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from the on-her-majesty's-satanic-service dept.
Secret Agent 666: Aleister Crowley
Of all of Aleister Crowley's many books the one which I read first was The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (though I did stop to read the entire Book of the Law as soon as I'd read Crowley's description of his reception of it). I greatly enjoyed Crowley's colorful tales and his often ironic style of writing, but I also saw him as someone generally concerned to portray himself in an especially good light. For instance, when Crowley described his pro-German propaganda activities in the U.S. as a disinformation campaign for British intelligence I was more than a little skeptical; I figured he had probably just backed the wrong horse and was now making his excuses.
Now there's finally a reputable source to cite to back up what is obvious to anyone familiar with Crowley's writing style, that he was indeed engaging in "covert operations" for British intelligence in the WWI-era United States. Richard B. Spence is a professor of Russian and Eastern European history with an interest in espionage and military affairs, and his careful, well-documented article definitely links Crowley's 1914-1918 interlude in America with an organization then known as MI1c, Section V (or the Secret Intelligence Service), and now known simply as MI6. That Professor Spence had to establish this fact through recently available documents in the archives of the U.S. Army's Military Intelligence Division (MID) rather than from the still-classified documents in British archives says something about the ongoing ingratitude of Crowley's country toward his wartime services.
Crowley's most important connection with British intelligence during these years seems to have been Charles Clive Bayley (from October 1915 British general consul in New York). Previously (1913-15) Bayley was the British consul in Moscow, and Crowley had had extensive conversations with him while visiting with a 1913 production of the Ragged Ragtime Girls (as evidenced by several amusing anecdotes which Crowley recalls in Confessions). All of which raises the strong possibility that Crowley was already working with British intelligence before the Great War. The details of Crowley's involvement with the Secret Intelligence Service at this time makes for lively reading (at least for obsessives like me), but in any event, we can now be sure that Crowley was, as he said all along, a patriotic Briton who risked and lost for his homeland, if not his life, then at least his reputation.
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|"As St. Paul says, 'Without shedding of blood there is no remission,' and who are we to argue with St. Paul?" -- Aleister Crowley|
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