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Two famous British institutions will celebrate their centenaries in 2009: the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI5 and MI6. They maintain an aura of secrecy, a touch of sophistication and a hint of melodrama even in this age of populist candor. Thomas (Descent into Danger), who enjoys justified respect as an authority on the intelligence world, has a broad spectrum of contacts and confidants in both services. He taps their memories and insights in this reconstruction of Britain's intelligence operations from the Age of Empire through the cold war and into today's constantly metamorphosing Islamic challenge. The emphasis on personal evidence at the expense of archival sources gives the work an anecdotal tone and a contemporary focus that makes the subtitle misleading. Both are compensated for by the immediacy of the material and the vividness of the narration, presenting a fascinating cast of moles and double agents, whistle-blowers and politicians. For the ambience of the closed world that inspired James Bond and George Smiley, this book is a winner. (Mar. 3)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.