Fact has caught up with fiction in the shady world of secret intelligence as Britain’s spies find themselves pitted against real life versions of James Bond villains, it was claimed today.
In the post-Cold War era, master criminals, warlords and terrorists are now the chief concerns of MI6, according to security expert Professor Richard Aldrich.
He said: “Remarkably, the Bond villains – including Dr No, Goldfinger and Blofeld – have always been post-Cold War figures. Bond’s enemies are in fact very close to the real enemies of the last two decades – part master criminal, part arms smuggler, part terrorist, part warlord.
“They are always the miscreants of globalisation; they endanger not only the security of a single country, but the safety of the whole world. Like our modern enemies, they thrive on the gaps between sovereign states and thrive on secrecy.
“Far fetched in the 1960s, they are now the stuff of reality. We need James Bond more than ever.”
Prof Aldrich, Professor of International Security at the University of Warwick, said as the Cold War came to a sudden end in the 1990s, real MI6 officers were worried about redundancy.
Their boss at the time, the real “M”, Sir Colin McColl, reassured them that the Cold War would be followed by a Hot Peace.
“He was quite right,” said Prof Aldrich. “Within a few years they had joined with special forces to battle drug barons in South America and to track down war criminals in the former Yugoslavia.”
The new Bond film 'Quantum of Solace' looked forward to the next decade, when the enemies would be “climate change, environmental hazard and global uncertainty,” said Prof Aldrich.
In the movie, an apparently eco-friendly organisation called “Greene planet” turns out to be a front for a secret criminal conspiracy.
Prof Aldrich has been awarded a £447,000 (€565,000) grant from the Art and Humanities Research Council for a project entitled “Landscapes of Secrecy” looking at the way novels and films have kept the CIA in the public eye.
He said: “The role of film and fiction in shaping the public understanding of espionage is serious stuff. Curiously, although government secret services hide in shadows, the public somehow feels it knows more about them than the more mundane work-a-day civil service.
“This is because 007, together with television series such as 'Spooks', '24' and 'The X-Files' have allowed the viewer to spend literally hours inside their highly-secure buildings.
“Programme-makers often go to obsessive lengths to get things right, albeit in reality M’s office on the south bank of the Thames is a little less glitzy than the one portrayed in 'Quantum of Solace'.
“Secret services have come to recognise that film and fiction play an important part in the public understanding of intelligence work and the CIA has gone so far as to appoint a Hollywood liaison officer to assist film-makers who wish to portray the agency.”