HARRY ROSITZKE was an American answer to George Smiley. For a quarter of a century he was in the front line of American intelligence's battle of wits with the KGB, in Washington, New York, Munich and Delhi. He also wrote books, raised cattle in rural Virginia and took a PhD at Harvard in Germanic philology.
He wasn't obvious old school OSS/CIA material, one of those smooth-talking scions of the East Coast establishment who coasted into the top jobs when the Central Intelligence Agency was set up as successor to the wartime Office of Strategic Services. Rositzke was born in Brooklyn, and had a brilliant early academic career, which took him from Harvard to Hamburg in the mid-1930s to study experimental phonetics, and then back to the US to teach at the universities of Harvard, Omaha and Rochester. He dressed in the slightly dishevelled manner of an academic or mild eccentric like Smiley.
In 1981, more than a decade after he retired from the CIA, Rositzke accompanied a reporter to the pavement outside the enemy's operational command centre, the town-house fortress embassy of the Soviet Union in 16th Street, three blocks from the White House. He was wearing, the journalist recorded, a seersucker suit, a scruffy raincoat and desert boots. All the while he chain-smoked L&M cigarettes (though he did not inhale).
But in the next breath he repudiated the analogy with John le Carre's fictional Smiley. "I was just re-reading part of Smiley's People," he told the journalist:
The point is, academic training teaches you to look at the facts, to weigh the facts. But Smiley couldn't exist in a real environment.
Rositzke, by contrast operated in a very real environment - if a world of institutionalised deception and double-cross may be described as real. When he started his Soviet work in 1946, Stalin's Russia was still, nominally, an ally of the US.
His base was a decrepit barracks on the banks of the Potomac river, in an office with no carpet, and just an ancient green desk. His sole colleague was the head of registry, as he recalled, "a bright, dignified, precisedly articulate lady who smoked cigars". Occasionally, he lunched with a then unsuspected foe, Kim Philby, MI6's man at the British Embassy.
By 1949 however, Rositzke was in business in earnest against a Soviet …