In wake of Snowden disclosures, John le Carre slams deference to spy agencies


The Honourable Schoolboy

Famed British spy novelist David Cornwell, who writes under the nom de plume John le Carré, is well-acquainted with his subject matter.  He worked for MI5 and later for MI6 until his covert identity was compromised, bringing his spy career to an end in 1964.  He seems a natural ally of the frenzied bureaucrats calling for Edward Snowden’s head. But, in a piece he wrote for The Guardian, Cornwell slammed the British and UK governments for allowing intelligence agencies to secretly run the show and erode democracy.

Their power over you lies in letting you know a little bit, and implying they know a whole lot more; in reminding you of the perils they grapple with, day and night, while you lie in hoggish slumber in your bed. You must take us on trust, they are telling you; or else pay the price when the bomb goes off in the marketplace.

And the trouble is, sometimes, they’re right. So the safest thing for your uninitiated politician is to say three bags full, and congratulate himself that he’s been admitted to the magic circle, which these days is a very wide one indeed, covering corporations, newspaper moguls, foreign editors, lawyers, doctors and the whole range of candlestick-makers. In the District of Columbia alone, I read somewhere, almost a million non-governmental souls are cleared for top-secret material. One day we’ll all either be cleared citizens or unpersons, but until then: be afraid, and go on being afraid till they tell you to stop.

Read the rest in: “The influence of spies has become too much. It’s time politicians said no” by John le Carré (The Guardian, June 14, 2013).

Photo by Adrian Scottow at Flickr Creative Commons.