empson and the CIA


Ryder Street in the City of Westminster might not currently seem a site to conjure with, but in 1943, when Section V of MI6 moved to offices there, it stood as the core of Anglo-American chicanery and cozenage. If you came to work early enough you could see, from the upper floors, the employees of Quaglino’s restaurant recycling its garbage from the night before. Counter-intelligence, the concern of the office members, is also a mode of recycling. The task is not to detect and remove the enemy’s agents: quite the reverse. Counterintelligence aims to collect and master the enemy’s intelligence in order to turn it against him. By sifting and ordering the information that the enemy’s agents transmit, it analyses the questions they are aiming to answer, obtains evidence of their plans and intentions as a result, and then tries to influence or supplant these by the answers that it carefully supplies. Rather than execute spies, counterintelligence aims to “turn” them. This proved a handy skill when Russia threatened India, the jewel in the British Empire’s crown, and Kipling’s novel Kim offers a fitting memorial to what was called the Great Game. An updated scheme called the “Double Cross” later emerged from Whitehall as a way of dealing with the subsequent threat from Hitler’s Germany. When the American allies arrived in London in 1942, they were so impressed by the massive British card index of agents that they modelled the system of their own Office of Strategic Services (OSS) on it.

more from Terence Hawkes at the TLS here.