MI5 at War 1909-1918

Title:                      MI5 at War 1909-1918

Author:                 Chris Northcott

Northcott, Chris (2015). M15 at War 1909-1918: How M15 Foiled the Spies of the Kaiser in the First World War. East Sussex, UK: Tattered Flag

LCCN:    2015509659

Computer File

Date Posted:      September 15, 2016

Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).[1]

Reviewed by Joseph C. Goulden[2]

Readers of British intelligence history may understandably have concluded that Christopher Andrew’s 2009, 1032-page volume, Defend the Realm[3], is the definitive treatment of the subject. Independent scholar Chris Northcott agrees with this assessment, noting that Andrew’s work “will most likely stand as the definitive history of MI5 for at least a generation.” (xiii) Yet he asserts, paradoxically, after a detailed review of the current literature, that it “does not pay enough attention to some of the key factors that help to explain why MI5’s organizational structure developed into the shape that it did.” This weakness can now be addressed, he suggests, due to the recent release of MI5 files that “make it possible to examine MI5 at the micro level and understand the intimate workings of its six branches.” (p. xviii) MI5 at War 1909-1918 attempts to correct these deficiencies for the first 10 years of MI5’s existence while recognizing that the new records amount to a version of official history and such “history is predisposed to present a distorted, official viewpoint,., compilers of official histories may choose not to reveal everything or be prohibited from doing so.” (p. xix)

Does Northcott accomplish his objective? The short answer is no. His book is not organized by discussions of the six branches. Instead, he presents a chronological history of MI5’s development with emphasis on the many cases with which it was involved and only short digressions on the organization, from time to time. And most, if not all, of which he writes has been covered by previous authors—some of whom he cites. Had he flagged the new points and compared them to omissions in previous works, his case might have been strengthened.

MI5 at War 1909-1918 does discuss the organizational evolution of MI5 branches, but this evolution is well covered elsewhere. Interesting history, little new.

[1] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.] As an example in the Library of Congress, the Worldwide Catalog, this book is listed as “M15…” instead of MI5. Goulden’s review entitles it MI5… Most likely Goulden is to be trusted.

[2] Goulden, Joseph C. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 2, Spring 2016, pp. ). Joseph C. Goulden’s 1982 book, Korea: The Untold Story of the War, was published in a Chinese-language edition in 2014 by Beijing Xiron Books. He is author of 18 nonfiction books. Goulden is a long-time reviewer of espionage and spy books for The Washington Times, for AFIO’s Intelligencer, for law journals, and other publications. Some of the reviews appeared in prior editons of The Washington Times or The Washington Lawyer (DC Bar Association) and are reprinted by permission of the author. Goulden’s most recent book [as of 2016] is Goulden, Joseph C. (2012). The Dictionary of Espionage: Spyspeak into English. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

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

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