Real-life James Bonds' better

2010-09-22 13:29
London – A spy lands on a beach near a casino and strips off his wetsuit to reveal a smart tuxedo. Intelligence agents experiment with using bodily fluid as invisible ink to write secret letters.

Sound like extracts from a James Bond novel? In fact they're real-life examples of spycraft revealed for the first time in a new authorised history of Britain's foreign intelligence service MI6 from 1909 to 1949.

Author Keith Jeffery, a history professor at Queen's University in Belfast, paints a picture of the agency's cash-strapped, freewheeling early days as it battled not only the Nazis and Soviets but also government red tape.

Nor did it only target its enemies – agents bombed ships for refugees to Palestine and gathered intelligence on the US, on the "Free French" of liberation hero Charles de Gaulle and on post-independence India.

And unlike the suave 007, many MI6 agents did not survive.

"The real James Bonds are in fact more interesting than the fictional ones," Jeffery told AFP after the launch of the book, for which he was granted unprecedented access to MI6 archives.

"What does strike you really hard when you read these archives is that there are these people taken into highly hazardous situations on operations and some of them did pay with their lives," he added.

The origins of MI6 were humble. After his first day at work on October 7, 1909, Mansfield Cumming, the founding chief of the service, who was known only as "C", wrote in his diary: "Went to the office and remained all day, but saw no one, nor was there anything to do there."

Short of resources

The agency remained short of resources through the two World Wars and had to resort to unusual methods – particularly when Cumming became obsessed with the hunt for the perfect invisible ink during World War 1.

After extensive inquiries by the MI6 chief, senior agency officer Walter Kirke wrote in his diary in October 1915 that he had "heard from C that the best invisible ink is semen".

C was said to be especially delighted when a researcher found the fluid would not react to iodine vapour – though the researcher had to be transferred because of ribbing by his colleagues about the source of the "ink", wrote another officer, Frank Stagg.

An agent in Copenhagen meanwhile was apparently storing the new "ink" in a bottle "for his letters stank to high heaven and we had to tell him that a fresh operation was necessary for each letter", Stagg wrote.

Other MI6 operations veered between Bond and bizarre.

Agent Pieter Tazelaar was put ashore in Nazi-occupied Holland in World War 2 "in full evening dress and smelling of alcohol, wearing a specially designed rubber over suit to keep him dry while landing", Jeffery writes.

His colleague Erik Hazelhoff sprinkled a few drops of Hennessy XO over him to strengthen his "partygoer's image", the book says.

Another agent, Dudley Clarke, was arrested in Madrid in 1941 dressed, "down to a brassiere", as a woman, as the British embassy reported to London.

Brilliant career in deception

Spanish police believed he was cross-dresser while the Gestapo identified him as a spy, but he was released and "went on to have a brilliant career in deception", writes Jeffery.

Then there was Bill "Biffy" Dunderdale, a close friend of "James Bond" author Ian Fleming – and Dunderdale's "penchant for pretty women and fast cars" may have made him the model for 007, the book says.

Jeffery says talk of agents having a "licence to kill" was a myth, with the MI6 archives showing that the agency was involved in the illegal killings of only two people.

But MI6 agents did bomb five ships as part of "Operation Embarrass", a campaign to discourage post-war Jewish refugees from sailing to then British-controlled Palestine.

And its wartime head, Stewart Menzies, was in no doubt about the purpose of intelligence, saying it should result in action "which result in the death of one or more enemy nationals, or the defeat of some of his projects."

The book meanwhile covers what Jeffery calls MI6's "greatest failure" – its inability to spot its greatest traitor, Harold "Kim" Philby, who rose to the agency's upper echelons then defected to the Soviet Union in 1963.

Jeffery shows how MI6 operations involving Philby, including an attempt to engineer a coup in Albania, repeatedly collapsed without the finger of suspicion falling on him.

"He was damn good at his job – the trouble was his job was spying for the Soviets," he said.
Read more on:    mi6  |  uk  |  espionage
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Five wrapping hacks you have to know before Christmas

Five gift wrapping hacks that will save Christmas for you!

 
 

I love summer.24

Sexiest Instagrams of 2014
Joburg hot spots for cocktails, craft beer, tapas and wine!
Summer Survey!
Great ideas for the best summer sandwiches!

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

Festive gifts!

Check out our awesome range of festive gifts to make everyone’s wishes come true. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R2200 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

30% off the bestselling books

Save big on the most captivating reads of 2014. While stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

It is hard to keep some sort of balance when the natural rhythm has flown out the window. The best thing to do is try not to keep...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.