September 14, 2008 / 3:02 PM / 10 years ago

Le Carre - the spy who nearly gave in to temptation

LONDON (Reuters) - Spy-writer John le Carre toyed with the idea of defecting to the Soviet Union while working as a British secret agent in the Cold War, he has disclosed.

British author John le Carre addresses a news conference at the 51th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 11, 2001. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Le Carre said his work for Britain’s secret service, when he spent hours examining and analyzing the Soviet threat, left him wondering what it would be like to slip over to the other side.

“I wasn’t tempted ideologically,” he told Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper when asked whether he ever thought about defecting. “God, no, no, no. Never for ideological reasons.

“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.”

Le Carre, author of more than 20 novels including “A Perfect Spy” and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”, worked for MI6 in the early 1960s after stints with the British Foreign Office in Germany.

His career ended prematurely when his cover was blown by another former British agent, Kim Philby, who defected to Moscow in 1963 and revealed the identities of scores of British agents, many of whom were subsequently killed.

Le Carre, whose real name is David Cornwell, said he was contacted by a Russian intermediary in the mid-1980s who offered him a meeting with Philby shortly before the defector died, but he turned it down.

“I just couldn’t do it. I said no,” Le Carre said.

“There was always an instinct towards corruption in him. And remember, he was responsible for sending countless British agents to their deaths, to be killed — 40 or more in Albania.”

The 76-year-old author’s latest novel, “A Most Wanted Man”, is a return to his classic spy-thriller genre after a foray into other topics, such as the role of pharmaceutical companies in Africa as explored in “The Constant Gardener”.

“A Most Wanted Man” looks at the travails of a Russian-Chechen Muslim living in Germany who is believed to be a fundamentalist.

In it Le Carre, who has been outspoken in his opposition to the war in Iraq, is again forthright in his views on U.S. foreign policy under President George W. Bush.

Reporting by Luke Baker; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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