Book Review: The Secret History of MI6: 1909 - 1949 by Keith Jeffery
Let’s give Daniel Ellsberg and Julian Assange unencumbered access to all the file cabinets, computers, dusty old boxes of papers and secret codes over there at Langley. For the safety of retired agents and their heirs, we’ll require that they keep them anonymous. What’s their assignment? Write an independent and authoritative history of the agency. It should be accessible to the widest possible audience but not damage national security. Oh, yes, it should be engaging, captivating and above all interesting and entertaining.
Keith Jeffery, a professor of British history at Queen’s University in Belfast, received that very assignment from the British Secret Intelligence Service with the approvals of the Chief of the Secret Service and the Foreign Secretary of the day. Mr. Jeffery has done well. His research (documented by over fifty pages of notes and bibliography) is unquestionably thorough. He distilled forty years of information into 752 pages supplemented by two sets of glossy black and white photos, sixteen pages each.
Jeffery recounts the beginning of the service in minute detail including the selection of the first members and how they were paid. The only thing missing was the ledger pages. Both world wars and the interwar years are covered in subsequent sections of four or five chapters each. We’ve reviewed other historical non-fiction works that are engaging and entertaining. It’s disappointing that we cannot say the same here.
Perhaps an economist and a journalist could have delivered a more interesting book than the history teacher.