Sunday, April 05, 2015

Spy Dust

The world of spies, probably because it’s so shrouded in mystery, has always been intriguing.  I think this holds true for most people, as evidenced by the abundance of books advertising themselves as historically accurate as well as the standard fiction.  Both genres have seen success as movies.  My interest in spies typically does not dwell in the world of fiction, but in the realm of history and current events, although I did read and mostly enjoy the original Bourne trilogy.  World War II and the Cold War have always interested me, and that is also true as far as spying goes.  I actually heard about the book Spy Dust a few years ago, but never read it, thinking the title was maybe just a little bit too outlandish to really be about something that was real.  (It turns out that it really is a real thing and something not just used by intelligence services, but police departments, too.)

Book cover.In Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations That Helped Win the Cold War (ISBN: 978-0-7434-2853-8) by Antonio and Jonna Mendez with Bruce Henderson, spy dust itself plays a rather minor role.  The two authors and their craft, disguises, get the majority of the attention.  The story follows both authors in their CIA careers a few years before they came to know about spy dust through an operation that saw them defeat the theretofore undefeated powder.  Antonio was a master of disguise with years and years of experience; Jonna more of an extremely talented up-and-coming star in the CIA.  The book focuses on their teamwork to exfiltrate someone they claim was a well-connected and high-placed Soviet spying for the U.S.  The operation included a handful of Americans and the Russian and his family.  They used all their disguise know-how, which includes a lot of things that aren’t so much about disguises, but simply about how one ports oneself and how people are not able to notice every little thing if what one is doing mostly follows the normal routine.  The daring operation defeated the Russians’ spy dust and got everyone out of the country safely.

In general, I enjoyed the book.  I thought the main story as well as a couple of the smaller operations discussed in the build-up to the one that gave the book its title were very interesting.  When they finally got to telling about that final operation, it was actually pretty exciting reading, and I think I whipped through it pretty quickly with great anticipation, even though it’s obvious the book wouldn’t have been written had the operation gone south.  My big complaint with the book was that it was slow in some parts.  This is especially true when it comes to discussions of the romantic relationship between the two authors, who eventually married.  They talk about it having an impact on their work, but that still seemed to me to be a minor detail and not something that needed to take up scores of pages.  Maybe shorter books don’t sell?  I personally thought the big operation in Moscow could’ve handled a little more detail, and with the discussion of the authors’ personal lives left out, the book would’ve really been cool.  It was an interesting look at one small but important piece of the Cold War, but probably could’ve more than just interesting.

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