The Secret History of MI6: 1909-1949

By Keith Jeffery; reviewed by Mario Possamai, CPP

***** The Secret History of MI6: 1909-1949. By Keith Jeffery; published by Penguin Group,; 832 pages; $20.

A piece of intelligence touted as a “smoking gun” turns out to be a forgery. Improper pressure is exerted on an intelligence analyst to reach the “right” conclusion. Exiles use sophisticated schemes to distribute bogus intelligence to further their own ends.

While reminiscent of allegations that arose in the runup to Operation Iraqi Freedom, these events all occurred decades prior. They are detailed in Keith Jeffery’s authorized history of the first 40 years of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6. The book ably dem­on­strates that many key challenges of intelligence gathering are constant.

While the book ends at the beginning of the Cold War, it contains many incidents with contemporary echoes. The “smoking gun” was the notorious Zino­viev Letter of 1924. Allegedly sent by Moscow, it called on the British Communist Party to “stir up the masses of the British proletariat.” Purportedly written by a Bolshevik and obtained by MI6, the letter was leaked by unidentified parties to the media, creating a public uproar thought by some to have contributed to the fall of the first-ever Labour Party Government. After dem­onstrating that the letter was “almost certainly…a gross forgery,” Jeffery concludes: “the whole affair shows how an almost obsessive and blinkered concentration on one target can dangerously influence the exercise of sensible critical judgment.”

Jeffery describes the case of Vladi­mir Orlov, a Berlin-based former Tsarist intelligence agent who, echoing the modus oper­andi of some Iraq-related sources, was well known in “intelligence circles for running a factory for creating and circulating reports, which, if not forged, were mostly from dubious sources.” Orlov was not alone. Members of the White Russian diaspora produced “mutually corroborative fabrications, which purported to be from different sources, but all too often were not.”

Fans of Ian Fleming’s James Bond will find some amusing references, as well. Jeffery describes how an MI6 agent was inserted into Nazi-occupied Netherlands in 1941. He was put ashore near a seaside casino in full evening dress, wearing “a specially designed rubber oversuit to keep him dry” so he could immediately “mingle with the crowd” inside. Some drops of cog­nac were sprinkled on him to “strengthen his party-goers’ image.” There is no indication whether, upon entering, he ordered a martini “shaken, not stirred.”

Reviewer: Mario Possamai, CPP (Certified Protection Professional), CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner), CAMS (Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist), is a member of the ASIS International Global Terrorism, Political Instability, and International Crime Council.



The Magazine — Past Issues


Beyond Print

SM Online

See all the latest links and resources that supplement the current issue of Security Management magazine.