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Inside the real-world Double-O section of Her Majesty's Secret Service

Commander Bond's previous career as it would be today

Of course we have a Counter-Terrorism organisation for here at home ... what do you mean, 'what sort of organisation do we have for abroad'?

Rather, Tomlinson tells us, special sub-units exist drawn from the ranks of both the SAS and the SBS whose job is to handle special taskings from SIS. The SAS secret-service outfit was known to Tomlinson as the Revolutionary Warfare Wing - as opposed to the much better-known Counter Revolutionary Warfare Wing, part of the Special Projects counter-terrorist outfit. The CRW and Special Projects operate on the side of governments to suppress terrorism, as in the case of the Princes Gate embassy assault of 1980: the never-avowed RWW operates against governments, helping insurgents or rebels or freedom fighters ... or, as their opponents might dub them, terrorists.

The RWW and the small SBS team of secret-service frogmen were known to Tomlinson collectively as "the Increment". According to him many Increment members will also have trained and served with the SRR or its precursor unit (14 Int/the Dets, which operated undercover in Northern Ireland) and thus will have a full Bond-style panoply of skills, especially once supplemented by still more special training. Reports in the press in more recent times - Tomlinson was expelled from the SIS in 1995 - suggest that the Increment is nowadays more commonly known as E Squadron, and that it still draws personnel and skillsets from all three secret regiments.

So an E-Squadron/Increment operator can expect to go overseas under a fake cover identity (or perhaps multiple identities) without diplomatic immunity, wearing plain clothes and armed with concealed weapons - and thus he or she certainly has a "licence to kill" if the operation requires it, though military types are more likely to use terms such as "rules of engagement" and "escalation of force" to describe the rules governing their use of lethal methods.

That's surely getting pretty close to a real live Double-O section, though the great majority of E-squadron operators will be gritty non-commissioned sergeants rather than suave members of the officer/diplomatic class as Fleming and Bond producer Cubby Broccoli have depicted the Double-Os.

Commander Bond RN in uniform ... wearing Army SAS jump wings

Tomlinson also tells us of a perhaps still-shadowier organisation which he called UKN, whose members are part-timers paid as freelancers rather than government employees - and whose SIS handlers are themselves using false cover identity when dealing with them. An E-squadron serviceman, while seldom possessing any diplomatic immunity on an operation, might still expect that the British government would try to get him (maybe her) released in the event of capture. A UKN member - a secret agent in the SIS sense of the word - might well be simply abandoned. Tomlinson suggests that UKN people in his time had various Bond-style attributes such as being expert light-aircraft pilots and yacht captains.

The reality still, in all likelihood, falls a little short of the movies. In particular, James Bond 007 the solo all-rounder operative would in real life probably be a team, most likely one or two SIS officers accompanied by a few E-Squadron secret soldiers as minders - the kind of group whose mission to establish liaison with the Libyan rebels famously went wrong recently. We hear of similar operations elsewhere in the world from Tomlinson and other sources.

Between them such a team would be able to do everything James Bond can do - the SIS types would have some local contacts, be capable of drinking a lot of cocktails without passing out and would also perhaps be able to trade on a bit of Oxbridge/public-school/Sandhurst/Foreign Office snobbery. The E-Squadron types would be crack shots, lunatic drivers, skydivers and/or frogmen as required, dab hands with a lump of plastic explosive and deadly even when unarmed.

That said, members of subcultures like the E-Squadron/SIS/UKN nexus do tend to move about and transfer between the various organisations. Reports have it that E-Squadron/the Increment is much bigger now than it used to be in Tomlinson's pre-9/11 days, and that some SIS officers may now be recruited from it or directly from the special-ops formations. Even in Tomlinson's day there was a special-forces major always on secondment to SIS headquarters.

An agent for all seasons

So it's quite possible to imagine a career path which would wind up creating an individual with all Bond's many unusual skills and finish up with him working for the secret service itself (as opposed to E Squadron), often enough finding himself abroad carrying a false passport and a gun under his jacket - and thus with a licence to kill if necessary. It's even just possible that he would be an ex-Commander, maybe a former naval aviator or frogman who had later acquired relatively high rank behind a military desk at some point4, though he'd be far more likely to have started off in the Army or Royal Marines5.

As an example, in the film Tomorrow Never Dies we see Bond in uniform at one stage. Naturally it is the uniform of a Royal Navy commander (Fleming specified the wavy-striped Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, in which he himself had served during World War II, but this disappeared in 1958). Bond also wears the sleeve wings of a naval pilot, suggesting that he must have started out in the Fleet Air Arm. Certainly this might explain his ability to fly jets and helicopters as seen in various other films.

Rather unusually he appears then to have applied for special-forces Selection and wound up in the Army SAS, as he also wears flat-topped "Sabre" shoulder parachute wings, a badge only ever displayed by the SAS. It might seem more likely for a naval officer to join the maritime-focused Special Boat Service, but in fact a successful Selection candidate could go either way - and indeed some former Royal Marines are known to choose the SAS as this avoids the need to get through an arduous boating and diving course on top of the rigours of Selection.

Plainly a modern Bond must, having served with the direct-action special forces long enough to become a frogman, skydiver and all-around hard case, then have done a secondment to the SRR and become an expert driver, burglar and pistolero too. A spell with E Squadron might follow. Some military desk work or a return to the regular forces would then be more or less essential to swiftly achieve the rank of Commander, though there are a handful of jobs at this relatively senior level in the special-ops units. Finally our man might then transfer to the SIS itself, acquiring any lacking languages and diplomatic polish in the process.

And there we are: Commander Bond, at your (secret) service.

As for the overpowering sexual magnetism, the comfortable private fortune needed for the suits, cocktails and personal Aston Martin - not to mention the possibly-related luck and skill at the card table... well, he'd just have to have been born with those. ®


1Souped-up engines and brakes, bulletproof armour, flash-crash stun grenade dispensers, a concealed arsenal of weaponry up to and including machine guns, and a dazzling array of secret communications and sensor gear have all been routinely deployed. Sadly SRR vehicles are chosen to be unobtrusive, so the prestige marques preferred by Bond in the movies are seldom if ever to be had.

2In a case of life imitating art, SRR operatives have at times carried Walther PPK pistols: so we can say it is likely that E-Squadron/Increment people have too. As the little PPK is - to the military mind at least - seriously lacking in punch and ammo capacity, this would normally be as a backup/hideout weapon - perhaps in an ankle holster in addition to a larger pistol or small submachinegun worn in a waist or shoulder holster. However a few female operatives, physically too small to easily handle a full size 9mm pistol or conceal one about their person, are known to have carried PPKs as their main handgun like James Bond.

3There is also such a thing as a Tier Two special-forces unit: in Britain's case this mainly refers to the Special Forces Support Group. This unit is composed of picked elite troops, mostly from the Parachute Regiment and Royal Marine Commandos, who have some extra training and selection but not to the same degree as the Tier One outfits. They are meant to operate in larger groups than the Tier One super-elite, which could mean taking on such jobs as mob-handed assaults against large bunker complexes etc - or against supervillain lairs, in a Bond scenario - or it could more prosaically mean getting lumbered with guard duties at SF forward bases.

4Perhaps at the Directorate of Special Forces HQ at Regents Park Barracks in London, sometimes referred to by its low-profile postal address "MoD A Block", in the same fashion that the Security Service ("MI5", the homeland-security spooks, hated rivals of SIS) was once known as "Box 500".

5Probably not the RAF either. A few of the Tier Two SFSG come from the RAF Regiment, the airforce base-security troops, and some RAF people are known to have made it into the SAS and SRR, but as with the navy the kind of people who could or would endure the very outdoorsy and physical special-forces selection procedures are comparatively rare in the airforce. The main RAF contribution to the secret paramilitary units comes with the provision of special aircraft and crews assigned in support of SIS, known to Tomlinson as the "S&D Flight". He tells us that the secret spook aviators are mostly drawn from crews already previously assigned in support of special forces and number "around ten pilots" although in his time they only had two aircraft: a C-130 Hercules transport and a specially modified Puma helicopter. However they are/were also trained to fly many other military types and commercially licenced on various civilian aircraft also. (In this context it's quite interesting to note that the "Station Flight" at RAF Northolt just outside London admits to having no fewer than eight pilots on strength, and only a couple of one-pilot Islanders for them to fly. The Northolt Islanders are fairly well-known to be used as surveillance platforms in support of the secret UK-based counter-terrorism empire, but it might just be that the flight has another name in secret circles and that its oddly numerous pilots also spend time flying SIS aircraft and keeping their commercial licences current.)

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