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MI5: British Security Service Operations, 1909-1945 (Hardback)

The True Story of the Most Secret Counter-Espionage Organisation in the World

WWII WWI Frontline Books Espionage & the SOE Pre WWI Frontline: WWI Frontline: WWII Military

By Nigel West
Frontline Books
Pages: 314
Illustrations: 16
ISBN: 9781526755704
Published: 8th July 2019


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MI5 is arguably the most secret and misunderstood of all the British government departments. Its enigmatic title – much more than its proper name, the Security Service – stands in the public mind for the dark world of the secret services in general. In reality it has a very specific brief: counter-intelligence. Its object is to combat espionage and subversion directed against the UK.

Nigel West’s book traces the history of MI5 clearly and accurately from its modest beginnings in 1909 until 1945, with the main part of the book focussing upon the important role which MI5 played in the Second World War. This includes the story of the sixteen enemy agents who were rounded up in Britain who were either hanged or shot; the manipulation of the Axis espionage networks by the use of ‘turned’ Abwehr agents (the famous Double Cross System), and the all-important check on its success provided by the intercepted German signals so brilliantly decoded at Bletchley; and the various deceptions practised on the German High Command.

The book, which is laced with true anecdotes as bizarre and compulsively readable as any novel, is the fruit of years of painstaking research in the course of which Nigel West has traced and interviewed more than a hundred people who figure prominently in the story: German and Soviet agents, counter-intelligence officers and, most remarkably, more than a dozen of the double agents.

In this new and revised edition, Nigel West details the organisational charts which show the structure of the wartime security apparatus, in what is regarded as the most accurate and informative account ever written of MI5 before and during the Second World War.

Nigel’s West’s account of the early history of MI5 provides as clear a picture of the security service as has been written to date. At some time in the future perhaps the British secret services will open their archives to academic researchers, but until that time, this volume provides a great peek into the operations of MI5 from its origins to the end of World War II. Hopefully the next volume will give us some insights into the battle MI5 fought against communism throughout the Cold War.

International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence

This is a most readable book which we recommend to all levels of interest.

Read the full review here

Clash of Steel

Author article: MI5 and the FBI Evolved Alongside One Another, But Their Relationship Hasn’t Always Been Constructive as featured by

TIME, 22nd November 2019

This is a very comprehensive account of MI5's actions during the period indicated. While not a subject I have any real knowledge of, it seems well researched and accurate.

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

With this book, West also fills in a lot of gaps in my own knowledge making this a useful history volume.

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SF Crowsnest

The volume recounts many specific operations of the service, including the double-cross system and the pursuit of Abwehr spies. Nigel West is a prolific author on intelligence and security issues and a former member of parliament.

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Winston Churchill Blog

Famed intelligence expert, Nigel West has written what has to be one of the best histories of the early years of Mi5. Drawing on source material and former spies (spooks), what we get is an excellent view of what the service was and is about. Just reading where West gained some of his source material is like a who’s who of people and places that have used the service in the past... This is an excellent history from which we learn about one of the most secretive arms of the government. If you want to know about how intelligence works then this book is an absolute must.

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GoodReads, Paul Diggett

Some have suggested that the author is the unofficial historian for the British intelligence services, a murky world where nothing is as it seems. This is the most comprehensive and insightful history of British Counter-intelligence from 1909 to 1945 – Most Highly Recommended

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And for anyone who loves James Bond and Spooks, Nigel's fantastic history of MI5 from its inception through to the present day is the perfect celebration of Britain's secret service and the role it played in both wars and subsequently through to the cold war, which appears to reared its ugly head once more. Thrilling and captivating.

Books Monthly

About Nigel West

NIGEL WEST is an intelligence expert and critically-acclaimed author. Such is his depth of knowledge in these fields that The Sunday Times noted that, ‘His information is often so precise that many people believe he is the unofficial historian of the secret services. His books are peppered with deliberate clues to potential front-page stories.’ In 1989 Nigel was voted ‘The Experts’ Expert’ by The Observer.

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