Intelligence / Agencies / United Kingdom

Bloch, Jonathan and Fitzgerald, Patrick. British Intelligence and Covert Action. Ireland: Brandon Book Publishers, 1984. 284 pages. (An appendix from pages 254-275 contains official biographies of 132 British spooks.)

From the back cover: "The successful first printing of this controversial book so infuriated the British government that the Prime Minister is believed to have agreed to legislation to make the publication of any comparable book illegal, and the Home Secretary has refused permanent residency to Jonathan Bloch, who is a political refugee [from South Africa].

"Rear-Admiral William Ash, Secretary of the D-Notice Committee, which manages on behalf of the government a system of voluntary self-censorship, complained that this book `constitutes an extensive and serious breach of D-Notice #6 in publishing detailed information about the activities and methods of the security and intelligence services.'"

From the introduction by Philip Agee: "The authors have brought together an excellent historical survey of secret British operations over the past thirty years. Their sources are well-documented and extremely broad. Without doubt this book is a significant contribution to the understanding of Britain's role...."


Dorril, Stephen. MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service. New York: The Free Press, 2000. 907 pages.

This is the first comprehensive history of MI6, and the level of detail is astounding. "In the main," Stephen Dorril writes in the preface, "this book has been researched with the notion that there is far more in the public domain than anyone has realised -- least of all the secret agencies." A committed historian such as Dorril, who collected public data for nearly 20 years, is worth more than any number of former spooks who decide to publish a memoir. James Bond stories make better movies, but they serve mainly to titillate and perpetuate. More importantly, popular entertainment and shallow reporting obscure the larger ethical dimension of sanctioned covert thuggery, pursued in the name of greater empire. This narrative of the cold, hard facts is a timely antidote to our monocultural media.

Dorril doesn't try to push a particular theme. Instead he outlines the political situation, names the players, quotes obscure memos, describes the results, and then moves on to the next MI6 outrage. Through this, however, the reader senses Britain's decline as a superpower, and the feeling among its elites that they could keep it going indefinitely with ever more clever covert games. And it still continues. The last chapter covers some of the difficulties MI6 has experienced since their familiar cold war enemies have disappeared. This includes Richard Tomlinson, MI6's latest whistleblower.


Dorril, Stephen and Ramsay, Robin. Smear! -- Wilson and the Secret State. London: HarperCollins (Grafton), 1992. 390 pages.

The "secret state" in Britain includes MI5, which is responsible for counterintelligence, and MI6, the secret intelligence service, which runs foreign operations. But it can also include agents of influence in the media, former security services personnel, private security firms that may be fronting for the security services to provide "deniability," and think tanks where elites set policy. Leftists and Labour Party activists have long been the object of close interest (wiretapping, etc.) from this secret state, and there appears to be even less official accountability in Britain than there is in America. From the time that Harold Wilson became the leader of the Labour Party in 1964, British political history has been rife with their machinations. Wilson became increasingly conscious that his leadership was being secretly undermined by others, even within his own cabinet.

This is the best-documented and most detailed history of the British secret state from 1964-1979 that is currently available. It received high praise from The Times Literary Supplement, the Observer, London Review of Books, New Statesman and Society, and many others. Authors Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay also founded Lobster magazine in 1983, which continues to cover intelligence issues in Britain and the U.S.


Executive Intelligence Review, Box 17390, Washington DC 20041-0390. List of MI6 Agents, May 14, 1999. 4 pages.

On May 12, 1999, British officials issued a "D-notice" gagging order to prevent the press from reporting the contents of a list that they said former MI6 officer Richard Tomlinson had posted on the Internet. Tomlinson's Swiss and American Internet service providers closed his sites at Britain's request. News accounts hyped the story. Now Internet surfers were getting interested, and thousands of people were looking for "The List." Enough people already had it, so that it proved impossible to stuff the cyber genie back into the bottle. LaRouche's people published the list in their flagship EIR, which was already on its way to the post office.

Newspapers around the world ran alarmist quotations from British officials, but not everyone was taken in. Of the 116 names, 16 had been published in 1989, and 8 of these spies had accepted additional foreign assignments subsequent to their initial exposure. Not only have there never been instances of MI6 agents harmed due to exposure, but the agents themselves are apparently unconcerned (they probably enjoy the attention). This MI6 hoopla had more to do with protecting unaccountability in high places than with protecting spies. Fewer secrets mean more accountability to the citizens of the world, and this is what worries British officials as they consider new measures to regulate the Internet.


Lashmar, Paul and Oliver, James. Britain's Secret Propaganda War. United Kingdom: Sutton Publishing, 1998. 223 pages.

The Information Research Department (IRD), a creation of the British intelligence community, played a major role in Western news and cultural media from 1948-1977. As late as 1976, when IRD's secret history first began to unravel due to the persistence of researcher Richard Fletcher, 92 British journalists were still on IRD's distribution list. In earlier years, IRD's influence was even greater. This is the first book about IRD, and with it, another piece of the cold war media-manipulation picture is now in place. (The CIA's manipulation of the media was equally impressive, but U.S. journalists dropped the issue in 1978 and never looked back.)

The first chapter alone is worth the price of the book. It details British propaganda efforts against Indonesia's Sukarno in 1965, before and after the so-called abortive "coup," which became the excuse for Suharto's genocide against the PKI. IRD and MI6 "black" operations were intense before and after this alleged coup, as forged documents suggesting PKI atrocities and Chinese intervention were combined with sophisticated signals intelligence that monitored Sukarno's every move. This book also quotes a June 1962 CIA memorandum, which states that President Kennedy and Prime Minister Macmillan, in April 1962, agreed to "liquidate President Sukarno, depending on the situation and available opportunities."


Leigh, David. The Wilson Plot: How the Spycatchers and Their American Allies Tried to Overthrow the British Government. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988. 271 pages.

British journalist David Leigh has done a credible job with a difficult subject. It's difficult because British authors interested in British intelligence face severe handicaps. The U.S. has a Freedom of Information Act, even if it doesn't work too well, but in Britain the shoe is on the wrong foot: they have secrecy laws and can go after journalists. There's also a long history of treachery at the highest levels, which adds to the "fog index" when interviewing former British intelligence officers. Without recourse to documentary evidence, it gets tricky to sort out who's telling the truth, who's grinding another axe, and who's covering their ass.

One who was grinding and covering seems to have been Peter Wright, but his "Spycatcher" at least loosened up the secrecy laws. Leigh presents Wright's role more objectively, and also includes more on the role of James Angleton. The major premise of this book is that the CIA and MI5, mostly out of their habitual and hysterical anti-Communism, came to suspect Labour Party leader Harold Wilson, who became Prime Minister in 1964, of working for the Soviets. They apparently ran some dirty tricks in an effort to discredit Wilson; in 1976 he resigned suddenly under circum- stances that were suggestive of something going on behind the scenes.


Lobster, 214 Westbourne Avenue, Hull, HU5 3JB, United Kingdom, Tel: 44-482-447558. Edited by Robin Ramsay.

A Who's Who of the British Secret State. 1989. 111 pages. ($10)

Lobster is one of the more obscure parapolitical journals in Britain. On the other hand, journalists routinely call them when fishing for leads, because Robin Ramsay has done his homework. "Journalism is not about research. They don't have time to read background so they rely on others," says Ramsay, who gets weary of being a free information service for Fleet Street.

One recent issue, for example, had a dense 11-page article on the Moonies, WACL, and the Korean CIA, topped off with 262 expansive end notes and a bibliography with 169 sources. Not exactly your tea-and-crumpets fare. Their Who's Who special edition has thumbnail bios of almost 2,000 British spooks, compiled by Stephen Dorril from reference works at the local public library. Ramsay doesn't make enough from sales to cover his labor. This sounds familiar to us at PIR, so we recommend everything they publish.


West, Nigel. The Circus: MI5 Operations 1945-1972. New York: Stein and Day, 1984. 334 pages.

Nigel West, also known as Rupert Allason, is a British writer specializing in intelligence and security issues. Despite a pro- government bias that caused Allason to condemn the naming of names in 1985, up until then he had probably named more British intelligence officers than anyone. The son of a Tory MP, Allason ran for parliament himself as a Thatcher Conservative in 1986.

"The reader will notice that there are now half a dozen blank spaces in the organizational charts," writes Allason in his introduction to The Circus. A senior MI5 officer stole his manuscript in 1982 and obtained an injunction against publication. But by then the manuscript had already reached U.S. publishers, so British censors were willing to negotiate. Even with the deletions, one has to agree with Allason that "this final version of The Circus is the most detailed account of MI5's work ever published, or ever likely to be."


Wright, Peter. Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer. New York: Viking, 1987. 392 pages.

Peter Wright joined Britain's MI5, which handles counterintelligence, as their first scientific officer in 1955. His specialty was electronic surveillance and countermeasures, and he also performed liaison with U.S. intelligence, which accounts for his anecdotes about J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Helms, William C. Sullivan, William King Harvey, and James Angleton. Wright retired as assistant director of MI5 in 1976 and moved to Australia.

"Spycatcher" had a significant impact on several levels. To begin with, Wright's book was a major challenge to Britain's secrecy laws, as British officials banned the book and then tried unsuccessfully to win an injunction against publication in a widely-reported trial in Australia. This of course guaranteed that the book would be a bestseller, whereupon some of Wright's allegations received more attention than they probably deserved: that Roger Hollis, the head of MI5 in the 1960s, was a Soviet mole, that MI5 sometimes bugged diplomatic conferences, that they plotted against British prime minister Harold Wilson in 1974-1976 (Wright claims that this was instigated by the CIA's Angleton), and that MI6 plotted to assassinate Nasser during the 1956 Suez crisis. Of these, the plot against Wilson was the most newsworthy, but Wright's treatment is considered self-serving. A better source on this is "The Wilson Plot" by David Leigh.


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