MI6, British Secret Intelligence Service Operations 1909-1945

The author has developed a reputation for authoritative histories of the British Intelligence Services with unusual access to their records. This book charts the development of MI6 from 1909 to 1945, during which period it faced the task of gathering information through an arms race and two World Wars. – Most Highly Recommended.

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There has been much debate, some histories and a slew of novels about British 
Intelligence but very little is actually known. Every now and again, the corner of the 
blanket is raised to provide a brief look. In the process, it is never entirely clear 
whether the information being disclosed is historically, or operationally, accurate, or 
how much is disinformation being slipped out by the Intelligence Services. The author 
has been described by some as the unofficial historian for the intelligence services of 
Great Britain and his books have a ring of accuracy.

The art of gathering intelligence is as old as time. In England, Elizabeth Tudor had a 
fine intelligence service under Walsingham that spread its tentacles through the British 
Isles and across Europe. It successfully identified a series of plots and dealt with the 
plotters. It also proved very accurate in predicting the actions of European powers and 
in spreading disinformation. It was not the first English intelligence service and it 
continued on, becoming British with the Union of Crowns and surviving the twists 
and turns of Succession.

By the late Nineteenth Century, Britain faced the first real threat since the defeat and 
exile of Napoleon. German  ambitions were clearly destabilizing Europe and war 
seemed unavoidable. It coincided with a series of major revolutions in military 
technology. The military and the Government realized that the intelligence gathering 
capabilities needed to be significantly enhanced and better funded. The arms race had 
to be carefully monitored so that Britain had counters for new German weapons 
according to priorities. In particular the German airship building program had to be 
watched and understood, with the Royal Navy devoting more funds to gathering 
intelligence on the Zeppelin program than on the German battleship building plans.

This resulted in the creation of MI6 and MI5, leading to a series of misunderstandings 
in the public domain as to what these organizations were and what other intelligence 
operations existed. This became even more confused during World War Two when 
Churchill encouraged the formation of a number of private 'armies' to take the fight to 
the Germans after the Dunkirk evacuations. In popular wisdom, it is often assumed 
that MI5 is an internal counter espionage operation and MI6 is the overseas 
intelligence service. In reality there has always been some friction and competition 
between the two organizations even to the point of each employing double agents to 
keep an eye on the other service. When Churchill expanded the intelligence and 
covert attack facilities, SOE became a competitor for both MI5 and MI6. There was 
not much love lost and the established services looked down on SOE as a bunch of 
rank amateurs who got under their feet and were a danger to all. While SOE was 
trying to set up Resistance groups in Occupied Europe and supplying them with 
training and equipment it was frequently at the expense of MI6. Into that locked the 
Special Forces, the Commandos and the SAS amongst a number of private armies, 
and also drew on facilities of the RN, RAF and Army.

Just to add to the complications, MI6 was maintaining back-channel communications 
with the German Abwehr that was fighting its own internal conflicts with the SS-SD 
and the GESTAPO. Every one seemed to be trying to turn opposing agents and 
running double and triple agents. Attempting to produce a reasonably complete and 
accurate history of any of these groups is not for the faint hearted and much 
information has either never been recorded, was recorded but destroyed at the end of 
WWII, was recorded and is still sealed. The author has produced a very convincing 
history out of this fog for MI6. It makes fascinating reading , dispels myth and legend 
and indicates the scale of the operations.