Bond author Ian Fleming was a big fan of hi-tech inventions and new gadgets, and some of his close associates shared his enthusiasm. In 2013, the year after Skyfall was released, a movie which sought to break away from ‘gadgets’ and to re-emphasize HUMINT (human intelligence-gathering by agents in the field, based on their own wits and skills), some fascinating new research by a British academic helped throw further light on the close bond between 007 author Ian Fleming and Allen Dulles, who was the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from 1953-1961. It showed the extent to which the famous secret gadgets dreamt up by Fleming for his fictional James Bond adventures were greatly admired by the CIA director.
In fact, Allen Dulles was markedly fascinated by Fleming and James Bond, and tried to encourage America’s real-life spy agency to use Fleming and the Bond novels as a source for possible new espionage devices, blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction in the process.
Although Bond historians have long known about the influence of Ian Fleming on the CIA director, Dr. Christopher Moran, from the University of Warwick in the UK, added some important new insights into the close friendship between the two men. He demonstrated not only the extent to which the CIA sought to ‘raid’ the Bond novels for technological inspiration to enhance their spycraft, but also how the CIA actively leaned on the British writer to portray the American spy agency in a more positive light.
Live and Let Try
Moran analyzed some declassified letters and other archival material for his article, which was entitled ‘Ian Fleming and the Public profile of the CIA’, and was published in the Journal of Cold War Studies. He demonstrated how the evolving relationship between Fleming and Dulles became especially important, and how Dulles instructed his CIA operatives to try and develop some of the gadgets that appeared in Fleming’s 007 novels. Moran also showed how the CIA, rather frustrated at how US film-makers, authors and journalists were mainly silent about the relatively new spy agency, sought to persuade Fleming to publicize the CIA in his 007 books, injecting new energy into the Anglo-American ‘Special Relationship’.
Dr. Moran said: ‘There was a surprising two-way influence between the CIA and the James Bond novels during the Cold War, stemming from the mutual admiration between Allen Dulles and Ian Fleming. This ranged from the copying of devices, such as the poison-tipped dagger shoe in From Russia With Love, to the agency using the 007 novels to improve its public profile’. He continued: ‘It’s even more striking that this was going on at a time when mentioning the CIA was strictly off-limits for the US media and cultural establishment, whereas Fleming, as a British author, could say what he liked. For a long time, the James Bond books had a monopoly on the CIA’s public image and the agency used this to its advantage’. In other words, whereas the American media were very reluctant to discuss the CIA, Ian Fleming, who was operating outside the jurisdiction of US law, proved to be invaluable to Dulles.
Speaking to a British newspaper, Moran also pointed out that Fleming responded to Dulles’s wish that the Bond author would promote the CIA in his books: ‘Once the relationship between the two of them blossomed, the portrayal of the CIA was much friendlier. All the Bond books after 1959, when they first met, are much more glowing about the CIA’.
The early 007 novels had introduced millions of readers to the CIA for the first time through the character of its field agent Felix Leiter, but readers were left in no doubt by Fleming that, in his estimation, the British intelligence services were still superior. But in the later Bond novels, written as the friendship between Fleming and Dulles deepened, ‘a far rosier picture’ of the CIA emerged. Moran explained: ‘For example, in Thunderball, Bond’s boss ‘M’ dispenses with his characteristic economy of words to speak enthusiastically about the way the CIA is selflessly putting itself in the service of freedom’. Moran also noted that Dulles was even the subject of several honorable mentions in the later 007 books: ‘It really does come across as a bit of a mutual appreciation society’.
Dulles as Bond fan
Interestingly, Moran’s research also confirmed what Bond historians had long suspected – the extent to which Allen Dulles became not only an admirer of Fleming and his ideas, but also something of a James Bond fan. When Allen had first met Fleming in London in 1959, the Bond author had told him the CIA was not doing enough in the area of ‘special devices’. Dulles apparently returned to the US and urged the CIA’s technical staff to replicate as many of Bond’s secret devices as they could.
In 1964, in an edition of Life magazine, Dulles referred to Fleming as ‘brilliant and witty’. As many Bond historians know, in 1965 Allen Dulles also contributed an essay on his friendship with Fleming to the Panther paperback For Bond Lovers Only, and past Fleming biographers, such as John Pearson, Donald McCormick and Andrew Lycett, have also touched upon the Ian Fleming-Allen Dulles connections.
Declassified letters recently analysed by Dr. Moran now show just how much the former CIA boss had such a strong affection for the James Bond novels, and he even pleaded with the 007 author in 1963 not to pension Bond off. Letters sent by Dulles to Fleming encouraged the Bond author to continue penning his 007 adventures. One letter found by Moran, for example, reveals that Dulles expressed his admiration for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and expressed the hope that Bond would not suffer the same fate as his wife Tracy, who had been killed by his arch enemy Blofeld. Dulles wrote: ‘Please don’t pension off my favourite spy, James Bond’.
Interviewed in the British media, Moran said he believed that Allen Dulles’s encouragement may have been crucial at a time when Fleming was seriously thinking of possibly abandoning his famous creation: ‘It looks as though Dulles played a significant role in keeping Bond going’, said Dr. Moran.
Fleming as ‘Q’
Significantly, Moran’s article also provided some intriguing details on the extent to which Ian Fleming was something of a ‘Q’-like character when it came to imagining secret gadgets, and revealed the extent to which CIA boffins sought to create real-life versions of Fleming’s fictional devices.
One example was how the CIA successfully copied Rosa Klebb’s infamous spring-loaded poison knife shoe, as used in From Russia With Love (so memorably used by Lotte Lenya in the 1963 movie version). It is not known whether the CIA actually put this device to use. However, the CIA had less success with their version of the homing beacon device used in Goldfinger to track the villain’s Rolls Royce – according to Moran, Dulles said the CIA’s version had ‘too many bugs in it’, and it stopped working when the target vehicle entered a crowded city.
Moran also made it clear that Fleming’s influence on the CIA extended beyond the Bond author’s death in 1964, helped considerably by the EON series of James Bond movies. According to Moran, Robert Wallace, the CIA’s equivalent of ‘Q’ in the 1970s and 1980s, was frequently asked by his bosses if he could replicate Bond’s gadgets: ‘He freely admits that whenever a Bond film came out, there would be a call saying “can you guys try to emulate that technology?”‘ Unsurprisingly perhaps, the Russians also took an interest in the Fleming-Dulles links. Moran and his team combed the archives of the Soviet press and discovered the Russians were bemused about the whole situation: ‘The Communists were talking a great deal about their links’, said Moran. ‘And they were saying how useless must the CIA be if they are relying on a British novelist for inspiration’.
On the other hand, as other Bond historians have noted, there is some evidence that the Russian KGB secretly took a very close interest in Fleming’s Bond gadgets, and experimented with versions of such gadgets themselves. In fact, the KGB and its allied intelligence services in the former Eastern Bloc communist countries also became notorious during the Cold War for using gadgets and other lethal devices for carrying out secret assassinations of dissidents and other ‘enemies’ of the Soviet Union. In 1978, for example, as he walked across Waterloo Bridge to wait for a bus, Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was injected with a Ricin poison pellet from an assassin’s umbrella (the assassin quickly sped off in a London taxi). As a number of commentators remarked at the time, this horrific real-life incident could have come straight out of the pages of a Bond novel.
Dr. Moran has taken a close interest himself in the world of espionage in recent times. In 2012, he assisted the International Spy Museum in Washington DC in creating an exhibition on the James Bond villains, which was sponsored by EON Productions. He also gave a talk on the same topic at the Museum.
Did You Know?
In Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan’s 007 at one point takes some steps down from the County Hall end of Westminster Bridge to unlock a secret door to an abandoned section of the London Underground rail network to meet ‘M’ and walk to where John Cleese’s ‘Q’ has his new lab. The door actually exists, but don’t try and enter it – you will only enter a large broom cupboard!
John Cleese as ‘Q’