A Delicate Truth

Saturday, 25 May 2013

A Delicate Truth

I have a feeling, assuming there’s someone there with the inclination to do the writing, that when twenty-second or twenty-third century historians turn their gaze back to concepts like liberal democracy and the Westminster system of government they’ll identify the early years of the twenty-first century and the agendas some of the characters in this latest le Carré are pursuing as the era and the agency that more or less killed them off.

That’s not to suggest liberal democracy, characterised by fair, free, and competitive elections between multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society, and the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and political freedoms for all persons (Wikipedia), or the Westminster system, where the Prime Minister ... leads a Cabinet which is responsible to the lower house, ... a career public service ... impartially serves the government of the day ... The armed services are outside of politics and act on the instructions of the government and The rule of law prevails, with an independent judiciary, subject to the Constitution (sourced from australianpolitics.com) always operated as advertised.

At the start of A Delicate Truth, Operation Wildlife, a 2008 top-secret mission involving the CIA, British special forces and American mercenaries from Ethical Outcomes, a private security operation, aims to exfiltrate an arms dealer in league with jihadist terrorists visiting the British colony of Gibraltar. 

It’s a covert extraordinary rendition operation instigated, on the basis of information received, by bullying New Labour junior minister Fergus Quinn, a marooned Blairite of the new Gordon Brown era who, given the nature of the beast, can’t afford to be directly connected to it. Quinn might have little time for the Foreign Office establishment, but he needs someone there on the ground, and recruits a middle rank civil servant in his fifties, an honest-to-God Foreign Service dobbin, gives him a cover identity as statistician Paul Anderson, and packs him off to Gibraltar believing he’s doing his bit for Queen and country in the war on terror.

Once he’s on the ground there he’s confined to a hotel room, going stir crazy and unable to comprehend why he can’t get out and about. Then, when he’s finally released it’s straight onto the side of The Rock, where he meets Jeb Owens, seconded on the quiet from the British military and not entirely gruntled about being involved on the fringe of what is, basically, a mercenary operation. 

Things don’t run the way they’re supposed to, the Foreign Office dude, who’s not quite the  eyes and ears and, significantly, not allowed to deliver a  yea or nay and the military bloke smell a rat, advise against continuing the operation, get overruled by Quinn, and once things are over Paul is told everything went off without a hitch, bundled onto a homebound flight and transformed back into British diplomat Christopher (Kit) Probyn.

The reward for his service comes with an appointment as High Commissioner to a couple of Caribbean states, a knighthood and the wherewithal to fund an idyllic retirement in North Cornwall. Sir Kit attends the annual fayre at his Cornish village, presides over the proceedings as the lord of misrule and unexpectedly comes across Jeb Owens, the Special Forces leader seconded to Operation Wildlife. He’s ended up in Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome territory after an operation that, rather than the unqualified success Probyn had been led to believe, turns out to have been an utter cock-up in which an innocent Muslim mother and child were killed. 

Probyn, by nature, wouldn’t be the most committed of whistleblowers, but the manner in which Jeb Owens makes him aware of the utter cock-up, a note purporting to be a receipt for a purchased handbag (Owens has become an itinerant leather worker) found by Probyn’s wife (on the mend from major health issues, so she needs to be reassured) and the involvement of their daughter Emily, a doctor in an East End hospital means he’s going to be kept on task.


© Ian Hughes 2012