Spying taken to a lower level in shopping malls

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 August, 2009, 12:00am

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong has a deserved reputation for grass-roots work in its strongholds, helping supporters with their problems and advancing their causes. It is a pastoral side of politics that goes largely unnoticed. That was the case recently when party volunteers gathered around escalators in shopping malls to do some research.

When it emerged what they were researching, however, it became front-page news.

In the name of public morality, they were looking for 'black spots' that offered a clear view up women's skirts and put women at risk of exposing themselves to peeping Toms and their mobile-phone cameras. They identified six shopping malls and the Convention and Exhibition Centre. A party spokeswoman explained that this very original initiative was inspired by the increasing incidence of such crimes.

A peeping Tom is someone who spies secretly on another. So you could say the DAB members, mostly women organised by the party's women's committee, were spying on the spies. Only they were doing it openly as a public service.

It was not always like that in Hong Kong. The city used to be known as a theatre of cold-war espionage, featuring agents, double agents, intrigue and betrayal. The 'great game', as aficionados of espionage dubbed it, spiced up the city's image as a bridge between East and West, for example, through popular fictional versions such as John Le Carre's The Honourable Schoolboy.

Sadly, the DAB's spycatchers include no one to compare to the likes of old Craw, a colourful Le Carre character with links to British intelligence who held court at Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents' Club and is said to have been inspired by Australian expatriate Richard Hughes, who died in 1984.

Some things have not changed much, however. There are still spies in our midst, though they work smarter with modern technology and generally avoid hair-raising cold-war scrapes.

And they still need a cover story to mask their real activities. The DAB spies' cover story of social research would have sounded risible coming from a man. The decision to assign women spies to the fieldwork showed the tradecraft of a spymaster.

That said, the DAB dossier makes cautionary reading for unsuspecting women. But there is no need to lock up your daughters. In any case, there's no stopping a woman who wants to go shopping.