Intelligence: The Good Spy Who Never Was


August 13, 2009: A former (1989-94) head of MI6 (Britain's overseas intel agency) admitted what many long suspected, that fictional MI6 employee James Bond was good for recruiting, and the MI6 image in general. To a lesser extent, so were other fictional portrayals of MI6 (like John Smiley, in the le Carre books) that were less flattering.

MI6 discovered that James Bond, for all his silly fictional flaws, gave MI6 flattering public recognition. This enabled MI6 to recruit better people, more easily. Those who were suitable for MI6, were quick to appreciate that Bond's escapades were more entertainment than real, but all those Bond movies ensured that MI6 recruiters didn't have to spend much time explaining who they were, and what MI6 did.

Actually, it was the le Carre books that gave a more realistic description of the drudgery and boredom of real espionage operations. But that also helped with recruitment, as serious candidates were quick to discover that le Carre was more non-fiction than fantasy (which Bond eventually evolved into.) MI6 personnel sometimes get nervous about how accurately le Carre portrays their tradecraft, but the spy business is a rapidly evolving enterprise, and le Carre is always at least a few years behind the latest innovations.

When it comes to gadgets, James Bond has actually demonstrated several actual, or planned, spy gizmos. That aspect of espionage work is real, but it plays a much smaller part in operations than Bond's antics would have you believe. Within the intel community, the main enthusiasm for Bond is related to the much improved image the fictional swashbuckler gives to members of a very secretive profession.


Article Archive

Intelligence: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close