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 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At the airport, Leamas is reminded of the impersonal experience of World War II. Kiever has given Leamas luggage, because passengers without luggage always attract attention. When Leamas goes through passport control, the officer there tells him to be careful, because his passport will expire at the end of the month. In a café in the airport, Kiever is rude to a waiter and Leamas tells him he is making a scene, which will make people remember that they were there. On the other end of the trip, passing through Customs at the airport in the Netherlands goes smoothly. As Leamas and Kiever leave the airport, Leamas sees a small, froglike man who looks like a civil servant.
Leamas spent his wartime service in the Netherlands, and the memory of the war hangs over everything he does sixteen years later. Leamas’s nearly expired passport means that he will be beholden to those around him for new papers to travel back to England, or he may be trapped and more easily controlled by the Communists to whom he is defecting. As there was when Leamas slept with Liz for the first time, there is someone nearby – the small man – who seems to be monitoring Leamas’s actions.
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Leamas and Kiever are picked up by a woman who drives very slowly. Leamas looks around to see where they are going and to try to spot the car he knows must be tailing them. They arrive at a villa near the sea with a sign that says “Le Mirage.” Leamas looks down the road and sees a man in a raincoat getting out. The doorbell rings and a hard-faced man named Peters arrives. Leamas thinks Peters has a Russian accent, but cannot be sure. Kiever bids Leamas goodbye, but Leamas does not shake his hand.
Leamas senses that many people have been given orders about what to do and how to behave around him. This brings home the seriousness of what he is doing. Leamas will have to make sure that none of these people suspect that his defection is part of a mission and so he sticks to the rude, detached personality he has cultivated.
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Peters and Leamas go into a back room, where Peters makes them both whisky sodas. Leamas says that he doesn’t want Peters to tiptoe around the issue: he is a paid defector. Peters says that Kiever told him that Leamas was a proud man. Leamas tells Kiever that he does not want to wait around for a year in case of follow up questions, because the Circus will figure out that he has defected and come after him. Peters says that they could move him to a safe place behind the Iron Curtain. Leamas proposes that they will need three days to interview him and then will want to refer back to him for a detailed brief. Peter says that this is not necessarily true.
Leamas has not yet realized, or is pretending not yet to have realized, that he is no longer in control of his own fate. Having supposedly betrayed the Circus, he is not an independent agent—instead, he is beholden to those to whom he defected. A defector needs protection, because he can expect his former employer to try to arrest or kill him. Leamas proposes that he will tell Peters what he knows and then return to England before the Circus notices he is gone. Peters will not give Leamas an answer to this, preferring to keep him in suspense.
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Leamas describes his service during World War II. He was enlisted as a soldier when he heard that the special service was recruiting people with language skills. Leamas’s father had worked in Holland as a machine tool agent, so Leamas spoke Dutch. Spying in Holland was difficult; his agents were killed as soon as he recruited them. In 1943, he was transferred to Norway, which was much easier. At the end of the war, Leamas left the service and tried to work in other jobs, but by 1949, he was back to the special service, although his pension had been reduced because of his interrupted service.
Leamas’s language skills and his working-class background were likely responsible for his being sent to do dangerous and unrewarding work in Holland during the war, which was harrowing and left him unprepared for the life of a civilian. After the war, Leamas went back to spying not because of an ideological drive, but because the war had left him unsuited to other work. The interlude during which he tried other careers also led to his reduced pension, the financial motivation he presents for betraying the Circus and defecting now.
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After lunch, Peters asks Leamas about his service once he returned in 1949. Leamas says that he did desk work until 1951, until the Circus sent him to Berlin as Deputy-Controller of Area in charge of all operational work. In 1959, he recruited Riemeck, who was the best agent he ever had. He was on the Praesidium of the East German Communist Party, a committee that functioned as the country’s executive branch. Peters says that Riemeck is dead, and Leamas says he knows, he was there when Riemeck was shot. Leamas says Riemeck was likely killed because he told his mistress Elvira so much.
Leamas describes Riemeck as having compromised himself and their shared mission by betraying the secrets of their work to Elvira. But to become one of Leamas’s agents, Riemeck also had to betray his colleagues, country, and the Communist ideology he had pledged to support. Leamas sees Riemeck’s betrayal of the Circus’s secrets to Elvira as a more important betrayal, hardly recognizing Riemeck’s betrayal of the GDR as a betrayal at all.
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Leamas tells Peters that he returned to London after Riemeck’s death and worked in the Banking sector, supervising overseas payments to agents. He describes the process of paying agents; money was sent to the “Resident” (the spy operating in a foreign country over a long period, but who’s not a native of that country), who passed it on to the agent. Each agent was described with a combination of letters and numbers.
Leamas is giving away the secrets of how the Circus works, proving to Peters that he is a real defector. But these details are not yet of much interest. Leamas is not yet giving any specifics that would be surprising to Peters or likely to actually help the Communists to stop British operations in the future.
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Leamas is sweating. Meanwhile, Peters assesses him, wondering how much he knows and what his motivations for defecting are. Peters has seen defectors struggle to give their testimony, even if their defection was because of an ideological conversion. Peters reflects that he must help Leamas along and get information out of him, because Leamas is likely to lie by omission. Moreover, Peters thinks, Leamas is an alcoholic wreck—which makes him even more unpredictable and vain. Leamas also assesses Peters. He thinks that Peters, like himself, has been on the run before. Peters seems hard and fixed, as if shaped by a terrible early experience. Leamas thinks he would only lie with good reason, and likes that he seldom interrupts him, concluding that Peters is a real professional.
Two professional spies take each other’s measure, wondering how to handle this dangerous and delicate conversation. Peters believes that Leamas is reluctant to give information out of pride and despair, because by betraying the Circus he is showing that the difficult life that drove him to become an alcoholic has all been a waste, in the service of an organization he is now betraying. He also knows that Leamas does not have any ideological reasons for defecting, so Leamas’s pride must be handled carefully.
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Related Quotes
Leamas describes to Peters how he built up his network in Berlin. He says that it was difficult initially because the city was swarming with spies and agents without any real insight. They had a good agent between 1954 and 1956, but then could not find a good source of intel until 1959, when Riemeck left a tin full of film in the car of a man who worked for Leamas named De Jong. The film showed the minutes of the Praesidium of the East German Communist party. After corroborating the authenticity of the material, Leamas took over the case from De Jong. He drove De Jong’s car to the place in the woods where De Jong had first found the film in his car and went for a walk—but when he returned, nothing had been left in the car. A few weeks later, Leamas tried again, this time leaving a picnic basket in the car with one thousand dollars in it. When he returned, he found a tin of film. He did the same thing twice more in the next six weeks, each time receiving a tin of film with valuable pictures of documents.
Leamas describes Berlin in the decade after the war: a city full of people spying on each other. People pledged their loyalty to one organization and then to another, and ideological divides were often less important than gaining money opportunistically. But without some loyal service to a cause, people usually could not get access to real secrets. Later, when Riemeck begins to spy for the British, Leamas does not wonder how he tracks down De Jong’s car or why he would betray the GDR, without first getting an offer that it will bring him financial gain. Leamas accepts that there may be other forces at work that he does not know about, and does not seem curious about who is pulling the strings.
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Leamas did not want London to take this case from him, because he believed that they would ruin the connection by trying to get too much out of it too quickly. So Leamas set out to determine himself who the source of the materials was. From a list of members of the Presidium, he narrowed it down to a guess: Riemeck. Because the documents contained crossed out words, Leamas guessed that the source was one of the secretaries who took the notes. He wrote a coded message to Riemeck, tucked the message into a children’s book, and then returned to the woods. Leamas took back with him yet another tin of film with important documents.
Leamas believes that only De Jong and Riemeck know about this new source of information from the Praesidium. Leamas wants to identify the source himself because he knows that the orders he gets sent from London may not be appropriate to the situation and may end up causing Riemeck’s betrayal of the GDR to quickly come to light. In the hopes of achieving the ultimate goal of recruiting a steady agent, Leamas acts (or believes that he acts) autonomously, by briefly keeping the new source a secret from London.
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Peters interrupts Leamas. He asks Leamas if he really believes all the information he received came from Riemeck. Peters says Riemeck must have had help, and asks if no one at the Circus wondered whether Riemeck was being helped. Leamas hesitates, and says that no one from London ever asked him this.
If Leamas wanted to understand the larger organizational forces controlling spies and agents, he would wonder if Peters is right and if the Circus really never wondered how Riemeck was getting all the information he did. Leamas does not wonder, but the reader is meant to.
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Leamas continues to tell Peters about Riemeck, saying he was an exceptional source because he had access to the Praesidium, internal political and economic reporting, and the files of the East German Security Service. Peters contends that Riemeck only had limited access to these files, but Leamas shrugs and says he must have had total access. After this, Leamas says, London took over paying Riemeck and pressed Leamas to get Riemeck to recruit other agents to form a network. This undermined Riemeck’s confidence and put strain on him. But, Leamas says, Riemeck’s cover was not blown for an unusually long time.
Riemeck supplied the British with large quantities of valuable information for an unusually long period of time without being exposed. Leamas does not wonder why this occurred, while Peters, who is more analytical, is already beginning to suspect that Riemeck had help from another British spy who was also on the Praesidium. As Leamas is presented with this new take on the situation, he rejects them, stubbornly continuing to believe that he knows all the facts.
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Leamas recalls all the information that Riemeck provided to the British in detail. Peters finally says that it is impossible that Riemeck would have had access to all this information, but Leamas insists that Riemeck did, getting angry. Peters inquires whether the Circus asked Leamas to press Riemeck about how he accessed the files, and Leamas says they didn’t. Peters asks Leamas if he has heard the news: Elvira was shot a week ago as she left her apartment (in West Berlin). Leamas says that that used to be his apartment, and that he had not known about this. Peters says that perhaps she knew more about Riemeck’s network than Leamas did. Leamas gets angry at this suggestion. Peters says he wonders who killed her.
As the head of the Berlin Station, Leamas had overseen giving Karl Riemeck his orders. Leamas does not believe that Riemeck could have had help from someone with even greater access without his knowing it. Even if he had known about it, Leamas would have pretended not to know that Elvira had been killed, because such knowledge would be inconsistent with his role as an ex-spy disconnected from current events in the place where he used to work. But this also suggests another instance of Control not being forthright with Leamas. Furthermore, Elvira’s death does not bode well for Liz.
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The two continue talking until Leamas has told Peters everything he knows about operations in Berlin. Leamas reflects that it’s odd that Peters is so certain Riemeck could not have had access to all the information he provided. He remembers that Control had wondered the same thing. Leamas thinks to himself that it might be true: perhaps there had been another source, and this was the “Special Interest” that Control wanted him to kill Mundt in order to protect. Control and Riemeck might have discussed this source when Leamas left them alone one evening in Berlin.
Leamas pretended to Peters that Control had never asked him whether he was sure Riemeck really had access to all the information he provided the British, but now Leamas finally contemplates the possibility that there actually is another, even more highly positioned spy that he never knew about. He also remembers the one time that he was excluded from a discussion between Control and Riemeck. Leamas does not trouble himself, however, to wonder who this other source, or “Special Interest,” might be.
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Leamas goes on to wonder about Elvira. Who killed her? He wonders if Control’s Special Interest had known that Elvira knew his identity and had her killed. But, Leamas decides, this would have been impossible, because Elvira was not killed in East Berlin, but in West Berlin. Leamas also wonders why Control didn’t tell him that she had been killed. He decides to give up trying to unravel Control’s reasoning and falls asleep, thinking that Riemeck died because he told Elvira so much. Leamas also remembers Liz.
Leamas believes that what Control conceals from him must be justified by the mission, and he is too loyal to his work to jeopardize it by searching for answers about what is really going on, especially when he has a specific undercover role to play. He remembers that Riemeck died because he did not protect the mission’s secrecy by confiding in Elvira. Although Leamas believes he was careful, he must also wonder if his connection to Liz opens him up to similar dangers.
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