Light on the shadowy world of cloak and dagger; Reporter probes two superspies; A Wilderness of Mirrors, by David C. Martin. New York: Harper & Row. $12.50
Spying breeds further spying. Disclosures of spying breed further disclosures. A secret covertly revealed becomes a new secret. As one learns of the methods of the Central Intelligence Agency in Berlin in the '60s, one may transpose that knowledge to events in Chile in the '70s. As th e side of any triangle may form the side of any other triangle, knowledge about the history and tactics of espionage increases geometrically. Learn a few proofs and you find that there is a vast amount more to know.
"A Wilderness of Mirrors" is a brief history of some of the CIA's adventures in counterespionage, in the manipulation of double agents. It covers the years since the agency was chartered in 1947, and does so by centering on two high-level agents and on a few viv gnettes of cases in which the CIA and these agents had an avowedly significant part.
The agents are Bill Harvey, "the Pear," and James Angleton, "the Cadaver," so called because of their physical appearacnes. "Harvey was Big Ten. Angleton was Ivy League," David C. Martin sums up. "Harvey collected firearms. Angleton crafted fishing lurs. Harvey was a cop; Angleton a spy Each was a prototype of the two strains -- FBI refugees and OSS veterans -- coming together to form the postwar espionage establishment at the CIA."
Harvey's insistent suspicious about Kim Philby ultimately proved correct and led to Philby's disgrace. His tenacity in cold-war Berlin led to the construction of an elaborate tunnel and wiretap of the Eastern sectorhs espionage headquarters. However, his bravado -- he was introduced to JFK as "our" 007 -- in Cuba, coupled with the impossibility of penetration into its secrets, finally led to his dismissal.
Angleton, the chief of counterespionage at the CIA, was instrumental in the handling of key defectors. His theoretical cunning was unmatched for soem time but finally became so convoluted as to be counterproductive, as Martin portrays him.
Both men failed in the eyes of the company they had helped form because, ironically, of their talents. Harvey did so because he was not able to do everything that his past made him and his superiors believe he could do. Angleton's value diminished because of his unprovable contention that there was a "mole" in the highest reaches of the agency. The ultimate extension of his cunning and his lures, this premise finally exhausted his theorems and turned them against himself.
"A Wilderness of Mirrors" raises more questions than it answers. "This book, " its author write, "begins and ends in mystery, with precious few solutions in between." The presentation of espionage as history contains enormous difficulties. For instance, at least a couple of remarkable novelists -- Graham Greene and John le Carre -- have brilliantly plumbed spying's secrets with no need to document their speculations. They have been able to bring us closer to the heart of spycraft than authors like Mr. Martin, who must rely upon the verifiable but elusive facts.
As well, there is a larger, social history that lurks behind the workings of any government agency. There has been considerable differences in what the American public expected from the CIA during each of the last three decades, and there is ongoing debate over what is to be expected in the future. These changing expectations are alluded to in this book, but only alluded to.
And finally, it is difficult to be sure what measure of truth can be revealed in such a book. In the reading of "A Wilderness of Mirrors," one learns to be wary of what one hears. One learns that the truths a spy may make evident (and it is spies whose testimony provides the substance of this history) may be real but partial truths, deep enough only to convince a hearer of a further validity which may not be forthcoming. Thus the book itself teaches one to wish for more from it. Ironically, for the concerned citizen and the fan of spycraft narratives alike, this may be its best achievement, and accomplishment of merit and no small worth.