The spy who scouted me
I write this because almost 40 years ago I’m pretty sure an attempt was made to recruit me to Her Majesty’s security services. I had just graduated from the University of Nottingham with an honours degree in politics, specializing in west European Communist Parties and Middle Eastern terrorism, and was about to depart for Cambridge to study for a Master’s Degree.
One of my professors, a senior advisor to the-then Thatcher Conservative government, asked me to take a walk with him. He put his arm through mine in that old British, platonic manner and asked me what I planned to do with my life. I mumbled something or other.
“Well Michael, I’ve been thinking about you,” he said, “and I want to be absolutely frank.” A long pause. “You’re very clever but you’re rather lazy. So I see two paths as being open to you. In my opinion you should pursue journalism or espionage.” And then we walked on in silence.
I suppose it should have been more obvious, but perhaps the good professor had over-estimated by alleged cleverness. I only understood the code, read the invisible ink, later that week when one of my roommates told me nonchalantly that, “Some bloke came round last night asking questions about you. He said it was about a job in the civil service and asked if you had a girlfriend. We said you did and he asked if it was ‘a bedtime relationship.’ It was hard not to laugh.”
This, remember, was 1980…
Autres temps, autres mœurs. And we now have radically different–how realistic?–ideas about how this sort of necessary work needs to be looked at. But all the time British intelligence agencies were still (sort of) officially secret was British democracy in any real peril? Transparency may perhaps go too far unless one has no belief in the trustworthiness of those the people elect to run their country. Are we all becoming Americans? Why should we?