Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Undercover Experts

Espionage is one of those subjects about which a lot of bollocks gets written.  'Intelligence experts' are forever taking to print or broadcast media to give us the 'inside' track on espionage related news stories - confidently telling us all about how our intelligence agencies operate and talking as if they have some kind of inside knowledge.  They can do this because they know that they are unlikely ever to have their 'facts' challenged by the real intelligence community, which, obviously, operates in secret and never comments on press speculation.  But it allows these 'experts' to give the impression that they are somehow associated with the supposedly 'glamourous' world of espionage, clearly hoping that some of its 'mystique' will rub off on them, enhancing their media standing.  We saw that recently with Frederick Forsythe's 'revelations' of his 'career' as an 'agent' for the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), whilst he was a journalist.  The way the media reported it all, you'd have thought that he was James Bond, rather than a journalist and novelist trying to publicise his autobiography.  The reality of his claims amount to the fact that the Foreign Office sometimes approached him for information when he was a foreign correspondent in Africa.  Which would make him, at best, a 'source' rather than an agent.  He wasn't employed by SIS and received no payments from him.  It isn't uncommon for the intelligence services to tap up journalists for information in order to verify other sources, or simply provide a cover for their real, covert, sources.

Forsythe also claimed that later, whilst reporting from Eastern Europe, he was sometimes asked to convey messages to field agents.  Which, again, doesn't make him an agent, just a courier.  But hey, when you are trying to sell a book, what does a bit of embellishment matter?  But Forsythe hasn't been the only person of late pontificating on intelligence matters.  That whole business of the GCHQ analyst on secondment at the SIS who was found dead, zipped up in a holdall in his bath, has resurfaced, with so called 'experts' making the most ludicrous assertions.  As you might recall, the inquest into his death established that the deceased had experimented with bondage and was probably a transvestite, having a vast wardrobe of expensive women's clothes at his flat.  The conclusion drawn by most people was that he's either zipped himself into the bag in some kind of autoerotic ritual and suffocated, or that it was some kind of sex game gone wrong where an unknown partner had zipped him into the bag, then panicked and fled when the GCHQ guy suffocated.  Enter the first of our 'experts' who claims that the women's clothing was all part of the job and that the dead man had been used 'undercover' by the SIS, posing as a woman.  Leaving aside the fact that the SIS doesn't actually operate within the UK (that's the Security Service's job), I think you'll find that they use real women as operatives, rather than getting men to dress up as women. 

Moreover, the idea that a highly trained analyst, with access to all manner of sensitive information, would be risked as some kind of field agent is ludicrous beyond words. Speaking as someone who actually did once work (a long time ago) on the peripheries of the so called 'intelligence community' (I was am intelligence analyst for the MoD for a while), most people working for the likes of the SIS or CIA are actually desk bound.  Like me, they are simply analysts who spend all day sat at a desk poring over reports and trying to make some sense out of them.  No risk is involved.  Generally speaking, the only people in the whole process who face any real physical risk are the people who covertly provide the intelligence agencies with information about sensitive projects and operations in the countries in which they live.  As if this ridiculous story wasn't enough, more recently we've had some kind of Russian defector claiming that the dead analyst was being blackmailed by the Russian intelligence services over his transvestism and was 'eliminated' when he refused to play ball any more.  The flaw in this 'theory' is that in this day and age, dressing up as a woman and enjoying bondage aren't bars to working in intelligence, (if they were, we wouldn't have any intelligence services).   It's been a long time since admitting to such things would result in you failing the security vetting required for posts involving sensitive material.  Indeed, as far as the security vetting people are concerned, as long as they know about such things, then you are protected from being blackmailed over them.  They make no moral judgement.  So, having rubbished these stories, where does that leaves us?  Back at the inquest findings, actually.  The simplest explanation - a sex game gone wrong, whether involving just the deceased or an unknown third party - remains the most likely.  After all, the world of espionage is, in reality, far from glamourous.

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