Intelligence Agencies Essay

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The period between the two World Wars was a time of acute confrontations between various national intelligence and counterintelligence agencies especially in Europe. The extent to which such agencies managed to address the challenges to the benefit of their own national government is a subject of debate to this day among analysts and experts. An important case in study is the role of intelligence and in particular counterintelligence in the UK during the inter-wars period. This research assesses the degree to which MI5 and MI6 succeeded in deterring and countering the left and right wing threats coming from the Continent. Given the tumultuous historical context and the level of development of the information gathering techniques, British counterintelligence managed to deter most Soviet, Nazi, and Fascist influences during the respective period. However, taking into account the events that took place and the Second World War and the subsequent Cold War, it can be concluded that not all challenges were responded to and the role and actions of the agencies should have been more substantial.

The research focuses on several key aspects. In order to better understand the context of the implication of the counterintelligence agencies, it is important to take into account the historical background of this interaction, that is to say the inter-war period with its doctrinal influences and political stakes. Secondly, the role of counterintelligence as a modus operandi in national and international politics is vital to point out the precise position of MI5 and MI6 in the overall framework of counterintelligence. Thirdly, the activities of the agencies and their respective success / failure to counter and react to domestic and international doctrinal threats sheds light on the capacity of the British forces to stand up to left and right wing influences. Finally, the conclusion points out the implication of the British agencies as well as its shortcomings in deterring the Russian, German, and Italian spies.

The historical background in the 1930s was hugely influenced by the outcome of the First World War. The end of the war with the demise of the European empires and in particular the Russian empire created a sense of disarray not necessarily at the political level in terms of structure but rather at a doctrinal level and the national societies. Henry Kissinger (1995) pointed out in his comprehensive study of diplomatic ties and political relations that the period between the two World Wars was the undisputed result of the tensions that mounted during the First World War and failed to be diffused thru the result of the world conflagration. More precisely, the demise of the Russian Empire transformed the idea of Bolshevism and of the social state into a political doctrine, communism. On the German side, Nazism was on the rise particularly because of the tough conditions Germany faced after the end of the War, its containment, and generally agreed isolation from any economic or military development. Similarly in Italy the rise of Fascism as a result of the influences of both right and left wing doctrinal positions only added to the overall context of extremism.

Germany had suffered massively as a result of the First World War and considered responsible not only the military interference but also the political forces that determined such defeat. The rise of Nazism, a right wing oriented political doctrine, was based on an impoverished society and a historical injustice that political leaders at the time considered to be the France's control over parts of territory that would otherwise ensure German economic recovery, in particular the Ruhr region. The scope of this research does not expand to detailed accounts of the conditions in which peace was negotiated / imposed on Germany, however, the political isolation that the international community (the League of Nations in particular) exercised over Germany allowed the country to develop a political motivational approach to society, economics, social understanding and (lack of) tolerance, that would eventually allow Germany to expand its range of influence in the United Kingdom.

Similarly, Russia, the reminiscence of the Tsarist Empire, had steadily developed a new doctrinal approach emerging from the same principles of need for an economic recovery after the end of the War. It must be taken into account the fact that Russia, unlike other combative forces, withdrew from the War in 1917 as a result of the Bolshevik revolution. The revolution marked the beginning of the end for most foreign influences in national territories and the emergence of the concept of national state (Kissinger, 1995 and Calvocoressi, 1994). The communist / socialist approach to foreign intervention was a rather violent one and the belief of equality among people was increasingly appealing not only to Russians but also to the entire Balkan region. However, from the initial beliefs of historical figures such as Lenin to what communism came to be during the Stalin era, the sense of extremism was obvious.

Both Nazism and Communism were, at their roots, doctrines that had the best interest of their respective societies and the desire and need to reconstruct after the end of the War. Although both doctrines had a social basis and both had the undeniable support of their national electorate (Adolf Hitler was elected by vote in 1933 whereas the Communist Party elected Josef Stalin as Secretary in 1922), their extremist approaches marched away from these doctrines and the propaganda apparatus determined the expansion of the extremist principles throughout Europe.

Taking into account such a historical context, the European countries and the UK in particular had a sensitive concern related to the expansion of extremist forces in Europe and especially a rising Germany and an uncontrollable development of Russia, that was both from a political and geographical standpoint, far from the reach of Western European countries which made extremism an unpredictable enemy. The propaganda system in both Germany and Russia aimed at promoting their respective doctrines domestically and abroad. Under these circumstances, the role of intelligence and counterintelligence became crucial.

The Anglo- Soviet relations after the end of the War were essential for the British, as Russia would have become truly unpredictable if no contact would have been established. In this sense, "he Bolshevik revolution in 1917 provoked hostility to the extent that the British intervened briefly on the side of the Whites during the civil war, but desire for trade led the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, to extend de facto recognition to the Moscow regime in 1921 in the form of the Anglo- Soviet trade treaty. The first Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay Mac- Donald, went a step further, granting the U.S.S.R. de jure recognition in February 1924, although ambassadors were not exchanged" (Flory, 1977, p707). At the same time, the British reaction to a developing Germany was ambivalent. As mentioned by Barros and Implay (2009, p174) "Convinced of Adolf Hitler's hegemonic ambitions, British decision makers recognized that Nazi Germany would eventually have to be confronted. The problem, however, was that Britain lacked the military capabilities to deter the Germans or, in the increasing likelihood that deterrence would fail, to wage and win a war." From these points-of-view, although the approaches were ambivalent, the British recognized the threats posed by the two extremist political forces and, thru the use of MI5 and MI6, they tried to counter the expansion of these political influences in the UK.

The SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) is the modern day identification of the MI6, the foreign section of the intelligence community. While MI6 deals with "Gathering intelligence outside the UK in support of the government's security, defense, foreign and economic policies," MI5's mission is "Protecting the UK, its citizens and interests, at home and overseas, against threats to national security" (SIS, 2014) Its history dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. Thus, "The immediate background to the 1909 decision to establish the new Bureau was the threat of Germany's military and naval expansion, together with sensational newspaper coverage of German espionage activity in the UK. The Bureau's dual tasks were to counter foreign espionage in the UK (the Home Section) and to collect secret intelligence abroad on Britain's potential enemies (the Foreign Section). The Home Section was eventually transformed into the Security Service (MI5) and the Foreign Section became the Secret Intelligence Service (sometimes referred to as MI6)" (Secret Intelligence Service MI6, 2014). Therefore, the threats posed by both the German and the Russian intelligence and infiltration systems were identified before the First World War as being a concern for the British society.

The role of the agencies focused greatly on countering the influences the German and Russian infiltration techniques that included, among others, the recruitment of British students for espionage. Specialists see this as one of the most important means thru which Russian intelligence in particular managed to get information and influence the local society. At the same time, this is one of the first elements of analysis that point out the shortcoming of the British Intelligence.…

Sources Used in Document:

Reference list

Barros, A and T. Talbot. 2009. "Debating British Decision making toward Nazi Germany in the 1930s." International Security. Volume 34, Number 1, pp. 173-198.

Cohen, Paul (1986) "The police, the home office and surveillance of the British Union of fascists." Intelligence and National Security, 1:3, 416-434.

Security System. 2014. What is the difference between MI5 and MI6?. Available at

Special Intelligence Service MI6. 2014. Our history. Available at

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