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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Empire Strikes Back
Empire of Secrets is a most absorbing book. The material, mightily researched, is carefully presented in a clear, coherent and structured manner which makes exceptionally engaging reading. Calder Walton has most certainly selected a most interesting subject in an arena that has almost exclusively been overshadowed by the intelligence aspects of the more direct Cold War...
Published 22 months ago by C. H. Maginniss

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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Looking Back Darkly
There is much of interest in this book. The author has obviously spent much time in researching prime sources and has a done a good job in presenting his subject in a readable and informative fashion. It is a pity that to arrive at an absorbing narrative he has felt it necessary to look at his object through a liberal-left tinted lens of fifty years of hindsight. One...
Published 22 months ago by Exmilman


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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Empire Strikes Back, 26 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire (Hardcover)
Empire of Secrets is a most absorbing book. The material, mightily researched, is carefully presented in a clear, coherent and structured manner which makes exceptionally engaging reading. Calder Walton has most certainly selected a most interesting subject in an arena that has almost exclusively been overshadowed by the intelligence aspects of the more direct Cold War confrontation between the Superpowers. I am particularly intrigued by his historical comparisons with current events, which offer another view of the past and there are most certainly lessons which keep being relearned.

I have though, three observations. First, the consistent, irritating and inappropriate use of the words back to, actually, himself, itself and outfits, detract from the otherwise eloquent flow of the manuscript. Secondly, there are several errors of fact, which whilst not interrupting the thrust of his arguments make one wonder whether there might be others that do. This point lucidly illustrates that with a study of this size and scope, a competent multi-disciplinary team is essential in ensuring accuracy. Thirdly, the author's personal ethics subtly creep into the narrative, an issue compounded by his propensity to analyse some issues through the legal perspective of the 21st Century rather than the period. In this respect, Calder Walton has not quite made the transition from court lawyer to intelligence historian.

These observations aside, Calder Walton is to be highly commended for bringing to life a forgotten component of our recent history, in a thoroughly focused manner. I am sure that this very significant study will lay the foundations for future research in this fascinating area, especially as more material is released into the public domain. I thoroughly recommend his book to those who are interested in Cold War intelligence operations and the British withdrawal from Empire.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A shocking and detailed account of the end of empire, 26 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire (Hardcover)
Other reviewers have given this book a low rating and made various criticisms, but Walton's book deserves better. He has uncovered a shameful set of episodes in British history, effectively debunking the 'we were so nice to the natives, unlike those nasty Belgians & French' myth. Those who say that times have changed and that the author is viewing events through modern 'liberal lefty' focus fail to understand why it has taken so long to uncover this story - it's because those responsible for the torture policy knew that they were doing wrong and wanted to cover it up. Walton has done a pretty good job in bringing this story to light. As Walton shows, British intelligence outfits in WWII resisted attempts to use torture of captured German and other Axis prisoners. People knew then that torture was morally wrong as well as ineffective in gaining reliable intelligence.

Apart from the gut-wrenching accounts of torture, Walton demonstrates how an failed strategy of repression was enthusiastically enforced time and again and always with the same failed outcome. Walton also draws attention to occasions when alternative approaches were pursued.

I do have one minor criticism regarding his misunderstanding of the nature of Ultra intelligence in WWII which he states, incorrectly, was synonymous with Enigma decrypts. He fails to mention and indeed seems unaware of the Lorenz/Geheimschreiber decrypts which provided the strategic intelligence within the Ultra classification. Similarly his comment on Alan Turing's theoretical work, which he relates to the Bombe used to help in Engima decrypts, is dubious. But, such minor errors do not affect the overall value of this most important book on the end of empire in the last decade and more.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Looking Back Darkly, 11 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire (Hardcover)
There is much of interest in this book. The author has obviously spent much time in researching prime sources and has a done a good job in presenting his subject in a readable and informative fashion. It is a pity that to arrive at an absorbing narrative he has felt it necessary to look at his object through a liberal-left tinted lens of fifty years of hindsight. One cannot really apply modern views on civil and human rights to actions taking place in earlier days when hanging, flogging and detention were approved legal measures. He bewails the Government decision not to open the archives after 1965 - the obvious good reason is that a lot of which they contain is still live, and could prejudice current policy or operations, although one has sympathy for the view that historians as well as official "weeders" should be involved in the decision whether or not to grant access. It is also a pity that his style is jarred by his too frequent habit of referring to organisations and units as "outfits" - hardly an elegant term. The author's sterling research efforts would have benefited from a more concise, independent and less censorious treatment but the facts it contains, and its breadth of coverage commend this book to the serious historian and casual reader alike.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A barristers first book., 5 Mar 2014
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Robert Hoyle (Spain) - See all my reviews
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Written like a thesis, however when I taight Masters students it would not have got a B.
For example-in the first 33 pages....;.these are a few of many errors.
Arab Bureau ESTABLISHED by T.E.Lawrence ! Try established by Sykes and Clayton as the Head.
The author should consider Peter Hopkirk's Secret Service East of Constantinople - not in Biography.
It is NOT QUITE true that ' the ENTIRE BEF was evacuated from Dunkirk,......or that Poland was invaded by
German and Soviet forces TOGETHER!
U hope Andrews was luckier with the research -the 12 Bibliography mentions were noted
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars New take on spying and empire, 4 April 2013
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Walton deserves four stars for putting together two well known topics - espionage and end of empire, and coming up with a new take on both. Many of the sources (official documents) are new, making the book feel fresh. I liked his argument that intelligence links were an effective - and cheap - way of prolonging British influence in the former empire. And that many of Britain's end of empire failures were intelligence failures - particularly failing to predict or infiltrate anti-colonial movements, in Cyprus, Kenya etc, or learn lessons from past failures. There is a short, but informative, history of British intelligence, and a straightforward country by country (Palestine, Cyprus, Malaya, Suez etc) account of events, which is easy to follow and allows comparisons.

That said, I do see why some reviewers were less kind. I could have lived without strained analogies with 21st century torture and rendition (see Alastair Horne's 'A Savage War of Peace' about Algeria for a better condemnation of torture). This may grate on some readers. And he often seemed amazed that spies spy on people. By relying on written sources, mostly on MI5, the story sometimes feels dry, and incomplete (eg in comparison to Gordon Correra's 'The Art of Betrayal' on MI6 after WW2, full of first hand accounts and detail).

But the topic and thesis helped me overlook that, and I found it a fast and fascinating read that made me think a little differently about Britain's exit from empire.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling background to the development of secret intelligence networks in Britain, 9 Mar 2014
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Amazon Customer "Sussman" (London CA) - See all my reviews
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The author is good at making connections; he shows how the cypher school at Bletchley Park in a way evolves into the beginnings of what is become to days GCHQ since the end of the Second World War. It is clearly shown in declassified documents from 2011 show that the NSA and GCHQ agreed share certain amounts of information between them. The author investigations lead to what was intelligence for? What does this process generate in terms of evidence? With the generation of this evidence, how was this impacted upon by small group, which were hung up on their own obsessions and thus unable to see the bigger picture. It must be noted that the coverage of Empire of Secrets ends in the mid-1960s, not because the narrative ends there - but because the records going beyond this point have yet to be de-classified.

The author of this book has produced a good academic facts based history, which is also very readable. A tome that provides an enthralling background to the development of secret intelligence networks in Britain.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Brutal Vision of British Decolonisation, 21 May 2013
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This review is from: Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire (Hardcover)
Guantanamo Bay, dirty tricks in Latin America (USA); the assassinations of Trotsky, President Yuschenko of Ukraine, former spy Litvinenko (ex USSR & present day Russia);the kidnappings of Eichmann, and the nuclear scientist Vanunu to stand trial (Israel). These are some brutal examples of secret services being used by nations to conduct war by other means. But Britain? Occasionally, relatives of victims of "small wars" make the headlines trying to obtain answers and compensation for past crimes. Surely that's nothing to do with the military, or is it?

Since the discovery of official "lost" colonial records in April 2012, at Hanslope Park, near Milton Keynes (and close to Bletchley), Calder Walton has been able to join the dots mapped by Christopher Andrew in his official history of the MI5 The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5and shed light onto secrets of the last days of the British Empire as FW Winterbotham The Ultra Secret.did in the early 1970s when he revealed the existence of Ultra, so changing thereafter the history of the Second World War.

A year before, the text of the UKUSA Agreement brokered between Britain and the USA through CGHQ and the NSA in 1946 was disclosed, which meant that British intelligence would work as a very junior partner with the US for the common good in the new Cold War crusade. It also meant that when Britain gave up its colonies beginning with the Indian sub continent in the 1940s it was laying the foundations of a pro US post-war system, something which the Soviets mouthing their ideology always maintained. This study takes us into the offices and minds of MI5 officers in our former colonies.

Before every handover they worked together with future political heads and officials offering guidance for future gathering and sharing intelligence. Unfortunately, it signified that should Britain later decide that it could not formally maintain the upkeep of listening bases, as it did in Cyprus after 1974, America would compel its partner to continue to bear the heavy costs (to date for a further 40 years) until other official arrangements were concluded with the sovereign state. For a country, like America, which formally disapproves of colonialism, this discovery underlines it has prolonged the age of decolonisation for Britain, and legitimised its own neo-imperialism.

It has meant that should locals choose to elect populist, revolutionary Marxist leaders to rule the colony on independence, such as described in British Guiana in the late 1950s and 60s, Britain could either be pressurised in cancelling elections, or refusing to accept the result, showing no concern if America interfered as it does in its "sphere" in Latin America in the country's internal affairs by promoting disorder, strikes, bombings, and out-right support for a more appeasing alternative. The US backed Burnham was pushed ahead of the popular Jagan, and once in power he changed the electoral system, got away with rigging elections, and tore the Guyanan economy apart for 20 years. Good for Guyana, Britain, or for the US?

As the documents stop in the 1960s, it would be interesting to know what was actually agreed to behind closed doors despite her strong public protests between Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan over the invasion of Grenada in October 1983, and if anyone listened in 1980 to the advice given by Ian Smith about promoting the educated Robert Mugabe as the people's choice for a black-run Zimbabwe.

Most of the volume is an examination of failures (possibly like no news is good news) in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, and in Aden, where intelligence organization was either poor or non-existent. There the British officials often sent out the military too hastily, carrying out plans without bothering to try out the "hearts and minds" lessons which emerged from emergencies in other areas of the globe. Consequently, any fears of trouble and uprisings provoked further violence and war. Conditions only started to be normalised when a better system of intelligence was effected. Among the operations included the setting up of detention centres, defined as "rehabilitation" camps -in Kenya they were compared to the Soviet Gulags; the forced resettlement of villages or "villagisation" to break the link between insurgents and supporters on the ground; the over-zealous use of reprisals and atrocities: the killing of 25 citizens by 2nd Bn of the Scots Guards in December 1948 at Batang Kal, in Selangor, has been compared with the My Lai massacre in Vietnam for the US; the use of "third degree" interrogation, with physical and mental violence, branding, even the threat of or actual executions, and should it have been necessary, as during the Second World War, the transfer of suspects to centres outside the area or the country - like those the US are currently using at Guantanomo Bay today, to effect further questioning by more trained, uncaring military professionals.

The author indicates that "sexing up" i.e. the abuse and misuse of intelligence by Prime Minister Blair alone, or together with spin doctor Campbell prior to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 on "weapons of mass destruction", was nothing unique or without a precedent in Britain's imperial post-war history. As it was known that the enemy could be around every corner, it was to Britain's advantage to dress every conflict in terms of the Cold War, and divert the US towards Britain's decolonising strategy. In 1953 Britain managed to persuade the US to intervene in Iran when the nationalist Premier Mossadeq announced the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil company, and to protect British interests they spun a false story that it was important to force regime change to halt the spread of Communism; instead, three years later, in October 1956, not being able to lure Eisenhower and the US to regime change by toppling President Nasser, and finding assassination with Bond-type gadgets too risky to accomplish, Eden was forced to go it more alone in collusion with France and Israel to invade Egypt.

Suez has since been considered the most embarrassing foreign incident in British history - Eisenhower and the US decided, stood up with the rest of the world and blow righteous wrath against an anachronism as colonialism, which in turn brought the resignation of Prime Minister Eden, the rise of Nasser; it cooled the Special relationship with the US, and had Macmillan not temporarily taken a more accommodating line it might have ended the relationship, as well as may have changed the ongoing peaceful transfer of intelligence in the colonies and the role of Britain as a major power even sooner.

Walton has explained that he and other historians will face many problems. The principal one is that many records were destroyed before independence, with the more sensitive documents re-written as dummy files so as not to arouse suspicion about missing records. The "originals" he was told were sent to Britain on the grounds of the general term of "national security", though there is no guarantee that what survived in the boxes at Hanslope Park were the real originals or copies of doctored versions. If someone was ordered to doctor history, who says it was not done again, and again. The is a whiff of Big Brother in little Britain.

As a historian and a teacher the author states that history can act as a guide for the present, as well as a warning for the future. Only when all the records are made public will people learn the lessons of the past, to prevent them being repeated. In reality, in a sense there is a feeling that he is pessimistic, as when that occurs it will only be a shadow or a partial vision of the past will be revealed. Besides, the further away from the period, the less certain individuals feel past lessons of colonial imperial times are relevant in a far more liberal, equal environment.

It is important to view life through the eyes of a very understanding forgiving protagonist, such as Nelson Mandela in South Africa, or of the mention things HM Queen Elizabeth has also addressed during her visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011. After admitting of costly past mistakes and sacrifices by all sides, it is vital for people and countries to remember to move forward. An open history of secrets of a past empire through Empire of Secrets will be illuminating in order to build something new; so even Walton's partial vision is a step towards a better understanding of something previously less or totally unknown. It should never be used as the seed of future hatreds, otherwise it is destructive, and to be avoided. This book then is a must for journalists in our instant 24 hour news society, demanding lively feedback in blogs, emails, and informal social network groups, the function in the past of political parties and institutionalised associations.

Finally, it is not as it is claimed in the inside flap reminiscent of a Le Carré novel. Calder Walton helps both historians and readers of spy-fiction to review John Le Carrè's novels better: to distinguish the historical fact from the fiction, which is the heart of Le Carré, and it is this which makes Walton's new work highly praiseworthy and well-recommended.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book well worth the money., 1 April 2013
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This review is from: Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire (Hardcover)
This book was a fast read for me.Once started I found it hard to put down.
I'm now in my early 70's and so several incidents like Mau Mau riots in Kenya, EOKA , in Cyprus, as examples ,were in my
early years and I did not appreciate what was happening. This well written account has brought me up to date and put
many pieces in the jig saw.
The book is well worth the money and I shall look out for more from Calder Watson.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A lot of material that could have been better presented., 31 July 2013
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As an avid reader of modern history, I was looking forward to reading this book, and gaining insights into the development of the post-war world.
The book does contain a great deal of material, but it is poorly written (more like a thesis than a book). There is much repetition and the book was twice as long as it should have been.
It was utterly boring.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 1 July 2014
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Excellent
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