Most Secret Agent of Empire
Reginald Teague-Jones, Master Spy of the Great Game
A compelling biography of the English master-spy whom Stalin feared, with good reason, who roamed Eurasia and chameleon-like, vanished, only to reappear in America, decades later, still practising espionage.
Dubbed an ‘agent of British imperialism’ by Joseph Stalin, Reginald Teague-Jones (1889-1988) was the quintessential English spy whose exceptional story is recounted in this new biography. He studied in St Petersburg, participated in the 1905 Revolution and spent the rest of his life working for various branches of British secret intelligence. Plunging into the Great Game, he participated in daring operations against the Bolsheviks and tracked down a turbulent German agent, Wilhelm Wassmuss, who was spreading anti-British propaganda in Persia. Teague-Jones was also held responsible for the execution of ‘the 26 Commissars’ after the fall of the Baku Commune in 1918. This became one of the Soviet Union’s most powerful cults of martyrology, inspiring a poem by Yesenin, a Brodsky painting, a 1933 feature film and an immense monument. Shortly after, Teague-Jones changed his name to Ronald Sinclair and adopted a secret persona for the next five decades, for part of which he worked undercover in the United States as an expert on Indian, Soviet and Middle-Eastern affairs, possibly in collaboration with the OSS, the new American secret service. In his swan song in espionage he kept a gimlet eye on the Soviet delegation to the UN in New York. For these reasons, and many others besides, Reginald Teague-Jones is the most important British spy you have never heard of.
‘It is undeniable that Teague Jones is a worthy subject of a biography [but] the book’s strength lies as much in [Ter Minassian’s] ability to convey the overall strangeness of the entire situation. … Ter Minassian is a scholar; the book reflects this.’ — Peter Gordon, Asia Review of Books
‘The book boasts a superb collection of Teague-Jones’s own photos, but their sepia period tinge fades as the reader realises how much the spy’s life “illuminates present developments in the regions between Russia, Central Asia, Transcaucasia, India, Pakistan and the Middle East, the lands of the old and the new, Great Game”. Tom Rees’s translation is a flawless flow that captures both nuance and vernacular.’ — The Independent
‘Ter Minassian [has] an impressive command of the political and cultural minutiae of the world in which Teague-Jones was operating … There is lots of intriguing and well-argued stuff here.’ — The Spectator
‘Ter Minassian’s industry has certainly been worthwhile … [her] book adds much interesting detail to our understanding of Reginald Teague-Jones.’ — Journal of British Studies
‘Most Secret Agent of Empire is a fascinating insight into the actions of a man who many … will not have heard of, but who nevertheless played an important role in British imperial intelligence during the twentieth century … The author is to be particularly commended for her incredibly detailed and precise research … Beyond simply examining her biographee’s extraordinary life, she has provided the reader with a thoroughly detailed background in which to place the events about which she is analysing. This all results in a book which, while certainly useful to the academic historian, can also be enjoyed by all those who have an interest in the history of espionage, Asia, British imperialism, and early Soviet history.’ — Charlotte Catherine Botfield, Intelligence and National Security
‘A wonderfully engaging tale of secret service. This is the gripping story of Reginald Teague-Jones, an intelligence officer with a ring-side seat on the clandestine struggle for influence in Central Asia between the Russian and British empires, and a full-blooded account of revolution and rebellion along the Silk Road and across all of central Asia.’ — Richard Aldrich, Professor of International Security, University of Warwick, and author of GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency
‘A well written and thoroughly documented biographical narrative of the life of Reginald Teague-Jones, an Englishman who saw service as a political officer in British India as well as in the Near East. It will appeal to a wide audience interested in intrigue, espionage and ripping yarns and to those with a developed enthusiasm for early Soviet history.’ — David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, Professor of History, Brock University and author of Russian Orientalism: Asia in the Russian Mind from Catherine the Great to the Emigration
‘Impressively researched and written in an extremely lively and engaging fashion, this tale of derring-do should find a wide audience. It will be of interest to anyone interested in the history of the Soviet Union, or indeed those of the British Army and intelligence services, the Great Game and the genesis of Kemalist Turkey. Ter Minassian’s evocation of time, place and personality is vivid and highly enjoyable and makes for a very colourful and informative piece of popular history.’ — Jonathan Smele, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, Queen Mary, University of London, and author of The ‘Russian’ Civil Wars, 1916-1926
‘An immensely valuable follow-up on the publication of a broad selection of Teague-Jones’ notes and correspondence under the title The Spy Who Disappeared.’ — Charles van der Leeuw, author of Kazakhstan: A Quest for Statehood and Storm Over the Caucasus
‘Based on Teague-Jones’s voluminous papers … Most Secret Agent of Empire is a valuable intelligence biography of historical and professional interest.’ — Studies in Intelligence, CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence
‘Ter Minassian skilfully knits together Teague-Jone’s own narratives with details gleaned from other sources, the earlier meticulous research of Brian Pearce, and her deep knowledge of the relevant historiography … This is a very entertaining book, immaculately translated, and “Great Game” fans will not be disappointed. It also makes a serious contribution to the history of the Russian revolution and Civil War in Central Asia and Transcaucasia.’ — Alexander Morrison, History: Reviews of New Books
Taline Ter Minassian is a historian at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, INALCO, Paris, specialising in Soviet and Middle Eastern studies. She is the author of Colporteurs du Komintern, L’Union Soviétique et les minorités au Moyen-Orient.