Secrets of MI6 Revealed

Article excerpt

Byline: ADRIAN WEALE

MI6: 50 YEARS OF SPECIAL OPERATIONS by Stephen Dorril (Fourth Estate, [pounds sterling]25)

SOME years ago I was given the job of training new recruits for the British Army's Intelligence Corps. There was trouble brewing with one particular recruit and I was asked to interview her to see what the problem was.

It soon emerged that she wasn't enjoying the training and it wasn't what she had anticipated.

What had she been expecting?

'I really wanted to join military intelligence,' she told me. This was a bit puzzling. 'You have,' I replied.

It transpired that, faced with the relatively mundane reality of intelligence training, she had begun to suspect that she had been duped by her wily recruiter into joining some far more tedious organisation.

Where, after all, were the elegant men in dinner jackets, and the ejector-seat Aston-Martins?

In truth, within 100 yards of where we were having our conversation, men and women were being trained in covert surveillance, interrogation, recruitment of informers, weapon handling, covert entry and the whole gamut of the craft which would be recognised by a James Bond fan.

There wasn't a deeper level of military intelligence; you just don't get to do those things every day. The problem which faces intelligence writers is similar: how do you separate fact from fiction and truth from deception in the wilderness of mirrors?

Despite official secrecy, writers who are broadly sympathetic to the intelligence services can expect to receive a certain amount of help in the form of background briefings and access to retired officers. Unfortunately, Stephen Dorril, a persistent critic of the intelligence service, has not benefited from this.

Instead, he has painstakingly - obsessively, even - collated information from a huge range of books, lectures, newspaper articles and broadcasts to produce a fascinating, highly readable and - at 800 pages of text - weighty addition to the relatively small number of worthwhile books about Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. …