They say, never look a gift horse in the mouth…which, apparently has something to do with equine dentistry and crappy presents…basically don’t criticise something you’re given it for free. Which on the face of things would seem like the right thing to do, but when your gift is the offer of information from a disgruntled embassy employee offering you access to embassy files, I think you have every right to call the horse dentist.
Maybe I’ve been in the profession too long but the whole thing seems a little fishy. Last week one of the admin team found a note under their windscreen wiper. Now, this could have been anything from ‘Sorry I bumped your car’ to ‘Two for one Fridays’ from the local takeaway, but what’s got everyone twitched, is that it in fact turned out to be an invitation for a meet, a meet to discuss the hand over of embassy files, for an embassy that may or may not be of interest to us.
Obviously this was reported up the chain as soon as our chap came back in, which was at that point, that administrative hell broke loose. Firstly, and importantly for the individual concerned, our man volunteered, to go through the wringer. This is to check for moles and anything that could be used to turn an individual. It consists of a series of one to one interviews, interrogations if you like, with a head of section. These are then followed by a polygraph, and we’re not talking daytime television polygraphs, it’s one of ours, the ones the Russians train to beat. During this process, the individuals bank and savings accounts, phone and personal computer are all impounded and forensically inspected. A team is also dispatched to their flat to swept for bugs and other surveillance equipment.
Why the wringer? M.I.18 agents are the nameless faceless cogs in the secret service machine, the clues in the title ‘The Secret Service.’ No one knows who we are, you don’t just pick us out of a crowd and offer us embassy files. This would be the equivalent of going up to a random stranger in a car park and offering them the exact same thing they’ve been looking for. I mean we could…… we know that sort of thing …we’re spies…just saying.
When something like this happens, as well as security concerns, we are also concerned for the safety of our operative. Once they’ve been cleared by the ‘wringer.’ they are placed under protective custardy at another station until we’re sure they aren’t the target. Our embassy in Jamaica always needs operatives, the climate, beaches, expenses account, and general relaxed attitude go a long way to make up for the invasion of privacy, so you know …every cloud.
There are always more questions than answers at this point. Is the offer genuine? Is it the other side trying to draw us out, trying to compromise the recipient, in the hopes of blackmail? I mean that’s what we would do, it’s unsophisticated, but you want to catch fish you have to cast a net.
The next possibility is a General Paton, the small threads of deception designed to sell the big one. During 1944 General Paton commanded the fictitious 3rd Army. An Army that existed on paper only, the small threads of false information built and built, until the Germans were convinced they knew the location of the D- Day landings, even as the real thing happened, they considered it a diversion for the 3rd Army landings. So…..are the other side trying to sell a lie?
The Chief, Station Chiefs and Heads of section meet in closed session. I am called to take notes. One of the most powerful groups in the country sits around the worst put together pieces of Swedish knock off furniture we have in the office. Every time they lean on it, it makes a groan that threatens to be its last.
After beats of silents the Chief addresses the group.
“We have a few options as i see it.” (Groan) “The offer is genuine, in which case we’d need checks on the individual,” (Groan) “The offer is a Trojan, in which case, can we turn them ? (Groan), or do we just accept that it’s a Trojan and let them think we’ve fallen for the bait?”
Head of Section London considers this,
“There are, (Groan) risks, but we should take it on face value.” (Groan)
“Right that’s it, we take it out. Got that ?” The chief looks in my direction.
“Just to clarify Sir…. accept the offer, and check for a double, whilst making plans for a double double…..and organise a wet team for an assassination.
“Where the bloody hell did you get assassination from ?”
“But Sir you did say ‘take it out ?”
“The table, the god damned table!….haven’t got time to run around off’ing people, we’re not Russians!”
Moral of the story, if you suspect you’ve got a loose end, first check it’s not the table.