2012 Award

Vadim Birstein's 'SMERSH – Stalin’s Secret Weapon’', "unquestionably one of the most comprehensive, insightful contributions to intelligence literature" according to the award judges, wins the inaugural St Ermin's Hotel Intelligence Book of the Year Award.

“This is a very absorbing, thoroughly readable, extraordinarily detailed account of an organization that many people thought was a figment of Ian Fleming’s imagination. SMERSH had terrible, bloody history and the author tells us every compelling detail. (*SMERSH – a Russian acronym for ‘death to spies’.)

The £3,000 prize was presented by Chairman of the judges, author and intelligence expert Nigel West at the London hotel, Tuesday 12 June.

The St Ermin’s Hotel in St James’s Park, London began this annual award for the best new intelligence book in recognition of the hotel’s long connection with the British intelligence community. The award is open to all non-fiction titles concerned with the world of intelligence and espionage published in English during the previous year and which, in the opinion of the judges, adds substantially to the published literature.

Additionally, the judges made special mention of the veteran journalist Harry Pincher, now in his ninety-ninth year and who, across his writing career as Chapman Pincher has made a unique mark on this genre.

Nigel West :
“Security and intelligence non-fiction is thriving, as the judges on this panel can attest. 2011 was a year in which there were plenty of contenders for this particular prize. It is a paradox that, as far as Great Britain is concerned, there is more written about Whitehall’s supposedly secret departments than any other branch of government, and the same goes for the United States. There are not many accounts of life in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries or Work and Pensions but the moment anything is considered classified, it is open season, and t’was always thus, as we know from Compton Mackenzie, Henry Landau, Willie Somerset Maugham and a dozen others. Actually, in 2011, only two of our shortlist are entirely British.”

The six titles of the short list:

BIRSTEIN, Vadim J. SMERSH: Stalin's Secret Weapon Soviet Military Counterintelligence in WWII (Biteback).
Unquestionably one of the most comprehensive, insightful contributions to intelligence literature, and undoubtedly now regarded as the standard work on what many of us would have considered an almost impossible subject to undertake. However, this is a very absorbing, thoroughly readable, extraordinarily detailed account of an organization that many people thought was a figment of Ian Fleming’s imagination. SMERSH had terrible, bloody history and the author tells us every compelling detail.

COOPER, John. THE QUEEN’S AGENT. (Faber & Faber).
Sir Francis Walsingham is generally credited with being responsible for creating the British Secret Service, and this carefully sourced and crafted history sheds new light on an absorbing foundation to this country’s obsession with espionage. Virtually every modern book mentions Walsingham and the Elizabethan spies; this book explains why.

CORERA, Gordon. THE ART OF BETRAYAL: Life and Death in the British Secret Service (Weidenfeld & Nicolson).
A fascinating insight into SIS’s postwar operations as seen through the personal recollections of named SIS personnel, among them Gerry Warner, Daphne Park and Stephen de Mowbray. Even a few years ago such a book would have been quite impossible to publish, given the restrictions on retirees talking opening, but the author gained their trust and produced an exceptional work.

HANSEN, Peer. SECOND TO NONE: US Intelligence Activities in Northern Europe 1943-1946 (Republic of Letters)
This title is remarkable because it is very original research in an area that has never been written about before, conducted by a first-time author. It is especially commendable for revealing the lengths to which the Americans were preoccupied with the Communist threat in postwar Denmark.

PILLAR, Paul. INTELLIGENCE AND U.S. FOREIGN POLICY: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform (Columbia University Press)
This largely academic analysis of fairly recent events in Washington DC accurately documents the way the US intelligence community has been obliged to adapt to the political and other challenges associated with international terrorism and engagement in the Middle East. Easily the best book written on this topic, even though the author himself is not a practitioner.

WISE, David. TIGER TRAP: America's Secret Spy War with China (Houghton Mifflin)
We all owe a debt to David Wise who perhaps can be credited with developing this genre with The Intelligence Establishment in 1967. Indeed, he cut his teeth with The U-2 Affair in 1962. This volume, half a century later, is a meticulously researched case history of the FBI’s deeply flawed investigation of Katy Leung. For any understanding of Chinese Ministry of State Security operations and their targets in the U.S., this is essential reading in a largely untouched field.


Lifetime Literature Award:

Additionally, the judges want to make a special mention of the veteran journalist Harry Pincher, now in his ninety-ninth year, who has made a unique mark on this genre, dating back to his newspaper scoops, most notably with the famous cable-vetting expose and his landmark revelation, Their Trade is Treachery in 1981. He has been persistent and consistent in ferreting out the evidence of hostile penetration of the Security Service during the Cold War, and his recent Treachery serves to tie up many of the loose ends in an especially controversial area of study. Accordingly, to recognize Harry’s very special place among writers in this specialist field, the judges wanted to give him a lifetime literature award that is intended to encourage him to produce much more of the same!


The St Ermin’s Hotel has a long and rich connection with a variety of UK and foreign secret organizations. First opened as a hotel in 1899 its close proximity to Broadway Buildings, the headquarters of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) throughout the 1930s and 40s made it a convenient and discreet venue to meet agents.

In fact, the hotel became so familiar to the British intelligence community that in March 1936 SIS took over an entire floor to accommodate a new organization known only as ‘Section D’ (D for destruction). Headed by Colonel Lawrence Grand, its task was to prepare plans for the sabotage of strategic sites in Europe that might fall in the event of another world war.

In 1938 Arthur Owens, the double agent codenamed SNOW by the British and JOHNNY by the Abwehr, was interrogated by Naval Intelligence Division as well as MI5 officers. Later, when SNOW attempted to penetrate the British Union of Fascists, he claimed that the hotel was one of several fronts run for the benefit of what he described as ‘the British Secret Services’.

In July 1940 Section D was absorbed into an entirely new Special Operations Executive, based in Baker Street, which continued to use the hotel as a meeting-place and operational headquarters, extended into the adjacent block where there was a suite of unmarked offices.

In his memoirs, My Silent War, Kim Philby recounted how he had been interviewed at the hotel when he was first approached to join the Secret Intelligence Service, and had visited Guy Burgess at his office in the building.

Cambridge Five traitors Philby and Maclean are reputed to have frequented the Caxton Bar whilst the hotel’s continued proximity to government and security forces offices ensures its continued use by intelligence officers both domestic and foreign.


The Judges :

Andrew Lownie has written several books including a biography of John Buchan, edited the collection North American Spies and is the author of a forthcoming life of the spy Guy Burgess. A former journalist specialising in intelligence, he has been a literary agent since 1985, representing many authors in the espionage field.

Daniel J. Mulvenna is an intelligence bibliophile and historian, retired from the Security Service of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after 22 years’ service as a counter intelligence officer. Based in Washington, D.C. for the past 12 years he has lectured to Government security and intelligence agencies on counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism.

Glenmore Trenearn-Harvey is a British intelligence analyst, writer, broadcaster and lecturer on security, intelligence, espionage and terrorism.  He is Editor-in-chief of the World Intelligence Review and associate editor of Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine.

Michael Smith is an author and screenwriter; his many books on espionage include the No 1 bestseller Station X and Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews. His most recent is an unofficial history of MI6 - SIX: The Real James Bonds 1909-1939. He was previously an award-winning journalist for the BBC, the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times.

Nigel West is an intelligence historian specialising in security and intelligence topics. He is the author of more than thirty non-fiction titles and was voted by the Observer ‘The Experts’ Expert’ in his field. He is also the first recipient of a Lifetime Literature Achievement Award from the U.S. Association of Former Intelligence Officers.