The musings of Mr Monkeysized

Spies are public sector bureaucrats by monkeysized

I learn a lot from Ed Lucas, the Economist’s central/eastern Europe guru. And today’s lesson is about spying.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is perhaps my favourite DVD. I watch the entire series once every year or even six months. But I harbour no illusions about the glamour of spying. It’s a merry-go-round of betrayal, loneliness and duty, with a very military sense of fighting for those in the system immediately surrounding you, and climbing a bureaucratic career ladder, rather than any higher allegiance to some lofty ideal. Mostly.

I heard Ed Lucas on the Today programme a couple of days ago, talking about the cabal of spyage that’s been unmasked in the USA. He evidently knows a lot about it, but in illuminating aspects of the story, he drew much of the glamour out of it. In today’s Europeview column he goes further.

The standout idea is that

“The business of spying has far more similarities with the world of public sector bureaucracy than differences from it.”

He goes on to unpick the priorities of the secret services in the countries of his patch. The Hungarians spy on their NATO neighbours with large Hungarian minorities; The Czechs are good in the Arab world, but fail to update their website (perhaps tactically); The Poles are concerned with who has what finger on what Kaliningrad trigger; Slovenia and Croatia are unlikely to stop spying on each other, even if/when both are in the EU; The Romanians are predictably pretty good at Moldova.

In the course of my own journalistic career I came across and had contacts in the intelligence world, and it seems clear to me that these are casual asides based upon very real knowledge and contacts, possibly trailing back decades. It’s also the most illuminating thing written about the Russian spying cabal. This week, like most weeks, we can thank Ed Lucas for being a journalist who helps us understand more about the world and the strange way it ticks over. We need more like him.