01 February 2006

James Rusbridger - Spy tradecraft books

It was a defence approach, at my trial in 1993, to show what spycraft or tradecraft methods can be found in the public domain, and my lawyers asked a specialist in espionage methods, James Rusbridger, to help research and comment on particular issues within my case. Mr Rusbridger helped my defence by collecting evidence from spy novels.

Mr Rusbridger completed his task and, following my conviction, I expected he would also help me in my preparations for an appeal. However, on 16 February 1994, shortly after my trial had ended, Mr Rusbridger was found dead at his Cornish cottage in mysterious circumstances - he was found hanging, and wearing a
protective chemical suit and a gas-mask.

In the preparations for my trial James Rusbridger was sent the letter below:

To: James Rusbridger
Jasmine Cottage
Lanivet, Cornwall

April 1993

From Tuckers Solicitors

Dear Mr Rusbridger,

Re: R v Michael John Smith

We act for Michael Smith in connection with an indictment alleging counts of espionage for trial at the old Bailey on 8th June 1993 for 6-8 weeks.

We refer to your recent telephone conversation with junior counsel and we now formally instruct you to act as our expert in this matter.

The engagement will be on the following terms;

(i) You will not copy or disseminate any of the documentation you are sent;

(ii) You will not communicate its contents to any person without our prior permission;

(iii) You will not communicate your views on the documentation to any person other than Smith’s defence team without our permission;

(iv) You will maintain a confidentiality bar until the proceedings (including any appeal proceedings, if appropriate) have been concluded.

(v) You will be instructed on a fee paying basis.

Attached are copies of the following documents;

(i) Bound document entitled exhibit analysis prepared by counsel;

(ii) Copies of the Williams documentation and alleged tradecraft documents (pages 271-276);

(iii) Page 76/77 Cundy’s statement;

(iv) Mrs C’s statement page 62-65

(v) Mr Gordievsky’s statement page 175;

(vi) Gehring’s statement at page 132.

(vii) Note from Junior counsel.

(viii) Requests for Disclosure nos 1 and 2.

(ix) The indictment.

We await your early response. Please advise of any holiday commitments in June and July.

Yours sincerely,
Richard Jefferies.

Mr James Rusbridger was asked specifically to try to identify examples of spy tradecraft that could be found in available books, to show that the claims being made by the prosecution were exaggerated. Below is the list of techniques that Mr Rusbridger discovered.

NOTE: All the John Le Carre books mentioned are readily available from Amazon online, but the others may be out of print and you may have to look for second-hand copies if you wish to check the tradecraft details.

Tradecraft in The Public Domain
The following is a list of publications from which we have extracted passages or sentences which describe the use of tradecraft.

The Honourable Schoolboy - John Le Carre
(London, Pan Books 1978 edition) 1st pub. 1977

The Secret Pilgrim - John Le Carre
(London, Coronet/Hodder & Stoughton 1991 edition) 1st pub. 1991

The Russia House - John Le Carre
(London, Coronet/Hodder & Stoughton 1990 edition) 1st pub. 1989

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - John Le Carre
(London, Pan Books 1975 edition) 1st pub. 1974

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold - John Le Carre
(London, Pan Books 1964 edition) 1st pub. 1963

The Seeds of Treason - Ted Allbeury
(London, New English Library 1988 edition) 1st pub. 1986

SIRO - David Ignatius
(London, Headline Books 1992 edition) 1st pub. 1991

Mole - William Hood
(New York, WW Norton 1982 1st edition)

Spy vs. Spy - Ronald Kessler
(New York, Scribner’s 1988)

The extracts referred to fall into the following categories:-
(A) General
(B) Signals
(C) Meetings (arranging, going to, fallback arrangements, pre-arranged contact)
(D) Counter-surveillance
(E) Dead Letter Drops
(F) Recruitment
(G) Equipment

Turning to each in more detail:-

(A) General

1. “The methods - called ‘tradecraft’ - described in this book are not unique to CIA. Except for the Soviet proclivity for murder, kidnapping, and blackmail, there is not much difference in espionage methodology east or west. Tradecraft may seem mysterious to outsiders, but it is little more than a compound of commonsense, experience, and certain almost universally accepted security practices. In the past 80 years newspaper accounts, informed novelists, and historians - particularly of World War Two - have put considerable tradecraft into the public domain. In 1976 Senator Frank Church made an immense amount of data available to anyone willing to plough through the reports of his Committee investigating the CIA.

The fact is that tradecraft is like arithmetic: it has been around for centuries. The basics are easy to learn and good texts can be found in any library. Although it is easy to make mistakes under pressure, only the advanced aspects - like multiplying fractions or manipulating double agents - are particularly complex.” (Mole - William Hood Pgs 14 & 15)

(B) Signals

1. “At Green Park, by way of a recognition signal, he carried a Fortnum & Mason carrier-bag … Hovering at the embankment, on the other hand, he clutched an out-of date copy of Time magazine”. (The Honourable Schoolboy - John Le Carre Pg 111)

2. “Approaching the houses, Jerry glanced casually at the upper windows. In the second from the left stood a lurid vase of dried flowers, the stems wrapped in silver paper. All clear, it said.” (The Honourable Schoolboy - John Le Carre Pg 144 & 145)

3. “She had twisted a piece of heather into her mailbox for good joss, and this was the safety signal.” (The Honourable Schoolboy - John Le Carre Pg 201)

4. “He had put them both in a plastic carrier bag. Wicklow had insisted. Not just any bag but this bag, advertising some beastly American cigarette and recognisable at five hundred meters.” (The Russia House - John Le Carre Pg 247)

5. “That evening, he walked a hundred yards up the hill to the telephone kiosk. On the wooden frame behind the kiosk he saw the blue chalk mark. Just a short vertical stroke about four inches long.” (The Seeds of Treason - Ted Allbeury Pg 270 &271)

6. “Taylor knocked on the door at ten the next morning. ‘Is Mr Yakub there?’ he asked, following the prearranged script.” (SIRO - David Ignatius Pg 375)

7. “… ‘I’ll be waiting for you at the fountain above the entrance. If I have my arms crossed when you see me, like this’ - Taylor folded his arms - ‘that means there’s a problem. I’m being followed or something, and you shouldn’t approach me. You should come back to the same place the next day, an hour later’.” (SIRO - David Ignatius Pg 377)

8. “… ‘I’ll give you the same signal if there’s danger, with the same fallback plan. Okay?’.” (SIRO - David Ignatius Pg 381)

9. “Recounting his stay in Moscow, Popov was surprised to learn Domnin had not known that he was in Schwerin. Had the Moscow man missed the signal on the post?

‘We spotted a chalk inscription but it meant northing - we weren’t even sure you had made it,’ Domnin told him.” (Mole - William Hood Pg 203)

10. “… ‘Put your back to the wall,’ Pavlov said. ‘Look straight ahead to the right. You’ll see another road that crosses the shopping centre. It comes to a dead-end at the fence posts,’ he said. ‘At the fourth post from the right, you find a crushed pack of Marlboro Green Cigarettes with further instructions’ … The instructions told him to drive to the Twinbrook Plaza shopping centre in Rockville. He was to park his car, walk across the street, and find a utility shed next to a 7-Eleven on a side street. At the base of the fourth fence post from the left, he would find a crushed Coke can containing more money and instructions for the next meeting.” (Spy vs Spy - Ronald Kessler Pg 73 & 74)

11. “On the cellophane, Ismaylov laid out a schedule of drops and told him how to signal that he had received his money by leaving a Sunkist orange soda can near a certain stop sign. If Ismaylov had to meet with Yogi urgently - perhaps, he said to tell him that the US was about to invade Afghanistan - he would draw a vertical line with pink chalk on a electric pole at Telegraph and Farmington Roads.” (Spy vs Spy - Ronald Kessler Pg 233)

12. “… ‘These meetings you had with Irina: the dead letter boxes, the safety signals and fall backs. Who proposed the tradecraft: You or she?’

‘She did’.
‘What were the safety signals?’
‘Body talk. If I wore my collar open she knew I’d had a look around and reckoned the coast was clear. If I wore it closed, scrub the meeting till the fall back.” (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John Le Carre Pg 60)

13. “… ‘What’s the procedure for contacting Polyakov if you want a crash meeting?’

‘My boys have a room on Haverstock Hill. Polly drives past the window each morning on the way to the Embassy, each night going home. If they put up a yellow poster protesting against traffic, that’s the signal’ …” (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John Le Carre Pg 380)

(C) Meetings

1. “… required him to saunter from a given point of departure, usually some rather under-populated area like the recently extinguished Covent Garden, and arrive still on foot at a given destination at a little before six … on the first evening his destination was the embankment side of Charing Cross Underground Station … On the last evening it was the multiple bus stop on the southern pavement of Piccadilly where it borders Green park”. (The Honourable Schoolboy - John le Carre Pg 110)

2. “… no further contact till the night of day five, when he demanded - and got - a crash meeting within the hour. This took place at their standing after-dark emergency rendezvous, an all-night roadside café in the new Territories, under the guise of a casual encounter between old colleagues.” (The Honourable Schoolboy - John Le Carre Pg 110)

3. “Then Oskar would say, ‘alright, I’ll meet you tomorrow at my sister’s for a drink,’ which meant ‘pick me up in your car on the corner of so-and-so street in one hour’s time’ … If none of the phone calls worked, then he would resort to a car pick-up … the iron rule for such meetings is that the agent in the field is king, and it’s the agent who decides what is the safest course for him …” (The Secret Pilgrim - John le Carre Pg 168)

4. “When the plane touched down at the airport in Vienna he had done exactly what they had told him to do. First buying a copy of Stern at the bookstall, then walking over to stand under the departures information board. It was almost ten minutes before he saw the man with the meerschaum pipe and the copy of Railway Modeller. Mayhew followed the man to the car park until he stopped at a grey Volkswagen. The car door opened and he got into the passenger seat alongside a tall man in a blue suit who took his bag and reached over to put it carefully on the back seat.” (The Seeds of Treason - Ted Allbeury Pg 62 & 63)

5. “… ‘Let’s start by setting the time and place for our next meeting. That way, if we have to break off suddenly, we’ll know how to make contact’.” (SIRO - David Ignatius Pg 376 & 377)

6. “In the event Popov could not use the letter drops, Domnin also gave him the telephone number of a CIA office in Europe. All Popov had to do was to call and say that ‘Max’ wanted to speak to Colonel Grossman. The station would alert headquarters and within a week Domnin would be at hand to answer Popov’s next phonecall.” (Mole - William Hood Pg 185)

7. “Six weeks later, at 7.30 pm Stine walked up to the payphone at Heritage Mall in Annandale. He stood there for forty five minutes. The phone never rang. O’Keefe had told him the six-week delay was so that the Soviets could check him out … The next meeting would be for real. O’Keefe told him to take a pencil along. Pavlov would probably be giving him instructions and the icy winds would make the ballpoint pen freeze up …” (Spy vs Spy - Ronald Kessler Pg 73)

8. “At the embassy, he said, the Soviets had asked him to drive to a pizza shop in Falls Church, Virginia, on the last Saturday of each month. There, he was to wait for a call on the payphone at 8 pm. If the caller said, ‘We have something for you,’ he was to fly to Vienna to meet the Soviets there.” (Spy vs Spy - Ronald Kessler Pg 215)

(D) Counter-Surveillance

1. “It was a desolate spot that de Jong had chosen for his picnic: a strip of canal with a couple of shell-torn pillboxes, some parched, sandy fields and on the eastern side a sparse pine wood, lying about 200 yards from the gravel road which bordered the canal. But it had the virtue of solitude - something that was hard to find in Berlin - and surveillance was impossible.” (The spy who came in from the cold - John le Carre Pg 83)

(E) Dead Letter Drops

1. “For the trip, the Soviets left $2,000 in a magnetic key container at another payphone.” (Spy vs Spy - Ronald Kessler Pg 215)

2. “From now on, Ismaylov would pick up his documents and leave cash for Yogi at drop sites. While drop sites have their dangers - someone could pick up the items by mistake - personal meetings were even more dangerous.” (Spy vs Spy - Ronald Kessler Pg 233)

3. “When he sobered down he got thinking about Irina and their time together, and he decided before he flew back to London to go round their dead letter boxes to check whether by any chance she had written to him before she left.” (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John le Carre Pg 53)

(F) Recruitment

1. “In Vienna the operations residency was primarily concerned with the recruitment of Austrians …” (Mole - William Hood Pg 175)

(G) Equipment

1. “First came the use of the pads of stationery with specially treated carbons for invisible writing on top of normally written letter; then the more complicated instruction on the preparation of microdots using the Minox camera and the microscope with its reverse lenses. The technical process he grasped quickly, but he had to practice again and again, using the hypodermic needle to lift the dot out of the emulsion and place it as a full stop on a typed letter, until the KGB man was satisfied … The afternoon was spent on the less complicated use of one-line pads.” (The Seeds of Treason - Ted Allbeury Pg 63)

2. “It was a brief message. A terse sentence instructed Popov to cross into West Berlin on the S-Bahn and gave the telephone number that he was to call once he was across sector border. Inscribed on a small bit of grey rice paper, it was rolled into a pellet no larger than a pea. Karl would carry it loose in his overcoat pocket.” (Mole - William Hood Pg 200)

3. “On the driving seat was a tobacco tin, and in the tin was a small nickel cartridge. De Jong knew exactly what it contained: it was the film cartridge of a sub miniature camera, probably a Minox.” (The Spy who came in from the cold - John Le Carre Pg 82 & 83)


  1. As for me, I would had presented this:

    "What do you think spies are: priests, saints and martyres? They're a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives. Do you think they sit like monks in London balancing the rights and wrongs? I'd have killed Mundt if I could, I hate his guts; but not now. It so happens that they need him. They need him so that the great moronic mass that you admire can sleep soundly in their beds at night. They need him for the safety of ordinary, crummy people like you and me". - "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold" - John Le Carré, Chapter 25, "The Wall"

  2. Yes, strong words! I wonder if this quote applies to people like Viktor Oshchenko, Vasili Mitrokhin or Oleg Gordievsky - are these the good guys or the bad guys? I think James Rusbridger was one of the good guys.

  3. Anonymous3:56 AM

    7. “… ‘I’ll be waiting for you at the fountain above the entrance. If I have my arms crossed when you see me, like this’ - Taylor folded his arms - ‘that means there’s a problem. I’m being followed or something, and you shouldn’t approach me. You should come back to the same place the next day, an hour later’.” (SIRO - David Ignatius Pg 377)

    A very interesting piece indeed.

    Did you know that certain covert radio transmissions, easily available to those with a suitable receiver and a modicom of Morse training occur one day, transmitting the next if the message thay carry is active?
    [In other words not a train of numbers just to keep the SIGINT service busy in the host country to the message recipient].

  4. Anonymous4:15 AM

    So James Rusbridger was wearing a Noddy NBC Suit - wonder where that came from?

    Wasn't a minor MP found dressed in rubbish bin bags with an orange in his mouth trying to heighten some sexual stimulation by controlled strangulation some weeks previous to Mr Rusbridger's unfortunate demise?

    Perhaps he was topped too?

  5. Conservative MP Stephen Milligan was found dead on 7 February 1994, just over a week before James Rusbridger. Both deaths appeared to be in similar circumstances, with rumour that they were both linked to sado-masochistic sex practices. However, is that what we are expected to believe? Like all these inexplicable events, the whiff of conspiracy is never far from the surface. I guess we need an insider to spill the beans on this one.