John le Carré, the most prominent spy novelist of the 20th century, wrote a letter to The Telegraph yesterday about John Bingham, the spy who inspired his character George Smiley. Le Carré has written 23 books, but his most famous novels feature the MI6 agent George Smiley (portrayed by Gary Oldman in the film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.)
Before he began writing full time, John le Carré worked as an intelligence officer himself for MI5 and MI6, where he became friends with John Bingham. The late Bingham was recently featured in a Telegraph article detailing his success at neutralizing British Nazi sympathizers during WWII. Bingham was a dedicated intelligence officer who was apparently burning with British nationalism. Someone wrote a response accusing Le Carré of “disrespecting” Bingham by writing him into books that portrayed the intelligence service as fallible and corrupt.
Le Carré – who is 82 years old and showing no sign of slowing down – penned his own reply to The Telegraph and said that friendship aside, he and Bingham were of two different minds on what it means to serve your country. “Where Bingham believed that uncritical love of the Secret Services was synonymous with love of country, I came to believe that such love should be examined,” he wrote. “And that, without such vigilance, our Secret Services could in certain circumstances become as much of a peril to our democracy as their supposed enemies. John Bingham may indeed have detested this notion. I equally detest the notion that our spies are uniformly immaculate, omniscient and beyond the vulgar criticism of those who not only pay for their existence, but on occasion are taken to war on the strength of concocted intelligence.”
Interesting thoughts when you consider our current situation with rampant and seemingly unrestricted NSA surveillance…