Richard J. Aldrich
John Murray (Publishers) Ltd.
The crucial role of intelligence to the Anglo-American special relationship has long been recognised. In this book, historian Richard Aldrich provides a profound new insight into the nature of that relationship in the first two decades of the cold war.
Intelligence liaison has often been portrayed as a polite variation of espionage, and Aldrich shows the extent this was true even between these closest of allies.
At the start of the cold war both states considered covert action to undermine the Eastern bloc. However, their interests diverged after the first Soviet atom bomb tests in 1949.
Britain was immediately vulnerable to nuclear annihilation, while America still had a few years grace, which created a strong temptation for a pre-emptive strike. For the Foreign Office and MI6 in the early 1950s, a key problem was containment, not so much of the Soviet Union, as of their own more hawkish Chiefs of Staff and of the Americans.
Aldrich also sheds light on many other matters, not least the CIA's covert political activities in Western Europe, much of which was farmed out to private sector think tanks, and which included sponsorship of the European Movement.
He attempts to 'tell the story through documents' but offers a salutory warning about how effectively official archives are weeded. The best example is the concealment of the successful British codebreaking effort against Nazi Germany for thirty years after the war.
As Aldrich notes, beyond the exoteric truth contained in even the most highly classified documents there is an esoteric truth known only to the key players themselves.
Nevertheless, the Hidden Hand represents a remarkable insight into internal debates and divisions in the western intelligence community that may still be relevant today.