Spying on The Man Who Was Thursday

Just a few comments on an article on the book.

Spy work is difficult work, mainly because it’s quite difficult to know who is an agent, a double agent, a triple agent, or an independent agent of chaos. Who to trust with vital information or your life is something that needs to be resolved, and you have to rely on instincts as much as on information.

There is a moral element as well: how many innocent lives to trade for how much information?

Then as now, governments realized that the only way to defeat revolutionary terror was to penetrate and infiltrate the active groups, to gain intelligence about forthcoming attacks. Some agencies, though, carried this strategy to baroque extremes. The Russian secret police, the Okhrana, was notorious for the violence that it perpetrated itself in order to cast blame on revolutionaries, and also to establish the credentials of its own secret agents. When an agent infiltrated Russia’s anarchist or Bolshevik underground, he naturally had to prove his credentials, to prove he was not a detective. And how better to do that than to carry out a vicious attack, by planting a bomb in a public place, even if that really did kill innocent civilians? Or imagine that police succeeded in converting and turning a terrorist to become one of their informants. If he was to remain in place to pass on priceless information, then naturally he had to be permitted to continue at least some violent acts, or his colleagues would immediately become suspicious.

Soon, even police agencies themselves had no idea whether a given attack was the work of real terrorists, or of agents and provocateurs notionally working for the regime. In this wilderness of mirrors, the only certain facts were provocation and deception. “Was anyone wearing a mask? Was anyone anything?” However fantastic The Man Who Was Thursday might appear, it was describing the stark realities of counter-subversion, with all their moral ambiguities. And that was what gave the book its appeal to latter day spooks.

I myself don’t read spy fiction, but it is a legitimate part of the Traveller universe, and certainly within the Empty Quarter. None of the three major interstellar governments here are at war with each other, but there are different levels of quiet hostility: especially between the Vargr-ruled, democratic Rukadukaz Republic and the humanist, fascist/theocratic Hegemony of Lorean, both within the Julian Protectorate. The Shadow Cartels have their own rivalries with the Imperial Ministry of Justice, the Imperial Navy, and – in a very politically complicated way – the Julian Star Legion.

(The thing about the Legion is that they are sworn to suppress illegal acts, such as piracy. But among the many Vargr starnations that make up the Julian Protectorate, piracy is not just legal, but celebrated. Things get complicated quickly – especially when you realize that the black letter law is of far less importance than the raw charisma of a given Vargr pirate lord or Star Legion captain…)

There are also numerous spy/counterspy operations among the planetary governments and local ethnic/religious groups, certainly including the famous hand of Solomani Security, but also the various secret societies that are common within the Hegemony. One thing that is fairly uncommon are Imperial megacorporate spies: there just isn’t enough money in the Six Subsectors to make it worth their time. Menderes megacorporate spies certainly can be found, but they have the support of the Julian interstellar government: the monarchs who rule that state have always been part of House Menderes.


About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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