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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The other half of British foreign policy, 1909-1949
If war is just the continuation of politics by other means, what is the role of a secret intelligence service, and how does it change in times of declared and undeclared war? That's the question being asked - and mostly answered - by this history of MI6 during WWI, WWII, and the Cold War against Communism, which includes the period 1919-41 as well as post-WWII...
Published on 14 Sep 2011 by John Middleton

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Administrative history
This could be entitled "an administrative history of SIS". The cover blurb compares it to the script for a Bond film but nothing could be further from the truth. There are so few operational details that we learn next to nothing about what SIS actually did at agent level. There are two or three exceptions, but even those are told with no attempt at colour or detail,...
Published on 9 Sep 2012 by Firepig


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Administrative history, 9 Sep 2012
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This review is from: MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949 (Paperback)
This could be entitled "an administrative history of SIS". The cover blurb compares it to the script for a Bond film but nothing could be further from the truth. There are so few operational details that we learn next to nothing about what SIS actually did at agent level. There are two or three exceptions, but even those are told with no attempt at colour or detail, leaving the reader desperate to know more. The bulk of the book is about heads of station and above, tracking careers and the opening and closing of offices and stations,and SIS's relationships with other parts of government. I read this between Keith Andrew's history of MI5 and Aldrich's history of GCHQ, and both have more interest in a few pages than the whole of this book. Read only as a history of the institution and not if you want spy stories.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The other half of British foreign policy, 1909-1949, 14 Sep 2011
By 
John Middleton (Brisbane, QLD, AUST) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949 (Paperback)
If war is just the continuation of politics by other means, what is the role of a secret intelligence service, and how does it change in times of declared and undeclared war? That's the question being asked - and mostly answered - by this history of MI6 during WWI, WWII, and the Cold War against Communism, which includes the period 1919-41 as well as post-WWII.

We get here an in-depth look at the heads of the Service, and its role in peace and war: from Boche to Bolsheviks is the title of one chapter, and it might as well have titled the whole book, really, if Jeffrey was trying to write a catchy story rather than an authorised history. There are lots of interesting vignettes here, but little on what you might be looking for - the Cambridge 5, the man who never was, etc: often because this was done by organisations other than MI6. The SOE for example were a wartime sabotage force, not an intelligence service.

At times it's a little dry, but there are interesting thoughts on the need for political independence of a secret service which in turn relies on its being nonpartisan. None of this is dross, or mere noise, but if you are looking for a chronicle of wartime adventure or secret operations and assassinations revealed...alas, this is not the book for you. The cover does say, reads like the script of a Bond film, but really its mostly just the bits where Bond meets with M (itself a play on C) that this book represents.

This is a great work, but be aware what it is not before you buy it.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MI6, 23 Oct 2010
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Like its sister book on MI5 this is as detailed as it can be on such a subject as national security, however it is written in such a manner that it is fairly(!) easy to read. However my recommendation is not to try and read it all at once but to do it in bite-size chunks!! What does come through, as in the MI5 book, is that it is a wonder that we got any intelligence at all in the very early days where 'career' diplomats didn't think it was the done thing to spy on other people - much like those admirals who thought the use of submarines was underhand!! In view of the current fiscal problems it is interesting to note that there were money problems with financing MI6, and MI5, even back then. I have yet to finish the book but my impression so far is that the UK was very lucky to get any information at all in the early days and it was down to a very few people with the foresight to see that such an organisation was needed, both in war and in peace time. Also intriguing were the battles between the various factions to gain control of what would become MI6 - Foreign Office, Navy, Army being the main contestants - which took up a lot of time which could have been used more constructively. The book also shows where possible the courage of those actually gathering intelligence in hostile environments, but also where people were keen to sell information on their own country for cash.

A good informative read which gives some idea of what was/is involved in the gathering of intelligence.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An essential read, but not the whole story, 12 Oct 2010
By 
Amazon Customer (on one of the Two Worlds) - See all my reviews
Quite apart from the content, this is a substantial book, on thick paper. What relevance is this I hear you ask? Well, this: I feel the book is just too thick - it comes in at over 800 pages including index and borders on the unmanagable. This won't be a problem for anyone who just wants to dip into the book for specific information, but if you want to read the complete story as a narrative, then the Kindle version will suit a lot better.
The book itself is well written and tells the story in an easily accessible style. It should come as no surprise that there is a huge amount of detail, and the book will add greatly to what is known about the Secret Intelligence service.
What has cost the book its fifth star though, is the simple fact that it is an "official" history and has therefore been written under the constraints imposed by MI6 and, although Professor Jeffrey was allowed unrestricted access to MI6's archives, he hasn't released all the information he could have, for example in naming agents. In the foreword MI6s policy on releasing information is set out, and should be read by everyone considering buying this book. The fact that the book is an official history also works against it in that other sources of information haven't been given the consderation they should have.
Personally I would also liked to have seen more on the pre-world war 2 side of things - well over half the book is dedicated to the last 10 years of the period it covers.
All in all though it is a worthwhile addition to the field.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kindle Version, 26 Nov 2010
By 
Mr David B Smith (MOUNT PLEASANT, SC, US) - See all my reviews
My only criticism of this well researched and written tome is that-:

In the Kindle version the copies of the original document are illegible as you are unable to blow them up to readable size.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Turgid stuff, 1 Jun 2011
By 
UK Scribe (Bromley Kent) - See all my reviews
If the aim of this book was to demonstrate how mundane and boring intelligence work is, it succeeded magnificently. I struggled through all 800 pages but it was really heavy going and told me very little about the work of MI6, concentrating instead on organisation and infighting in Whitehall. Part of the problem is that there seemed to be little archive evidence for the author to draw on - but what little there is has been stretched to breaking point. The sister volume on MI5 was just as long but infinitely more entertaining and instructive.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This proves academia is not the real world., 2 Feb 2014
This review is from: MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949 (Paperback)
This book was written by a University Professor, and frankly it proves why academics do not live in the real world. If any of my trainees had written a report as dry and badly written as this, we'd have to have words (pun not intended). The paragraphs are long - no bad thing, but the writing is extremely disjointed and hard to follow. Let me give you an example:

'"intelligence", generally speaking,' he declared, was "not an affair of water-tight compartments' and all sections 'should be inter-dependent'

Now, this book is based upon official documents, but when all the author does is copy sections from these documents into practically every sentence - sometimes, as above, several sections in a sentence - it not only seems lazy, unimaginative (why can't the author summarise) but also makes it incredibly difficult to follow. The books just does not flow at all. The mind sees each section in the sentence as something to string with other components that have gone before, while ignoring other sections. Hard work.

Don't get me wrong, I read a lot of non-fiction (usually 3 or 4 on the go at the same time) but this is probably one of the worst I have tried to read for a long time. It is common to quote other books in non-fiction, but not on this scale.

Frustrating and annoying, sadly!
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How is an organisation so cool made so, so boring?, 7 Nov 2010
By 
C. Payne (Germany) - See all my reviews
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A very, very factual book concentrating on the organisational minutiae of MI6. This is more of a book for a historian than a regular reader. It has EVERYTHING MI6 have done, including eating a sandwich on 12th Feb 1942, to watching paint dry on 27 Nov 1925. Well written and recommended, but know what to expect.
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28 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spies of the Kingdom and their revealed secrets, 24 Sep 2010
By 
Paul Gelman "PAUL Y. GELMAN" (HAIFA , ISRAEL) - See all my reviews
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After the demise of the Cold War,many news archives were generous enough to open their gates and the historians and other people had access to millions of documents which for which they could only dream of before. This was especially important for those who were interested or wrote about the history of the intelligence services during that fascinating era of history.Thus they could separate fiction fron non-fiction.
Hundreds of new books and monographs saw the light of the day and one of them is this new,fascinating book,written with grace and authority by Professor Keith Jeffery.
Right at the beginning we are assured that he was allowed unlimited access to all the pertinent files of MI6 from 1909 to 1949,but he also assures us that no one of those involved in various operations or their families would be in any way harmed.
The book is divided into some parts. The first one is about the establishment of MI6 and the immediate reason for doing so was the motivation to know as much as possible abput Germany. The main character here is Mansfield Cumming,a man who would influence his men and the service for many years to come. The results of intelligence gathering during the first 15 years show that the service was not very successful in the various operations and failed to predict where and when the German would open WW1. It was during those years that the quest for many devices the perfect invisible ink was made. One suggestion was to use semen because one of Cummming's men found out that it would not react to iodine,but this habit was dropped after many intelligence reports started to stink.
Another part concentrates on the efforts to recruit spies who were supposed to gather information on the Bolsheviks and Communists everywhere. It was during the thirties when an attempt to establish a Communist regime in Brazil was foiled by one Johann Heinrich de Graff,a German employed by MI6,who warned President Vargas about the intended coup his opponents were planning.
During the time of Hugh Sinclair's directorship of the MI6,following the death of Cumming,there were concerns about Germany's possible bacteriological warfare and one paper written by Sinclair asks whether "one hundred Nazi agents supplied with bacteriological material and operating in the London Underground Railways during the rush hour" could start a serious epidemic in London? Concern was expressed also about the milk consumed by the Prime Minister(Churchill) and whether it was boiled before use.(p.321
The service was busy during WW2 to mobilize resources and those countries which were neutral-Sweden,Switzerland and Iberia-both to target Germany and to attack the Germans' own foreign intelligence operations. The Venlo incident is discussed in detail because it had tremendous repercussions on the service. Concealment devices and other technological means to combat the adversaries were developed. Condoms and even one false horse penis were used to slip documents(p.485).
The MI6 even considered assassinating some key German figures before D-day but finally dropped the matter due to their concern about the results such acts might have on prisoners of war.
After the end of WW2,there was a reorganization of the various service departments.One particular
project,called "Operation Embarrass" was designed,whose purpose was to attack and sabotage those ships carrying Jews bound for Palestine. Those ships were to be found in Italian ports and the success of this operation was only partial.
It was during the stewardship of Menzies, the MI6 director,that signals intelligence was used profusely in order to assist the leadership of Britain during the war. To quote again:"SIS's prewar liaison contacts with foreign intelligence services,consolidated and expanded with Allies governments-in-exile,as well as its exploitation of Vichy sources and the burgeoning Anglo-American relationship,produced enormous intelligence benefits.In neutral countries and powerfully informed by the benefits of Ultra,SIS gained a stranglehold on the enemy's intelligence services and it was able to contribute markedly to the Allies' extremely successful deception operations. While intelligence returns in some areas(for example the Far East)were poor for most of the war,SIS networks made a major contribution to intelligence on V-weapons,to coast-watching in north-west Europe,to train-watching in the Low Countries and to the collection of the intelligence which so abundantly informed the D-Day landings and subsequent advance on Germany.In the Mediterranean theatre,there were significant achievements in Tunisia,and the Bari station was markedly productive over the last two years of the war.All this was underpinned by the admirable technical expertise of Section 8,providing the secure communications without which both intelligence-gathering and its dissemination would have been(to borrow Trevor-Roper's words)'an irrelevancy"(p.747)
The book also discusses the implications of Igor Gouzenko's defection in Canada. Gouzenko was a cypher clerk in the GRU and his defection unleashed a Pandora box which revealed to the Western intelligence services to what extent their services were penetrated by the Russian spies. It was the "worst British traitor Kim Philby"-in the words of Jeffery,who warned the Russians about the possible outcome of such a defection.
This book is well-researched is is full of details especially about the structure of MI6. It will be the authoritative history of MI6 for many years and a substantial addition to the literature of the role played by the intelligence service duirng the first half of the twentieth century.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding intelligence history, 23 Oct 2010
By 
T. Crook (UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a magisterial work and represents the very best of historical writing on British intelligence of the 20th century. The Secret Intelligence Service, or 'MI6' as it is more popularly known, guards its own secrets with more discipline and rigour than most. It has more than lived up to its motto 'semper occultus'. Professor Jeffery's task has been Herculean since all the chambers of the MI6 archives were prised open for him,and in a field where researchers and specialist journalists are more used to playing 'blind man's buff', the vista must have been overwhelming and then the negotiation on what could and could not be published and narrated into attributable and notated history, I imagine, would have required diplomacy and patience. The result is readable, expository and ground-breaking. MI6 and Professor Jeffery have contributed to providing new information and perspectives to ground the history of Great Britain and its unravelling Empire in the first 50 years of the 20th century. The challenge of great academic historians is to fashion a narrative that is also great literature. Books like these are the successors of the works of Macauley and Gibbon. The verdict will, of course, be the test of time. However, I strongly believe this will be an authoritative and definitive source for scholars of intelligence and the canvas of realism for spy fiction aficionados who wish to gain an understanding of MI6's actual history compared with the entertaining mythologies of James Bond etc. This is a book that you can read and re-read, have by your bedside to dip into while reading the latest Le Carre. The design, illustrations and sturdy hardback structure constitute excellent value.

*****
In the light of the scandal about fake, malicious and manipulated reviews on Amazon, I am happy to declare that I have never met the author. We have only had a brief exchange of emails on an academic matter, as I am also employed in the UK Higher Educational sector. I purchased the copy of the book reviewed here.
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MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949
MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949 by Keith Jeffery (Paperback - 6 Jun 2011)
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