Spies are nothing new, the monarchies of Europe have had them for centuries, bringing information of varying importance to their masters. Like today, some of that information will be on the money, there will be other times they are passing on nothing more than fake news and information.

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.

MI5 is the service that is the most misunderstood in the country, a branch of the government we think we know, but actually have no idea about. Many Britons have an idea mainly raised from fiction and TV about what they think MI5 does. Quite simply, West reminds us that MI5’s job is counter-intelligence and espionage to protect the realm from attacks up on the country.

This is one of best histories of MI5 that I have read in recent years, accurate, informative and something new on every page. While this book covers the years 1909 until 1945, important formative years, it excels in the work before and during World War Two.

I found the chapter on Aliens the Enemy Within fascinating as it deals directly with what MI5 is about. Keeping the nation safe, so we can sleep safely at night. As cliched as it sounds, it is not wrong.

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.

Paul Diggett 5/5

MI5: British Security Service Operations 1909-1945 by Nigel West
Frontline Books 9781526755704 hbk Jul 2019