Your weekly briefing from the HQ of secrets

The FBI’s first African American agent

James ‘Jack’ Wormley Jones was America's first black special agent, hired in 1919 to infiltrate US paramilitary groups with radical agendas and ties to the Communist Party and Ku Klux Klan. Born at a military base in Hampton, Virginia he served as a police officer and Army captain during World War I before joining the Bureau at age 35. 




A siren and a spy

Missouri-born Josephine Baker may have been a bikini-clad erotic dancer who headlined at the Folies Bergère in Paris (as well as being the first black woman to star in a major motion picture) but beneath this glamour she worked for military itelligence in the French resistance and helped bring down the Nazis. General Charles de Gaulle awarded Baker the Legion of Honor, the highest order of merit, just one of many highlights of her truly remarkable life.




Shadowing the Black Panthers

At the height of the Civil Rights movement the FBI spied on prominent black Americans including Martin Luther King Jr, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Malcolm X. But why was the FBI so fixated on the Black Panther Party and in particular Bobby Seale, who featured in Aaron Sorkin's film The Trial Of The Chicago 7?




Civil War spy

President Biden proposal to accelerate plans to put Civil Rights spy Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill - perhaps he should also consider Mary Bowser? Bowser was part of the pro-Union underground espionage ring organized by Elizabeth Van Lew during the American Civil War. Despite her accomplishments, a lot of what’s written about Bowser is still shrouded in mystery...




Mandela’s double agent

Bradley Steyn was a privileged white teenager in 1980s South Africa, growing up amidst a culture of racial oppression – apartheid. He worked for the state security services but a meeting with an inspirational freedom fighter changed his life completely. Steyn switched sides, working as a double agent for Nelson Mandela and the ANC. It was a gutsy decision, one that haunted him long after he fled to America.





Playing with fire

Spy fiction doesn’t get much more exciting than Lauren Wilkinson’s stunning debut novel, American Spy. Marie Mitchell is a young, black FBI officer struggling to fit into the ‘old boys club’ of 1980s US intelligence. She is, however, the perfect candidate for a new task force headed to Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in western Africa. Mitchell’s mission is to seduce and undermine President Thomas Sankara, a military leader with a Communist ideology. But Mitchell’s moral dilemma may prove to be her biggest enemy.




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