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Unintelligent Counterintelligence : DEADLY ILLUSIONS: The KGB Orlov Dossier--Stalin's Master Spy, By John Costello and Oleg Tsarev (Crown Publishers: $25; 512 pp.)

July 25, 1993|Phillip Knightley | Knightley is the author of "The Second Oldest Profession: Spies and Spying in the 20th Century" (Norton)

On the other hand we have many boring pages about German political groups in the mid-1930s, a sort of "Who's Who" among the Fascists, the anti-Fascists, the Social Democrats, trade unionists, underground groups, Communists and Soviet espionage rigs, including a guide to who was related to whom--"Libertas, the granddaughter of Count Oldenburg und Hertfeld, who had been a close friend of Kaiser Wilhelm II"--and who was sleeping with whom--"Kuckhoff was in touch with Goebbels's embittered ex-wife, who had become Geldor's mistress."

The authors have have been badly let down by their editor. We are told twice on one page that Orlov went to the United States in 1932 to get a genuine American passport, but then we have to wait a further 22 pages to learn how he did it. We are told three times on one page that the volume of Maclean's espionage material threatened to overwhelm his controller and then, for good measure, the amount of material is mentioned again 20 pages later.

The book is riddled with the cliches of espionage writing. "Hard-nosed" FBI investigators "beat an official path" to Orlov. They put aside "the kid gloves" and subject him to "relentless questioning" like "bulls at a gate." Orlov yields information "with the painful slowness of extracting deeply rooted teeth." This has the FBI men "frothing with frustration," and Orlov, "a master of deception" feeling "deeply resentful"--twice in the one paragraph. Orlov was thus a passive accomplice to the mechanisms of the Cold War espionage "into whose works he might have cast a very large spanner."

There are hints that other books are to follow. One hopes they will be better than this unfortunate debut.

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