Tracking down spies for a documentary poses peculiar challenges. Most are reticent to break cover and speak in public. But the occasion of the 100th anniversary of MI6 tempted a few out of their silence. Many were delighted at the chance to talk about their work even if they drew a veil over the more sensitive areas. Some agreed to meet but some wanted to remain anonymous or decided not to speak on tape at all. One individual did his interview in black tie. Very Bond and very old-school Radio 4. Although, I have to admit it was really because he had a formal dinner to go to straight afterwards.
Sir John Scarlett was certainly not in black tie when I went to meet him at MI6's headquarters at Vauxhall (referred to by some as 'Legoland'). Our radio equipment had to be specially cleared in as electronic devices are not usually allowed past the entrance. Scarlett is due to leave as head of MI6 in November and the interview - the first by him or by any serving chief - was a chance to dwell on the history of the organisation and what it gets to know. The other obvious place to go for a history of MI6 was Moscow. There we found some former Russian spies who relished the long intelligence duel between the two countries. One former KGB man even had a rather odd picture on his wall featuring the face of Margaret Thatcher superimposed onto a rather scantily clad model. Not quite sure why.
Gordon spoke on Today about the relationship of fictional spies to the real world intelligence services:
And wrote an article on the same topic for the BBC News Magazine.
Gordon Corera is the BBC's security correspondent
- The first episode of MI6: A Century in the Shadows, Gadgets and Green Ink, went out on Radio 4 at 0900 today and will be repeated at 2130.
- Radio 4's Complete Smiley continues until April 2010.
- On 1 August, journalist Tom Bower will introduce his 1980s documentary about double agent George Blake in the Archive on Four slot.