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Defend the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5    by Christopher Andrew order for
Defend the Realm
by Christopher Andrew
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

This authorized biography was written to mark the 100th birthday of Britain's infamous MI5 Secret Service in 2009. Professor Christopher Andrew, the chair of the British Intelligence Study group, was given the task of critically analyzing MI5's history. To accomplish this project the author was given access to the private files of the Secret Service and the National Archive.

Just over 1,000 pages, this comprehensive history of MI5 details many key and covert operations. It begins at the beginning of the twentieth century, from MI5's counterespionage before the First World War to the first warning of Russia's unrivaled intelligence during the Red Menace, which would resurface with formidable strength during the Cold War. The concluding chapters focus on the time after 9/11 and also look to the future of the organization.

Professor Andrew's scholarship is supported by over 150 pages of notes and an extended bibliography; plus, 857 illustrations are sprinkled throughout the thick volume.

Although there is probably far more information here than the casual reader wants to sift through, those with more than just a passing interest in MI5 will find this a highly informative, albeit slow, read.

Rather than trying to read the book from cover to cover I'd suggest one first scan the Table of Contents carefully and then focus on a period that is of interest. For some individuals the failure of German espionage during World War I might pique their curiosity, while others might wish to begin with The Macmillan Government: Spy Scandals and the Profumo Affair or Holy Terror.

This sanctioned, behind-the-scenes look at one of the world's premier intelligence organizations is a welcome addition to the growing library of material that sheds fresh light on some of the most secretive groups in history - their inner workings, their failures and their triumphs.

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