Tuesday 30 March 2010

Where do you put the carbon paper?

Interesting little story in The Daily Telegraph this week which shows up quite how much the Internet revolution of the last decade is changing the world of espionage ... and consequently the environment for spy fiction.

MI:5 is reportedly making some significant staff changes to get rid of a number of more 'senior' staff who, the paper reports, are finding it tough to get to grips with the Interweb and, consequently, are less able to act as effective modern spying operatives. Reference is made to a "James Bond generation" of spies who cannot cope with the speedy advance of online communications. Hopefully, the HR bods in the service will check that in their efforts to get aligned with modern employment trends and make every spook web-savvy, they don't lose the collective knowledge and experience these agents will undoubtedly have.

While accepting that MI:5 and MI:6 no doubt must remain effective and adapt to all the advantages modern technology offer, one can't help wandering that the spy game 2.0 lacks a little of the 'art' and guile of the classic espionage world of Deighton, Le Carré, Ambler, Fleming et al, with its 'data centres', hidden cameras, short wave radios, secret drops, trefs and one-time pads. Real scope for cracking action, intrigue and suspense, in a time when secrets were secret ... at least, most of the time. The modern spy, with his iPhone and encrypted wireless, is faced with a world of information where little, it seems, is now "top secret".

But, of course, the great spy characters reflect the age in which they operate, and the best authors will reflect this and create stories that weave this information-rich world seamlessly into a breathless narrative.

I can't help thinking what 'Harry Palmer' or Bernard Samson would make of this modern incarnation of the spy business .... and laughing.

1 comment:

  1. With all our spy services becoming web-savy, using ipods and such like it has made them ineffective against groups such as Al Qaeda who use no or limited technology. Your success in penetrating the opposition communications is always the key to winning and with our dependence on technology, the only way we can infiltrate their communications is by capturing and resorting the captive to torture.

    Spying protects our interests in trade during peacetime, it always has, always will. Technology nowadays allows us to infiltrate, with no human cost major corporations and gain an advantage. With globalisation and the technology nowadays, we now need to be the most tech savvy country in the world to protect us from the Chinese, so we are now actively engaged in two wars.
    One - a low tech war against terrorists
    Two - a very high tech war against states

    3 other points I want to make very quickly, before I have to go out,

    Spies are employees, their career is based on achieving certain KPIs, and using technology you can easily accomplish that. For instance, using a great piece of code I can get a deal for a British company which would have went to say the Americans for $10b. Looks good on my record, I get promoted. Al-Q bomb goes off and we lose 10 people in a train station. Couldn't do anything about it, but hey I made $10b for the country and the long term benefits far outweigh those people, who I never knew anyway, who lost their lives.

    Technology advancement also gives the false impression that you can win a fight.

    We are simply a prisoner of technology and getting the balance right is impossible.