Well, if there’s one thing that this week’s news has encouraged me to do, it’s go off and listen to some good music. With a hat-tip to Longsufferingreaderoftheblogpaul for sharing it aaaaages ago, here’s Reggie Watts’ cover of Van Halen’s Panama:
Where the original is – I’m told – about a race car, Reggie’s version is about the country. What do you think about, when you think about Panama?
[For more absurdity, whimsy, and brain droppings, check out the Apoplexy Tiny Letter.]
Here’s the narrator of Reggie’s cover:
I know Panama’s really cool
I’ve felt it after every day in school
If you told me something then I wouldn’t respond
Because all I could say is:
For me, Panama has always brought this to mind:
But I guess that’s all different now, in the wake of the leak of the Panama Papers. Now Panama is all about secrecy and intrigue and cloak-and-dagger stuff. So it’s appropriate that this week is Edinburgh Spy Week.
Yesterday, I returned to my old stomping ground at the School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures to hear former Director General of the MI5 and English Literature graduate of the University, Stella Rimington, talk about Women in Spy Fiction and all sorts of other things.
[And if you’re into languages and literature, here’s a discussion of which of stomping and stamping grounds is correct.]
Now 80 and the writer of a series of spy novels, MI5’s first female DG was engaging, sharp as a tack, and charismatic. It wasn’t hard to imagine her rising through what must have been greasy, difficult ranks in the 1960s-90s security services.
Stella’s conversation covered a lot of ground of interest to the blog. She presented a concise and conclusive argument in favour of feminism. She discussed differences between thrillers and crime novels. She talked about government oversight of the security services. And the nature of truth came up, too.
Some of the juxtapositions were particularly striking. If, as Val McDermid writes, thrillers tend to be inherently conservative, and crime novels more progressive, it’s interesting that Rimington’s novels (and career) shake up the form a bit.
It’s said that the former DG’s time at the top of the British Security Service is notable for a public relations campaign to improve the openness of the Service and increase public transparency. And as a trained archivist, she spoke about the importance of updating MI5’s record-keeping in order to be able to more accurately validate the truth of the Service’s conclusions.
In light of all that, here’s an interesting record – an interview with ex-MI5 whistleblower Annie Machon being interviewed yesterday in the aftermath of the Panama Papers leaks. Among other things, she talks about how the Snoopers’ Charter is being pushed through to retroactively validate and legalise activities at GCHQ, how the way the British security services work and are overseen is the true basis of the UK-US “special relationship”, and how the aims of MI5 might play into – or more accurately, against – a Scottish push for independence.
Oh yeah, and if you ask Ian Wiki about her, you’ll discover that Annie resigned from MI5 with her partner at the time, David Shayler, in 1996, to blow the whistle on a series of alleged crimes committed by spies, none of which were subsequently followed up by the Crown Prosecution Service. These included:
- Secret MI5 files held on the very government ministers responsible for overseeing the intelligence services
- Illegal MI5 phone taps
- Lying to government by MI5
- IRA bombs that could have been prevented
- The 1994 bombing of the Israeli embassy in London, when two innocent people were wrongfully convicted
- The attempted Secret Intelligence Service assassination of Colonel Gaddafi of Libya
Well, I’m off to see a panel on Scotland, Secrecy, and the State from a historical perspective at the National Library of Scotland. Hopefully, that will be a relief from present-day worries.
There will be an extract from The Scotsman from around the time of Napoleonic Wars worrying about one’s neighbours being spies. I will be told that The Hootsmon was a campaigning, liberal newspaper at the time.
Hahaha! I’m relaxing already!