How one man crafted the story of 007 and the modern spy world.
Published on February 12, 2015
Ian Fleming is best known for his literary works, particularly James Bond
. While there have been many discussions about was who the inspiration for the James Bond character, including the fascinating story of the Queen's astrologer, magical adviser and spy John Dee who, for occult reasons, signed his letters with "007", few people are aware of the fundamental role that Ian Fleming played in World War II and in the creation of what would ultimately evolve into the Central Intelligence Agency.
During World War II, Ian Fleming worked with every British wartime agency from the Secret Intelligence Server and the Political Warfare Executive to the Special Operations Executive, and even liaised with the Prime Minister's office. During this time, he proposed a number of bold schemes that would have changed the course of the war had they been followed. One included a daring attempt to steal Germany's enigma machine, while another proposed planting fake documents on a corpse for enemy forces to find, in order to fool their intelligence services. While neither of these plans were ever executed, one strikingly similar to the latter plan was used in Operation Mincemeat at a crucial moment to fool the Nazis into thinking that the Allies were invading Greece instead of Sicily.
In 1941, Ian Fleming was put in charge of Operation Goldeneye. This operation saw the creation of a "stay behind" force within Spain, with the intention of it becoming active following a Nazi takeover. During this time, Fleming traveled to the United States with Admiral Godfrey, where he was to "report on United States intelligence organizations... [and] to coordinate them with those at the disposal of the United Kingdom." As Mark Riebling explained
, "that would mean pushing for an American central-intelligence agency, and helping choose its chief."
Fleming worked closely with William Stephenson, who Fleming would later say that James Bond was a stylized version of Stephenson. This isn't hard to see, considering Stephenson worked as the head of the British Security Coordination, and his job description included tasks like recruiting No?l Coward and hiring mafia families to keep the New York docks clear of spies and saboteurs. The latter would eventually morph into a series of operations where crime boss 'Lucky' Luciano helped the Allies with their efforts in Italy. Although it's a story for another time, some see this operation as the direct predecessor to the use of the mafia in CIA operations in Cuba.
While working with Stephenson, Fleming found that the United States' intelligence agencies had engaged in turf wars between the FBI and military intelligence, that was not only limiting the ability of the agencies to work together, but creating black holes into which spies and fugitives could disappear or operate with near impunity. The problem arises not just when agencies vie for control of a case or for credit for an arrest, but when spies would inevitably fall through the jurisdictional cracks. These cracks had been created about two years earlier, when President Roosevelt had declared that the FBI would handle the Western Hemisphere, while military intelligence and particularly U.S. Naval intelligence would handle the rest of the world.
Fleming knew that inevitably, someone would cross over from the FBI's jurisdiction to the Navy's, or vice versa. When this happened, the agencies would disagree about who should maintain control of the case, the suspect or the asset. Fleming suggested that President Roosevelt suggested that a single individual or office should coordinate the intelligence efforts of all the other agencies. Although he considered J. Edgar Hoover for the role, Fleming realized that Hoover's approach would never lend itself well to a role of coordination or sharing, he would simply add more power to his seemingly eternal rulership of the FBI. Reflecting on this, Fleming realized that there seemed to be only one viable option: "Wild Bill" Donovan.
Fit to be a James Bond character in his own right, Donovan knew all too well that the bureaucratic nightmare that was the U.S. Intelligence Community could not possibly serve the country's interests, and that control of any centralization effort could not fall to the FBI which, in Fleming's words, "[had] no conception of offensive intelligence and is incapable of a strategic mentality." Donovan readily agreed, noting that "information is useless unless it is intelligently directed to [a] strategic purpose." When the proposal finally reached President Roosevelt, he saw the wisdom in creating what Riebling aptly described as a "filtering, gatekeeping, sense-making mechanism."
While the bureaucratic cold war raged on over who should control such a sense-making mechanism, who it should answer directly to and what their authorities and responsibilities would lead, the real world events that surrounded the OSS, and later its successors the CIG and CIA, created the pathos that filled the James Bond stories that Fleming penned and the movies they later inspired. The "cowboys" of the OSS believed that necessity knows no law and that there is nothing wrong with lying to liars, killing killers, robbing thieves or spying on spies.
They saw the virtue of extralegal action, and they believed that lesser evils are not any sort of evil if they're in pursuit of saving lives and securing liberty. They believed that the United States and Great Britain could do more than simply state their cause and assert the righteousness of freedom and security. To borrow one final phrase from Mark Riebling, "James Bond would state our case with a Walther PPK pistol."
It's both comforting and alarming that, since the end of World War II, this theme has remained unchanged in both the James Bond mythos and the real world.