In Support of the Author

Sweet Tooth

by Ian McEwan
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 301 pp., $26.95


LONDON—How’s this for a job title: secret agent’s apprentice?

The British government is recruiting teenage apprentice spies and codebreakers without university degrees in a bid to deepen the talent pool of its intelligence services for the era of cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare.

The Foreign Secretary William Hague announced the program Thursday….

“It will be the young innovators of this generation who will help keep our country safe in years to come against threats which are every bit as serious as some of those confronted in the Second World War.”

The Foreign Office said the apprenticeship program aims to find up to 100 new recruits for GCHQ—Britain’s electronic surveillance agency—and the MI5 and MI6 intelligence services. The idea is to expand recruitment of spies beyond the traditional method of a discreet “tap on the shoulder” at university.

The program will be open to bright 18-year-olds with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and computer gaming.

They will undergo a two-year course of university classes, technical training, and work placements before starting full-time jobs.

High school students will also be invited to take part in a “national cipher challenge” competition intended to inspire them to consider careers in mathematics and cybersecurity.

—The Boston Globe
October 19, 2012

5 November 2012

The Right Hon. William Hague MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
King Charles Street

Dear Mr. Hague,

I write, as requested, in support of the application by Mr. Ian McEwan for a senior teaching post within the “apprentice spies programme” (you and I naturally prefer the British spelling) that was launched last month. You and your advisers will already be well aware of his especial credentials for this post. As you will know, his latest historical work, Sweet Tooth, opens:

My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British Security Service. I didn’t return safely. Within eighteen months of joining I was sacked, having disgraced myself and ruined my lover, though he certainly had a hand in his own undoing.

But I need at once to declare an interest, not in that as a woman I might be suspected of having sympathy for Ms. Frome, but in that Mr. McEwan has paid me the compliment of identifying me at an early stage of his book as the single mother who would one day become Director General of MI5. But then this, as my autobiography spelt out, is an Open Secret. The unfortunate Ms. Frome has been so good as to remark that “in 1972 Trimingham was already a legend among the new girls.” (Trimingham, indeed.)

I trust that I may start by taking up some points from the press release.

A bid to deepen the talent pool. Mr. McEwan’s work of twenty years ago, The Innocent (1990), sounded the “ever deeper echelons of electronic surveillance beneath the surface of Berlin”: the Berlin Tunnel or Operation Gold, a joint…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.