"primary myth makers of British intelligence : James Bond and John le Carré." He said that although Bond had his benefits, when it came to Le Carré, although the Smiley series of novels “have some quality, he is so corrosive in his view of MI6 that most professional Secret Intelligence Service officers are pretty angry with him. He flips the coin of reality. Intelligence organisations are based on trust between colleagues. His books are exclusively about betrayal.”
“obsessed with his membership of the Secret Intelligence Service. He was only in the service for three years and something must have happened to him while he was there to breed this cynicism. I rather resent the fact that he has traded on his knowledge and reputation and yet the feeling I get is that he really rather intensely dislikes the service.”
John did not take all this lying down and responded by saying that : 'Sir Richard is not sound on the details of my career — dates wrong, duration wrong, scant mention of my years in MI5 or my extramural work for both services. But he claims, rather quaintly, that since I only served a mere three years in MI6 (not true), I was scarcely qualified to write about the service anyway. My books, he goes on to complain, are “exclusively about betrayal.” Something, he says darkly, “must have happened to me to breed this cynicism.” Well, yes, actually it did.'
Born David John Cornwell in 1931, it was after studying foreign languages at the University of Bern in Switzerland when he was 17 to 18 years old that he joined the Intelligence Corps of the British Army garrisoned in Austria, working as a German language interrogator of people who crossed the Iron Curtain to the West. In 1952, he returned to Britain to study at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he worked covertly for the British Security Service, MI5, spying on far-left groups for information about possible Soviet agents.
He then transferred to Hamburg as a political consul and it was there that he wrote 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold' as 'John le Carré 'in 1963. He left the Service the following year to work full-time as a novelist, because his intelligence-officer career was brought to an end as the result of the betrayal of British agents' covers to the KGB by Kim Philby, the infamous British double agent.
According to John, he first picked up his cynicism at the age of 30 when George Blake was unmasked as a spy in 1961 after he had decided to become a Communist and work for the KGB while a prisoner during the Korean War. 'I had barely finished my basic training when George Blake, a longstanding and greatly treasured officer of the service, was exposed as a Russian spy. The taxpaying public wasn’t allowed to know it at the time, but Blake had consigned several hundred British agents to prison, death, torture, or all three. Exactly how many hundred he couldn’t be sure, as he later declared from his safe haven in Moscow.'
'Kim Philby was exposed, although again the scale of the damage was just too much for the public to swallow. Add together all the MI6 agents and the MI6 special operations that Philby betrayed over his 30 years of working for MI6 and the Kremlin, throw in Blake’s few hundred or so, and we’re safely into the thousands: liquidated, imprisoned, or missing believed interrogated.'
With his knowledge of the damage caused by Blake and Philby it is little surprising that John said : 'So yes. Something did happen to me, and it would have happened to Sir Richard if he had been around at the time, which he wasn’t.'
"most professional Secret Intelligence Service officers are pretty angry with him" John rejected this by saying : 'Soon after Sir Richard’s retirement as Chief, his successor, Sir John Scarlett, invited me to dine with some of his senior staff. I was flattered, but felt queasy about what I had read of the service’s alleged role in the run-up to the Iraq War. So I said thanks, and reluctantly declined.'
invited me to lunch with his directors at the service’s new headquarters. He later visited us in Cornwall. He kindly believed that, due in part to my novels, MI6 had assumed a sensible place in the public awareness : human, fallible, aspirational, contentious, and part of real life.' Also, Antony Duff, 'a former Director-General of MI5 and a longtime friend, thought my books were trash but harmless.'
John concluded : 'Take your pick. One thing is certain. When my new novel comes out next month, Sir Richard and his notional colleagues are going to be mad as bedbugs. But thanks all the same for the much-needed publicity at this busy time in the publishing year.'