for a century has a serious history of anything been written as payola for the late British Empire.

“Here, as everywhere,” Hastings concludes, “the unchanging reality was that intelligence alone was useless unless sufficient force was available at sea, in the sky, or on the ground to use secret knowledge effectively.” But there’s a Hastings rider – the British suffered defeat in failing to use their advance information of the German plan of attack on Crete in May 1941, as did the Russians in refusing to believe the warnings of the German invasion of the Soviet Union the following month. But the British fault was a communications failure. The Russian fault was “satanic”, the result of moral turpitude, the “erratic conduct of tyrannies,” and “because [Russians] were incapable of building [complex decryption machines] and would never have licensed the sort of young iconoclasts who led the British operation.”

Hastings is a hater on behalf of his religion. This appears to be a combination of proto-Judaism, the faith of his current wife, and Roman Catholicism, the faith of his father and grandfathers. Accordingly, he repeats how hateful “communism” is towards others, and how much he himself hates it (“socialism”, too). As for exactly what it is that he hates, Hastings cites the Roman Catholic Polish aristo, Zbigniew Brzezinski, on ideology as a “consciousness of purpose and of the general thrust of history. It gives its adherents a sense of consistency and certainty…” It was Brzezinski who started the moslem jihad in Afghanistan in 1979 , when he was national security advisor to the only born again Baptist to serve in the White House, thus far. These days Hastings is the nearest thing to a Catholic jihadist. He even lets slip that Donald Maclean, the Foreign Office spy for Moscow, came from a family which was “oppressively Presbyterian”.

In addition to Scots Presbyterians, Hastings also hates Greek “communists”, Yugoslav “communists”, Vietnamese “communists”, and “communists” from what Hastings calls the “impeccably middle class” of his own country. When Hastings refers to the “impeccable” British middle class, he is not only referring to a class he himself belongs to, but to a class which, in his view, regards as both crime and sin what Maclean, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross, Melita Norwood et al. did when they passed British state secrets to Moscow. Hastings doesn’t interrupt his flow to let “traitors” say a word in self-defence.


Impeccably middle class: Hastings at home in Hungerford, Berkshire. The sculpture on the mantelpiece appears to be a relative of the weasel. Hastings says he grew up in Knightsbridge, London, having food delivered from Harrods. When he moved into a flat of his own, he says he didn't know food could be obtained any other way than by placing his grocery order with Harrods and waiting for the delivery van to arrive.

Hastings’s fervour is such that anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the political development for his country devised by Winston Churchill and King George II of Greece, was, is still, a “communist”, a Stalin dupe, a naïve fool, or a mercenary. Without cavil Hastings accepts what Churchill ordered British agents to do in Greece, and to the Greeks, during the war years, and then in the aftermath. The British officers who objected are dismissed by Hastings as “communist sympathisers inside the Service, especially in Cairo”; the Greeks who objected were “unhinged” and deserved to be shot by their British handlers.


Prime Minister Churchill (right) bows to King George II (left) on the latter’s arrival in London in April 1941.

How comprehensive the hateful term turns out to be in this history doesn’t preclude Hastings from presenting what can only be termed the Karl Marx theory of the anti-German Resistance in Europe. For example, “An overwhelming majority of dedicated Resisters were drawn from the humbler [sic] sections of society… The same was true of of all branches of secret activity: it may confidently [sic] be said that those with most materially to lose did least to oppose the German occupiers, while those with least property did most.”

There is no length Hastings doesn’t go to diminish everyone in the intelligence business except family friends, forebears, and Churchill. Richard Sorge, the Soviet spy in Tokyo, is reported at the scaffold, just before the Japanese hanged him on November 7, 1944, as “remain[ing] calm as he was bound.” Then, Hastings claims, he “cried out in halting Japanese ‘Sakigun!’ – the Red Army; ‘Kokusai Kyosanto!’ – the International Communist Party; ‘Soviet Kyosanto!’ – the Soviet Communist Party.” Hastings cites no sources to explain how a man cries out haltingly in a foreign language from the point of the author who knows none of the languages Sorge spoke. He also sticks his Russia-hating knife into Sorge’s corpse. Sorge, he wrote, “was an abnormal human being who gained an emotional charge from his complex existence and multiple deceits. He had more than a little in common with Kim Philby… It is doubtful… that he alone changed any history.”

Hastings takes an extra swipe at Sorge’s lover, Hanako Ishii, who lived with him in Tokyo, and who survived him to recover his body from its Tokyo prison grave. Haniko (below, left),” Hastings reports, “appears to have provided a convenience rather than an object of real affection”. Appears to Hastings? – he cites no reference for the claim. But it is a repeating theme – Hastings abhors what he thinks of as marital infidelity among Russian spies on the job.


About his own wife, Penny (above, right), Hasting has advertised publicly that at Datai Langkawi she had “the best spa massage that she said was the best of her life”. Penny is cited by Hastings as the necessary source for a pleasure he himself had not experienced. Sorge and Ishii are “communists” so they don’t qualify for a comparable evidential test. It’s also unclear how Hastings’s moral objections to the sex lives of spies comports with his own. According to the record, Hastings’s performance includes two wives, with a divorce in between; his wife is also a divorcee. The Sorge fidelity test doesn’t apparently apply to the tester.

Hastings trips over the contradictions of his case studies. Despite the brilliance of British signals intelligence, he concedes it was two other Japanese sources who provided the “main basis for information regarding Hitler’s intentions in Europe.” That’s Hastings’s quote from General George Marshall, the US Chief of Staff for the war years. The reference was to the breaking of the Japanese Purple code, and to the opening by US cryptanalysts of hundreds of despatches to Tokyo from Hiroshi Osima, the Japanese ambassador to Berlin. Hastings adds a weaselly qualification: “The triumph of the US Signals intelligence Service in securing access to the Japanese Purple cipher contributed little to winning the war.”

Winning turns out to be as undefined and as unreferenced as most of Hastings conclusions. He is more confident in his assessment of losing. For example, wading into the controversy over the Red Army’s Operation MARS, the Rzhev offensives in the last weeks of 1942, Hastings cites Russian casualties at 70,000 – without mentioning the German losses at 40,000. He ignores altogether the German General Staff acknowledgement that though their armies won the Rzhev battle, the diversion of several Panzer and infantry divisions contributed to their defeat in Operation URANUS, the defeat at Stalingrad.

Pavel Sudoplatov

Pavel Sudoplatov, the Soviet intelligence officer on whose account of his own success in the deception operation MONASTERY and the double agents MAX and HEINE Hastings repeats – without a reference or a source except for Sudoplatov himself.

In Hastings’s version, the entire operation was a cruel, bloody and morally despicable feint – contrived by Pavel Sudoplatov, known to Stalin, but not to the Red Army commander, then-General Georgy Zhukov. Hastings claims there must have been a deception operation afoot because “London warned the Russians about the [agent Max] leaks and they showed no interest in stopping them.” Hastings cites no reference for his conclusion that the Russian command “showed no interest”. But Hastings goes further. He claims that even the most cynical of British intelligence agents were never, could never, be as cynical as their Russian counterparts. “It was beyond the imagination of their intelligence officers…that the Russian should surrender so much authentic information, at a price paid in torrents of blood, to promote strategic deception”.

Lyuba VinogradovaThere is a reason Hastings can come to such a conclusion. He simply avoids every piece of evidence to the contrary, while making his Russian assistant appear to be responsible for having read everything. What are Hastings’s sources? His list of references fails to identify any source on the Rzhev battles except for a stock of intercept reports of the Government Communications Headquarters in the British archives (UKNA HW). His Russian research assistant, Lyuba Vinogradova (right), was asked what sources she provided Hastings to substantiate his claims. She replies she “is unable to help with these questions as all of the sources she used are already listed in the notes section of The Secret War.”

Hastings gives his game away by failing to check the spelling of Vinogradova’s name, twice calling her – at the start and end of the book — by a construction which noone with the least familiarity with the Russian language could possibly make – “Vinogradovna”.

Asked by email to clarify his evidence for the deception at Rzhev, Hastings concedes he muddled code-names but not convictions. “The British edition contains a significant error which is being corrected for American publication: ‘Max’ was the codename of the Abwehr conduit for ‘Monastery’ material, while Demanyov’s [correct spelling Demyanov] codename was Heine. Various Russian accounts (Sudoplatov, Korovin, Makarov & Tyurin etc) differ about quite a bit of the detail of the story, but my conviction of its credibility is founded upon my own reading of the translation of the ‘Max’ material in the Freiburg archive, and the extensive copies and commentaries on it in MI6/Bletchley files in the British National Archive at Kew. I doubt whether the many inconsistencies in the Russian accounts will ever be conclusively resolved, but the fundamental fact that the Russians deliberately provided Gehlen [General Reinhard Gehlen, head of German military intelligence on the Russian front, later recruited by the US to become head of West German intelligence] with foreknowledge of Mars seems hard to dispute.”

Hastings ends his book with proof that weasels can see in the dark, but cannot see in polychrome, only in black and white. In his final chapter, “Decoding victory”, here is black: “Any student of the wartime era, who explores the conduct of the Soviet Union, and especially of its intelligence services, is likely to emerge bewildered that the word ‘ally’ could ever have been used to describe Russia’s wartime status alongside the democracies… It is difficult to perceive the smallest moral superiority in the Soviet system over that of the Nazis.”

And here’s white: “Bletchley was…one of most remarkable groups of human beings ever assembled within a single organisation… Bletchley was one of the remarkable institutions the world has ever known…how extraordinary it was that the Germans never recognized the vulnerability of [codes] Enigma and Lorenz…The only credible explanation is hubris: an institutional unwillingness to believe that their Anglo-Saxon enemies, whom they so often humbled on the battlefield, could be so clever.”

Finally, just in case the evidence he has presented of the costly waste of investment in secret intelligence and propaganda has been misread, Hastings sinks his teeth into the enemy for all time – Russia. Secret war wasn’t decisive between 1939 and 1945 when “the victories that decided outcomes were secured by great armies, fleets, air forces…In the twenty-first century, however, cyber-warfare is a logical evolution of the process that.. expanded vastly at Bletchley Park… in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin finds main battle tanks highly serviceable. But he also employs tactics of subversion backed by Moscow’s secret soldiers…” For his evidence of Russian main battle tanks in Ukraine, Hastings provides no footnote. Vinogradova denies she found one.

What evidence, Hastings was asked yesterday, does he have for writing that “Vladimir Putin assuredly acknowledges such a figure [NKVD’s Pavel Sudoplatov] as a hero”? A check of Kremlin and Russian media records finds that others have called Sudoplatov a hero. This month the Russian Communist Party proposed to erect a statue to him in front of the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow, commemorating his wartime operations against Ukrainian Nazis. Putin has said nothing at all.

Hastings replies: “I would have hoped that my reference to Putin and Sudoplatov is plainly speculative rather than evidential.” Speculation which is subjunctive and conditional – that’s weasel talk.

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