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King of Spies - Blaine Harden - <span class="date-display-single">11/03/2017 - 6:00pm</span>

King of Spies

11/03/2017 - 6:00pm

Central Library - Community Room 302

From the New York Times bestselling author of Escape from Camp 14, the shocking, gripping account of the most powerful American spy you’ve never heard of is essential to understanding the most intractable foreign policy conflict of our time. Blaine Harden will discuss this story and the situation in North Korea in conversation with David Maraniss.


In 1946, master sergeant Donald Nichols was repairing jeeps on the sleepy island of Guam when he caught the eye of recruiters from the army’s Counter Intelligence Corps. After just three months’ training, he was sent to Korea, then a backwater beneath the radar of MacArthur’s Pacific Command. Though he lacked the pedigree of most U.S. spies—Nichols was a 7th grade dropout—he quickly metamorphosed from army mechanic to black ops phenomenon. He insinuated himself into the affections of America’s chosen puppet in South Korea, President Syngman Rhee, and became a pivotal player in the Korean War, warning months in advance about the North Korean invasion, breaking enemy codes, and identifying most of the targets destroyed by American bombs in North Korea. 


But Nichols’s triumphs had a dark side. Immersed in a world of torture and beheadings, he became a spymaster with his own secret base, his own covert army, and his own rules. He recruited agents from refugee camps and prisons, sending many to their deaths on reckless missions. His closeness to Rhee meant that he witnessed—and did nothing to stop or even report—the slaughter of tens of thousands of South Korean civilians in anticommunist purges. Nichols’s clandestine reign lasted for an astounding eleven years.


In this riveting book, Blaine Harden traces Nichols’s unlikely rise and tragic ruin, from his birth in an operatically dysfunctional family in New Jersey to his sordid postwar decline, which began when the U.S. military sacked him in Korea, sent him to an air force psych ward in Florida, and subjected him—against his will—to months of electroshock therapy. But King of Spies is not just the story of one American spy; with napalmed villages and severed heads, high-level lies and long-running cover-ups, it reminds us that the darkest sins of the Vietnam War, and many other conflicts that followed, were first committed in Korea.

Blaine Harden

About Presenter Blaine Harden


Blaine Harden has served as The Washington Post’s bureau chief in northeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. He was a nationalcorrespondent for The New York Times and has contributed to The Economist, PBS’s Frontline, Time, and Foreign Policy. He is the author of The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot; Escape from Camp 14, an international bestseller that has been published in twenty-eight languages; A River Lost; and Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent, which won a Pen American Center citation for a first book of nonfiction.


King of Spies

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