I usually read a serious book or two, then a few novels, and then in the summer I want to highlight some of the two. In this regard, I’ve just finished Laurence Durrell’s White Eagle of Serbia, an old-fashioned spy thriller in which the protagonist, Colonel Methune (who speaks fluent Serbo-Croatian) is set in post-war Serbia. behind enemy lines and involved in a violent conflict. Conspiracy to overthrow Tito.
This book is a warm-up to reading Darrell’s “Alexander Quartet,” a work that nearly earned him a Nobel Prize. Darrell is part of an interesting Anglo-Irish family who largely consider themselves Indian – his brother Gerald, naturalist and author, in “My Family and Other Animals” talked about this.
While I’m not an expert on these issues, I find “White Eagle” a more realistic depiction of espionage than most of what we see in the media today (Mick Heron’s “Slow Horse” is good), and overall Say, it’s a story about espionage. derring-do This is more in line with the work of the genre’s founders – such as Eric Ambler, John Buchan, Erskine Childers and Ted Allebury.
It also makes the reading just right given what appears to be the prevalence of espionage – reports of Chinese hacking group APT40 using graduates to infiltrate Western businesses, especially as Swiss intelligence chiefs admit that Russian espionage is prevalent in the country (especially in the GENEVA — Readers should refer to Somerset Maugham’s Ashendon for background material).
These and other trends—such as an intense cyberwar last week (against Lithuania and Norway, for example) and the increasingly public “secret” war between Israel and Iran (who just fired their spy chief), point to A world that has become increasingly contentious and complex.
One of the new trends in this area is cyber espionage – both in the sense of stealing national and industrial/corporate secrets, influencing actors (eg rigging the 2016 US presidential election) and blatantly hostile acts (eg hacking the public) databases and utilities (i.e. healthcare systems). Here, if readers are looking for some serious literature, I can recommend two excellent books – “This Is How They Tell Me the End of the World” by Nicole Perlroth and “The Secret World” by Christopher Andrew.
I’m personally more interested in the difference between a spy and a strategist. The work of a spy is likely to be described as the pursuit of information about a person acting with a particular intent, and a sense of their responsive functioning. There are many examples – from Christine Joncourt (‘La Putain de la Republique’) to Richard Sorge (see Owen Matthews’ ‘An Impeccable Spy’).
Instead, strategists may try to map trends and the opportunities, spillovers, and damage they can cause. The U.S. National Intelligence Service has done this well, becoming the first major intelligence agency to issue detailed warnings about the side effects of climate damage.
Spies and strategists may work together, but history is full of examples (LC Moyzisch’s “Operation Cicero”) in which intelligence failed the strategic process, or was ignored for political reasons (perhaps for the invasion of Ukraine The early warnings are examples).
The next Asia?
In the spirit of the Durrells and Flemings of the world, what questions might be interesting in mining the unknown known and the unknown unknown. Here are some ideas, most of which are Asia-focused (we may see an uptick in Asia-focused thrillers).
On the diplomatic front, an interesting recent development was the visit of Indonesian President Joko Widodo to Ukraine and then to Moscow. It was a rare visit to Ukraine by an Asian leader and could signal the rise of Indonesia (population 273 million) or at least its aspirations to become an emerging player in world diplomacy. What interests me so far is that there is little coordination among populous emerging (mostly Muslim) countries (Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan) in the face of high energy and food prices, where Widodo may play a unified role effect.
Then, still in Asia, but on a more deadly basis, if Western comments are to be believed, China is preparing to attack Taiwan and wants to learn from Russia’s military mistakes in this regard. Other countries are reacting, I doubt Taiwan’s ability to acquire ballistic missiles powerful enough to hit China’s coastal cities, and how long it will take Japan to produce nuclear missiles (my sources say they can be ambitious in five months) do it within!).
So while 20th-century espionage literature tends to focus on 21st-century Geneva, Berlin, and London, we might find ourselves reading Jakarta and Tanegashima’s “behind the scenes” exploits.