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The Main Enemy

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In a brief period of time between 1989 and 1991, the world changed dramatically. Several significant events transpired, each literally changing the way the world worked overnight. In The Main Enemy, Milt Bearden and James Risen provide a detailed and fascinating view into the struggle between the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Soviet security service, Komitet Gosudarstvenoj Bezopasnosti (KGB).

Anyone aware of the state of world affairs for the last half of the twentieth century would be hard pressed to believe any of the events that took place as the final decade of the century was poised to begin. Starting with the Soviet Union's withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989, we observed as one event followed another, each coming as a greater surprise than the previous. We watched the collapse of the Berlin Wall and saw the reunification of Germany shortly thereafter. Not long behind Germany's rejection of socialism, we saw revolutions in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and elsewhere. In the latter half of 1991, we watched a failed coup in the Soviet Union, and as that year drew to a close, the Soviet hammer and sickle was replaced with the Russian tricolor flag over Moscow.

These were not events that took place on their own. These were the highly visible climax of an ongoing struggle between the proponents of the Soviet Revolutskyj Mir ("World Revolution") and their counterparts in the West -- including Britain's MI6 and America's CIA. Such a conclusion wasn't always assured, and there were times when CIA was baffled by the tremendous success of KGB's operations against Western agents and interests. It is during these "1985 losses" that the book opens, providing a foundation that helps the reader to see just what was happening in the world of intelligence.

Milt Bearden is a career CIA officer, having spent a lifetime in the shadows and working for America's interests. James Risen is an accomplished journalist. The collaboration -- which also includes the input and assistance of many other players from many sides in this international game of strategy and intrigue -- is an admirable success. The story is gripping, compelling, and personal. The book is well-structured and the prose makes it easy to forget that The Main Enemy isn't a novel, but a book of real history.

For those of us whose understanding of intelligence is primarily from the technical side -- most likely through Bamford's glimpses into the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) -- The Main Enemy is instructive, helping us to see the value of human intelligence (HUMINT) and its role in world affairs.

While hardly the definitive work on the operations of CIA, The Main Enemy provides valuable insight into the climax of the Cold War. Hopefully its accessible style will help to open this important chapter of history to a wide audience -- not just spy buffs.

Created by cmcurtin
This article originally appeared on Sunshine Poultry.
Last modified 2005-04-12 12:58 PM
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