The spy is a close cousin of the scout: His devious, manipulative cousin.
On the frontier and up through the Civil War, the terms were used interchangeably. Captain Sam Brady and Simon Kenton on the Ohio River frontier were often referred to as “spies” — as in reconnoitering “Indian country” to “spy out” the movements and intentions of the enemy.
During the Civil War, the terminology began to become more distinct — a scout provided military recon; a spy gathered military, political, economic and cultural intelligence. That distinction is firmly in place today.
Perhaps the most important distinction in modern times is that the scout generally tries to remain unseen while observing an enemy. The spy blends in, hiding in plain sight, and — in the case of the undercover operative — actually becomes one with the enemy.
Scouts and spies share many of the same temperamental requirements and skill sets. And some, like Boer War scout Fritz Duquesne, in fact became spies.
I loves me a good spy story, and with the grand old adversary, Russia, back in play, spy stuff feels more relevant than ever.
The modern spy thriller can be traced to Scotsman John Buchan’s Richard Hannay “shockers” — The 39 Steps; Greenmantle, etc. Hannay has himself a nice Frontier Partisan pedigree, having adventured in the wilds of southern Africa as a prospector, mining engineer and military intelligence operative before landing in London and falling into a sticky wicket with a secret organization of assassins at the outbreak of World War I. He uses his skills and wit as an outdoorsman to escape and evade in The 39 Steps.
The Global War on Terror has created fertile ground for tales of infiltration and covert action. I particularly enjoy Alex Berenson’s John Wells novels. Wells has all of the key Frontier Partisan characteristics — fieldcraft, independence, nerve, a certain ruthlessness. He could have ridden with Al Sieber and Tom Horn. I’ve read or listened to most of the books in the series. All are solid; some are really excellent. The only flaw is the inevitable one of lengthy series — it’s hard to stay fresh. The first book felt as fresh and bracing as a stiff wind off the Hindu Kush when it came out in 2006. The premise was strong enough that Showtime ripped it off for Homeland.
The Faithful Spy:
Years ago, John Wells was an all-American boy from Montana. Now, he is roaming the mountains of Pakistan as a member of al Qaeda.
After a decade away from home, he despises the United States for its decadence. He hates America’s shallow, mindless culture of vice and violence. He is a devout Muslim. He is a brave warrior for Allah.
He is a CIA operative. And he is coming home…
Good stuff. The Man Who Knows Indians — because he almost is one.
Perhaps my favorite spy story of all is the magnificent 1980s miniseries, Reilly: Ace of Spies. If you haven’t watched this masterpiece, you truly must. It’s just an outstanding immersion in the great events of the first part of the 20th Century, with Sam Neill turning in a bravura performance as Sidney Reilly — spy, scoundrel, predator. I think each episode can be found readily on Youtube. Here’s the first.
After hearing for years that I MUST watch The Americans (FX), that it’s the best thing on TV, etc., I finally went out and picked up Season 1. My girls and I have just got started and it appears that it is, in fact, all that.
Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are two KGB spies in an arranged marriage who are posing as Americans in suburban Washington, D.C., shortly after Ronald Reagan is elected president. The couple have two children, Paige and Henry, who are unaware of their parents’ true identities until they tell Paige after some time has passed. The complex marriage becomes more passionate and genuine each day but is continually tested as the Cold War escalates. As Philip begins to warm up to America’s values and way of life, his relationship with Elizabeth becomes more complicated. Further complicating things is the arrival of the Jennings’ neighbor, FBI agent Stan Beeman, who is part of a new division of the agency tasked with fighting foreign agents on U.S. soil. The drama series was created by former CIA agent-turned-author Joe Weisberg.
Sexpionage plays a role in The Americans and it takes center stage in Red Sparrow. The novel by an ex-CIA agent is quite good and is now filming for the big screen, with Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role.
As the NYT Review of Books notes:
The novel pits an ambitious, hotheaded rookie spook, Nathaniel Nash, against a gorgeous Russian intelligence officer named Dominika Egorova. The plot, which swings convincingly between Moscow, Helsinki, Athens and Washington, begins with echoes of Fleming’s “From Russia With Love” — an attractive Soviet “sparrow” is used to compromise a randy Western spy — and ends with an extended homage to the denouement of le Carré’s “Smiley’s People.”
Variety commented on the movie:
20th Century Fox used the exhibition industry trade show to debut a sexy first look at the upcoming Cold War thriller. The film follows Lawrence as a prima ballerina who breaks her leg. With her dancing career in jeopardy, Lawrence is recruited for a secretive Russian spy agency. There she falls in love with Joel Edgerton (glimpsed in a skimpy speedo).
“The two begin this cat and mouse seduction and fall in love, but you’re never really sure if the relationship is real and whose side you’re on,” said Emma Watts, Fox film vice chairman.
Speaking of sexpionage, I insist that it be established as a rule that all Russian spy scandals must involve Russian sleeper agent Anna Chapman. For obvious reasons. No secret is safe…
I have provided a number of pictures — strictly for identification purposes. Condition orange, boys. Condition orange. *
* Condition Orange: In condition orange, you have identified something of interest that may or may not prove to be a threat. Until you determine the true nature of whatever has piqued your interest, your “radar” is narrowed to concentrate on the possible threat and will remain so focused until you are satisfied no threat exists.