Top Spy Thrillers and Espionage Novels of 2013

The year 2013 proved to be a very good year for intelligent, well-crafted spy thrillers. (You can click on the following links for my list of 2012’s top spy thrillers and 2014’s top spy thrillers).

My picks for these top cloak-and-dagger novels published in 2013 follow.

A Delicate Truth by John le Carré

The celebrated spy novelist John le Carré (aka David John Moore Cornwell) knows both how to tell a story and how to fashion a morally ambiguous fictional world. Both of these literary skills are on full display in A Delicate Truth, which critically examines the premises and conduct of the recent GWOT (Global War on Terror) and (not surprisingly) finds it wanting.

A Delicate Truth

The novel’s English protagonist, Toby Bell, a somewhat jaded young Foreign Office functionary, becomes aware of a botched commando-style raid on a house in Gibraltar where a “high-value target,” an arms buyer linked to Islamist extremists, is supposedly present. He learns that Operation Wildlife, the rendition of this supposed terrorist, has been orchestrated by a small and unsavory rogue group that includes a CIA operative, an Anglo-American defense contractor, an American evangelical right-winger, and the overly ambitious British government minister Bell has been serving as private secretary. Deeply troubled by what he has discovered, Bell finds himself risking all to expose the cover-up of the failed, and clearly illegal, mission.

As in nearly all of his post-Cold War novels, le Carré’s villains in A Delicate Truth are greedy corporate executives, CIA officials, corrupt Brits who enable the CIA, and First Worlders who oppress Third Worlders. The problem with A Delicate Truth is that the book’s plot is driven by moral outrage at the collateral damage caused by Operation Wildlife, but Operation Wildlife is, quite frankly, small potatoes in a Drone Wars world, where the President of the United States asserts his right to execute American citizens suspected of terrorism without due process. What le Carré wants us to find shocking in the dubious programs of the Bush-Blair era (rendition, enhanced interrogation, etc.) already have been replaced by GWOT policies on steroids (targeted killings by drone, NSA surveillance programs of massive scope) that involve much greater lethality.

There’s no questioning le Carré’s mastery of the genre, and A Delicate Truth will keep you turning the pages, but missing from the novel—surprising for a writer known for his subtlety—are shades of gray, of nuance, of ambiguity. Le Carré, whose politics appear to mirror those of Tony Benn, never acknowledges the difficult choices that Western governments have to make in confronting the rise of militant Islam. How should democratic societies respond to an ideology (Wahabi Islam) that violently rejects Enlightenment ideas? How should le Carré’s beloved rural Cornwall deal with homegrown radicalism, with those who advocate replacing English common law with sharia? Blaming George W. Bush and the CIA and American foreign policy for the Boston marathon bombing or (closer to le Carré’s home) the beheading of an British soldier on a London street in broad daylight by two suspected jihadis requires ignoring reality. The indelicate truth is that radical Islamists reject secular Western values and culture and will continue to do so regardless of shifts in Western policy.

The Shanghai Factor by Charles McCarry

The young, never-identified-by-name American agent in Charles McCarry’s latest novel makes a rookie mistake: he falls in love with a mysterious and alluring woman, named Mei (codenamed WILDCHILD), who is apparently working for Chinese intelligence in Shanghai. Their often strange affair can be seen as a metaphor, of sorts, for the complicated and troubled relationship between the U.S. and China.

McCarry populates The Shanghai Factor with intriguing and memorable characters: an American spymaster who plays mindgames with his subordinates; a Chinese CEO who despises the barbarians of the West and exploits their greed and arrogance; a deadly assassin who makes her living as a gourmet chef; and a Park Avenue WASP who faces her fatal cancer without flinching.

In the end The Shanghai Factor transcends its genre as it reminds us of the emotional costs of love, the compulsion of passion, and the often-overlooked psychic strain of espionage. McCarry is far from sentimental as he outlines clearly the differences between East and West—cultural, political, and spiritual—and suggests we are farther from understanding each other than we like to think.

Dominion by C.J. Sansom

C.J. Sansom says he’s intrigued by the idea of alternative history. His latest novel, Dominion, imagines England in 1952 after the Nazis have won the Second World War. In this counter-factual world, instead of turning to Winston Churchill to organize a defense of Britain in 1940, the Tories instead select Lord Halifax as prime minister and he surrenders to the Germans after battlefield defeats in France.

Dominion

Sansom paints an imaginative portrait of Europe under Hitler’s thumb—there’s continuing conflict between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union but Moscow has fallen and Stalin has been executed, replaced by Marshall Zhukov and Nikita Khrushchev. In the United States, the newly elected president, Adlai Stevenson, is hostile to the Nazis unlike his isolationist predecessors. German Jewish refugees in Britain have been forcibly repatriated to the camps in Germany and there are rumors that British Jews, already forced to wear the yellow Star of David, are next.

Against this backdrop, Sansom has written a traditional spy thriller with plenty of action and skullduggery. Part of the fun in reading Dominion is how he inserts real-life historical figures into the inverted reality he has created. Some, however, have failed to see the humor: Enoch Powell’s widow was infuriated that the Tory politician was portrayed as part of the pro-Nazi British puppet government in the novel.

Sansom’s protagonist, a British civil servant, David Fitzgerald, has joined a Resistance cell connected to Churchill, who has gone into hiding, and becomes involved in a desperate effort to keep atomic secrets out of the hands of the Germans. That twist in the plot seemed shaky on factual grounds: is it likely that the Nazi scientists who invented the V-1 and V-2 rockets, jet fighters, and other advanced military technology would have failed to build an atomic bomb independently after more than a decade of experimentation?

Dominion, while often imaginative and well-written, doesn’t rise to the level of Sansom’s Winter in Madrid and that’s primarily because much of the suspense in the book is undercut by a somewhat predictable ending which is telegraphed well before the close of the book. Yet Dominion is still an entertaining and enjoyable summer read (a best-seller in Britain!).

(My review of Sansom’s novel Winter in Madrid can be found here.)

A Man Without Breath by Philip Kerr

In A Man Without Breath, Bernie Gunther, a former Berlin cop and the hero of Philip Kerr’s noir novels, delves into the horrors committed in the Bloodlands, the area in Eastern Europe contested by the Nazis and Soviets during World War II. In the spring of 1943, Gunther is tasked with producing evidence that Stalin has ordered the execution of the Polish officer corps at Katyn Forest. At the same time, Gunther must solve a series of grisly murders of German soldiers. He recognizes the absurdity of police work under a criminal regime, and yet he strives to do the right thing, expose the guilty, and bring about a measure of justice.

A Man Without Breath is the ninth novel featuring Gunther, who is a master of snappy comebacks. His willingness to openly mock Nazi pretensions is amusing, but fantastical: it’s hard to imagine Gunther could hurl his veiled insults at German military and political leaders and still survive. Yet he’s a charming rogue and we know his copper’s heart is in the right place.

Masaryk Station by David Downing

Masaryk Station

David Downing titled his previous five John Russell novels with the names of Berlin train stations (the books in the series are titled Zoo Station, Silesian Station, Stettin Station, Potsdam Station, and Lehrter Station). For Masaryk Station, the final novel in the series, Downing turned to Prague’s train station named after the famed Czech nationalist leader Thomas Masaryk (whose son, Jan, the Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia, died under suspicious circumstances in 1948—it’s probable that he was thrown out of a second-story Prague window by a Soviet agent).

Downing brings an end to his series with an intelligently plotted and thoughtful novel. Set in 1948, Masaryk Station finds Russell, an Anglo-American journalist who has been forced to work for both the CIA and KGB, traveling throughout Eastern Europe on various clandestine missions as the Cold War begins to heat up. In the end Downing invents an intriguing scenario whereby Russell can safely bid farewell to his days as a double (if not triple) agent.


Copyright © 2013 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

Click to purchase the critically-acclaimed First Trumpet Cold War thrillers by Jefferson Flanders: Herald Square, The North Building, and The Hill of Three Borders.


Top Spy Thrillers and Espionage Novels of 2012

It was a good year for literary spy thrillers. The six novels briefly reviewed below are, in my estimation, the best of 2012.

My list skews to the historical. I’m not a big fan of modern techno-thrillers where gadgets dominate and where the human factor gets lost. (Come to think of it, that’s one of the problems with the focus of US intelligence today). So there are some bestsellers in the genre that don’t appear on this list.

Three of the authors highlighted are American (Kanon, Furst, Littell) and three English (Downing, Smith, and Cumming). They are all accomplished storytellers who strive not only for historical accuracy but also to illuminate and examine the moral ambiguities inherent in spying.

With that said, here are my picks:

Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon

Istanbul Passage

Kanon is a master at the background research that helps him capture the small details that make his books so believable. Istanbul Passage offers an intriguing look at the spy games played in Turkey’s ancient city after the Second World War. Kanon spins a tale that involves a part-time American spy, Leon Bauer, who is drawn into protecting a Romanian operative and Nazi collaborator who may also be a war criminal but has intelligence that Washington wants. There’s a subplot involving Mossad operatives seeking to run Jewish refugees past the British blockade of Palestine that adds to the intrigue. Kanon touches upon the conflict between accountability and expediency that surfaced in his 2001 bestseller, The Good German. All told, an absorbing read.

A fuller consideration of Istanbul Passage can be found here.

Mission to Paris by Alan Furst

Furst’s Mission to Paris marries a traditionally-plotted story of espionage with an extended celebration of the joys of living in the world’s most stylish city. His protagonist, Frederic Stahl, an American film star of Austrian origins who lived in Paris as a young man, has returned to the city in the late summer of 1938 to make a movie. When Stahl refuses to help German agents spread anti-war propaganda in France, he becomes the target of the Nazis.

Furst’s decision to have a celebrity, a well-known movie star, as the protagonist of Mission to Paris, is an interesting authorial choice. In many of his other novels Furst tells his story through down-at-heels characters (freelance journalists, exiles in Paris, a ship captain, a mid-level police official, a member of the Resistance on the run) and because they operate on the margins, there’s a natural built-in tension. Furst has to work a little harder to scare up threats to Stahl, but by book’s end he has succeeded.

A fuller consideration of Mission to Paris can be found here.

Young Philby by Robert Littell

Young Philby

Littell, author of The Company, reimagines the story of the British double agent Kim Philby, focusing on his early career. Littell chooses to have the people in Philby’s life—lovers, Moscow Center intelligence officials, his Soviet handlers in the field, his friend and fellow agent Guy Burgess—paint a picture of the most infamous spy of the 20th century. And Littell has some fun weaving in a broad cast of characters into novel: Stalin, Franco, de Gaulle, Beria, James Jesus Angleton, and Philby’s larger-than-life father St. John Philby.

Novelists and historians alike have long explored Philby’s motives for turning against his class and country and Littell offers up an inventive (and implausible) explanation for this treachery in Young Philby. I think he betrayed for less complicated reasons: Philby was a charming sociopath who found excitement in espionage and took pleasure in secretly attacking those in authority.

Lehrter Station by David Downing

Downing’s British-American journalist hero, John Russell, returns to post-war Berlin in this the fifth novel in the popular series. Russell once again is caught between multiple intelligence agencies (British, American, Russian) all trying to manipulate him to their ends and he once again finds a clever way to evade numerous and dangerous traps. Lehrter Station is a solid read, but I’d recommend starting with the first novel in the series, Zoo Station.

I’m curious to see what Downing will do when he eventually runs out of Berlin train stations: the series includes Zoo Station, Silesian Station, Stettin Station, Potsdam Station, and now Lehrter Station.

Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith

Agent 6

Tom Rob Smith’s third Leo Demidov novel, Agent 6 is largely set in the United States. A central figure in the novel is an African-American singer, Jesse Austin, who is closely modeled on Paul Robeson, the wonderfully gifted black athlete, actor, singer and Communist activist. Like Robeson, Austin is revered in the Soviet Union. Like Robeson, Austin’s career stalls as the Cold War heats up. But unlike Robeson, Austin has none of the flaws or imperfections that his real-life counterpart had, and this makes the book less interesting. It’s a shame, because the tragic story of Paul Robeson, and the Faustian bargain with the Stalinist Devil that he struck could have inspired Smith to fashion a more rounded and interesting character.

Agent 6 is, nonetheless, entertaining and well-crafted and features an interesting detour to Afghanistan during the Russian occupation. I do find it ironic that Smith—so sure-footed in his portrayal of Soviet life in the 1950s in his first two novels, Child 44 and The Secret Speech—struggles with depicting America in the early 1960s.

A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming

The only thriller on this list that is set in the present, A Foreign Country begins with the “find the missing person” premise. Former British secret service operative Thomas Kell is asked to locate Amelia Levene, an MI6 executive scheduled to assume command of the Service, who has vanished while on leave in France. Kell’s checkered past includes an episode involving “enhanced interrogation,” and while Cumming often slides into a reflexive anti-Americanism (channeling John le Carré) he acknowledges that a Kantian prohibition on torture of terrorists would also have moral consequences. Kell shuttles between France, Tunisia, and England as he tries to unravel a complicated plot aimed at Levene where the villains turn up to be part of the home side.


For Top Spy Thrillers of 2013 click here.

Copyright © 2012 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

Click to purchase The North Building, the new Cold War thriller by Jefferson Flanders. You can also find his critically-acclaimed Herald Square at Amazon.com and other online booksellers.

Alan Furst’s evocative Mission to Paris and the City of Light

Mission to Paris

Authors and artists have swooned over Paris, the City of Light, for decades. Alan Furst, who has written some eleven other literary spy thrillers, is no exception. His most recent novel, Mission to Paris marries a traditionally-plotted story of espionage with an extended celebration of the joys of living in the world’s most stylish city.

If you have a taste for spy novels, or a fondness for Paris, you can’t go wrong with Furst’s latest.

The protagonist of Mission to Paris, Frederic Stahl, an American film star of Austrian origins who lived in Paris as a young man, has returned to the city in the late summer of 1938 to make a movie, as stormclouds gather other Europe. Stahl loves Paris: “being back in his old quartier was as though a door to heaven had been left open.”

We see Paris through Stahl’s eyes, and senses:

Walking slowly, looking at everything, he couldn’t get enough of the Parisian air: it smelled of a thousand years of rain dripping on stone, smelled of rough black tobacco and garlic and drains, of perfume, of potatoes frying in fat. It smelled as it had smelled when he was twenty-five.

Yet Mission to Paris is a spy thriller, so Furst must interrupt Stahl’s Proustian memories with conflict and danger. The movie star’s return to Paris is quickly complicated by a Nazi plot to make him one of a growing number of agents of influence in France arguing for appeasement. Furst has researched how the Reich Foreign Ministry looked to bribe, blackmail, and pressure potential recruits in French commerce, the press, and the government to undermine the French will to resist German aggression.

Ah, the French will to resist! The Allies and Charles de Gaulle pushed the myth of the French Resistance hard, but historians have generally debunked it. The historical record suggests that very few in France’s ruling elite actively resisted the Nazis, either before or after hostilities commenced. Widespread pacifism and defeatism reflected the searing wound that the brutal trench warfare of World War I had inflicted on the French psyche—Nazi propaganda and Fifth Column efforts really were superfluous. The French simply didn’t want to fight another war.

French Communists stopped any agitation against Hitler after August 1939 and the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Churchill was so skeptical of French resolve that he ordered the destruction of the French fleet in Algeria in 1940. (When he was asked, after the war, about the impact of French Resistance, Nazi leader Albert Speer responded: “What French Resistance?”)

Nonetheless, a few brave souls in France did oppose the Fascists, so it doesn’t require a complete suspension of belief to imagine that Frederic Stahl would resist being manipulated by the Nazis. This somewhat apolitical actor discovers that his decision—which doesn’t at first seem consequential—will alter his comfortable life, and the ensuing complications will drive the plot of Mission to Paris. Recruited for courier work by an American diplomat/spy, Stahl becomes involved in a risky intelligence operation underway in Berlin. When the “political warfare bureau” of the German Foreign Ministry realizes that Stahl is only feigning cooperation, he becomes a targeted man, and the last third of the novel finds him on the run along with an attractive refugee who has become his lover.

Furst has a marvelous ability to evoke time and place. He takes us to the Paramount studios outside Paris and captures the easy camaraderie of the actors on set; he depicts the open malevolence toward the French Republic among the guests at an elegant Seventh Arrondisement party of aristocrats and German sympathizers; and he describes the sudden violence when a student street march is attacked by right-wing thugs. Furst knows how to paint a word picture: “Winter Paris, Christmas coming, the Galeries Lafayette would have its toy train running in the window, station roof glittering with granular snow.” These superb snapshots of Parisian life make Mission to Paris more than just another genre thriller.

In some of his earlier novels Furst left the reader wondering about the fate of his main characters. Fortunately that’s not the case with Mission to Paris. Frederic Stahl’s brief foray into the world of espionage ends with a straightforward resolution. Furst knows that we’re rooting for Stahl and—wisely, I think—decides against an ambiguous (if not entirely plausible) ending and instead chooses to celebrate the moral courage of a inherently decent man confronted by evil.


Copyright © 2012 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

Click to purchase The North Building, the new Cold War thriller by Jefferson Flanders. You can also find his critically-acclaimed Herald Square at Amazon.com and other online booksellers.

Joseph Kanon’s Istanbul Passage a spy thriller tour de force

It’s hard to write a credible historical spy thriller. You have to get the history right while fashioning a narrative that will keep the reader turning the page. Writing a literary historical spy thriller is even harder: you need to balance believable characters, well-crafted prose, and a consideration of larger themes while maintaining suspense.

Istanbul Passage

Joseph Kanon achieves that balance in his latest novel, Istanbul Passage, which should be regarded as a tour de force for the genre. It’s no surprise that Kanon’s fiction is compared to that of John le Carré and Graham Greene—he tackles the same moral ambiguities that surface in the world of espionage.

Kanon sets his story in Istanbul just after the close of World War II. Turkey stayed on the sidelines for most of the war (entering on the side of the Allies only after it was clear that they would prevail) along with the other countries that remained neutral: Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland.

A few novelists have explored the tensions and ambiguity involved in neutrality: C.J. Sansom looked at life in Franco’s wartime Spain in Winter in Madrid, and Robert Wilson wrote two well-received mysteries set in Portugal during the war, A Small Death in Lisbon and The Company of Strangers .

Istanbul Passage begins in the early days of the Cold War. The novel’s protagonist, Leon Bauer, is a businessman working for the R.J. Reynolds Company who has been helping American intelligence on the side (“An errand boy when I happened to be going to the right place”) and discovers not only does he find clandestine work exciting, but also that he’s good at it. When Bauer takes delivery of a Romanian defector and things go terribly wrong, he finds himself drawn deeper into the struggle between Soviet and American intelligence.

Kanon excels in his portraits of the people in the novel—the portly, amoral document forger; the well-connected Turkish socialite who began life in a harem; the bored diplomatic wives; the competing Soviet and American agents; the Mossad operative who must deal with local corruption, Western indifference, and British hostility. The novel brilliantly evokes the Expat world of post-war Istanbul—the foreign diplomats and businessmen who have created their own closed society. Kanon also weaves into the plot the efforts of Mossad agents to help Eastern European Jews evade a Royal Navy blockade and make their way to Palestine. And then there is the Turkish elite, caught between the two emerging powers, and trying to decide which side to land on.

Kanon touches upon some of the themes of accountability and expediency that surfaced in his 2001 bestseller, The Good German. Where should American intelligence have drawn the line when working with those who were part of the Nazi war-machine? What was the morality of making use of those in the Cold War struggle who could be tried on war crimes charges? (We know the answer in Europe: the Allies made use of the Gehlen organization despite its Nazi past). Should the “enemy of my enemy” be enough to justify making alliances?

My only (minor) quibble with Kanon’s book is that I kept waiting for Kim Philby, the infamous mole, to appear, and he didn’t. In September 1945, Konstantin Volkov, the deputy head of the NKVD in Turkey, walked into the British Consulate in Istanbul intent on defecting. He offered to expose Soviet agents in Turkey and Britain. Cold War history might have been different if Philby, the head of MI6’s Russian Desk at the time and a Soviet agent, hadn’t been the official tasked with handling the defection. Philby delayed his arrival in Istanbul long enough for word of Volkov’s planned escape to reach Moscow Center; a heavily-bandaged Volkov was then seen being hustled board an airplane bound for Russia. Had Volkov made it to London he could have exposed the penetration of the British Foreign Office and MI-6 (the Maclean-Burgess-Philby ring).


Copyright © 2012 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

Click to purchase The North Building, the new Cold War thriller by Jefferson Flanders. You can also find his critically-acclaimed Herald Square at Amazon.com and other online booksellers.

Spies Against Armageddon: a White House must-read?

Veteran journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman have authored a compelling new book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, that should become required reading for President Barack Obama and his National Security Council.

The White House has abandoned “nation-building” and opted for a “small footprint” strategy of special operations missions and drone attacks in the Middle East. If this is the direction for American foreign policy in the region (at least for the short-term), there’s a lot to be learned from the Israeli experience and Spies Against Armageddon offers a deeply researched account of how Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies operate when confronting threats to the Jewish state.

Take, for example, the sensitive topic of state-sponsored assassination (covered in detail in Chapter 22 of Spies Against Armageddon). It is a practice frowned upon by the international law community (which considers assassinations of suspected terrorists to be “extrajudicial killings”), but one that has been employed by the Mossad in its fight against terrorism.

Historically American political leaders have been queasy about endorsing assassinations and confronting the difficult legal and moral questions they raise, especially when the targets are far from armed conflict zones. After the revelation of CIA involvement in assassination plots in Cuba, Vietnam, the Congo and elsewhere, President Gerald Ford signed an executive order banning assassinations in 1976. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush Administration relaxed prohibitions against “targeted killings” arguing that they were a form of self-defense*. Predator drones began firing Hellfire missiles at Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Obama has dramatically expanded these drone strikes, making them the central tactic in American counterterrorism efforts.

In fact, Obama’s enthusiasm for, and acceleration of, “drone wars” has disturbed many of his liberal supporters. The revelation that Obama himself reviews the “kill list” of targeted terrorists, and decides their fate, has been an unsettling image for many. In his Esquire piece “The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama,” Tom Junod directly challenges the President’s current direction: “You are the first president to make the killing of targeted individuals the focus of our military operations, of our intelligence, of our national-security strategy, and, some argue, of our foreign policy.” Junod adds: “Since taking office, you have killed thousands of people identified as terrorists or militants outside the theater of Afghanistan. You have captured and detained one.”

In contrast, Spies of Armageddon argues that the Israelis take a more restrained approach to targeted killing. They prefer the scalpel to the hammer. Raviv and Melman note that:

  • The Israelis are very selective in their use of assassination as a foreign policy tool, despite the public perception (aided by movies like Munich) that they rely on hit squads. Raviv and Melman claim that since the creation of Mossad in the early 1950s “it has been involved in only a few dozen killing operations—certainly fewer than 50.”
  • Their targets tend to be key operational players in terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, or technical support people (bomb-makers, nuclear scientists). Spies Against Armageddon made headlines around the world in reporting that it was Mossad agents, not Iranian rebel groups, responsible for the killings of Iranian nuclear scientists.
  • They don’t go after top political figures.
  • They won’t, and don’t, kill Israeli citizens.

In contrast to this selectivity, the drone programs operated by the U.S. military and the CIA have been aimed at thousands of militants in an increasing number of countries. Drones have been employed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. And most disturbingly, President Obama and his surrogates have claimed the authority to kill American citizens deemed to be terrorists without judicial review or due process. Attorney General Eric Holder has argued that administrative due process is enough—a bizarre position for the nation’s top legal official to take.

It’s not hard to see why the Obama Administration has turned to drones to counter Islamic jihadism. It avoids the costly, and unpopular, use of American combat troops in the Middle East. It does keep Al Qaeda and the Taliban off balance. And it does protect Obama politically from right-wing attacks that he is soft on terrorism.

Yet it doesn’t appear that policy makers have thought through the practical, legal, and moral issues surrounding their reliance on targeted killing. The Obama Administration’s position on targeting American nationals without judicial oversight is a terrible one, arrogating to the President the “power of kings” to unilaterally kill his subjects. There’s also the question of how long this approach can be sustained. Boston University’s Andrew Bacevich, for one, has questioned this continuing “whack-a-mole” approach: “How many Hellfire missiles do we launch from drones before the last violent Islamic radical is either dead or decides that the cause is futile and puts down his arms and goes home?”

These aren’t easy issues to address. Spies Against Armageddon makes it clear that within the Israeli government there is a continuing debate over the limits of action and the ethical boundaries for intelligence agencies in a democratic state. It’s heartening to know that such debates are taking place in Jerusalem. We can only hope that they are happening in Washington as well.


*Lethal force may be employed in self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.

Copyright © 2012 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved