Top critical review
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A difficult read
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.