Cover image for MI6 : inside the covert world of Her Majesty's secret intelligence service
MI6 : inside the covert world of Her Majesty's secret intelligence service
Dorril, Stephen.
Personal Author:
First Free Press edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xv, 907 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
UB251.G7 D67 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



M16, Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, is one of the great information-gathering organizations of the world, internationally renowned as the employer of the mythical but emblematic James Bond. Yet it has remained one of the nation's most elusive organizations. Its head, Richard Dearlove, is virtually unknown -- a contemporary photograph has never appeared in the press -- and even its true budget is not made public. There is no legal "right to know" what is undertaken abroad in the name of Britain's security, what it costs or how it is run. In the past, any dissident reports of its operations were effectively quashed. To write about M16 risks harassment and prosecution, as former members and current commentators know to their cost, and the organization has remained veiled from scrutiny. Its inside story has never been told. Until now.

Stephen Dorril, a meticulous observer and chronicler of the security services, provides a full fifty-year history for the first time, offering the most complete portrait ever of M16's motives and character and, crucially, what it has done and where it has been most influential. At the beginning

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

It's hard to imagine a tougher project than writing about an organization dedicated to keeping everything about itself secret. Dorril, founder of Lobster, a magazine devoted to following the comings and going of the international intelligence community, has used public-domain material, declassified documents that contain references to classified material, and interviews with key players to chronicle the activities of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, more commonly known as MI6. The SIS was formed in 1909 (its American counterpart, the CIA, didn't come into existence until 1947), but Dorril focuses on the years since World War II, when MI6 was dedicated to winning the cold war. The book is, at times, quite demanding: there are dozens of acronyms to keep straight (SIGINT, NDFLO-AG, ICFTUE), and the prose is frequently dense, paragraphs becoming clogged with names and dates and superscript numbers referring readers to the hundreds of endnotes. But among the names and dates and acronyms are some startling revelations (e.g, the so-called "Fourth Reich," Nazi war criminals hiding out in South America, may be almost entirely a myth). Dorril also reveals a lot of information SIS would probably prefer he hadn't, like the name of a certain top-level MI6 informant. Despite the clunkiness of its prose, the book is invaluable for readers who want to separate spy fact from spy fiction. It has already created a tempest of controversy in Britain, which should help spur interest here. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

Despite the efforts of an outraged British government determined to suppress its publication, this exhaustive study of Her Majesty's secret service appeared in print in the U.K. in March, and was serialized amid great controversy in London's Sunday Times. The fruits of Dorril's 15 years' research into the shadowy MI6 are now presented for the edification of U.S. readers. Dorril (Smear, etc.) goes heavy on revelations and myth busting. In his hands, MI6 is no longer the precision-tuned organization of legend, but appears far more American in its tendency to blunder its way through important missions. In an echo of the CIA's failed efforts in Cuba and elsewhere, MI6 is shown fumbling plans to assassinate troublesome heads of state, including Muammar Khadafy and Slobodan Milosevic. Ever shrewd, however, the British spy agency manages to fund some of its operations with CIA money. Also, Dorril claims, MI6 conducted spy operations for the U.S. in Vietnam as part of a complex, covert deal with Washington to keep British troops out of Southeast Asia. Other assertions are indeed delicious if not entirely persuasive: Nelson Mandela (who denies the charge) is portrayed as a British agent who provided key information on Libyan financing of the IRA. Dense even for an intelligence history, the work is carefully organized to avoid overwhelming the more casual reader, while providing both in-depth research for the serious student and entertainment for the well-informed spy buff. American journalists and readers accustomed to seeing our own country's secrets unmasked via the Freedom of Information Act may wonder what all the fuss is about on the other side of the Atlantic, but will certainly find much to marvel at. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Excerpt From Hot to Cold War Where the Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (M16), Major-General Sir Stewart Menzies (pronounced 'Mingiss'), celebrated 'Victory in Europe' (VE) day is not known, but it is more than likely that he was standing at the bar of White's Club in St James's where much of the informal business of intelligence work was still undertaken. To an outsider, as Menzies drank pink gins with his friends from the upper echelons of British society, it would have appeared that little had changed since the founding of the Secret Service more than thirty years previously. Born in 1890 to wealthy Scottish parents, Menzies went to Eton, where, with 'his good looks, fair hair and blue eyes', the 'golden boy' was 'the model of an Edwardian schoolboy hero'. When, in 1912, his father died, his mother married Sir George Holford, a lieutenant-colonel in the Life Guards, the regiment of his new stepson. Also very rich with links to the Royal Family, Holford was equerry to both Edward VII and George V. Menzies treasured the royal connection to the extent that he later helped foster the legend that he was the illegitimate son of Edward. Involved in heavy fighting at Ypres, Menzies won the DSO and in further action in 1915 was awarded the Military Cross. Transferred to general headquarters, he was assigned to Military Intelligence with responsibility for field security and counter-espionage. Along with his fellow majors in I(b), Menzies helped form a small dining club a feature prominent throughout British Intelligence -- in which they 'could exchange views more intimately than in the Mess'. Friendships made at the club endured and it continued to meet during Ascot week -- racing was one of Menzies's abiding passions -- and regularly at the Travellers Club. Regarding intelligence as 'high politics and a rough game to play', Menzies learned in France the valuable lesson for the future that intelligence was 'a commodity of a special kind; it not only has value in itself, but is a vital munition in the in-fighting between competing strategies and organisations'. He remained in the intelligence game after the First World War, joining the Secret Service as personal assistant to its eccentric one-legged chief, Mansfield Cumming, who was known as 'C'. The Secret Intelligence Service had been founded in October 1909 as the foreign section of the Secret Service Bureau with the task of collecting evidence of German planning for an invasion of the country. It was not long, however, before MI1c, as the foreign section became known, was concentrating its efforts on 'Red Russia'. In 1923 Cumming died 'in harness' and was succeeded by the highly professional former Director of Naval Intelligence, Rear Admiral Hugh 'Quex' Sinclair, who was known as a 'terrific antiBolshevik'. One observer claimed that Menzies remained in the Secret Service for 'psychological' reasons. He was 'by nature very reserved -- even at times diffident' and found it more congenial 'to remain in the shadows and exert covert influence'. Officers found him 'a shy, quiet man who displayed 'an aloofness which served him well in maintaining a barrier around him. This barrier, a junior officer, Desmond Bristow, came to believe, 'whether created purposely or not, kept the crawling members (arse lickers) of the office at bay, and there were quite a few. One senior colleague remarked that Menzies's cover was 'superb' -- 'he posed as himself'. A high Tory, a country gentleman, he spent much of his spare time hunting foxes with the prestigous Beaufort Hunt, whose social connections added to his chief asset in intelligence work -- 'his network of like-minded persons throughout Whitehall and the upper reaches of society'. Menzies was appointed head of M16's Military and German sections, reaching the rank of colonel in 1932. Seven years later, he was promoted to brigadier and soon after succeeded Sinclair, whose health had failed, in the post of Chief. In truth, Menzies would not have been the first choice of Churchill, who did his best to prevent him becoming 'C' -- the unofficial title -- but he was to serve the new Prime Minister loyally. During the war, Menzies hardly had a social life and rarely left his desk at Braodway Buildings -- symbolically sited between Buckingham Palace and Parliament Square. He continued the tradition of allowing his senior officers unlimited access to C's office with the consequence 'that queues formed outside his room at the end of the corridor, imperfectly controlled by lights, which showed whether or not he was occupied'. The result was that he was overworked and took no leave, and his work suffered from his weariness. One of the Service's up-and-coming stars, Kim Philby, recognised the 'horrible responsibilities that world war had placed on his shoulders' with the 'ever-present threat of a summons from Churchill in one of his whimsical midnight moods'. Although he remembered him with 'enduring affection', Philby did not consider Menzies a great intelligence officer: 'His intellectual equipment was unimpressive, and his knowledge of the world, and views about it, were just what one would expect from a fairly cloistered son of the upper levels of the British Establishment.' Young officers who worked alongside Philby agreed with the assessment. Hugh Trevor Roper (Lord Dacre) later wrote that, while Menzies was 'personally considerate, patently just, patently one could claim that he was a brilliant Chief'. Another colleague, Conservative Party historian (Lord) Robert Blake, adds that he was no 'spymaster'. While acknowledging that the successes of British Intelligence during the Second World War were 'very great' and were 'a major factor in the victory of the Western Allies', Blake recognises that 'they had nothing whatever to do with spies or espionage'. Indeed, M16's wartime intelligence-gathering on Germany had been poor, and if it had any agents of its own there, 'the secret has been remarkably well-kept'. Its American counterpart, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), whose 102 missions into Germany had far outstripped M16's thirty-plus, had been concerned that much of the information M16 shared with it was merely duplicates of material already received from other intelligence services. The few reliable Secret Intelligence Reports said to be based on 'SIS agents in Germany' turned out to be camouflaged 'Ultra' intelligence from the cryptanalytic agency, the Government Code and Cipher School (GC&CS), at Bletchley Park. Philby had recognised that Menzies's 'real strength lay in a sensitive perception of the currents of Whitehall politics, in an ability to feel his way through the mazy corridors of power'. He had been quick to claim authority over the use of Ultra -- the name given to the deciphered intercepts that emerged from GC&CS - which had managed to break the German Enigma machine code ciphers. In this privileged position, he regularly presented the Prime Minister with the 'golden eggs' of the latest intelligence on German military plans. While Menzies 'bathed in the reflected glory cast upon him by the work of the boffins and eggheads at Bletchley...the truth was that SIS could not claim exclusive responsibility for any of the major intelligence coups of the war'. Menzies, for one, realised that besides its astute control over the code-breaking successes, M16's reputation rested on the 'significant contribution' of the Special Counter-Intelligence (SCI) units, whose function was to 'receive, record and use certain information emanating from specially secret sources' -- i.e. Ultra. They were controlled by the counter-espionage Section V, which 'stood at the very intersection of these two currents, exploiting the first [Ultra] to promote the second [SCI units]'. The SCI units were also responsible for undertaking the penetration of enemy intelligence services and for the special exploitation of captured enemy agents'. If M16's reputation was to survive into the postwar world, Menzies knew that it would all depend on the development of Section V -- 'the brightest feather in C's cap.' Philby was also aware that for those officers engaged in the bureaucratic in-fighting to develop Section V, the previous six years, during which M16 had concentrated its resources on the war with Germany to the total exclusion of intelligence-gathering on the Soviet Union, had been a mere interlude in the traditional battle with the Bolsheviks. The transition from 'hot' to Cold War was short. Before the war had even ended, Menzies was turning his attention to tackling the Soviet Union, though it would take until the end of the forties before the politicians would let M16 off the leash to engage fully in Special Operations. Copyright (c) 2000 Stephen Dorril. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

List of Acronyms
Part 1 From Hot to Cold War
1 The Second World War
2 Reorganisation: Special Operations
3 Containment
4 'Uncertain Allies'
5 The World-View
6 Propaganda
7 Roll-Back
Part 2 The Front Line
8 Germany and the 3 x 5s
9 Austria: The Shooting Gallery
10 Rockets, Bombs and Deception
Part 3 The Soviet Empire
11 Intermarium
12 The Promethean League
13 Belorussia
14 The Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations
15 Poland
16 The Baltic States
Part 4 The Balkans and Russia
17 Greece and the Creation of the Para-State
18 Yugoslavia: The Golden Priest, Stolen Treasure and the Crusaders
19 The Muskateers in Albania
20 The NTS and 'Young Russians'
21 The British and Scottish Leagues for European Freedom
Part 5 The Change
22 The European Movement and 'the Battle for Picasso's Mind'
23 Rolling Back 'Roll-Back'
24 The Technical Fix
Part 6 The Middle East
25 'Unbroken Dreams'
26 Palestine
27 Cyprus
28 Iran: 'Unequal Dreams'
29 Suez: Assassins and Thuggery
30 The Macmillan Doctrine
31 The Musketeers in Yemen
Part 7 Modern Times
32 The Secret Intelligence Service
33 The Last of the Colonial Wars
34 The Slow Death of the Cold War
35 The New Agenda
36 On Her Majesty's Secret Service