The Times December 07, 2005

MI6 secrets come in from the cold
By Michael Evans, Defence Editor

THE secrets of MI6’s archives, where some of the great mysteries of Britain’s intelligence operations are buried, are to be brought into the open.

Keith Jeffery, Professor of Modern History at Queen’s University Belfast, was appointed yesterday to write the history of the service from its founding in 1909 to 1949.

MI6 material post-1949 is still regarded as too sensitive. Further revelations, if they exist, about the nefarious activities of Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and other double agents must wait until a future government agrees to publish a history of MI6 from the 1950s onwards.

The archive, held at MI6’s headquarters at Vauxhall Cross,in London, is so vast that insiders admitted yesterday no one knew what secrets might be uncovered. A few select historians have been allowed limited access to MI6 material, and other secret intelligence service files have found their way into the National Archives at Kew as part of classified document releases from other agencies and government departments.

However, Professor Jeffery, 53, will be allowed total access and has been told he can write “a warts and all” history; although MI6 and the Cabinet Office will retain editorial control to ensure that material still relevant is blue-pencilled. Professor Jeffery told The Times: “It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. It’s such an exciting and challenging opportunity.”

MI6’s decision to open its archives comes after the appointment by MI5 last year of Christopher Andrew, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Cambridge University, to write a history in time for the centenary of the service in 2009.

The service has had to recognise that Professor Jeffery would not have enough time to meet the same deadline, so publication has been set for the autumn of 2010.

Intelligence sources said: “We can’t wait to see what will come out of the archives. It’s a wonderful resource.”

Although the number of secret files available is huge, many MI6 documents of the wartime periods have been destroyed, because of lack of storage space. “But also because people just didn’t think ahead to when documents they were destroying would have significant historical interest. It’s heartbreaking,” one intelligence source said.

One guiding principle for the history is that the names of past agents (not staff members) of MI6 and its own intelligence officers will be kept out.


Are there more revelations about Sidney Reilly, the “ace of spies”, in wartime Russia?

What is the true story of the 1939 Venlo incident in the Netherlands, in which two MI6 officers were kidnapped by the Gestapo, then spent the war in captivity?

What was the role of Halina Szymanska, a spy and the Polish mistress of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, who was head of German military intelligence in the Second World War?

The secret meeting between Admiral Canaris and Sir Stewart Menzies, the head of MI6, during the war — fact or fiction?

Who was the traitor working in the British Embassy in Rome throughout the Second World War?

Did MI6 sabotage the Pan Crescent vessel carrying Jewish immigrants to Palestine in 1947? (In those days, Britain was regularly attacked by Jewish suicide bombers in Palestine)