Ed Appel Sr, retired senior FBI Supervisory Special Agent and Director of Counterintelligence and Security Programs at the National Security Council, recently wrote a review of “Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies” on Amazon and graciously gave the book five stars:
As a retired member of the US Intelligence Community, I found Ray Batvinis’ Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies: FBI Counterespionage During World War II a refreshing history, and a revealing documentary of little-known WW II intelligence facts (some apparently published for the first time). For those who love spy tales, the book is replete with real-life cases of Nazi spies intercepted and turned into double agents by the FBI and its British colleagues. For insights into how the Allies won WW II, the book sheds clear light on the deception and intelligence collection that provided strategic advantages to the winners, despite intense and unremitting Nazi military pressure.
As the organization that created, ran and succeeded in the first modern civilian overseas US intelligence service, the Special Intelligence Service (SIS) in Central and South America, the FBI is rightly shown as a major contributor to US victory and to American intelligence, including today’s Central Intelligence Agency. CIA’s first station chiefs abroad included several former SIS officers, who were given the choice by J. Edgar Hoover to transfer to CIA upon its founding in 1947.
Former Supervisory Special Agent Ray Batvinis, himself one of the most accomplished FBI counterintelligence professionals of his day, includes all the painful and quirky back stories one needs to illustrate the difficulties of working in a pre-war and embattled world, where rivalries and personal agendas seemed even more pronounced than in peacetime. Truly unique characters abound, including Hoover, William Stephenson, Stewart Menzies, William Donovan, and other icons of intelligence history. Ray captures their personas and some of their peccadillos, as well as those of the double agents and other operations their services ran.
Inside communications from never-before-revealed files of the FBI’s Hoover and secret agencies on both the US and British sides allow Batvinis to tell of the intrigues that were part of every operation, and the lives of every operative. Included are anecdotes that show amazing personal lapses and mistakes, as well as tremendous successes, as the double agents run by the Bureau helped engage and mislead the Abwehr, Nazi Germany’s intelligence and sabotage agency. Adoption of aggressive collection techniques like surreptitious mail surveillance, interception and decryption of diplomatic, military and spy communications and intelligence sharing between close allies are neatly chronicled.
The immeasurable value of British intelligence collaboration with the US before, during and after WW II is part of Ray’s tale, illustrated by FBI adoption of the British Double Cross System. The FBI’s double agent case players come alive in Ray’s engaging stories of struggles with controlling sources, feed materials, communications and payments.
One lesson this book helps provide is the FBI’s ability to address the intelligence needs of a nation as it prepared for, and went to war with an apparently intractable foe. Sounds a little like the FBI’s role in the current war against terrorism, doesn’t it?
Hoover’s Secret War goes beyond solid scholarship and provides an eminently readable, richly detailed narrative, which allows the reader to see the war through the eyes of counterespionage in the Allies’ camp. Not only is this book a must-read for both fledgling or old-hand intelligence professionals, but its contribution to the secret history of WW II is significant, as a key foundation to understanding the truth of the war’s counterespionage.
–Edward J. Appel Sr.