Archive for the ‘MI5’ Category

Serena Frome “Sweet Tooth”

Posted: February 28, 2014 in Britain, Cold War Bunny, MI5
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Sweet_Tooth_(novel)I was very interested in reading this book as the author, Ian McEwan, has a long track record of writing interesting female characters, and 1970s Cold War London seemed an interesting setting for the novel.

“Sweet Tooth” chronicles Serena, a young British woman with a talent for math and a passion for reading, who is really nothing more than a consummate drifter. She drifts along in college, in and out of relationships, into a career with MI5 at the hand of an ex-lover who is really a traitor, drifts along her in her jobs duties, and eventually into a relationship with an asset of an anti-communist propaganda operation, the eponymous “Sweet Tooth”. 

Not unlike the United States at the time, during the 1970s, England’s national securities weren’t particularly great jobs for the ladies who often were little more than secretaries. Serena follows this same path until she is pulled into this operation where security services seeks to anonymously sponsor talented authors, who in turn, hopefully write about the glories of a capitalistic society. 

Serena is chosen for her prolific knowledge of literature and probably because she described as tall, blond, and not bad to look at. She poses as an agent of an arts foundation, nabs an up and coming author, and promptly begins an affair with him.

However, Serena isn’t particularly good at juggling the secret life of her job (yawn) against her personal life (double yawn). Really, this plot device is so played out when it comes to female characters, that if it weren’t for McEwan’s gorgeous writing, I would have stopped reading fairly early on in the novel.

In the end, Serena is found out, loses her job, and seems to have lost the guy. At this point in the story, you realize you don’t really know Serena particularly well. This is either because she comes across as being not very self-aware, which is understandable as she isn’t a very deep character to begin with, or it is just a fault of poor writing. However, this is Ian McEwan, master of the unforeseen ending, which I will not devolve here, but let me just say that it is, technically, a fault of poor writing, just not McEwan’s. …I’ll leave it to you to read and figure it out…

It’s a shame, really. Such a fascinating subject shouldn’t be reduced to a romance novel, which is what has occurred here. Secretaries have enormous potential in this genre, what with the amount of confidential material that passes through their hands, and the tendency men had/have to overlook the intelligence of the woman who fetches their coffee…

Still, it’s beautiful writing but hardly a spynovel. Enjoy. Or not.

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Marina Lee

Posted: September 1, 2010 in Abwehr, Blame a Dame, Britain, Espionage, MI5, Undercover, WWII

There’s all sort of animal, vegetable and mineral that fall under the umbrella of “Nazi”. I’ve seen Nazi clowns, Nazi dogs, Soup Nazis, and Nazi film-makers; but I’m going to be honest here, the very idea of a Nazi ballerina comes pretty close to taking the proverbial cake.

The broo-ha-ha erupted this past week upon the declassification of WWII documents from British security services and then vomited all over the Web about this Tiny Dancer being responsible for the British defeat in Norway in 1940.

HOWEVER, let’s ask the obvious question here: Fact or Fiction? Base or Baseless? Less Filling or Tastes Great?

Is the story being spread around the globe about Marina Lee the real deal or this just another episode of our favorite show Blame-A-Dame?

Here’s what we know: Lee was born in Russia during the revolution, her parents were killed by the Bolsheviks, she was a trained dancer, she fled to Norway where she married and taught at a dance school. It’s easy to see why she is targeted in this scenario. She spoke 5 languages, she was decidedly beautiful, being a dancer provided her with excellent cover, and also, back in the day a dancer was more akin to being a “loose woman” so it afforded a determined spy a little more access to those in vulnerable positions.

But none if this is what anyone would call proof. The conjecture that is being bandied about is that Lee bamboozled strategic plans by the Brits out of a General Auchenlik and then slipped them to a German agent. Presto-change-o the Brits lose Norway to the Nazis.

But here’s the rub: this is neither proven nor dis-proven, hence the term conjecture, and in the weighing of evidence, the accusation does not hold. The BBC report on this story bears the headline: Blond Nazi ballerina ’caused war set back’ which let’s admit, is spicy stuff, but the first line of the article goes on to read that: secret government paper suggestThis is a far cry from stating “that beyond a shadow of a doubt this dame ratted us out.”

Google “Nazi Ballerina” and you’ll come up with hundreds of articles, most of them supporting the “validity” of the tale. This little gem by journalist Guy Walters points out the obvious “junkiness” of the evidence. Thank.You.Guy! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I have no problem calling a spade a spade but let’s make sure we’re first actually dealing with shovels and not wheelbarrows.

Is it worth examining why these tales of female agents capture the imagination so forcefully? On one hand, the conditioned response harkens back to traditional stereotypes would have you believe that women are soft and fragile, noble and righteous. While other stereotypes play off the seemingly innate fear men have over beautiful broads thus the gorgeous Spy Dame is the epitome of all that is dark and dangerous about the mysterious female form. In the end, we deal with the same gender issues that have plagued society for years and they all seem to center around women either being the Madonna or the prostitute.

We saw this nastiness arise earlier this summer in a subject I am loathe to mention: Anna Chapman, alleged agent in the Russian Spy Ring that was busted in the US earlier this summer. While everyone talks about the “flame-haired“, “femme fatale“, “great-in-bedness” of Chapman, does anyone stop to consider the story? Taken into consideration, she really comes off as a spoiled diplomat-brat-mail-order-bride who minored in real estate and majored in partying. During the set-up for her take-down, she was handed, by undercover Feds, a passport to deliver and Chapman called her daddy to ask what she should do (daddy’s response was to turn the passport in to the police). Hardly the acts of a trained Spy Dame! Seriously, Virginia Hall is rolling over in her grave.

But the point is this: all of that detail is lost in the flame-haired-femme-fatale-great-in-bedness of the story…well, that and the pictures of her in a tiara

So let’s get back to Blond Nazi Ballerina at hand…Marina Lee: Spy Dame or Dame Blamed?

Millicent Jessie Eleanor Bagot (1907-2006) could smell a rat at twenty paces and had an illustrious career as one of the UK’s premier spy hunters and what we now call Whistleblowers.

The last decade has been full of Dame Whistleblowers so we should pay particular attention to the woman who made a career of sniffing out the phonies amongst us.

Bagot began her life as the daughter of a solicitor, raised by a French governess, and was later educated at Oxford’s Lady Margaret Hall where she studied the Classics. Bagot went to work for the special branch of the Metro police and later moved on to England’s Ministry of Defense working for both MI5 and MI6. This is slim pickings for developing a profile of Millie, and maybe her early life wasn’t as interesting as her career, but it sure would be great to know what made this lady tick.

Bagot the career lady, however, was a lad’s worst nightmare back in the day: a competent female taskmaster with an opinion and a voice. Apparently someone had the good sense to think that such traits recommended her and so Bagot began to move up the ranks.

Bagot specialized in Communism and was a well-regarded Sovietologist. She was the first to warn Intel community that notorious MI6 English double-agent, Kim Philby, was a member of the communist party and not who he appeared to be. She was ignored, of course, but despite Philby’s escape to Moscow in 1963, I hope Millie felt some small measure of satisfaction in knowing she was right.

Bagot was the first woman to reach the rank of Assistant Secretary at MI5. She received the MBE in 1949 for service and later advanced to CBE in 1967 at her retirement. Famed director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, even wrote to Millicent expressing his admiration.

However, even in retirement, Bagot did not call it a day. With her exceptional memory and famed ability at finding patterns in massive amounts of information, she continued working part-time sniffing out active spies and also writing what some call the definitive account of the Zinoviev Affair.

Millicent finally called it quits in 1976, after a debilitating stroke claimed her prized memory and left her infirmed for the rest of her life. A sad and drawn-out end for such an amazing woman with a truly brilliant career.

Stella Rimington (1935-), British spy-dame, was the first female Director General of Britain’s MI5.

So how does a skirt with a with a degree in English and Archival Administration become Britain’s top spy? Simple, Stella and her husband were working/living in India in 1967, where Stella found herself working for a representative of MI5 as an assistant. Stella learned the trade and upon returning to London in 1969, she applied for a permanent position with the agency, thus beginning a long and illustrious career.

Stella worked the ropes in counterterrorism, counter-subversion, and counterespionage. Obviously she was regarded as a darned smart bird, as she was promoted to a Deputy Director position in 1990 and was part of a historic trip to make nice with Russians in 1991 after the fall of the Iron Curtain. It was shortly thereafter that Stella was promoted to Director General.

A feeding frenzy ensued with the local media in trying to identify Stella and unauthorized pictures of her eventually reached the newspapers. This either coincided or inspired (you choose) MI5’s decision to increase their transparency with the public at large and, for the first time, publicize their acitvities.

Being a Poster Girl for all things-spy can’t be an easy task and Intel Chiefs in general don’t have a long shelf life, but Stella stuck it out for four years before retiring in 1996. For her service to her country, Stella was awarded Dame Commander of Order of the Bath.

Stella is now a private consultant, novelist, archivist, and so clearly the inspiration for the Dame Judi Dench’s appointment as the character “M” in the Bond franchise. I find myself dissecting all the Bond movies now just waiting for Stella to make a cameo.

The name is Stella. Dame Stella.