Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Those French Fantasists (1)

All Brits learn at an early age that a man who sports 1970s sideburns, speaks broken English, wears a violently checked tweed cap and drives a car registered in France is indubitably - French. And that Brit Grandmothers are the true defenders of the Realm.

If further evidence of these truths were required, a M. Martinet has written a book:

...a former officer of DGSE, France's foreign intelligence service, has given a hands-on account of the profession.

...Martinet claims to have spent several months in London monitoring Abu Walid, a suspected member of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group, the GIA, with links to al-Qa'eda.

...he insisted that no country, including Britain - whose secret services enjoy an excellent reputation in France - was aware of his presence.

The shaven-headed, unassuming 41-year-old also dispelled the glamorous myths associated with secret agents. "James Bond is the anti-agent par excellence," he said. "He wears a tuxedo, drives an Aston Martin and gets the girls. We, on the other hand, rent cheap Renaults, avoid cocktails, use false names, and never stand out."

However, some of his attempts at "blending in" may have raised a few suspicions. On one mission to London he thought it best to grow sideburns and sport a tweed cap. He also admits that his pidgin English was a serious handicap.

Another weak point shared by French secret agents in London was their inability to drive on the left. So his unit had a right-hand-drive vehicle shipped over the Channel to give them practice.

But without doubt an agent's worst enemy, he claimed, is the nosey grandmother who peeps through her curtains and rings the police if she notices anything untoward. Such a nightmare neighbour forced him to abandon his surveillance of Abu Walid's home in Wembley, which he nicknames "Londonistan", and flee the capital.

Still, I bet he got the girls though, cheap Renaults notwithstanding.