Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Spanish Game

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The Spanish Game

A Novel

by Charles Cumming

The Spanish Game by Charles Cumming
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2008, 352 pages
    Nov 2009, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Beyond the Book

Print Review

Like many spy thrillers, The Spanish Game is awash in an alphabet soup of acronyms. Below is a brief translation for the uninitiated.

MI5: "Military Intelligence, Section 5." Formed in 1909, MI5 is a UK counter-intelligence and security agency which concentrates its efforts mainly on security issues within the UK (approximately equivalent to the FBI). For more about the Military Intelligence Units & MI5 see the sidebar to At Risk by Stella Rimmington.

SIS: "Secret Intelligence Service" (sometimes incorrectly known as MI6). Formed in 1909 as the Secret Service Bureau, the SIS is the UK's external intelligence-gathering agency (approximately equivalent to the CIA). During World War II, SIS adopted the name MI6 as a 'flag of convenience', becoming one of 17 wartime military intelligence units. The name MI6 fell out of official use years ago but much of the media still refers to the SIS as such. For more about the SIS, see the sidebar to Cumming's first book A Spy by Nature.

GCHQ: – "Government Communications Headquarters." The GCHQ provides information security to MI5 & SIS. It's responsible for the interception, decryption and interpretation of communications. It was formed in 1919 as the Government Code and Cypher School.

CIA: "Central Intelligence Agency." The CIA is a civilian branch of the US government formed in 1947 to collect and analyze information about foreign governments, corporations and citizens. For more about the CIA see Legacy of Ashes.

ETA: "Euskadi Ta Askatasuna" (Basque for "Basque Homeland and Freedom"). The ETA is an illegal, armed Basque separatist organization founded in 1959. Its goals are sovereignty and self-determination for the Basque Country in Spain. Its ideology is primarily Socialist. It is considered a terrorist organization by the European Union. For more about the ETA see the sidebar to House of the Deaf.

Batasuna: ("Unity" in Basque) – aka Herri Batasuna ("Unity of the People") and Euskal Herritarrok ("We Basque Citizens"). Batasuna is a nationalist political organization, considered the political arm of the ETA. Like the ETA, it is illegal and considered a terrorist organization due to its financial support of the ETA. Its main activities include organizing strikes and rallies in support of Basque independence.

Guardia Civil: The Spanish Civil Guard. This organization is primarily the Spanish police force, although it also provides military and counter-terrorism support.

CNI: "Centro Nacional de Inteligencia." Formed in 2002, the CNI is the Spanish intelligence agency responsible for both internal and external intelligence gathering.

CESID: "Centro Superior de Información de la Defensa." The predecessor of the CNI, active from 1977 – 2002.

GAL: "Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación" ("Antiterrorist Liberation Groups"). The GAL was a series of death squads illegally set up by officials of the Spanish Government to fight the ETA. It operated mainly in the Basque Country from 1983 – 1987. Responsible for at least 27 killings, its actions are referred to as "La guerra sucia" ("the dirty war").

BVE: "Batallon Vasco Espanol" ("Basque Spanish Battalion"). The BVE was a Spanish right-wing paramilitary group active in the north Basque Country, 1975 – 1981, which employed violence against Basque nationalist and separatist groups. It was replaced by the GAL.

Article by Kim Kovacs

This article was originally published in November 2008, and has been updated for the November 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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