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The spies who loved him – what do real intelligence officers think of James Bond?

Aston MartinAs a new art exhibition opens at Bletchley Park celebrating the James Bond series and exploring Bond creator Ian Fleming’s links to the secret world of intelligence and espionage, two University of Warwick academics reveal what real spies think of Fleming’s famous creation.

Dr Christopher Moran and Dr Trevor McCrisken from Warwick's Department of Politics and International Studies have delved into intelligence archives, declassified memoirs and contemporary press coverage to discover how Bond’s real-life counterparts in SIS (MI6) and the CIA have viewed the British super-spy’s fictional adventures since his debut over half a century ago.

Their analysis, 'James Bond, Ian Fleming, and Intelligence: Breaking down the Boundary between the 'Real' and the 'Imagined'', published in the Journal of Intelligence and National Security, finds that, although intelligence agencies distance themselves from Bond in public statements, in private they take a keen interest in 007, seeking to copy his ‘gadgets and gizmos’ – and possibly even his tactics.

Dr McCrisken said: “The worlds of Bond and of real intelligence collide, overlap and intermesh in fascinating ways.

“The imagined world of Bond influences public perceptions of real intelligence work. Public support for intelligence depends to a great extent on what is seen in the news and in the cinema. But since secrecy is essential to the success of intelligence operations, agencies are very limited in what they can reveal to the public about their work.

Dr Moran concluded that “Bond fills that gap, often to the advantage of British agencies - former SIS chief Sir Colin McColl called Bond ‘the best recruiting sergeant in the world.’”

Conscious of the impact of Bond on their public image, in the 1960s the CIA and the FBI both kept voluminous files on Bond, while Ian Fleming and Allen Dulles, head of the CIA from 1953 to 1961, became good friends. The Russian KGB became so worried about the popularity of Bond behind the Iron Curtain that they commissioned a Bulgarian author to write a competing series where the communists were the good guys and Bond was the thug in a suit.

The films also inspired the CIA’s technical wizards – though for them, Q was the hero rather than Bond. In a 1964 interview with Life magazine, Dulles revealed that he used to give orders to his CIA engineers to recreate the gadgets and gizmos created by Q branch for Bond to use in the field, while speaking in 2008, retired Director of the CIA’s Technical Services Staff Robert Wallace revealed that he was asked to develop the face recognition software used by the villain in A View to a Kill (1985) to ID Bond: ‘Whenever a new Bond movie was released, we always got calls asking “Do you have one of those?” If I answered “no”, the next question was “How long will it take you to make it?”’

Dr McCrisken and Dr Moran also found hints that Fleming inspired some of the wilder tactics deployed against the late Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. In a rediscovered 1960 edition of Globe Magazine, a dinner party at John F Kennedy’s house is described, at which Fleming was asked what James Bond would do to remove Castro from power. Fleming is reported as saying that killing Castro would not be enough – the US would need to humiliate him in the eyes of the Cuban people using money, sex and religion, particularly by finding a way to make him lose his beard, the symbol of the revolutionaries from their time in the mountains.

The CIA’s later ‘Operation Mongoose’ campaign bore a strong resemblance to Fleming’s dinner party remarks, from cigars laced with LSD to poisons that would make Castro’s beard fall out.

Dr Moran added: “Bond films shape public perceptions of intelligence, but we found that they also influence the behaviours of the intelligence agencies and the way those working in the field view themselves.”

Dr McCrisken said that Bond communicates a particular image of what secret intelligence means: “The films and books carry a clear message to the public that intelligence work is vital to national security, that one person can make a difference, and the reassurance that British intelligence is professional, morally upright and a positive force in the world.”

25 May 2018

Photo by Lee Crowley, licensed under Creative Commons.

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