Art of Betrayal

Art of Betrayal by Gordon Corera

Book: Art of Betrayal by Gordon Corera Read Free Book Online
Authors: Gordon Corera
    A former MI6 officer, one of the few to have risen to become ‘C’ or Chief of the Service, takes pleasure in recounting a story. Framed by a collection of John le Carré’s novels on the bookshelves behind him, he tells it with a boyish smile and a playful twinkle in the eye which suggests a mischievousness not entirely lost to age. The story concerns a young officer making his way to a hut somewhere in Africa. It was the first contact MI6 had made with a local tribal chief whose assistance was required in some escapade whose exact details have long since been lost in the retelling. The officer was unsure of what welcome he would find and how receptive the chief might be to his request. He did not even know whether the chief could speak a word of English. But the officer’s cautious introduction was met by a wide smile. It turned out the chief knew three words. ‘Hello, Mr Bond,’ he said, before offering his hand and his help. ‘I doubt if he would have received such a warm welcome if he’d been from the Belgian Secret Service,’ the former spymaster explains with a touch of pride and with no particular disrespect meant to Belgium or its spies.
    True or not – and as with most stories about spies you have to be careful – the tale illustrates how the mythology of the British Secret Service has been spread far and wide and how fact and fiction have commingled to the point where the two have sometimes become indistinguishable in the public mind (and sometimes in that of the practitioner as well). That process has been aided by the cloak of secrecy which has shrouded British intelligence for much of its hundred-year history. The task of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) – or to use its more popular name MI6 – is to steal the secrets of others. But it has fiercely protected its own. For most of its existence, secrecy was so prized that MI6 did not even exist. At leastnot officially. Those in power were trained never to utter a word about it. In the corridors of Whitehall, the head of the service might be referred to as ‘C’ in hushed tones and a few might occasionally see a note with his distinctive green ink scrawled on it. But the outside world never knew his name.
    That era has passed. The modern world, and the threats posed by it, demands greater transparency and accountability. And so, gingerly, the Secret Service has begun to edge out of the shadows, even inviting an official history of its first forty years from 1909 to 1949. This book offers an unprecedented insight into the following years, from the end of the Second World War to the present, a glimpse beneath the covers into the danger, the drama, the intrigue, the moral ambiguities and the absurdities that sometimes come with working for British intelligence.
    The story centres on Britain’s overseas intelligence service, MI6, but some of the characters find their homes in its sister service, the domestic security agency MI5, its weighty transatlantic cousin, the CIA, and its deadly rival, the KGB. This is emphatically not an authorised or comprehensive history which aspires to tell the complete story of British intelligence over nearly seventy years. Such a work is impossible while access to the files remains closed. It is not the history, rather it is a history – an attempt to understand the wider issues surrounding intelligence and the evolution of a particularly British organisation through a narrow lens which focuses on a relatively small number of individuals and episodes. The grand dramas of the Cold War and after – the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 11 September 2001 attacks and the Iraq war – are the backdrop for the human stories of our selected spies. But some of the individuals featured here, in turn, helped shape the course of those events.
    At the heart of this book lie the personal accounts of the men and women who have

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