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A lesson lived is a lesson learned: a critical re-examination of the origins of preventative counter-espionage in Britain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Article number13
Pages (from-to)150-171
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Intelligence History
Issue number02
Early online date10 Apr 2017
Accepted/In press21 Dec 2016
E-pub ahead of print10 Apr 2017
PublishedApr 2017

King's Authors


With the prevalence of official and authorised histories, official secrets and selective releases into Britain’s national archives, Intelligence History is in danger of moving from the ‘missing dimension’ to the ‘curated dimension’. This article seeks to show that it is necessary, and possible, to provide critical reinterpretations of important chapters within the historiography of British Intelligence History. In this article, I attempt to weave the founding of MI5’s preventative branch into the wider history of pre-war British politics and the creation of a permanent counter-espionage bureaucracy. It will assess the role of the Second Anglo-Boer War as an incubator for some of the principal, but illiberal, concepts, legislations and practices that were later woven into the fabric of the Secret Service Bureau in peace- and wartime. In addition, the Edwardian Spy-Fever phenomenon – which provided fertile soil to greatly expand Britain’s counter-espionage apparatus by inciting anti-German sentiment – will also be considered. Last, I will explore the roles of key individuals – such as James Edmonds, William Le Queux and Vernon Kell – in identifying, promoting and then offering solutions to Britain’s counter-espionage vulnerabilities.

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