A Matter of Intelligence

Title:                      A Matter of Intelligence

Author:                Charmian Brinson

Brinson, Charmian (2014) and Richard Dove. A Matter of Intelligence: Ml5 and the Surveillance of Anti-Nazi Refugees, 1933-50. Manchester: Manchester University Press

OCLC:    870425127

JN 329 I6 B75 2014


Date Posted:      September 18, 2015

Compiled and Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake.[1]

A Matter of Intelligence is a study of MI5’s surveillance of German and Austrian refugees from Hitler’s Germany between 1933 and 1950, written by British professors Charmian Brinson and Richard Dove. At first glance, one might reasonably suppose that this topic was covered in Christopher Andrew’s authorized history of MI5 published in 2009.[2] When the authors discovered that it was not, they decided to fill the gap.

The authors’ objective was to “trace the course of the surveillance … when and why it began, and what rationale, if any, it was based on … and to evaluate how necessary it was or how successful it was.” (pp. 2-3) Of the more than 80,000 refugees, 90 percent were Jewish and 10 percent were political exiles, though the categories overlapped. The study examines a portion of the 5,000 files so far released, such that results must be considered preliminary. Besides individuals, MI5 monitored the activities of several suspected communist front organizations using informants. (p. 157) When a refugee found a patron among British citizens—perhaps a relative or former contact-the patron was surveilled, too.

While the book’s subtitle referring to “anti-Nazi refugees” is somewhat misleading, it is completely true. The anti-Nazis came in three principal categories: Jews, communists, and communist Jews. The latter two were designated and treated as Soviet agents or suspected Soviet agents. The authors include short summaries of what the MI5 files revealed about the suspects. Some, such as the espionage aspects of the Jürgen Kuczynski and Edith Tudor-Hart cases, are well known. But here the authors discuss what is recorded in their surveillance files about their daily lives, contacts, and their organizing activities. The file on Englebert Broda, the physical chemist who found work at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge, shows MI5 was well aware of his communist connections and suspected him of passing secrets to the Soviets-and that is what he did-but they never found any evidence and he managed to escape after the war. (p. 210)

In their conclusions, the authors express consternation that MI5 remained “so intensely concerned with the surveillance of Communists.” They go on to ponder why “the surveillance (continued] and even Intensify after the Soviet Union entered the war … when the Soviet Union was a war ally.” (p. 232) Then they return to the point they make earlier in book, asking why the surveillance operation has “not become part of the official MI5 history?” p. 233) The answer, of course, is that some of the suspects—the Fuchs case, for example—and some of those mentioned above were indeed discussed in the authorized history. Their failure to recognize this is unexplained. The suggestion that surveillance of the communists should have been stopped during the war reveals a lack of counterintelligence awareness on the authors’ part.

Overall, an interesting book that does cover much not recorded before. Well documented, it provides detail on what MI5 looked for as it attempted to defend the realm.

[1] Hayden Peake, “Intelligence Officer Bookshelf,” The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Stuidies (21, 2, Spring/Summer 2015, p. 124)Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of his reviews cited have appeared in recent unclassified editions of ClA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found online at http://www.cia.gov

[2] Andrew, Christopher (2010). Defend the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5. New York: Vintage Books

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