Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire Paperback – 30 Jan 2014
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‘A superb and engaging account of the role of intelligence during the decline of Britain’s Empire’ Daily Express
‘A fascinating history of intelligence and empire. Walton’s book is perfectly timed, as Britain braces for a possible public inquiry into allegedly systemic torture of prisoners in Iraq. Walton provides appalling insight into the use of torture throughout the withdrawal from empire’ Observer
‘There is enough human anecdote and eccentricity in ‘Empire of Secrets’s “high octane” narrative to please even the most satiated consumer of such subjects … a story that often left me wondering what on earth we pay these people for’ Michael Burleigh, Literary Review
‘Walton is a very good writer. ‘Empire of Secrets’ fairly rips along, summoning in places the verve of a good spy novel … It is to his credit that he has produced such a gripping, thoughtful and satisfying book on an aspect of British history still largely hidden by shadow’ Daily Telegraph
‘A compulsively readable tale of loss of empire, a necessary process of decolonisation overseen by MI5’ Times
‘[An] agreeably lively account’ Sunday Telegraph
‘Fascinating … moves the spooks from the periphery of history to its heart … A well-documented, courageous and incisive first book by an author who has inhabited the real world of intelligence rather than a James Bond fantasy … required reading’ The Tablet
About the Author
Calder Walton is a leading expert among a new generation of intelligence historians. He has published widely on intelligence history and contributed to a number of books on British foreign policy and international relations. While completing a PhD in history at Trinity College, Cambridge, and then a post-doctoral Fellowship at Darwin College, Cambridge, he was one of the principal researchers on Christopher Andrew’s unprecedented authorised history of MI5. He lives in London, where he works as a barrister. This is his first book.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Terrifying book about how MI-5 screwed it up again and again and again in the retreat from empire.
He makes the point that at no point did our security service or... Read more
I really liked the accounts relayed by the author which in turn, was able to offer insights into the consequences of misguided intentions, which are tragically seen today. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Chris
Good overview of UK intelligence, good as an introduction to the topic, or as a resource for further research.Published 15 months ago by Mr PP Hanley
Sure, isn't that what all Empires are about. A good insightful read.Published 17 months ago by Patten44
The history of British de-colonialisation is often surprising for its curious mix of good intentions, arrogance, and mistrust. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Tom14
This excellent book is based on ten years’ research into MI5 and Joint Intelligence Committee records, private papers, and interviews. Read morePublished on 25 Jun. 2014 by William Podmore
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