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on 14 August 2011
This has to be the most poorly edited book I've ever read. It's structure is all over the place - jumping around, introducing endless lists of names who appear and then disappear never to be mentioned again, spanning continents decades and different agencies all within a few pages. It also has large chunks of the book devoted to topics nothing to do with the history of MI5 or MI6 - there's chapters worth of material on the CIA, sometimes with tenuous links to the UK, and often with no obvious reason for inclusion.

The IRA mainland bombing campaign (surely a main area of MI5 operation?) are largely passed over. The 7-7 bombings are afforded half a sentence - despite being arguably the most significant attack on mainland Britain since the war, and involving both MI5 and MI6 to a great extent. There is also no mention of extra-ordinary rendition and secret service complicity in torture. There is however an entire chapter focused on 9-11 and another on the US embassy bombings - which gives the impression (pervasive throughout the book) that this has been written by an expert on US intelligence, and everything has to be seen through the prism of America and relations to the CIA.

There is also a ridiculous level of detail at times - we learn that spy chief Rimington changed her contraceptive in the 1970s because she was suffering from blotchy skin - and are reassured that this problem then cleared up. This is not linked to anything else, it's just dropped in their for no reason. Who cares? And yet this is afforded more analysis than the 7-7 bombings!

It's quite an achievement to take a fascinating subject, with fascinating stories and create such a poor book. I've given it 3 stars because buried amongst the dross are some really interesting tales and insights - it's simply that you have to work hard to find them.
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on 3 July 2009
Inside British Intelligence is described by its publisher as "the definitive and up-to-date history of two of the oldest and most powerful secret services in the world" though it has no source notes, has very little on M15 and M16 before 1990 - and what there is is unfamiliar only because it is often inaccurate - and is largely devoted to the activities of Mossad and CIA .

There is no mention of important British intelligence episodes such as the Zinoviev letter which influenced the outcome of the 1924 election, the breaking of Enigma, the Venlo incident where two SIS officers were captured at the outbreak of war, the Profumo Affair, Buster Crabb, the running of Penkovsky and his role in the Cuban missile crisis and the intelligence services role in Empire. All very curious.

Mr Thomas a self-styled "leading expert on the intelligence community" knows a great deal about what people wore (suits "tailored by Gieves & Hawkes, a hand-sewn shirt with double cuffs and his Travellers Club tie" etc), what they said, thought, ate and drank at particular moments but is less certain in other areas: sometimes Century House is the headquarters of M15 (p.208 and 255) and sometimes correctly M16 (p.286); sometimes Sir Christopher Curwen is head of M15 (p.216)and sometimes rightly M16 (p.195); Vernon Kell is head of MI6(p.421) and sometimes accurately M15(p.78); the M15 chiefs Stella Rimington and Patrick Walker also mysteriously work for M16 (p.177 and p.255). Maybe Mr Thomas knows something we don't?

He makes much of his `prime sources' which for the UK are: Eddie Chapman, a low-level World War Two agent who died aged 83 twelve years ago; the former M16 officer Richard Tomlinson who claims Princess Diana was murdered by British Intelligence and the former M15 couple Annie Machon (who believes Mossad was behind the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in London in 1994) and David Shayler (who has declared himself the messiah and having discovered eternal life). For some reason, Mr Thomas prefers these accounts to the thousands of readily available M15 documents declassified over the last twenty years.

He cites an extensive bibliography but doesn't appear to have consulted the books himself . A few pages about The Cambridge Spies, extensively chronicled in numerous books, gives a flavour of the Thomas interpretation of history : Kim Philby's father St John Philby is called Sir Harry Philby, Kim is a member of the Apostles (he was not) and is recruited at Cambridge (he was not) is a fluent Spanish speaker (he was not) and appears to defect from Britain rather than is commonly assumed Beirut. Maclean begins his spying career in 1938 some three years after the generally accepted date of his recruitment and his London apartment is bugged though in truth he didn't have one and commuted from just outside London.

Guy Burgess is described as a counterintelligence officer (he wasn't), serves alongside George Blake in the Far East Department (he doesn't) , his outrageous behaviour in Washington leads to calls for his recall in the summer of 1950 (he only arrived in August 1950) ; he is ordered to leave America "within forty-eight hours" of engineering traffic violations to warn Maclean( the violations take place in February1951 , have nothing to do with his departure and he leaves in May 1951), he returns to "a job in the Foreign Office" (he doesn't) etc. Blunt is identified by the press as `the Third Man' thirty years earlier than the reality. You get the picture.

The book, a series of incorrectly spelt names, discredited conspiracy theories and repetitious, often completely fabricated, stories the purpose of which it is sometimes difficult to ascertain, jumps around in time and location with no central narrative and it is difficult to ascertain at whom it is aimed since readers new to the subject will be baffled and those with some knowledge will be exasperated.

One can only assume in this wilderness of mirrors that a deeper deception game is being played by the proof reader and our intelligence expert, a winner, as he proudly states , of "the Mark Twain Society Award for Reporting Excellence and an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Investigation" to confuse us when the official histories of M15 by Christopher Andrew and M16 by Keith Jeffery appear later this year and next. That can be the only explanation for this farrago of nonsense.
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on 13 May 2010
The author's use of the phrase "One Hundred Years of British Intelligence - Inside MI5 andMI6" is totally misleading.
He has selected the parts of this history that he thinks will sell the book, rather than produce a comprehensive
history of the Intelligence Services. That the book is produced for the American Market is evident, in that there
are more pages dedicated to US Security matters than to eg Sir Mansfield Cummings, the first head of SIS. Indeed
there are more pages devoted to the totally disgraced ex MI6 officer Richard Tomlinson, than to Sir Mansfield

A disappointing book on a subject which could and should have produced so much more.
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on 8 June 2016
Any merit one might attribute to this book is greatly diminished by its ancient ( and doubtful ) reference to Evan Morgan, Lord Tredegar as “ one of the country’s leading falconers”.

The original source of this is Nigel West in his book of 1981 on MI5’s history based on interviews with ex- Security Services staff – not files in Whitehall or in National Archives. Tredegar’s name was often flushed around ( mainly by himself ) as being a war veteran and a hero of many exploits of fame and courage. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tredegar’s was frequently on sick leave and lasted only five a bit months from November 1942 until May 1943 in a steady army post. He botched this service up and left the army a few weeks after a Court Martial.

West’s enjoyable – even controversial text of 1981 has been over taken over the three decades since it was written by the gradual release of many Secret Service files and papers. To repeat something that is drawn from a hat in 1981 and count it as a historical account in 2013 is hardly going to be the up to date and tested history.

The relevant files in National Archives make no mention of Lord Tredegar’s involvement in the set up known as the Falcon ( Interception) Unit . The best file for the latter is National Archives is KV4/10. This contains a good contemporary war time history and a number of excellent photographs of the activities involving the use of falcons and falconers on the south coast of England and in Pembrokeshire.

As Tredegar’s biographer, and having made a close study of the man and his life and times over the last 10 years I have found no indication he was involved in falconry. The family homestead at Tredegar House, Newport, South Wales has no relics of falconry or of keeping falcons. There were birds galore in Evan’s menagerie, these creatures ( and others) flourished for a few years in the mid 1930s, in Tredegar Park he kept flamingos on the nearby lake, and he did have a lively macaw. However such a hobby as falconry ( and the potential killing and / or hunting of live birds) was at odds with Tredegar’s natural inclination of caring for animals and especially birds.

Evan was involved – indirectly with birds- as one of the lowly backroom boys of MI14 Special Pigeon Service, and although many of these birds perished in the various MI14 sorties, Evan was sufficiently at arms length from any operational use of the birds to have any conscience or pain. Evan’s job was to liaise with the pigeon breeders, it was essential work , war work and secret work but hardly death and glory stuff. In fact the key name that should have appeared in the Thomas book instead of Evan Morgan is that of Flight Lieutenant Richard Walker – a man who for many years including after the war served as an authority on the use of falcons and pigeons in the war and post war military activities. Evan’s war service ended in disgrace, he was Court Martialled in April 1943 on three charges under the Official Secrets Act found guilty on two counts and was “ severely reprimanded.” . During the war MI5 had both Evan Tredegar and his Russian wife, Princess Olga Dolgoruky under surveillance – this was in view of some of their friends and suspected Pro- German sympathies-. The the couple divorced in 1943 and Evan returned to his family seat in Wales. He buried his head in the sand rather like another bird, the ostrich. He died in 1949.
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on 11 May 2011
This book is extremely difficult to read due to the absolute lack of structure: the author relentlessly jumps back and forth in the space of just a few sentences. As a reader you're constantly asking yourself: what am I reading and where does this fit into the current chapter / overall content of the book. Provided the author knows what he's talking about (some reviewers debate this) he definitely doesn't know how to communicate it to the reader. Not recommended.
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on 18 May 2009
This was a boring book very annoying jumping back and forwards and hard to follow. Seemed to be more about Russia and America than anything it had in the title! Save your money.
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on 29 June 2015
A very interesting and descriptive read of the Secret Service's activities from day one. Well recommended.
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on 22 May 2010
This book fills the huge gap in the literature of intelligence. It is not only rich in the spicy minutiae of the world of the secret services and its clandestine operations but in many ways it matches the fictions of Le Carre, the more so knowing it is a true story. The review quotes on the jacket vouches for that. Britain's Spectator confirms that the extents of the sources are numerous. The Sunday Telegraph calls the book as giving an irresistible picture of an age of global terrorism and economic warfare. Similar assurances are quoted from the Los Angeles Times. For those wanting more than a near thrill a page and some extraordinary people, this book has a style that the author has commandeered for himself in his previous books (Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, Journey into Madness etc). Secret Wars is a lucid and authoritive narrative, stocked with intelligence details. Some of the portraits of men like the heads of the secret services alone make it worth buying. One has to accept that Gordon Thomas has read widely and dug deeply to create this convincing history of MI5 and MI6 over a century. It should be on the shelf of anyone wondering why we have not yet caught Osama bin-Laden. What is important about this book is it lays bare the record of blunders. Knowing about them makes sense of why terrorism is such a threat - and why after bin-Laden goes there will be someone else waiting to take his place.
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on 30 June 2009
Gordon Thomas's latest book gives not just an insight to the United Kingdoms secret history but also an exclusive revelation about the murky past of Ireland's disgraced former prime minister Charles Haughey. Persistent reporter Thomas reveals that Haughey had lunch with a Russian spy in the Dail, the Irish parliament. But Haughey never knew that British undercover officers were following the Soviet spy when he entered Leinster House. Haughey was probably the most controversial of Irish politicians. Not only was he tried for gun running, while he was a member of the Irish cabinet, but now Thomas reveals that Haughey dined with the Russian spy in 1972 in his new book Secret Wars dealing with 100 years of British Intelligence inside MI5 and MI6. But the Russian spook Aleksander Feoktisov was followed through Dublin by British officer Frank Steele. The tail led to Dail Eireann where the Soviet spy sat down to lunch with Haughey, who has served three times as Taoiseach from 1979 to 1992 when he was forced to resign. Haughey, who died in 2006 of prostate cancer when he was aged 80, had lived in disgrace in his stately mansion in north Dublin following revelations about his personal finances and corrupt lifestyle. But in the early 70s the Troubles in the North had exploded and the IRA while financed by supports in the USA had developed contacts with foreign terrorist organisations like the Basque separatist group ETA, the Italian Red Brigades and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The British Government was worried that the IRA was turning into a powerful guerrilla force as Ulster moved to the threshold of civil war. The UK authorities discovered that the IRA had won a discreetly sympathetic ear of Moscow. Now author Gordon Thomas, the man who found runaway Bishop Eamon Casey hiding in Mexico after revelations that the then esteemed cleric had fathered a son from an affair, claims in his book that Haughey had associations with Russian spies. Thomas, 76, claims that Haughey sat down to lunch in February 1972 with Soviet spy Aleksander Feoktisov in Dublin. Haughey was both adored and despised. He oversaw four scandal-marred governments as leader of Ireland's most popular party, Fianna Fail. He was credited with laying the foundation for the booming Celtic Tiger economy. Haughey was "the great survivor," bouncing back after being put on trial for allegedly running guns to Northern Ireland, and again after a series of scandals in 1982 which included a murder suspect being found at the home of Haughey's attorney general. Garret FitzGerald, leader of the opposition Fine Gael party, in 1979 accused Haughey of "an overweening ambition ... a wish to dominate, even to own, the state."
Thank you Gordon Thomas, a real hero, who again shows us our murky past so that we can heal it and move on to a future of peace guaranteed by transparent truth.
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