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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Music Review: Lee MacDougall – If Walls Could Talk

Hey there…

When the Beatles came to the United States in 1964 to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York, could anybody have predicted the wave of British acts going viral in America? The British Invasion brought us groups as diverse as The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and Dusty Springfield. Now fast forward nearly 50 years. Since the invasion continues today with acts like Bobby Long coming out of London’s booming acoustic movement, could there be others waiting in the wings?

Of course there are more acts and they’re not waiting long! Lee MacDougall is the latest musician to come out of the London open mic circuit and find an audience outside the U.K. MacDougall’s link to Twilight‘s Robert Pattinson hasn’t hurt his popularity in the States either. His song “Falling in Love for the Last Time” from his self-titled EP (and on his new album) garnered a ton of attention from Twi-hards when word got out it was written for Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. But we’ll get more into that song in a bit…

The eleven-song album is If Walls Could Talk and it was just released to coincide with his U.S. tour dates with his friend Rob Hargreaves on guitar and backing vocals. Every song seems well grounded and written about relationships and life. The best part for me was the innocence and passion in each lyric, which seems very genuine. Hopefully he has better luck with the ladies than these songs suggest, considering that some of the girls in the songs seem to lie, cheat, and lead him on every other verse!

It was when I hit the second song on the album – “She” – that I found myself really engaged. On the surface, it’s about a girl who has self-esteem issues due to an abusive father. “She’s beautiful I know / but she doesn’t know / she can’t shake her heartache / her teenage dream has gone to waste / She’s beautiful I know / but she doesn’t know that’s the case…” He wants to get her out of the house and is willing to put himself in harm’s way to do just that. But the upbeat, almost happy beat and guitar strums neatly obfuscate the tragic story in the words.

A few songs later is “Falling In Love for the Last Time” and I can see why it might have been adopted by the Twilight community as Bella & Edward’s love song. It’s a warped love story about a girl the singer can’t have even though he’s in love with her and she knows it. She uses that little fact to torture him a bit. “I want to tell you a tale about a mess that I’m in / and it all starts with a girl / and she’s breaking up my world / she’s got these big green eyes and they’re as wide as the moon / yeah they can take you to bed without ya leaving the room / I would kill just to be her man / she’s too cool to give a damn…” With a lazy, walking beat on a snare and a few strums on a guitar, you’re drawn into the story.

And before the end of the album, he explores more self-esteem issues in “This is My Story.” “Flatter me and I will be yours forever / get too close and I’ll run…” It’s a classic tale of that person who attracts all the attention but doesn’t feel comfortable in his own skin. “This is my story who knows how it ends / each page a memory of lovers and friends / always a dreamer my life has no plan / I know I’m not perfect / my mum says that I am…” Hasn’t everyone been here?

The arrangements are straightforward with mixes of guitar, piano, and drums. But it’s the lyrics that really captured my attention. The stories woven into poetry and sung with such conviction. That conviction should make him an instant favorite with anyone who loves a good love song. The ability to convey such an emotional connection with each song will go a long way to win MacDougall more than a few hearts on his current U.S. tour.

For more information about Lee, his music, or his tour, be sure to check out his homepage at LeeMacDougallMusic.com. I look forward to hearing more from MacDougall in the future! The album is currently only available on his tour, but hopefully a few tracks will find their way onto iTunes soon.

(This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.)

–Fitz

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