Saturday, 21 May 2016

Trust No One

A now retired but once senior Australian official is in the newspapers today, whinging that during the Cold War he was investigated as a possible double agent, even though he'd gone out of his way to gather material for our intelligence services.  What a betrayal, he complains, but I think he is wrong. The fact that he makes his complaint just a few days before the 81st anniversary of the defection of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean should highlight why I disagree with him.

Since that fiasco, all Western intelligence services must surely have learned that you can trust absolutely no-one. The subsequent defection of Kim Philby and George Blake would only have reinforced that point. In other words, it was not an insult that this man was investigated; it was a precaution. He suffered no consequences as a result, because nothing was found to suggest he was dong anything wrong. So what is the problem? The world of espionage is not run along the lines of normal life. If you enter it, you must know that anything might happen.

Going back to the subject of defectors, the question of who was a worse person, Blake or Philby, is probably impossible to answer. Philby gets more publicity though so, for the benefit of anyone who would like to know about Blake, in order to make up their own mind, here is a post I wrote about that extremely wicked man.


  1. It is hard to say what the Western intelligence services have learned, or the least the American ones. The principle of trusting no one is hard to practice without disrupting other business: James Angleton tied the CIA in knots in his pursuit of moles who might or might not have been there. And since about 1950 the most damaging breaches in the US have come not from the ideologically committed but from the mercenary (Aldrich Ames, John Walker) or the thrill-seekers (Robert Hansen).

    1. But mercenaries and thrill seekers can also be tracked - obviously to obsessively, but I still think that, if you get involved in intelligence work, particularly if you are a stringer rather than a professional in organisational ranks, you expect scrutiny. I wouldn't respect an organisation that didn't keep an open mind about whether someone it has recruited might not just as easily be recruited by others.

    2. Meant to write "not too obsessively"