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Spy List Pages

  1. Real Life Spies
  2. Spies Pre-WW2
  3. Spies WW2 to 1965
  4. Spies 1966 Present
  5. Top Spy Movies
  6. Top Spy Books

Gripping Spy Novels

  • John le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and A Perfect Spy

  • Anything by Daniel Silva: The Kill Artist, A Death in Vienna, and more

  • Charles McCarry's The Tears of Autumn and The Last Supper

  • It Can't Always be Caviar by Johannes Mario Simmel

  • Len Deighton's Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match

  • The Great Impersonation by Edward Phillips Oppenheim

  • The Once and Future Spy and The Company by Robert Littell

  • Donald Westlake's A Spy in the Ointment

  • David Quammen's The Soul of Viktor Tronko

 

SPIES – FACT AND FICTION (part 2)

An Historical View

Espionage is usually part of a government effort to spy on potential or actual enemies, primarily for Military purposes. Many nations routinely spy on both their enemies and allies, although they maintain a policy of not revealing these activities. A spy is the person employed to obtain such secrets.

While we often read about “spy satellites,” espionage is not a synonym for all types of intelligence functions. It is a specific form of human source intelligence gathering, and not always related to Military matters. Over the past twenty years, espionage agencies have been involved in targeting the illegal drug trade and more recently terrorist organizations.

Where there are large sophisticated networks of spies involved, the organization and control can often be complex. Many methods are used to avoid detection, including clandestine cell systems, where the participants may never have met, and sometimes are being used without their realizing they are participating in espionage efforts.

Case officers, as they are called within the US intelligence community, may have diplomatic status, and are stationed in foreign countries to recruit and supervise intelligence agents, who in turn spy on targets in their countries where they are assigned. A spy may or may not be an actual citizen of the target country.

While it is common to recruit a person already trusted with access to sensitive information, sometimes, a spy will be used to infiltrate a target organization, with a well-prepared false identity.

Throughout history, the image of the spy, his clandestine work, the excitement of obtaining secrets has always intrigued a large portion of the public. The interest in Spy fiction arose about the same time as the first modern intelligence agencies were created.

The genre provides the author with the opportunity to create fiction from fact. Over the years, the public have been become more aware of the role of spies and espionage in their own country and in others. The mingling of facts with fiction in this arena can create for the reader, the excitement, suspense, and fear that must be often felt by the real life members of the intelligence community.

The Dreyfus Affair, before World War I, contributed to public interest in the subject, and was widely reported all over the World. For nearly ten years, the affair and its legal ramifications involving the operations of spies and counter-spies, dominated the politics of France. The details of German intelligence securing the services of an agent in the French Armies General Staff, and obtaining important military secrets, together with the reports of French counter-intelligence using a cleaner to review the waste baskets of the German Embassy in Paris was reported widely in the daily newspapers. This naturally inspired a rash of fictional tales revolving around the same themes.

As a large amount of information became publicly known, particularly during the many 20th Century spy scandals, about national spy agencies and real life secret agents, public interest in a profession largely off limits to news reporting, soared.

The natural consequence of these revelations, and the secrecy and intrigue that surrounded the spies and their profession contributed to the creation of a popular concept of a secret agent. This image was built upon and enhanced by late 20th Century and 21st Century literature, and the cinema.

Time seems to have little impact on the reader’s interest in such stories. Could there be a better example than “Kim” by the English novelist, Rudyard Kipling? This wonderful example of espionage literature included a detailed description of the training of an intelligence agent in the Great Game between the UK and Russia in 19th Century Asia.

The strength of the following of spy fiction flourished between the two World Wars. W.
Somerset Maugham accurately portrayed spying in the First World War in his book, “Ashenden.” Compton Mackenzie, another former British Intelligence Agent, wrote the first successful spy satire, and John Buchan wrote accurate portrayals of the First World War, as the conflict between civilization and barbarism.

Graham Greene’s classic “The Third Man” exposed a decadent and corrupt post World War II, Vienna. The underlying battle between Russia and the West, for control of the City and all of Austria highlighted the espionage activities of both sides.

During the 1950s and 60s, spies such as Desmond Cory’s “Johnny Fedora” represented the popular fiction of the time. Ian Fleming’s “James Bond” exploded on the scene in the early 60s, becoming the most famous fictional secret agent of all, with book after book, successfully transferring to the Silver Screen.

In contrast to the glamorous James Bond, John Le Carre’s character, “George Smiley,” is often considered one of the more realistic fictional spies. And Tom Clancy’s character, “Jack Ryan,” epitomizes the intelligent agent working for the US government.

Finally, the tragic events of 9/11 and the aftermath of continued terrorist attacks provided a new post Cold War boost to spy fiction. Expanding demand for spy thrillers has reflected the wide spread attention paid by the public to real life intelligence matters, not only in their own countries, but in the International “global village.”

Le Carré and Forsyth returned to the genre with many new books, as did Robert Littell, and Charles McCarry. A host of new writers across Europe and the United States have been published over the past few years; and, in the United States, the New York Times “Bestseller List” is often dominated by spy and espionage thrillers.

Part of this surge has been represented by more realistic spy fiction, often written by insiders, which helps the reader to understand the people who made a profession of intelligence work.

Books, such as “Dream Merchant of Lisbon” by Gene Coyle, and a “Train to Potevka” by Mike Ramsdell, represent these types of books. But perhaps the most enlightening of insider spy fiction is the writings of Dame Stellar Rimington, former Director General of the British MI5.

 

Spies, spying, and espionage will always have a devoted following and will probably intrigue us forever.

Ellis Goodman

 

Ellis M. Goodman was born in England and moved to the United States in 1982. He was educated at Brighton College Sussex, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, and is the former Chairman and CEO of a major US Beverage Alcohol producer, importer and distributor. Ellis M. Goodman is the author of a number of magazine articles on the US Beverage Alcohol Industry, and the business book, Corona: The Inside Story of America's #1 Imported Beer.He serves on a number of civil, educational, and cultural boards in Chicago; and, in 1996, was invested as a Commander of the British Empire by HM Majesty Queen Elizabeth for services to British exports. He and his wife, Gillian, live in Glencoe, Illinois.

 

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