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The "Key" to Roman à clef novel, "The Spike"

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message 1: by cool breeze (last edited Jan 02, 2020 05:14AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

cool breeze What a delightful discovery! This spy thriller, a #1 best seller when it was published in 1980, has since largely faded into obscurity.

The Spike is a “Roman à clef”, a novel with a key. This is an honored literary tradition with roots going back at least as far back as Dante’s Inferno.

The Spike was written at the dawn of the internet age, when the authors could not imagine readers being able to research the “keys” so conveniently. It was a bestseller when it was published, and reportedly sparked extensive speculation at the time about “who was who”. To my surprise, I could not find any comprehensive listing of the fictional characters and their non-fictional counterparts on the internet in 2018.

So I decided to create one. This gave me the added pleasure of reading the novel as a detective story, in addition to a spy thriller.

So let’s discuss this Roman à clef with the advantage of the internet and 40 years distance!

Note that the authors 1) sometimes create composite characters 2) sometimes bulletproof themselves against a libel lawsuit by writing the real-life person (that a fictional character is based on) into the novel as themselves, an identifiably separate character (examples: Jimmy Carter, Jane Fonda, Norman Mailer), 3) often keep the fictional entity’s name quite similar to the real-life entity, particularly the number of syllables, 4) often provide lots of identifying information – they want you to guess the character, they just don’t want to get sued.

Not really fictionalized:

Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Kissinger, Walter Cronkite

Brezhnev, Andropov, Beria, Soviet party ideologue Suslov, Kim Philby

Cloned (both non-fictionalized and fictionalized):

Jimmy Carter and related Carter administration characters. Let’s face it, when the novel was published in 1980, at the end of the failed Carter administration, to do otherwise would have been begging for a devastating libel lawsuit.


Press and journalists:

New York World (NYW) = New York Times (NYT)

Xenophon “Zen” Parrish Nutting, NYW Publisher = Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger Sr., NYT publisher (1963-92). Phonetically, the last name is “perish nothing” (or “perish nutting”). I would think there has to be some kind of story to go along with that beyond the obvious obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) of the character, but I don’t know the details.

Leonard Rourke, NYW Managing Editor – almost certainly has to be NYT Managing Editor (1968-86) Abe Rosenthal. The name and ethnicity change weigh against this, but this character was probably this biggest libel threat, so I don’t blame the authors for being exceptionally cautious. On balance, I think it is almost certainly Rosenthal, with the authors’ implication that, for much of his long tenure, he was being blackmailed by the KGB into shaping news coverage in their favor by the threat of revealing what was an unpardonable crime to the left - that Abe had once helped his country as a patriotic service without compensation by providing some cooperation to the CIA in the aftermath of World War II.

*Ed Finkel, NYW National Affairs Editor – probably Max Frankel, who succeeded Abe Rosenthal as NYT Managing Editor in 1986. By implication, he would be the Soviet control agent/blackmailer of Abe Rosenthal, and a traitor.

Pete Lawry, NYW Washington Bureau Chief - probably Bill Kovach (NYT Washington bureau chief 1979-86, a southerner from Tennessee, who liked to drink, slipped notes to reporters), though possibly Hedrick “Rick” Smith (1976-78) or Clifton Daniel (1973-76). Succession - Tom Wicker (1964-68), Max Frankel (1968-72), Clifton Daniel (1973-76, born in NC, stepped down into post from Managing Editor), Hedrick “Rick” Smith (1976-78, born in Scotland), Bill Kovach (79-86)

Sam Vander Kamp, NYW Editorial Page Editor – John Bertram Oakes, NYT Editorial Page Editor

Dick Sharpe, NYW Vietnam bureau chief during the Tet offensive in 1968 – Gene Roberts, NYT Vietnam bureau chief during the Tet offensive in 1968

Bob Hockney – the post-Watergate era “hero reporter” archetype exemplified by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, reworked by de Borchgrave and Moss with themselves and a lot of their allies in the mix

Washington Tribune = Washington Post

Reader’s Companion – Reader’s Digest

Barricades magazine = Ramparts magazine

Michel Renard - ? possibly Jean-François Revel. Must be a French journalist who moved from the left to the right. Possibly partially based on Moss and/or maybe de Borchgrave? Other candidates include Francois Mazure, Jean Thoraval, Jean-Claude Pomonti (but he was transferred out in 1974).

Astrid Renard - ? possibly Claude Sarraute, Revel's second wife from 1967 to his death in 2006. Sarraute was a French actress and journalist and quite good looking in her younger days. reports "as a bubbly adolescent, she was suddenly snubbed by her classmates after the German invasion [she was 13 and Jewish]. After the war, she took her vengeance, she notes, by 'openly flirting with all the boyfriends of the girls who had snubbed me. I stole their boyfriends, one after another.'” [she had just turned 18 at this point]. Sarraute told Europe 1 that she had made a sex tape. This “outrageous nymphomaniac” (Feliks' description) simply has to be based on someone in real life. described Sarraute a "chain-smoker since age 15", but I haven't gone back to see if that was included in Astrid Renard's description.

*Laurie Pritchard, Australian journalist and Soviet disinformation agent = Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett. His son was still defending his utterly blackened name from Hanoi in 2018 here:


Kramar, KGB mastermind, “the heart and brains of Moscow Center” – probably Yuri Andropov, Suslov ally and head of the KGB from 1967-82, when he became leader of the Soviet Union.

Nick Flower, former chief of CIA Counterintelligence = James Jesus Angleton, former chief of CIA Counterintelligence, who was an orchid enthusiast. It is hard not to suspect that Angleton provided intelligence for the book. Angleton and many of the 800+ covert division employees purged in the Carter administration stayed in touch and organized a form of resistance, a sort of shadow CIA in waiting/exile. Part of this effort was focused around “Team B”, an intelligence think tank that challenged the National Intelligence Estimates provided by the CIA. Major players in Team B were Donald Rumsfield, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Pipes and Paul Nitze. Team B was authorized by both President Ford and CIA Director George H. W. Bush.

Viktor Barisov – probably a composite, mostly Stanislav Levchenko and Oleg Kalugin, KGB agents who posed as journalists for many years. Levchenko was stationed in Tokyo with the cover of a journalist for the Soviet magazine New Times. Kalugin served as the KGB resident in Washington, was then promoted to head of Directorate K (foreign counter intelligence) in Moscow and was then severely demoted in 1980 by Vladamir Kryuchkov. There is quite possibly some Oleg Gordievsky in the mix. Gordievsky was a KGB officer who had defected and become a secret agent for the West sometime between 1968 and 1974. Although Gordievsky was not exposed until 1985, he was probably known to de Borchgrave’s sources. Other possibilities: Yuri Krotkov, Josef Frolik.

Major General Mikhail Petrovich Pronk, KGB resident, Paris and Viktor’s long-time boss – probably a composite involving Stanislav Levchenko's "professional nemesis, KGB Col. Vladimir Pronnikov, a dirty trickster who emerges as the incarnation of Soviet evil" and Vladimir Kryuchkov, who severely demoted Oleg Kalugin. The similarity of the names weighs strongly in favor of Pronnikov, but he was the head of Line PR at the Tokyo residency, not the Paris KGB resident.

Phil Kreps, former CIA agent, later a fierce CIA critic and opponent – mainly former CIA agent Philip Agee, with some CIA mole Karl Koecher, who was associated with Oleg Kalugin, and Daniel Ellsberg in the mix.

Gideon Sharon, senior Mossad official – possibly a composite of 1) David Kimche, chief of Mossad’s foreign relations unit, Tevel, during the Carter years, who reportedly conspired against Carter, 2) Menachem Begin, who despised Carter, and 3) Yitzhak Hofi, head of Mossad from 1973-82.


Institute for Progressive Reform = Institute for Policy Studies (changed to Foundation for Progressive Reform in paperback after a threatened lawsuit). "Founded in 1963 by Richard Barnet and Marcus Raskin, the IPS quickly attracted a clutch of former activists in the Students for a Democratic Society, (SDS)". IPS alumni David Aaron, Robert Pastor, Rick Inderfurth and Gregory Treverton had important policy positions in the Carter administration.

*Vladamir Merchant = Samuel Rubin (founded Spanish Trading Company 1930, Faberge Perfumes 1937, major IPS donor)

*Alexia Merchant (Rubin’s daughter) = Cora Weiss (Samuel Rubin’s daughter)

The Transnational Institute = The Multinational Institute (IPS’s Amsterdam-based European arm) (changed to the Third World Exchange and relocated to Brussels in paperback after a threatened lawsuit)

US Government

President Billy Connor – fictionalized President Jimmy Carter in his fictionalized second term

Presidential hanger-on Timmy Hicks – Billy Carter

Connor Chief of Staff Jonah Cobb – Carter Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan

Connor Press Secretary Sam Cody – Carter Press Secretary Jody Powell

Connor National Security Adviser Milorad Yankovich – Carter National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski (father of Mika), with a little John B. Calhoun thrown in

Senator, later Vice President, Edward Milligan – Senator, later Vice President, Walter Mondale, with a little George McGovern and Eugene McCarthy thrown in

*Perry Cummings (deputy director of the NSC and protégé of the VP) – David L. Aaron (Brzezinski deputy, Mondale protégé and IPS associate). By implication, he is a witting Soviet agent and traitor.

Julia Cummings (O’Reilly aide, sister of Perry) – ?????, may be simply the love interest for Bob Hockney, rather than based on a real person. May also be an early exposure of the dirty little secret that journalists have romantic/sexual relationships with their sources. The Christian Science Monitor reviewer described her as a brainwashed Jane Fonda.

Senator Seamus O’Reilly = Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

*Senator Harmon, “from a potato state in the Northwest” – Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho). There is strong implication that he was a witting Soviet agent, if not a deliberate traitor. It is amazing they didn’t get sued over this (unless he was and someone had proof, which there are some suggestions was the case)

Rick Adams, Harmon aide – possibly Frederick A. O. “Fritz” Schwartz Jr., chief counsel to the Church Committee and later a consultant to Vice President Mondale or Peter Fenn, Church’s Chief of Staff or Fred Landis a consultant to the Church Committee

Dick Roth (O’ Reilly aide, “Mossad’s man on the Hill”, Julia’s boyfriend) – probably Richard Perle, aide to Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson in the 1970s

Senator Frank Mahee, freshman Senator from CA – probably freshman Senator Gary Hart (D-CO) who was on the Church Committee. Freshman Senator John Tunney (D-CA) wasn’t on the Church Committee.

Senator Luther Bolt, black Republican from South Carolina – composite of Senator Edward Brooke, black Republican from Massachusetts and possibly Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings, Senators from South Carolina.

message 2: by cool breeze (last edited Jan 02, 2020 05:13AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

cool breeze US Government (continued)

Senator Abe Zwislocki, Jewish Senator from Connecticut – Senator Abraham Ribicoff, Jewish Senator from Connecticut

Bill Crawford – mostly Stansfield Turner (Carter CIA director who purged over 800 agents, most of them in the clandestine service), but partially a composite with someone else, possibly Robert “Blowtorch Bob” Komer (Vietnam pacification program)?

Debbie Walters (Crawford aide) - ???? David S. Sullivan ? Claire Sterling is of the right period and a de Borchgrave associate, but I don't see any indication that she ever worked in government (possibly covertly for MI6), only journalism.

Hyde Lewis, deputy director of the Arms Control Agency – possibly Paul Warnke, Carter’s Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (1977-78) and chief negotiator of the SALT II treaty, which was never ratified. Warnke was a dove on whether Soviet Union was a threat to the US. After leaving the Carter administration in 1978, he founded the law firm of Clifford & Warnke with Clark Clifford. Clifford was later the key figure in the BCCI scandal, which found him to be involved in money laundering, bribery, support of terrorism, arms trafficking, the sale of nuclear technologies, tax evasion, smuggling, illegal immigration, the illicit purchases of banks and real estate, and at least $13 billion in unaccounted funds.

Judge Hawkins, FBI Director – William H. Webster, FBI Director appointed by Carter (and later Reagan’s CIA Director), who was a judge on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals when he was appointed.

“The governor”, who orders the use of tear gas against the students at the beginning of the book – California Governor Ronald Reagan

CIA analyst David S. Sullivan, a Perle ally, seems likely to be in here somewhere. Also it seems like Paul Nitze, who co-founded Team B and opposed the ratification of the SALT II treaty, should be in here somewhere.

Foreign governments

Heinz Minkel, West German Socialist party leader, portrayed as being into BDSM as a submissive with a prostitute – probably Willy Brandt, head of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Germany from 1964-87 and Chancellor of West Germany, 1969-74. Brandt resigned as Chancellor in 1974 after one of his closest aides, Gunter Guillaume, was revealed as a Stasi agent. Brandt was dogged by scandals about serial adultery, including with prostitutes, and reportedly also struggled with alcohol and depression. Brandt was such a notorious womanizer that the German Federal Criminal Police drew up a “Damen Liste” of his liaisons, which contributed to the exposure of Guillaume, who was a principal procurer of women for Brandt. Brandt even bedded Jimmy Carter’s sister, Ruth Stapleton Carter, although both were married at the time.

King Ahmed of Saudi Arabia – King Khalid of Saudi Arabia, 1975-82

Lt. Muhammed Lufti = Col. Muammar Gaddafi

“The tall, immaculately tailored director-general of the UN operation in Geneva, a Piedmontese Italian who rarely quarreled with Soviet wishes” = Luigi Cottafavi, UN Director General in Geneva, who banned the book from their bookstore. He was described as “a political appointee and notoriously unwilling to stand up to governments” and de Borchgrave confirmed a close resemblance.

French Inspector “Mouflon” (real name Jaworsky), who “looked like every French detective who had ever appeared in foreign movies” and who gets promptly and ignominiously killed by the KGB at the beginning of the novel and thereafter forgotten – Likely a reference to the fictional, bumbling French Inspector Clouseau, played by Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther movies that were immensely popular at the time. The point being made is that the stakes are, in reality, all or nothing, and the parties are playing accordingly, not as in some light (Pink Panther) or medium (James Bond) comedy. An innocent, charming and sympathetic “good guy”, who a reader might have easily expected to be one of the heroes, has just been effectively put through a wood chipper in the first 50 pages. This point is probably lost on most readers today, but I doubt it was lost on most readers at the time

Terrorists and their victims

STAR, terrorist coordinating committee – ?????, partially based on the Red Army Faction, but that’s not broad enough

Siggy’s terrorist group – the Red Army Faction (RAF) a/k/a Baader-Meinhof group/gang

Sigismund von Klopp – possibly a composite of “Carlos the Jackal” (Ilich Ramírez Sánchez) and other terrorists from privileged backgrounds (but note that RAF founders Andreas Baader and Horst Mahler are not good fits).

Movimento Stalin – The Red Brigades a/k/a Brigate Rosse

*Marcel Rosse, Paris-based leftist French publisher linked to STAR underground – possibly Louis Aragon, CEO of the Editeurs français réunis (EFR) publishing house. Regis Debray doesn’t seem right

Tessa Torrance – mostly Vanessa Redgrave, with some Jane Fonda and (view spoiler).

Franz-Joseph Faber, German industrialist kidnap victim – Hanns Martin Schleyer, German industrialist kidnap victim


Commissar Mau, “one of the top Vietcong organizers in Saigon” – probably “Tu Cang”, nom de guerre of Nguyen Van Tau.

*Nguyen Canh Lan “Lani”, Viet Cong spy and disinformation agent – largely based on Pham Xuan An, Viet Cong spy and disinformation agent, who worked for Time, Reuters and the New York Herald Tribune. Pham Xuan An was a close associate of Tu Cang, with whom he cased targets for the Tet offensive. Possibly a composite with Tam Thao, another of Tu Cang’s agents.

*Dr. Theophile Marchand, French doctor who specializes in social diseases, senior member of the French Communist Party, KGB agent – likely Dr. Pierre Hautier, a tuberculosis specialist, who reportedly was caught and confessed to the French DST (their FBI) in 1972. Hautier's Vietnamese wife had family ties to the South Vietnamese government, which would have been useful sources of intelligence. Hautier also had contacts with William Colby, the CIA’s Saigon station chief from 1959-62 and later the agency’s director from 1973-76. Colby failed to report those contacts in writing, as required by CIA regulations, leading the notoriously suspicious Angleton to suspect Colby. See this 2014 article:


Herman Quinn – composite?, mostly Norman Mailer, with possibly some Truman Capote, Mickey Spillane and/or Dalton Trumbo thrown in

Leroy Schein, “flamboyant trial lawyer” who had “lost only three cases in his twenty-five-year career”, had “earnings running into seven figures” and was “a man of… prominence in the United Jewish Appeal” – ?????

Cahen d’Enjeu, Franco-Jewish purveyor of 47 varieties of cocktail dip – possibly Henry J. Heinz, founder of H. J. Heinz Company (“Heinz 57 varieties”). Heinz’ parents came from Kallstadt in Alsace-Lorraine, which was disputed between France and Germany for centuries. But Heinz' parents and upbringing were Lutheran.

Tom Flack – Stew Albert?

SDS (Students for a Democratic Society)

Key to the key:

* osnovny agent — the fully committed traitors
doveryonnoe litso — the "trusted persons"
tyomhaya verboura — the unconscious sources. This type of person serves Soviet interests and works under KGB control without realizing what he is doing. Lenin called such people "useful idiots".

message 3: by cool breeze (last edited Jan 01, 2020 12:47PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

cool breeze Updates:

12/31/2019 - Updated the most likely candidate for Michel Renard to Jean-François Revel. Credit and thanks to OregonMuse

12/31/2019 - Updated the most likely candidate for "outrageous nymphomaniac" Astrid Renard to French actress and journalist Claude Sarraute, the second wife of Jean-François Revel. This is a consequence of OregonMuse's identification of Michel Renard as Jean-François Revel.

12/31/2019 - updated the most likely candidate for the composite character Viktor Barisov to Stanislav Levchenko. This is based on the discovery that Spike author Arnaud de Borchgrave, Jean-François Revel and 1979 defector Levchenko jointly participated in print and video work on Soviet disinformation, which is a theme of The Spike:

1/1/2020 - Added KGB Col. Vladimir Pronnikov as a probable basis for character Major General Mikhail Petrovich Pronk. The similarity of the names is highly suggestive. Pronnikov was described as Levchenko's "nemesis".

1/1/2020 added the likely candidate for Dr. Theophile Marchand - Dr. Pierre Hautier, based on this article:

message 4: by cool breeze (last edited Jan 01, 2020 07:09AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

cool breeze Reserved for revisions and commentary due to the goodreads character limit on individual posts, which has already been hit above.

message 5: by OregonMuse (new)

OregonMuse "Michel Renard - ?????, probably based on someone, a French journalist who moved from the left to the right. Partially based on Moss and/or maybe de Borchgrave? Candidates: Francois Mazure , Jean Thoraval, Jean-Claude Pomonti (but was transferred out in 1974),"

This might possibly be French journalist Jean-François Revel, a socialist in his youth who moved rightward into classical liberalism and free-market economics . His book 'The Totalitarian Temptation' is roughly contemporaneous with The Spike.

message 6: by cool breeze (last edited Jan 01, 2020 12:28PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

cool breeze This seems like it is probably correct. The two-syllable French last name beginning with "Re..." weighs in its favor.

Also, author Arnaud de Borchgrave, Revel and 1979 Soviet defector Stanislav Levchenko jointly participated in print and video work on Soviet disinformation, which is a theme of The Spike: This tends to confirm Revel and forces me to revise my judgement of Viktor Barisov from Oleg Kalugin to Stanislav Levchenko. Levchenko led me to his "nemesis", KGB Col. Vladimir Pronnikov, as a candidate for the character of Major General Mikhail Petrovich Pronk.

Near-certain confirmation would be whether Revel's wife could be identified as the "outrageous nymphomaniac" Astrid Renard. Revel's second wife from 1967 to his death in 2006 was French actress and journalist Claude Sarraute. There is some evidence that Sarraute was fairly promiscuous in her younger days. See her revised entry in the key for details.

Thanks for your comment resulting in four good updates to the key!

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