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The invention of Queen Elizabeth's M.I.6 octopus

Friday, January 7, 2011

The British, or perhaps one should be more accurate in saying the English, Secret Service enjoyed for a very long time a reputation for almost uncanny efficiency. It is not hard to see how this legend arose, to the delight of the English, to frighten England's real or potential enemies, and thus to be a source of great, additional strength to England, later to Britain, to the United Kingdom and during its historically brief life to the British Empire. The collapse of the legend can be dated quite easily and in two stages.' The first was the defeat of British Intelligence in Ireland & Michael Collins and his men (and women) in the Anglo-Iris War of 1918-22. This, the loss of Ireland, led directly to t~ decline and ultimate dissolution of the British Empire as such, The second stage was the defeat, by Russia and by British communists of British intelligence in the period that followed the' Second World War. Both these episodes, of the greatest historical significance, will be dealt with later in the blog

it is important to establish the nature and efficiency of the 'Secret' Service' during its period of greatest renown.
It was almost certainly the invention of Queen Elizabeth's Mr Secretary Walsingham. For a century the Tudors had created an England at least as united as the France of the Values and which since the monarchy together with many of its magnates was a Welsh importation, included the whole of the southern part of the island. Its essential homogeneity was proved by its ability to withstand the social and religious revolution called the Reformation and by skilful manipulation, in which English intelligence in the widest sense learned the tricks of the trade, Scotland was neutralized and prepared for ultimate absorption.
Weaker than France in population and in wealth, England was stronger in that it had no land frontier save that with the Scots. 

Apart from Ireland, Walsingham's England had no possessions of any importance overseas, and turbulent, almost uncontrollable; Ireland was far closer to England than to any of England's real or potential enemies. England was a tight little island, provided it could control the seas and the Scots. At any time from 1588 to the present day an efficient enemy army, once landed, could have conquered England. It was therefore of supreme importance that no such army be permitted to land; and this in turn meant that the English Government, which could not afford a perpetual, full-scale naval alert, must be informed whenever such an invasion was remotely imminent or even" planned. At the height of the Counter-Reformation, England stood alone as it did during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, as it did in 1940. Few foreign agents, priests or laymen, survived Walsingham's internal counterintelligence. Externally he had learned much from Scottish affairs. His external intelligence, abetted by semi-official sabotage such as Drake's burning of Cadiz and, more important, the huge stockpiles of Spanish ship-building timber, was without parallel in the Europe of his day.
For three centuries and more the basis of British policy remained unchanged so far as Europe was concerned. Only in' extreme circumstances were British armies sent overseas to fight on European battlefields, sometimes with significant effect, as under Marlborough or Wellington, sometimes with almost none, as in the Seven Years' War or the Crimean War, but always on a very small scale compared to the armies of the other great European powers.
England preferred to use the 'Cavalry of St George', that is to say the golden sovereign, and to pay others to do the fighting. This of course involved a highly sophisticated intelligence to know not only whom were the best people to pay but also to ensure that England's treasure was not used in interests other than her own. On the whole, the system worked.
The expansion of mercantilism, soon to become an ideological doctrine, combined with the first industrial revolution, created the first British Empire in the eighteenth century. Politically, though not economically, it was a failure. The revolt of the American colonies showed the impossibility of expanding the tight patriotism of the British out Remer, The Indian Mutiny later showed the ineffectiveness of purely economic domination, a lesson that should have been learned in Ireland long before.

Only in the second half of the nineteenth century, with the impositions of direct rule on India and on ever more of Africa, combined with devolution to the 'white' areas which became the Dominions of Canada, Australia and New Zealand and finally South Africa, did the British Empire become a reality for some seventy or eighty years (not a very long life span compared to that of the Spanish or Russian Empires, let alone the Turkish, Chinese or Roman). It was based on the 'two-fleet navy' principle and on minimum entanglement in European affairs. Its sorest point, and because of proximity also its most dangerous, was and remains a minute speck of that Empire, England's oldest colony, Ireland. Great Britain's greatest potential strength, apart from a temporary and almost total command of the oceans, was its growing alliance with the first colony that had broken away, the United States of America, which from the time of its own Civil War was obviously and rapidly fated to become the most powerful state in the world, first economically and then, when challenged, militarily.
Since intelligence reflects, or should reflect, political and military realities, the British variety in the later nineteenth century became increasingly imperialist in external affairs. Canning decided to call in the New World in order to redress the balance of the old.
This pompous, arrogant and much-quoted phrase meant the destruction of the Spanish-American Empire, the acceptance of the Monroe Doctrine by which both American continents became politically though not economically a closed sphere of interest for the United States, while the rest of the seas were to be the highways for the new British Empire..
The corollary was British disengagement from Europe where the balance of power was to be left in the first instance in the hands of Metternich's Austro-Hungary backed by the strength of Czar Nicholas I, 'the gendarme of Europe'. It was a good formula for the age. Had it not been for German, Italian, Polish and later Balkan nationalism, had it not been for the revival of revolutionary fervors in France and elsewhere beyond the gendarme's control, it might have worked even longer than it did. For the British, confirmed in their nationalism and scarcely troubled by revolutionaries except in Ireland, it provided a form of political stability that endured throughout the century.

How only few clever Englishmen controlled millions of Indians

The effect of this, in the subject here under discussion, was twofold. The prestigious British Secret Service continued to enjoy an international esteem which it scarcely warranted. British intelligence was, in fact, almost the precise reverse of the Russian intelligence service described in the previous chapter. Its principal aim, outside the British Isles, was the control of the vast Indian sub-continent, and this it did with a quite extraordinary efficiency, in part because the Indian Civil Service took the cream of the administrative talent then being trained in the new English public schools that Thomas Arnold, of Rugby, had created for the new English upper middle class, _in part because the Indian Mutiny had, for the time being, fragmented even further what was left of an already disintegrating or disintegrated multi religious group of societies.

A few thousand clever Englishmen controlled many millions of Indians for some seventy years. In the process, however, they degenerated in large measure to become the 'pukka sahibs' of legend and of farce. Localized in India, glamorized in the pages of Kipling, they were in their time and place extraordinarily efficient. They did not, however, have to compete with any rival force of comparable organization or ability. The result was that in India, British intelligence (perhaps in every sense of that word) suffered from fatty decay.
Internal British security, or counterintelligence, was jess hampered by tradition. It is not without very considerable significance that the Special Branch, which bore the major burden of dealing both with subversion and with foreign espionage, had been originally called the Irish Special Branch. In the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first of this, Ireland was unusually quiescent. Only with the recreation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, early in the twentieth century, did a really effective anti ... English leadership begin to come into existence once again. And this the Irish Special .Branch failed, it would seem completely failed, to penetrate. Reporting that Paddy Murphy had expressed anti English feelings loudly in a pub in the County Clare was hardly the sort of training needed by men who were to deal with the security problems of our century.
As a military force the British home army was so small, and in general so ill-equipped, as to require only the most perfunctory survey.
Horse guards and Lifeguards on beautiful horses and dressed in elegant, antiquated uniforms, were of little interest to foreigners, the rest of the army hardly more so. And the internal situation in Britain was extraordinarily placid. Successive Reform Bills, of which Disraeli's in 1867 was the most important, had given the people of Britain at least the illusion of democratic self-government. Though poverty was both grim and widespread, and there were until 1910 no 'welfare' ameliorations comparable to those Bismarck had given to the Germans in the 1880, extreme poverty was on the decline, even if the huge financial gap between rich and poor was if anything on the increase. However, the class system was generally accepted, palliated by class mobility and the concomitant snobbery, and the ever-growing upper and lower middle class was solidly patriotic and anti  revolutionary. There were no deep-rooted social fissions, as in France let alone in Russia. Even in Ireland conditions were improving as the result of various land reform acts. The policy there was to 'kill Home Rule by kindness' and with the fall of Parnell and the consequent splitting of the Irish nationalists in 1890, even the Irish Special Branch had, for once, comparatively little to do. Finally the policy known as 'splendid isolation' implied no major military commitment, indeed preferably no commitment at all, in the affairs of Europe, and therefore no need for any profound study of military matters beyond Calais 'where niggers begin'. The general picture could be provided quite adequately by the Foreign Office through and from its diplomats."
Only in India, and to a lesser extent in Africa, was there some need of real military intelligence. In India there was not only the Problem, quite easily solved since the Mutiny, of ensuring that no new mutiny was brewing: none was. More important there were constant skirmishes with the Afghans and other tribes near the northwest frontier, and more important still was the fact that behind that frontier lay Russia. The pressure of Russian expansionist policy was very real throughout the last third of the nineteenth century and an Anglo Russian War for the control of the sub continent was not only feared but also frequently expected. It was therefore in this area, the only one where Britain was confronted on land by a major power that British military intelligence was most active, and its officers received some measure of practical training. It was probably inevitable that 'the Indians' gained a great measure of control inside the largely amorphous and highly inefficient military contingent in the body known as 'the Secret Service'. The novels of Kipling, and even more those of John Buchan, portray the stereotype: immensely brave, stiff-upper lipped (the moustache helped here), and making up in patriotic determination what was lacking in brains. When first put to the test outside India, in the Boer War of 1899-1902, British intelligence proved itself hopelessly, one might well say totally, incompetent no less an authority than Admiral Lord Fisher described British intelligence in that war as 'a wretched failure'. It took the huge British Empire, and then at the height of its power three years to conquer a handful of Dutch farmers clearly something had to be done.
Not much was. We have a vignette of Robert Baden Powell, the creator of the Boy Scouts and a keen entomologist as well as an equally amateur spy, taking his butterfly net as camouflage while sketching the fortifications of Cattaro in what is now Yugoslavia.' Why, is not clear.

There was also a Russian Jew, who took the name of Sidney Reilly and was described by Robin Bruce Lockhart in his biography Ace of Spies 2 as just that. He is said to have secured the Persian oilfields for Britain more or less single-handedly, at the turn of the century. Since the value of Persian oil was then scarcely recognized, he was either extraordinarily prescient or as eccentric as the future Chief Scout in any event the Persian oilfields have remained the property of the Shah of Shahs.

More serious were the creation, following on the fiasco of British Intelligence in the Boer War, of two branches of military intelligence, M.I.(Military InteIIigence) and M.I.5. Even this seems to have proceeded at snails, or bureaucrats, pace. When on 1 July 1911 the German gunboat Panther arrived in the Moroccan port of Agadir, with the Kaiser on board and with the apparent intention, or at least the option, of annexing that country, or of preventing the French from so doing, the Secret Service was taken by surprise its basic reorganization was expedited., despite its name which was quite frequently changed as is the habit among espionage organizations, was in fact always headed by a naval officer until late in 1939. later became M.I.6 and, later still, the Secret Intelligence Service or 8.1.8.

British Empire, M.I.6 octopus

That is to say within the British Empire, M.I.6 abroad this should have been an obvious nonsense. A man on the track of an enemy spy was inevitably investigating one tentacle of an octopus whose main body was elsewhere. Yet when he crossed to France or Germany or Russia, he was theoretically acting beyond his competence. Similarly an agent of M.I.6 had to outwit the enemy's or potential enemies own counter-intelligence service. That service, however, was not neatly confined within the enemy country. This led to a considerable measure of confusion; rivalry and ill-feeling between the two British branches, all the more so since both had in some measure to spy upon the other in order to prevent enemy infiltration.
The question Quiz custodies is perhaps unanswerable in any secret intelligence organization.
Furthermore, there was and never could be any hard and fast line between the work of M.I.5 and that of the Special Branch of the police, though here co-operation was easier. Finally there were borderline cases, such as Ireland. Until the creation of the Irish Republic in 1949 Ireland was still (if only technically since1923) a part of the British Empire and therefore outside the area of operations of M.I.6, while the elaborate if somnolent apparatus of the (originally Irish) Special Branch did not relish M.I.5 poaching on what it regarded as its hereditary preserves. Thus was Easter 1916 as complete a surprise to the army as Agadir had been five years before, and a nastier one. Failing to profit from: this lesson, the S.LS. was not present in Northern Ireland when that province boiled over in 1970, and although M.I.S* was a little more active, its target was originally less the Irish Republican Army as such than the I.R.A.'s relations with Communist secret services. When the I.R.A. split in 1971 into Official (Communist) and Provisional (American  financed) branches, British intelligence failed to grasp the great significance, and British politicians to exploit it, with results that are still incalculable. And the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary was, so long as Storming lasted and perhaps beyond

Catholic masters in Northern Ireland than in serving the United Kingdom as a whole.
But long before all this happened, the main function of the British Secret Service had been almost completely checkmated. With Russia the principal potential enemy t and recognized as such after 1945, the head of one vital branch of the S.I.S for ten crucial years was in fact a Russian agent, 'Kim' Philby, for a slightly shorter period the principal link between the British Secret Service and the American Central Intelligence Agency was Philby's friend and protege, another Russian agent named Donald Maclean.
Guy Burgess was the third member of this trio, less dangerous than the others but hardly a credit to British security. And it can be said with reasonable certainty that they were not, and are not, the only Russian agents enjoying high office in the British and probably also in the American - intelligence services. In fact it is enlarged to global proportions, the old story of the Okhrana and the Revolutionaries all over again, within a new and, in the nuclear age even more frightening framework. And one of the major, if ancillary, functions of any intelligence service is to frighten the real or potential enemy. This is an essential part of what has come to be called psychological warfare.
Secret intelligence shades off into two other activities which have been mentioned already and which will be dealt with in greater detail later in this book: one of these is psychological warfare, the other sabotage. In order to avoid confusion it would be as well to define these, briefly, here. 'Psychological warfare' is a messy phrase, an olla podrida of many ingredients.
Its basic purpose is to persuade the enemy, soldiers, civilians and even governments, first that they should not win or even fight a war (or what is nowadays called a confrontation) and when this is impossible as is almost always the case that they cannot win the war, that its continuation is a mere waste of life and treasure, and that therefore immediate surrender is desirable. Since nationalism, or what some would still prefer to call patriotism, is even today the most powerful political force in the world, the successful practice of psychological warfare against any foreign power that is not already on the very verge of defeat is extremely - di1fiaJlt if not pointless. This, however, may not always be true.

Its overt form is of course propaganda, to which an exaggerated importance can and has been attached in wartime. It is certainly far more effective in pre-war conditions, provided it is skillfully used; and it is here that it becomes in some measure part of political and military intelligence, for in order to be convincing it must appear to originate in the country against which it is directed. Furthermore it should be based on an emotion or a political attitude that is not only autochthonous but also morally respectable. An obvious example, at least in the Western world, is pacifism. It was obviously in the interests of the Nazis and is now in that of the Communists to encourage such pacifism, but unobtrusively. One method is the infiltration of pacifist organizations with enemy agents. Another, and more successful, is to harness a great reputation to an apparently respectable but in fact a disreputable cause: for example, Bertrand Russell, a distinguished mathematician and philosopher, but a political ignoramus whose 'pacifism' implied surrender to the Nazis ('Let them come here as tourists') and later to the Communists. It was obviously in the interest of England's enemies not to support him directly in his defeatism, but to exaggerate his intellectual brilliance so as to give even his more idiotic utterances an aura of respectability.
Another form of propaganda, and usually a more successful one, is the appeal to an internal patriotism within the enemy state: to the Irish in 1798 or 1914, to the Ukrainians in 1941. This, how ... ever, is a very difficult card to play.

The Irish did not wish to shake off English rule in order to be ruled by Frenclunen or Germans. The Ukrainians greeted the Wehrmacht as liberators, with bread and salt, only to find that behind the soldiers came the murderous 8.S. and of course the carpetbaggers. Political intelligence of a more skilful sort than that of the Nazis would have harnessed anti-Russian nationalism within the Soviet Union and won the war for Germany; it could not, however, win it for the Nazis.
A word should be said here about what may be called the fifth column syndrome. It was the Francoist General Mola who said, during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, that he had four columns marching on Madrid and a fifth, awaiting him, inside the Spanish capital. This was in fact untrue, but the words enter the politico-military language. In another form they produced the 'reds under the bed' neurosis of Senator Joe McCarthy's so called witch-hunt, which found no witches. 'They' - that is to say the enemy - are up to their tricks again. This can often become a sort of paranoia to which a good counter-intelligence service should be immune (but is not always) and to which the general public far more readily succumbs with a consequent loss of confidence in its own security services that can have a damaging, even a crippling, effect upon the whole nation. The French are perhaps particularly sensitive in this area. For many Frenchmen the loss of a battle, a campaign or a war produces an almost knee-jerk reaction: 'Nous sommes trahis l' or even, 'Nous sommes vendus', by of course their .own allies and their own leaders.

Now there certainly were Spaniards in Madrid who wanted the Nationalists to win the Spanish Civil War. But they were not a 'column'. There were and are Americans in government, the media and so on who, consciously or not, desired and desire to see American society drastically modified if not weakened to the point of destruction. The C.I.A. certainly preferred to see Congo ... lese mineral deposits - the importance of which was perhaps exaggerated at the time - controlled by a Tshombe rather than by a Lumumba and American business interests in Chile did not like the Allende regime, while the Soviets make the maximum mileage out of American mistakes in Indochina or British mistakes in Northern Ireland or in the so-called Cod War in Icelandic waters. These, however, are more often the exploitation of a situation than the implementation of a plan yet it will sometimes suit one side, or even both, to present the incident as a piece of devilish or skilful chicanery and the fifth column syndrome is, in moments of crisis, capable of assuming monstrous and even defeatist proportions.

When the French were losing the Battle of France in 1940, it became popular belief that the Germans not only knew everything about France but were everywhere, misdirecting military convoys, posing as French officers and so on. All this was quite untrue.
A few months later, when Britain was fighting for her survival, an even more extraordinary myth sprang up. The German radio employed an Irish-American broadcaster by the name of William Joyce, nicknamed by the Daily Express, to broadcast in English. It was said, and for a while believed, that this man knew everything that was going on in England. He was supposed to have broadcast, for instance, that a certain town clock was ten minutes slow, that a certain obscure country road was being retarded, that a certain politician had moved house, and so on. Not only was all this totally untrue, but what is more important, no such claim to detailed omniscience of this sort was ever made over the air by J oyee Yet by word of mouth these stories traveled across England to the extent of causing the British government considerable anxiety. There is no reason to believe that this scare was inspired or even exploited by the Germans in any way
It was simply a manifestation of the sort of hysteria that can arise in a nation when that nation is suddenly made aware that its very existence is threatened. And it is, of course, a quite gratuitous bonus to enemy intelligence. That spies and traitors exist, from time to time and from place to place, goes without saying. Fifth columns, however, do not or not yet.
Sabotage, that is to say action within the territory of the actual or potential enemy, is connected with secret intelligence in quite another way

The intelligence service is part of the armed forces. It is also, and inevitably, therefore part of the entire governing apparatus. Sabotage falls roughly into two categories: the physical destruction of enemy installations, and the undermining of enemy organizations such as communication or industrial concerns, trade unions and indeed anything that forms part of the hostile, or potentially hostile, power structure

In the first case the active nation's armed forces are usually involved, in the second often scarcely if at all
The best near-contemporary examples are the Bay of Pigs action, carried out with almost incredible incompetence by the American Central Intelligence Agency not all their sabotage or quasi-military actions were so ham fisted and of the second sort the longer range activities of the Russian K.G. B  in Europe and America


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