James Heaphey: Legerdemain

by Rachel Baker on June 17, 2008

LegerdemainThe President’s Secret Plan, The Bomb, and what the French Never Knew…Legerdemain is a real life story of a former US Air Force undercover operative in the 1950s. James Heaphey gives us first hand insight into the behind-the-scenes treachery and atrocities that accompany geopolitical operations. The author does not just give us insight into the behind the scenes Cold War Politics, but also the politics involved with the French decolonization movement.

The story is mainly set in Morocco, North Africa around an American Air Base that secretly housed nuclear bombers. The subsequent settings include Cairo, Casablanca, Cyprus and Marrakech. The cast of characters includes American, British, and French in the Intelligence community, Arabs, Berbers, Christians and Muslims. The author gives his readers an understanding of how undercover operatives from Britain’ MI6, Israel’s Mossad, America’s CIA, France’s Security Services, the Soviet Union’s KGB, and the French Foreign Legion all work together and against each other – sometimes at the same time as they all tried to out manipulate each other.

Because of this treachery, the title of the book is perfectly chosen. According to websters, Legerdermain means ‘sleight of hand’

The author notes:

“Legerdemain is a classic title for this book because of the cunningly engineered transition in Morocco and because the term accurately depicts espionage as I experienced it – a morally ambiguous world of uncertain alliances and manipulated truths.”

Legerdemain gives insight into how terrorist organizations develop and thrive. The author tells of his intelligence-gathering missions that took place in coffee houses and bath houses in one country, open markets in another, and villages in a completely different country, and then on to outposts in the Sahara. As Heaphey examines the Islamic thinking of the time, and details the development of the terrorist organizations of the area, one can’t help but start to associate the global concerns of the past with aspects of global concerns of the present.

The catalyst for Heaphey’s involvement was the idea that if Morocco joined with American interests, the US would be able to occupy several airbases, giving US Strategic and Tactical capabilities fair superior to what what already in existence if necessary to strike or counter-strike the Soviet Union, in regards to nuclear warfare. The US made this alliance with Morocco without the French having any idea there were atom bombs stored at the Moroccan Air Bases.

Rarely is a memoir captivating enough to cause a reader to forget the story being told is reality and not fiction. Legerdemain by James Heaphey is an incredible absorbing memoir that will appeal to spy novel enthusiasts and historians.

To join in or start a discussion on this book, visit the Old Musty Books book club community.

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