The Very Naughty Mother Is A Spy

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Brandon, of course, was one of the writers behind the film of the same name that came out a year or so before this book. Our protagonist, James, succeeds in basic training, passes not with flying colours but enough to qualify as an agent. The commune had been there for decades, and had a history of struggles with the police, and in the meantime someone built a luxury hotel and conference centre nearby. It is suspected that a radical environmental group are going to attack the meeting somehow, so they send in the kids who will be less suspected than adult agents.

Particularly since the same storyline appears in an episode of Spooks around this time. So James and Amy go in, posing as the niece and nephew of a long-time resident of the commune who is a part-time police informant. They find out that there is a terrorist cell amongst the hippies who are planning an anthrax attack on the meeting.

It emerges that they had been secretly pumping a milder strain of anthrax into the hotel for weeks, to inoculate the staff against the real stuff when they staged their attack. However, James is not so sure. He understands that most of the hippies are well-meaning environmentalists, and that the oil companies are evil bastards. He has conversations with some of the cell members who tell him stories of environmental destruction and human rights brutalities committed by oil companies.

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He also recognises that the police are mostly thugs, who enjoyed smashing up the commune a little too much. He wonders if he has actually helped the bad guys destroy the good guys, in the name of preventing some other bad guys from killing some other bad guys. He goes to see his supervisor, who agrees with him that the oil companies are bastards but explains that oil is vital to keeping the world running. This is a tacit admission that oil company executives do deserve to be murdered, which is somewhat strange, but the explicit message is that there are bad terrorists and worse terrorists so they take out the bad terrorists to stop the worse terrorists doing anything.

The reality is that the consequences of a CBRN terrorist attack — correctly deployed — would be enormous. But the likelihood of such an attack is extremely small.

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All attempts so far have been laughable failures, or failed to produce mass casualties. At a couple of points in the story and in the appendix, which is a brief history of the CHERUB organisation, they refer to an ethics committee. Their criteria are never explained. So the obvious conclusion is to accept doing anything deemed necessary for the mission, and to never refuse to take part in an operation on moral grounds.

But to build in a deceitful pretence at morality seems insidious to me, and smacks of a covert agenda. In this story the head of the MI5 section, Harry Pierce, has his house broken into and a briefcase containing classified documents is stolen. They trace the burglary to a young criminal gang which includes a 14 year old boy — Jason James Franks, known as JJ. The documents are about a French scientist who has stolen the software for an EMP electro-magnetic pulse weapon, and intends to sell it to the Chinese government with the help of a London financier.

It turns out that JJ is a boy genius, capable of hacking into security systems at will. However, they were using this to mean terrorists who were not previously known to the security services, rather than off-the-book agents. So we have a very similar setup to the CHERUB novels — the central character is a boy called James, with genius-level skills in the book James is a human calculator , both are from rough backgrounds without much to look forward to, both have been in trouble with the police.

Again, this is duel propaganda — both an attempt to help recruitment of youngsters from those sorts of backgrounds with those sorts of skills, and a way of promoting the idea of British intelligence offering an opportunity to an inner-city kid with poor prospects in life. The former is aimed at the primary audience, the youngsters themselves, the latter is aimed at everyone else. Despite this rather obvious ploy, the Spooks episode does contain a scene where they argue about the ethics of recruiting someone so young.


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The logic is eerily similar to the discussions in the novel The Recruit. The potential dangers mean that all options are on the table, including blackmailing a 14 year old into a highly risky operation to steal the software for a hi-tech weapon. As I say, there has been a noticeable growth in this sub-genre of spy fiction since the turn of the century.

There are industrial reasons for this — the Harry Potter books showed how successful a series aimed at children and young teens could be. The possibility of TV or movie spin-offs and adaptations is fairly high. Nonetheless I do think that one of the factors in this expansion of young spy fiction is MI5 and MI6 trying to aid recruitment and promote and normalise the idea of minors working for the secret state.

Thus, we know this is going on, we know this is a target market not just for authors and TV producers, but also for the real-life intelligence agencies. It is highly plausible that some of these books and TV series were covertly sponsored and possibly even vetted by British intelligence, in much the same way as it seems the TV series Spy and Spies were. The only take-away from this that I can offer you is that if you are a parent and your kid reads or watches this stuff, then engage them in the moral discussion beyond the strict limitations imposed by the pop culture overlords.

Sirnis died of TB when Norwood was six, but her mother Gertrude - who also passed information to Moscow - ensured her daughter fully adopted her father's Communist idealism. Burke was fascinated by Norwood's recollections of her father and continued to visit his eccentric friend regularly. Then, in , a bombshell struck. Travelling down from his teaching job in Leeds to visit Norwood on the bus, a familiar face stared out at Burke from the front page of The Times, under the huge headline "Spy Who Came in from the Co-op" [a reference to Norwood's insistence on only shopping at stores with a socialist ethos].

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But by that time, fearful of press intrusion, Norwood's calls were being screened by friends. Eventually, once she realised it was Burke, she came to the phone and said: "I've been a very naughty girl. Come and see me next week. He duly did, and from that time on, she slowly unravelled her past exclusively to her friend.

Burke's recently published book, The Spy Who Came in From the Co-op, was constructed from notes taken during these talks. Outside the confines of her suburban idyll, the New Labour government tried to play down Norwood's significance - painting her a frail old granny. The left leaning magazine New Statesman ran a story headlined "A spy? Give her a medal" but Tory politicians, led by the vociferous Ann Widdecombe - called for Norwood to be prosecuted.

She eventually died a natural death in , aged 93, after Home Secretary Jack Straw deemed a prosecution "inappropriate. As a secretary at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association from , Norwood took minutes and technical notes on the developing atomic bomb project, then passed them straight to the Russians, often via a series of "dead-drops" at Bexleyheath station, close to her home. This earnt Norwood the nickname 'The Bolshevik of Bexleyheath. Her daughter, who had no idea her mother was a spy until the press came knocking, asked Burke not to publish the book during Norwood's lifetime.

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True to his word, Burke published this year. The resulting book is worth the wait. Trawling through the minutes of British Non-Ferrous Research Association Metals meetings from to can't have been a riot, yet Burke manages to pull out quirky anecdotes that focus on people rather than procedures. It's easy to think that adding the word Russian, spy and granny together in a book will automatically be a pacy read - but it is Burke's admiration for Melita Norwood's ideology, unstinting loyalty to her cause, and her insistence that fish fingers and broccoli constitutes a Sunday lunch, which makes the book come alive.