The author has been responsible for an extensive portfolio of intelligence books to the extent that he has been described as the official historian of the British Secret Service. The secret wireless war is one of the most important aspects of modern state craft and military posture. – Most Highly Recommended.
The author has tackled in this book the most secret, most important and most misunderstood area of modern intelligence that has had an impact far beyond even that remit. Britain has been, and remains, at the forefront of this activity and is a critical member of the Five Eyes nations who share intelligence in a unique manner. The Royal Navy was the key organization in the early days from the turn of the Twentieth Century. The Admiralty very quickly understood the importance of radio communications as a force extender and as a potential vulnerability. Being able to communicate directly and immediately with a warship on the other side of the world was a game changer. Previously, a warship captain had in effect been his own nation in time of war. The Admiralty might have issued sealed orders, but the captain sailed out of sight and communications. The further he sailed the more conditions may have changed without him being aware and, equally, conditions may have changed a long way from home port without the Admiralty being aware. The result was that much depended on the initiative of the ships captain or the squadron commander. The old advice was that “a captain could do little wrong in laying close alongside the enemy”, but it did not mention that if the war had turned to peace the captain would be held responsible for attacking the ship of another nation even though he still did not know the changed situation. Updating the distant warship at the speed of light was a huge advantage, as was the ability of a captain to provide local intelligence to the Admiralty. Inevitably, other navies would soon acquire the same technology and the Admiralty saw the new arms race opening. More significantly they immediately understood the dangers. If the RN could triangulate onto radio transmissions from an enemy ship to locate it and direct British warships to that location, an enemy could do the same thing to a British ship. If a message was transmitted from ship to shore or from ship to ship, an enemy could intercept the message and understand its contents. However it was not necessary to know the content of radio messages to know that the enemy was about to do something. Just monitoring channels and detecting changes in traffic levels would provide vital information. All of the things that the British Admiralty understood about the advantages and dangers of radio communications before WWI are still valid more than a hundred years later. The arms race they foresaw continues to this day and increases in intensity every year to the point where it could even replace warfare that has been waged with traditional weapons. What is now known as GCHQ is much larger than its better known sister organizations, MI5 and MI6. It is also a multi-national organization that is paid for by both US and British taxpayers and is very closely linked to the intelligence services in Canada, New Zealand and Australia, with officers of all of these countries spending time on secondment to intelligence services of these sister countries. This was all threatened by the European Union's attempt to build its own military and intelligence services. BREXIT not only saved Great Britain from becoming a colony ruled by the EU, but it also saved its key place in the Five Eyes alliance. The author reveals many pieces of information that are not widely known, even at a professional level about what is now GCHQ, but there is also a very great deal that he does not reveal and that is understandable in the nature of intelligence. Even some items from before WWII are still very sensitive for technical, political or military reasons and are likely to remain that way for a very long time to come. When Churchill spirited technology to the US at the end of WWII it was to protect it from disclosure to the the Soviets by the post-war Labour Government. The ineptitude of the Atlee Labour Government was to lose Britain its lead in the development of programmable electronic computers and related communications systems and that was potentially one of the enormous opportunities that sprang from British invention during WWII in breaking German codes. There are several versions of how GCHQ got its name as it took over from Bletchley Park, that had taken over from The British Codes and Cyphers School, that had taken over from the Admiralty and DNI. If it was an attempt to lead the Soviets into thinking it was just a research centre for the GPO to develop the public telegraph and telephone networks it didn't work, with KGB and GRU agents having regular bookings a hotel close the GCHQ Benhall site. The US funding emerged under the US Public Information legislation that not only disclosed how much funding from the US CIA, NSA and DIA was received by GCHQ but also provided a very good indication of just how much GCHQ cost. GCHQ is an interesting and complex structure that covers radio and other communications monitoring from a network of intercept and surveillance sites, the breaking of codes in intercepted communications and the writing of codes for use by the British Government and quazi governmental organizations like the NHS. It also does other things and CESG, within its structure, is responsible for duties including the accreditation of information systems used by British public organizations and cooperation internationally in developing International Common Criteria for the evaluation of information systems in terms of resistance to attack. The author has lifted the covers at least at the corner and provided the clearest review of GCHQ and its predecessors in a publicly available book. This includes photographs of some monitoring sites which may come as a surprise to some, although it doesn't include linked and shared sites in the British Isles and in other countries. As has been demonstrated by the Chinese Wuhan 19 Pandemic, and murders on British soil by agents of Russian intelligence agencies, Britain and its allies still face major threats from other nations and monitoring signals and breaking codes is still as vital today as it has been over the last hundred years. In addition, to these threats, we now face threats from a multitude of terror organizations that depend on the Internet as their communications network. As in 1945 when the monitoring capability remained valid through the Cold War, the forms of threats are no less after the end of the Cold War and the period covered by the author. The details of the technology may change and involve much greater volumes of traffic, but the basic principles developed by Britain before WWII are still valid and even some elderly equipment proves very useful from time to time in today's fight.