“Loyalty is like love, giving it to the wrong person can be…dangerous,” so says a suspected vampire in a Sherlock Holmes adventure. “Dash it all…but she’s paralysed the boy’s spaniel, Holmes. Don’t tell me something supernatural isn’t afoot. That girl’s a vampire, I’ll be bound…a Colombian vampire steeped in the dark native arts.” “Watson, are you familiar with curare…a poison from Southern America? My brother, Mycroft, who runs our confidential agents on the continent, told me that the Prussian attaché was murdered with a curare dart in Dillons on the Strand only last month—it was kept out of the papers, naturally. Well, this spaniel shows all the signs of acute curare poisoning.” “But, Holmes…I never knew you had a brother! And some kind of spy, what?”
The point with espionage is that you are what you do. Now, whatever your internal commitments—whatever private desert island you have carved out in your mind—once you become involved in espionage you are involved in the grey blur. This “espionage paradox” creates problems for governments: all too often the stellar activist in an environmental group is revealed to have been a police agent—he rose to a prominent position because he was, being a policeman, that much more diligent and driven than the average crusty eco-warrior. A similar event happened with the Bolsheviks: a senior and effective Bolshevik was revealed, after the revolution, to have been a Tsarist agent.
The intelligence agent digs his own grave (or, perhaps, builds his own throne)—the agency wants him to get as close to the central decision-making body as possible, to get the highest quality information on the organisation; to do so, he must be an effective activist—he must work diligently to destroy the system he is meant to protect. The paradox present in all espionage: if he is very effective, what if his effectiveness negates his information? As with the Bolsheviks and their agent-activist, Hitler was at first recruited as an agent for the German government to snoop on a small German nationalist party—he then became the party’s leader and overthrew the system that hired him to protect it in the first place.
The man who best understood the intelligence agent was Graham Greene, since he himself was an MI6 agent—and yet he was also fascinated by betrayal as such. The typical Greene scenario is as follows: a middle-aged mid-ranked British agent waits for fresh orders in a hotel in Haiti, Hotel Gaston—in between tepid rum and Cokes, he watches pariah dogs outside the hotel precincts as they lick their sores in the heat; the hotel is run by a craggy Frenchman and his attractive creole wife—the agent sleeps with the hotelier’s wife; yet he is tortured by guilt over his own wife, currently domiciled in Woodcote, Berkshire and with whom he maintains a distant but ambiguous correspondence. At this point, a debauched yet curiously charismatic German Catholic priest, who has spent his career in Mexico but has been exiled to Haiti for an indiscretion, arrives at the hotel—despite his dissolution, his predilection for pretty mestizos, he has a saintly air about him (a hint that this might be the true Catholicism).
The priest will carry on a humorous dialogue with the agent by the hotel swimming pool, itself half-filled with green algae—“I clean, Monsieur. Yes, I clean,” says the Haitian handyman, but he never does. Despite the conversation’s humorous form, the general thrust is always about the agent’s mortal soul. “But, father—can it really be a mortal sin to get…a divorce?” “My son, the mysteries of God and the heart are intertwined like…” <<pariah dog howls in the background>> .
At a crucial moment in the love triangle, a revolution will break out. A charismatic young black graduate recently returned from a Parisian lycée imbued with Marxist ideas—“the sweat stood on his skin in the heat, his skin was velveteen—as if he were an otter dappled with water on a Scottish loch”—has been cultivated by the agent, who has half-fabricated a revolutionary group on the island to improve his prospects for promotion; yet by the novel’s end the revolutionary movement has been written into existence. The young black will occasionally join the priest and the agent by the swimming pool. “But, father…can it really be a mortal sin to join the Communists, to help the poor like Jesus did? Can the Church be mistaken?” “My son, the mysteries of God and the heart are intertwined like…”
This is known as “Greeneland”, but it is also really “secret agent land”. Greene was really into betrayal as “a thing”: secret agents (he was one), adultery (he was a serial adulterer), novels (observe other people’s lives—turn them into novels), and politics (perhaps the USSR is not as bad as America?). Greene enjoyed the “moral torture” from the situation—have I damned my mortal soul? (but it’s just so good, how can it be wrong?); is it really wrong to be a Marxist in conditions such as these (were the Cambridge Spies, whom Greene knew, really wrong?).
Greene’s attitude was unhealthy; he was a narcissist—as a teenager he took a pistol out to a common and played Russian roulette; his parents packed him off to a Jungian analyst, then a brand new treatment, and he improved—and yet it was constitutional; and you can tell it was so from his eyes—he had peculiar eyes, shamanic eyes. As with many narcissists he could not accept the rules—the reality. “Look, Greene, it’s pretty simple: be a Communist or be a Catholic—they are mutually exclusive. Be an atheist and have affairs and who cares—or be a Catholic and avoid damnation through constancy.” Greene always wanted it to be somehow okay to be a Catholic-Communist, adulterer-continent, spy-loyalist—and that is the narcissistic delusion. “I’m so tortured by this situation.” “For fuck’s sake…just choose one.”
Spies never really work for anyone—whatever they think in their heads. To be a spy is to be like a transsexual—you are someone in the demimonde who lives in their own world, their Interzone. Your country, as a spy, really is “Greeneland”—it is blurry ambiguity land, the wilderness of mirrors. James Bond is not really a spy; he is too heroic to be a spy—he is an action hero, he turns up, barley clandestine, and starts to shoot; he is invulnerable. Actual spies are much more squalid than that—they are…compromised.
Case study: Maurice Oldfield, the erstwhile MI6 chief reactivated by Thatcher, discreetly retired when his security detail turned up a stash of dirty pictures—the young rent boy collection—that shocked even them; shocked the hardened ones. Compromised. The secret agent is feminine—hence the homosexual link; it is women who spy, find out what you like and where you go—create a reality distortion field. The feminine cat walks where it pleases—the masculine dog is loyal. The pariah dog.
To be effective, even if you think you *work* for the Soviets in MI6, you still have to frustrate Soviet plans to get anywhere. However, intelligence is qualitative; the right information at the right time can be worth more than dozens of agents arrested. So if, say, you catch three other Soviet spies to earn a promotion that gives you access to information “X” and then that information is no longer needed then who have you really helped? Functionally, an unactivated agent might only serve the “enemy” side—“But in my mind I was always with you, I was just never activated…”
Non-ideological spies have a clearer view as to the situation. Greene encountered such a man in Portugal in WWII; he was considered to be among the best German agents—yet his reports were entirely fabricated in a private room with help from Portuguese-English technical dictionary of military terms, access to BBC radio, and an A-Z of London streets. Total invention, yet even in his total invention he managed to produce a few accurate reports—one completely invented report was very accurate, the Germans were impressed; yet it arrived too late to be useful. This fact offers the tantalising possibility that the agent who fabricated his reports was writing reality into existence, or else channeled it through his imagination—a link to Greene’s preoccupation with fiction, and the novelist as spy; for perhaps all creative art is made by assassins—those for whom nothing is true and everything is permitted.
In a more conventional line, there were men who were arrested after the war because they helped the Gestapo in occupied Europe—and yet they would then produce Resistance figures who showed they helped the Resistance. Really, these men were pure opportunists who realised it was all a game and decided to profit. Betray a Resistance fighter to the Gestapo, pick up some information and run to the Resistance, then run back to the Gestapo—profit all the way. But who is he working for? Myself (the unacceptable, hidden answer). Yet the ambiguity remains: his information killed five Resistance fighters; his information saved three Jews from deportation; his information helped a hit squad find Professor Morelli…
Ideological spies are in a more unfortunate predicament: the Cambridge Spies fled to the Soviet Union, expected to be given jobs in the KGB—and were instead isolated. Why? Because the Soviets did not trust them, for all they knew it was a triple-bluff by MI6. The traitor will never be trusted; he sold out his own—if he will sell out his own, how can his new “employer” trust him? Yet believers, as with the Cambridge Spies, are the most deluded in this regard—they think a belief can transcend blood, yet by 1966 the Russians were long over such revolutionary enthusiasm (“for the Motherland”).
The spy—the sneak—is held in low regard, the lowest regard. Tell-tale tit, your mouth will be slit, and all the little dicky-birds, will have a little bit—so sing children as regards the good bois who tell teacher (gruesome like Heath Ledger’s Joker). In Dante’s Inferno, traitors are consigned to the lowest circle in Hell—condemned to be eaten (and presumably excreted) by Satan himself for all eternity. This might be a particular Christian concern—Judas is the lowest figure in the Bible, the man who, as with wartime opportunists, betrays his friends for money. Yet I think the concern with loyalty is more general than that. The right is about loyalty at base: they want to live in a high-trust society, a high-trust society will be composed from responsible people—since responsibility is about your ability to trust yourself, to live up to the commitments you make in a consistent way (even if nobody sees whether you do or not). Hence the right’s current enemy is “the deep state”; and what is the deep state? In the widest sense, the state bureaucracy—yet in particular the intelligence services.
What do people in the CIA do all day? Try to corrupt people, basically—induce them into threesomes filmed with pinhole cameras, or to snort cocaine off a smoked-glass table, or to say “nigger” into a cameraphone; or just to get a wadge of cash in a clandestine account—and, perhaps, God help us, to convince someone to betray their country for “liberal democracy” or “LGBT rights”. So, basically, they corrupt people—they increase the amount of betrayal in the world; they put people in the grey zone—a mortal sin, as Greene’s priest might say. “Yes, but they are our guys—they do it to keep us safe. You can’t be too particular, there are bad guys out there.” Ye-s, except when you step into the grey zone—into Interzone—you are in your own country; and that country is not really Britain or America. Who are you really working for? Who are they really working for? My country is Interzone—and it is a hot country.