UNITED KINGDOM

Overviews

2010s

A - I

Aldrich, Richard J. GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain's Most Secret Intelligence Agency. London: HarperPress, 2010.

Norton-Taylor, Guardian, 19 Jun. 2010, finds that the author "shows how GCHQ developed into a global intelligence-gathering agency of truly industrial proportions with resources that include the navy's submarines and HMS Endurance, the South Atlantic survey ship based in the Falklands.... GCHQ now supplies timely intelligence to British troops on the battlefield. Its technology is also supplying MI5 and the police with 'real time' intelligence on terror or crime suspects."

A reviewer for The Economist, 8 Jul. 2010, says that "Aldrich skilfully weaves together the personal, political, military and technological dimensions of electronic espionage.... In the internet age, the agency faces two challenges: how to monitor the rivers of digitalised information that flow around the world; and how to maintain political legitimacy for governments to gather and store large quantities of personal data so that the information can be searched for patterns of terrorist and criminal activity. Its work is harder than ever."

West, IJI&C 24.2 (Summer 2011), calls this "by far the best book yet published to cover the organization's postwar history." Nonetheless, the reviewer makes a number of criticisms of the work. For instance, he says that "Aldrich makes some strange, though not very significant, missteps" in dealing with the VENONA material. In addition, "his treatment of GCHQ's role during the 1982 Falkland's conflict is definately suspect."

For Glees, Cryptologia 35.3 (Jul. 2011), there are a number of problems with this "massive book," not the least of which is its length. The story of an organization such as GCHQ "is inevitably going to be dry.... Sexing it up with tales of political failures, scandals and outrages make for a book that is both frustrating and terribly long."

Aldrich, Richard J. "Persuasion: British Intelligence, the History Policeman and Official History." In Spooked: Britain, Empire and Intelligence Since 1945, eds. Patrick Major and Christopher Moran, 29-50. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars, 2010.

Aldrich, Richard J., Rory Cormac, and Michael Goodman, eds. Spying on the World: The Declassified Documents of the Joint Intelligence Committee, 1936–2013. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.

Peake, Studies 58.4 (Dec. 2014), finds that the editors "have done more than edit this work. In addition to valuable introductory and summary chapters, they have contributed documented prefatory analysis to each of the 20 chapters that examine the functions of the JIC since its origin in 1936."

Davies, Philip H.J. Intelligence and Government in Britain and the United States: A Comparative Perspective. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2012.

Volume 1: Evolution of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Volume 2: Evolution of the U.K. Intelligence Community.

For Peake, Studies 56.4 (Dec. 2012) and Intelligencer 19.3 (Winter-Spring 2013), the manner in which the author formulates the questions underlying his comparative study "risks a predetermined outcome as the result of confirmation bias." The reviewer also believes that certain judgments raise doubts as to "whether Davies fully understands the US system." Nevertheless, "these volumes will serve as a challenging basis for discussion."

Dylan, Huw, and Martin S. Alexander, eds. "Special Issue on '100 Years of British Intelligence." Intelligence and National Security 27, no. 1 (Feb. 2012): entire issue.

Click for Table of Contents.

Hennessey, Thomas, and Claire Thomas.

1. SPOOKS: The Unofficial History of MI5. Gloucestershire, UK: Amberley, 2009.

Peake, Studies 53.4 (Dec. 2009), notes that the authors "cover in great detail the origins of the service and the many espionage and counterterrorism cases -- mainly 'The Troubles' in Ireland -- with which it has been involved.... Perhaps inevitably in a work of this magnitude, a few errors have crept in.... Other shortcomings are its very small print and narrow margins ... and a grossly inadequate index." Nevertheless, the book "offers a comprehensive view of MI5's early years. There is plenty of material here to stimulate the scholarly research necessary to judge its accuracy."

2. SPOOKS: The Unofficial History of MI5 From M to Miss X 1909-39. Gloucestershire, UK: Amberley, 2010. [pb]

3. SPOOKS: The Unofficial History of MI5 from Agent Zig Zag to the D-Day Deception 1939-45. Gloucestershire, UK: Amberley, 2011. [pb]

4. SPOOKS: The Unofficial History of MI5 From the First Atom Spy to 7/7, 1945-2009. Gloucestershire, UK: Amberley, 2011. [pb]

Commenting on numbers 3 and 4 above, Peake, Studies 55.4 (Dec. 2011) and Intelligencer 19.1 (Winter-Spring 2012), is unhappy with both the lack of citations and the absence of an index. Nonetheless, the summaries of the major World Warr II Double Cross System cases in the 1939-1945 volume "are more thorough than those found in any of the so-called intelligence encyclopedias and are mostly based on primary sources in the British National Archives....

"The limits on the value of the 1945–2009 volume are even more severe. Many important cases are not even mentioned; those that are receive less-than-comprehensive treatment.... This volume relies on fewer primary sources and more secondary ones, some of which have problems with accuracy." In what qualifies as the ultimate put-down. the reviewer concludes that "[w]hile these volumes may be a place to start when studying MI5 history, Wikipedia is probably an equally good alternative."

Intelligence and Security Committee. Intelligence and Security Committee Annual Report 2012-2013. London: Stationery Office, 10 Jul. 2013. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/intelligence-and-security-committee-annual-report-2012-2013.

Return to UK Overviews Table of Contents