In This Review

The Secret State: British Internal Security in the Twentieth Century
The Secret State: British Internal Security in the Twentieth Century
By Richard Thurlow
Blackwell, 1994, 458 pp

A British historian tackles the elusive story of official surveillance, security arrangements, and counterintelligence in the context of the great challenges to British interests, beginning with the harsh and sometimes ludicrous measures of the First World War and continued with the "red threat" as represented by the Soviet tie to the British Communist Party (the British had decoded Soviet intercepts in the early years of the Soviet regime), the Second World War, Northern Ireland, and the Cold War. After the defeat of France, the British government yielded to the demands of mi5 and other agencies and interned native fascists and enemy aliens, many of them refugees from Hitler's Germany, thereby expanding the infringements of rights beyond what had been done in the Great War. British security fastened on and infiltrated the communist party, largely unsuspecting that the real Soviet espionage was carried out by traitors within the establishment. The author relates that most of the time British authorities tried to strike a balance between the assumed needs of the state and the historical rights of the citizen. A sketchy if suggestive book, based on declassified material and on earlier extensive works such as Christopher M. Andrew's Her Majesty's Secret Service. Thurlow complains of Britain's "cult of secrecy," fiercer, he argues, than that of the United States.