Fools Believe in James Bond 67

Tom Harris MP being the fool in question. He thinks that the people who concocted the lies about Iraqi WMD, thus launching a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, are the best choice to be in parliament:

I would have thought it in our country’s interest to have an MP ?” of whatever political persuasion ?” with a background in covert intelligence work.

Tom’s article is based on a huge number of preconceptions. The truth is, that the wonderful James Bond opus has fundamentally affected the perception of MI6 in the British people, including the politicians. But James Bond is fiction. It bears no resemblance at all to the real MI6.

In particular Tom Harris has swallowed the idea that MI6 officers put themselves in particular danger in the course of their work, That is simply untrue. Watson’s attempted contrast in “The View From The Residence” between comfortable diplomats and brave MI6 officers is offensive. He may be interested to know that consistently since World War II more FCO than MI6 staff have been killed or injured on active service.

MI6 officers only work abroad with diplomatic immunity. Their “Cover” is almost always as Embassy staff. The following single true story tells more truth about MI6 than Tom Harris will ever experience. Names have been changed.

I was First Secretary at the British Embassy in Warsaw, in charge of the Political and Economic Sections. One day I was having lunch with a well known Polish restaurateur, Wlodek. Wlodek ran Warsaw’s most exclusive restaurant and catered for many government functions. He was also a well known social figure in his own right, and a great purveyor of political gossip.

Over lunch Wlodek told me a story about the then Polish Prime Minister. I was able to tell him that I had been present on the occasion he described and the story was untrue.

There was another First Secretary in the Embassy, we will call him Bill, with a theoretical job description very similar to mine – only he was really an MI6 officer. A couple of days later I was having lunch in another restaurant with another contact (now you know why I am so fat). Ensconced in a corner together were Bill and Wlodek.

A couple of days further on I received a copy of an intelligence report issued by MI6. It described the source as “Regular and reliable, with good access”. It contained the same story Wlodek had told me.

I minuted on it – “Bill – you got this from Wlodek. He told me the same thing. It’s not true. I was there.” and sent it back to him. I got told off for the cardinal sin of writing the name of the source on the report.

A couple more days, and I met Wlodek again.

“Wlodek, why did you tell Bill that story”, I asked, “I told you it wasn’t true”.

“Ah yes,” Wlodek laughed, “But Bill paid me ten thousand dollars for it”.

Which is what MI6 mostly do. They buy information. By definition, of course, people who sell you intelligence are apt to be unreliable. Much of the key “intelligence” on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction was bought from an Iraqi Colonel. If you hand over briefcases of used dollars to Iraqi Colonels in Egyptian hotel rooms, they will give you lots of information on WMD. Absolutely as much as you want. Just keep the dollars flowing.

Forget the entertaining Ian Fleming. Read Graham Greene, who saw much further into the human soul. Our Man in Havana is much closer to truth than James Bond.

There is also the question of the huge sums of taxpayers’ cash doled out. I had to account in detail you would not believe for ever penny of FCO cash spent. Every British Ambassador spends two full working days a month carrying out accounts and receipts and stocks checks.

But I frequently in my career had to sign for large sums in cash (MI6 officers do not sign for it themselves) which I then handed over to my MI6 colleagues. You can’t ask a paid traitor for a receipt, so this money was, literally, unaccountable. The largest cash sum I ever handed over was US$120,000. Did I ever suspect MI6 officers might be stealing some of this untraceable money? Yes, bluntly I did, in one case in particular. There are absolutely no safeguards.

Not all information is paid for. Informers can have other motives. Interestingly one effect of the invasion of Iraq has been that far fewer informants are willing to cooperate with British intelligence because they see the UK as a force for good in the world. But “Human Intelligence”, or HUMINT, always has to be carefully assessed for the motive of the teller and his credible access to the information. Very often, it is wrong.

HUMINT reports arrive around Whitehall with red cardboard covers and SIGINT – communications intercepts from GCHQ – in blue jackets. I recall Tristan Garel-Jones, when a FCO minister, asking his Private Secretary in a meeting about Cyprus “Now remind me again, which colour is reliable and which colour is speculative?” Broadly, he was not wrong. GCHQ information is viewed generally in Whitehall to be better quality than MI6 information, and I certainly found this true in my 20 years of dealing with intelligence.

All this is broad bush. MI6 are sometimes involved in Sigint operations. They sometimes produce good human intelligence. But they failed disastrously their two most important tests – over Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction, and over the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands. Both failures led to war.

The other source of MI6 HUMINT is foreign liaison. This is where MI6 stand accused of accepting large quantities of dubious intelligence and turning a blind eye to the fact that it was obtained by torture.

But the biggest source of UK intelligence is the United States. Most reports issued by MI6 are CIA reports, as most reports issued by GCHQ are NSA reports. An alpha-numeric code is the only thing that shows the difference. It was the CIA’s adoption of torture that caused Jack Straw’s change of policy to accept it.

The fallibility of HUMINT has been very well understood in Whitehall for generations. The reports are fed in by MI6 but then go through a number of sceptical filters, in the FCO, MOD and Cabinet Office and other government departments if relevant, formalised in the Joint Intelligence Committee and its sub-committees. With New Labour enforcing true belief in the War on Terror, the scepticism filters have been opened wide. That was the scandal of the Iraqi WMD dossier. The appalling quality of the bought and torture intelligence being fed in was just par for the course from MI6.

A final observation. I had no MI6 officers with me in Tashkent because MI6 said the operating environment was too dangerous. Meantime I was visiting alone and unarmed all through the Ferghana Valley and Tien Shan.

There, Tom Harris MP. That is the view from the Residence. Evidently it is a damn sight clearer than the view from the New Labour benches of the House of Commons.

Allowed HTML - you can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

67 thoughts on “Fools Believe in James Bond

1 2 3
  • ingo

    Eliza Manningham Buller on this morning Radio 4 Today programme mentioned you Craig, although not in word and name. ‘She was talking of those who still do not believe that this countries accusation of complicity in torture are wrong and that they will persist’.

    You will probably be able to listen to her exact words on BBCI player I was half asleep and she speaks rather softly, although with a very hard edge to it. Enjoy…

  • Dick the Prick

    Not an even slightly disturbing tract at all Craig. To impune Tom Watson’s grasp on reality is simply too shocking to contemplate – anywho, must dash, those ragheads don’t waterboard themselves doncha know??

  • Ed

    “MI6 officers only work abroad with diplomatic immunity.”

    Is that the always case? I understand that sometimes (often?) spies work under “non-official cover”, i.e. without diplomatic immunity.

  • Craig


    virtually never. A MI6 officer with diplomatic immunity may rarely operate in a second identity within the country where he is accredited (ie have meetings pretending to be someone else) but they hardly ever operate without diplomatic cover. Not never, but hardly ever.

  • Tom Welsh

    “But James Bond is fiction. It bears no resemblance at all to the real MI6”.

    I am strongly reminded of the classic Private Eye cover that showed a photgraph of President Jimmy Carter at his desk in the Oval Office, talking into a phone, while a military officer standing at his shoulder speaks to him urgently. Private Eye had added a speech bubble, “But Mr President, there is no such person as Wonder Woman!”

    Although I wouldn’t believe everything in it, you can get a very good idea of what military intelligence involves from Alexei Suvorov’s book “Aquarium”. As an ex-GRU officer, Suvorov had experience of what was probably the world’s most efficient intelligence organisation. He makes the point that a professional intelligence officer never does any spying himself – it is all done through deniable “locals”, who are the people who run the risk of detection (and imprisonment, execution, and/or torture).

    Discussing the challenge of getting information about a place like GCHQ, Suvorov stresses that a professional intelligence officer would never dream of coming within eyesight of the place. Instead, he finds a nearby pub, orders a pint, and settles in with the newspaper. Presently some employees of the target organisation come in, some of them disgruntled for various reasons… Six months later, our hero has all the information he needs, for a very small outlay of cash.

  • Clark


    the quote in your post above is from a comment by “Charon QC”, not from Tom Watson’s original blog post. Thanks for this illuminating article all the same.

  • anticant

    Well, I see that MI5’s official history has just been published. I expect it is not in the least like the truth, or even the half truth, and is probably anything but the truth.

  • Sabretache

    Good stuff again Craig.

    But I fear that even this apparently jaundiced view of our SIS’s misses the real mark – your first-hand encounters with middle-ranking MI6 officers notwithstanding. I’m sure they will be happy to see – even encourage – dissident discussion along these lines, for the simple reason that it is a distraction from what they really fear – namely informed delving into their real, deeply manipulative role in what we so self-righteously believe to be ‘democratic government’.

    In an unpublished conference paper – “Democratic State Vs Deep State” – Ola Tunander does a cracking job of explaining what I am getting at. I couldn’t find it anywhere on the internet and so have posted it in full on my blog.

    Highly recommended antidote to the childish belief that we have a ‘Democratic Government’ and that the party political masquerade is anything other than near meaningless frivolity.

  • Jives

    Yeah…Our Man In Havana is much closer to the full horrific incompetent Truth of it all.

    Eliza Mannigham-Buller? Wouldn’t believe a single word her kind says.

    Charlatans and moral cowards all.

  • Control

    Hi Craig,

    Interesting post and I agree largely with what you say. As someone who spent three years studying interpol & intelligence studies I guess I have a slightly different perspective but a lot of what you say holds true.

    Agree that Greene and, for my money, John le Carre are much better insights into the intel world than the ridiculous boyish fantasy of Bond. The often mundane world is much closer to the reality I’m sure.

    Agree also about the moral hazard of trying to gain product by waving the stick of money. That said, I’m sure you are aware that assets are recruited through numerous different means – cold harsh cash, or the promise of a ‘new life’ being just two of them. Other ways of leverage less easy to envisage being done in our name include, threating friends or family with injury/death, honey traps, destroying of reputation, wiping out finances, spreading rumours of disloyalty or working for percieved enemies etc.

    Interesting statistic about the number of FCO personal via MI6 deaths but how would you know this? As far as I am aware records are not doing the rounds of whitehall/FCO with the stats for fatality rate of operatives.

    Add to this the new trend of ‘sub-contracting’ spooks for additional plausible deniability and it makes me question the veracity of your statement.

    Anyway, I agree with the main thrust of what you are saying. However, it is not surprising that GCHQ is percieved to provide better ‘quality’ intel – GCHQ are esentially acting as a conduit for the worlds communications. Admittedly the actual analysis of the intel is undoubtedly open to political bias but when dealing with the primary source (a verbatim conversation for example) then there is little ability for it to be schewed (other than selectivly providing transcripts missing out things that do not tie in with the hypothesis).

    The problem with Humint is just that – it is Humint – and whilst Sigint is also a product of humans – it is not changed at source. You have to take into account the motivations behind intel recieved from a humint asset. That is not to say there are not good operatives in SIS who are aware of all of the deficiencies in system.

    What was the FCO or your personal take on people like Shayler from 5 or Tomlinson from 6? Or prosecutions such as against Mike Smith (

    As for Tom Watsons mystique about this world we are discussing – well no surprises there. New Lab backbencher comments on something he knows nothing about – shocker?

    Kind regards,


  • Jf

    I was just about to post asking you to comment on Richard Tomlinson, and particularly his book, but I saw the above poster has already done so. Would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

  • Craig

    Control –

    Those who die in service are recorded and indeed commemorated. It is not hard at all to find this info if you are inside MI6/FCO.

  • Charles Crawford


    This is a curious effort.

    Be honest. Your highest FCO job in London was Deputy Head of Department (ie senior First Secretary?). You therefore never acquired the need-to-know seniority in your FCO career to see top-end MI6 material (such as eg the insights on Soviet policy we received from Mr Gordievski when he was working high within the KGB), so your comments on the quality of what MI6 produces and eg the rate at which people come forward to work with MI6 look to be at best ill-informed.

    I was interested to see your claim that on “many occasions” in your FCO career you had to sign for large sums in cash which were then handed over to MI6 officers. Huh? How was that money accounted for in Embassy/FCO accounts, please?

    “Every British Ambassador spends two full working days a month carrying out accounts and receipts and stocks checks”: simply untrue. If it took you that long you were not running an efficient Embassy.

    Plus, of course, MI6 officers do work all over the place without diplomatic immunity cover and without the local Embassy (perhaps apart from the Ambassador personally) even knowing about it. One reason why (I gather) they prefer to work like this is because it reduces their need to rely on people within the FCO with no common sense and no judgement and associated leaky security and other systems.


  • Vamanos Bandidos

    Don’t have time, so very briefly;

    Craig is spot on and has got it bang on to rights.

    Most of the “intelligence” is hearsay, and gossip, which is then indeed classified, indexed, and left to be added upon.

    Therefore most of the intelligence lead operations are always going wanting for some reason or other, and the resultant debacle is soon forgotten which is all in the nature of the monkey trap set in the first place.

    However, due to the simple fact that the peons of the corporateocracy palmed off on people as their representatives; for ever seek to divert the attention of the people, however short and transient these can prove to be, from the real issues.

    Nothing is more juicy and sinister than “secrets”, by the very nature secrets create a two tier group those in the know and those not in the know, which of course this facet is used to start wars, and plunder treasuries, and prop up banks!

    Anyone recollecting the umpteen hundred police force personnel, whom attended the scene of yet another “al Qaeda” station, along with seventy ambulances, and eighty six fire appliances in London only to find a family sleeping in the “station” which was then pulled apart brick by brick, only to find zealch!

    Fact is all the resources, and man hours spent on hearsay was only designed to scare the dickens out of the population, and let these taste the “al Qaeda” at first hand and know whom they ought to hate the most; “The Muslims”.

    No neo labour operative could have managed to indulge in such degrees of hate mongering and malfeasance of the public purse to boot without the aid of the “intelligence”.

  • Craig


    Were you ever a DHM – it’s quite a standard chore for DHMs to sign out money for SIS. I did it as DHM and as acting DHM.

    Actually I had the highest possible levels of clearance because of my work in the Embargo Surveillance Centre which required the full gamut of additional clearances – possibly some you didn’t have. It’s not to do with seniority alone, as you know.

    As I am sure you would acknowledge, it was Gordievski who was taking the risk of death, not the MI6 officers who were running him.

  • Edo

    Yuri Bezmenov, a former KGB propagandist would agree with you about the James Bond image. It suits the intelligence agencies just fine for the majority of people to have this view of the security apparatus.

    The 4 stages of breaking a country.

    1)Demoralization ideological subversion and psychological warfare through mass propaganda from the inside;

    2)Destabilization of society, in such areas as economy, foreign relations and defence systems;

    3)Crisis creation;

    4)Post-crisis normalization, under the military boot.

    Sound familiar anyone?

  • George Laird

    Dear Craig

    I enjoyed that post, I think that Tom Harris is a bit dolly dimple and he is probably wondering if he will be an MP after the next General Election.

    Anyway, the name’s Laird, George Laird!

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird

    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

  • George Laird

    Dear Charles Crawford

    I read your exchanges between you and Craig with interest.

    You appear to be involved in a big boys pissing contest.

    As two people who did very well with your careers, you seem still to want to out do one another.

    What a pity we could get this on the telly, a duel of wits.

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird

    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

  • Ruth

    There may be different kinds of SIS officers – those that do the expected kind of tasks under the guise of working in embassies and those that ensure the economic security of the UK and the maintenance of the Establishment/’deep’government through illegal activities ie selling arms secretly to both sides in a conflict, removing VAT from the country to pay for covert actions and provide a financial base for the ‘deep’ government etc

  • Roderick Russell

    In your blog “Fools Believe in James Bond” you outline the incompetence of MI6 stating “…. But they failed disastrously in their two most important tests – over Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction, and over the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands. Both failures led to war… But the biggest source of UK intelligence is the United States”.

    With this history of success, one wonders how MI6 justify their existence and their huge budgets?

    Well, I may have an answer. Along with their friends in MI5 they justify their existence by acting as a secret police service for the high establishment.

    Literally acting as a Stasi. As you know from my URL they use a process of “no touch” torture that the former East German Secret Police “The Stasi” called Zerzetsen. MI6, MI5’s (and CSIS in Canada) practice of zerzetsen against my family is probably just one example of many, since most people are too scared to report the crimes.

    Right from the start years ago, there has never been any logical reason for their involvement in any of this (zerzetsen torture: years of defamation, death threats, surveillance, intimidation, harassment), except perhaps pleasing a very high placed sadist. The cover-up conspiracy is the key to it all. I have appealed to Parliamentary Committees in 2 countries. Here is an extract of a follow up submission sent on July 15, 2009 to the UK’s Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights.

    “10 years of evil death threats being covered-up. It all began with a nasty slandering. So why is it being covered-up? Why are our institutions scared to examine this issue?

    The owner of the company that slandered me is Prince Charles’s best friend, and some think that royal family members are involved. Hence the involvement also of MI5, MI6. I cannot suggest an alternative reason for this very high level cover-up conspiracy. This may be a good argument for a republic; it should not be an argument for overriding rule of law, and for the systemic failure of our institutions and the neutering of parliament.

    Look at what the cover-up is about. It’s all on the wiki; together with sufficient evidence to prove ?” Police from local station to IPCC scared to investigate honestly, a provably crooked judge assisting the Cover-up Conspiracy, a Cabinet Minister (your colleague Hazel Blears) provably lying in writing. You can see why some think that royal family members may be involved in this ongoing and disgusting abuse of human rights.”

    The wiki’s URL is:

    Look at all the documentary evidence within the wiki and you will see clear evidence of a cover-up conspiracy. Read the wiki and you will understand what favours MI6 and MI5 really do for the high establishment to justify their budgets. Shocking, yes. Time that Parliamentarians had the courage to deal with it, if they have any belief in democracy and rule of law.

    Roderick Russell

  • Ruth

    Another area I believe the SIS works in is the promotion of their members as candidates for Members of Parliament. If such a candidate is successful and eventually reaches high office then ‘the Establishment/’deep’ government will be able to control our lives outright.

  • Abe Rene

    Just found out that Christopher Andrew has published “Defense of the Realm”, an authorised history of MI5. What do you make of it?

1 2 3

Comments are closed.