- Print This Post Print This Post

By John Helmer, Moscow

When David Cornwell (aka John Le Carré) died after a bathroom fall last December, the current chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (aka MI6), Richard Moore, announced by tweet that Cornwell had been “a giant of literature who left his mark on MI6 through his evocative and brilliant novels”.  By mark, Moore didn’t mean blot.

On October 21, the last of the Le Carré novels was published. Called “Silverview”, it starts with a whopping mistake on the first line. It continues making mistakes until the last page where the final words Le Carré wrote were: “and that’s the last secret I’ll keep from you”. The publisher has followed with twelve blank pages. No mistaking them – they are Le Carré’s evocation of the state of mind inside the Service from Moore down.  

Not a secret he can keep from you. Nor a mistake by Le Carré.

The first mistake is a signal from the author that everything that follows is the kind of fiction  only the Guardian would be sure to miss. “Stealth and sophistication”, the newspaper which leads the London claque in publishing MI6’s Russia war-fighting lies, declared in its review; also “three [sic] outstanding set pieces”, “economy and grace beyond most writers”, “still has tradecraft to impart”, “virtues remained intact to the end”.   

“Sparkling display”, declared the Financial Times, past employer of Catherine Belton  and Thames Embankment neighbour of MI6. “Good literature [to] help make the world a better place”;  “implacable for its deliberate weighing up of things”.  

But exactly what things came from Le Carré in his final book?

Left, the book. Right: David Cornwell on the state’s accolades he rejected and the Englishman he considered himself to be – December 2017.  Transcript: https://www.cbsnews.com/ In June of this year, the BBC reported the coroner’s inquest into the cause of Cornwell’s death. Accidental death was the ruling.    

For the full Le Carré dossier, click to read.   

Le Carré’s first line starts: “At ten o’clock of a rainswept morning in London’s West End, a young woman…strode resolutely into the storm that was roaring down South Audley Street.”  This introduces one of the lead characters, daughter of the MI6 agent, ex-Communist double-agent (Polish), who’s the target of investigation by another of the lead characters, the MI6’s dedicated leak and mole hunter. Is this a coded signal from Le Carré? No Londoner, no veteran British intelligence officer active or retired would ever say that South Audley Street is in the West End. Everybody knows it’s in Mayfair.

The mistakes don’t stop. The lead MI6 officer, introducing his own career among the elite  achievements of his family, says he “could point to two learned judges, two Queen’s Counsellors…” Can he have not known that plural QCs are spelled “Queens Counsels”? The code signal from Le Carré? No British establishment man whose money, Le Carré added parenthetically, “was held in trusts”, would fail to know that plural, especially men who served under cover in foreign diplomatic posts whose ranking titles included “counsellor”.

Then there’s the internal monologue running through the mole-hunter’s head while he was  debriefing two of his old friends,  one “the improbably beautiful Director of Levantine Operations” and the other, her spouse,  who “ran the Service’s Eastern Europe networks” before promotion (demotion) to “the upgraded Belgrade Station at the outbreak of the Bosnian War”. “It was a general truth of Intelligence professionals of a certain age”, the character ruminated, according to Le Carré, “that if sensitive matters are to be discussed at all, then best in a bare room with no party walls and no chandelier”. This sounds just like “tradecraft to impart”, according to the Guardian, doesn’t it? But Le Carré’s giveaway is his spelling “Intelligence professionals” with a capital letter “I”  and a lower-case letter “p”. Who in their British professional mind ever does that except as an irony – and those professionals use irony only for warning, never for joking.

Le Carré issues sartorial warnings for his junior lead character, the innocent foil caught up unwittingly in the spy plot. Ahead of a dinner party with the MI6 targets, he is reported to be inspecting his wardrobe and to have “opted for a checked sports jacket…and knitted bird’s-eye silk tie from Mr Budd the shirt-maker in Piccadilly Arcade”.  British professionals of a certain age, like David Cornwell, might have checked their jackets in a cloakroom or perhaps a vestiaire in the French restaurants they favour on St. James’s Street. But the pattern of their jacket cloth has always been known from Savile Row to Jermyn Street as a check. And they have never called Budd in the arcade, between Piccadilly and Jermyn Street, Mister.

Budd since 1910

Source: https://www.buddshirts.co.uk

In his MI6 career Le Carré spoke German fluently. Richard Moore, the current chief, is a Turkish speaker. Arabic, Serbo-Croat, Polish,  and Czech are the other languages used by characters in the book. But none of them knows Hebrew. It’s therefore a signal of Le Carré’s when he puts into the mouth of the leading Middle East specialist of the Service, then days away from death by cancer: “Who are you? she says. “You’re a blessing, obviously. A mitzvah, as the Jews have it.” In point of fact, the Jews don’t. In Hebrew mitzvah means a commandment, a religious duty — a performance not a performer.

This was the first of Le Carré’s signals on the quality of British intelligence on the Middle East. A second appears when the number plate is traced of a black Peugeot carrying the turncoat MI6 agent’s love interest (in addition to his wife, MI6’s best Middle East expert). According to Le Carré, MI6 had discovered the car “was charged to the League of Arab States in Green Street.” For sixty years now, the League has sat on Gloucester Place, in Marylebone, eleven miles and half an hour across London from Green Street. The League is also so notoriously penurious – for which the Saudis are to blame — it doesn’t hire cars for its employees.

A third signal flashes when Le Carré introduces “Teresa, formidable head of the Service’s Legal Department, she who brooks no argument.” She is also “tall, redoubtable, wide-striding Teresa, in black power suit”. On seating herself in conference with the mole-hunter and the Vice Chief, she “haul[s] up her black skirts [now plural] until it was convenient for her cross her legs.” That done,  she starts expleting. “What we’re looking at is an unparalleled five-star clusterfuck.” A few minutes later she says: “For fuck’s sake”. A few days later, when the plot is reaching its climax and the  mole hunter  is asking for a couple of hours’ more time to find the mole who’s done a runner, Teresa, chief legal counsel for the Secret Intelligence Service,  says on an open telephone line: “Can I fuck. I’m on my way to the Cabinet Office now.”  

Le Carré does not punctuate the lawyer’s first sentence with a question-mark because it’s a rhetorical question, the answer to which the Cabinet Secretary and supervisor of MI6 at the time, Sir Mark Sedwill, may have known, but Le Carré was acknowledging he did not.

Source: http://johnhelmer.net/ 
As the new MI6 chief, the unknighted Richard Moore has replaced Sir Alex Younger, Moore’s  expertise on the Middle East comes from his fondness for Turkish carpets and porcelain, as well as for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Younger was also a career spy in the Middle East, reaching the rank of station chief in Afghanistan.

This string of Le Carré codewords tie together the brown paper wrapper inside which Le Carré reveals, finally and at the very last, what he has concluded about the Service. At first, he has the mole hunter’s stream of consciousness ask a question: had, has the Service “thrown off a long tradition of objective advice [sic] in favour of a giddy late-life romp through the wild woods of colonial fantasy?”

Then, just before Le Carre’s 12 blank pages follow in the wake of the successful getaway of the turncoat (the black Peugeot again), the brown paper wrapper comes off and here is Le Carré’s final judgement: “in the absence of any coherent British foreign policy, the Service was getting too big for its boots”.

Except that before he died, Le Carré decided to put a question mark on the end of that fateful line.

Leave a Reply