Magazine article The Spectator

A Spy Sings the Blues

Magazine article The Spectator

A Spy Sings the Blues

Article excerpt

It surprised no one very much when they put Leamas on the shelf ... For a week or two after his departure, a few people wondered what had become of him. But his former friends had already learned to keep clear of him . . . Leamas' departure caused only a ripple on the water; with other winds and the changing of the seasons it was soon forgotten.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

IN John le Carre's novel, Leamas is the spy sent out into the cold in order to complete a task vital to the Service's operations. The entire momentum of the plot is provided by his sudden disappearance from the Service's dingy Cambridge Circus lair apparently having gone to seed after the fatal failure of an operation in East Berlin. The resettlement offers made to him are pitifully inadequate, his severance pay tiny. The Service provides him with inadequate references. It is brutally clear that he has become an unperson.

In 1963 when the novel was published, le Carre could credibly assume that a member of the Secret Intelligence Service who was deemed unfit to continue his work could be dismissed without ceremony, explanation or compensation. And he could certainly assume that the rest of us would not get to hear of it.

Thirty-three years later, a young, real life officer with SIS (otherwise known as M16) was sent out into the cold and - unlike Leamas - not expected to come back in again. Agent T. - as we must call him for fear of falling foul of the Official Secrets Act - did not much like it there. In July, he took his case for unfair dismissal to an industrial tribunal. It sat in Croydon symbolic humiliation in itself for a young man who had thought that his life would continue to be a frantic round of operational forays into the former Soviet Union, Bosnia and the Middle East. The proceedings were extremely brief. The Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, acting on the advice of Sir David Spedding, director-general of M16, issued a certificate forbidding the hearing of the case on grounds of national security.

Considered an extremely promising recruit by MI6 - he had a First from Cambridge and had worked in the City as a management consultant before he was recruited by the foreign intelligence service - T. was allegedly entrusted with sensitive tasks like the resettlement of a Russian defector and the handling of a Tory MP who allegedly gave briefings to M16 about Serbian donations to the Conservative Party. After he had completed his threeyear probationary period, his contract with the service was not renewed - an unusual event in the intelligence services, which pride themselves on making the right selection of candidates first time round.

His employers claimed that he did not possess the skill of team-play essential for a successful intelligence officer, that he had made too many errors of judgment in his operational work to rank as reliable and that he was `short-termist' about the service. T., however, believed that he was the victim of a personality clash with a personnel manager and protested vehemently against the decision to terminate his contract. Attempts to resettle him in other jobs failed. He was given the statutory severance deal and left the service's new building on the South Bank of the Thames with an appetite for what his former employers would call revenge and he would call justice.

The result is a damaging and protracted row over his employment rights which has culminated in T. becoming the first employee of MI6 to seek to take the organisation to an employment tribunal. He has engaged the support of the Liberty civil rights organisation which is determined to make the matter a test case for reform of secret service appeal procedures. T. has even entrusted details of his previous work to friendly journalists, and according to a report sourced to T. in the Observer newspaper is threatening to plant a computer timebomb which would reveal operational secrets of his work on the Internet if he fails to obtain satisfaction or is arrested for having divulged secrets to journalists. …

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