Title: Crowns and Trenchcoats
Author: David Chavchavadze
Chavchavadze, David (1990). Crowns and Trenchcoats: A Russian Prince in the CIA. New York: Atlantic International Publishers
Date Posted: April 10, 2013
If you hope to read in this book of clandestine intelligence work across the Iron Curtain, you will certainly be disappointed. Chavchavadze keeps “buttoned up” in that respect. The book is, nonetheless, a very good long read.
Chavchavadze’s mother was a Romanov princess, his father a Georgian prince. He was, therefore, a member of the European royal families, or, more accurately, family. He himself, judging from the photos in the book, looks far more of a Russian than a Georgian. He was born in England half a dozen years after the Bolshevik seizure of power, but brought up from a quite early age in the United States, where he attended Andover (a premier American private school) and Yale. Entering military intelligence as a private soldier, he eventually managed to stop scrubbing mess tins and the like, being promoted to corporal, sergeant, then commissioned. As a Captain, he was sent on liaison duties to Alaska, then a crossroads or funnel of military aid and people travelling between USA and Soviet Union. There were Soviet personnel permanently stationed there to work with his team in Fairbanks. He later regretted his youthful attitudes, standard for the time, being quite pro-Soviet and anti those Russians who fought against Stalin. He blames his views partly on the naive American “liberal”-Left positions taken by his mother and her coterie on Cape Cod (well, the Romanovs in general were never known for their intellect).
After WW2, Berlin, Washington, South America. Slowly his attitudes changed and he eventually joined the newly-fledged CIA operational section, later renamed Clandestine Services. He married three times and met innumerable fascinating people, from his own Romanov relatives to Yul Brynner (whose extraordinary family background—more complex than generally known—is explained), Gromyko, kings and princes and even Svetlana Stalina, daughter of the dictator, whose defection, redefection, and re-redefection fascinated the media from the mid-1960s until the mid-1980s. She apparently even wanted to start an affair with him: a Romanov and a Stalin daughter! That would have made the newspapers sit up and beg! There are also a few impressions —and only impressions—of the dozens if not hundreds of countries he visited as a C.I.A. officer.
The author comes across as quite cultured, probably good company (as befits a “field man”), probably someone who likes a drink or three and someone who is very loyal to the CIA This is a recommended read, but not as a memoir of espionage.