Page last updated at 16:30 GMT, Friday, 13 August 2010 17:30 UK

Frederick Forsyth: 'US spies attacked my wife's laptop'

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Frederick Forsyth recalls flying in to Guinea-Bissau just as the army was driving in to town to avenge its leader

By Bridget Osborne
BBC HARDtalk

Frederick Forsyth, bestselling author of thrillers like The Day of the Jackal and The Dogs of War, was in the West African state of Guinea-Bissau last year when the president was assassinated.

His presence there, he now believes, led suspicious US intelligence forces to launch a cyber-attack on his wife's computer.

As he landed at Bissau airport in the middle of the equatorial night, to research his latest novel, he found that the head of the army, General Batista Tagme Na Wai, had been killed.

"Fortunately, I was met by a wonderful man who lived there, but in the rear view mirror on the way back to the hotel there was a glow of lights on the horizon - that was the army coming in to town to avenge their lost general," he recalled.

Investigative urge

Unable to sleep in his hotel room, he was reading when he heard an explosion. It turned out to be a rocket-propelled grenade ripping through the president's residence some 500 yards up the road.

When Forsyth went out the next day to see what had happened, he heard that President Joao Bernardo Viera had staggered out of the rubble and had been chopped to death with machetes.

"Part of you says, 'For God's sake get under the bed.' The other part says 'Strewth, I wonder what's happening?'" said Forsyth.

The 71-year-old started out as a foreign correspondent for Reuters and the BBC before he turned to writing fiction. "The urge to investigate never leaves you," he says.

Everything up there in the ether is intercepted, probably by the National Security Agency at Fort Meade in Maryland

Forsyth still writes a column for the Daily Express and says he thought he had better tell them what was going on in Guinea-Bissau. He does not use computers or mobile phones but borrowed a phone and dictated 1,000 words of copy.

"Unfortunately, the American intelligence services listened to it and wasted my wife's computer screen and totalled all her lunch dates," he claims.

Friends in 'low places'

Mr Forsyth has no proof for this claim.

He suspected foul play as soon as he got back home to his farm in Berkshire and discovered that his wife's computer had ceased to function.

He claims his suspicions were confirmed to him by his sources - the mysterious people who inform his thriller writing, whom he likes to describe as his "friends in low places".

"Everything up there in the ether is intercepted, probably by the National Security Agency at Fort Meade in Maryland, and I think my report ended up somewhere on a desk at Fort Meade," he says.

He thinks they assumed he might be involved in the attempted coup in Guinea-Bissau in some way because he had previous experience in the region, and had written about a fictional coup in Equatorial Guinea in The Dogs of War.

Not only that, but he had discussed the details of such a coup in 1973 with real-life plotters and given them money in return for information. The coup never materialised as the participants were arrested before it came off.

But Frederick Forsyth believes the security services have long memories.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde badly, to be involved in one West African coup attempt and for that to be found out might be considered a misfortune, but to be caught up in what appears to be a second West African coup attempt looks like carelessness.

You can watch the full interview on Wednesday 18 August 2010 on the BBC News Channel at 0230 and 0430 BST and on BBC World News at 0330, 0830, 1530, 1930 GMT



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SEE ALSO
Author stumbles on G-Bissau drama
03 Mar 09 |  Africa
Country profile: Guinea-Bissau
25 Dec 10 |  Country profiles


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