cover image King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America’s Spymaster in Korea

King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America’s Spymaster in Korea

Blaine Harden. Viking, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-525-42993-7

Journalist Harden (The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot) mines a broad spectrum of archival records, legal documents, and personal interviews to reveal the sordid side of one of Cold War America’s most notable intelligence operatives. In 1946, Donald Nichols (1923–1992) was an anonymous motor-pool sergeant when he attracted the attention of a U.S. intelligence system flailing in the Cold War’s murk. After three months’ training, Nichols was assigned to a backwater: South Korea. By 1950 he had developed unrivalled connections, from President Syngman Rhee downward. Nichols accurately predicted the North Korean invasion and spent the war conducting an increasingly spectacular and comprehensive intelligence campaign. Harden acknowledges Nichols’s “exquisite gift for clandestine operations” but presents Nichols as a loose cannon given a free hand by both U.S. and Korean authorities. Nichols witnessed, sanctioned, and participated in atrocities and war crimes; described himself as unfit to manage what he called “a legal license to murder”; and admitted to needing “tighter supervision.” He was also a sexual predator. With the war over, Nichols became expendable, receiving shock therapy and Thorazine as part of his military psychiatric treatment. Harden’s Nichols is both a victim and an exemplar of a war that “most Americans never debated, let alone understood.” Photos. [em]Agent: Raphael Sagalyn, ICM/Sagalyn. (Oct.) [/em]