General Intelligence Encyclopedias

O - Z

O'Toole, George J.A. The Encyclopedia of American Intelligence and Espionage: From the Revolutionary War to the Present. New York: Facts on File, 1988.

Clark comment: Within the range of its subject matter -- American intelligence -- and the time period covered ("the present" is the mid-1980s), O'Toole's work gets my vote for the "best of show." It is usually accurate, shows the result of thoughtful selection criteria, avoids polemics, and is nicely illustrated and presented.

Campbell, IJI&C 3.1 recognizes that O'Toole has done a "massive amount of research" and produced "a volume of generally high standards.... The role of intelligence in American wars is discussed in a particularly helpful manner." The entries are "generally accurate, though the author does make some minor errors"; and the treatment of the subjects "is, for the most part, objective." This is "an impressive work which should be in every intelligence library."

For Weber, JAH 76.4, the Encyclopedia is "a first-rate and fascinating contribution," comprised of data "drawn from wide-ranging open sources." O'Toole's "map of the foreign intelligence field contains many basic bench-marks for all American foreign intelligence specialists." While generally positive about O'Toole's work, Lowenthal suggests that it often reads "like an OSS roster." Clark comment: There is some truth to Lowenthal's comment, but O'Toole is also quite strong on brief biographies from the American Civil War period as well.

Polmar, Norman, and Thomas B. Allen. Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage. New York: Random House, 1997. London: Greenhill Books, 1997. Rev. ed. 1998. 2d ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

"Spy Book seeks to describe spies, their tradecraft, the agencies they work for, and the acts of espionage that they have performed. In the almost 4,000 years since the first mention of spies in the Old Testament, many thousands of men and women have spied and worked at breaking into others' communications; many thousands of spymasters and case officers have directed their efforts; and scores of intelligence agencies have served dozens of countries. From this multitude we have chosen those we believe have had the most influence on world events, as well as those we felt were the most interesting." (xi)

Click for my full-length, detailed review of Polmar and Allen, as carried in International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 11, no. 2 (Summer 1998): 239-242.

Bates, NIPQ, Spring 1997, calls Spy Book "a fine addition to ... reference texts on intelligence." The "ample cross-references ... reduce redundancy and still make it possible for a researcher to get a complete story." The reviewer notes, however, that attempting a work of this type has its pitfalls, since "any intelligence professional can go to entries of his or her particular area of expertise and find things which, in their view, are incomplete or questionable."

To Kruh, Cryptologia 21.3, Spy Book is "a valuable reference work ... [that] will also provide hours of pleasurable browsing and learning." Jonkers, AIJ 17.1/2, believes that the work will prove "[u]seful for researchers and students." For Price, Sea Power, Nov. 1998, Spy Book is "a thoroughly researched, authoritative, and well-written resource on espionage." He notes that the 1998 edition "includes information about the most recent spies to make the headlines."

Watt, I&NS 12.4, declares that Spy Book "is an excellent encyclopedia -- as far as it goes. But it reflects a narrow view and a narrow coverage of the sources available, and one which is particular to the United States." This view is shared by the reviewer for Newsletter 5.2 (International Intelligence History Study Group, at, who finds that the "selection of individuals to some extent concentrates on Anglo-American intelligence experts and uncovered spies for the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries, as well as on the many defectors from both sides, and the European countries are a bit neglected."

"[A] necessary source book for anyone who writes on intelligence" is how Goulden, Washington Times, 31 Oct. 2004, describes an expanded paperback edition of the earlier version of this work. "The reissue gave the authors an opportunity to clean up a handful of glitches that marred their earlier work."

Peake, NWCR, Winter 2000, finds that "[i]n most cases [the authors] have filtered out the fiction while presenting the material in a very reader-friendly format." Absent from the work are any mentions of "information warfare or of the problems that e-mail and the World Wide Web have created for counterintelligence." And Peake points to a number of errors, including an inaccurate reference to The Penkovsky Papers as black propaganda.

Commenting on the second edition, Peake, Studies 49, no. 1 (2005), says that with the corrections made in this edition, Spy Book is "the most accurate" of the various encyclopedias of espionage. However, "[a] number of errors remain uncorrected and one should be cautious if detail is important to one's task.... [I]n the absence of a documented casebook on intelligence, Polmar and Allen have provided the next best thing."

Roewer, Helmut, Stefan Schäfer, and Matthias Uhl, eds. Lexikon der Geheimdienste im 20. Jahrhundert [Encyclopedia of Intelligence Services in the 20th Century]. Munich: Herbig Verlag, 2003.

Maddrell, I&NS 20.2 (Jun. 2005), comments that that "[a]nyone with a serious interest in intelligence who is able to read German will want a copy [of this work].... Much of the information the book contains is very useful." However, there is "the occasional mistake. These tend to affect services other than the German and Russian, reflecting the fact that the editors are no longer in their area of expertise." Although "the lack of references to sources weakens" this work, it still "represents a formidable body of knowledge."

For Doerries, JIH 4.1, this work "will be a useful tool for historians outside of Germany seeking introductory data on German agents and events as well as on specific German views on intelligence in the 20th century.... [T]he editors have included a considerable amount of data known to the professional historian but of considerable interest to a less informed general public.... [T]he absence ... of a general index is a serious flaw often preventing the reader from finding names and operations related to a context."

Seth, Ronald. Encyclopedia of Espionage. London: New English Library, 1972. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974.

Pforzheimer says this book serves "as a handy reference -- not a definitive guide -- for the intelligence library." To Constantinides, what Seth includes "seems to have been determined by the availability of material rather than the intrinsic importance of each item.... The space given over to the obscure and unimportant is wasteful.... The bibliographic references are of limited value and miss some works that would better serve the reader."

Smith, W. Thomas, Jr. The Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency. New York: Checkmark Books, Facts-on-File, 2003.

Peake, Studies 47.4 (2003), seems to believe that the only good thing about this "encyclopedia" is that it is arranged alphabetically. The author "takes a less than scholarly approach to his task.... The assortment of entries he has assembled is incomplete and filled with too many errors of fact."

Trahair, Richard C.S. Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004. 2d ed. updated. New York: Enigma, 2009.

Peake, Studies 49.4 (2005), thoroughly trashes this work, calling it "a strong competitor for a position near the bottom of any ranking" of recent encyclopedias on intelligence. "Many of the errors involve dates.... Other entries combine errors of fact and dates.... Then comes the category of plain factual error." All of these errors "could have been avoided with the exercise of due diligence." Commenting on the second edition, Peake, Studies 53.3 (Sep. 2009) and Intelligencer 17.2 (Fall 2009), notes that "while some corrections have been made, inexplicably far too many remain.... [R]eaders are cautioned to check the facts of any entry of interest."

With regard to the third edition, Peake, Studies 56.4 (Dec. 2012) and Intelligencer 19.3 (Winter-Spring 2013), gives the authors credit for making "many corrections," but notes that "some errors remain." Although the book "has many positive features," the reviewer still cautions readers "to check the facts against the sources rather than assurme their accuracy."

Watson, Bruce W., Susan M. Watson, and Gerald W. Hopple, eds. United States Intelligence: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1990.

Clark comment: This work would have been more accurately entitled "United States Military Intelligence: An Encyclopedia of Terms." Among the strengths of this reference work are 70 pages of acronyms (in its heavy preponderance of military-associated terms, the list also reflects the work's limitations), a 13-page chronology of intelligence-related events from February 1941 to March 1989 (to an old FBIS hand, it is heartening that the authors begin their chronology of "modern" U.S. intelligence with the creation of the FCC's Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service), and 25 documents (Executive Orders, laws, Resolutions, and the like) included as Appendices.

Each entry has one or more bibliographic references, a detail that is certainly an overall positive for an individual looking up a single term. However, the editors' referencing is at times carried to a debilitating extreme. For example, the term "overtaken by events" gets a noncontroversial seven-line definition, which is followed by 24 lines listing six references (Becket, Dictionary; Deacon, Spyclopedia; and four Department of Defense publications). In addition, too much of the counterintelligence-related material comes from only two sources, Allen and Polmar's Merchants of Treason, and Crawford's Volunteers.

Surveillant 1.1 says that this encyclopedia has "[s]ome flaws but [is] impressive in size and scope." Theoharis, JAH 77.4, comments that this work is of little value to scholars concerned with general U.S. intelligence policy issues. Its strength "is confined to the areas of military intelligence policy and military strategy in general." For Lowenthal, the value of this work is "[e]nhanced by bibliographic references after many articles, and appendices of key documents." Lee, I&NS 6.4, is impressed with the "scope and diversity of the entries," and concludes that the work "is a valuable resource for the student of intelligence."

Wright, Peter. The Spycatcher's Encyclopedia of Espionage. Richmond and Victoria: William Heinemann Australia, 1991.

Surveillant 2.1: "A witty, bitter, get-even 'core dump.'"

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