BOOK REVIEW / Secrets and gossip that the KGB wants you to read: Deadly Illusions - John Costello and Oleg Tsarev: Century pounds 18.99

Click to follow
THIS BOOK bears the subtitles 'The first book from the KGB archives' and 'The KGB secrets the British government doesn't want you to read'. No evidence is provided for this latter statement. A careful examination of the book suggests that the second statement should read: 'The KGB secrets the KGB does want you to read.'

Tsarev is a KGB operative; more than that, he was one of the 100 or more KGB operatives expelled from Britain in the early Eighties. He was then working under the cover of the London Correspondent of the Soviet newspaper Socialist Industry.

He is now head of the press and public relations office of the KGB. Ironically, his introduction to the book expresses his particular gratitude to General Kryuchkov, who approved the policy of making selected KGB records public and approved his selection of John Costello as his collaborator.

General Kryuchkov, head of the KGB in 1990, is now on trial in Russia for his part in the abortive coup against Yeltsin.

Costello must have commended himself to Tsarev by his obvious willingness to believe in the reliability of KGB records as opposed to British ones. For Costello, Tsarev's control of his access to KGB records proves the KGB's reliability and openness; whereas the retention from research of only one of the 90- odd files on Rudolf Hess's flight to Britain in contrast proves that the British government is still engaged in a cover-up.

Costello's willingness to believe in the absolute truth of the written document is matched only by his determination not to understand anything that contradicts his conclusions. Having been depicted in one of his earlier books as the historian who originally discovered the German records of 1940 on the Duke of Windsor, at a time when I was still a schoolboy awaiting call-up, I can speak from personal experience.

Besides its open agenda, Deadly Illusions seems to have a number of hidden agendas. The aficionado of Cambridge spy literature will now find a fascinating dossier of records on spies and by spies. He or she will not, alas, discover much about what they actually reported and when. This kind of literature seems to be more interested in historical scandal than in historical significance.

One could hardly expect General Kryuchkov to approve any revelation of what use the KGB made of their reports or in what terms they were reported to Stalin. Gossip, psychological profiles, shock, horror, yes. Significant history, no. This is not a well written book; nor is it easy to read. It has some fascinating material. It argues various detailed theories of interest only to Burgess, Philby and Maclean watchers. It bears the imprimatur of a disgraced KGB boss now on trial in Moscow.

It is the joint work of a plausible and clever KGB hardliner and John Costello, about whose historical abilities perhaps the less I say the better. Read it by all means, especially if, like both of the authors, your mind is already made up.