Saturday, July 11, 2020
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Talking About Espionage

 Have you ever wondered how great stories with dystopian settings get made? Take Hunger Games for example. Where does the inspiration come from, exactly? Author and journalist Adam Brookes provides some insight on this.

Adam Brookes is a long-time journalist and was once a correspondent for the BBC, working in numerous countries including China and Afghanistan. He’s additionally used his experiences in journalism to write a series of novels regarding modern and realistic dystopian settings involving espionage and surveillance. Night Heron and Spy Games have both received critical acclaim. Brookes has a third novel in production to most likely end his series.

As part of the Illuminations Colloquium this year, Brookes spent an hour discussing espionage, his novels and his work.  He introduced us to the international battle of information that countries secretly have.

Although I expected as much, it turns out espionage isn’t exactly as exciting as it is in James Bond. There aren’t any explosions or super attractive women who flirt with you. That isn’t to say the things he said weren’t interesting. Because Brookes spent much of his time as BBC’s correspondent for China, he focused mainly on its relations with the U.S.

For example, imagine a random Chinese guy in the U.S. in a corn field digging for seeds for absolutely no obvious reason. Turns out that was a thing.

Mo Hailong was someone Brookes wanted to discuss. He was a spy from China attempting to steal hybrid corn seeds from the U.S. Why? So that they wouldn’t have to spend much on research and development in agriculture. How did they get these seeds back to China? Through packages of Orville Redenbacher Popcorn, no less.

Brookes would go on to provide more examples of this battle of information, including other Chinese intelligence agents and how thefts could get rather extreme; blueprints for fighter jet planes would get stolen somehow, for instance. Brookes also provided examples of how foreign agents are created. For example, U.S. students who study abroad in universities in China would often be recruited by intelligence agents to spy on their homes.

Of course, this discussion naturally transitioned towards how the U.S. would steal information from China in turn. The controversy here is the entire blame game centers around countries stealing the U.S.’s plans and blueprints when evidently, the U.S. is just as active in these types of operations.

Although Brookes did not provide much detail about the various nuances behind his novels, he did focus on them for some time. For instance, one of his driving forces when writing them was to  introduce questions about and controversies relating to espionage. Of course, as a story, this makes it quite thrilling. I’ve yet to read them, but I can’t say I’m not excited to.

It’s amazing, though, how we know so little about national surveillance and the information highways. From Wikileaks to coverups in court, Brookes went over a number of topics and opinions, including the paranoia people have and just how much we don’t know about what our own countries are doing behind our backs. For instance, cases in court involving international espionage are often reclassified as public and political corruption cases.

After the lecture was a quick Q&A session in which Brookes went on to make one last statement when someone asked him about his general opinion on the issues discussed.

“I think it’s almost impossible to figure out the totality of the American government’s actions in espionage.”

So who knows? There’s obviously a lot we don’t know about what our own countries are doing — and maybe we shouldn’t know. Most of us simply go on about our lives in blissful ignorance anyway.

Like that whole thing about the giant blue light in the night sky that occurred a few weeks ago. They said it was just a missile test, but was it really? I don’t know. Who knows what information they’re not telling us.

Either way, I’m going to have to save up to purchase Brookes’s stories. Hopefully, I’ll love them enough to buy the third one once that gets published. It’ll be interesting to see a lot of what Brookes discussed in story fiction form.