The Spy Within: Larry Chin and China's Penetration of the CIA Hardcover – Sep 9 2008
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"Suspenseful cloak-and-dagger reenectmentment of the FBI sting that exposed a Chinese-American double agent in 1985.... Hoffman possesses a solid command of his material and conveys the secretive nature of espionage agencies with a novelist's panache."
— Kirkus Reviews
"Hoffman is a skilled writer and definitely succeeds in producing a page-turner. It is written much like a screenplay, with a lot of attention paid to describing characters, their thoughts, and their surroundings. He lets you live inside the mind of a Chinese spy, an American traitor, or a stressed and sleep-deprived FBI agent. Hoffman allows you to experience the isolation, the fear, the adrenaline, the disappointment, and the huge responsibility weighing on the shoulders of all of his characters. This book was born to be made into a great spy thriller movie."
— The McGill Daily
About the Author
Tod Hoffman is the author of three previous books, including Le Carre's Landscape and Homicide: Life on the Screen. An eight-year veteran of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Hoffman served for a period on the Counter-Intelligence: China desk. He attended the Institut d’etudes politiques de Paris and earned a master’s degree in political science from McGill University.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I particularly appreciated the author's addition of information to set the historical background of the Chinese Civil War, Korean War, Cultural Revolution, and Nixon's visit to China. I felt he was weak in explaining China's role in the Vietnam War and Sino-Soviet relations during the Cold War. The author seems to jump to conclusions about reliance on Mr. Chin's spy activities by Chinese top leaders. I especially saw this lacking during the explanation of Chin's role during the Korean War.
Although I find the information about spycraft and the recruitment of spys fascinating, I particularly wanted to find out what motivated Chin to be a spy in the first place. The author, Tod Hoffman, does a good job in the comparison and contrast of Oriental and Western European motivations and values. At the beginning of the book Hoffman briefly describes Chin's ultimate vulnerability, his children. But, there is probably not even a paragraph's worth of information about them for the rest of the book. I am fascinated with someone like Chin who does not seem to be very ideologically motivated and who has been exposed to advantages of living in the USA and yet continues to spy on behalf of the PRC. He is a much more complex person than seen in this book or he is a person who only craves money and recognition.
The book ends with an extensive bibliography and endnotes. In particular, I referred to the endnotes numerous times while reading to find out the source of matters claimed to be fact. The conspiracy allegations in the final chapter left me curious for more information. I tried to locate a copy of Mrs. Chin's book: Death of My Husband, but I was unable to locate it through either my local library or Amazon.com or even the Library of Congress. I am rather curious about this book since Mrs. Chin alleges in the Abatement court documents that she did not speak/read/write English very well and was dependent upon her husband.
I was on the edge of my seat when Nixon visited China. Finally, we would be able to peer behind the Bamboo Curtain and see what was going on. The backdrop to the visit was the Cold War and Nixon's policy of triangulation. The Soviets and their spies were an ever-present danger. The likelihood that China might also be spying on us didn't appear to me to be a viable possibility. The Chinese were too different. Their culture and values were alien to the West. Their people didn't even look like us. They would seemingly not be able to blend in like Russian agents.
Little did I suspect that it was that dissimilarity in culture and language that made us vulnerable. Who better than a native speaker to translate documents and broadcasts coming out of the PRC? The story of Larry Wu-Tai Chin, born and educated in China who became a translator for the State Department in 1948 and later for the CIA, all the while spying for China until he retired in 1981, is told in this volume.
This is a compelling story that is not done justice by the author, Tod Hoffman. The book's biggest flaw is its choppy narrative flow. What could have been written like a thriller is instead told from too many points of view with the author occasionally injecting himself into the narrative "imagining" scenes and dialogue where a source is missing. The story jumps around in time, going back and forth between the "now" of whichever source is being used as a viewpoint and the past. In between scenes from the FBI's investigation and subsequent interrogation of Larry Chin, we are treated to, among other things, a brief history of 20th century China, the author's vision of how an informant might be recruited and the tale of a French spy who was seduced by a Chinese man posing as a woman. All of which serves as a huge distraction from the unique story of a spy who managed to remain undiscovered for his entire active career.
Mr. Hoffman's writing is as inconsistent as his storyline. It veers from novelistic to scholarly to what appears to be his research notes merely cut and pasted into the text. He is also prone to slang ("being as...") which can be jarring in the midst of more scholarly prose.
Larry Chin's career spanned many decades. As the Freedom of Information Act brings more material to light, additional details of his activities will likely be discovered. It is my hope that in the future another, more able author will pen a new telling of this incredible tale and do it the justice that it deserves.
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