I was asked to review this film when it arrived in local theaters in 2011
since my employment included roles in the world of espionage,
to include playing a key role in the establishment of the
DOD Clandestine Service in 1984.
Given recent events, some of you may find this post worth a look.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a relatively well-made film about an extremely complex subject.
Although it's a bit difficult to follow, even if you have the original book at hand, it conveys the "feel" of intelligence operations in that era.
Both British and the US Intelligence Communities were riddled with double and triple agents during the Cold War, leading to a great deal of paranoia at all levels of the process, from the executive level down to the agent handler -- to the spies themselves.
Here's a list of prominent spies you might recognize:
- Adrich Ames - Counter-Intelligence Officer and Analyst
- Robert Hanssen - FBI's head of Security
- James Angleton - CIA's head of Security
Angleton was a close friend and frequent overnight host of Kim Philby -- the most famous of all British spies in the Cold War; Angleton spent his career in search of The CIA Mole -- the perfect smokescreen for the spy some believed to have actually been the Mole.
One problem in the Intelligence Community was that the OSS professionals, at the end of WWII, returned to their corporate sales, marketing, logistics, and financial management positions, leaving Third Tier bureaucratic acolytes to rise to senior operational and administrative positions -- the equivalent of moving lieutenants, captains, and majors up to the flag ranks overnight; they were competent at the levels from which they were moved, but generally incompetent at their new, senior levels.
This process was to be repeated following the purges of the Church Commission era, in which top tier professionals were purged, leaving their inexperienced underlings to fill senior positions, with the underlings' positions being filled with ATF and DEA agents, plus state troopers and street cops.
The mentality of the CIA thus changed from espionage to police apprehension of criminals. Later through subsequent purges, the ranks were filled with ex-Military personnel who assumed the role of paramilitary operatives with no grasp whatever of basic espionage techniques or tradecraft.
The new senior "spooks" compensated for their inexperience and ignorance by undercutting their leadership, their peers, and their underlings, hoping to keep most off balance so no one would notice how incompetent they themselves were.
In the midst of the initial intellectual and bureaucratic turmoil during the Cold War, any number of KGB recruits were rolled into the structure based on their ethnic backgrounds or areas of expertise. Many survived the polygraph process through "inconclusive" results, or had been successfully trained by their KGB handlers.
Operations were frequently mysteriously compromised, with recruited assets imprisoned or killed. Paranoia in the ranks was rampant, and it was rare that you could trust anyone in the system, and you had to assume that you were compromised before you even started to operate. Thus, your life was always in danger, whether physically or politically.
Of course, the Intelligence Community today remains riddled with double agents or "sleepers" recruited by a variety of countries, not the least of which are China, Korea, and Iran.
With that as background, you can grasp the why's and wherefore's of the extraordinary number of CIA "failures" and compromises over the years, and why the DOD Clandestine Service was created to accomplish espionage programs in the time-honored tradition. It also helps to explain why the Director of the CIA lost the title of Director of Central Intelligence, and was replaced by the Director of National Intelligence.