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Intelligence and British decolonisation : The development of an imperial intelligence system in the late colonial period 1944-1966

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis seeks to explain the development of an ‘imperial intelligence system’ connecting Whitehall and the colonies. The system had two roles; to collect information and process it into intelligence for policy and decision making and to provide machinery to coordinate and implement covert action in support of policy. The ‘system’ consisted of parallel information channels; interconnected, coordinated, and directed by committees at various levels. Analysis was mainly conducted in Whitehall departments. The system reflected the split between ‘security’ and ‘foreign’ intelligence and the ‘information gathering’ and ‘covert action’ roles in the British machinery. The system paralleled the British professional intelligence machinery headed by the JIC and this division prevented information from being fully integrated with other consumers in Whitehall.
The system was shaped by four major factors: threats; experience; the nature of the administrative system; and the development of professional agenda in both the administration and security organisation (the Security Service and Colonial Police Service) which dictated the points of reform and development over time. Before the Second World War information gathered by ‘police’ and ‘administrators’ was used to manage a colony’s internal politics. The end of ‘colonial isolation’ during the 1930s and 1940s meant colonial problems affected the British state’s international prestige and later its ability to fight the Cold War. To counter this, Whitehall departments sought information to increase their control over colonial affairs, despite the opposition of the Colonial Office which was used to a degree of autonomy. The Colonial Office was more closely coordinated into Whitehall. Colonial and metropolitan intelligence systems were connected and common practices and product formats adopted. Whitehall tried to use ‘counter subversion’ to shape colonial politics. Security intelligence became increasingly important in the last stages of decolonization because, it was the last source of information handed over and consequently it shaped Whitehall’s reactions to events. The machinery also assisted the British to maintain their influence in new states after independence.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2015


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