The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

by

John Le Carré

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The Spy Who Came in From the Cold: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Tribunal takes place in a small courtroom. Leamas sits in the back, in his own clothes, while Mundt is in the front of the room, in prison clothing. Fiedler presents his case by saying that he and Leamas were arrested on the day he submitted his report about Mundt to the Praesidium and pressured to confess to having plotted to frame Mundt. Fiedler says that the fact that Leamas, a defector, will refuse to accept that Mundt is a British agent proves Leamas’s impartiality. Fiedler says he will interpret the report he already prepared in his remarks and that Mundt has committed the worst possible crime, and the penalty is death.
As Leamas has observed earlier, Fiedler sees Leamas’s own repeated denial that it would be impossible for the Circus to run an agent out of East Germany without his knowledge as proof that Leamas is not trying to frame Mundt. Leamas is the defector who remains loyal to the facts as he knows them, while Mundt, in Fiedler’s view, is only loyal to his own survival and interests and constantly manipulates the facts in order to protect himself.
Themes
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Fiedler continues his speech, giving a summary of Mundt’s career. He describes Mundt as having been a talented and successful agent in Norway, Sweden, and Finland early in his career. Later, when Mundt became a British agent, he would travel to these countries to collect payments from the British. Fiedler fervently says that Mundt’s greed was what got him caught, which should be a lesson to other enemies of the state. From 1956, Mundt worked in London, where he exposed himself to great dangers. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but he managed to fly from London to Berlin.
In the Communist countries of the time, most people lived with few material comforts. This was justified in ideological terms, as a sacrifice that would need to be made temporarily until the Communist system got off the ground. To frame Mundt’s crime in ideologically damning terms, Fiedler says that Mundt betrayed his country out of a greedy impatience for wealth.
Themes
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Mundt’s brilliant escape from London, Fiedler contends, would never have been possible if Mundt had not been allowed to leave by the British authorities after they captured him and turned him into their agent. After this, the British promoted Mundt’s career, and they may have even helped Mundt to kill their own less-important agents to help him succeed. Fiedler also presents other evidence suggesting that Mundt may have given intelligence about the British to the Abteilung to keep his organization’s trust.
Fiedler describes a cynical give-and-take between the Circus and their highly ranked spy in the Abteilung. The Circus will betray its own agents (like Karl Riemeck), giving Mundt permission to kill them, to help Mundt. The British, he believes, may even have willingly given information to Mundt to give to the Abteilung so that Mundt would rise in the ranks.
Themes
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Fiedler then calls Leamas to the witness stand. Leamas testifies that he heard from Peter Guillam that there was no full search for Mundt when he was in London, but that it would have been impossible for Mundt to have been a British agent without his knowing about it. Leamas also testifies about the logistics surrounding Rolling Stone, and Fiedler draws attention to the fact that money was pulled from the bank in Helsinki during a period when Mundt was there.
Fiedler is drawing Leamas out so that he will show the weaknesses in his own argument. Leamas’s stubborn inability to recognize that there might be things he does not know about the operation in Berlin makes him look exactly like the kind of agent who might be kept in the dark about the most secretive parts of an operation. He seems like a dispensable agent, who the Circus might not mind lying to.
Themes
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Leamas also testifies that Riemeck and Control met alone in his apartment in Berlin. Fiedler explains that the documents that the British received from Riemeck were not included in the files that Riemeck had access to. Instead, Fiedler says, Mundt passed the information to Riemeck to give to Leamas. Mundt also promoted Riemeck’s career every year after his return from Britain in 1959. Fiedler says that Riemeck could not have found De Jong’s car in the woods, unless someone higher up in the chain of command ordered the Security police to follow De Jong’s car and someone told Riemeck De Jong’s whereabouts. One of the three members of the Tribunal asks why Mundt killed Riemeck, if he was his agent, and Fiedler responds that once Riemeck was under suspicion, Mundt had him killed to protect himself.
Fiedler describes a system that was meant to protect Mundt, but also to keep Leamas in the dark regarding Mundt’s involvement, as an extra precaution against Mundt’s being discovered. The Circus only shows loyalty to Mundt as part of this system, because he is the most valuable asset they have in East Germany. Riemeck and even Leamas himself, perhaps, are not provided with the same protection, or filled in on the true nature of the network. Riemeck, who Leamas oversaw (and maybe Elvira as well), actually knew more about the operation in East Germany than Leamas did, because Riemeck at least knew about Mundt’s involvement.
Themes
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Related Quotes
Fiedler describes Mundt’s technique. He says that the British were likely hesitant to trust Mundt at first, fearing that he would become a double agent. At first, he had no network. But by the end of 1959, Mundt informed London that he had found Riemeck, a man in the Praesidium who could be his intermediary to London. In Mundt’s position, he had access to all personnel files, could tap phones, and read mail. This, Fiedler says, allowed him to determine who on the Praesidium might be open to spying for the British. Fiedler concludes, saying that for Mundt’s crime, death would be a merciful punishment.
Fiedler says that Mundt was trusted and had access to all the personnel files, so he was able to carefully assess who to bring in to help him spy for the British. Mundt was high-ranking and highly trusted, despite the murky circumstances that surrounded his escape from London. This bias to trust Mundt is likely a consequence of Mundt’s secure place among the elite. He looks and acts the part of a German leader, and so he is trusted to behave as one.
Themes
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Elites and Others Theme Icon