Review: Spies in the Vatican–Espionage & Intrigue from Napoleon to the Holocaust (Modern War Studies)

4 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Religion & Politics of Religion

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4.0 out of 5 stars Breaks with Conventional Wisdom; Provocative; Incomplete,

July 26, 2003
David Alvarez
This is quite an extraordinary work. It seeks to correct the impression, held by Allen Dulles, many world leaders, and myself, that the Vatican, as with other select religious organizations like B’Nai Brith, is a world-class intelligence network.Although the book spends as much time discussing efforts by the Italians, Germans, and others to penetrate the Vatican, as it does discussing the Vatican’s mixed and often non-existent intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities, on balance this is an extremely good personal effort, based on some unique documents and research, and it can be regarded as a cornerstone for any future research into Vatican intelligence.

The book suggested to me three “big” ideas that need to be considered by every national intelligence service:

1) Structure and capabilties are needed to study religious intelligence and counterintelligence. Renegade mid-level drop-outs from the specified religious order should be identified and leveraged as required. Taking the Muslim brotherhood as an example (see Robert Baer’s new book, SLEEPING WITH THE DEVIL), it is absolutely unforgivable and unprofessional of both the US Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency to have been prevented from studying the fundementalist and extremist religious movements in Arabia from the 1970’s forward. Bottom line: we need to have relgious “orders of battle” and a clear understanding of what this important international player has in the way of capabilities and perceptions.

2) Secure communications make a very important contribution to candor and accuracy. Perhaps the most interesting part of the author’s story can be found in his many annecdotes about how lack of a secure communications system led to self-deception, fantasy, conspiracy, and inaccuracy. The author is also quite credible in discussing the mediocrity of most Papal cryptographic systems, the lack of manpower and resources for improving this, and the negative results that came about because of a lack of a reliable and truly trusted communications system.

3)Finally, while the author does not cover Vatican betrayals of its own people through the Inquisition, of Muslims through the Crusades, and of Jews during the Holocaust, it is clear from this book that for all its limitations, the Catholic Church is an important global player whose local nuncios and bishops and priests and lay personnel can and should be legally and ethically leveraged for sounder understandings across many cultural divides. I would go so far as to resurface Richard Falk’s 1970’s idea about a world council of peoples and religions, with a twist: each Foreign Ministry must establish a separate Bureau of Religious Understanding, and devote considerable resources to studying and interacting with religious organizations (and cults, although these can be dealt with on a confrontational law enforcement basis).

Religons are one of the seven tribes of intelligence (the others are national, military, law enforcement, business, academic, and NGO-media). The author has made a very important contribution here (albeit with no help from the publisher–the index *stinks*). This book is highly recommended for adult students of intelligence, for policy makers, for religous leaders, and for citizens interested in how their religious affiliation could be legally employed (or illegally abused) in the pursuit of a global information society.

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