He has long been lauded for the uncanny realism of his spy thrillers, and now Frederick Forsyth is set to reveal the secret of his insider knowledge: he was himself an agent for MI6.
Fans of the 76-year-old author had suspected he may have had brushes with the Secret Intelligence Service, as MI6 is formally known, and Forsyth is expected to confirm they were right when his autobiography is published in September.
As a journalist for the BBC and Reuters, Forsyth spent time based in Communist East Germany and in Africa, where he became close to key figures including Odumegwu Ojukwu, leader of the Nigerian breakaway state of Biafra.
He has admitted in the past that he often draws on his real-life experiences for the plots and action in his books; his experience of reporting on an attempt to assassinate the French president Charles de Gaulle gave him the idea for his first novel, The Day of the Jackal.
He has also admitted having friends in MI6. In his newspaper column Forsyth has referred to “taking lunch with a senior officer of from the Secret Intelligence Service” though he did not explain how they knew each other and he has never gone as far as revealing that he was recruited by them.
The title of his new book, The Outsider: My Life In Intrigue, provides a huge hint that he will use it to blow his own cover as a former spy, and it has become an open secret in the publishing world that he is about to do just that.
Spies play a major part in Forsyth’s books written in the mid-70s onwards – including The Fourth Protocol and The Devil’s Alternative – suggesting he may already have had some experience of the world of espionage by then.
As a former RAF jet fighter pilot who spoke German and French like a local, and whose job took him behind the Iron Curtain and behind enemy lines in Africa, Forsyth would have been a natural choice for an approach by MI6.
He also lived like James Bond even without the help of Britain’s overseas spying agency.
An incident in Hamburg in 1974 was a case in point. Having found success with his first two novels, The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File, Forsyth was researching his next book, The Dogs of War, about a mining millionaire hiring mercenaries to topple the leader of an African republic.
Forsyth’s experiences in Biafra had brought him into close contact with mercenaries, but he needed to know how the soldiers of fortune in his novel could acquire an arsenal of military hardware on the black market.
Told by his contacts that the centre of the underworld arms trade was in Hamburg, Forsyth posed as a South African on a buying mission for a wealthy patron using a false identity, and essentially played out the plot of his book.
“I managed to penetrate their world and was feeling rather proud of myself actually,” he later said. “What I didn’t know was that the arms dealer had passed a bookshop shortly after our meeting. And there, in the window, was The Day of the Jackal. With a great big picture of me – the man he thought was a South African arms buyer – on the back cover.”
Forsyth was in his hotel room when a call came through from an “insider friend” telling him: “Grab your passport and money and run like hell!”
He did not need to be told twice.
“I left all my clothes, grabbed my money and passport and ran across the square to the train station,” Forsyth recalled. “There was a train pulling out so I vaulted the ticket barrier and did a parachute roll through the window, landing on a bewildered businessman. The ticket conductor asked me where I was going. I asked him where the train was going and he said Amsterdam. ‘So am I,’ I said.”
Exactly who the “friend” was who warned him of the arms dealer’s henchmen coming to exact their revenge, he has never said, though one possibility must surely be that it was an MI6 agent who had infiltrated the arms dealer’s inner circle, thus knowing that Forsyth was in imminent danger.
Forsyth, now 76, cut his teeth as a foreign correspondent in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War, where he was routinely bugged and tailed by the Stasi, the Communist state’s infamous secret police. He quickly found himself sleeping with the enemy.
During one excursion to Czechoslovakia, where he was used to being followed by the StB, their version of the Stasi, 25-year-old Forsyth made eye contact with a beautiful young girl called Jana in a bar.
They had a drink together, then dinner, and Forsyth suggested a night-time drive on what was a hot August night.
“I suggested we go out to some lakes north of the city and have a swim,” he said. “So we did. We parked the car, walked down the meadow to the lake, stripped off and had a swim. Then I spread a blanket out and we made love. Afterwards, I was lying down staring up at the stars, and I just murmured – I wondered what happened to my StB escort tonight? And she said: ‘You’ve just made love to it’.”
Another romantic liaison led to Forsyth’s swift retreat from East Germany a few months later.
“I had been having a torrid affair with a stunning East German girl,” he later said. “She explained she was the wife of a People’s Army corporal, based in the garrison at faraway Cottbus on the Czech border. She was an amazing lover and rather mysterious.
“She was immaculately dressed and after our almost-all-night love sessions at my place refused to be driven home, insisting on a taxi from the railway station. I wondered about the clothes, and the money for taxis. One day I spotted one of the drivers at the station whom I had seen at my door picking up Siggi. He said he had taken her to Pankow. That was a very upscale address, the Belgravia of East Berlin. On a corporal’s salary?
“It was in a bar in West Berlin that two buzz-cut Americans who screamed CIA slid over to offer me a drink. As we clinked they murmured that I had a certain nerve to be sleeping with the mistress of the East German Defence Minister.”
Realising how much trouble he was in, a week later, having made excuses to his employers at Reuters, he walked through Checkpoint Charlie with a single holdall and flew back to London.
His next posting was to Biafra, where he reported from the Biafran side, highlighting the growing humanitarian crisis as hundreds of thousands of children died from malnutrition.
Whilst there he was strafed by a MiG fighter jet, leaving a dent from a bullet in his typewriter.
Even in his 70s he refused to allow danger to get in the way of his research. For his 2010 novel, The Cobra, he needed to find out about drugs cartels, and flew to Guineau-Bissau in West Africa.
While he was flying into the country, the army’s chief of staff was assassinated, then he was woken in his hotel room by the army’s revenge, a bomb exploding at the nearby presidential villa. The president was then shot and finally hacked to death with machetes.
“I spent the night hanging out of my hotel window watching the military avenge their leader, with rocket-propelled grenades going off everywhere,” he said. For his trouble, he developed cellulitis and almost lost his leg.
“It is a bit drug-like, journalism,” he once said. “Even in your seventies, I don’t think that instinct ever dies. But my wife worries all the time. She rails at me.”
Sandy Forsyth might now rail at him even more if, as expected, he reveals that for years he was also risking his life by spying for MI6.
Culled from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/11761972/Frederick-Forsyth-set-to-reveal-he-was-an-MI6-spy.html