Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War, and the Twilight of Empire

Overview

Against the backdrop of the Cold War and the looming specter of Soviet dominance in Britain's dwindling colonial possessions, the imperial intelligence service MI5 played a crucial but virtually unseen role in tipping the scales in favor of America and her allies. Working clandestinely behind the scenes, MI5 operatives helped to prop up newly independent states across the globe against a ceaseless campaign of Communist subversion. Though the CIA are often assumed to be the principal actors in the prolonged ...

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Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War, and the Twilight of Empire

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Overview

Against the backdrop of the Cold War and the looming specter of Soviet dominance in Britain's dwindling colonial possessions, the imperial intelligence service MI5 played a crucial but virtually unseen role in tipping the scales in favor of America and her allies. Working clandestinely behind the scenes, MI5 operatives helped to prop up newly independent states across the globe against a ceaseless campaign of Communist subversion. Though the CIA are often assumed to be the principal actors in the prolonged struggle against the KGB and other Soviet agencies, the so-called "special relationship" between Britain and the United States became the driving force behind an enormous overhaul of Britain's colonial intelligence system, which would play a key role in destabilizing and defeating the Communist threat.

In Empire of Secrets, pioneering intelligence historian Calder Walton reveals how Britain contributed largely silently yet stunningly effectively to the Cold War effort, their victories as invisible to the larger world as their defeats. Mining recently declassified intelligence records, Walton uncovers this missing link in Britain's post-war history. He sheds new light on everything from violent counterinsurgencies fought by British forces in the jungles of Malaya and Kenya, to urban warfare campaigns conducted in Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula. Drawing on a wealth of top-secret documents, as well as hitherto overlooked personal papers, this is the first book to utilize records from the Foreign Office's secret archive, which contains some of the darkest and most shameful secrets from the last days of Britain's empire.

Packed with incidents straight out of a John le Carre novel, Empire of Secrets is an exhilarating read by an exciting new voice in intelligence history. The stories here have chilling contemporary resonance, dealing with the use and abuse of intelligence by governments — state-sanctioned terrorism, wartime rendition, and "enhanced" interrogation. Britain's bloody imperial past can provide valuable lessons for our present and future.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/23/2013
Walton seeks to uncover the role British intelligence services played as Britain’s empire began a steep and sudden decline. In the aftermath of WWII it became clear that the glory days of British intelligence were over and that it would be playing sidekick to the Americans, beginning with the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran. Walton’s account of the struggles of British intelligence to manage this uneven and often volatile decline showcases the responses of British agents and organizations who struggled to keep up with events that were far out of their control. The work is authoritative, but rarely accessible to the average reader. Walton is at his best when he focuses on the startling details of his research into these declassified archives, investigating how Anthony Eden cherry-picked intelligence in the lead-up to the Suez Crisis, and how Jomo Kenyatta went from being viewed as a communist villain by MI5 to being an ally who used the security and intelligence networks left behind by the British to monitor his political opponents in Kenya. Though he struggles throughout to be concise, Walton’s study sheds light on Britain’s actions during the Cold War, and its withdrawal from its colonies. 16page b&w insert. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-10
A fresh exploration of MI5's role in the prickly process of extricating Britain from its colonial grip. Having worked closely as a research assistant on Christopher Andrew's official history of MI5 (Defend the Realm, 2009), historian Walton introduces much newly declassified information for a startling look at the Security Service's role in smoothing the transition of power as Britain began, after World War II, to relinquish (or lose) its hold over its colonial empire. Unlike Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, in charge of gathering intelligence from foreign (non-British) sources, the domestic MI5 was also delegated as Britain's imperial intelligence service, in charge of counterespionage, countersabotage and countersubversion across the colonial empire. Walton is certainly an expert in sifting through these layers of official distinctions, and he writes with methodical authority, first examining how the services were formed in 1909 during peacetime in response to fears about Britain's "colonial frailty" in the aftermath of the Boer War, considered by some as the first blow to the British colonial bulwark. Gradually, in the 1930s, MI5 began posting officers to British territories overseas, moving from a skeleton crew to a growing force of career professionals, especially after World War II as the Cold War kicked in and terrorism in the Middle East ramped up. From here, Walton moves from one hot spot to another, tracing MI5's counterterrorist measures in Palestine, the Malayan Emergency, and insurrection in African colonies like the Gold Coast, Nigeria and Kenya. These measures were more brutally executed than the British record had previously allowed--e.g., the quelling of the Mau Mau insurgency of 1952. MI5's mission was to keep former British colonies from drifting into the Soviet orbit and to vet newly elected leaders of communist tendencies. A good first step at clarifying decades of official lies and failures.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781468307153
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover
  • Publication date: 11/14/2013
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 607,251
  • Product dimensions: 6.54 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Calder Walton is a leading expert among a new generation of intelligence historians. He earned a Ph.D in History from Cambridge, has published widely on intelligence history, and has reviewed books for the Times Literary Supplement. He was one of the principal researchers on Christopher Andrew's unprecedented authorized history of MI5. This is his first book.

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