The New Agent


The world of espionage is far removed from the glamorous scenario imagined by the general public, fed as it is by tales of James Bond and other spies from popular literature. In truth, most of what is generally called spying is humdrum, boring, tedious - call it what you like - and performed by quite ordinary, everyday people.

Admittedly you have Guy Burgess and those of his ilk, who should have been spotted a mile off, but most of those eventually caught in the service of the Soviet Bloc countries were ordinary to the extreme – the notorious Krogers spied from 1960s London suburbia.

Most of it isn’t even dangerous, consisting of nothing more than keeping watch on people and things, looking for changes to otherwise regular behaviour. A lot can be deduced when people change the habits of a lifetime, that’s how many spouses are found out when playing away games.

The private investigator gathering evidence for a divorce, the industrial snooper looking to earn himself a bit of pocket money by stealing an invention - this is the stuff of spying.

Even when we consider international espionage, conducted by the agents of one country against another, friendly or otherwise, we find the most ordinary types at work. What’s the point of a conspicuous spy, an obvious secret policeman? None at all!

Much like the politicians of opposing parties who hurl abuse at each other across the House of Commons and then go for drinks together, the espionage community isn’t necessarily at daggers drawn at operational level. Spies are well aware of each other’s existence and frequently trade information and services that would surprise, even shock the citizens in whose name the activity takes place.

Take for example the situation in the early 'seventies when the Cold War was as cold as it ever had been. A group of field operatives formed an unofficial club that met in a seedy pub in Islington, an Inner-London borough that had fallen on hard times but which would take off in the desirability stakes by the end of the decade.

Four times a year they met to talk shop and review the international situation. It was rare to have a full attendance because the nature of the work frequently required absence at short notice. They could hardly compromise their organisations by advertising their current assignments, could they? They might be friends but they were also competitors!

The equilibrium of their investigative world was broken by the arrival of an outsider on the manor. Just who was he?


At the pre-Christmas bash of the Islington Spying Circle there was peace and goodwill to all men of the spying community. First to the bar as usual (before the round got too big) was Hiram Hamilton of the CIA. Helping him carry the glasses was Solly Silverman, a Hatton Garden jeweller who fed a trickle of solid but inconsequential information on local Arabs to Mossad.

Fitting a Gauloise into a long black holder was Michelle Deschiottes. Pale of face and dressed in black with a beret atop her bottle-blonde curls, she was the eyes and ears of France’s Deuxième Bureau. Lighting her cigarette was Connor O’Flaherty who plodded away in Kilburn in the service of Irish Intelligence. Sitting beside him was Rodney Hartwell, assigned by Britain’s SIS to watch over this sad little gathering.

Over the next hour or so they were joined by operatives from the intelligence services of most of the major and several of the minor nations of the world, plus unofficial agents for groups such as OPEC and the PLO.

The mood was convivial, even jovial. It being the festive season, Solly Silverman offered a cigar to Al Fatah’s man in London. But try as they might, there was a dark cloud hanging over the gathering. Several members of the circle reported sighting a new spook in the area.

Cautious by nature, the assembled agents didn’t like mysteries and pored over and over the available information. The intruder took ordinariness to the extreme. Shabbily dressed even by the standards of the profession, he always wore an old raincoat and trilby hat and went about his business on a Raleigh bicycle of pre-war vintage. No one wanted to risk direct contact with the stranger so everything said was rumour and speculation.

Dino Dimarco, who drove an ice-cream van between making reports to Italy’s SISMI, said that the mystery man had been seen visiting a number of houses in Canning Town. A working-class neighbourhood of East London, the area was a hotbed of trade union activity by the militant dockworkers, so the newcomer could be presumed to have connections with the Eastern Bloc. The KGB’s Ivor Bolokov, unofficial leader of the intelligence operatives of the Soviet Union and its client states, strenuously denied this. "If the man was a comrade," he asserted, "I would have been informed by Moscow!"

They were on the fifth round of drinks and were none the wiser as to the identity of the new agent. Someone must know something. Unfortunately the quality of debate was in inverse proportion to the quantity of alcohol consumed as the evening progressed.

Last to arrive, kept from the party by some emergency intelligence-gathering against what remained of Britain’s manufacturing industry, was Helmut Regensburg of West Germany’s BND. As soon as Rudi Dresdener of East Germany’s Stasi rose and left the table to visit the gent’s, he pushed his way to the vacated chair next to the three-bar electric fire that was the only means of heating the dreary saloon bar.

It was Dino, excitable as ever, who broached the subject of the new agent with the West German spy. Taking a long drag on his mentholated Reyno, Helmut waited for silence from his companions before uttering his words of enlightenment.

"Listen carefully, I have the following information for you", he said dramatically. "I have been making discreet enquiries." When he had their attention he continued. "It is for an organisation of which I am unaware for whom he is working - he is with the PRU!"

© Brian Smith 2003

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