The trouble with the Dotcom security saga, which now has to be revisited with a clarification by the prime minister in Parliament this week, is that there is no clearly defined good guy, fighting for liberty, freedom and the Western way of life.
OPINION: In the good old days baddies were the KGB and the good guys were dashing heroes, like our Sam Neill, who played Sidney Reilly in the series Reilly Ace of Spies. He did his best to sabotage the Kaiser's war machine ahead of World War I, then tackled the Bolsheviks in revolutionary Russia, remaining one step ahead of the dreaded Cheka by moving from mistress to mistress.
The most famous one of them all of course was Ian Fleming's James Bond, a fictional character based on Fleming's real-life friend, Wilfred ''Biffy'' Dunderdale, whose background was just as improbable as those Bond plots.
Dunderdale, the son of a British naval engineer based in Odessa, grew up speaking fluent Russian and joined the British SIS in Sebastopol in 1919. One of his first assignments was to be positioned outside a sleeping compartment on a Trans-Siberian train, ear to the door, translating for a White Russian general as he cavorted with his British mistress. Those were the days!
If the general had spent less time in the sack and more with his troops, and Reilly had been less distracted by beautiful White Russian women, then perhaps the Bolshevik adventure would have been nipped in the bud, but that, as they say, is one for a counterfactual.
Certainly Dunderdale, after his early, formative assignment, developed a taste for fast women, fast cars and wild feats, running networks in France before and during World War II then being involved in Russian penetration afterwards. The latter assignments were largely foiled by one of the biggest baddies of all (from a Western view) Kim Philby. From his post at the heart of MI6, Philby passed all on to his Russian masters at the KGB.
The whole spy v spy business is as old as time, with the Bible recounting Moses sending 12 spies to scout the land of Canaan. They were helped by Rahab the prostitute, marking the first example of co-operation between the world's oldest and second oldest professions.
In more recent times, the masterful spymaster Francis Walsingham set up a network to protect Elizabeth I at a time when she and England were in great peril from French and Spanish plots.
We will always need the spooks and trackers as a matter of national security, no matter how much the Left would like to abolish them. New Zealand is fortunate to be a member of the world's most formidable intelligence-gathering operation (comprising also America, Britain, Canada and Australia), the envy of many countries.
That gets us back to Dotcom, who does not have the body image or sartorial elegance of a Sidney Reilly or Biffy Dunderdale, and is unlikely to emerge from this saga with an enhanced reputation. More likely there will be questions about why he was allowed to establish here in the first place and whether he and his questionable business should be sent packing.
Labour leader David Shearer is steering a dangerous course. In spite of his careful concentration on the prime minister's security agency contradictions, he appears, by extension, to be backing Dotcom. He used leaks from a GCSB staffer about what Prime Minister John Key is alleged to have said to staff, but was unable to back up this claim with hard evidence.
It is doubtful Dotcom has played much of a role in the Government's downturn in the opinion polls. The internet magnate is losing his lustre as a folk hero. And the thinking electorate will be uneasy about highly political leaking from an ultra-secret state security agency.
- The Dominion Post