Mark Collins – British Intelligence: MI5 and the End of Empire

Further to this post,

The British Empire Went Up in Flames

there now is a history of British intelligence as the sun started setting–note the usually overlooked very important role abroad of the Security Service (aka MI5); it wasn’t all Six.  Excerpts from a review at War on the Rocks:

Calder Walton, Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire, (New York: The Overlook Press, 2013)…

The main focus of the book is MI5, though various police Special Branches appear at important points, as well. MI5 is often described as Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. This was only partially true. Rather, it was the intelligence service responsible for covering the United Kingdom and its colonies on which for many years the sun literally never set. (See this interactive map of the British Empire over time). Therefore, while MI5 was best known for hunting Eastern Bloc spies, it was actually also deeply embroiled in counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and support to the political process of decolonization…

MI5 had a presence in nearly all the colonies, created a common intelligence culture across much of the British Empire, and worked hard to create links to the leaders of the newly independent states. As a result, the agency was able to keep in place its security liaison officers (SLOs, in essence MI5 station chiefs) in almost all of the former colonies. The SLOs worked hard and usually successfully to create mutually beneficial intelligence relationships between the new governments and their former imperial overlords. On the negative side, Britain often left behind functioning security apparatuses that the new rulers sometimes used more to maintain their own power than to actually secure their societies…

A strength of this book is that it does not shy away from showing that the British themselves were capable of conducting many of the same kind of aggressive operations that the United States has been criticized for since September 11.

Empire of Secrets is the first book to draw on a vast trove of intelligence files that were smuggled away from 37 different British colonies “as the sun set on the empire” and hidden away at Hanslope Park, a Foreign Office facility in Buckinghamshire. The first 1,200 of some 8,800 files hidden there were only opened in April 2012. They contain some of the “darkest secrets of the last days of empire,” accounts of torture, shoot-to-kill policies, and the forcible relocation of peoples…

And just wait until we get–if we ever do–a proper history of British covert actions in Ulster.  Peripherally relevant at an earlier post:

Torture Helps

In “The Day of the Jackal(1973) the crucial information that eventually leads to the assassin hired by the OAS to kill President de Gaulle derives from torture (to death, more here); oddly enough that did not seem to cause a stir at the time…

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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