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Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 Paperback – 5 Sep 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; New Ed edition (5 Sep 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099436728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099436720
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.3 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 13,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stella Rimington joined the Security Service (MI5) in 1968. During her career she worked in all the main fields of the Service: counter-subversion, counter-espionage and counter-terrorism. She was appointed Director General in 1992, the first woman to hold the post. She has written her autobiography and three Liz Carlyle novels.

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Amazon Review

You have to admire the cheek of Open Secret's author Stella Rimington. After a career spanning 25 years in MI5, during which she was more than happy for the Official Secrets Acts to be used to the government's advantage, she is now outraged that attempts should have been made to block publication of her memoirs and is calling for the act to be reformed. In an extended preface to Open Secret, Rimington writes of her encounter with Cabinet secretary, Sir Richard Wilson, "By the end of an hour or so of being threatened, bullied and cajoled in the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger way the Establishment behaves to its recalcitrant sons and, as I now know, daughters, I was very shaken". One wonders what else she expected? The thought of any former director-general of MI5 writing his or her memoirs was bound to have disturbed the security services and, compared to many, Rimington got off lightly. But then, whatever else she might think, Rimington is still very much an Establishment woman. She submitted her manuscript for vetting, took out one or two edgy bits, and as she disarmingly points out, there are no revelations about the inner workings of the intelligence services. When she gets to any contentious issues, such as MI5's role in infiltrating CND and breaking the miners' strike, all she has to say is that MI5 never did anything wrong, that that those who say otherwise are conspiracy theorists and that we'll just have to take her word for it because she's right. The portrait that emerges of a bunch of mildly incompetent bureaucrats who wouldn't say boo to a goose does no favours to Rimington or MI5. The books does have its moments, particularly those describing a woman isolated in an almost exclusively male world, but its real significance lies in the fact it was published at all. If the director-general is allowed to go public, there's precious little to stop the MI5 foot soldiers doing likewise. And when they do, the skeletons that Rimington has kept firmly locked in the cupboard might start to come tumbling out. --John Crace --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Was she right to publish? Most certainly. If we are to have a mature attitude to our intelligence services, we need this kind of inside account - it is vital in stripping away mystique and building understanding" (Daily Telegraph)

"Stella Rimington deserves our thanks for resisting the bullying of the cabinet office and many of her colleagues and associates in Whitehall, and pushing on to publication" (New Statesman)

"She writes in a refreshingly self-deprecating style of juggling the roles of single parent and chief "spook"" (Independent on Sunday)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By M. Hillmann on 14 Mar 2009
Format: Paperback
As the book progressed my disappointment grew at the content. I expect autobiographies of high achieving people who think the world revolves around them to fill the first few chapters with decidedly uninteresting personal history - although my theory that achievement arises from hardship or trauma in childhood - was born out. Stella is interesting about the fear and privations of a wartime child who lived through the blitz in Liverpool and Barrow and about the effects of the first world war injury on her father. But this book never flowered.

Some of the descriptions of the reaction of the KGB on a visit to Moscow post fall of the Berlin Wall are interesting and the difficulties of operating a Security Service in a democracy are thought provoking. Where do you draw the line between acceptable domestic protest and actions designed to undermine democracy and elected government - for example at the time of the miner's strike and Aurthur Scargill versus Maggie Thatcher? Some of the management issues of running and organisation like the MI5, I found interesting. Her complimentary comments on Whitehall and the calibre of civil servants and the difficult job they did were refreshing.

But there is so little about the IRA campaign which clearly became the major preoccupation of the MI5 post Cold War or of the growth of concern of terrorism (although she retired before Al Quaeda hit the headlines).

It is only when you read the Postcript that you realise why it is such an unsatisfactory book. For the ex head of MI5 to write an autobiography was a cause of agonising in Whitehall. The book clearly spent 6 months being circulated in government and civil service circles with everybody cutting out the bit they did not like or they regarded as compromising.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By F. S. L'hoir TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 14 Mar 2008
Format: Paperback
I purchased this book after hearing an interview with Ms. Rimington on BBC 4, and I must say, I found her engaging both on the radio and in print. She is a talented writer, whose eventful life--from childhood during the blitz, through her days as a diplomatic wife in India; her experiences as an archivist; and her almost accidental career in MI5 [the old-school-tie male bastion which she penetrated with panache]--is related with considerable charm and humor (essential requirements for being an effective spy).

On the back of the book, under a series of rave blurbs is a negative one by an individual of the male persuasion, whose non-endorsement guaranteed my determination to read the book. And I quote: "The most effective Secret Service is the one which is secret. She should shut up."

Well, that horse was stolen from the barn years ago, and the service that once dared not speak its name has long since--thanks to ex-intelligence officers writing their memoirs right and left--become the service that will not shut up!

Stella Rimington, the intelligent woman who made it to the director-generalship of MI5, adds a refreshing perspective to the male-dominated literature of British intelligence.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 27 Sep 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I expected more insight into the workings of MI5 than this book provides. You have to remember when buying this book that this woman has lived a life that is far longer than the time spent in MI5, and well over half of the book is dedicated to that life. Whilst I found it a pleasant read, it wasn't the gripping tale of machinations within MI5 that I'd hoped. I suppose it was only to be expected, as it would never have found it's way to the publishing house if it contained anything meaty about MI5.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Curns VINE VOICE on 16 Jun 2003
Format: Paperback
The preface to the paperback edition of Open Secret talks of the challenges the security forces face combatting global terrorism. It's an interesting analysis of the problems facing governments and democracies worldwide but, unfortunately, it doesn't really set the tone for the rest of the book. The remainder is less threat-analysis and much more biographical.
The very personal nature of the book, and thus the lack of James Bond style bad-guy chasing, is only a disappointment to those who haven't read anything about it. Open Secret does not set itself up to be a great spy catcher novel. It is the truly fascinating tale of a woman who appeared to join the Secret Service because she couldn't really think of anything else to do and became the "housewife super-spy".
Stella Rimington nicely touches on some of the history if MI5 and its role during the wars (world and cold) without turning Open Secret into a detailed historical work. It's not a technical manual for sleuths either, nor does it contain the great revelations about our Secret Services than some have made out. It is a wonderful insight into the workings of a world that, at least for the part of her time, Stella could not admit existed. She tells of the struggles to bring up a family single-handed while battling the internal workings of a Service that did not expect women to rise to the top. It's a fascinating insight and, perhaps, inspiring to some. Certainly it's a book that, this reader at least, is very glad made got through the censorship.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Mike on 11 Oct 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a biography of the woman who ran MI5. It isn't a novel by Tom Clancy and it isn't a full analysis of the structure and methods of the Security Services.
It gives insight into the mind and values of the woman who was very successful within the security services of the 1970's and 1980's. She shows modesty and commitment - rising from part-time Office junior to Head of the Service via hard work and personal sacrifice (especially family relationships and financial).
The book tells us much about English attitudes, the cult of the 'Amateur,' and how many fall by the wayside on the path to the top - lacking commitment or realising that the effort is not justified by the reward.
It will make you question how and why people get to the top in British politics and administration. Americans, in particular, will be stunned by her candour (and poverty)
We need more books like this - real biographies talking about genuine biographical issues as opposed to post-rationalised self-promotion. With more women taking the top roles in Society, let's hope we will get these more honest stories.
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