Tom McParland concludes his look at the great Hollywood spy movies through the years.
Our much-admired movie spies – be they moles or operatives – gain our acclamation for their ingenuity, bravery, female conquests etc. But real-world spies who inhabit lightless tunnels where perilous props can suddenly collapse sending them into eternal darkness, get none.
These lone hackers, mere cogs in a complex matrix, know little about their place in the scheme of things and usually nothing of overall outcomes. Their only contact is their handler, their only compass the task at hand.
It was Ireland that internationally publicised the word informer making its predecessor informant, redundant. It was forged from hatred in a time of struggle for independence. The myth grew up that even the British hated informers – probably because it’s unbearable to imagine that such a recreant belongs to the human race.
However, Viscount Palmerston said in 1851 “…we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal.” 167 years later it’s this principle (not principles) that governs the shadowy world of espionage.
More recently in post-conflict Northern Ireland, the press unmasked alleged British moles at the very heart of republicanism. But such high class moles cannot be seeded without paid informers or snitches who alert the authorities that such-and-such is short of money and might be susceptible to an approach.
But how does somebody with an English accent slip into an ever watchful republican area and make contact? The answer is unnervingly simple. Someone risks their life by walking up to a potential mole, handing them a note and saying “we can solve your debt problems if you ring this number”– then disappears quickly.
But even the murky victors in espionage do not totally escape its furtive fingers.
The 1941 breaking of the German code by British military intelligence was regarded by Churchill as the golden goose. But the getting of golden eggs was the easy bit. The morally repulsive part was using them. Because the Allies had to, by their actions pretend ignorance of the high grade intelligence Enigma was delivering.
That meant the conscious sending of Allied forces to their deaths. The spymaster had become slave to his enemy in order to prevent his golden goose from becoming a dead duck. Such wartime desperation produces the catalyst: needs must when the Devil drives. But employing (even temporarily) such underhand tactics, produces a perpetual guilt which the devil drives forever. Every war’s true victors are the innocent generations that follow.