FBI surveillance of Graham Greene
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Mon Dec 2 05:45:33 MST 2002
In life as in fiction, Greene's taunts left Americans in a quiet fury
US compiled secret reports on novelist for years, FBI files show
Rob Evans and David Hencke
Monday December 2, 2002
Graham Greene's classic tale The Quiet American, released this week in
cinemas starring Michael Caine in a potentially Oscar-winning role, is still
stirring up controversy over its apparent anti-Americanism.
The 1955 novel tells how a British journalist duels with an American
official, Alden Pyle, for the affections of a woman in Vietnam. But the
story of deception and espionage also reveals how Pyle is secretly
organising terrorist acts and plotting to establish a puppet government
friendly to the Americans.
Greene's fiction has often riled Americans, but it appears that in real life
too, his views caused the US government some concern.
Documents obtained by the Guardian under the US Freedom of Information Act
disclose how officials in Washington went to extraordinary lengths to
compile secret reports on the distinguished novelist over 40 years as he
travelled the world in support of anti-US causes.
He was monitored when he stayed up talking to Fidel Castro until five in the
morning, as well as when he and Yoko Ono heard actor Kris Kristofferson
"eschewing women and whisky to discuss God, war and peace".
Declassified FBI files show that officials opened and read his
correspondence when he was refused entry into the US during the cold war for
briefly being a member of the Communist party.
Greene did little to disguise his anti-Americanism, passionately championing
leftwing governments who resisted US domination in Latin America.
He constantly criticised the Americans for meddling, with outspoken attacks
of their backing of death squads.
After Greene had castigated the US government in an interview about Latin
America in 1984, diplomats in London wearily cabled Washington saying:
"Unsurprisingly, Greene's views on the United States government policies and
actions are not flattering".
The region was also where the famously enigmatic Greene set his novels, Our
Man in Havana, The Power and the Glory, and the Honorary Consul.
The writer forged friendships with a string of leaders hostile to the US. He
met Castro soon after the 1959 revolution when he went to Cuba to watch the
filming of Our Man in Havana.
One meeting took place in 1983 with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian
novelist and Nobel laureate. US diplomats in Cuba wrote in a caustic
dispatch that the trio had "sat up until five o'clock in the morning talking
presumably about Our Man in Havana".
They reported that for some weeks, Marquez, dubbed a "Castro buddy", had
been "unusually active helping Castro pass his evenings in the company of
"Castro gains not only a bit of respectability by association, but enjoys
some evenings that he would otherwise have to spend with some far out
Liberation Front leader."
The diplomats headlined the secret cable "It's nice to have a literary
friend" and advised colleagues in Washington: "File this either under Let's
talk books or The search for respectability."
Greene was also friendly with Daniel Ortega, who headed the Sandinista
government in Nicaragua during the 1980s. Publicly, the novelist saw
Nicaragua as "a small country fighting a bully in the north" and urged the
Sandinistas on to victory against the US-backed Contras.
One American cable described how Greene and others such as US radical Noam
Chomsky and Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes planned to attend celebrations
of the 10th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution in Managua.
The diplomats commented that the Sandinistas "will try to exploit the
'international solidarity' aspects of this event to burnish [their] image
The following month, Ortega was in London to meet Margaret Thatcher, who had
little sympathy with the leftwing revolutionaries opposing her great ally
Ronald Reagan in central America.
Officials from the US embassy wrote that "a sober-looking Ortega struggled
to put an upbeat cast on the encounter", but they saw it as "unconvincing",
especially after Downing Street leaked an unfavourable version of the
meeting. The diplomats reported that neither "a Graham Greene bear hug at an
evening pep rally [nor] a warm greeting by the Archbishop of Canterbury seem
much to cheer him".
Afterwards, Greene criticised Thatcher's frosty reception of Ortega as
showing "her complete ignorance of conditions in Nicaragua and Latin
Another Latin American leader who was a close friend of the novelist was the
socialist general of Panama, Omar Torrijos. The general had unexpectedly
invited Greene in 1976 to come and meet him in Panama. Greene attended the
signing of the 1977 Panama canal treaty with the US as an official member of
the Panamanian delegation.
He was described as an "important" guest at a later ceremony. The general
involved Greene in many affairs of the region; for example he helped to
secure the release of British bankers kidnapped in El Salvador in 1979.
One US cable hints at one intrigue, recording that Greene visited Belize in
1978 as a guest of Torrijos "in the company of one Martinez, described as
the ADC to Torrijos". The Americans speculated that "it may be that
Greene... had some message" which he was conveying to Belizeans about the
general's attitude towards their dispute with neighbouring Guatemala.
Greene suggested that the CIA may have been behind the mysterious death of
Torrijos in a plane crash in 1981.
Another cable, relayed to the White House and the CIA, recounted an exchange
of views between Greene and General Ruben Paredes, the then head of the
military in Panama, in 1983. Paredes believed fervently in the "domino
theory" - that once communism was established in one central American
country, the "cancer" would spread to other countries and dominate the
Greene, who had just visited Panama, was described by Paredes as "left" and
a "friend of Castro". According to the cable, "he said Greene, whom he
obviously finds interesting, had described central America as torn by
conflict between two imperialist giants. Paredes said he didn't see it that
way, but he seemed also to find it somewhat interesting". Greene later said
that Panama's dictator General Manuel Noriega was not "half as bad" as
America's record in central America.
While Greene became more anti-American, he had a more complicated view of
the Soviet Union. In the 60s, he had remarked that he would rather live in
the communist country than in America, although he later claimed that it was
meant to be ironic.
But for many years, he forbade his work to be published in the Soviet Union
because of its appalling human rights. He refused to visit the country for
25 years until the 80s, when he warmed to the reforming leadership of
He was criticised for taking part in an international peace forum in Moscow
to discuss nuclear disarmament in 1987. In a secret dispatch, American
diplomats dismissed the gathering as a stunt which "produced little of
lasting interest or value". But they conceded that the "turnout of
well-known cultural figures was particularly impressive".
The diplomats reported that in the evening, there was a concert of "many
delights" such as folksongs and poetry, and American actor "Kris
Kristofferson eschewing whisky and women for sober thoughts on God, war and
peace", "all taken in by an audience including the likes of Yoko Ono in
white mink, Gregory Peck, author Graham Greene and other luminaries".
Writer, spy and Doubting Thomas
· Greene was born in 1904 in Berkhamsted, where his father became a
headmaster. His brother Hugh became director-general of the BBC. As a boy,
he suffered bouts of suicidal pessimism, playing solitary games of Russian
· He became a Catholic in 1926, but took the baptismal name of Thomas, after
Doubting Thomas. Although known as a Catholic writer, he described himself
towards the end of his life as a "Catholic agnostic" without any belief in
Satan or hell
· During the second world war, he was a British spy in Sierra Leone
· His first big success as a writer was Stamboul Train in 1932. He
established his reputation with Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the
Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), The Third Man (1949), and The
End of the Affair (1951)
· In later years, he lived in the south of France, where he died in 1991
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