Was Mackintosh a spy?
Clues and Conclusions
All of the preceding really serves simply to indicate that Mackintosh
needn’t have been directly involved in SIS to write as accurate
and insightful a series as The Sandbagger’s.
Indeed, there are odd errors within his narrative that suggest
very strongly that he wasn’t a serving SIS officer, or at
least not for any sustained period. While it is possible to write
the JIB gaffe off as Gidley Wheeler getting it wrong, other oddities
are less easily dismissed.
A minor such item is the reference to the French foreign intelligence
service as the SDECE (Service d’Espionage et Contre-Espionage)
where it had in fact been called the DGSE (Direction Generale
de la Securite Exterieure) since the mid-1970s (however, that
was about the time Mackintosh left the Navy). More problematic
is his persistent misuse of the term ‘agent’.
No SIS or CIA officer would call a career member of their service
an ‘agent’. In Anglo-American intelligence parlance
(eccentricities of Hoover’s FBI notwithstanding) an agent
is an informant or human source. The career member of a service
who handles the agent is an intelligence officer. To be sure,
former intelligence officers who write popular fiction often ignore
the distinction for their readership, but why would Mackintosh
be precise about UK intelligence organisation and procedures,
litter the series with ‘spookspeak’ jargon and acronyms
only experts and insiders would know, and then be sloppy about
such a subtle but important matter of jargon?
And then there is the operation of SIS HQ itself. Burnside frequently
refers to himself as a ‘junior’ director. By contrast,
the real-life equivalent, Director Production (nowadays Director,
Production and Requirements, see my essay Order of Battle on this
site) is actually the third most senior post in the service (sometimes
second as D/PR often doubles as Deputy Chief as well). D/P has
always been a senior and very experienced officer with a number
of foreign postings in highly active areas plus HQ Controllerate
postings under his (perhaps one day her) belt.
D/P is, and has to be, a highly respected elder member of the
service with real personal as well as formal authority. The typical
D/P would be in his mid-40s, with a reasonable expectation of
serving 4-5 years as D/P before, in usual course, acceding to
the post of C and running 3-5 years in that post (past the usual
retirement age of 50). Burnside is indeed too junior in his mid-30s
or so, too junior to ever become D.Ops, but even if the service
promoted a talented young turk to such a post, he could never
be described as junior in institutional terms.
At the Office
Finally, there is the pace of life at Mackintosh’s SIS HQ.
This is where The Sandbaggers diverges most strikingly from the
real SIS. Consider this: in current SIS doctrine, the ideal SIS
source (agent) might take two or three years to recruit, and would
run for perhaps a decade before being stood down or ‘brought
in’ (extracted) and relocated to retirement in the UK. In
the mid-1970s, Oleg Gordievsky had been under surveillance by
the SIS Copenhagen Station for two years or so -- his movements
monitored, his home telephone tapped -- before the SovBloc and
Western Europe Controlerates and Soviet Targeting Section decided
he was ready for a ‘pass’ by the Head of Station.
A rendezvous was engineered at a local sports stadium; the SIS
officer found a quiet moment alone with Gordievsky and opened
with ‘Oleg, we need to talk....’ For the most part
SIS operations are a matter of ‘slow and steady’;
even ‘special operations’ generally take months to
plan and execute. In this sense, the pace of life in ‘Collingstone
House’ is a little at odds with Century House or Vauxhall
Cross. The Operations Room in particular diverges from both the
‘slow and steady’ tempo and the principle of ‘compartmentalization’.
‘Compartmentalization’ (or, as it is generally known,
SCI for Sensitive Compartmented Information) is the principle
of keeping knowledge about an operation confined to only those
involved with running it, or processing its product. People ‘in
the know’ about a particular operation are described as
‘indoctrinated’, and secret files are accompanied
by a signed indoctrination list.
Ops Room staff have an access to information that cuts across
geographical controllerates, operational specialisms (e.g. special
operations, counter-espionage and so forth) that would make compartmentalization
elsewhere futile. The real SIS may have a high-tech communications
centre, but com traffic going through it will be subject to strict
What the Ops Room is like is a military operations centre such
as that at the Joint Services Headquarters in Folkstone. The tone
and tempo of its activities are better suited to the clandestine
(as opposed to covert) efforts of Special Operations Forces like
SAS and SBS. The kind of activities it monitors are more akin
to the work done by SOF ‘contract labourers’ (see
‘Order of Battle’).
And herein lies what may be the chief clue to Mackintosh’s
insight into the work of SIS and the UK intelligence community.
Might have been...
SIS has always made use of SIS personnel operating under Service
Branch cover, and of Service Branch persons performing tasks on
behalf of SIS. As noted in my ‘Order of Battle’ on
this site, since 1921 (in fact, 1917) SIS has maintained a Navy
presence at its HQ, these days known as MODA Navy (Ministry of
Defence Advisor, Navy), before that as R3 or Section III. R3 would
often be involved in recruiting and briefing officers and agents,
and planning operations as well as evaluating and disseminating
the product for Naval Intelligence.
classic example was the recruitment of members of the Scottish
trawler fleets by Royal Navy officers seconded to SIS. The trawlermen
were asked to act as voluntary informants reporting on the types
and locations of Soviet bloc vessels, especially warships, they
encountered fishing in the North Atlantic.
These SIS officers portrayed the task as being for NID and not
SIS, much as the catasrophic Crabbe dive in 1956 had originally
been attributed to the NID. And of course, the back-up dive after
Crabbe’s loss was by a serving Royal Navy diver rather than
a retiree in private life like Crabbe. Naval personnel and vessels
(especially submarines and motor torpedo boats) have also traditionally
been seconded to SIS for the infiltration and exfiltration of
officers and agents.
If Mackintosh had any direct dealing with SIS it would most likely
be through one of the mechanisms of secondment rather than fully
fledged service at Century House. His land assignment in Scotland
could easily have brought him into contact with the trawler surveillance
programme, or with clandestine landing operations through the
Skagerak into the Soviet occupied Baltic states. It has been suggested
elsewhere that he might have served a spell as a Naval member
of the Defence Intelligence. I have often speculated that he might
have been attached to R3 in some capacity, though he would likely
have been too junior to have been the main R3 liaison officer.
But the tone and pace of Mackintosh’s SIS and his stories
is more like what one would expect of the work of military secondments
to the ‘increment’ or ‘contract labourers’.
If Mackintosh did indeed have direct experience of the real Secret
Intelligence Service it would most likely have been in circumstances
of this sort.
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