“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The spying game.

America's Russian spy scandal closes with an exchange of captured agents in Vienna of all places. Cue deep film noir shadow and Harry Lime Theme. Readers of this blog may not be aware of the fact that I am a recognised authority on international espionage. Well, to the extent that I have read every one of John le Carre's books I am. It's the level of sustained deceit required of a spy that intrigues me. In fiction le Carre captures this wonderfully in A Perfect Spy. Magnus Pym is the perfect spy due principally to his huge capacity for deceit. It is no coincidence that Magnus is the son of a master con artist. It is no coincidence either that le Carre based the character of Pym's father on his own conman father. In the real world Kim Philby must count as one of the coolest deceivers of all time. A senior member of MI6, typical establishment figure; and long term Soviet agent. The unpleasant drunken toff hiding the alter ego of unpleasant drunken Stalinist. How do they hold it all together? I would probably be alright at the tradecraft: the secret ink, deadletter drops or whatever and I quite fancy the clandestine meetings in dodgy boozers. But the deceit? I find it difficult to hide the smallest misdemeanours from her indoors. No, espionage is probably not my line of country after all.

1 comment:

henry said...

Russia Today (wonderful Russo-Oligarcho propaganda channel now on Freeview) did some great coverage of their return - more interesting than anything on UK news - including a couple of exKGB geezers who emphasised that they always took a lot of care to see their own spies got home and settled into a normal life on return. (Burgess drinking himself to death was what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, so he did it). And how it was especially important if they were double-agents, because how could they hope to recruit more if they got a reputation for "poor retirement provision"?
The 10 in the US one dismissed as wannabes picked up by the FBI because they needed bargaining chips to swap for the real McCoys held by Moscow. And he reckoned that Putin surrended them in order to pursue a longer game of cosying up to the US as a major ally against China for "scenarios yet to materialise".
And, yeah, "A Perfect Spy" is a really good profile of a screwed-up man. When MI5 was recruiting publicly a couple of years ago, they did emphasise that the kind of person they wanted was the kind that could convince other people by providing a convincing personna. I couldn't do that, I can't convince myself half the time, even when I know I'm right. Also read Le Carre's "A Most Wanted Man" recently - don't think I could cope with the torture either.