Beginnings of an “undercovers” fiction list

So, recently I reviewed two books “about” infiltration/undercovers, and asked for suggestions. I got loads of really helpful pointers. Here is the first very rough list of additions (there were some others, mentioned in the blog post.  I’ve kept track of the various people I have to thank for these tips too, but decided not to include that info here.

I need to integrate it/alphabeticise/annotate etc.  Oh, and actually read some more of them and produce the paper for the conference and the activists… should keep me off the streets…

 

Books “about” undercovers

Book Author(s) Description Suggested by (for thanks)
Q Luther Blissett Q is a novel by Luther Blissett first published in Italian in 1999. The novel is set in Europe during the 16th century, and deals with Protestant reformation movements. Jonathan Atkinson
Orkney Twilight Clare Carson https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/alix-long/clare-carsons-orkney-twilight_b_7233992.html? @UndercoverNet

 

Stealing The Future @MaxHertzberg Alt Future East Germany @UndercoverNet
The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare G. K. Chesterton @UndercoverNet
Naming the Dead Ian Rankin G8 Gleneagles shenanigans
The Terrorists Sjöwall and Wahlöö
Javelin Roger Pearce @BristolKRS
Sweet Tooth Ian McEwan Sweet Tooth is a novel by the English writer Ian McEwan, published on 21 August 2012. It deals with the experiences of its protagonist, Serena Frome, during the early 1970s. After graduating from Cambridge she is recruited by MI5, and becomes involved in a covert program to combat communism by infiltrating the intellectual world. When she becomes romantically involved with her mark, complications ensue. @UndercoverNet
A Legacy of Spies John le Carré https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Legacy_of_Spies @UndercoverNet
Guest SJ Bradley, @BradleyBooks An authentic look at anarcho-greens, anti-globalisation, the squatter movement and punk bands by someone who was clearly there @MaxHertzberg
Cold Island @MaxHertzberg It’s over twenty-five years since Mara arrived in Britain, yet today she no longer feels safe in the country she thought she knew.

Threatened with deportation, Mara goes underground. She meets others who have made their home in the UK but are now leading lives in the half-shadows of society.

Together they embark on a journey across the moors of northern England, hoping to reach relative safety in Scotland—but the officers of Immigration Enforcement are never far behind.

@MaxHertzberg
Demo Richard Allen OH GOD AVOID THIS BOOK.
The Secret Agent Joseph Conrad Excellent, gripping, thought-provoking
Under Western Eyes Joseph Conrad Sadly, no
Vida Marge Piercy READ THIS BOOK
My Revolutions Hari Kunzru

 

Really good 70s/90s stuff. Very well written, thought provoking
The Invisible Circus Jenny Egan Also good on the consequences of violence, but not actually so much about undercovers as memory, activism etc
Invisible Armies Jon Evans Highly competent thriller, with a corporate spying on activists thread throughout.
The Weatherman Guy Jon Burmeister Dunno yet, but looks lurid af.

 

 

Films (documentaries and live action)

Documentary- “In the inner circle”

 

The documentary “Im inneren Kreis” (English: “In the inner circle“) by Hannes Obens and Claudia Morar, which will be distributed from now on UCM.ONE (NONFY Documentaries), describes the already almost unbelievable twists of the undercover employments of Iris P. in Hamburg and Simon B. in Heidelberg. Both assignments combine fundamental ethical and political topics and questions in themselves Sarah Arens
Film – Police, Adjective  2009 Romanian drama film directed by Corneliu Porumboiu. The movie focuses on policeman Cristi, who is investigating a teenage boy who has been smoking hashish. Over time, Cristi begins to question the ethical ramifications of his task. Sarah Arens
Film – Ummah – among friends
 
After killing two skinheads in a failed operation against neo-Nazis, young undercover intelligence agent Daniel finds a hiding place and new friends in Berlin’s Turkish Arab community. In a realistic and witty way, the German director of Turkish origin shows the rapprochement of two worlds which seem violently opposed. Sarah Arens

TV Shows

TV Shows- Between the Lines season 3 interesting stuff about the intersection of private sector & state actors as both attempt to undermine civil society (animal rights, anti-Pinochet, anti-fascism) through infiltrators, agents & touts.
TV Show
Ghost Squad
“Whilst superficially the focus is on CIB2/CIB3-style police-investigating-police storylines (similar to start of BTL), ‘The Ghost Squad’ (2005) is largely interested on the cumulative effect of UC work on an officer’s sense of self “

 

Ghost Squad is an unofficial top secret Internal Affairs unit that recruits former police officers who’ve proved their honesty during their service and sends them undercover to investigate and root out corruption within the police.

TV Show Spooks Season 1 ‘Spooks’ S1 has the ‘Traitor’s Gate’ episode, with veteran MI5 field officer Peter Salter infiltrating dastardly anarchist/anti-capitalist terrorists, but falling in love, etc etc
TV Show Undercover – BBC drama https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b076vdbc/episodes/guide

 

 

Plays

Any Means Necessary Kefi Chadwick

 

 

Of plastic documentaries, heroism and Spanish Researchers

The Spanish Researchers UK network is kinda cool.  They were created to promote communication within the community of Spanish Researchers working in the United Kingdom by creating a social network that facilitates the sharing of professional and life experiences. The association has encouraged this communication via the establishment of Constituencies throughout the UK.”

Last year some Northwest SRUK folks got in touch with me because they were putting together a day’s seminar on climate change and sustainability, here in Manchester. I got together with colleagues from the Sustainable Consumption Institute (hello Sherilyn McGregor and Joe Blakey) and, along with other folks (from Tyndall Manchester) we helped them put on a good day.(Their blog–  and fwiw my reflections.)

They got in touch again (usually a good sign) and asked if I’d come along as an “expert” (cough, cough) to a film showing and discussion. I said yes. The event was last Wednesday, 30th January. This is a blog about that.

After welcoming everyone and pointing to the popcorn and pop, they showed the film. It’s a recent documentary called A Plastic Ocean, and it was very very much of its type. That is to say, it started with some photogenic/sympathetic (if you’re white and middle-class) people doing something Nice.  And then realising that there was Trouble. And so then setting out to find the Source of the Trouble. And while not necessarily DOING that (erm, capitalism, much?), finding that things are A Lot Worse Than They Thought. But nobody wants a downer. There’s enough of that, so the second half of these documentaries – and this one is no exception – have to talk about shiny New Technologies. If ONLY these could be deployed, maybe there would be some Hope.

standard doco narrative

This, of course, follows the hero’s path (thanks to David Ruiz for this insight – he put the theoretical meat on mere empirical bones).

So we started with some ocean-photographers and divers realising there is trouble (plastic) in paradise (oceans off Sri Lanka) and then expanding to the human and ecosystem impacts, without ever doing more than hinting at the vast lobbying power of the plastics industry, or the Anthropocene or… well, anything that would orientate people and empower them.
And – as I said in my comments afterwards (I was asked along for my ‘expertise’, after all), these documentaries never almost never talk in any historically informed way about the power of social movements to force the state to regulate private corporations, and create some of these new industries we pin our hopes on (e.g. the USA and recycling).

Anyway, the Q and A went pretty well. The chairs went straight into a big circle, so everyone could see each other and the “sage on the stage” thing was mostly undermined,  but for one painful instance when some idiot older white guy interrupted a younger woman before she’d finished what she was saying. Sigh.  Could it have been done better? Well, perhaps if people worked in pairs on observations and questions before feeding into the group, but that doesn’t always work. Anyhows apparently the feedback was good, and I hope the organisers are happy – they did a fine job.

Next up for SRUK in Manchester is a showing of a film about how women were passed over by NASA as pilots, back in the day.  It’s on Wednesday 6th February, from 6.15 at the Cervantes Institute on Deansgate. It’s free (but you’re welcome to make a donation for the popcorn and fizz!)

 

Fwiw- On plastics – here are some articles that I will be blogging about (I need to read anyway for an upcoming TAing thing)

  • Clapp, J. 2012 The Rising Tide against Plastic Waste: Unpacking Industry Attempts to Influence the Debate. In Histories of the Dustheap: Waste, Material Cultures, Social Justice, Publisher: MIT Press, Editors: Stephanie Foote and Elizabeth Mazzolini, pp.199-226
  • Meikle, J. 1997 Material Doubts: The Consequences of Plastic. Environmental History Vol. 2, No. 3 (Jul., 1997), pp. 278-300
  • Fisher, T.2004.  What we touch, Touches Us: Material Affects, and Affordances. Design Issues Volume 20 | Issue 4 |p.20-31
  • Walker, A. 1994.  Plastic The Building Block of the Twentieth Century. Construction History.Vol. 10, pp. 67-88

Two novels on undercovers and infiltration – #Spycops #Spycopsfiction

Books reviewed:

  • Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad (1911)
  • Demo by Richard Allen (New England Library, 1970)

 

So, I am guiding my reading a bit, because I am Writing A Paper.  These two are both

  • about Russian secret intelligence operations overseas.
  • about the infiltration and attempted disruption of dissident social movements.
  • pretty tough to read (for different reasons).

There ends the similarity.

Under Western Eyes (UWE) is a late novel from Joseph “Heart of Darkness” Conrad, and apparently almost broke him in the writing (and me in the reading – not to War and Peace levels, but in the same ballpark).  It’s about a young student, Razumov, in Moscow who gets caught up – against his will – in an assassination plot and its aftermath.  The majority of UWE takes place in Geneva, where he is attempting to infiltrate/spy on some expat Russians.  My god it goes on. This is Conrad, so obvs there is an Unreliable Narrator, an elderly Brit trying to keep his lechery under control. It is, apparently, a Novel of Ideas.  Yes, well, Conrad sure does stint on the car chases and explosions…

People say things like this-

“I’ll tell you what you think,” he said explosively, but not raising his voice. “You think that you are dealing with a secret accomplice of that unhappy man. No, I do not know that he was unhappy. He did not tell me. He was a wretch from my point of view, because to keep alive a false idea is a greater crime than to kill a man. I suppose you will not deny that? I hated him! Visionaries work everlasting evil on earth. Their Utopias inspire in the mass of mediocre minds a disgust of reality and a contempt for the secular logic of human development.”

(Conrad, 1911: 95)

This is Conrad, of course, so there are plenty of acid observations to be going along with

“No!” Razumov interrupted without heat. “Indeed, I don’t want to cast aspersions, but it’s just as well to have no illusions.”

Peter Ivanovitch gave him an inscrutable glance of his dark spectacles, accompanied by a faint smile.

“The man who says that he has no illusions has at least that one,” he said, in a very friendly tone. “But I see how it is, Kirylo Sidorovitch. You aim at stoicism.”

(Conrad, 1911: 207)

and, if you like it really really over-wrought

Then, looking hard at me with her brilliant black eyes—

“There are evil moments in every life. A false suggestion enters one’s brain, and then fear is born—fear of oneself, fear for oneself. Or else a false courage—who knows? Well, call it what you like; but tell me, how many of them would deliver themselves up deliberately to perdition (as he himself says in that book) rather than go on living, secretly debased in their own eyes? How many?… And please mark this—he was safe when he did it. It was just when he believed himself safe and more—infinitely more—when the possibility of being loved by that admirable girl first dawned upon him, that he discovered that his bitterest railings, the worst wickedness, the devil work of his hate and pride, could never cover up the ignominy of the existence before him. There’s character in such a discovery.”

(Conrad, 1911: 379)

But tbh, I would not have finished it but for the Paper (see below) (And yes, this is almost certainly a reflection on my shallowness rather than the book’s worth!)

richard-allen-demo-bk

Meanwhile, Demo is a 1970 offering from the New England Library (men of certain age will know that this means violence, sex, sexual violence and Social Darwinism that would have Herbert Spencer saying “steady on old chap”). This book is the kind of trash that gives enjoyable trash a bad name.  The racism, sexism, classism, unabashed madness of it all makes it a very hard read.  Plot? Well, if you can call it that – some old farts from a thinly veiled Special Operations Executive get it in their heads that all the demos around the world are being orchestrated by Moscow.

Here’s a flavour of the writing (warning, there are pages and pages of this-

The colonel felt pride wash over him as Mai Bedford lifted her glass high. It was a distinctive appelation (sic) – like Flying Tigers and Desert Rats. But for sheer guts and courage none of those others could begin to match a Hartsman or Hartswoman as they had fondly been called in those final days of Europe’s torment. These were the backbone Britain and the Free World had needed when dark clouds clouded the horizon> They had been a strange mixture of bravery, nervelessness, patriotic neurotic so vital in that ancient game called espionage.

(Allen, 1970: 19)

And they are right – there is a baby-faced KGB agent inciting and pulling the strings, while getting laid a lot (who knew that Bolsheviks could be so, well, horizontal).

So these codgers get their mostly willing kids to do counter-espionage. Most of this seems to be done by shagging hippies (always with huge tits, obvs) who have relevant info-

““They’re avid protesters. Anything goes for that Cy, Tim. He’s part Panther, part anti-pollutionist, part anti-Vietnam. You name it, he’s in there pitching against established order. He hates pigs, too,” and she laughed uproariously.
(Allen, 1970: 45)

There’s a grotesque faux-apologia for My Lai and by the end……. ah, look, I can’t go on.  It’s repetitive, lurid, gratuitous, with plot holes you could stage a march of millions through.  …  I would not have finished it but for the Paper (see below).  This is not a book that should be tossed aside lightly. It should be…  blow-torched.

Weirdly it makes zero reference to the Angry Brigade shit that was going down at the same time. It should be read against the slightly- later “Leftwing Terrorism in Britain literature” that has been so well-explored by Joseph Dartington.

 

 

I am writing an article for an upcoming conference, organised by the State Violence Research network with the title “Spies Like Us: Of the usefulness to activists of fictional representations of the agent provocateur and the spy.”

IF YOU KNOW OF ANY BOOKS, FILMS, PLAYS, TV shows that have a representation of the penetration of a social movement organisation (ideally an environmental one), ideally by a member of the police (but corporate spy will do), ESPECIALLY if it set in the recent past (i.e. since, oh, 2000), then please let me know!

 

At the moment the A-list includes

Vida by Marge Piercy (an all-time favourite, which I look forward to reading with my all-time favourite wife in a few weeks)

My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru

The Invisible Circus by Jenny Egan

Invisible Armies by Jon Evans

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

The meh list

Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad

 

The Under NO circumstances attempt to read list

Demo by Richard Allen

 

(I will do a separate review for some non-fiction that I read – Under Cover, Deep Cover etc)

 

 

The I don’t know yet list

The Weatherman Guy by Jon Burmeister

Three scrabble-tastic words I didn’t know – buckram, carmine, vaticinate

So, just did a review of Joseph Conrad’s Under Western Eyes (and another, truly atrocious book) – next up on this site.  UWE had me reaching for the dictionary on three occasions- buckram, carmine (I kind of knew) and vaticinated-

 

“He felt his lips go stiff like buckram, and instead of a reassuring smile only achieved an uncertain grimace.

(Conrad, 1911: 62)

Buckram is a stiff cloth, made of cotton, and still occasionally linen or horse hair, which is used to cover and protect books. Buckram can also be used to stiffen clothes. Modern buckrams have been stiffened by soaking in a substance, usually now pyroxylin, to fill the gaps between the fibres

 

She disregarded it. Her carmine lips vaticinated with an extraordinary rapidity. The liberating spirit would use arms before which rivers would part like Jordan, and ramparts fall down like the walls of Jericho. The deliverance from bondage would be effected by plagues and by signs, by wonders and by war. The women….

Carmine (/ˈkɑːrmɪn/ or /ˈkɑːrmaɪn/), also called cochineal, cochineal extract, crimson lake or carmine lake, natural red 4, C.I. 75470, or E120, is a pigment of a bright-red color obtained from the aluminium salt of carminic acid; it is also a general term for a particularly deep-red color.

Vaticinate – foretell the future.

Books I definitely did not buy today

Down to Withington to

  1. get anti-worming stuff from the vet for the stripey monster (and tell captive audience a terrible joke)
  2. get someone to succeed in shutting my “talking shoe” up
  3. buy new (second-hand) jeans.

As Mr. Loaf sings, two outa three ain’t bad.  And I absotively posilutely did not buy four books for the grand total of one quid.  And these books were in no way the following

  • Christopher Isherwood The Memorial
  • Christopher Isherwood Down There on a Visit
  • Andrew Sean Greer Less
  • Charles Shield And So it goes. Kurt Vonnegut: A Life.

Meanwhile, had a fab greasy spoon veggie breakfast and going through all the job applications (Sheffield, Canberra, East Anglia, Stockholm) that I have to apply for in the next few weeks. And Manchester too, for that matter…