Published On: Wed, Jan 18th, 2017

Book : MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service

Book : MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service

By Stephen Dorril

George Friedman: Given the recent discussion of former MI6 personnel, Russians and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, I decided to look through a book I read years ago. What was on my mind was less that affair than the discussion underway over restructuring the CIA. I have a theory on the life cycles of intelligence organizations. They begin with gifted amateurs forced into service by national emergency. The U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II or Israel’s Mossad in the early days are examples. The next phase is professionalism, when the ethics of professional competence combine with the cool commitment to country. The final phase is careerism. This looks like professionalism, but the primary motive is getting ahead. This isn’t corruption, it is simply that in a vast organization the likelihood of ever really mattering is limited, and getting ahead is all there is.

In looking at the history of MI6, it is striking how long the British maintained the period of the gifted amateur. Intelligence was one thing among many the amateur was doing. He did it for adventure and love of country. Because he wasn’t a professional, with thick binders filled with processes and best practices, he innovated on the fly. Most of all, he was not worried about being fired. He was asked to help his country, and he was doing his duty. Fear of capture was a concern; dread of his next performance review was not. After World War II, the agency was professionalized, and in due course, it turned into careerism. But for a long time, MI6 was loaded with the best and brightest, who freed from the limits of professionalism could achieve extraordinary things. They were students of classical Greek literature mixed with wastrels. Certainly there were failures, including penetration by the Soviets. But the Soviets penetrated the CIA and FBI, as well. I doubt that the United States can go back to the days of the OSS, but that is not because it was less effective. It’s just that the politics won’t permit it.


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