A question of intelligence

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The Independent Online

Tricky business, spying. We know; we've read the books, and a friend of a friend used to know David Shayler. The important thing to remember is that nothing is what it seems; all is smoke and mirrors, feint and parry, dissimulation and deceit dedicated to winning the longer game, the great one played for keeps and refereed by history.

So we react cautiously to the praise lavished on our intelligence services by the head of Russia's Security Council, who named British agents as the best in the world alongside the Israelis, and, naturally, his own. What, exactly, we muse, staring impassively out of the window, is Mr Sergei Ivanov, former KGB man, up to? Bluff, double bluff, or pitch for Surrey safe house and large book advance?

After all, the reputation of British agents at home is not exactly at its peak, even leaving aside that unfortunate conjunction of the laptop containing useful tips on espionage and the several sherries too many in a south London tapas bar. But then the Israelis are undoubtedly rather good. Finally, though, we are persuaded of Mr Ivanov's sincerity by good, hard evidence: just look at how many of our chaps the Russians have taken on over the years.