Nigel Jones

Why ‘spy wars’ are back in the open

The news headlines this week brought a warm glow of nostalgia to anyone brought up during the 20th century’s Cold War.

The US shot down four UFOs which are suspected Chinese surveillance balloons. Not to be outdone, China accused the US of violating its airspace with spy balloons of its own.

It was widely known that embassies on both sides of the Iron Curtain maintained ‘diplomats’ whose real mission was to spy

In Britain, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reassured us that the RAF were quite capable of dealing with hostile UFOs threatening our security, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, a London court sentencing hearing has heard how David Smith, a security guard at Britain’s Embassy in Berlin who was spying for Putin’s Russia, was trapped in an MI5 sting involving a fictitious Russian agent called ‘Irina’.

And in France historians announced that they had cracked the cyphers for scores of coded letters written in the 16th century by Mary, Queen of Scots during her long imprisonment by Elizabeth I which eventually ended in Mary’s execution.

Yes, there’s no doubt about it – espionage is back in fashion. But did it ever really go away?

The world’s second oldest profession reached its peak during the half century of the Cold War – a global duel fought by proxy between the Soviet Union and its communist satellites and the United States and its western allies.

The spy wars, glamourised by Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and films, and more seedily and realistically depicted in the works of John le Carré, seeped into the consciousness of everyone on the planet.

It was widely known that embassies on both sides of the Iron Curtain maintained ‘diplomats’ whose real mission was to spy on their host nations and there were regular tit for tat mass expulsions of such spy staff.

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