Spies & diplomats

Published : May 08, 2009 00:00 IST

THE line that divides diplomacy and espionage has become blurred. Heads of secret services have been employed to conduct secret diplomacy with representatives of another country behind the back of the ambassador stationed there. The Central Intelligence Agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, the Inter-Services Intelligence, Mossad and the KGB are known to have conducted such extra-curricular activities. The advantages of such excursions are obscure. RAWs chief (&# 8220;Sunil) was sent on a mission to Colombo though India was represented by an able High Commissioner, J.N. Dixit. Sunil asked that the fact of his negotiations with Kittu, a senior Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leader, be not disclosed to anyone in the Indian High Commission.

Rohan Gunaratnas book Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka: The Role of Indias Intelligence Agencies may be tendentious in its analyses. But the texts of documents he reproduces, no doubt with the help of persons in power, reveal that RAW participated in the conduct of Indian diplomacy to a worrying degree. It apparently had even a legal expert in residence, who gave advice on Sri Lankas election register. This is apart from another activity which has ceased to be extra-curricular.

Covert operations have come to be accepted as an integral part of the functions of the secret services. The result is a debasement of diplomacy and an impairment of the efficiency of the intelligence services. The spy acquires false notions and his masters come to rely on him not only for the intelligence he provides but also for his assessments, a task for which diplomats are better equipped.

These two volumes contain studies of the creme de la creme of both the foreign and the intelligence services in which the legendary Sir Fitzroy Maclean (1911-1996) won distinction. He served as a diplomat at the British Embassy in Moscow and as Winston Churchills trusted personal envoy and commander of the British Military Mission to Josip Broz Tito and his partisans. He was dropped by parachute into German-occupied Yugoslavia, served in the Special Air Service (SAS) and was also involved with the Free French forces in Iran. He was one of the inspirations for his friend Ian Flemings James Bond.

Fitzroy Macleans volume is a serious work, a quality that is not to be overlooked by its riveting account of the lives of nine most famous spies from Mata Hari to Kim Philby, George Lonsdale and Oleg Penkovsky. Their motives varied from greed and the pleasure of betrayal to professional pride and ideology.

Philby was one of the three Cambridge spies besides Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. His faith was unshaken by Nikita Khruschevs disclosures on Stalin, and by Hungary and Czechoslovakia. But by the late 1970s life in Moscow was wearing him down. He became disillusioned because his hosts never trusted him and always kept him under watch.

The Dutch girl Mata Haris was the most tragic case. She was actually out of her depth in espionage. France was gripped by a spy fever. She was executed though there was no substantial evidence against her. Richard Sorge was a German devoted to Moscow. From Tokyo he accurately warned, several weeks in advance, of the German invasion of the United Soviet Socialist Republics. Stalin dismissed his reports as offerings by a brothel keeper.

The most hilarious is the profile of Cicero. He was Elyeza Bazna, valet of the British Ambassador in Ankara during the Second World War, Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen. He had acquired a taste for espionage. It was easy for him, in those relaxed gentlemanly times, to film the Ambassadors papers and sell them to the Germans. They included papers on the Second Front. Cornelia, Secretary of his handler in the German Embassy, whom he courted, was an American spy recruited by her boyfriend. She went over to the British. But it was Ciceros clumsiness that betrayed him. He entered the Ambassadors study key in hand. He was not sacked; he resigned. Cicero found that his collection of Bank of England notes was worth little. Most were German forgeries. Spies seldom had a happy end. This one deserves a film on his life.

George W. Liebmanns book is a study of five outstandingly able diplomats who shaped events Lewis Einstein, an American; Sir Horace Rumbold, himself the son of a diplomat; Count Johana Bernstorff, German Ambassador to the U.S. during the First World War; Count Carlo Sforza, Italys Foreign Minister (1947-1951); and Ismet Inonu, Turkeys first Foreign Minister and Kamal Ataturks successor as its President. It is a work of considerable erudition. The diplomatic successes and failures of the five are carefully described. On February 8, 1942, Einstein urged a pact with Moscow on its post-war frontiers. It might have averted the Cold War. He accurately predicted Stalins policies in the absence of such a pact.

Rumbolds first posting was in Cairo in 1891. He was the charge daffaires in Berlin when the war broke out in 1914 and returned as Ambassador in 1928. He met Hitler for the first and last time on May 11, 1933, and was livid at what he was told. In 1936, as Vice-Chairman of the Royal Commission on Palestine, he interrogated Churchill, who had suppressed the publication of his own evidence. Is it not unjust to the Arabs? he asked Churchill apropos his partition plans. The Arabs are the indigenous people, he reminded the witness.

Bernstorff, born at the Russian Legation in London in 1862, was the German Ambassador to the U.S. during the First World War and did his best to avert war between the two countries. He went into exile in Switzerland in 1932.

Sforza served as Italys post-war Foreign Minister for five years and participated in negotiations on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. He was a staunch advocate of Europes unity since the 1920s. His diplomatic approach was empirical. He wrote to the young Henry Kissinger on his book review: I would venture to suggest only this: less generalities and more factual data.

Ismet Inonu proved more than a match for Lord Curzon and Rumbold as they negotiated the Lausanne Treaty (1923). He used the Russians without becoming dependent on them and won remarkable territorial gain for Turkey. He even used his deafness to advantage. Curzon turned purple when, in reply to his reproach, Ismet Pasha said: It is disgraceful and unbecoming of a human being to tease people for their natural disabilities. Inonu kept Turkey out of the Second World War.

The author is abstemious in his conclusions. But one fundamental emerges clearly: do not be too sure or too zealous. Diplomacy is like gardening, not mechanics. It places a premium on patience.

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