I am so lucky to have had such an exciting life which has taken me and my wife Cary all over the world. One day we were on a plane flying back from Washington to London and Cary said to me that our life was like a thriller and why didn’t I write a book. It was something I had always wanted to do. So the idea of writing a book began on that plane journey.
Cary and I walk three miles very early every morning, which is when we talk about and discuss characters and plot. Sometimes passers-by do get a shock if they overhear us discussing a particularly violent person or fight.
I am very lateral thinking, which is almost essential in the intelligence world. So I find it easy to dream up characters rather than borrow people I have known. But, even so, getting those characters to live on the page isn’t always easy and that is when Cary and my editor Sue Paulsen are such a huge help.
We are all aware of the dangers of terrorism and organised crime. It is the layer of corruption below the headlines that concerns me. For instance, cash paid for the social use of cocaine winds up in tax havens which bankroll the terrorists and transnational criminals who are threatening all of us.
As a lawyer in the intelligence agencies my job was to work out how an operation could succeed whilst being lawful and respecting the rights of the target. When life was difficult, I would remember back to being in the co-pilot’s seat in a small aircraft flying between two Caribbean islands. The wing flaps were found to be jammed just after take-off. We were in deep trouble. The pilot, Barclay Baron, was ex 617 Dambusters Squadron. He asked me to jam my knee against the joystick while he delicately adjusted the trim tabs to bring the aircraft to a safe landing. After watching him, the word ‘block’ ceased to exist for me.
Whatever I write, whether it is a book, film script or speech, I find the most difficult thing is to translate my thoughts so that they are intelligible to the reader. I know what I’m saying but that doesn’t necessarily mean the reader does! Cary, bless her, overcomes that challenge by brutal comment. Then my brilliant editor Sue picks up any loopholes.
I have to have a set time for writing. I am not good at writing when the muse takes me…I want that time with Cary and my family!
Go for it. Never have to say “I was going to write a book.”
Our early morning walks see us deep in our prequel to “Katya” called ‘The Informer”. This is Katya’s first operation where she cuts her eye teeth on running an informant into an international gambling syndicate which launders money for the world’s top crime gangs. Plenty of danger and room for mistakes for a young, naïve G8 Agent up against the most corrupt, violent people on the planet. Also, we see Lev, the Russian G8 Director, as Katya’s father figure and we think he deserves a book to himself. So, in the pipeline is “A Cold Winter”, where Lev lives on the edge as a KGB agent in the torn city of Berlin. Set in the time when the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, Lev has to make up his mind whether he supports this madness or betrays his country.
I had a history in the Foreign Office of defence work and troubleshooting serious corruption and narcotics trafficking in the UK Caribbean. At that time, the intelligence community were under a lot of pressure and Sir Anthony Duff had been appointed Director General to stabilise things. He asked me to help him as his Legal Director to set out the future of the agencies. It was a challenge I couldn’t resist.
Organised crime. Within that, I include terrorism, which is straightforward crime merely glamourised for political or religious ends.
The Agencies have a legislative framework which demands that their work must be necessary to protect security and also proportionate to the threat posed by the target. It is the job of the Agencies’ legal advisers to ensure that those obligations are met. It is the job of Parliament to ensure full and effective independent oversight of the Agencies to root out any failure in those obligations.
Top of the list is integrity. On the one hand, intelligence officers must comply with their legislative obligations and, on the other, they must be relied on not to make up stories when they report in. Courage, lateral thinking and determination are a given. A sense of humour is a must!
When I joined the Agencies one of the main problems was super-secrecy. The intelligence officers, operating in very dangerous circumstances, were producing a mountain of intelligence about terrorists but it couldn’t be used to prosecute them because it was too secret. I found this an inexcusable waste of the officers’ courage and a pathetic response to the bombings and killings the terrorists were getting away with. It took a while but, eventually, I was able to persuade the Attorney General to introduce procedures into Court proceedings to allow us to use intelligence as evidence. The first conviction of a terrorist under that system was a red letter day.
I was instrumental in introducing a legislative base for the Agencies’ work which included a form of Parliamentary oversight. Neither I nor the Agencies were satisfied with the depth of that oversight but we were overruled by the Government. Since then I have been summoned to Parliamentary Committees and the EU Parliament and have spoken out in papers and speeches to advocate in depth oversight, including Judicial authority for warrants which permit intrusive surveillance. I would like to see more open accountability of the Heads of the Agencies but, at last, oversight is, I believe, effective.
Look at yourself and ask if you have integrity, courage and lateral thinking. Then if you go to the Agencies’ website and apply to them for a job, you will have satisfied yourself that you have determination as well.
Although I worked in the Intelligence and Security Agencies, the characters and plot in Katya are entirely a work of my and Cary’s imagination. That is not to say that I would not like to write about those who work in intelligence. But nothing I could say would adequately do justice to their bravery, dedication and sacrifices they make to protect democracy and keep us safe.