New Book on SIS - The Art of Betrayal - Gordon Corera

Discussion in 'SOE & OSS' started by Jedburgh22, Aug 10, 2011.

  1. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    The truth about the lying game - Gordon Corera's detailed history of the changing role of MI6 charts the evolution of British intelligence from derring-do to WMD dossiers
    Sunday Times, The (London, England)-August 7, 2011
    Author: ADAM SISMAN

    THE ART OF BETRAYAL: Life and Death in the British Secret Service


    Weidenfeld £20 pp471

    In a succession of linked stories, the reporter Gordon Corera traces the history of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), popularly known as MI6, since the second world war. He shows how MI6 slowly evolved from a self-selecting and selfperpetuating "gentlemen's club for members of the establishment with a naughty streak" into the more professional, bureaucratic organisation of today.

    Within MI6 there has always been a tension between two opposing tendencies. At one extreme lies Ian Fleming's lean, aggressive, self-confident James Bond, untroubled by moral scruples and insistent on action. At the other rests John le Carré's podgy, donnish, diffident George Smiley, morally uncertain: by nature a thinker, rather than a doer.

    The gung-ho spirit of the former was a hangover from the glory days of SOE (Special Operations Executive), which had been absorbed into MI6 at the end of the second world war. In 1956, an ill-considered operation was undertaken to reconnoitre a Soviet warship carrying Nikita Khrushchev, the Kremlin leader, on a goodwill visit to Britain. When the body of the ageing, drink-addled frogman Commander Crabb was found floating in Portsmouth harbour, the ensuing furore proved a serious embarrassment to the government. But the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 revived the buccaneering tendency in MI6. This was an opportunity for the younger "camel drivers" to win their spurs, running operations into Afghanistan in support of the mujaheddin.

    Yet initially, at the onset of the cold war, western intelligence services had not had a single agent inside the Soviet Union. The Soviets, on the other hand, possessed a superfluity of sources, including one at the heart of MI6 - Soviet spy Kim Philby. Philby betrayed so many operations that, as one CIA officer reflected bitterly, "we'd have been better off doing nothing".

    Philby's treachery sowed seeds of mistrust between the British and the Americans, who were further infuriated when it was discovered that another Briton, George Blake, had betrayed hundreds of agents behind the Iron Curtain, and compromised the tunnels under Berlin, in which they had invested hundreds of millions of dollars. MI6 appeared both amateurish and incompetent.

    A new MI6 chief ("C") recruited from MI5, Dick White, though, was changing the organisation's culture. White favoured a more purist approach to intelligence gathering over the heroic adventurism of the past. Even as the secret service was reeling from the blow of Blake's treachery, it scored one of its most important triumphs in recruiting the first in a succession of valuable agents. Oleg Penkovsky, a KGB colonel with top-level access, provided insights into the thinking of the Soviet leadership in a period of extreme tension, when understanding of the enemy helped to prevent nuclear war. The risks run by such agents were demonstrated when Penkovsky was caught and executed.

    Anatoly Golitsyn, who defected to the West in 1961, provided a stream of information that led to the identification of several Soviet spies, including Sir Anthony Blunt, the Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures. Golitsyn's hints bred fears of further traitors, including one high up in MI5, and drew investigators into "a wilderness of mirrors", in which nothing was certain and nobody above suspicion. For a while, MI6 officers were called in to spy on their MI5 colleagues. The result paralysed British intelligence for some years.

    Another Soviet spy recruited by MI6 in the 1970s, Oleg Gordievsky, remained in post over a long period, and was able to supply information that contributed signifi-cantly to reducing tension between East and West. In 1983, he passed on "Most Urgent" reports showing that a Nato exercise had been interpreted by the Soviet high command as the prelude to a possible nuclear attack. Gordievsky was eventually smuggled out of the Soviet Union in the boot of a Ford Cortina, driven by a young MI6 officer, accompanied by his family. At the frontier, his wife changed a baby's nappy on top of the boot, to discourage the guards from opening the trunk.

    Operations in Moscow, though, were especially difficult because of the KGB's pervasive surveillance. One of MI6's tricks involved two people in a car, and one jumping out as it rounded a corner. A dummy would then pop up to make it appear to pursuers that the passenger was still inside.

    The passing of the cold war in the late 1980s introduced a less glamorous, more bureaucratic role for MI6. In this new managerial culture, officers had to meet targets. The pressure to perform would contribute to one of MI6's worst disasters. Fearing that it might no longer be required in a world without obvious enemies, MI6 became too eager to please, in the view of one senior official quoted in this book. Soon after 9/11, the then "C", Sir Richard Dearlove, boasted about his regular access to Downing Street and his enhanced influence with the prime minister, Tony Blair. Some thought this ominous. Afterwards, it was said that, like Icarus, the secret service had flown too close to the sun. "I believe in a chief who stays south of the river," one senior colleague remarked.

    In the run-up to the second Gulf war, the government looked to MI6 for evidence to support the conviction that Iraq possessed WMD. There were plenty of sources willing to provide the necessary intelligence, which MI6 passed on too readily to No 10, without proper evaluation.

    As in Graham Greene's black comedy Our Man in Havana, demand for intelligence produced a supply. The result was the infamous dossier used by Blair to justify war in Iraq. Instead of informing policy, MI6 had allowed intelligence to become a tool for political persuasion.

    Corera, a BBC security correspondent, has been studying spies for some years, and although much of his material is familiar, he adds significant new details. His analysis is shrewd, his judgment sound. His book does not claim to be a comprehensive history of MI6 since the war. Its strength is to present stories of the secret service's successes and failures within the political and strategic context of the times. He writes in a readable, breezy style, avoiding the jargon that proliferates in writings on intelligence.

    Last year, an authorised history of SIS from its founding in 1909 until 1949 was a bestseller. It is safe to assume that the next volume will not appear for some time. Until that work comes along, Corera's provides a satisfying stopgap.

    Adam Sisman is writing the life of John le Carré. The Art of Betrayal is available at the Bookshop price of £16.50 (inc p&p) on 0845 271 2135 and

    Stranger than fiction

    Fact and fiction were never more intertwined in the world of MI6, points out Corera, than in the case of Graham Greene, right, and the Soviet spy Kim Philby. Philby was Greene's boss at MI6 during the second world war. When his name was first touted in 1955 as one of the 'Cambridge Five', Philby was instantly dubbed 'the Third Man', after the film, written by Greene, that, Corera suggests, he almost certainly helped to inspire.

    Record Number: 50299049(c) Times Newspapers Limited 2011

    The truth about the lying game - Gordon Corera's detailed history of the changing role of MI6 charts the evolution of British intelligence from derring-do to WMD dossiers
  2. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Via an email from the British Academy notice of a new book on this traitor and a short, ten minute podcast by the author:
    Link, which includes the book's details: The British Academy 10-Minute Talks: Art historian, professor, writer, spy – the extraordinary story of Anthony Blunt

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