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October 19, 2012 7:13 pm
MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service, by Gordon Corera, Phoenix, RRP£8.99, 481 pages
BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera’s illuminating postwar history of Britain’s secret intelligence services is told with the brio of a thriller and a good deal more clarity. Corera maps MI6’s key battles and cultural shifts from the days when it was an amateurish, elitist brigade operating out of shabby, lino-floored rooms to its current high-profile headquarters.
Starting in Vienna, fulcrum of cold war espionage, Corera fleshes out a cast that includes the charming and brilliant traitor Kim Philby and the service’s first female agent in Africa (and eventual controller of MI6) Daphne Park. Corera shows how defectors such as Oleg Gordievsky chipped away at KGB supremacy, and British spying shed some of its public school prejudices and became more professional.
From the “Moscow Rules” of the 1960s to the more atomised risks posed by global terrorism, Corera offers insights into the moral and political ambiguities that lie beneath the glamorous veneer of espionage.
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