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.
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.