Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Spy-Tech A LOOK AT THE FASCINATING TOOLS OF THE ESPIONAGE TRADE by Graham Yost (Facts On File: $17.95; 281 pp.)

January 26, 1986|Kenneth Reich | Reich is a Times staff writer.

The Achille Lauro ship hijacking episode provides a recent vivid illustration of the great importance of the spy and surveillance devices described in detail in this remarkable book.

Operations of such devices are seldom given much publicity, even after the fact, by the government. But almost certainly American spy satellites and listening instruments were vital elements in allowing U.S. forces to keep track of the ship and listen in on the conversations between the hijackers and Palestine Liberation Organization emissaries sent to order them to desist. Within hours, indeed, it has been reported, the government had a transcript of these supposedly private conversations. The evidence adduced from them may well prove important in prosecuting the hijackers and their accomplices.

Spy satellites stationed over the Middle East also may have had a role in confirming that the hijackers, once they had surrendered, were indeed still in Egypt and eventually on the Egyptian airliner that was intercepted by U.S. jets. It is a reasonable surmise in view of the fact that satellite photographic capability is now such, according to this book, that from 100 miles in space, an object only six inches across can be identified through America's KH-11 satellite. It is said to be possible, reports the author, to tell the sex of a cat from such a distance. (It would not be necessary for the cat to be upside down; the size and shape of its head would give the necessary indication.)

New York-based free-lance journalist Graham Yost, formerly an Encyclopedia Britannica editor, is quite sober and, when appropriate, skeptical as he speeds through a precise description and analysis of the tremendous postwar advances in the arsenal and techniques of espionage. But the apparent truth in these matters is so sensational that the average reader is bound to be both excited and entertained, and perhaps appalled too, by the facts he presents.

The capabilities of both American and Soviet spy operations seem straight out of science fiction. With satellites stationed one on each side of the Earth 60,000 miles out, there can be no such thing as a secret atmospheric nuclear explosion anywhere on Earth. Laser beams sent from miles away can pick up the vibrations of voices on glass, ruling out the necessity of installing bugging devices inside a room. New night-vision equipment magnifies light up to 80,000 times, allowing things to be seen in what would appear to the naked eye to be total darkness. Cigarettes filled with explosives are available to kill or maim. American spy agencies the public is scarcely aware of rival even the Central Intelligence Agency in size.

The author fortunately has an excellent command of the vocabulary of espionage and is able, time and again, to explain the most complex matters in simple terms that every reader will understand.

This field is so esoteric that only experts can adequately explain it, much less know what there is to explain. No one who reads this book, which can be recommended almost unreservedly, will be able to read about such things as hijackings or arms control again without realizing that there are espionage and technological aspects to the question that our daily newspapers and magazines are scarcely covering.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|