Spy Novelist John Le Carre Says He Was Tempted to Defect to Soviet Union

September 15, 2008 - 12:07 AM
Report: John Le Carre Says He Nearly Defected
London - British espionage writer John Le Carre said he was tempted to defect to the Soviet Union when he worked for British intelligence agency MI6, according to an interview published Sunday.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, the 76-year-old novelist was quoted as saying he was curious about what was on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

"I wasn't tempted ideologically," he was quoted as saying. "But when you spy intensively and you get closer and closer to the border ... it seems such a small step to jump ... and you know, find out the rest."

A phone call and an e-mail left with Le Carre's agent in London seeking comment on the interview were not immediately returned.

Le Carre--whose real name is David Cornwell--has firsthand experience with defection and betrayal. He began working for British intelligence in 1949, being posted to Bonn and Hamburg in what was then West Germany, but the Times said his career was derailed by British defector Kim Philby.

Cornwell drew on his real-life experience for a series of best-selling novels, making his name with the publication of "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" in 1963.

That book and others received critical acclaim for their exploration of the moral ambiguities of the Cold War. Many were made into movies: "The Constant Gardener," starring Ralph Fiennes, was the latest to receive big screen treatment.

Le Carre is also known for his outspoken criticism of U.S. foreign policy. In an open letter to U.S. voters in 2004 he called the invasion of Iraq a "hare-brained adventure" and called on Americans to boot Bush from office.

But he had semi-conciliatory words for Salman Rushdie, the Booker Prize-winning novelist with whom he has feuded.

Le Carre refused to support Rushdie when the Iranian government issued a fatwa, or religious edict, ordering Muslims to kill him because "The Satanic Verses" allegedly insulted Islam.

Le Carre accused him of deliberately offending Muslims, and the bad feeling led to a very public spat carried in the pages of The Guardian newspaper.
"It just seemed to me unreasonable to expect Islam to suddenly reach the same stage of development as our own religions. But perhaps I was wrong," Le Carre was quoted as saying. "If so, I was wrong for the right reasons."