The value of stupidity in spying.
profrv at nex.net.au
Thu Apr 29 15:42:31 PDT 1999
A smile and a stick will see you through
Before Bond, a spy didn't need a fancy gadget from Q to get out of trouble.
John Fisher's Gentleman Spies tells of a golden era in espionage
Saturday August 10, 2002
Gentleman Spies: Intelligence Agents in the British Empire and Beyond
by John Fisher
209pp, Sutton, £20
"Supposing they had got some tremendous sacred sanction - some holy thing,
some book or gospel or some new prophet from the desert, something which
would cast over the whole ugly mechanism of German war the glamour of the
old torrential raids which crumpled the Byzantine Empire and shook the
walls of Vienna? Islam is a fighting creed, and the mullah still stands in
the pulpit with the Koran in one hand and a drawn sword in the other.
Supposing there is some Ark of the Covenant which will madden the remotest
Moslem peasant with dreams of Paradise? What then, my friend?"
So Richard Hannay, late of The Thirty-Nine Steps, is sent on the perilous
mission of Greenmantle, John Buchan's first-world-war thriller. Published
in 1916, it raised the spectre of a jihad led by an evil genius bent on
thwarting the interests of the so-called civilised nations. That jihad (in
fact, a genuine part of a German strategy to destabilise British
possessions in the east), in combination with the "great game" of the Hindu
Kush (in which Russian influence was the danger), were the two main
concerns of the "gentleman spies" whose stories John Fisher tells in this
entertaining and well-informed history.
They were people like the Whittall family, Turkish-speaking Harrovians with
"major interests in the mohair trade in Asia Minor", the "moneyed tramp"
William John Childs, and "the reporter who played the piano" - and kept a
snake in a cigar box - Paul Dukes.
Another was Robert (later Baron) Baden-Powell, who wrote an essay on the
value of stupidity in spying. While Germany's clever spies were rounded up,
"the exceedingly stupid Englishmen who wandered about foreign countries
sketching cathedrals, or catching butterflies, or fishing for trout, were
merely laughed at as harmless lunatics". As for tradecraft, Baden-Powell
added that "a smile and a stick will carry you through any difficulty" -
sentiments which could just as easily be found in any pre-war spy novel.
By the time Ian Fleming updated the image (and technology) of the gentleman
spy in the figure of James Bond, real-life spies had been taking their cue
from fictional avatars for decades. Yet not all the work of these intrepid
young adventurers had the adrenaline levels of a Buchan-style thriller.
Take the case of one Bradshawe, our man in Kirkuk. Styled by friends as
"the most bored man in Iraq", he spent his time "resigning by every mail".
Posted by our man in
Where are the Philbies and Hanssens of yesteryear?
Have to keep spellchecking that with Google.
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