In Spies We Trust; Empire of Secrets

In This Review

In Spies We Trust: The Story of Western Intelligence
by Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones
Oxford University Press, 2013
256 pp. $29.95
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Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War, and the Twilight of Empire
by Calder Walton
Overlook Press, 2012
448 pp. $43.75
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Spies and surveillance have dominated headlines all across Europe in recent months. These two books help illuminate how contemporary espionage took shape. Jeffreys-Jones focuses on Anglo-American intelligence cooperation, arguing that its finest hours were during World War II and in the early stages of the Cold War. By the 1960s, the British could no longer keep up with either U.S. technological prowess or the Americans’ unilateral impulsiveness. The relationship fell into decline; today, it is no longer special.

To understand what the British were really up to in those years of decline, readers can turn to Walton’s far more thoroughly documented study, which describes the role of the United Kingdom’s intelligence agencies in defending and then liquidating the British Empire. This included intensive involvement in brutal counterinsurgency operations, colonial repression, and widespread torture, but also quite a bit of sensible, moderate advice that tended to be ignored by colonial administrations. The records of these events, suppressed by the British government for half a century, make for fascinating reading.