John Barron died at the age of 75 on 24 Feb. 2005. According to eb, AFIO WIN 09-05 (28 Feb. 2005), Barron's KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents (1974) "is still regarded as the seminal piece of work on Soviet espionage."
Barron, John. Breaking the Ring: The Bizarre Case of the Walker Family Spy Ring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
Clark comment: This book was the winner of the 1986 NISC best non-fiction award.
Vona, IJI&C 1.4, suggests that the Walker spy "ring serves as a testament to the power of people in 'low places' who have access to sensitive information in this age of high technology.... [This] book mixes too much story with history. Neither the Walker Spy Family Case nor espionage in the age of hi-tech is treated critically and analytically.... [Barron is] very kind to the FBI.... The book is simply too sentimental and too much of it has nothing to do with the Walker Case.... [Q]uestions of 'turfing,' rivalry, and sharing of glory never arise.... When Barron sticks to the fact[s], he is top-notch."
1. KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents. New York: Reader's Digest Press, 1974. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1974. New York: Bantam Books, 1974. [pb]
Chambers calls Barron's work the "first really good book on the KGB." It is a "mixture of adventure yarns and occasionally lugubrious assessments of KGB capabilities." Pforzheimer says the book is "excellent, authoritative and well written"; however, the section on the GRU "is somewhat weak." To Constantinides, the book's main emphasis "is on the KGB's activities abroad, with chapters describing individual espionage operations.... The KGB's organizational structure ... is outlined, and there is a short section on its internal security function."
NameBase seems less enamored: "Most of the book relates the ugly exploits of KGB assassins and disinformationists in typical Digest idiom, based on the debriefings of various defectors.... Of more interest was the appendix of 1,600 names of alleged KGB and GRU officers posted abroad under diplomatic cover. This appendix was a retaliation for 'Who's Who in CIA,' published in East Germany in 1968 by Julius Mader. Barron told the New York Times (12/25/77, p. 12) that he received 'quite a bit of help' from the CIA."
2. KGB Today: The Hidden Hand. New York: Reader's Digest Press, 1983. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1984. New York: Berkley Books, 1985. [pb]
Chambers comments that "one of the first good writers on the KGB" has followed up his first volume. NameBase says that "[t]his new volume had an appendix of 200 names of Soviets expelled from foreign countries for espionage activities." According to Pforzheimer, KGB Today "largely covers different ground and later cases" than Barron's earlier work. This is a "timely look at what the Soviets call 'active measures.'"
For Milivojevic, I&NS 2.2, this "highly readable and convincing account ... gives an insight into virtually every aspect of the recent operations of the First Chief Directorate." It is heavily based on information from KGB defectors Levchenko, Hermann/Zemenek, and Kuzichkin and spy/agent of influence Hugh Hambleton.
Barron, John. MIG Pilot: The Final Escape of Lieutenant Belenko. New York: Reader's Digest Press, 1980. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980. New York: Avon Books, 1981. [pb]
Clark comment: Belenko defected with his MIG-25 Foxbat in September 1976. Although the defection itself was not an "intelligence event," what was learned from the aircraft and from Belenko touches on intelligence-related issues and was of intelligence value. Pforzheimer notes that Barron's book includes a discussion of Belenko's "debriefing and resettlement ... [which is] more fascinating than the rather routine drama of the escape." Constantinides thought the account valuable because it focused "attention on Western intelligence errors connected with this Soviet weapons system."
Barron, John. Operation SOLO: The FBI's Man in the Kremlin. Washington, DC: Regnery, 1996.
Surveillant 4.3 notes that this is the story of "Morris Childs, who, along with his wife Eva, and his brother, Jack, provided the U.S. with secrets for 27 years" from his position as editor of the Daily Worker. Childs traveled to Russia, China, Eastern Europe, and Cuba and met many of the communist leaders of his day. Although intelligence scholars will question the operation's level of importance, Barron's book, reviews of the book, and future accounts will "help clarify" SOLO's "role in U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War years." For Fontaine, WIR 15.3, Operation SOLO is "a must-read for anyone even remotely interested in intelligence."
On the other side of the evaluation scale, Fischer, IJI&C 10.4, raises the question, "How much should be believed of this carelessly written, factually incorrect, and undocumented book?... The problem with Barron's account is that much of it is 'inherently implausible' (Theodore Draper), some absolutely impossible, and none of it totally confirmable.... Operation SOLO is replete with non sequiturs and many major and minor errors that damage its credibility."
Other reviewers offer a range of opinion on the book: See, for example, Arnold Beichman, "The Incredible Saga of Our Super Spy in Moscow," Washington Times, 9 Mar. 1996, C1; Theodore Draper, "Our Man in Moscow," New York Review of Books, 9 May 1996, 4; Harvey Klehr, "Comrade Heroes; Operation SOLO: The FBI's Man in the Kremlin," American Spectator, Mar. 1996, 70-72; Richard Gid Powers, "Double Agent," New York Times Book Review, 21 Apr. 1996, 20; and Jeff Stein, "Spy in the Ointment," Washington Post, 23 Apr. 1996, D2.
Barron, John. "The Sergeant Who Opened the Door." Reader's Digest 104 (Jan. 1974): 187-194 ff.
Petersen: "Robert Lee Johnson sold NATO secrets to Russia."
Barron, John. "The Spy Who Would Be Free." Reader's Digest, Jun. 1988, 115-120, 215-238.
Petersen: "Chang Fen."
Barron, John. "A Tale of Two Embassies." Reader's Digest 115 (Dec. 1979): 166-120.
Petersen: "Intelligence aspects of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the Soviet Embassy in Washington."
Barron, John. "Tracking China's Master Spy." Reader's Digest, Dec. 1989, 97-99.
Petersen: "Larry Wu-tai Chin, spy in CIA's FBIS."
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