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Book Review: Inside intelligence, the revelations of an MI6 officer

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Owing to the nature of the job, there is a wall of secrecy and intrigue surrounding the intelligence business. Consequently, whenever there is a book written by someone from an intelligence agency, there is a measure of hype and media attention surrounding it. One such book is Inside Intelligence: The Revelations of an MI6 Officer by Anthony Cavendish.

The author’s job as a merchant banker does not seem to have relevance to the title of the book “Inside Intelligence”.

Cavendish is a former officer in the MI6. He served during the second world war and several years in the ensuing decade at the beginning of the Cold War. In the prologue, the author mentions that he wrote the book for two purposes; one, to record an account his earlier life that his children didn’t know about and, two, to defend his friend Sir Maurice Oldfield’s reputation. Oldfield was a former Chief of the MI6 and had recruited Anthony Cavendish into the service. The two had formed a lifelong friendship spanning multiple decades. There had been rumors that Oldfield was a homosexual and had lied about his sexuality when he was being recruited into the Military Intelligence Section 6. These rumors destroyed his name. Anthony Cavendish hopes to clarify these misconceptions in addition to narrating his own adventures as an undercover officer serving for the UK carrying out clandestine operations against the Soviet Union.

The first half of the book deals with the writer’s career in intelligence. He talks about how he recruited agents, how some of his agents were caught and executed, how important it is for an intelligence officer to maintain cover and not reveal his or her true identity. He also talks about the fact that several former members of the Communist party had infiltrated the MI6 and when caught, had been forced to leave the service. Some were imprisoned for lying about their past.

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The book is divided into 21 chapters. The first few chapters discuss how he handled and trained agents against the Soviet Union and the fate of those agents when they were caught. In what may appear to be a scene out of Hollywood, the author also discusses his romantic attachments with one of his sources that did not end well. Cavendish also served briefly in Europe before being forced to leave the service under a dubious recommendation by one of his seniors.

Towards the middle of the book, he talks about his experience working as a reporter at first, as a businessman and a merchant banker. Throughout his various jobs, he remained in contact and collaborated with the MI6 for one reason or another. Judging from his writing, one gets the feeling that the author felt his career in the intelligence world never truly came to an end.

The theme of the book revolves around the complexities of a career in the intelligence service. The writer’s narration is colored by his bias against the Soviet Union. He was there during the uprising by Hungarians against the Soviet Union and the brutal crackdown that laid an end to it. He persistently paints the Soviet Union as the ‘other’ or the ‘evil side’. At times he gets visceral while describing the events of the 1950s.

There had been rumors that Oldfield was a homosexual and had lied about his sexuality when he was being recruited into the Military Intelligence Section 6.

Towards the end of the book, the author talks about his friend Sir Maurice Oldfield and how his reputation had been destroyed by a concerted rumor ‘campaign’ that he was a homosexual and had lied when being recruited into the intelligence service. The author defends his friend’s reputation and falsifies accounts written in various books and newspapers that mocked his homosexual tendencies and the fact that he lied about them. Cavendish attempts to deny these charges.

Since the book was written decades after the events discussed in it occurred, there are times when the author points out that he doesn’t remember some details vividly. The writing style is very simple and straightforward and is meant to appeal to the general public i.e. the target audience is the general public who had been misinformed about Sir Maurice Oldfield.  At least a couple of time, the writer quotes other books.

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There are times when the book may feel a bit disjointed. The author’s job as a merchant banker does not seem to have relevance to the title of the book “Inside Intelligence”. However, it needs to be kept in mind that the writer is merely telling his life story and trying to defend his friend’s reputation post-homously.

It’s less than 200 pages and is a short crisp read. However, being aware of events at the start of the Cold War is necessary to have some context of what the writer is talking about.


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