Service: The Making of the British
IN THIS extensive and
scholarly study 500 pages with
barely a mention of cloaks or daggers
Christopher Andrew, a noted
Cambridge historian, traces the
development of the British Secret Service
from its earliest origins (during the
Restoration there was a Secret Service
fund ostensibly to finance British
propaganda abroad, although more often
used for political bribery at home; and
in the late 17th century some of the fund
was appropriated to 'relieve distress'
among former mistresses of Charles II) up
to the modern Intelligence Service and
its roots in the spy scares rife in the
run up to World War One.
entirely fake rumours were fuelled
largely by the shilling shocker novels of
the time and were strong enough to lead
to one of the most farcical episodes in
British legal history. An article in The
Imperialist newspaper 'revealed' the
existence of a Black Book compiled from
reports by German agents and containing
"instructions for the propagation of
evils which all decent men thought had
perished in Sodom and Lesbos". It
went on to list 47,000 "British
sexual perverts" who were being
blackmailed by German Intelligence.
first head of M16 was Mansfield Cumming.
Immortalised by donating his initial 'C'
to denote this exalted rank, this
engaging fellow kept a photo atop his
desk showing himself in German military
attire (the address of the theatrical
supplier being, to this day, an Official
Secret) and was delighted when visitors
failed to spot the likeness.
first to recruit "men of the
professor type". Previously it
seemed agents were appointed through
soldierly deeds or some social
connection. The first batch of brainboys
became a codebreaking cell housed in
Whitehall's Room 40. All except one
'Billy' Knox who preferred to lubricate
his thought flow by soaking in the warm
suds available in Room 53, the bathroom.
Herein he was attended by a secretary
whom he later married (given the social
etiquette of the time, I suppose he had
achieved great success in breaking German
Navy coded communications. Unfortunately
the use of this intelligence was
sometimes botched appallingly.
WW1, attention switched to the Russian
Revolution and there were some ludicrous
attempts by M16 to influence the outcome
of the civil war between the White and
Red armies. As the Bolsheviks assumed
complete control, intelligence eyes
became focused on the "red
menace" at home (not until Mosley's
Blackshirts got lively in the '30s did
special branch or M15 pay more than
passing attention to possible right-wing
that such investigations concentrated on
the 'traditional' hotbeds of disquiet
such as the labour movement meant that
other sources of Soviet recruitment (ie.
the intelligentsia) were unwatched. Hence
the chance for Philby, Burgess, Maclean
& co to come unsuspected comintern
agents in the mid-1930s.
Britain entered World War Two and
Churchill became head of the coalition
Government, the British Secret Service
was at a low ebb. Churchill, however,
took an unprecedentedly close interest in
its affairs and established the
forerunner to GCHQ at Bletchley Park to
intercept German signals intelligence.
This set-up, code named Ultra, led to the
breaking of the German Enigma code and
was the Intelligence Services' most
spectacular triumph, generally believed
to have shortened the war by several
joys were shortlived. Just prior to the
Suez debacle of 1956, the Secret Service
were operating with a modicum of outside
control (although apparently with the
blessing of PM Anthony Eden) and hatching
"madcap schemes" to engineer a
coup in Syria and possibly even the
assassination of President Nasser.
the book, Andrew chips away at the widely
held notion that complete secrecy and nil
parliamentary accountability foster an
efficient and effective Intelligence
service. He builds the case for greater
accountability which he sees as necessary
if the ' foul-ups of the past are not to
be repeated in the future'
study is not only unique (other
historians said it couldn't be done) but