Vol. XIX No. 2, Fall 1999

Book Reviews

Aldrich, Richard, ed. Espionage, Security and Intelligence in Britain, 1945-1970. Manchester, UK, and New York: Manchester University Press, 1998.

Richard Aldrich's Espionage, Security and Intelligence is a volume in Manchester University Press's "Documents in Contemporary History" series. As such, it is primarily intended as a resource for advanced secondary school and undergraduate teaching. However, Aldrich's piece has a worth well beyond that of simply an instructional aid. This book is also a valuable guide to the range of sources available from published and archival sources on the British intelligence system. In this fashion, Aldrich's book also provides an insight for those already familiar with the problems of doing research on the British intelligence system into how much conditions have changed in the wake of the 1993 "Open Government" initiative.

The book consists primarily of extracts drawn from papers in national archives, particularly the British Public Record Office and American National Archive in Washington, DC. However, the series editors evidently take a somewhat broad interpretation of the concept "document," as the collected papers include extracts from the memoirs of former intelligence officers ranging from Desmond Bristow, R.V. Jones and C.M. "Monty" Woodhouse to the likes of Kim Philby and George Blake. The collected documents are preceded by a detailed timeline of post-war intelligence events and a detailed glossary of the alphabet soup of intelligence acronyms particularly inescapable in a work like this. Finally, the volume concludes with an extensive bibliography and a clear and informative "Guide to Further Reading."

The documents are organized into seven parts around seven major themes. Each thematic section is prefaced by a short explanation of the subject area that provides the necessary background to understand the documentary extract presented. A paragraph or two performing much the same task also precedes each document. The first section, Part 1, on "The Secret Intelligence Organisations" deals with documents regarding the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, aka MI 6) and the less straightforward organization of British signals intelligence, concerned chiefly with Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The second part focuses on "Scientific and Atomic Intelligence." The first section in Part 2 deals with the collection, evaluation and analysis of intelligence about science and technology through the intelligence and security agencies and Joint Scientific/Intelligence Committee (a combined sub-committee of the Joint Intelligence Committee), and the Directorate of Scientific Intelligence within the Joint Intelligence Bureau. There are also sections dedicated to "Defectors from the East" and the very specialized, very high priority scientific intelligence requirements surrounding intelligence on nuclear technology and weapons. Part 3 provides information on intelligence gathered by the Armed Service intelligence branches, referred to in British jargon as "Service intelligence," and the related field of overhead reconnaissance and surveillance. Part 4, entitled "A World of Committees" (a reference, perhaps, to Michael Herman's assertion that "The greatest British contribution to modern intelligence is the idea it needs committees"1) deals with the administration and overall control of oversight mechanisms of the Cabinet Office Joint Intelligence Committee and its subordinate assessment machinery.

Part 5 handles security intelligence in the very broad sense, including the Security Service (MI 5), Eastern Bloc defectors to the West, positive vetting and "domestic" intelligence during the retreat from Empire. Part 6 provides a wide range of documents dealing with covert action and political operations, in many cases providing material on which very little information has previously been available. Besides such direct actions, Aldrich also includes material on the anti-Soviet propaganda program involving the Foreign Office Information Research Department (IRD). The final section, Part 7, focuses on intelligence liaison with foreign agencies and deception. This may appear a somewhat idiosyncratic combination, compared with the internal coherence of the other six thematic parts, but it is probably in the nature of a work like this that one is almost always stuck with a left-over miscellaneous cluster of topics that end up being grouped together.

What Aldrich does, in effect, is to cut a cross-section through the available documentary sources on British intelligence. As a consequence, Espionage, Security and Intelligence in Britain provides a striking sense of how the situation in British intelligence research has changed since the "Open Government" of now six years ago. One might, for example, compare Aldrich's book with Christopher Andrew's 1988 article and his advice to researchers trying to trace the UK intelligence services to work indirectly because "documents 'weeded' from the archive of one government department are frequently discovered in the files of another."2 Moreover, he adds, "far fewer intelligence documents have leaked into the Public Record Office from the Cold War than for any earlier period in the twentieth century."3 No doubt both of these assertions are still true in terms of overall proportions, but what is immediately apparent in Aldrich's book is that the absolute number of documents available now is far greater, and more informative, than a decade ago. Intelligence service documents still tend to be dispersed into the archives of their Whitehall consumers or the central machinery of the Cabinet Office, but that is to a very real degree a reflection of the dispersed and interdepartmental nature of intelligence in British government. Since 1993, however, there has also been a more systematic and concentrated release of intelligence-related documents than before. For example, JIC materials are increasingly accessible in PRO Cabinet Office and Prime Minister's papers, and early Defence Intelligence Staff archives have recently been released into the Ministry of Defence class.

If there is any limitation or oversight in Aldrich's work, it is the lack of any detailed discussion of communications and information security. There are brief mentions of the London Communications Security Board and the Communications Security Agency, (the latter being subsumed eventually under GCHQ), but very little beyond. However, this is not a problem unique to Aldrich's effort, and represents a more general lacuna in the study of UK intelligence and security policy.4 While JIC, MI 5 and GCHQ files have been virtually flooding the PRO, and even SIS-related documents percolate out here and there, the work of the LCSB, CSA, and more recently the Communications Electronics Security Group, remain all but untouched. There can be no doubt that such information is harder to come by in the archives since it is perhaps even more sensitive than data about intelligence and political actions. Unfortunately, just as counter-intelligence and counter-espionage are integral to any successful offensive intelligence collection effort, so communication and information security are integral to any successful SIGINT effort. As a result, we do not have the same symmetrical picture of SIGINT that we do of human operations in the literature in general, as well as in Espionage, Security and Intelligence in Britain.

Overall, Aldrich's book is a valuable contribution to the reference literature on intelligence, and would be a valuable teaching aid in courses on international relations and UK foreign policy, British domestic policing and terrorism, decolonization, the Cold War and, of course, on specialist courses dealing with intelligence. However, it may ultimately have an even greater value for researchers trying to pursue their own work on the UK intelligence system. I certainly wish something like it had been around when I started my own doctoral work.

Philip H.J. Davies
Stansfield School of Business, Singapore


1. Michael Herman, Intelligence Power in Peace and War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 269.

2. Christopher Andrew "Historical Research on the British Intelligence Community," in Glenn P. Hastedt, ed., Comparing Foreign Intelligence (London: Brassey's, 1988), p. 49.

3. Christopher Andrew, "Historical Research on the British Intelligence Community," p. 53.

4. Much the same omission exists in Michael Smith's otherwise excellent New Cloak, Old Dagger (London: Gollancz, 1996).