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Comic Leo Kearse: dancing with David Icke and giving intelligence to the police

Leo Kearse at the Soho Theatre

Leo Kearse at the Soho Theatre last week

“My biggest gig to date was at Wembley Arena,” Scots comedian Leo Kearse told me. “David Icke was doing an 11-hour conspiracy theory lecture. He was saying what we perceive as reality is a hologram controlled by electro-magnetic waves of information being beamed from Saturn…”

“And you were supporting him?” I asked.

“He just wanted dancers for his stage show,” explained Leo, “because he broke up his conspiracy theory lecture with dancing. I was the first one on stage. I ran on at 10.00am and everybody in Wembley Arena is sitting there wearing jackets and I am prancing around like Hey! Stay away from the brown acid! It was well weird.”

“Did you actually meet him?” I asked.

“Yeah. He’s a very nice bloke. I think it’s good to have someone out there prodding at things and making people look at things in different ways. But it was weird being backstage with other dancers who were total David Icke acolytes – Ickelites. (Leo likes a pun.) It was like I was the mad person in the room because I didn’t believe that people are shape-shifting lizards. I started to question my own sanity after a while.”

Leo had asked me if I wanted to have a chat with him because he will be the only act at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe “to have lost part of his body in a shark attack and one of the few to have been rimmed by a hungry farm animal.”

Leo and I met at Soho Theatre, but I never got round to asking about the the shark attack or the animal rimming.

Leo (left) and Darren Walsh strike a manly pose for their upcoming Fringe show Atella The Pun. Both tell tall tales.

Leo (left) and Darren Walsh strike a manly pose for their upcoming Fringe show Atella The Pun. Both tell tall tales.

His first solo Edinburgh Fringe show is called The Mangina Funalogs. He is also appearing in a second show – Atella The Pun – with UK Pun Champion Darren Walsh. Leo does like a pun. He is also appearing in a third Fringe show – Hate ’n’ Live – with Darius Davies: a show where comedians do improvised rants about topics suggested by the audience and drawn from a hat at random. He should, perhaps have called that one The Upset List.

His parents moved from London’s Notting Hill to Dumfries in the early 1970s.

“Why?” I asked.

“My dad’s a gunsmith,” explained Leo, “and they had a knitwear business. My mum used to do clothes for Lulu. So they moved to Dumfries for lower costs, but they couldn’t compete with China.”

“With a background like that,” I said, “it’s not surprising you ended up in comedy.”

“My dad can build a gun from scratch,” added Leo. “He knows all the different grades of steel and can make springs out of blocks of steel.”

“You performed at the Adelaide, Melbourne and Singapore festivals this year,” I said.

“Yes,” said Leo. “On the way back, around April time,  I was in Patong and bumped into Chris Dangerfield.”

“Was he horizontal or vertical?“ I asked.

“Vertical,” said Leo. “He’s really interesting. You know his lock picking business? I used to work for the police. Chris Dangerfield’s biggest customers are MI5, MI6 and the police. It’s just so funny.”

“You worked for the police?” I asked.

The comic man’s comic man Leo Kearse

An upright member of the community. Now he knows comics.

“Yeah. For years,” said Leo. “I wasn’t a policeman. I was a criminal intelligence analyst and I managed the Criminal Intelligence Unit for a bit as well.”

“What is a criminal intelligence analyst?” I asked.

“Identifying emerging trends. Say there’s a new spate of burglaries and they’re using a particular method to break in… They could be using Chris Dangerfield’s lockpicks…”

“So you didn’t,” I said, “investigate murders.”

“No, that’s detective work. We had dashboards that followed reported crimes and 999 calls and looked at things like hospital admissions. If there’s gang violence and they stab each other, they don’t report it to the police but they will go to hospital. So we looked at A&E admissions, ambulance call-outs and I specialised in problem solving intelligence, which is bringing all partner agencies together, looking across a really wide spread of intelligence and using joined-up, co-ordinated resources to deal with it. Because the police tend to just treat crime problems as a crime issue and they deal with that by arresting people and chucking men in yellow jackets into the area.

“But night-time disorder can be tackled by arranging better transport links to get people out of an area quickly so they’re not milling around fighting. It’s looking at the core root of the problem.”

“That,” I said, “seems unusually intelligent of the police.”

“Oh, they don’t do it any more,” said Leo. “As soon as the Tories got in, we all got laid-off.”

“So what sort of mind,” I asked, “is interested in analysing crime trends AND making people laugh at puns in a room above a pub?”

“I don’t think there is a link,” said Leo. “I mean, Darren Walsh does Flash development and his comedy’s really different from computer programming.”

“Puns are about manipulating and moving existing things around laterally,” I suggested, “and your jobs…”

“Spotting patterns,” said Leo. “Maybe. I’ve been told that comedy is all about gags. But I don’t think it is. It’s about getting the momentum, the atmosphere going. It’s almost like music. You build it up and really nail it to a crescendo. It’s building up tension and releasing it like the Pixies or Nirvana or something like that.”

“Your Edinburgh show has a thread?” I asked.

A manly man

Leo – Hunter. Fighter. Gatherer of puns.

“Yeah. It’s about how hard it is being a man. Which is bullshit: it’s dead easy being a man. I’m so glad I’m a man. We’re built for all the horrible stuff. We’re bullies. We’re good at throwing stuff really far. Hunting. Fighting. We never get to do those things in everyday life. Now it’s all sitting at a computer and doing boring stuff like that. Male masculine skills are not appreciated any more. There’s so much bullshit around.

“I remember teachers at school saying Oh, bullies are like that because they were bullied themselves and they’re just sad and that’s why they’re doing it and they’re upset and… That’s bullshit… Most bullies do it because it’s really funny to sit on another kid and make it eat grass until it cries. I’m trying to debunk a lot of these myths.”

“Did you do that at school?” I asked.

“No,” said Leo. “But, for the purposes of my show I did. I’ve got a bit about me being bullied and how it turned me from English to Scottish. In Scotland, you can say anything as long as it’s funny. It can be as cruel as you like – as long as it’s funny. When I moved down eleven years ago, I had to adjust to England. People would say That’s horrible instead of saying That’s horrible, but it’s funny and laugh like they did in Scotland.”

“And the aim of all this is to get your own radio or television show?” I asked.

“Well, a company called Forefront Media has made a 27-minute documentary about me called Stand-Up London: the pilot for a series. It was going to be for the London Live TV channel, but no-one’s watching that, so they’re pitching it to Sky Arts.

“I’m also going to be on Dinner Date on ITV in September or October. I was one of the men cooking. I got picked by the girl.”

“A good calling card,” I said.

There is a video of Leo’s puns on YouTube.

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Mensa or Densa? A choice of IQ groups.

(This was also published by the Huffington Post)

Egeria Densa aka the Brazilian Waterweed plant

Egeria Densa aka Brazilian Waterweed

In my blog just before Christmas, I quoted nine questions posed in the British Mensa ‘Special Interest Group’ newsletter called What If?

In doing so, of course, I breached their copyright and, as penance, I have now given them thirteen new questions which they might choose one from. My questions are:

– What if you always knew the results of your own actions on others?

– What if it were impossible to tell the sex of another human being?

– What if we knew exactly what had happened in history and not what we thought had happened?

– What if we only had one eye and saw everything in 2D?

– What if Henry VIII had never married?

– What if we shed our heads every seven years and they re-grew?

– What if we could manipulate molecules so we could make the walls, floors and ceilings/roofs of our houses whatever we wanted them to be?

– What if humour did not exist?

– What if Margaret Thatcher had been born a man?

– What if Jesus had not been crucified?

– What if homo sapiens had decided to live in the sea and not on land?

– What if everyone had a 3D printer in their home and you could print everything from cars to paperclips by going online and downloading a program into your printer?

– What if an organisation called Densa recruited people only with IQs in the bottom 2%?

I thought of the ‘Densa’ question by, basically, ripping-off someone I met in 1981 who had had the idea of creating a ‘Densa’ organisation for people who wanted to consider themselves stupid. At that time, I was a researcher on the children’s TV show Tiswas and we had thought of incorporating Densa or Densans into the show. We never did. It was the British nation’s loss.

The guy who ran Densa in 1981 was one Nigel Ffookes. I think he used to advertise for members in Private Eye magazine but never managed to get the organisation off the ground. If anyone knows where he is now or what became of him, I’d be interested to know.

I also found out this morning that there used to be an unofficial ‘Densa’ group within Mensa – they had badges made which they wore upside down so they could read what their badges said.

Densa organisations are not thin on the ground. I have heard of several since 1981, but Wikipedia (always to be trusted on such things) claims the original idea dates from 1974. The current Wikipedia entry (liable to change at a moment’s notice) reads:

* * *

Densa was originally a fictional association created in parody of Mensa International. Rather than belonging to the smartest 2% of the population (the criteria for membership eligibility for Mensa), members of Densa must be in the stupidest 98%...

The concept of an organization for the mentally dense originated in Boston & Outskirts Mensa Bulletin (BOMB), August, 1974, in A-Bomb-inable Puzzle II by John D. Coons. The puzzle involved “the Boston chapter of Densa, the low IQ society”. Subsequent issues had additional puzzles with gags about the group and were widely reprinted by the bulletins of other Mensa groups, before the concept of a low IQ group gained wider circulation in the 1970s, with other people creating quizzes, etc.

A humor book called The Densa Quiz: The Official & Complete Dq Test of the International Densa Society was written in 1983 by Stephen Price and J. Webster Shields.

* * *

I have always thought there was mileage in a Densa organisation and I suspect the name, widely used over almost 40 years, is not copyrightable. Any prospective members, please let me know…

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My brief encounter in Beirut with a man from the Syrian Army

Once, when I was working for the Discovery Channel, I had to make a TV trailer for a rather suspect documentary on the Waffen-SS.

I say ‘suspect’ because it started off with the words:

“The Waffen-SS is renowned throughout the world for its efficiency…”

Yes. I thought. Yes, but… and it is a very big But.

These last few months, I have been reminded of that by the Syrian Army’s wide-ranging put-down of the Syrian uprising. Very efficient. But…

I only had one encounter with the Syrian Army.

I visited Lebanon at the very end of 1993, almost four years after the Lebanese Civil War had sort-of ended. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I had tried to combine my trip to Lebanon with a visit to Syria to see the ruins of Palmyra but the Syrians had refused me an entry visa without explanation. My passport said my occupation was “writer” which probably did not help, though this had proved no problem in Albania  under Enver Hoxha nor in North Korea under the Great Leader Kim Il-sung.

In Beirut at that time, there were still Syrian ‘peacekeeping’ troops manning occasional sandbagged emplacements at crossroads and roundabouts.

Beirut was a strange city. At rush hour time, there were traffic jams of Mercedes-Benzes – almost all the taxis were Mercedes Benz. Money was flooding back into what had been the banking centre of the Middle East. You could walk along a street and it would seem perfectly normal and peaceful. But you could turn a corner and there would immediately be two or three blocks of burnt-out, bombarded skeleton buildings, utterly devastated, like visions of Berlin in 1946. You could not go up those streets nor into the buildings because there were mines and unexploded shells.

This is an extract from my diary.

FRIDAY 7th JANUARY 1994 – BEIRUT

I have a sneaking feeling we are the only guests in this hotel. We never see anyone else at breakfast. Never share lifts with anyone. The room next to us, where we heard a loud argument late one night, has no beds. I just looked in. Just two sofas.

The Syrian soldiers have no problem with accommodation. No tents on the wet ground for them. They just live in some of the skeleton buildings. We saw them camp-bedded in the Hotel St-Georges yesterday and, round the corner from our hotel, they are living in three storeys of a burnt-out building – usually we see some playing cards at a table on the first floor. No walls, of course. Like several around here, it is a building reduced to a vertical grid of open-fronted concrete boxes.

Nearby, there is a sandbagged emplacement in the middle of a junction at the far side of which is a Kentucky Fried Chicken/Baskin Robbins emporium in all its plastic red, white and pink glory. Two soldiers with machine guns stand inside the ring of sandbags, which has a little metal roof over it. There are usually at least three other soldiers standing around, looking in different directions, either in the roadway or on the surrounding pavements or both. Yesterday, there were five soldiers and a lorry. They do not seem trigger-happy; but they seem alert.

Today, a man on the seafront pavement saw the Pentax camera hanging over my shoulder, half-hidden under my arm, and decided to shake my hand.

“Welcome to Lebanon!” he said.

I thought he did this to practice his English but, eventually, he invited me over to buy a tea from his van. It was impressive to see Lebanese entrepreneurial skills re-emerging.

As he made the offer, a military jet flew low overhead and a couple of klaxoned motorbikes ee-aw-ee-aw-ee-aw-ed out of a junction, leading a four-car convoy and, a little later, a couple more jet fighters flew over and round in a complete circle.

On Tuesday, I was woken up by the sound of two jets flying fast and low one after the other.

I walked down as far as the Summerland Hotel – which I knew for its peach melba, chattering American financier, vast swimming pool and supermarket. A man with a Buick told me his sister had bought a nearby flat for $750,000.

I looked at my map for directions and left the Summerland Hotel for the city centre but a gent in front of me pointed out that two soldiers behind me wanted me to stop. These two soldiers – then a third – then a fourth – then a fifth – wanted to see what I was reading. None of the five could speak any English or French at all. But they wanted to know if I had been taking any photographs. (My Pentax was over my shoulder; the smaller Minox camera was invisible in my pocket.)

They wanted to know where I got the map. I had bought it from a shop in one of Beirut’s main streets. Fortunately I still had it in the paper bag and could point at it. They did not seem to have seen any map nor knew one existed. They were not content. I showed them my passport, which the soldier in charge (in his twenties) did not really understand. He was more interested in my Middle East Airlines ticket stub. He must have read the Arabic on the back of the stub about four times at various points. It says (in multiple languages):

“Kindly reconfirm your reservation between 10 and 3 days before date of departure to guarantee your seat. Otherwise your reservation will be cancelled.”

This fascinated him so much we all went over to a guard post, then into an open area between two nearby buildings. I explained my week of merry jaunts around Lebanon by pointing to the days in my diary. But he was more interested in three Daily Telegraph Holiday Offer coupons I had torn out for a friend. They showed drawings of an aircraft, a cruise ship, a sun, a family and a bar code. He looked through these slowly twice.

As he was doing this, I palmed something else that was in my diary – a letter from a friend in Norfolk who sends letters/parcels to a ten year old girl in Beirut. It read:

“If you really want to live dangerously in Beirut, the address to seek out is (and it gave the girl’s name and address). Her dad was a policeman in the Lebanese Internal Security Forces so TAKE CARE!

I thought it wise to palm this even though, clearly, none of the soldiers understood English.

By this time, a Syrian Army Intelligence officer in civilian clothes had been brought over to our group. He was older, maybe mid-40s, and very relaxed. He also understood and spoke basic English.

We went through the map, photos etc again. He seemed to have been told the soldiers saw me taking photos which, ironically, I had not been. He, too, seemed surprised I had a map. He asked more detailed questions – or, rather, I volunteered information – travel agency in Beirut, hotel, route, the diary again.

All those many TV years of obsequious amiability, smiling, wittering and keeping calm came to fruition. If you can tell children and parents their appearance on national TV has been cancelled, then gents with battledress toting Kalashnikovs are less of a worry.

But only slightly.

The Intelligence man asked me:

“What is your job?”

“I write for children,” I told him, on the basis this had done me no harm in (an even dodgier country which shall be nameless until next year) and my visa said ‘Writer’ but I did slightly worry that the Syrians had refused me a visa.

“Mmmm…” the Intelligence man said.

The main military man went off with my passport and the Beirut travel agent’s card. I was left alone with Intelligence man in civilian clothes and a very young soldier fiddling absentmindedly with the trigger of his Kalashnikov. He could shoot his own ear off I thought.

“Are you in Lebanon with others?” the Intelligence man asked.

“One other person.” I replied. “I think he is still asleep back at the hotel.”

I was in obsequious/amiable chatting mode.

The Intelligence man had come back to Lebanon from the US one year ago. He was not surprised a flat in this neighbourhood went for $750,000. I asked how much flats in the building to our right would cost. He said about $400,000 with three bedrooms.

He was polite, amiable and smiling. But sometimes, when I was not looking at him directly, his smile would drop a little.

“Your British Foreign Secretary Mr Hurd went from Beirut to Israel this week. What do you think of the Israeli-Arab problems?” he asked me, then realised it was too blatant a question and back-tracked.

The main soldier came back.

They took me into a tent in the ground floor of the house to our left and we went through the map again.

I showed them my route.

“What photographs have you taken today?”

I could not remember anything except the devastated Holiday Inn area by the sea (not a good thing to mention) so I said Martyr’s Square and pointed it out on the map.

None of them (about five) had heard of Place des Martyrs/Martyr’s Square, the main – indeed only big – square in the city; and they had difficulty looking at the map and figuring out where it was in town.

You would think soldiers could read a map and would know the local layout, I thought.

It was around this time they started mentioning you need a licence to shoot film.

“You need a licence to shoot film,” I was told. “Do you have one?”

“No.”

In fact, this cannot be true and, indeed, I have always carried the Pentax in full view (though mostly using the Minox).

Yesterday, a soldier saw the Pentax over my shoulder

“You cannot take film here,” he said. “Bombs… Boom!” He pointed at the ground. “Not here. Poof!…Bombs!… Boom!”

But he never said I needed a licence to film.  I presume today they were trying to intimidate me.

I had been offering to take the film out of the camera and give it to them and they now decided I had to… take the film out of the camera and give it to them.

I could not remember what was on the film – possibly photos of the bombed American Embassy, the Holiday Inn, the Hotel St-Georges and the bay by these hotels.

I dabbled with the idea of opening the back of the camera, then unspooling the film for them, but figured it would be too obvious I was destroying the pictures I had taken. So I just rewound it and gave them the film as it was. Assuming they would not develop it by 0730 tomorrow anyway (my take-off time).

Everything was very relaxed after that. I was at my most obsequiously polite.

The Intelligence officer and the main soldier took me outside. I thanked the soldier three times for his politeness. The Intelligence officer said, “I hope you understood it is a difficult time… only for security reasons… A difficult time… very sensitive… for the country’s security and your own… A difficult time.”

I assume it was just a Jobsworth affair with the soldiers trying to get brownie points from their superiors for being alert to security dangers.

They had not searched me. If they had, they would have found the Minox camera and four new rolls of film in my trouser pockets.

When I left, I walked back to my hotel and switched on the BBC World Service, which was transmitting a report on the Jewish community in Cuba, with various Jewish songs being sung. I decided to switch it off.

Later, I went out and bought Tuesday’s Arab Times, which bills itself as “The First English Language Daily in Free Kuwait”. It reports that, on Monday, the day we were in Tyre and Sidon in South Lebanon, “Guerrilla factions in South Lebanon went on maximum alert in a pre-emptive move designed to avert Israeli strikes expected to accompany the forthcoming Syrian-American summit scheduled for mid-January.”

The Arab Times went on to report that, on Monday, the Israelis (via their ‘South Lebanon Army’ militia) “carried out a reconnaissance by fire tactic at 9.00am by firing six 120mm mortar rounds at a hill overlooking the southern Lebanese market town of Nabatiyey.”

What an interesting use of the word “reconnaisance” I thought.

They are all mad.

All sides.

Everything is out of control.

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Wikileaks in reverse? Am I paranoid? Or are the Powers That Be reading every word I write?

Today there are reports that ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown thinks the News of the World may have hacked into his phone calls. Well Whoop-di-doop, Gordon, welcome to the 21st century.

In the late 1960s, I remember the London magazine Time Out reported that MI5 was listening in to all diplomatic telephone calls via a telephone exchange in (if memory serves me correctly) Kensington. A computer was scanning all calls and listening-in for keywords. This sounded very futuristic back then.

When the extremely right wing and, in my opinion, neo-Fascist Tony Blair was Prime Minister, he had no problem attempting to create profoundly anti-democratic laws. I remember one bright idea he had (never actually implemented) was to detain known football hooligans to prevent them going to a match if the police believed they might be thinking of perhaps planning to commit a crime. In other words he believed it would be OK to make Thought Crime an imprisonable offence.

Yet the one thing he was strangely opposed to throughout his Orwellian reign was allowing intercepts – phone taps – to be used in evidence in criminal trials. This continues to fascinate me. Why would he object?

He claimed that allowing intercepts to be used in evidence in open court would expose their origin. But, if we are talking about phone tap evidence, what is the problem?

Criminals know that anything they say on a telephone line may be legally and perfectly reasonably intercepted. They know that already. Everyone knows that. So saying in court that evidence has come from a wire tapped by the police or security services is not ‘revealing’ anything. It would only be revealing a hidden source if evidence had been collected and intercepted in some way other than from a wire tap… in which case, of course, the security services would not want to reveal that they had access to that unrevealed form of interception.

So what could that unrevealed and secret form of intercept be if it were not traditional phone tapping?

Telephones are two-way communication devices with built-in microphones. They are transmitters as well as receivers. You no longer need to install listening devices at telephone exchanges to tap phones. You can remotely make the microphones in the handsets active and thus listen in to anything said in a room. Most people have telephones in their living rooms and often their bedrooms; these can listen to and transmit anything said in the rooms. People with mobile phones not only carry transmitters with built-in microphones everywhere they go, but they are carrying GPS devices which can pinpoint their position to within a few feet.

But this is merely a variation on traditional eavesdropping. Would that really be why Tony Blair was so wary of the security services having to reveal in open court what their intercept sources might be?

I remember back in the late 1960s or early 1970s – certainly more than 30 years ago and before the really vast advances in computer development – a Cheltenham taxi driver called Barry Prime was tried in camera under the Official Secrets Act on charges which were never made public. The Sunday Times reported at the time he had told the Soviets that Britain’s GCHQ and America’s NSA had a satellite in (I think geostationary) orbit over the Soviet Union which could listen in to all above-ground communications – listening for keywords in all phone calls sent via the normal microwave system, walkie talkie calls, radio phone calls between, say, a Politburo member in his car and someone sitting in the Kremlin and possibly even a politician sitting in his office talking to his secretary on a wireless intercom. As a result, the Soviets buried all their sensitive communications in landlines, the West lost invaluable intelligence and Barry Prime was sentenced to a staggering number of years in jail (and seems to have been wiped from history and thus Google searches).

Journalist Duncan Campbell also got into trouble in 1985-1986 for revealing that GCHQ intended to launch a SigInt satellite called Zircon.

At one time, one of the words you were never supposed to speak on a telephone line in the UK was the word “Echelon” because it triggered all sorts of intelligence computers listening-in for keywords. Presumably if you mentioned “Echelon” AND “Burlington” AND “Turnstile” or even “Corsham”, then the eavesdropping computers would have had an orgasm of excitement. If, way back then, you had also mentioned “Stockwell”, “Site 3” and “Hawthorn“, then the Men in Black would probably have been sitting in a car outside your house the next day.

Modern satellites’ cameras can read the markings on the epaulettes of a soldier standing in a field outside Vladivostok or travelling in an open Jeep in Iraq. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that satellites which, more than 30 years ago, could listen in on all above-ground electronically-transmitted voice chatter can now listen-in to all human voice communication on a small area of the surface of the earth – let’s say the whole of the UK – and filter out bird song, traffic noises, water sounds etc to leave only the sounds created by human voices… and then to listen-in for keywords.

There was a saying in the late 1960s: “However paranoid you are, they’re always doing more than you think.”

What if any conversation on any street, in any room could be listened-in to by a satellite? What if anything you say out loud can be heard by the computers?

Plus ça change.

Though, in fact, I don’t object.

It’s a fact of modern British life.

The British public have no real objection to street security cameras. So why object to blanket voice surveillance?  After all, it was us who created 1984 not some foreign johnny. All e-mails leaving or entering the UK are scanned; presumably all blogs are scanned; presumably everything on the World Wide Web is scanned because the Internet was originally a military project.

If Google can do it, then I certainly hope Echelon, GCHQ and the NSA can do it.

And let’s not even start to think about Google Street View.

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Russian & Soviet sleeper agents in Western Europe and the death of Ché Guevara

British newspapers are getting their knickers in a twist over Katia Zatuliveter who was working as a Parliamentary Assistant and Researcher for Mike Hancock, the Liberal Democrat MP who is currently on police bail over an alleged indecent assault against a female constituent; he also sits on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Russia as well as the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. The Security Service aka MI5 apparently reckon Katia Zatuliveter is a Russian agent. Stranger things have happened.

WikiLeaks have also recently released documents claiming modern-day Russia is, in effect, run by the Russian Mafia.

In 1995, when I was in Turkmenistan, I met and later almost wrote the biography/autobiography of a man who had been a Soviet ‘sleeper’ agent working in South America and Western Europe during the Cold War. He had been part of a network of agents run on behalf of the Soviets by East Germany’s ‘Economic Planning Minister’ Erich Apel. But then something happened and, in this extract from tape recordings, he tells what happened to him one dark night in East Germany back in 1967, when cracks were starting to appear in the Soviet Union…

*** *** ***

It was all falling apart. Ché Guevara was abandoned on his operation in Bolivia in 1966/1967 and then killed by the Americans. Between 1965 and 1968 – between the ousting of Khrushchev and the attack on Prague – the Soviet Union was closing itself in and creating a big, expensive conventional army and a shadow economy. It was closing down its destabilising operation around the world.

By 1967, most of the people I had worked with in the Soviet-backed Network had already been caught – they had ‘disappeared’ – some had been captured by the West, some had been disposed of by the East. I was the last one left of those I knew. I was in West Berlin and had been asked to deliver an envelope to a town in East Germany. I knew the envelope contained microfilm, because I had made the same delivery before. I had no overnight visa for East Germany, so I had to get a train back to East Berlin by 11.00pm and return through the Friedrichstrasse security checkpoint into West Berlin before midnight, otherwise I was in trouble.

East German Security was separate from the police. Everything was separate. Everything was chaotic. There were so many different agencies all working separately from each other – sometimes in competition with each other. I didn’t have full coverage. It wasn’t as if I was officially working for the East German secret service. I was working for the Network but the complete implications of that were uncertain. I knew my network was handled by part of a section of East Germany’s security system and was linked to the Soviet Union, but things had changed when Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’ in 1965.

When Apel was made to die in 1965, it sent a signal to all marginal people like me. Apel had been one of the masterminds and controllers of our subversion operation and when it was said he ‘shot himself due to depression’ it was clear something was changing very fundamentally. Our entire project of undermining and fighting American power in the Third World – and ultimately in Europe – was falling apart.

I took a metro to Friedrichstrasse, then a cab to another station. At about 3.30pm, I stepped into the very last carriage of a train, despite orders that I should board a carriage in the centre. The train arrived in the German town of Frankfurt an der Oder at about 4.30pm, when it was already getting dark. Because I was in the last carriage, I didn’t get out directly in front of the station building as ordered. Instead, I walked along the platform and discretely down the side of the station building. There were three men in expensive leather coats waiting inside the station; there was a black saloon car waiting behind the station with its engine running. I went silently back to the railway line and walked along the tracks away from the station.

Then the men came looking for me.

When they couldn’t find me, they sent for the soldiers – the VoPo.

I was an irregular; I was a Westerner. I was not supposed to be there. I had an envelope with microfilm showing heavens knows what. The soldiers started to close in on where I was hiding. There was a little passage for water under the railway tracks – something just a little bigger than a pipe. I pulled my dark sweater up to cover the white collars of my shirt. I crawled into the narrow little culvert and held myself up in the top of the passage by pressing my hands and feet against the vertical side walls. It was totally dark outside the culvert. I heard the boots of the soldiers coming closer on the stones by the railway track and I was terrified because, by then, I knew I had been sent by my Controller into a trap. My own side were going to catch, imprison, torture and possibly shoot me.

The muscles in my arms and legs were straining, I was aware of my own heart pounding. I saw an armed VoPo soldier come to the end of the darkened passage in which I was hiding. The VoPo man was outlined by the lights behind him. He held a sub machine-gun in his hands, wore an East German uniform and his dull metal helmet reflected no light. I was hiding about six feet into and up in the roof of the passage. The armed soldier squatted down and silently looked in, waiting until his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Then he saw me, took one step into the passage, looked me in the eyes, pointing his gun at me, and did something very strange. He took his machine-gun and turned it behind his back, which was a very dangerous thing for him to do. I could have been armed, although I was not. He took a few more steps into the passage, completely unprotected, and looked up into my face. We could see each other’s eyes and he said to me in German:

“I am your contact. I have the stuff.”

He gave me the password and, at first, I didn’t believe it.

I gave him the envelope with the microfilm in it.

“But who are you working for? I asked him.

“The other side,” he told me.

“What other side?”

“It’s neither of the two you’re thinking of. The Americans. The Brits.”

Even as early as 1966 or 1967 the Soviet system was disintegrating. They had started to fight each other within the system. There was money from oil, money from gas, blackmailing. The Red Army became more important than the networks…

Under Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union decided it no longer wanted to be leader of the Third World or to convert and subvert other countries to socialist ideologies. Nor to become the world’s industrial leader. What became important was to keep power internally by having a strong army – the biggest army and navy in the world – and to sell resources for hard currency. Russia is a country full of natural resources. Why bother becoming a rich industrial nation or risk giving power to the workers? With the profits from the sale of natural resources, the Soviet Union could buy industrial products from other countries. Better clothes, better cars. Give the people enough to keep them quiet and pocket most of the vast profits yourself.

Politicians under Brezhnev could become personally immensely rich by selling gold, oil and gas. The Party of the Russian People became the Party of the Russian Mafia. Under Brezhnev, the shadow economy became more important than the real economy. Eventually, it ruined the country.

To disguise the fact they had opted out of Third World subversion, they armed everyone they could. They sent huge stockpiles of weapons to Mozambique, Egypt, Nicaragua so that the locals could fight their own wars without involving the Russian Army or Soviet-backed irregulars run by the East Germans, Czechs or Cubans.

As part of this process, Ché Guevara was betrayed by the Russians in 1967.

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