MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service

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9780743203791: MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service
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Provides an inside look at Britain's legendary intelligence agency, detailing its failures as well as its successes.

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Review:

MI6, the foreign section of Great Britain's intelligence service, began life early in the 20th century with the charge of keeping tabs on "Red Russia," and, soon thereafter, on Nazi Germany. Less effective during World War II than its American counterpart, the Office of Strategic Services, MI6 came into its own during the cold war, when Britain's spymasters recruited bright young public-school intellectuals to play a modern version of the Great Game against their Soviet counterparts in the KGB and thwart Communist ambitions around the globe.

The Soviets, writes English historian Stephen Dorril, were often a step ahead, helped along by British turncoats like Kim Philby, who provided Stalin with the names of MI6 operatives and later defected. And, like the CIA, the agents of MI6 were obsessed with conjuring elaborate schemes, including plots to assassinate Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser (with poisoned chocolates) and Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic (by means of a carefully engineered car crash). Busy planning elaborate endings to their enemies' lives, the British spies failed to comprehend important developments as they were happening, from the Belgrade-Moscow split of the late 1940s to the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s.

Such failures, lapses, and scandals have led to repeated calls for dismantling the agency, especially now that the cold war has ended. Even so, Dorril writes, MI6 enjoys a privileged position within the British government and is unlikely to see meaningful reform. Readers who know of British spydom only through the surprisingly accurate James Bond novels of Ian Fleming will find Dorril's densely detailed, often scathingly critical book to be an eye-opener. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Stephen Dorril a senior lecturer at the University of Huddersfield, has been researching and writing on covert activity since 1983. He is the founder-editor of the widely respected journal Lobster, which details the activities of international intelligence services. He has appeared frequently on British television and radio and has been a consultant to several documentaries. He lives in Yorkshire, England.

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