What I know about Spooks

This started as a comment in “Secret Agent Man” responding to a crack by Tim, but when I realized it was “too long” ( since WHEN?”) I decided to make it a post, with illos. Les Murray is a Catholic redneck, something of a naturalist, and the best poet Australia ever had.I have two big fat anthologies of his work. There was a good piece on him in the NYRKR last year. Of Australians I only read him, the late art critic Robert Hughes (good, AND a sportsman, though more a New Yorker in his old age, and the hilarious but brilliant naturalist Tim Flannery. Oh, and Germaine Greer- you’d be surprised (Muggeridge like The Female Eunuch!) Lately I have been reading three rather hard to find (try Andrew Isles) books by the Aussie avian evolutionist Tim Low which will blow the minds of the conventional, as he tells of the evolution of slavery in Australian “Choughs”, about how certain NATIVE species (Noisy Miners)have established exclusive hostile monocultures in territories of hundreds of square miles, killing off or harassing all others out of existence- bracing p inc- stuff. Try Where Song Began (the best and most specific, about the weird evolution of Aussie Passerines, with the war makers and slave takers and songbirds that can imitate chain saws and worse), The New Nature, and Feral Future; for a milder US version without the evo- bio I recommend Emma Marr’s Rambunctious Garden. And that is it for Aussie stuff. Key quote” .. nature is portrayed poorly whenever harmony is implied.” Whirl is king….

Now:EVERY DAMN BODY WAS IN THE CIA, OR THE OSS – it wasn’t called ‘Oh So Social” for nothing. Its first recruiting office was across from the Explorers Club, right across the street from the AMNH, also a recruiting spot in its time. I wouldn’t be surprised if Andy Bakewell, though a Jesuit priest, was also a OSS agent. Jack Hemingway was. He parachuted into France with a cane fly rod. They recruited from the Left, and the upper classes. The Left because they could make contact with the other political groups fighting Nazis in Europe; the upper classes because most of the intellectual adventurers Wild Bill Donavan knew were upper class people. Bakewell had the social register, the Alpine Journal, and the cocked and locked Colt Commander on his shrine to the La Guadalupana as long as I knew him.

Andy was rather of the right, though he was chaplain to both the Kennedys and the Buckley family, and treated them alike. Though a very rich man, his politics were probably in the Catholic doctrine, rather left economically, though he sure believed in shooting bad guys — he’d say to people offended by his cocked and locked Colt “What’s the use of an unloaded gun?” It reminds me of how I made friends with my son’s friend Eli, then fifteen, when he asked me “Why do you carry handguns?” “To shoot bad people.” Eli replied “That’s the first honest answer I’ve ever gotten.” He ended up a sheriff’s armorer, among other things, albeit one who once wanted to dye his hair chrome.

All the old spies were FDR “liberals”; most of them were in the New York social register, and the Bakewells owned Missouri, an outpost. Their ancestor was Lucy Bakewell, who Audubon married, up. Julia Child was an upper – crust Californian about seven feet tall ; she was an OSS agent. (As with many of these people, she somehow knew my mother; they used the same butcher. But then, my mother, a woman of no social pretensions whatsoever, knew EVERYBODY, probaly because she would talk (and TALK!) to anyone — the Kennedys, George Pimpton.. We once had to talk her and the late ranch matriarch Betty Pound out of selling a VERY illegal Indian artifact, an enormous pot that her grandson thought was a dinosaur egg when he found it eroding out of anarroyo after a storm, to Goldie Hawn. They didn’t even know it was against the law…

Julia was recruited to cooking writing, and possibly spying, by my late friend Angus Cameron, the emeritus editor of Knopf, who was probably a damn STALINIST at the time, and who never became much more conserva†ive. He lost his job in the McCarthy witch hunts, and unlike more namby pamby fellows he and his longtime wife Sheila went first to Minnesota and then to Alaska to live as trappers until things cooled down, and then went back to New York to resume their place in society.

Angus, when I knew him, had just retired, as is my usual luck, as he wanted to publish me desperately. He was fascinated by food, as would be anybody who wrote a cookbook with Judith Jones. The cookbook for LL Bean is still the best single game cookbook. He was also Jack O’Connor’s editor, and I have in my possession a letter written to Jack saying that it is better to be reviewed in The New Yorker than the New York Times, as Jack was complaining. I think he had an obit in both. I just missed getting one of his 20-gauge custom Spanish shotguns, which Angus had given away to some lickspittle relative because he didn’t know I’d want one. The story of my life… McGuane did the same thing with a 16-gauge Boss, both about three weeks before I said I’d like to have them. Angus did give me a Pezon et Michel parabolic cane rod owned by Charles Ritz, but as usual, I sold it at a time when I needed to eat more than I needed to fish.

Interesting point is, all of these people were liberals or Leftists, granted of their time– none were “PC”. Johnny Barsness always rejected the idea that the late Datus Proper was a CIA agent. REALLY??! I’ve never seen a more likely spook! He was old family and old school, was incredibly erudite, physically strong, totally close-mouthed about anything he ever did, and was in Ireland for the resurgence of the Troubles, and in every Portuguese speaking hotspot in Africa when it was hot. When asked if he was an agent, he would always say, with a grin, “Why would you think such a ridiculous thing?” and change the subject. Plus he was a fly-fisher, just like James Jesus Angleton (that’s a joke).

The CIA changed, and for good or for ill, those old legends are long gone. Except for removing Mossadegh,the stupidist act of clandestine foreign policy ever perpetrated, an act devised by the Roosevelt grandfather of Bill Weld’s wife, they did more good than harm I think. My source for this stupidity of this act is no less than my other retired spook friend, Lieutenant Col. Sydney Kent Carnie of the Army Intelligence Service, who spent about twenty years in Persia (he was training to be a wildlife biologist under Starker Leopold, Aldo’s son, at Berkeley, when he became fascinated with Arabic and Farsi at the Army language school). When I asked him if he’d go back, he said no.”My friends were the enlightened intelligentsia; the Shah’s SAVAK killed half of them, and the Ayatollah wiped out the rest. Why should I go back?”

Nevertheless, they sure had fun. Carnie used to plant listening stations on the borders of Soviet Armenia while trapping Peregrines. Think of novels like Tim Powers’ Declare. These people actually lived lives like that. Of course they funded Peter Matthiessen — they also funded the Aga Khan and George Plympton as partners in the Paris Review, which was started with CIA funding as much as the Aga Khan’s jewels. Plympton was much more an OSS type; Matthiessen was too solemn.

That’s all I know about the secret life. I’ve be willing to be debriefed about strange things I’ve seen, but that’s it. I have been lucky or unlucky enough to have been to some weird places — hard-assed Kurdish Turkey, twenty miles from Kobani, before the troubles started, for a month; Zimbabwe before Mugabe cracked down on the Hwange area and the N’dbele, a Zulu-derived culture he disliked even more than white people. He drove a white friend of mine to suicide, and his 11th brigade cut off the head of a black acquaintance, the headman of Tsholotsho township, who was delighted and amazed that a “European” would eat chile hot sauce (“I’m not European- I’m New Mexican”, I told him). It’s all gone now.