The latest news brings to mind the old Soviet joke about an intrepid American spy.
He was trained at the CIA (officially military) language school in Monterrey, Ca, to sound authentic in any Russian dialect. After years of intensive study, he was deemed to be ready to go into the field.
Parachuted into rural Russia, he walked through a forest for days before emerging at the outskirts of a village, where an old woman was getting water out of a well.
“Grandma,” said the spy in his perfect peasant accent, “could you spare a sip of water?” “Get away from me, you dirty American spy!” shouted the woman. “Grandma, how did you know?” “Coz you’re black, that’s how.”
That little story perhaps communicated more contempt for Western intelligence than it merited, but make no mistake about it: it did merit some contempt. Neither the CIA nor SIS managed to predict a single major change in Soviet policy during the decades of the Cold War.
Even the death of the Soviet Union caught them off guard, as did the subsequent realisation that the Soviet Union came back as Putin’s Russia. (Which I, and just about everyone else who knew and understood Russia, saw coming – this without spending billions on intelligence.)
There was a problem there somewhere, but it took Richard Moore, the new chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6, to identify it. Having landed the job only nine months ago, Mr Moore has unerringly put his finger on what’s wrong with our intelligence gathering: not enough diversity.
The impelling force came from his blind wife, and trust women to guide their men through life. “Married as I am to an inspiring blind woman,” tweeted the new C, “I feel particularly strongly about making #SIS #MI6 a better place for disabled people.”
A worthy goal if I’ve ever seen one, but, being a natural spoilsport, I have to mention that a disability like blindness might have held James Bond back. This isn’t to suggest in any way that Mrs Moore isn’t a paragon of fortitude and good cheer.
Nor is it to say that people with disabilities, be that blindness, cerebral palsy or shortage of limbs, can’t be great servants to their country. If Homer could write the Iliad without being able to see his handwriting, then there’s no reason disabled people can’t have desk jobs at Vauxhall Cross.
However, call me an unimaginative cripplophobe (a neologism whose time has come), but I still can’t quite see some people with some disabilities as field operatives evading FSB spy catchers. For example, I doubt Mrs Moore, formidable though she undoubtedly is, could service dead drops, photograph the top secret documents left there or indeed establish their value.
That only goes to show how antediluvian my outlook on life is. Why, I even think it’s outrageous that everybody knows the name of our top spy.
The general public didn’t know the name of the first C, Sir Mansfield Cumming, until he died. That gave Ian Fleming an opening for an inside joke: he named James Bond’s boss M, rather than C. The latter was based on his surname, the former on his Christian name, but no one outside SIS got the joke.
Mr Moore has decided to do away with such secrecy. As far as he is concerned, since we are all Facebook friends, there can be no secrets among us. Hence he has embraced social media, including Twitter.
It’s through that medium that he has signalled his virtue, as the word is nowadays defined. Mr Moore is “keen to see even greater diversity of skills and backgrounds”. That determination has drawn much praise from his employees who seem to know which side their bread is buttered.
One such source said: “Richard Moore arrived at MI6 like a breath of fresh air. Everyone in the intelligence community is very pleased that he has said this. But you might ask why it has taken so long for a head of MI6 to take this stance.”
Even though I’m a rank amateur in such matters, I may attempt to answer that seemingly rhetorical question.
Such tardiness on the part of SIS might have been caused by its erstwhile preoccupation with other tasks that at the time took priority, but evidently no longer do. Such as keeping the country – the whole damn lot of us – safe.
MI6’s website states that its “core belief [is] that any person with a disability is capable of achieving their ambitions.” Note the woke usage: a singular antecedent “any person” is followed by the plural pronoun “their”.
But never mind that gust of zeitgeist. For I’ve always cherished the hope that the core belief of MI6 staffers was that they must uncover our enemies’ fiendish plans before they could carry them out. However, they have more important things to worry about.
Anyway, why should the SIS be any different from its counterintelligence equivalent, MI5? That organisation can’t keep our vital services safe from foreign spies and hackers, but, on the plus side, it can restate its commitment to diversity.
That dedication was celebrated by a valuable accolade last year: MI5 won a Business Disability Forum Smart Award for Workplace Experience. First things first, eh?
Like any instructive story, this one has a moral. Anyone who says, “That’s it, thing can’t get any crazier,” must be hanged, drawn and quartered, if only metaphorically.
In fact, I ought to perform that triple procedure on myself for uttering those silly words every now and then. Mea culpa: we live at a time when madness is boundless.