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Spy secrets unveiled in history of MI6

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 21 September 2010

A book revealing the history of the first 40 years of MI6 - officially known as the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) - has been published.

A history of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, has been published.

Professor Keith Jeffery, of Queen's University Belfast, wrote the book based on his unrestricted access to archives from 1909-1949.

The book contains details about MI6's activities in both of the World Wars and beyond, including vivid accounts of successes such as the secret agent organisation La Dame Blanche, which provided information on enemy troop movements.

It also details how MI6 helped prevent a communist revolution in Brazil in 1935; supervised the Bletchley Park code-breakers; and the missions of individual agents, such as Lieutenant Augustus Agar VC, who sank Russian warships using only fast motor boats during the Russian Revolution.

The current head of MI6 Sir John Sawers said: "Professor Jeffery’s history gives a view of the men and women who, through hard work, dedicated service, character and courage, helped to establish and shape the service in its difficult and demanding early days. 

"I see these qualities displayed every day in the current service as SIS staff continue to face danger in far flung places to protect the United Kingdom and promote the national interest.  I know my predecessors would be as proud as I am of the men and women of the service today."

The Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "The debt of gratitude we owe to our intelligence and security services is hard to overstate. Without their unstinting efforts, the defence of this country, its values and way of life would have been imperilled many times."

The book is published by Bloomsbury in the UK and Penguin in the USA.

More from Channel 4 News on the security services
Book marks centenary of MI5
- Who Knows Who: secret agent recruiting hotspots
Spy's family wants records public 

The 800-page book traces the history of MI6 from when it was founded under the leadership of Mansfield Cumming, through the First World War, to the beginning of the Cold War.

Other incidents explained in the archive are the "Venlo Incident", when the Gestapo captured two MI6 officers, and the "Zinoviev letter", one of the biggest political scandals of its day ahead of the 1924 election - and MI6's role in disseminating the document.  

The book's author, Professor Jeffery said: "Being granted such unparalleled access to the archives of an organisation so immersed in the culture of secrecy was a fantastic privilege.  I am grateful for the trust and co-operation of all service staff."

An agent takes a photo. (Pictures: MI6)

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