The Espionage Establishment
Spies are big business nowadays. Every major Power has ten or twenty thousand on the payroll.There is a spy serial on most television circuits nearly every night, and spy stories make the best money for writers. Scientists perfect the most ingenious devices for spies. Politicians tremble before them. Nearly everyone probably has a spy living next door or at any rate in the same street. Yet when one asks what it is all for, there is no easy answer. The spies, it seems, are like the nuclear deterrent, simply engaged in canceling each other out. In the last resort, the espionage establishment, as our authors call the spy system, has exactly the same aim as any other establishment: jobs for the Boys. Spying pays high salaries and gives an illusory self-esteem to its operators. For those outside the game, it does no good and some harm.
An episode in the life of Bakunin, the great anarchist, illustrates the truth about all spying past, present, and to come. In 1870 Bakunin was living in Switzerland. He had fallen on evil days. He was solitary, ill, and despairing. He was reduced to one follower—a Russian colonel whose radical principles had brought him into self-imposed exile. The colonel’s devotion was inexhaustible. He hung on Bakunin’s words. He provided money for Bakunin and, when his own resources proved inadequate, traveled to Russia in order to collect Bakunin’s share of the family estate. He handled Bakunin’s correspondence and somehow ensured that it was not tampered with by the Russian secret service. When finally the colonel returned to Russia, he and Bakunin parted on the railway platform at Lausanne with tears and embraces.
The colonel was in fact a member of the Russian Third Division, which spied on revolutionaries. His sole task in life was to spy on Bakunin. Hence he had to keep Bakunin going with sympathy and money. Otherwise he would be out of a job. Similarly Bakunin had to turn out revolutionary propaganda in order to collect the spy’s sympathy and money. The colonel could not exist without Bakunin, and Bakunin could not exist without the colonel.
THIS IS THE BASIS for all the present intelligence establishments. They prop each other up. If one disappeared, the other would also fall down. Suppose, for example, that the Soviet KGB was wound up, what would the CIA find to do? Therefore it was essential that each establishment should feed the other with material and thus be confident that material will be fed back. Every KGB agent sent to the United States justifies the sending of another CIA agent to some European observation post, and this in turn provides work for another KGB agent. By now, as the friendly rivalry increases, each service probably passes on its budget and staff list to the other, so that the expenses can be kept moving upward.
In wartime there may be some use for spies, though even this is doubtful. Intelligence services studying public information probably arrive at…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.