Book Review The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell
The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee is an account of Brian Regan, a dyslexic Air Force Master Sergeant who downloaded thousands of pages of highly classified information then tried to sell the information to foreign governments. The book begins when the FBI intercepted a coded offer to sell secrets to the Libyan government. The FBI didn’t know who sent the message, but this person must be caught. If the information fell into the wrong hands, there would be immense damage to the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus. Cracking the codes would be key to determine who the traitor was.
Due to his dyslexia, Brian Regan never learned to spell properly. He performed poorly throughout his school age years. Ostracized by other students, Regan was an outcast who barely made it through school. When it came time to graduate high school, he was given an opportunity to take an exam for entrance into the military. He passed the exam by cheating, and received a high enough score to be admitted into a school for Military Intelligence. In spite of his inability to spell and poor performance throughout is school years, Regan did well in Military Intelligence. Regan’s dyslexia was actually an asset because people with dyslexia are able to see patterns that would be difficult for people without dyslexia to see. Regan excelled and advanced rapidly through the enlisted ranks, achieving the rank of Master Sergeant. That’s when his advancement began to stall. As a Master Sergeant with a family, Regan’s debt started to get out of control. The resolution of his debt problems and his path to financial security and was to offer the nation’s secrets for sale. Regan printed off thousands of documents, smuggled them out of the office, and hid them in the woods all without detection.
The subtitle of the book is A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code and the FBI’s Hunt for America’s Stolen Secrets. As an intelligence analyst, Regan received basic instruction on secret messages and codes. Code breaking was not Regan’s primary specialty but he did use his training and self instruction to develop his own secret codes. Coded messages are a major part of the story as the book provides history lessons and instruction about codes and cyphers and the FBI’s efforts to crack Regan’s secret messages.
The agents were able to track the messages to Regan and catch him in the act of espionage, but that wasn’t the end of the story. There would be a trial, and the agents still needed to find the thousands of documents Regan had hidden – before they fell into the wrong hands.
It seems the United States government doesn’t know how to keep its secrets. Time and time again we hear of people who download thousands of pages then leaked the secrets to WikiLeaks. Although The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell is the story of Brian Regan, it does briefly mention other notorious spies who stole sensitive information. Why do all of these people have access to information they don’t need for their jobs? Why do these things happen over and over again? Why was Regan able to print off and smuggle thousands of documents out of a secure facility – All without detection? How can a person unable to manage their debt maintain their security clearance? The book doesn’t answer these questions. These are questions the government should answer.
The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell was well written, informative, and held my attention throughout the book. Anyone interested in secret codes, stories of espionage, traitors, and FBI investigations, should find this to be a captivating book.