Many cities have had a lot of nefarious doings take place in them. Only one city is an adjective for "nefarious doings". This city is Istanbul. Which was and is a very "Byzantine" place.
The City began as Byzantium, a Greek colony which was rather fortunately placed at a traffic crossroads. During the decline of the Roman Empire it became a co-capital because of it's usefulness as a military headquarters as well as it's economic benefits. Constantine the Great finalized the official removal of the Roman State from Rome to Byzantium now known as Constantinople, an example of the common practice of changing capitals to emphasize changes in official ideology. This move was none to soon for the Western Empire was indefensible but the presence of population and revenue allowed the Roman State to prolong (or reincarnate)itself from it's new base until the conquest by the Turkish clan of Osman or the "Ottomans", in 1453. These gave it it's modern name of Istanbul. The Ottomans ruled until the WWI-Lawrence of Arabia's war-when it was occupied by the French and British. However though the Ottoman Empire as such was destroyed the Turks still had
the ability to resist subjugation and there was still a war to finish so the City was given back, making for the irony that after waiting for 450 years to be reconquered by a Christian power it was given back because it was to much work to keep.
Into the power vacuum stepped Kemel Ataturk. Ataturk was a curious figure, a benevolent despot who provided the beginnings of democratic rule. The closest comparison for an Anglo is of course Cromwell. Though Ataturk was a nationalist rather then a theocratic autocrat. Perhaps the best comparison is Pilsudski of Poland, an interesting but little known figure . Except Pilsudski failed for lack of time, and Ataturk succeeded in leaving a state with the minimal decency, competence, and work-a-day justice that is harder to achieve in a political system then many realize. He died just before World War II leaving the Republic of Turkey that exists today. This is the state that exists today.
At the time at which Song of Hope takes place, Turkey was acting as a neutral state. During World War II, as during most great European wars neutrals often had the tendency to be kicked aside whenever they got in a belligerent's way(this happened quite often to Vichyites). Neutrals are unfortunately sometimes vilified because of the modern world's curious taste for political self-righteousness. Turkey was able to stay neutral because it had enough force to provide a detterant and because it was extremely skillful at the typical strategy of a moderately powerful neutral of playing "hard-to-get" with all sides.
During this time the newly established city of Ankara was the official capital-an attempt to emphasize the distinction of the new regime. However every year seasonal patterns forced a remove back to Istanbul. Which remained much the same city it had long been. Full of beauty, full of ancientry. And full of spies.
Istanbul had long been known as a cosmopolitan city. There was the ruling class which under the old regime were only partly ethnic Turkish, and had only recently started to emphasize "Turkishness". There were also Armenians, Greeks, and Jews. These got on better then minorities did in many Balkan countries. An unfortunate exception to this took place when these were accused by the government(possibly motivated by frustration at the hard times)of what might be called economic gamesmenship-a vague vice stereotypically imputed to Jews and not uncommonly imputed to Greeks and Armenians in Turkey. The accused were subjected to usurious fines and sometimes put on forced labor. Fortunately the Turkish government feared American public opinion. And as it happened the family that owned the Times was named Sulzberger. So this unhappy act of panic was suspended and the victims released. Things could have been worse and had before.
Besides the Armenians, Greeks, and Jews who were traditional residents there were Europeans. These included diplomats, missionaries, and businessmen. They had an effect of their own. The noted missionary school Robert College was an American institution that has achieved a high reputation. And several of the local American missionaries and businessmen would later work for the OSS during the war.
Besides these Europeans who belonged their in happier times there were a number of exiles. These included Russians, Germans, Eastern Europeans, and of course Jews. In fact anyone who had someone, somewhere, that desired their death. Some of the Eastern Europeans were not just exiles but representatives of the emigre states that were formed to serve alongside the Allies.
Istanbul is a city known for the beauty of it's architecture. Among the famous buildings are the Hagia Sophia, once a cathedral, then a mosque, now a museum. There is also the Topkapi Palace which had once housed the Sultan and his harem. It is also now a museum. Turks, not least the "Stambouli" pride themselves on their cooking and Istanbul was, despite the war, able to maintain an air of luxury. Several Stambouli restaurants must still even twenty-years later, have had Ottoman palace chefs preparing for guests such meals as they would have prepared in days of old. At the least it is true that a few spies really were able to live the "James Bond" style. At times reality and romance coincide and while the spies of Istanbul certainly lived the reality of espionage sometimes they lived the romance of it. Or thought they did which is perhaps the same thing. Likely that is inevitable. For it is said by some that while spies often work for "Money, Ideology,
Compromise and/or Ego", ego predominates among the best. But whatever the reason, Istanbul had plenty of spies.
Probably everyone who was anyone-and many who weren't-had a presence in Istanbul. For Istanbul was a strategic crossroads near several courier routes. It was also a diplomatic center. The last was especially the case in wartime because neutral countries were a necessary means of communication between enemies whether for small favors such as prisoner exchanges or large ones such as negotiating a defection.
The British were there of course. Well the British were in a lot of places. But because of those lot of places it was important for them to watch Istanbul. The Middle East was a bridge between India and Britain as well as a source of oil. Without oil the Royal Navy could not function and without the Navy there was no Britain. With India cut off, one of the main sources of troops were cut off-the Indian army, though a colonial constabulary was probably better then most European one's. It provided a large number of high-quality soldiers as well as officers, some of whom had recieved rigorous training as professional imperialists(albiet others of whom had spent most of their time gambling)building bridges and chasing bandits. The British secret services had a tradition dating from the gentleman-spies of Victorian lore. They had had long experience watching the Empire and in taking part in European and Asian power strugles as well as fighting Irish
revolutionaries. If they had a fault it was the same as with the rest of Britain-a naivety and a slowness to recognize that they were neither dealing with Kaiser Bill's Germans or Czar Nickies Russians. Despite that they learned to evolve and displayed a cunning that would earn their enemies fear.
The Russians may have been the best spy service in the world. They too had a tradition. A far more sinister one, of purges and terrorism and feuds dating back to the struggle between the Revolutionaries and the Okhrana secret police of the Czars day. Most countries feared Russia because after all proclaiming universal revolution could be interpreted as a declaration of war upon the world. However the chief enemies of Russia had been other Russians and the Russian spy service had learned to be greatly skilled and very vicious. It's skill was early demonstrated by "The Trust", an anti-bolshevik resistance group that was actually controlled by the Bolshevik government for the purpose of luring enemies to their doom.
The German intelligence was always plagued by internal strife between the state secret services and the ones set up as a separate organ of the Nazi Party. On the whole they were comparatively inefficient though they were not without success.
The American Office of Strategic Services was a newcomer. It performed intelligence as well as commando missions(real spies like to keep the two separate: aside from snobbery, the second calls attention to the first). A large number of the OSS recruits came from prestigious families-due mostly to the fact that the director William Donovan desired people with familiarity with travel. It was a newly raised organization for America was unused to a permanent intelligence institution. There were the intelligence departments of the Armed Services and State department of course but even these were neglected and in fact sometimes Presidents simply settled for using agents under their personal patronage. The OSS made a better showing then anyone had a right to expect. One is tempted to wonder if it was from sheer chutzpah. For if it was lacking in experience it had a plentiful supply of chutzpah.
The Zionists- in which my characters Asher and David serve-maintained a regular presence in Istanbul. By this time Israel was a State in all but name and serving as a spy for the "Yishuv" was little different then serving for any State. Of course there was still a nominal allegiance to the British Empire, a status which is best understood by comparing with the relationship of a feudal baron with his King.
The Zionist service served beside other allied intelligence services and had a British liason-a real life counterpart to my Lord Wilberford. Not being a recognized State it was unable to follow the common practice of giving chief operatives diplomatic immunity. However as a nominal part of the British Empire such marks of official legitimacy could be given if needed by the British though that never seems to have been done. The Zionist service also could use local Jews as a potential source of recruits-recruits that would be able to have both local knowledge and a loyalty that a mere mercenary-spy would not have.
Besides assisting the war effort there was another mission. And that was smuggling refugees. There was, it must be admitted in part a political motive for the more population in Palestine the better from their point of view. But assuming that was more then an afterthought is assuming a frightful cynicism which is not always even felt by politicians and is probably seldom felt by those who actually face danger. The Zionist service was fighting for the lives of their kinfolk. Not fighting against the theoretical possibility of tyranny in the case of defeat, like other nations. It was fighting against it's actuality and desperately attempting to rescue as many as possible. At the same time most states had a "not in my backyard" attitude toward refugees, especially Jews and there were not nearly enough visas available. Furthermore the immigration allowance to Palestine was limited by the desire of the British government to appease the Arabs, who after all
possesed the oil. Thus a considerable number of those who were saved had to be saved illegally.
And much of the effort toward doing this was the responsibility of the Zionist service-a rescue conspiracy if you will.
Other services were to numerous to mention. But both the Poles and the Czechs merit something, not only because of their effectiveness but because the war was a victory for America but a lost cause for the Poles and Czechs. The destruction of the Reich was followed by the occupation of these lands by the Russians. An occupation which continued almost until the end of the century.
And finally we come to the Emniyet. This was the Turkish Security-the "referee" of the Istanbul spy game. They were the ones that protected Turkey from foreign spies as well as keeping the spies from doing impolite things like killing one another in a conspicuous manner. They were a formidable group and were assisted by the fact that Turkish citizens were quite enthusiastic helpers. Sometimes embarrassingly enthusiastic. Foreigners traveling outside the city were watched suspiciously and at least one American Professor was surrounded by peasants with pitchforks simply because he "looked German". Despite that disadvantage, the Emniyet always had a plentiful supply of informants and together with there professionalism, this made sure there was little they did not know.
This then was Istanbul during the war. Old Byzantium as Byzantine as ever, a "a real-life Casablanca" as the author Barry Rubin calls it, a place where reality sometimes drew close to cinema-and sometimes beyond. A place with the remanents of empires piled on it and the gatherings from cultures all over the Meditterranean. It was a listening post, a springboard for operations, and a meeting place. It was truly the "City of Spies."