Books about intelligence services, operations and people are
enduringly popular. The author was the wife of the founder and
Director of MI5 . Highly Recommended.
NAME: Secret Well Kept. The story of Sir Vernon Kell, Founder of MI5
AUTHOR: Constance Kell
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: British Empire, Boxer Rebellion, arms race, spies, counter
spies, intelligence, counter intelligence, home security, German
aggression, drift to war
DESCRIPTION: Books about intelligence services, operations and people
are enduringly popular. The author was the wife of the founder and
Director of MI5 . Highly Recommended.
Although books about intelligence operations are always very popular,
many are of dubious provenance. This book is an exception, oozing
authority, but a book that almost never made it into print. Lady Kell
wrote the book, but never offered it for publication. We can only
speculate about her motives, but her great granddaughter Caroline
Coverdale is sure that it was always intended to be published. As with
a number of valuable documents from 'those who were there' it was an
accidental discovery after the writer's death, found in the attic with
the old photo albums. A very fortunate accident.
England had a very effective counter intelligence organization as long
ago as Elizabeth I and it followed a number of similar organizations
that stretch back into Saxon England. Wellington depended heavily on
his 'exploring officers' in the Peninsular War to provide intelligence
and counter intelligence. MI5 was therefore following a long tradition,
but its creation was to be a very important event that recognised the
threats from terrorists, the rising threat of European War, and the
need to provide a highly professional service that matched the changes
in communication and intelligence gathering.
This book is an engaging story of Sir Vernon Kell by his wife and in
several respects it is something of a love story that begins with the
Boxer Rebellion in China. It is also a social history that is a
captivating and an important addition to the history of MI5.
Sir Vernon Kell was an extraordinary man, a linguist and the man who
founded MI5 and then led it as Director for an amazing 31 years.
The modern British intelligence services are well-known and not known
at all. The nature of their work shrouds them in mystery and when
information about them emerges it can be very difficult to know how
much is factual, how much is guess work and how much is deliberate
misinformation from the services themselves. When a book like this
surfaces, it provides many fresh insights and carries the mantel of
authority, making it especially valuable.
When Kell set up MI5, it was at a time of extreme danger for Britain
from a great many sources. The obvious threats came from the Irish
Republicans and the Germans, but friends and enemies have always
spied on each other, so the threats were even wider. The Royal Navy
was building its own naval intelligence operations that was mainly
directed at Germany and German naval and aviation technology. A vital
understanding was the part that wireless would play in future wars
and how aerial reconnaissance provided new opportunities to rapidly
gain current information that had been previously impossible. To
address this, the Royal Navy set up monitoring stations that were
listening for messages from around the world and not only attempting
to understand the signal content, but to also understand the
information imparted by traffic levels. Those skills became traffic
analysis, coupled with pattern analysis and threat analysis. Today we
tend to think of this critical intelligence as SIGINT and ELINT but
it is essentially based on the work of DNI and of MI5. Both
organizations also depended on field agents which today we refer to
Where DNI used its wireless monitoring stations to detect signals
and direction-find on the source of the signals, MI5 had to draw
information from a diverse range of additional sources as it strove
to provide homeland security and counter-intelligence.
Lady Kell has provided and extraordinary insight into the operations
of MI5 and covered a period of this service's history that has
received virtually no previous coverage.