When spy networks are blown

Today’s opinion piece from an Israeli (Can Trump Screw Up the World’s Best Intelligence Relationship? – The New York Times), an expert in U.S.-Israeli shared intelligence operations, reminded me of the intimate, often terrifying relationship between someone who establishes and runs a spy network and the human beings who are that network.

It comes from fiction, yes, but fiction written by someone who once worked for MI6, the British spy agency–their CIA. And now that I’m reading Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, I have proof that when great fiction is drawn from fact it can replicate and enhance reality.

There was something terrible just then about the way Jim would not move forward and could not move back. His red face was twisted with the strain of indecision and the sweat had gathered in studs over his shaggy ginger eyebrows.

“God damn you, George, what the devil do you want? I’ve drawn a line. That’s what they told me to do. Draw a line, make a new life, forget the whole thing.”

“Which they is this, Jim? Roy? Bill, Percy?” He waited. “Did they tell you what happened to Max, whoever they were? Max is all right, by the way.” Rising he briskly refreshed Jim’s drink, then sat again.

“All right, come on, so what’s happened to the networks?”

“They’re blown. The story is you blew them to save your own skin. I don’t believe it. But I have to know what happened.” He went on, “I know Control made you promise by all that’s holy, but that’s finished. I know you’ve been questioned to death and I know you’ve pushed some things so far down you can hardly find them any more or tell the difference between truth and cover. I know you’ve tried to draw a line under it and say it didn’t happen. I’ve tried that, too. Well, after tonight you can draw your line…I don’t want to silence you. I’d rather you talked. Why didn’t you come and see me at home when you got back? You could have done. You tried to see me before you left, so why not when you got back? Wasn’t just the rules that kept you away.”

“Didn’t anyone get out?” Jim said.

“No. They seem to have been shot.”


They had telephoned Lacon and now Smiley sat alone sipping his drink. From the bathroom he could hear the sound of running taps and grunts as Jim sluiced water in his face.

“They were shot all right, were they? Landkron, Krieglova, Bilova, the Pribyls? Straight shooting?”

“The secret police rolled up both networks the same night. After that no one knows, but next of kin were told they were dead. That usually means they are.”

— From Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by David Cornwell, a/k/a John Le Carré

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