Book Review: The Secret History of MI6: 1909-1949 by Keith Jeffery

Hi!

To most of the world, James Bond is the iconic British spy for nearly 60 years. Through the Cold War, the Drug War, and even into a post-9/11 world, he’s been reinvented multiple ways and times in books and movies and played by actors from George Lazenby to Daniel Craig. Ian Fleming‘s creation with a license to kill has dominated the popular impression of British Intelligence. But spies don’t really exist in popular media as they do in the real world.

I’m sure the British Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI-6) have had a few James Bond-like moments in their long and colorful history, but until now they’ve been hidden from public view. Keith Jeffery was granted unparalleled access to the MI-6 archives to piece together events from the agency’s beginnings to the start of the Cold War. Reading The Secret History of MI6, it was amazing just how much happened in those first 40 years starting in 1909. The real men and women who put their lives on the line to protect Britain from her enemies put James Bond’s antics to shame.

From the beginning, there was a conflict between the need for military intelligence, upon which wartime strategies could be formed, and foreign intelligence, upon which political and international policy decisions could be based. These interests were not always at odds, but the groups collecting the intelligence often sought to protect their sources at all costs, even from other agencies working on the same side. This reluctance to share actionable intelligence in a timely manner often hampered good decisions to be made by those in power. But Commander Mansfield Cumming hoped to change that culture of mistrust and offer a better solution.

Throughout the build up to the First World War, it was a matter of gaining the trust of the agencies depending on intelligence reports while building a network of field agents and informants that could reliably get a more complete picture of what was going on. Many of the same challenges of mistrust and information sharing existed for the next forty years as well. And always it was a balancing act between the need for information, the need for secrecy, and the safety of all assets involved.

The book provides a detailed accounting of many of the trials associated with developing the tools and techniques of spycraft – from learning how to record and transmit or transport reports from the field back to headquarters to finding cover identities and companies with which to hide assets in plain sight. Even the Import/Export business used by James Bond’s MI-6 was first used by the real MI-6 long before World War I!

Though the text does get dense and mired in detail at times, I honestly think Jefferey’s book should be required reading for any student of history or individual seeking to learn more about how MI-6 began. As events unfold through the years, I gained a new perspective on key events leading to World War I and II and the aftermath of each. The Secret History of MI6 is an incredible read. Perhaps in another fifty years or so we can read more about MI-6 history from 1950 to 9/11 and beyond!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great history books below!

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Top Shot Season 2 Giveaway!

Hey all…

That’s right – for one lucky winner, we have a totally new Top Shot prize pack!

ENTER TO WIN A TOP SHOT PRIZE PACK FROM HISTORY!

Top Shot, HISTORY’s hit competition series, is rearmed and reloaded. Sixteen fearless marksmen, carefully selected from thousands of applicants, will aim for the $100,000 prize package and the title of “Top Shot.” The all-new cast of 14 men and two women includes a 10-time NRA pistol champ, two former world shooting champs, a Texas cop, a Jersey shore Air Force sniper, a Bronze Star recipient, and representatives from four branches of the military. The 13-week series premieres Tuesday, February 8 at 10pm ET on HISTORY. Fans can check out exclusive content and play the Top Shot Reloaded Fantasy Game beginning February 7th on Facebook.

Enter to win a TOP SHOT prize pack consisting of:

  • Top Shot Season One DVD
  • Top Shot T-Shirt
  • Top Shot iPhone Case
  • Top Shot Shot Glass

TO ENTER:

  • Add a comment below with your thoughts on what gun changed the course of history and why.

I will announce the winner on February 25, 2011, so be sure to have your comment posted by February 24, 2011!

–Fitz

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Top Shot, Season 2 Starts Tonight on the HISTORY Channel!

Hi all…

Last season, I was instantly a fan of the new show Top Shot on the HISTORY Channel, which pit modern marksmen (and markswomen) against historical challenges using some surprising weapons. So when we heard that the new season was starting up, we were thrilled!

Season 2 starts tonight at 10/9c on HISTORY with a new set of 16 competitors. And again, they come from a variety of backgrounds with different levels of experience. But a couple of things remain the same – they all want to win $100,000 and the title of “Top Shot.” Hosted by Colby Donaldson, it will be interesting to see what challenges await these marksmen.

Weapons will be a bit different this season than last as well, according to the HISTORY website:

“Weapons this season include more than 20 weapons including the iconic “Tommy Gun“, the .44 Magnum, and a .50 caliber sniper rifle. Not just firearms, the competition also includes archery and primitive weapons as well.”

Last year it was Iain Harrison who took home the title. And we were rooting for Kelly Bachand as well. Who will be our favorites this season?

Be sure to tune in tonight at 10/9c on HISTORY for the season premiere of TOP SHOT!

–Fitz

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