Ex-M16 boss says John Le Carré's portrayal of spy agency 'corrosive'

Ex-MI6 chief says Tinker, Tailor Solider, Spy author is “obsessed" with his three-year spy career

Photo: Adrian Scottow via Flickr

The former head of the UK’s intelligence agency, MI6, has accused the novelist John Le Carré of giving spies a bad name.

Sir Richard Dearlove, who led MI6 from 1999 to 2004, has accused the Tinker, Tailor Solider, Spy author of being “obsessed” with his career at the intelligence services MI5 and MI6, which lasted just three years in the 1960s.

And he said that Le Carré’s novels presented an unrealistic view of the Secret Intelligence Service, as they were “exclusively about betrayal”. His most famous work, which was adapted for the big screen in 2011, portrays the fictional of MI6, Geoge Smiley, tracking down a mole during the Cold War. His other books include The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Night Manager, and The Tailor of Panama, all of which have been adapted for film or television.


In fact, so “corrosive” was the author’s view of MI6 that “most professional SIS [Secret Intelligence Service] officers are pretty angry with him”, Dearlove said.

“Intelligence organisations are based on trust between colleagues. That’s how they operate,” the ex-spymaster told attendees at Cliveden Literary Festival this weekend.

“He writes in the tradition of the counterintelligence nihilists.”

Le Carré, whose real name is David Cornwell, did not reveal his secret-service background until 30 years after leaving MI6.

Dearlove said of the author: “He was only in the service for three years, and something must have happened to him while he was there to breed this cynicism.

“I rather resent the fact that he is trading on his knowledge and his reputation, and yet the feeling I get is that he intensely dislikes the service and what it represents.”

Le Carré has previously said in interviews that he left the service after his cover was blown by the Kim Philby, the British intelligence officer and a double agent for the Soviet Union.

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