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The Art of Betrayal: The Secret History of MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service Hardcover – January 9, 2013

3.9 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Easily the most pervasive and dangerous of all the modern conspiracy theories is the one claiming that President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before nevertheless deciding to invade in 2003. No other misrepresentation in recent times has so damaged the trust between government and the governed. How gratifying, therefore, that as authoritative and respected a commentator as Gordon Corera explodes that myth completely in "The Art of Betrayal," a wide-ranging, thought-provoking and highly readable history of Britain's postwar Secret Intelligence Service, popularly known as MI6.....This well-written, hard-hitting book―full of, as one footnotes states, "private information from an individual who, unsurprisingly, requested anonymity"―shows that MI6 has never in the past put its own conscience before its duty to protect the public. It mustn't start now.” (Andrew Roberts - The Wall Street Journal)

“His analysis is shrewd, his judgement sound...(the book's) strength is to present stories of the secret service's successes and failures within the political and strategic context of the times.” (The Sunday Times)

“Corera, the BBC's security correspondent, has enjoyed privileged access to key spy players from the past few decades and, writing in an engaging style, he picks up the story of the MI6 at the point where the "official" history grinds to a halt after the Second World War.” (The Sunday Express)

“As a good journalist and a reader of spy novels, Corera presents his material as fast-paced stories, from the covert diplomacy of the Cold War to recent and current security concerns in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and he humanizes the grand dramas of a duplicitous trade.” (The Times (London))

“Highly readable and well-researched account of the Service...Let's hope the current generation of spooks has learnt from past mistakes.” (The Daily Telegraph)

“A superb new history of British intelligence.” (The Evening Standard)

“The best post-1949 account of British intelligence I have read. This is as good as it gets.” (Alan Judd - The Spectator)

About the Author

Gordon Corera is a Security Correspondent for BBC News. He has presented major documentaries for the BBC on cybersecurity, including "Crypto Wars" and "Under Attack: Espionage, Sabotage, Subversin and Warfare in the Cyber Age." He is the author of The Art of Betrayal: Life and Death in the British Secret Service. In 2014 he was named Information Security Journalist of the Year at the BT Information Security and Journalism Awards. He lives in London.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus; 1 edition (January 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605983985
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605983981
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #868,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I must tell you that I found the first two chapters a bit of a slog: the prose was dry, almost academic [and there are hundreds of footnotes], and no characters to give the story focus. At one time I put it down, weighing whether I would ever finish it, and thought, well, how can you give it stars when you haven't read the whole thing? But I came back to it and finished, and I was glad I did. The initial chapters' purpose is to set the stage: the post war reconstruction of Europe, Africa, the Soviet Union, as well as the development of the international offices of intelligence agencies of the British, the US and the Soviets.

But soon enough we are given characters with dramatic arcs. A single example: Kim Philby, a mole in MI6, a counter-counter agent. During his career he was both inducted as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire as well as honored by the Soviets, for whom he was ultimately working, who put his picture on a postage stamp. Although the author goes to great pains to distinguish the real MI6 from it's fictional equivalent, there is still enough drama here which might slide into the melodramatic, or even unbelievable, were the author not to adopt a tone scrubbed of anything that might be read as sensationalistic. After all, one dictator, before he was overthrown, is made to eat his own beard, and the KGB poisons a critic of Putin with plutonium in a cup of tea.

But mostly, intelligence gathering is just that: gathering, not acting upon, intelligence.
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This book should be on the mandatory reading list for the U.S. military academies. A well written book that takes an unbiased, objective, analytical, yet practical look at the evolving role of intelligence in our world by taking the reader through the history and institutional background of where the British (and by association United States) intelligence services have come from. In addition, importantly, where they've been recently; wrapping up in a very top-shelf summary of their accomplishments, fears, and failures. I saw frightening pitfalls both intelligence services (CIA and MI6) have fallen into that could be repeated with China or other so-called hotspots today. In other words, the book really gets into the mindset, fears, and perspective of not only MI6 but also the CIA and KGB's mutual mistrust and fears, exacerbated by plain and simple ignorance of each other's position or policy. Sometimes an insider's perspective means little if it can't be communicated properly or tied into other's perceptions and contributions. The author does an outstanding job of looking a the subject by taking in a kaleidoscope of personal accounts, official positions, and historical facts. I don't think that those interested in history, MI6, world intelligence gathering, or especially a retrospective of our past, particularly during the Cold War, should pass-up this book. A real gem.
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Format: Hardcover
Alan Bates starred in two mildly comic tv films. An Englishman Abroad, by Alan Bennett, told the story of a tawdry, disheveled spy who defected to the USSR. He was irrelevant, ignored and reduced to scrounging bars of soap at receptions. In Tom Stoppard's The Dog It Was That Died, a double-double-double agent tries to commit suicide because he couldn't figure out who he was really working for - or why. Both amusing, but I had no idea how close they were to the truth. Far from the glam world of 007, intelligence is a morass of malign incompetence and paranoia.

The Art of Betrayal is an astonishing depiction of the day to day failings of the intelligence community. They stumble, they fumble, they make it up as they go along, but mostly, they accomplish essentially nothing. Along the way, they betray colleagues, friends, family, and of course, their countries. And still they make no difference to history.

For decades it seemed their primary objective was to get civil servants and spies from the other side to betray their country. Yet they were beside themselves at the thought of it happening among their own. But of course it did, and The Art of Betrayal depicts decades of such betrayal, and all the resources and manpower it took to pull it off or detect it, neutralize it or exploit it. The details are exquisite.

MI6 began in 1909, aimlessly counting things: trains, people, cargo. "Much of the routine work of MI6 was a form of glorified trainspotting." Before World War I, people were paid, for example, to help determine German naval strength by strolling around harbors and noting the vessels there.

Yet 45 years later, when it came to intelligence from inside the USSR, the USA and the UK both had "absolutely nothing".
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There is a wealth of inside information, that actually brings to light some of the back-reasons why times seemed so tense during phases of the Cold War. A lot of unheralded gallantry, a lot of unreported stupidity, massive wastes of resources and lives--on all sides--but, such is war, declared or clandestine. The history is quite compelling; a lot now makes sense....well worth the read for those who lived the Cold War era, those who value the wisdom of revisiting eerily similar paranoia as we suffer todays' crisis of the moment, and those who value an openness in our various government endeavors -- so as to be prepared with intelligent skepticism.
The author's style can be difficult to follow smoothly at times inasmuch as he tends to jump about with some elements and incidents--gets a bit disjointed with names popping up and down--but for the sake all else, it's an excellent look behind the scenes that truly paints the reality of our various society's utter fragility.
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