Thinktrain has moved! Redirecting…

You should be automatically redirected. If not, visit and update your bookmarks.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

License to kill

Note: Minor spoilers if you have not seen Casino Royale, but no major details.

Did you know that British secret agents really do have licenses to kill? As I think many of us Bond fans have long suspected, though, it doesn't quite work the way it does in the films. Here's a little more detail on the statute:

"The secretary of state can authorize persons to commit acts abroad for which they may not be held liable under British law. By implication, that includes all criminal law relating to the use of lethal force. Only two constraints are listed. It must be the case that the acts are 'necessary for the proper discharge of a function of the Intelligence Service' and that their 'likely consequences will be reasonable' with respect to their purpose."
I didn't tally an official body count when watching Casino Royale last weekend, but I can say with some confidence that there are several killings committed by Bond that would have a tough time passing credulity for both of these categories. The very first one in the film, though, would pass muster, I think, because it's specifically ordered by M, 007's boss. The killing Bond commits on the runway also would safely qualify, I think.

In the films, Bond's license to kill generally seems to be ongoing, but in real life, this kind of exemption from legal liability is only granted in six-month periods. Agents are not given any reprieve from the laws of other countries, though, so they're in hot water if they commit a crime and get arrested outside the U.K.

The law in question officially granting authority for criminal activity to secret agents was passed in 1994, but this practice was commonplace and clandestine prior to its becoming law. The article seems to indicate that MI6, 007's branch of the service, wasn't even officially recognized as an agency of the government until fairly recent times.
"Prior to 1994, agents acting outside the British Islands would officially have been exposed to ordinary U.K. law. However, the Intelligence Services Act codified what had essentially been de facto internal policy regarding covert action abroad. No MI6 officer has ever publicly admitted to (or been charged with) killing an enemy of the state, but a few assassinations are believed to have taken place during World War II and the early Cold War. Officially, SIS banned the internal origination and approval of assassinations in the 1960s. In any case, contrary to popular imagination, paramilitary action has long been carried out almost wholly by British Special Forces or foreign third parties, not by MI6."
In Fleming's novels, Bond uses his license to kill 38 or 39 times. (Apparently there is some uncertainty regarding one of the killings.) Daniel Craig's Bond, on the other hand, easily takes out more than half of that total during Royale alone.

No comments: