The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence

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9780719554261: The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence
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After 1945, Western capitals were dominated by the fear of a "Nuclear Pearl Harbor". Atomic bombs, new biological and chemical weapons, and ballistic rockets such as the V-2 against which there was no defence, combined to create an atmosphere of deep menace. The urgent need for better warning systems allowed the Western intelligence community to grow to unprecedented size and power. Meanwhile, under the precarious ceiling of nuclear deterrence, London, Washington, Moscow and Peking all sought new ways to play out their struggle. For these too they turned to the secret services, who developed further the clandestine operations evolved in the Second World War, such as underground armies, radio warfare, economic destabilization and cultural subversion. "Hidden hand" conflict, though, proved nothing less than explosive. Bitter arguments over provocation threatened to tear Western capitals apart. By 1952 the CIA was accusing the British SIS of "fouling up their operations" in the Eastern Bloc. Meanwhile, many in London had come to regard the Americans as bent on provoking a Third World War. Documents sent to Churchill and Attlee, revealed for the first time in this book, show that British intelligence chiefs believed the American military had set a target date for a war in which Britain would be obliterated. The key aim for Britain was not to contain the Soviet Union but rather to prevent a hot war provoked by the US Air Force and the CIA. Despite military decline, Britain maintained her status as a secret service world power for far longer than anyone suspected, so her intelligence contribution allowed some influence over her volatile partner, as well as guiding Prime Ministers in the fancy footwork of imperial retreat. The "hidden hand" also helped American Presidents - faced with the glass ceiling on American power created by nuclear weapons, and the need to coerce a disconcerting number of troublesome neutrals - to square some difficult circles. Above all, the American secret service allowed continual extension of Presidential power over foreign policy. Only with a new climate of revelations in the mid-1960s was the "golden era of special operations" brought to an end.

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Review:

America and Britain have long enjoyed what leaders in both countries have deemed a "special relationship." Their closeness has long been cemented, Richard Aldrich writes, by shared intelligence--"the hidden hand" of his title, even if their intelligence communities have sometimes been at odds and worked to different purposes. In the postwar era, writes University of Nottingham professor of politics Aldrich, American intelligence was aided immeasurably by Britain, which had had considerable experience in keeping tabs on Russian agents for decades, thanks to the long-played "great game" in Central Asia. One successful joint enterprise took place in Iran, threatened by Soviet invasion after World War II: even with a few missteps, joint American-British efforts led to victory in a battle largely fought through propaganda, even if that battle gave America strategic advantage in the Persian Gulf region at Britain's expense. Other joint efforts were less successful, including the cynical abandonment of the Hungarian rebels of 1956, and relations between the two powers were often strained by competing interests, such as those made evident by the Suez crisis. Despite errors of judgment, spy scandals, interagency and international competition, and other blights on the record, Aldrich observes that "Cold War intelligence was neither fruitless nor a zero-sum game, and its most substantial benefits might be measured through inaction"--that is, the fact that the war stayed for the most part cold. Aldrich considers the whole range of operations in this detailed account, which will be of considerable interest to students of cold war history. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Richard J. Aldrich has written extensively on the secret service. Coeditor of the journal Intelligence and National Security, he is currently Director of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies and Professor of Politics at the University of Nottingham.

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