A reminder that Bond is fiction:
The lifestyle of James Bond, Ian Fleming's fictional British Secret Service Agent, has fascinated the world since it was first introduced in the mid-20th century. Peter Wright lived the life of an agent in MI5 (Britain's Security Service), and his life story, recorded in the autobiography Spycatcher, is a lot less romantic than that of Bond.
Spycatcher is Peter Wright's occupation, if not his exact job description. Throughout his career, Wright was involved in many facets of British Intelligence. His work ranged from developing microphones for eavesdropping on Russian radio transmission in London, to writing a paper implying that his boss was a Russian spy. But the goal of all this work, spanning several decades, was to catch spies within Great Britain. No matter how diverse his work would become, it was all intended to rid Great Britain of spies.
Wright's reasons for writing Spycatcher include informing the general public of what really went on inside British Intelligence during the Cold War, and dispelling our "James Bond" fantasies. Another possible purpose for publication is to identify former spies, and suspected former spies, inside MI5. Although many people may have heard of the "Ring of Five" spy group of the Cold War era, few would be able to name four of the five easily or the individual whom the author alleges was the fifth member: Sir Roger Hollis, the former Director-General of MI5 and Wright's former boss.
The book's publication was blocked several times by the British government before its eventual printing and subsequent banning in Great Britain. (The book was later printed again in Canada). These events attest to the important and secretive nature of the information presented in "Spycatcher."
Ask any British intelligence agent from the mid-20th century and they will certainly tell you that Peter Wright played an important role in keeping the Communist Russians from important British information. He was instrumental in the technical advances made by MI5 during the Cold War and soon became an integral part of MI5's decision making upper-echelon.
Spycatcher starts out by documenting the tail end of Wright's early career, following in his father's footsteps at the Marconi Company as a researcher and scientist working specifically with radio transmission and reception. After World War II and a short stint with the Navy, Wright was taken on by British Intelligence as MI5's first scientist. For many years, he was just that--a scientist developing and instituting listening devices throughout London, always searching for Russian intelligence. Eventually, his job turned to making decisions instead of just implementing the ideas of his seniors as he rose through the ranks of MI5.
The story opens specifically with a phone call from Wright's father with the news of a meeting between the son and members of the British Intelligence. This meeting would lead to Peter Wright's affiliation with MI5. The story starts well, using descriptive language that appeals to the senses, "hooking" the reader.
Because the story takes place over an extended period of time, characters come and go with a fair regularity, yet one character seems to stay throughout. This person is Hollis, who was Deputy Director-General when Wright entered MI5. Hollis retired from the Director-General's position near the end, under suspicion that he was the fifth man in the "Ring of Five." The other four in this group were Guy Francis DeMoncy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Harold "Kim" Philby, and Sir Anthony Blunt. Wright's fellow counter-intelligence agents include James Jesus Anglton, the former Director of the American CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), and Furnival Jones, the former Director-General of MI5.
A sad aspect of Wright's life is the fact that success could never be attained until the Cold War was won and there was not one Russian spy in Great Britain. Of course, this never happened and Wright had to find hope in the small victories, such as weeding out a spy or the technological success of a clandestine operation. Something that certainly could have been considered a success, had it happened, would have been the exposure of Roger Hollis' spying tendencies. It was not to be.
I would recommend Peter Wright's Spycatcher to anyone interested in the high-tech world of espionage and military intelligence. Although the technical terminology is enough to turn off the average reader, I certainly learned a lot from Spycatcher that I otherwise would not have found out. However, I recommend that the reader be an older high school student or the attention span may not last all 382 pages. Younger students might consider Fleming's Bond as a more entertaining alternative, but for myself, I'll take Wright and the truth.