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The Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of the MI5

The Authorised History of MI5: The Defence of the Realm
by Professor Christopher Andrew

Reviewed by Soraiya Qadir

Published on 5th Oct. 2009 by Allen Lane (Sterling 30/- hardback).
80, Strand, London SC2R 0RL

In 2002, in preparation for its centenary, the MI5 decided to authorise an independent scholar to write its open history. Professor Christopher Andrew, Britain’s leading historian of intelligence, was given unrestricted access to its almost 400,000 files. Hence the book contains some 2000 references to previously unpublished documents in the MI5 archives. The book also contains recollections of former MI5 officers. These, together with Professor Andrew’s unique knowledge of the intelligence world, make The Defence of the Realm
, the most authoritative and outstanding record of any secret service.  It sheds new light on many aspects of colonial and international history over the past century.

Like the world community of intelligence services, MI5, the Security Service of the United Kingdom was shrouded in mystery till the passing of the Security Services Act in 1989, when the last taboo of British politics was broken and the secret services were placed on a statutory footing.

The MI5 was created in 1909, with a staff of two and given the responsibility of ‘defending the realm’ against Germany’s and Russia’s supporters within the UK. During the two world wars and the interwar period, the intelligence cell’s task was to counter the German intelligence operations and Soviet espionage. The Soviet Union during the cold war period proved to be an indomitable foe and it was not until the early ‘70’s that the Service gained the upper hand. At the turn of the century, the Security Service turned its attention to counter terrorists, first the IRA and then the post 9/11 Islamic extremists.

The book records some amazing information – how well informed MI5 was about Hitler’s intentions, how 25 German agents were turned into double agents, the 30-year search for the identities of the Cambridge Five, the three Labour MPs, who turned out to be ‘crypto-Communists’ during the first Wilson government in the early 1960s, , the KGB relationship of the distinguished trade union leader, Jack Jones, MI5 operations during the Thatcher years, the key role that women, such as Jane Sissmore, MI5’s first female officer, have played throughout the service’s history…..

At the end the book assesses how outstanding the Service has been in scoring remarkable successes, but also records some failures. It provides that long-term perspective into the work of this previously extremely secretive organisation.

About the Author:
Professor Christopher Andrew is Britain’s leading historian of intelligence, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History and former Chair of the Faculty of History at Cambridge University. He is also chair of the British Intelligence Study Group, Founding Co-Editor of ‘Intelligence and National Security, former Visiting Professor at Harvard, Toronto and the Australian National University and a regular presenter of BBC Radio and TV documentaries. His 15 previous books include the ‘Mitrokhin Archives’ and a number of path-breaking studies on the use and abuse of secret intelligence in modern history.

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