World War II

The British Services

MI5 and the XX System


Macintyre, Ben.

1. Agent ZIGZAG: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman -- Lover, Betrayer, Hero, Spy. London: Bloomsbury, 2007. New York: Harmony, 2007. New York: Crown, 2008. [pb]

Peake, Studies 51.3 (2007), finds that while he used "primary sources on Chapman's wartime exploits," the author "has little to say about Chapman's pre-and-postwar life." See also, Booth, ZIGZAG (2007); and Owen, The Eddie Chapman Story (1954).

2. Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies. New York: Crown, 2012.

Wilwol, San Francisco Chronicle, 30 Jul. 2012, sees this as a "complex, absorbing final installment in [the author's] trilogy about World War II espionage.... [see Agent ZIGZAG (2007) and Operation Mincemeat (2010)] Macintyre is a master storyteller. Employing a wry wit and a keen eye for detail, he delivers an ultimately winning tale fraught with European intrigue and subtle wartime heroics." While Macintyre is hardly the first to write about the XX system, Macrakis, IJI&C 26.4 (Winter 2013-2014), finds that "he is the most adept at depicting the[] colorful cast of characters" and their connection to the D-Day deception operation.

For Goulden, Washington Times, 31 Jul. 2012, and Intelligencer 19.2 (Summer-Fall 2012), the author "goes a significant step further" than previous tellings of the XX system and gives "us an inside look at the highly technical workings of Double Cross." Macintyre concentrates "on six doubled agents who were colorful, productive and (at times) infuriating to their handlers." Peake, Studies 56.3 (Sep. 2012), says that "Macintyre's book provides a good read and fills in some operational gaps in this famous tale. Informative and very enjoyable."

3. Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War II. London: Bloomsbury, 2010. Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured Allied Victory. New York: Crown, 2010.

Peake, Studies 54.2 (Jun. 2010) and Intelligencer 18.1 (Fall-Winter 2010), finds that this work comes closer to telling fully the story of Operation Mincemeat than Ewen Montagu, The Man Who Never Was (1953). In Macintyre's hands, this "is a great story, well told, and a welcome corrective to intelligence history." For Oman, Parameters 41.2 (Summer 2011), this work "is extremely interesting, well written, and exhaustively researched."

Masterman, John Cecil. The Double-Cross System in the War of 1939-1945. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1972. New York: Avon Books, 1972. [pb] New York: Ballantine, 1982. [pb]

Clark comment: Masterman was head of BI(a), the counterespionage arm of MI5, during World War II, and chaired the Twenty (XX) Committee that managed the German agents captured and turned beginning in 1940. Pforzheimer notes that the author "wrote this text as an official classified history"; as released, there has been sanitization. The book remains a "veritable classic treatise" on counterintelligence and deception. The lack of direct references to the Ultra material, which was used to check on the success of these operations, is a major void in the Masterman's presentation.

According to Constantinides, The Double-Cross System is "one of the great works of intelligence literature, an outstanding one in the area of deception, and perhaps the greatest work yet written on double agents." Sexton notes that this "slender volume ought to be essential reading for those seriously interested in intelligence and deception."

In a excellent article that is more than a book review, A.V. Knobelspiesse, "Masterman Revisited," Studies in Intelligence 18, no. 1 (Spring 1974): 25-40, proclaims that "Masterman's book ... merits the appellation 'seminal.'" The work presents "lean, impersonal, underplayed facts," and "combines brevity and conciseness with donnish elegance and challenge.... The codification of [counterintelligence] operational principles which accompanies Masterman's double agent case facts makes this the only book of its kind in public print.... The underlying thrust of the methodological theory and wisdom set out in this book ... apply to any time and to any adversary."

For the debates surrounding Masterman's release of his work and some of the follow-on controversies, see John C. Campbell, "A Retrospective on John Masterman's The Double-Cross System," International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 18, no. 2 (Summer 2005): 320-353. See also, E.D.R. Harrison, "J.C. Masterman and the Security Service, 1940-72," Intelligence and National Security 24, no. 6 (Dec. 2009): 769-804.

McMahon, Paul. "Covert Operations and Official Collaboration: British Intelligence's Dual Approach to Ireland during World War II." Intelligence and National Security 18, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 41-64.

"In the early stages of the war, preoccupied by the threats posed by its neutral neighbour, and possessing little faith in the willingness or ability of the Irish authorities to protect its security, Britain had initially responded by engaging in a series of clandestine intelligence missions in Ireland. Simultaneously, British security organizations began to develop an unprecedented level of cooperation with their Irish counterparts. These two very different approaches were conducted in parallel for most of the conflict, with a surprising absence of friction, but it was eventually realized that all Britain's security needs could be satisfied by collaboration with the Irish authorities."

Miller, Joan. One Girl's War: Personal Exploits in MI5's Most Secret Station. Dublin: Brandon, 1986.

Steiner, I&NS 3.2, calls this "a delightful and entertaining account of the war-time exploits" of a young woman "who entered the secret world of intelligence and became personal assistant to Maxwell Knight,... Chief of MI5's B5 (b) section."

Miller, Russell. Codename TRICYCLE: The True Story of the Second World War's Most Extraordinary Double Agent. London: Secker & Warburg, 2004.

Peake, Studies 49.1 (2005), finds that the author "adds new details to the TRICYCLE story.... He provides many interesting new facts about the Double Cross System and TRICYCLE's handing by MI5, although analysis of their significance in some cases is open to challenge.... [A]lthough Popov was unquestionably a valuable double agent for four years, nothing in the book or his file supports the author's contention that TRICYCLE was the 'most extraordinary double agent' in the Second World War.... [T]he careless errors and many undocumented comments place the book in the easy-to-read-but-of-limited-scholarly-value category."

Montagu, Ewen E.S. Beyond Top Secret Ultra. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1978. London: P. Davies, 1977.

Pforzheimer notes that Montagu was the Naval Intelligence member of the XX Committee headed by Masterman. In particular, Montagu handled the Ultra and Abwehr traffic pertaining to naval deception and intelligence activities within the Committee. He was also the case officer for Operation Mincemeat (described in his The Man Who Never Was). "These memoirs are highly authoritative, as well as a charming and well-written contribution to the literature of intelligence."

To Constantinides, the book is an "outstanding memoir of intelligence" in which there are "many items and anecdotes to delight or to enlighten." However, he finds the chapter on Mincemeat "disappointing in that it contributes nothing new."

Murphy, Christopher J. Security and Special Operations: SOE and MI5 during the Second World War. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. New York: St. Martins, 2006.

Thurlow, I&NS 23.2 (Apr. 2008), says this is "a clear and well written study of the security issues investigated by MI5" with regard to SOE's activities during World War II. It "is solidly based on the surviving evidence, and sensible and judicious conclusions have been made about subjects which are still highly controversial.... It fills a much needed gap in its authoritative discussion of the problems and weaknesses of security" in SOE.

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