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.

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67 thoughts on “Fools Believe in James Bond

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  • stephen

    Just as James Bond doesn’t represent the reality about the security services – I don’t think that counterposing your Polish anectdote and some experience in paying MI6 should convince anyone that the your opposite scenario is the case either. Perhaps a wider range of sources should be considered before reaching a rational judgement.

    I think a lot of sensible observers have attributed the manner in which many terrorist organisations were infiltrated in Northern Ireland (and yes there were some unacceptable practices there as well) to the willingness of those organisations to enter into political negotiations.

    My guess is that there is an awful lot of grey about our security services rather than the black and white pictures that are currently on offer.

    You also ignore the fact that this is something of a game played by all countries – and opting out of the game may also have its consequences.

  • stephen

    BTW I am not sure that your prtrayal of FCO diplomats as being a model of soundness and appropriate contact if only the politicians wouldn’t interfere would stand up to much scrutiny either. Anyone who as worked abroad for any period of time will be aware as to how anachronistic and out of touch many (but not all) Embassy and Consular staff can be – and how they often to retreat into a bubble which is isolated from the host country.

  • gus

    Abe rene – I heard a piece on the Today progrog on R4 this morning. Christopher Andrew was touting his book. He called Peter Wright (a principal scientific officer for MI5, who later wrote ‘Spycatcher’) a ‘conspiracy theorist’.

    Gordon Corerra then followed up with a report telling us how everything was

  • Clark


    Craig states the point in your second post above very clearly, towards the end of “Murder in Samarkand”.

    And I don’t think Craig has suggested “opting out of the game”. Rather, he seems to be saying that strategies that work should be in deployed in preference to strategies that mislead.

  • anticant

    From what I can gather about Spooks, they all strike me as being rather paranoid and often quite batty. I was once ‘given the eye over’ for recruitment by a retired military gent who struck me as being nutty as a fruitcake.

  • Rhisiart Gwilym

    The lying ‘intelligence’ over Iraqi WMD was actually pretty successful, Craig. It enabled the USuk war-criminals to get away with their pre-decided aggressions in the Caspian-Hormuz Sweetoil Corridor, without enough public resistance to stymie them. So — did its job, then. As it’s now attempting to do the same job in pretend-justifying USuk’s wished-for attacks on Iran — the glaringly-missing piece in USuk’s (hopeless) bid to seize control of the Corridor.

    I know that you think that the Iranian theocrats want a nuclear-weapon capability, Craig. You may be right. In their quaking shoes, I might feel the same. But they’re a long way from that yet, and sticking very closely to their NPT obligations, despite the propaganda lies of the black Lone Ranger and his brown Tonto.

    It’s really a good job that USuk’s imperial resource-war capacities are now in terminal over-stretch, or assuredly Tehran would be the next candidate for a bit of humanitarian bombing by these unspeakable gangsters.

  • mary

    Overseas visits

    18 July-1 August 2004, to USA, for International Visitors’ Leadership Programme, to develop cultural and political understanding of US. Internal flights, accommodation and daily expenses paid by the Graduate School, US Department of State. (Registered 20 July 2005)

    From Harris’s register of interests TWFY

    That was a year into the slaughter in Iraq. The brainwashing he received was obviously successful.

  • mary

    People above keep referring to Tom Watson. It is Tom Harris we are talking about?

    His voting record – NuLabour lobby fodder

    How Tom Harris voted on key issues since 2001:

    Voted moderately against a transparent Parliament.

    Voted a mixture of for and against introducing a smoking ban.

    Voted very strongly for introducing ID cards.

    Voted moderately for introducing foundation hospitals.

    Voted strongly for introducing student top-up fees.

    Voted very strongly for Labour’s anti-terrorism laws.

    Voted very strongly for the Iraq war.

    Voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war.

    Voted very strongly for replacing Trident.

    Voted very strongly for the hunting ban.

    Voted strongly for equal gay rights.

    Voted for laws to stop climate change.

  • mary


    There is a virus on the link in Craig’s article to View From the Residence.

    Virus or unwanted program ‘HTML/FlashFrame.Gen [virus]’

    detected in file

  • ingo

    thanks to georger Dutton and Sabretache for the excellent and corrolating reads.

    If democratic states are undermined by their vested interest spookes, riding high on money and false informations, what discourse can people take?

    Ruth, do you think that the candidacy of Ian Dale is an insider job? does MI5/6 really have the need to be inside political parties with todays imaginative technologies or are these people being groomed for higher decisiona making positions perhaps?

  • technicolour

    dreolin, mary robinson would be grand, surely?

    you see, they’ve sold me the idea already, clever politicians.

    as for the security services, their adverts look brilliant and i want to join them. all that foreign travel, and adventures, and stuff. i bet they’re not really stuck inside hunched over the internet all day like the rest of us, oh no.

  • Strategist

    Excellent post as usual, Craig, thanks.

    Meanwhile, this morning, do “only fools believe in Robert Fisk” and the reported forthcoming demise of the dollar?

    Your expert judgement cutting through the cloud of guff on the web commentaries on this would be much appreciated!

    Even if Fisk is wrong on this one, my respect for him cannot be diminished – an actual reporter on the ground, with great contacts, immune to the rolling news/churnalist agenda, sniffing out important stories – an unfortunately dying breed.

    And of course his legacy is already in place with his masterpiece “The Great War for Civilisation”.

  • technicolour

    Oh by the way, I thought I should mention that the Lisbon treaty contains a clause authorising summary execution, don’t you know.

  • technicolour

    @ dreolin (and then I will shut up) indymedia ireland makes interesting reading. i feel very bad that i didn’t look at this more. it’s a bit late now, obviously.

    (from indymedia ireland)

    Earlier today, Friday 18th September, Sean Clinton, a member of the anti-Lisbon campaign group Irish Friends of Palestine Against Lisbon (IFPAL) was arrested outside the Israeli Embassy in Dublin. His “crime” was erecting an IFPAL sign calling for a ‘No’ vote in the Lisbon Referendum

  • technicolour

    George, are you making the point that lawyers knews all about this but didn’t tell anyone? There’s not a single mention of these contents on google news (I don’t have lexis anymore).

    (Btw sorry for posting all this on what seems to be the wrong thread..)

  • glenn

    Technicolour –

    The conclusions being drawn about a supposed forced introduction of a death penalty are well overblown. While no fan of the Lisbon Treaty, which is yet another charter for multinationals imho, the “paragraphs of interest” most certainly do not say a state is obliged to impose death penalties.

    What it does say, in article 2(2), is that death caused by the state in a number of ways (preventing crime, saving someone else from violence, etc.) is not in itself a call for state-sanctioned murder. It’s saying that sort of thing is not an infringement of this _new_ treaty.

    The second section, b, talks about martial law – the death penalty under war conditions has always been available to a government.


    The Lisbon Treaty is saying it’s not overriding existing law. To suggest it’s introducing a new death penalty is certainly not true – at least, not from the sections quoted in your reference.


  • technicolour

    Glenn, thank you. I don’t know Stephen Raeburn, but his piece on this (posted by George Dutton earlier) is detailed and interesting:

    Briefly, it points out that

    a) The Human Rights Act of 2000 abolished the death penalty in this country, in fact

    b) all these laws and treaties are subject to interpretation, naturally. Scotland has refused to consider reintroducing the death penalty as a result of the Lisbon Treaty. But it would now be legal for it to do so.

    That, one might argue, is a significant shift.

  • technicolour

    sorry “it can be argued that it would now be legal for it to do so”

    but really, one probably shouldn’t try..

  • John Rowe


    I assume you are privy to a fair number of secrets but they seem to start to be leaking out – first Rory Stewart, now this.

    Don’t go walking in the woods anytime soon.

  • George Dutton

    “George, are you making the point that lawyers knews all about this but didn’t tell anyone?”


    The very opposite. The Firm is a respected legal magazine. The media I think are the ones that didn’t tell anyone.

    As Steven Raeburn says the death penalty is “state sanctioned barbarism”.

    After all that has happened this last 30yrs nothing surprises me anymore.

  • alanborky

    Craig, please post your blogs on Rense: so many people who visit that site’d love your insider viewpoint stuff – I certainly do.

    I know there’s some dodgy stuff on that site – but one way or another, all political sides and ideological spectrums, philosophies and belief systems seem represented there to me.

    I’ve actually got you as one of my earliest bookmarks, yet I haven’t been by for ages simply because I’ve so many bookmarks I’ve gradually come to overlook you.

    Being notified by email isn’t much use, either, because I only seem to check it about once a month.

    Do the world (and me) a favour – put yourself regularly on Rense!

  • dreoilin


    I’m not aware of any reason why Mary Robinson wouldn’t be suitable? I’ve been supporting the campaign. Maybe others here feel differently!

    (Won’t be able to post for a day or two. I’m on a very restricted connection.)

  • mary

    I have just been reading Mary Robinson remarks about the UNHRC resolution for a report into Cast Lead –

    Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson criticized the resolution mandating the report as unbalanced and motivated by political concerns – ” This is unfortunately a practice by the Council: adopting resolutions guided not by human rights but by politics. ”

    ?”Mary Robinson

    Rather surprising coming from her?

  • anon

    Vamanos Bandidos

    This discussion about the security services, painting the world with Al Qaida paint from their own laboratories, creating anti-Muslim feeling is as much of a digression from the real issues as James Bond. The ins and outs of the security services is just a smokescreen under which the Zionist bankers are returning with Gordon Brown’s permission, to business as usual. For centuries the Zionist Bankers have:

    1/ controlled Western foreign policy through their illegal lending with interest to kings and governments.

    2/ Served themselves with profits from illegal lending to people like the sub-prime mortgages, making for themselves sufficient dosh for several lifetimes, while inflicting impossible terms on the borrowers so that they can hardly ever repay the loans without severely compromising themselves and their families.

    3/The sin for which they will all be thrown into hell, which totally outweighs their crimes against nations and individuals, and for which they were cursed in the Gospels and the Qur’an, is that they knew what God had commanded them and they disbelieved in Him. Laisa bada kufri thanb. No sin exceeds the rejection of faith.

    The looting of our money to buy land in the UK US demolished Iraq in order to create a greater Israel is nothing compared with knowing God’s word and rejecting Him.

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