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As I See It... (2 May, 2006)
2 May, 2006
Wanted : Spies. This was a newsflash on BBC Radio in News hour on Thursday 27 May 2006.
It appears MI6 has decided to drop the discreet cautious approach to recruiting personnel, as they used to in the bad old days of dropping a whisper in an ear at Oxford or Cambridge, or sidled up to a chap at the club, looking down at a table littered with magazines, murmured Hello, and gave him the old Masonic handshake, which proved to be negative, just to be right off the bat from the beginning, and suggested a drink at the bar. There, glasses in hand, they smiled at each other. B thought he was being picked up; and in a way he was! C came to the point at once. I have a friend at the Foreign Office, who would love to have a chat with you. Here’s his private telephone number. Give him a ring this evening and mention my name. B did, was invited to the Travelers Club for lunch the next day, and the day after that, B was in the SIS - Secret Intelligence Service to dunderheads!
I knew that the intelligence services in the UK were in a bad way, after Iraq and all that, and their ranks somewhat depleted, but I never though that matters were so desperate that “M” has to put ads in newspapers for potential spooks to apply! I could gather no details as to qualifications, family, education, Experience, and all the other criteria, because the broadcast was rudely interrupted as usual by atmospherics. There is so much pushing and shoving and elbowing on the airwaves that it is practically imposable to hold on to a station for more than a few minutes at a time, before it becomes a babble in Chinese! As far as radio is concerned, technology is impressively progressing backwards.
As everyone would expect, there will be more women aspiring to be secret agents than men. The lesson of the female “M” was not fully understood. The producers of the James Bond series were obviously playing both to the gallery and the Woman’s League enthusiasts. It was destined to be a short-lived gimmick anyway. Women are essential to the secret service - at the computers, telephone exchanges, and archives, and even in bed, but not in the tangle of brawn, muscle and knuckle. Mata Hari comes but once in history, preferably in the form of Greta Garbo!
What experience is required these days for being a successful spy, I wonder? Lloyd’s, Barclay’s Bank, a guards regiment? Or maybe an assistant Floor manager at Marks and Spencer? Advertising agency snoops should do quite well at the espionage game, as it is played these days. They are in the thick of the industrial/business war, aren’t they? A rich harvest could be expected from the grammar schools.
Besides, what is there to spy on nowadays? Everywhere in the civilized world society has become a rag tail and bob tail, such a hodge podge, such a mix up, such an abundance of clippings and odds and ends, that nothing any longer seems decent or in place. Single parents, same sex married couples. Phone service bed boys and dykes - it’s a free-for-all, and who cares what happens, except possibly in Baghdad.
A secret service must have some powerful and positive locus standi. It must be something more responsible than a mere metaphor. It must at the same time possess the ability to completely disappear in an instant, if necessary.
There are complex definitions. A man may be just an agent, or a double agent. That means you are spying for not one side only, but for both - in other words you have a real master or “runner” on what we may call the “home side”, but another deceived master or runner on the other side as well. It may even be required of you to lead a double life, maybe in two different countries. Two identities. Two wives. All too confusing? Now we get nearer the point. You may in fact be drawing two fat salaries! There are also expense accounts, entertainment allowances, operational funds - it could lead to quite a substantial income, and only a little of it taxable!
That’s how it used to be, at least until the end of the Cold War. Let the novels and films of John le Carre be your guide and inspiration. Much of all this must have changed. But nevertheless, if there is so much cash to be made, what is the catch? The catch is that you may easily be killed. And once you enter the service, you really never leave it. You may take your wife and kids to live in a cottage in Kent, happy as a lark, with a lot of dark stuff thrust behind you, away from it all, safe, when suddenly the telephone rings. That must be Bert about the darts match at the pub to night, you think. No. It’s not Bert, old dear, It is a call from the Office.
Let us see how all this sounds in appropriate historical jargon.
“MI6, formally SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE, British government agency responsible for the collection, analysis, and proper dissemination of foreign intelligence. MI-6 is responsible for the conduct of espionage activities outside British territory. It has existed in various forms since the establishment of a secret service in 1569 by Sir Francis Walsingham, who became secretary of state to Queen Elizabeth I. It was constituted in its present form by Commander (later Sir) Mansfield Cumming in 1912 as World War I approached. In the 1930s and 1940s it was considered the most effective intelligence service in the world.”
Now that’s quite reputation to live up to, like being a member of the Reform Club, or a double Ph.D in Philosophy.
“Spy Literature” occupies many shelves in most public libraries devoted to popular fiction. It is in those places of reading and knowledge that the MI6 appeal should find good response. That is where their scouts should be concentrating. I’m not suggesting posters, mind you, but innocuous looking leaflets and application forms et cetera. There are a vast number of real English people who are unemployed today. They should only be too eager to pick up cloak and dagger to serve their country. However, I am aware that the unemployed I am referring to have, through the kindness of socialist social services, become layabouts, drunkards and drug abusers. The future may appear out of focus to them. They may see no hope except quickly to seek oblivion. This is a call to them, and also a challenge.
Don’t throw away your life for nothing. Invest it in something that has a payback. Live outside your fantasies. Work out at the gym for as long as it takes, and get your bulk back into popper shape to enjoy the action as and when it comes, and learn the nimble dance steps that will make it easier for you to dodge the bullets, if and when you need to!
You have a choice in selecting from the spy heroes of fiction one who takes your fancy. I think a general consensus would offer many characters for you to choose from. I am taking the liberty of offering only two types from among my favourities. They are from two extremes. With a few difficult-to-discover traits in common, the principle one required being : Patriotism! One would be the fast talking, fast loving, fast drinking, fast shooting, fast living 007. Ian Fleming’s invention. Or the quiet, methodical, scientific, bookish, relentless George Smiley, (the invention of John le Carre) with his natural aversion to violence, and his expression of puzzlement that people can be so very wicked if the urge overtakes them.