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Jewish World Review May 20, 1999 /5 Sivan 5759

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Now, this is enough to make James Bond double-0 depressed

(JWR) ---- (
THIS, I'M AFRAID, is the one that would persuade James Bond to hang up his tuxedo, toss his 007 designation into the trash, and apply for a job as a cone filler in a frozen yogurt shop.

Perhaps you have heard what has been going on with British secret agents in recent days.

(And why wouldn't you have heard? There are no secrets anymore -- news concerning British secret agents is reported as openly as changes in the pitching rotation of the Detroit Tigers.)

Before we discuss the current news, it would be instructive to go back for a moment to the way things were when James Bond was the world's idea of how a secret agent worked.

When Bond was given an assignment to, say, find the island headquarters of a dastardly mad genius planning to blow up the world, Bond would do a number of things:

He would fly incognito to Jamaica, where a room had been booked for him under an assumed name. He would be met at the airport by another secret operative -- they would make contact via an intricate series of previously arranged verbal and nonverbal codes. A certain tip of the hat, a precisely worded question about the weather in Lisbon -- that's how they would make sure they were both secret agents.

Then -- with a motorboat rented to transport Bond to the mad genius' island -- shortwave radio signals would be sent back to headquarters in London to let Bond's boss, M, know he was on the job. All of this would work because there was no secret in the world as secret as the identities and whereabouts of the men entrusted to be in England's elite corps of top-echelon spies.

Flash forward to this week:

The spymasters in London were on crisis alert because the names of British Secret Intelligence Service officers had allegedly, without warning, been made public.

How did this happen? Did the murderous leaders of SMERSH, the organization that wanted to dominate the world, figure out a way to crack the double-0 code? Did some beautiful counterspy seduce a secret agent, drug his cocktail, and persuade him to tell her the names of his colleagues in exchange for forbidden romance?


Someone posted the names on the Internet.

Easy as that. Apparently someone typed a list of secret agents into a computer, posted the list on some Web site, and -- click! -- the names of the superspies were available to anyone in the world.

The British Foreign Office -- clearly upset -- asked newspaper editors in London not to publish details. The Foreign Office would not say much about the list, other than it was a mixture of "fact and fantasy" -- but one defense official said that publishing details from the list "could put lives at risk."

Later, British officials proudly said they had deleted the entire Internet list, which they said had been posted on a U.S.-based Web site. The officials said there had been more than 100 names of purported British spies.

End of story, right? The information that could bring down the world had been destroyed, and the sun could shine high in the sky again. Right?


Almost immediately, the list was posted on other Web sites. "The information can be accessed," a British official regretfully said after the new postings were found. "To an extent, the cat is out of the bag."

Well, yes. In the days when James Bond was indomitable, once you eliminated the devious mastermind on the island, the game was won. Today? By the time the Foreign Office in London knew the list of spies was on the Internet, it was already too late. Any high school kid with a modem could take a look, say "Cool!" and pass it on. Double-0 secret code names? Every 11-year-old on America Online has his own secret code name. And in case you haven't noticed, people these days don't seem to believe they need a license in order to kill.

To further point out how the clandestine world of superspies has changed, when the Foreign Office tried to blame the list of names on an allegedly disgruntled former secret agent named Richard Tomlinson, Tomlinson immediately issued a denial.

Via E-mail.

It's enough to make poor, confused James Bond need three or four of those very dry vodka martinis.

Shaken? Stirred?



JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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