PART SIX

FROM HOT WAR TO COLD WAR

19

Adjusting to peace

Although the conclusions of the Bland committee in December 1944 laid out the broad principles upon which SIS was to develop in the post-war years, the assumption underlying the report that there would be a breathing space after victory had been secured during which the machinery of British intelligence (and, indeed, perhaps the country as a whole) could regroup and reorganise proved over-optimistic. The realities of the postwar world, in which renewed challenges for Britain and SIS, especially those posed by the Soviet Union, combined with national exhaustion and virtual bankruptcy, soon swept away any sense of euphoria. The unexpected change in government following the July 1945 general election, when the Conservative Party and Winston Churchill were decisively defeated by Labour under Clement Attlee, meant that SIS had a new set of political masters. Although Labour had been an integral part of the wartime coalition administration, and Attlee (among other Labour ministers) had been inducted into the existence and role of SIS, the reforming zeal which Attlee’s Cabinet brought to the whole range of government focused attention and resources on domestic matters and national reconstruction. But it also underpinned a readiness to review the postwar intelligence organisation and SIS’s place within it.

Whitehall warfare

In the summer of 1945, following one of Bland’s recommendations, Sir Findlater Stewart, who had been head of the Security Executive and a member of the XX Committee, had already begun an inquiry into the Security Service, MI5. The perennial question of whether MI5 and SIS should be merged into a single organisation was considered briefly but rejected, and Stewart produced a draft directive for MI5’s peacetime operations which confirmed that it existed solely ‘for the purposes of the Defence of the Realm’ and that its responsibilities were confined to British territory. ‘M.I.5’, wrote Stewart, ‘should continue to be responsible for obtaining “counter intelligence” in the Empire by the means used in the past. But’, he continued, ‘the acquisition of intelligence, including counter-intelligence, by secret means elsewhere, must remain a matter for S.I.S.’ Attlee (after consulting Menzies) approved the directive in April 1946, though only after his Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, had insisted that the Foreign Office’s intelligence role was formally recognised by adding a sentence to the effect that ‘on matters affecting the Foreign Office or the responsibilities of S.I.S., no action should be taken, except after consultation with the Foreign Secretary’.1

By the end of the war SIS’s relations with the Foreign Office operated on a number of levels. At the top, important policy matters were handled through regular personal contact between Menzies and the Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Alexander Cadogan, who was succeeded by Sir Orme ‘Moley’ Sargent in February 1946. At a lower level the Permanent Under-Secretary’s private secretaries (notably Peter Loxley before his untimely death in February 1945, his successor Tom Bromley, and Aubrey Halford from the beginning of 1946 until the spring of 1949) played an important role in day-to-day contacts. From 1943 the Services Liaison Department in the Foreign Office, which came directly under the Permanent Under-Secretary, dealt with military planning and co-ordinating bodies, such as the Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee and the Joint Planning Staff.2 Cavendish-Bentinck headed this department and was also chairman of the JIC until July 1945 when he was succeeded by Harold Caccia. Caccia, in turn, was followed in the autumn of 1946 by William Hayter, who served until the end of 1949, by which time the Services Liaison Department had been replaced by the Permanent Under-Secretary’s Department, which took over the work of both the Services Liaison Department and that of the private secretary to the Permanent Under-Secretary so far as it involved SIS and the other intelligence agencies. From early 1942 there had been a further link between the Foreign Office and the Service through the appointment of a Foreign Office representative in SIS Head Office with the designation of ‘personal assistant to the Chief’. Patrick Reilly and Robert Cecil had successively held the post until the latter was posted to the Washington embassy in April 1945. SIS officers occupied the position until October 1946, when there was a reorganisation of the Chief’s personal staff and Terence Garvey (who had been a private secretary to the Permanent Under-Secretary) was appointed to the new position of Foreign Office Assistant to CSS, which thereafter became the main link between SIS and the Foreign Office.

Early in 1946 Harold Caccia prepared a paper on the work of SIS which provides a useful snapshot of the Service in the immediate postwar period. Menzies, he asserted, was ‘doing all in his power to ensure that intelligence of the kind that only he can get will be provided’. Caccia, at least, was convinced, and his covering minute reflected the Foreign Office view, that by the beginning of 1946 the Soviet Union had already become the principal threat. ‘The main target is, of course, Russia,’ he wrote, ‘and in view of the difficulty of piercing the iron ring of Russian controlled territory “C’s” field is wider and task harder than ever before.’ He argued that three things were necessary from the consumer of intelligence: ‘patience, support and interest’. Patience was required ‘because it may take years to get an agent into the position of trust from which alone he can supply the information required’. Support was necessary ‘because the Secret Service will not be able to do the job without the necessary funds’ and interest ‘because the test is value to the consumer and it is as old as it is true that you get the Secret Service that you deserve’.

In his paper on SIS, Caccia raised a series of important issues for the postwar Service. These included the allocation of resources, both in terms of the overall Secret Vote and as between signals intelligence (in the broadest sense) and human intelligence; and tasking, with the linked issues of the SIS-MI5 division of responsibilities and the question of special operations. He began by listing different ‘clandestine methods’ by which the Service (including the Government Code and Cypher School) was currently organised to obtain intelligence. These included intercepted telegrams; intercepted telephone calls (marked as ‘very secret, & not known outside F.O.’); and ‘Agents’ reports’. He noted that the advantage of intercepted communications was ‘that we get from them the actual correspondence of foreign governments or their representatives’, while reports from agents were ‘mainly intended to cover quite a different field, namely those questions about which it is difficult, if not impossible, for regular representatives to get information by ordinary means’. He illustrated this by citing ‘the activities of communist parties’ as ‘an example of the sort of question asked’. Caccia then turned to the organisation of intelligence, noting that Menzies had ‘since the end of the war reviewed his whole organisation to try to ensure that he will be able to provide what is wanted in peacetime over a long period’. There were ‘two main problems’: ‘1. how to divide expenditure between . . . “intercepted” intelligence and . . . agents’ reports, and 2. how to recast his organisation for getting the kind of agents’ reports which will be required in peacetime’.

Caccia recognised that the machinery for signals intelligence was ‘by its nature costly and uncertain’, but observed that all departments had ‘been anxious that this branch should be maintained if not at a wartime rate at least at a high scale for the sake of the “hard news” that it gives’. He reported that Menzies was ‘reorganising and rehousing his “factories”’; was in negotiation with the United States and the Dominions ‘for exchange’; and that he had got Treasury sanction for much of the ‘listening expenditure’ to be borne on the open Post Office Vote. In terms of human intelligence, Caccia noted that SIS had now to refocus its principal efforts on political rather than the military intelligence which had been the priority during the war. Major reorganisation was required, moreover, since during the war SIS had ‘worked so closely with other Secret Services that many of its staff have become “blown”’. There was also the problem of accommodating SOE’s residual functions of ‘training and research in this country and the collection abroad of those kinds of intelligence that are useful for S[pecial] O[perations] in war; suitable landing grounds, demolition targets, etc.’.3

In a further note on the work of the Services Liaison Department prepared in February 1946 for the new Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Orme Sargent, Caccia confirmed that Menzies was engaged in a ‘root and branch reorganisation’ of ‘every single one of his various activities’ which, he thought, would ‘certainly not be completed before the end of the year’.4 Menzies, in fact, had begun planning for the postwar Service early in the spring of 1945, evidently as a response to the Bland Report, with the ‘C.S.S. committee on S.I.S. organisation’. He himself took the chair, though the day-to-day work was handled by his deputy chairman, Maurice Jeffes, who had been Director of Passport Control since 1938. The other full members of the committee were Dick Ellis, Bill Cordeaux and Kim Philby. Thus Menzies included a balance of long experience (Jeffes, Ellis and Cordeaux) and comparatively new blood (Philby), though in the latter case also presumably ensuring the distribution of the committee’s proceedings to the Soviet intelligence service.

When they reported on 13 November 1945, the committee stated that their overall aim had been ‘to plan for a practical peace-time S.I.S. organisation, which will be capable of rapid expansion in time of crisis’. They explicitly built on the Bland conclusions and both formalised and streamlined the structure of the Service as it had developed over the second half of the war. The committee proposed that SIS be divided into four main branches: Requirements, Production, Finance and Administration, and Technical Services. At the highest level of command it recommended that the Chief should be supported by an officer ‘to perform the duties of a true deputy . . . responsible to C.S.S. for the work of all four Branches’. Embedded in this proposal was an implied but definite criticism of the haphazard wartime practice of appointing every now and then a VCSS, DCSS and/or ACSS responsible for only partial areas of work. Each of the four branches would be headed by a director, and those directors could collectively act as an executive committee ‘when this may be deemed necessary’.

The Requirements Branch was to be ‘responsible for indicating and defining intelligence targets, for assessing production and for guiding and assisting the Production Branch and Stations in the fulfilment of intelligence requirements’. It was also to ‘maintain close liaison with G.C. & C.S., in order to ensure that the greatest mutual advantage shall be obtained from intelligence received’. Reflecting Bland’s emphasis on the need to improve SIS’s requirements dialogue with its consumers, the CSS committee proposed dividing the branch into seven sections, each responsible for a different intelligence area: political, counter-intelligence, scientific, economic, naval, military and air, along with a co-ordination section, which might estimate ‘the degree of success achieved by S.I.S. in meeting requirements’ as well as producing general background and information papers. The committee also suggested staffing levels for each section, with counter-intelligence (headed by Philby) being the largest with ten officers. This reflected the inherited importance of its predecessor, Section V, and the prevailing assumption that Nazi organisations would continue to pose a major threat after the war. It was also to provide advice for overseas stations about ‘penetrating, countering and disrupting’ foreign secret services and ‘subversive political movements’. Scientific intelligence was thought especially important and had been ‘assigned almost the highest priority in the S.I.S. brief ’. ‘Even though the results may be few and far between,’ concluded the committee, ‘they are likely to be of overriding importance,’ and it was felt that ‘the discovery of the majority of the world’s scientific secrets’ was ‘more likely to occur as a result of information from S.I.S. sources than any other’. Thus the Scientific Section was allocated a specific research and collation function which it was hoped would be an improvement on the wartime experience, as ‘the somewhat lamentable story of ad hoc committees created to deal with “Crossbow” [German V-weapons] strongly underlined the advantages of centralising the intelligence within a trained unit’.

In parallel to the tasking function of Requirements was the intelligence-gathering function of the Production Branch, responsible for ‘obtaining all forms of secret intelligence’ and also undertaking ‘such Counter-Intelligence activities in the field as fall within the sphere of S.I.S.’. There is a hint here of the overlapping functions of MI5 and SIS which periodically troubled inter-agency relations, but it also embodies a significant use of the term ‘counter-intelligence’, which became the preferred SIS terminology and denotes active attack on the intelligence services of other countries, rather than the more defensive ‘counter-espionage’. Implicit in the usage is the SIS belief that ‘counter-intelligence’ is to a great extent directed towards the protection of its own operations and security as well as towards the more generalised security of the state. The committee envisaged that the Director of Production would also ‘superintend and co-ordinate all double-agent and deception activities’. It proposed creating five Regional Controllers, responsible for the operations of ‘all S.I.S. Stations and organisations’, as follows: Western Europe (CWE), covering the Low Countries, Iberia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, as well as West, Central and Southern Africa; Northern Area (CNA), responsible for Scandinavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and the USSR; Eastern Mediterranean (CEM), covering Hungary, the Balkans, Turkey, the Middle East as far as Iran, and North-East Africa; Far East and Americas (CFE&A), ‘responsible for all countries east of India, and also for the Western Hemisphere’. The fifth, Controller Production Research (CPR), was proposed to be ‘responsible for all agents controlled direct from Head Office’, as well as ‘talent-spotting’ for the other Regional Controllers. This arrangement operated from late 1945, though in May 1947 the Western Europe Controllerate was divided into an Eastern and a Western Area.

On the production side one organisational anomaly remained which even the tidy-minded root-and-branch reformers on the CSS Committee were unable to remove: the Special Liaison Controllerate (SLC), which constituted the rump of Biffy Dunderdale’s wartime empire and embodied his carefully nurtured liaison arrangements begun with the prewar French and later adding the wartime Polish intelligence service. In what was effectively an independent station based near London, Dunderdale ran an operation ‘with a highly specialised staff of Russian-speakers, mostly of Russian origin’ engaged in collecting, processing and distributing Russian-language material, some of which was provided by the Poles. Sensitive to Dunderdale’s status in the Service, if a bit hazy about what he actually did, the committee also ‘understood that there still existed certain personal links of long standing between S.L.C. and elements of the former French IIième Bureau’ and ‘agreed that such links, whatever they were, should remain undisturbed’. All the committee could suggest was that Dunderdale’s outfit might in general eventually come under the new Directorate of Production.

The other two branches proposed by the CSS committee were to provide administrative and technical support for the ‘core business’ of the Service. Among the responsibilities of the Director of Finance and Administration was to be training, and the committee made the revolutionary (for SIS) suggestion that ‘a Training Section should form part of the post-war organisation’. Specific recommendations were made for ‘Officers’ Initial Training’ for all new entrants to the Service, ‘Advanced Technical Training’ – an annual course for ‘Officers at Head Office and Stations abroad’, and ‘Secretaries’ Training’. The underlying aim was to bring SIS into line with current training practices in the armed forces and business. ‘It is the policy of the Services,’ they noted, ‘and indeed of most large commercial firms, for all members of such services or firms destined for responsible positions in them first to obtain a good general knowledge of all departments and branches of the work. It is believed’, they continued, ‘that this principle should also apply in our case.’ The ‘advanced technical training’ was primarily intended for SIS officers, but could also be adapted for agents and even carried out at the stations abroad where they were to be run. Among the subjects it could include were secret inks, letter codes, micro-photography, radio communications, tradecraft and the ‘latest developments in concealing devices, document copying and special gadgets’.

Another area for improvement under Finance and Administration was the Registry, which for sensible security reasons had been evacuated to St Albans at the beginning of the war. When most of the rest of Head Office returned to central London less than a year later, the Registry stayed put. Inevitably it had expanded enormously during the war – its prewar staff of six increasing over tenfold – but the inconveniences and delays in moving documents between St Albans and London meant that some Head Office branches began to develop their own independent filing systems. The vitally important ‘central personality reference index’ also suffered, and by the end of the war had become so unreliable as a vehicle for tracing potential contacts and agents, that (as a subsequent SIS report observed) the Service became ‘dependent to an unhealthy degree on the relatively comprehensive index maintained by MI5’. The Central Registry was brought back to Broadway, and an effort was made to reconstitute the Service’s archives and personality records. Some improvements were made, but the branch remained understaffed throughout the 1940s. This was also true of security matters. In November 1945 Menzies appointed Valentine Vivian, the wartime overlord of Sections V and IX, to be his Security Policy Adviser under the designation ‘A.S.P.’. Establishing the security of the Service on a proper basis was an important development, though at the start Vivian was given no machinery to carry out his responsibilities. Matters improved, however, after he was made Inspector of Security in February 1947, with a staff officer to assist him.

Absorbing SOE

The fourth main branch proposed by the CSS Committee was Technical Services, which was to ensure that SIS had ‘at its disposal every type of technical apparatus or process required for the acquisition and communication of intelligence’, and it was the only part of the committee’s work which took much account of the mooted absorption of SOE into SIS. An ad hoc sub-committee on technical requirements, with representatives from SOE and the War Office, was set up under Air Commodore Jack Easton, who had served in Air Intelligence during the war and been brought into SIS in August 1945, becoming Assistant Chief in November. Faced with SIS proposals concerned almost exclusively with communications, and SOE ones focused on the development of devices and equipment, Easton’s sub-committee had to try to combine and rationalise the two sets of requirements and propose realistic and economical arrangements for the future. This they did rather successfully, with the establishment of workshops on two separate sites, one concentrating on communications and the other on weapons and analogous technical devices. In due course (as suggested in the Bland Report) much of the cost of these establishments was met from the Open Vote of the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Supply respectively. Further Secret Vote funds were saved by the emergence from Gambier-Parry’s Section VIII in 1946 of a new Diplomatic Wireless Service under Foreign Office direction, which took charge of all the government’s secure communications requirements.

By the time the CSS Committee reported in November 1945, SOE’s fate had been well sealed. There was an effort to establish a continued independent role after its parent department, the Ministry of Economic Warfare, had been abolished in May 1945. Cavendish-Bentinck uncharitably thought that Colin Gubbins (who had succeeded Charles Hambro in September 1943) ‘saw himself as continuing indefinitely as head of S.O.E. equal to C and under a Director-General of the Secret Services’. But the Foreign Office remained determined to take it over as part of SIS. Cadogan told Bevin it was ‘essential’ that Menzies thenceforth should be head of both organisations; Bevin agreed and put the matter to Attlee, who on 23 August 1945 confirmed that there should be ‘a single head - that head being C’. In November, on the advice of an ad hoc committee chaired by Cavendish-Bentinck (which included Menzies and Gubbins as well as representatives of the service ministries), the Chiefs of Staff Committee defined a limited planning and training role for a much reduced SOE. It was to maintain a cadre organisation which would have ‘adequate clandestine contacts’, ‘up to date information regarding potential objectives’ and ‘covert communications capable of functioning at short notice on the outbreak of war’. Suggestions from within SOE that it might play an active role in occupied Germany and Austria against any Nazi revival, or a possible Soviet threat, got short shrift from Sir Orme Sargent in the Foreign Office. ‘All this seems to me excessively dangerous,’ he minuted on 28 November, at a time when there were still widespread (if, as it turned out, wildly unrealistic) hopes that the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union might continue in some form. ‘It is one thing to arrange for S.O.E. to maintain an organisation in this country in peace-time capable of quick and effective expansion in time of war, but it is quite another matter for it to embark on activities against Russia, or indeed any other friendly country, in present circumstances.’ It would be ‘time enough’ to do something of the sort when the government ‘decided to prepare for war against Russia – if, indeed, when that time comes, there is found to be any place for the tricks and contraptions used by S.O.E. in the last war with such dubious results’. He described SOE’s activities in Germany against unregenerate Nazis as those ‘of a secret police’, and a ‘dangerous and invidious task’ for which SOE was neither equipped nor originally created to perform.5

The absorption of SOE by SIS marked a stage in the progressive assertion of Foreign Office control over all clandestine activities overseas, a policy with which Menzies apparently fully agreed, as demonstrated by the draft of an important ‘directive to be issued to the Chief of the S.I.S.’ which he submitted to Harold Caccia in January 1946. Indeed, the fact that Menzies could write his own terms of reference demonstrated both his sensitivity to the requirements of his political masters and the high degree of mutual confidence which had been established between them.

In time of peace [Menzies’s draft stated] it is essential for political reasons and also on grounds of economy that the S.O.E. organisation should be reduced to a small staff at home and that no operations or preparatory work should be carried out abroad unless and until authorised by the Foreign Office. The only exception to this ruling is in the case of certain activities in the Middle East and India which have been specifically authorised . . . Special operations with secret Intelligence are to form a unified Secret Service controlled and administered by you.

Caccia agreed on 2 February 1946 that this draft not only correctly reflected ‘the decisions of the Chiefs of Staff’ but also met ‘Foreign Office requirements satisfactorily’, and a circular telegram to British diplomatic representatives across the world in March 1946 laid down that henceforward there would be ‘a single Secret Service and C’s local representative’ would be ‘solely responsible in your country’. The Secret Service would ‘not undertake any activity other than obtaining intelligence without specific prior approval from the Foreign Office. In particular clandestine recruitment for resistance movements has been banned.’6

Winding up SOE took several years. The scale of the exercise is illustrated by the fact that special operations accounted for £500,000 of SIS’s 1946-7 estimated Secret Vote allocation of £1,750,000, more than the entire MI5 share (£325,000).7 Beyond special operations, moreover, SOE made a significant contribution to the postwar SIS in terms of technical capabilities and training expertise. On the technical research and development side, two establishments were set up, one building on SOE’s special strengths in such matters as sabotage, explosives, fuses, weapons and various chemical tasks, while the other, drawing on the experience of Gambier-Parry’s Section VIII, focused on communications and electronic development. But SOE’s greatest legacy lay in training, which during the war had developed on a much more extensive and thorough basis than that of SIS. Much of the SOE Training and Development Directorate was taken into SIS, and by the late 1940s was providing courses not only for officers, but also for secretaries and agents, who could be instructed in such matters as ‘black’ frontier-crossing operations, by land, sea or air (including by balloon). In his first progress report to the Chiefs of Staff on special operations, covering the first six months of 1946, Menzies expressed the hope that ‘almost all the staff of the joint Secret Service’ would have ‘received training during the next two years. Officers’, he noted, would ‘receive instruction in both S.O. and S.I. subjects’ so that they would ‘be able to undertake both types of work’. Progress, in fact, was not quite as rapid as Menzies had predicted. By mid-1947 fewer than forty officers had been on special operations courses, though all SIS recruits who attended the newly introduced ‘General Course’ (a hundred in 1946) were given ‘a short period of general instruction on the nature and requirements of S.O. work’.

SIS’s absorption of SOE was not universally approved. Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, who served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) from 1946 to 1948, regretted the loss of SOE’s independent expertise and attempted to reopen the whole question of special operations and secret intelligence organisation. In November 1946, during a discussion about the importance of Greece (where British forces were supporting the anti-Communist side in the civil war) and Turkey, he told the Chiefs of Staff Committee ‘that special operations in Turkey might prove to be of considerable value’, and he got the committee to agree to ‘a review of the control and responsibility for the S.O.E. organisation’. The following March he launched an outright attempt to shift responsibility for the whole secret service (including operations and intelligence) from the Foreign Office to the Ministry of Defence. He argued that ‘the system of control adopted in peace should conform as closely as possible to that required for war’; that the use of special operations as a means of furthering British policy ‘should not be lost sight of ’; and that ‘at present all the emphasis’ was on secret intelligence, and it was ‘not possible’ while the Foreign Office was ‘in control in peace to employ fully those “unacknowledgeable” activities which may be required in furtherance of British interests’. The Ministry of Defence, furthermore, was already responsible for some inter-service organisations, and if it took over SIS, ‘the Foreign Office would be relieved of the embarrassing responsibility for approving “unacknowledgeable” activities’.8 Neither SIS nor the Foreign Office was much swayed by this generous offer, and although Montgomery got the Chiefs of Staff Committee to agree with him, his attempt to prise SIS away from the Foreign Office soon came to a shuddering halt. ‘Monty’ was not a success as CIGS. Whatever his skills on the battlefield, the doctrinaire, brusque and hectoring style he brought to the corridors of power in London was no match for the perhaps more subtle and feline skills of veteran Whitehall warriors like Menzies.

But it was not just a matter of Menzies outmanoeuvring Montgomery in some deft bureaucratic quadrille, since it is clear that neither the Foreign Office nor, in fact, the Ministry of Defence was in favour of altering the responsibility for SIS. As the Minister of Defence, A. V. Alexander, told the Chiefs of Staff in June 1947, the transfer of SIS to his ministry was ‘not practical politics. Even if the Foreign Secretary were well disposed towards the idea, which he is not,’ he added, ‘I do not favour the transfer of the Secret Service to the Minister of Defence.’9

Managing the Service

Reconstructing the bureaucratic structure of SIS during and immediately after the Second World War is gravely hampered by the absence of some central administrative records. It is clear, for example, that after the appointment of the three armed service Deputy Directors in the spring of 1942, a Board of Deputy Directors (which it seems may have acted broadly as an executive committee) was formed with Claude Dansey, as Assistant Chief, in the chair. There is evidence that this body had meetings at which some notes of the proceedings were kept, but no full minutes of any specific meeting, let alone a complete set of its minutes (if indeed one ever existed), has been found in the archives. Under the reformed structure introduced following the recommendations of the Chief ’s reorganisation committee, from November 1945 there was a ‘Weekly Meeting of Directors’, and the Director of Production held regular meetings of his Regional Controllers, in which a wide range of matters was discussed, including administration, finance, recruitment, personnel, training and requirements. In the absence of any records of Directors’ meetings (which do not, apparently, survive for the 1940s), these minutes comprise the main central SIS records for the postwar period.10 The Regional Controller meetings were superseded in January 1947 by the ‘VCSS’s production conference’, which covered much the same range of business as its predecessor.11

During 1946 the structure recommended by the Chief ’s reorganisation committee in November 1945 was broadly adopted for the postwar Service. In the spring of 1946 (reflecting changing priorities), a Director War Planning was appointed. The Requirements Directorate – handling tasking and relations with customer departments – came into being under Claude Dansey, and the existing Circulating sections became known as ‘R.’ sections.12 In 1948 a liaison section, R.8, was created to handle relations with the SIS Production side, as well as the Government Code and Cypher School. Reflecting the increased importance of the Soviet target, the counter-intelligence section, R.5 (which had taken over the wartime Sections V and IX), was divided in two: R.5/Int. for counter-intelligence generally; and R.5/Com. to concentrate on Communism. When John ‘Sinbad’ Sinclair, the Vice Chief, took over direct responsibility for Production in January 1947, he created three Chief Controllers: Europe (CCE), which encompassed the existing Northern and Western European areas; MidEast (CCM), which covered the Mediterranean, Balkans and Middle East; and Pacific (CCP), to cover the Far East and the Americas, though Dick Ellis, who held this position from May 1947, continued to style himself Controller Far East. Kenneth Cohen, who had been Controller Western Europe since early 1944, became Chief Controller Europe and John Teague became Chief Controller MidEast. With broadly equivalent status was Dunderdale as Special Liaison Controller and the new Controller Production Research, who set up a front company to provide commercial cover for his activities.

The Head Office postwar reorganisation did not, however, satisfactorily resolve the inherent conflict between the Requirements division, organised on a worldwide basis, and Production, based on specific geographical regions. The two extremes, as Sinclair observed in March 1949, were ‘control by stations’ and ‘control by targets’. If the former were strictly applied, a controller and his production staff might ‘ignore possibilities of finding agents on his door-step in England and of lines being run, or that could be run, by other Controllers into his area’. But if the latter were applied, it ‘would lead either to unco-ordinated orders to Stations or to friction in Head Office’ (or, of course, both). Examples of targets being attacked from geographically remote stations occurred during the war, when much of the small amount of intelligence SIS was able to collect about Japan came from sources in diplomatic missions across the world. The tension between ‘station’ and ‘target’ in part explained the apparently anomalous existence of the Controller Production Research section running agents from the United Kingdom, and the survival of Dunderdale’s SLC networks. In October 1948 the Controller Production Research told the VCSS’s production conference that although some of his British agents overseas, many of whom operated under business cover, were prepared to work under the local SIS representative, other firms and individuals were ‘not prepared to play except on the basis that all contact would be in the U.K.’. In these cases all he could do was to ‘keep the Controller concerned informed’. The same applied to any Controller proposing ‘a scheme for running a line into another Controller’s area’, and Sinclair laid down that in such cases Controllers (including CPR) and Dunderdale should inform each other of any projects for each other’s areas. In matters of disagreement, Sinclair himself would make the final decision.

The modernisation of SIS practices and procedures brought with it an increasing bureaucratisation of work. From the Second World War onwards the Service could no longer be run in the more informal way that Admiral Sinclair and his colleagues had been able to enjoy. Size alone - the postwar Service was ten times the size of the prewar – meant that paperwork and proper office procedure were essential for efficient operation. The formal acquisition of Foreign Office approval for operations, the drawing up of detailed station directives, regular and systematic training, close attention to and the organisation of regular feedback from customer departments all became routine in the late 1940s. Briefing the Middle East stations in May 1946, London stated that it was important for the benefit of those who came later that ‘lessons learned’ in the running of agents and operations should be reported back to Head Office from time to time. Such lessons were ‘of the greatest value’ to the training staff. Reflecting the difficult economic circumstances of the time, London additionally pointed out that ‘whereas during war funds for legitimate S.I.S. targets were not limited by financial considerations, the strictest scrutiny will, from now onwards, be required’. Future budgets, they instructed, would ‘necessitate a much more detailed and close estimate’, owing to the more limited resources at the Service’s disposal. In order to get some systematic sense of how well SIS was serving its customer departments, moreover, intelligence reports were sent out accompanied by a Comment Sheet (or ‘crit sheet’, as it was commonly known), asking the customer to grade the report from ‘A’ to ‘D’. Detailed statistics were kept at Head Office of the number of ‘A’ and other crits scored by stations. But, as is so often the case with performance-indicator schemes, there is the risk that measures of performance themselves become targets. So it was with the crit scheme. It was found that stations sometimes pursued ‘A’ crits on easy targets to the detriment of devoting effort to more difficult and more important requirements, a tendency reinforced by customer departments with voracious appetites for low-grade intelligence doling out ‘A’ crits in order to encourage the flow of reports. Thus a system introduced for the best of intentions did not always produce the desired result.

Budget considerations (as ever) underpinned all Service activities during the later 1940s. Menzies believed his initial peacetime allocation was adequate for SIS’s needs, but, as austerity began to bite in Britain, allocations were cut across the board and all spending was closely scrutinised. The old system where the Chief himself, or Pay Sykes, personally scrutinised and authorised the spending of even relatively minor sums of money, did not survive the war, and with the appointment in January 1946 of a senior Air Ministry official (and former Lancashire county cricketer) to be the new Director for Finance and Administration (as recommended by the Chief’s reorganisation committee), civil service procedures and accounting systems were gradually introduced. This took time, but in November 1949 Sinbad Sinclair reported to his production conference that Finance and Administration would in future provide Regional Controllers with a monthly statement of expenditure in their area ‘only one month in arrears’. Station accounts would be provided three months in arrears, and Controllers were sternly instructed that they ‘must not go beyond their Budget allocations without the matter being referred to V.C.S.S. through D.F. & A.’ But old habits (if that is what they were) died hard. The same month Ellis (Controller Far East) reported a proposal ‘made by the Far East for raising funds through the sale of opium confiscated by the Customs Authorities’. Ellis said that the matter had two aspects: the ‘moral issue of dealing in opium’ and ‘the legal financial aspect’. In this case he had advised ‘Far East’ against the operation on the reasonable argument that ‘time would have to be devoted to it at the expense of Production work’, and on the mildly more surprising grounds (though it is just possible that this was a joke) that ‘we might get involved with rogues and undesirable characters’. His colleagues were not against the matter in principle and agreed ‘that there might be occasions in which raising funds by irregular means would be justified’, but they would have to be approved on a case-by-case basis. SIS’s new postwar situation, thus, meant that not only was there generally less money available but that any schemes proposed would be much more closely scrutinised by the Foreign Office than hitherto.

Relations with MI5

Between 1946 and 1950 much time and effort of both Menzies and his MI5 opposite number was taken up with sorting out the relative responsibilities of the two services. While MI5’s primary concern was for security intelligence within the United Kingdom – usually defined as ‘up to the three-mile limit’ – and in British territories overseas, SIS’s was for gathering intelligence outside British territory. In practice the dividing line between the two agencies was rarely very clear-cut, and arguments about their respective areas of responsibilities were endemic in the relations between them. During the war, distinctions had become particularly blurred, both accidentally and deliberately, through the activities of such bodies as the Security Executive, British Security Co-ordination in New York, Security Intelligence Middle East (SIME) and Security Intelligence Far East (SIFE). MI5 increased its representation overseas especially in the Middle East, where British forces were widely deployed. By 1944 SIME, GHQ Middle East’s counter-espionage and security organisation, had links extending to India, Algiers and Italy. After 1945, as Britain pulled in its horns across the world and with pressure for decolonisation being applied at home and abroad (especially from the United States), the question of what was domestic and what was foreign intelligence became increasingly difficult to answer.

Disagreements between SIS and MI5 were especially problematic in the Middle East, where SIME operated in a number of foreign countries. In January 1947, Sir Percy Sillitoe, whom Attlee had appointed Director-General of MI5 the previous spring, wrote to the Foreign Office arguing that the SIME system should continue. William Hayter thought that Sillitoe’s objective was ‘the establishment of a permanent M.I.5 organisation in the Middle East, involving the suppression of C’s organisation there’. Hayter argued that, since SIS had ‘greater and more lasting responsibilities in that area’, MI5 ‘should only operate in Palestine [still a British mandate], and that C should be responsible for everywhere else’ with ‘a representative in Jerusalem to maintain liaison with M.I.5 there’. Menzies thought that Sillitoe had even greater ambitions. ‘The logical conclusion of this argument’, he wrote, ‘is that there should be a single world-wide secret service under his control.’ This contention, asserted Menzies, had ‘already been rejected by Findlater Stewart. Furthermore,’ he added a touch acerbically, ‘I cannot but feel that the energies of the Security Service would better be devoted to the problems confronting it in this country, where I suspect that a great deal of work could usefully be done in combating Communist penetration.’13 The dispute rumbled on for nearly two years. Late in 1948 Sillitoe took his case to Sir Edward Bridges (Permanent Secretary to the Treasury). ‘We are faced with a situation’, he wrote, ‘in which S.I.S. is given an ill-defined security responsibility which overlaps with mine.’ The resulting failure of collation, and ‘uncontrolled and unsystematic duplication’, was producing ‘a weakness in our national security’ and, ‘incidentally, a wastage of manpower’. But another official, Eion Donaldson, was not convinced. ‘Root of the trouble’, he minuted, ‘is the tradition of hostility between M.I.5 and S.I.S. which results in mutual reluctance to exchange information and in a general atmosphere of non-cooperation.’ Sillitoe should be told that he ‘cannot be given complete and undisputed authority for the study from every standpoint of all subversive activities wherever they may occur’, as this ‘would interfere with the appreciation of political intelligence from the Foreign Office angle which is, and must remain, the function of S.I.S.’.14

But Menzies and Sillitoe managed to patch things up between themselves. Towards Christmas 1948, after a lunch together at Menzies’s club, White’s, Sillitoe went to Bridges to tell him that ‘the atmosphere between S.I.S. and M.I.5 had completely changed’. Menzies had proposed a joint working party ‘from the point of view that there were gaps between them which ought to be filled, and also [Menzies was a keen huntsman] that they ought on occasion to be able to chase the fox over the boundary into the other hunt’s territory’. ‘I hope’, noted Donaldson, ‘the Christmas spirit will inspire the huntsmen!’15 Apparently it did. Meeting during the first half of 1949, the working party agreed that neither service was ‘charged with the task of collecting straight intelligence in British (including Commonwealth) territory’ and that this constituted ‘a serious gap’. By 4 July a joint ‘memorandum of agreement’ had been agreed. It assumed that the two services would ultimately share headquarters in London, and that collation work on Communism and hostile intelligence services would then be integrated as far as possible, together with any other areas of overlap where economies might be achieved, including the two registries. While the employment of secret agents in foreign countries was reserved exclusively to SIS, MI5 might ‘in certain circumstances’ apply to the Foreign Office for sanction to maintain a liaison officer in a foreign country. But such liaison would normally be through SIS channels. MI5 agreed ‘to seek straight Intelligence on behalf of and in collaboration with S.I.S. in British territories, within the limits of its own constitutional sanctions and its collecting resources’, and special liaison arrangements were made for the services jointly to run cases. On SIS’s side this was primarily handled by the Controller Production Research section.

After the agreement had been settled, Sir William Strang, who had succeeded Sargent as Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office in February 1949, wrote to Menzies enquiring about its practical results. Reflecting the overall government emphasis on economy, he felt sure that Menzies would ‘bear in mind the necessity, in these hard times, of confining representation abroad to what is necessary to the exclusion of what is only desirable’. In September 1949, Sillitoe proposed that SIME should close down in Greece, the Lebanon, Amman, Turkey and Iran, leaving the field to SIS, but that it should continue to work in Iraq where he had been ‘specially requested by the Foreign Office to negotiate with the oil companies in the hope of exercising some measure of supervision over their security’. He also proposed to hand over SIME’s secret agents in Egypt. Menzies agreed with these arrangements, apart from Greece, where he said it was not possible for SIS to take over SIME’s work altogether while British troops remained there (as they were to do until January 1950).16 In practice (and rather like the situation between SIS and SOE during the war), relations on the ground between SIS and MI5 were quite good. In April 1947, for example, Menzies had assured Hayter of the ‘very satisfactory collaboration’ between SIS and the Security Service ‘during and since the war’. Information was ‘exchanged on an entirely satisfactory and friendly basis’. SIME and SIS representatives, he asserted, had ‘for the past year regularly collaborated in the writing of papers for the J.I.C. Middle East, basing themselves on the information available to each organisation’.17

In the matter of ‘British’ or ‘foreign’ territory, and SIS’s role therein, British India was a special case. By the beginning of 1947 it was clear that the territory would become independent (as it did on 15 August, when it was partitioned into India and Pakistan), and SIS began to consider what intelligence arrangements would be necessary in the future. On New Year’s Day 1947 a meeting of representatives of MI5, SIS and the India Office’s intelligence organisation, Indian Political Intelligence (IPI), met to consider the issue. On security matters it was hoped that proper liaison could be established between MI5 and whatever Indian security organisation was established. As for SIS, it was recognised that even if the independent government of India was ‘willing to liaise in a friendly manner, it was improbable that they would, either on account of inefficiency or lack of interest, be able to furnish all the information required by H.M.G.’. Thus it was proposed that SIS should set up a covert organisation in post-independence India, which, as Menzies explained to Hayter in January 1947, would take over some of the work currently done by IPI, including intelligence about India itself and also about its neighbouring countries, which were all ‘without exception either contiguous to the Soviet Union, or are the object of actual or potential Soviet penetration’. Aubrey Halford in the Foreign Office agreed, believing that ‘it would be wise to assume the worst, that is, that the Indian Government will be either unwilling to co-operate with our intelligence organisations, or at the best, wholly unreliable even if they agree to do so. Even if’, he added, ‘India acquires Dominion status, she can never be in quite the same category as Canada or Australia.’18

In the spring of 1947 Sir David Monteath, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the India Office, produced a brief on future intelligence liaison with India which proposed the incorporation of IPI into MI5, where it would continue to operate in co-operation with SIS, which itself would carry out covert operations in India. Sending this brief to the high commissioner in Delhi, Sir Terence Shone, Monteath noted that ‘in theory Secret service cannot operate in British Commonwealth territory, but we feel that for this purpose we should be wise to treat India as a foreign country’. Since this ran counter to the 1946 MI5 Directive, the Prime Minister’s approval had to be obtained, which was done in March 1947. Menzies chose a former Indian policeman, to head his new covert station in India, which was established in August. Although he went with cover as an ‘economic adviser’, Shone felt that he was too well known as a security official and protested about the appointment, but Menzies insisted and Shone withdrew his objection, though he warned the Foreign Office that if things went amiss, ‘you will remember my reluctance’.19

Things did go wrong. In March 1948 Dick Ellis reported to a production conference that the officer’s D.I.B. [Delhi Intelligence Bureau] background had been resurrected and was considered sufficiently dangerous politically to lead him to suggest his immediate recall’. For the meantime he was bringing him home on leave, ‘with a distinct possibility of his not returning’, and he felt that this probably meant ‘the abandonment of a permanent representative’s post and a fresh approach on C.P.R. lines’, that is to say with some sort of ‘natural’, rather than diplomatic, cover. When a new high commissioner, General Sir Archibald Nye, was appointed to India later in the year, he took the view that an SIS station was not necessary at all in Delhi and that British intelligence requirements could be met through the existing MI5 Security Liaison Officer. Again the matter went to the Prime Minister, who now decided that SIS should withdraw completely from India at the end of 1948. This decision established a precedent which became known as the ‘Attlee doctrine’. Attlee’s instructions about India came to be regarded by the Commonwealth Relations Office (which in July 1947 had been formed in place of the Dominions Office) as establishing a general principle, understandably supported by MI5, that SIS could not undertake any intelligence-gathering activity in any Commonwealth country without the full knowledge and approval of that government. In terms of the old white Dominions – such as Canada and Australia, which were beginning to set up their own foreign intelligence organisations – the 1948 decision was not unreasonable, but in terms of newly independent ex-colonies in Asia (and later in Africa) the ‘doctrine’ threatened to hamper SIS’s operations, especially against the perceived worldwide threat of Communism.

Recruitment and conditions of service

Significant improvements in recruitment and conditions of service were introduced in the mid-1940s, closely following the Bland Report recommendations, and they brought the arcane world of intelligence firmly into the ambit of the modern civil service. This was also marked by the appointment of the new Director of Finance and Administration, and although he was primarily a financial specialist, his regime marked the emergence of SIS as a civilian career service, rather different from the armed services attitudes and standards which had hitherto prevailed. Again following Bland (and in this instance rather in advance of other government departments), Regional Controllers were asked in May 1946 ‘to consider where, both at home and abroad, women could be employed as officers’.20 The Director of Production told them ‘that several women officers were now available for posting and added that it was accepted policy that they should be employed in those appointments for which their qualifications and experience suited them’. Later that year he ruled that women ‘should be recruited on the same level as male officers, i.e. they should be able to be sent abroad to foreign stations’. While ‘there was no reason why a woman officer should not eventually become a representative . . . this would be the exception rather than the rule’, but he observed that currently a ‘minor Station’ had been under a woman officer since May 1946. But there was also the problem of obtaining Foreign Office agreement to any such appointment. In April 1949 they refused SIS’s application for cover for a woman officer in a Middle Eastern station. At home in the postwar years, too, there was a persistent shortage of trained secretaries, which the Service tried in part to address by running a hostel in Belgravia ‘where junior girls who could not find accommodation in London could live very cheaply’.

In 1948 a Recruiting Office was established for the first time (in clear recognition of the need to compete with other organisations and services for the best talent), and the following year the Civil Service Selection Board was brought in to help find suitable candidates. In January 1948 instructions were issued defining the three main types of officers the recruiters were to look for. In the first place were ‘General Intelligence Officers’ who should be ‘men of character, integrity and intellect, combined with imagination and subtlety’. This was a clear echo of the Bland Report recommendation that SIS ‘train up more of a team of all-rounders than at present exists’ and reflected the CSS Committee’s view that ‘the S.I.S. officer of the future, engaged on producing intelligence, should be able to fulfil the requirements of any of the Intelligence sections’.21 Second, there were ‘Unofficial Assistants’ who would work under natural cover, who should be ‘more hard-boiled, in whom integrity and intellect, whilst important, are less essential’; and, third, there were those to be recruited ‘on short-term engagements for special and interim purposes’.

The recruitment process continued in practice to involve a mixture of the informal and formal, as recalled by one officer who joined SIS in 1947. Having served in the Guards during the war, ending up with the rank of major, he had spent eighteen months in business before he started to investigate the possibilities of a career in the Foreign Service. Told by a friend ‘that a special department of the Foreign Office was looking for new entrants’, he expressed interest and was approached by an individual who took him to lunch twice at his club, Boodle’s in St James’s Street, and quizzed him generally about his life and background. Evidently having passed muster, the candidate was then questioned in some depth at the War Office by a ‘Miss Connolly’, and further interviewed by a five-member board chaired by the head of the Economic Requirements Section: ‘Many questions were put to me, but no information was given of the department for which I was being interviewed.’ A week later he was told he had been accepted and he was instructed to report to the SIS headquarters at Broadway.

Cover while assessing potential employees was a perennial difficulty. After a ‘Secretaries Combined General & Overseas Course’ in February 1947, one of the students complained that ‘at her first interview’ she had been ‘offered an immediate overseas post to an unnamed place at an unnamed salary’ and had been ‘told only that the work would be interesting’. She said that ‘naturally her parents would not agree to so vague an offer’ and any cover story that she now gave them was insufficient. They could not ‘understand why she was not given a detailed offer, such as would be given by an ordinary business firm, at her first interview’. Vivian, now the head of Service security, neatly summarised the problem as concerning ‘our dealings with men and women, who may never become members of S.I.S. but to whom sufficient information must be given (a) to enable them to know whether they want to join us, [and] (b) to enable us to know whether we want them to join us’. No satisfactory solution was found to the problem, though once the Civil Service Selection Board was brought into the recruiting process, Vivian hoped that some formal acknowledgement would be possible that candidates were being considered by the Services Liaison Department (or some such appellation) of the Foreign Office. Above all, he felt that the Service ‘should jettison the various amateurish and inconsistent little tricks which we have been compelled to adopt in the past by the purblind reluctance of the Foreign Office to admit any connection with us except behind closed doors and which are far more calculated to betray us and embarrass the Foreign Office than a clear statement of truth’.

Nevertheless, while the Service remained officially unacknowledged, the recruiters had to continue to dissemble as plausibly as they could. Different candidates were told different things, none of which was very convincing, for example that it was a department ‘in close touch with the other fighting services’, or that it was ‘a civil department which works abroad . . . under the general administration of the Foreign Office’, but which had come into being ‘as a result of the Ministry of Defence’. One successful candidate reported the problem of reconciling the selection procedure (which he naturally reported to his immediate family) with his eventual cover. The first letter he received had been from the ‘Government Communications Bureau’ (which cover name an SIS conference in February 1946 viewed as ‘blown and unsuitable under new peace time conditions’). The presence of armed forces officers on his interview board made it difficult to reconcile with the work being connected with the Foreign Office. ‘Only at the last stage (after signing on)’, he wrote, ‘is the candidate told the full truth,’ and what ‘lie (cover)’ he should tell for external consumption. ‘In the meantime a suspicious (and dangerously accurate) idea gets about.’ When his actual cover was eventually ‘trotted out’, the effect was embarrassing: ‘Why all the elaborate selection procedure for a [mere] Passport Examiner (my cover)?’ It was, he added, ‘difficult to fool an intelligent questioner’.

Conditions of service were also modernised. In came a grading structure, comparatively generous rates of pay (‘below the scale of average industrial remunerations and slightly above those of the Foreign Office’ – though equal rates of pay for men and women had to wait for some years yet), and an internal provident fund. In 1946 supplementary payments were introduced for language proficiency. Out went tax-free salaries determined by the Chief in the light of an individual’s private income and armed forces pension (if any), and not to be discussed with anyone else. The Bland Report had also recommended the establishment of a proper pensions scheme linked to salary and length of service, but this was more problematic. Since 1943 SIS employees who reached sixty could receive a pension, but this was paid on an ad hoc basis out of the Secret Vote. In 1946 the Treasury considered, briefly, introducing a superannuation fund on the civil service model (on the grounds that ‘we are, in effect, committing the Exchequer to a future pension liability of which Parliament has not been given any intimation’). The difficulties of managing such a scheme while maintaining secrecy were thought too great, however, and Sir Edward Bridges ruled in October 1946 that ‘we should go on as at present and take the risks there may be in finding these pensions as they arise from the current S.S. vote’.22

Bringing SIS into line with other parts of government and armed services was the introduction in 1946 of annual reports for officers, including such matters as ‘general conduct’ (‘Of temperate habit: Yes or No?’); professional and intellectual ability; language qualifications; and ‘Whether recommended for promotion’. The Service also began to think about the welfare of its members. Subsidised luncheon facilities were provided in the basement of Broadway Buildings. Though inexpensive, these ‘were somewhat frugal, and less than pleasantly housed’. This was clearly not enough for some, as in September 1946 it was reported that Menzies had noticed that ‘a small number of officers . . . seemed to be extending their luncheon hours beyond the allotted 1½ hours’ (which was already felt to be generous). Officers were reminded that ‘this period should never be exceeded for other than Service reasons’. Reflecting a continuing distinction between ‘officers’ and ‘other ranks’, from 1948 senior members of the Service could use ‘the slightly more salubrious, waitress-served (and more expensive) facilities of the Broadway Club’, which operated as a kind of senior common room within the headquarters building where colleagues could discuss Service business with comparative freedom. For younger officers a mark of favour was to be invited in the first instance to be an ‘evening member’ of the club, allowing them to meet their seniors informally over drinks. But even in Broadway security had to be observed and Sinclair reminded officers in November 1947 ‘that there should be no secret talk in front of messengers, etc., in lifts and corridors and at the time of the emptying of waste-paper baskets, etc.’.

On a number of scores postwar reforms were held up pending the anticipated move into a new headquarters building. Broadway, where the headquarters had been situated since 1926, was grossly overcrowded, and sections of the Service were spread across a range of buildings in both central London and the home counties. There were also security concerns that, especially among liaison services, ‘Broadway’ had come to be used as a synonym for SIS. In May 1944, for example, after it was reported that both OSS and SOE officers in Cairo had been ‘referring to S.I.S. as “Broadway”’, instructions were issued that officers should ‘refer to this organisation as “C”, never as Broadway, S.I.S. or any other symbol’. In October 1945 the Director of Production said he was ‘somewhat alarmed by the extent to which the term “Broadway” was used in telephone conversations from the Field to Head Office’, a practice he described as ‘thoroughly insecure’.

The CSS Committee, noting that the present premises were ‘most unsatisfactory’, looked into the question of a new headquarters building which might have to accommodate both SIS and the Government Code and Cypher School. It rejected a suggestion that SIS ‘should be placed in the country’, for example at Eastcote in north London, where GC&CS had moved from Bletchley Park in 1946, as being ‘quite impracticable’. Having ascertained from the Ministry of Works that any new building in Whitehall would take at least five years before it was available, the committee told Menzies that ‘immediate and most active steps are required on the highest level’. Menzies, who, like many others, felt a strong sentimental attachment to the old place, was not so keen on moving out of Broadway. In 1949, however, the Ministry of Works found a site in Marsham Street, Westminster, for a purpose-built headquarters to be shared by SIS and MI5, with the latter being the avowed occupant. Work actually started on the project, but was suspended following a freeze on government building, and separate arrangements were subsequently made for the two agencies. SIS did not get a new headquarters building until it moved into Century House in Lambeth in 1964.

Technical developments

SIS’s scientific research and development organisation after the war was concentrated in two main branches. The SOE development team joined SIS in a new Directorate of Training and Development, and SOE’s Station XII at Stevenage, with its wealth of wartime experience, became responsible principally for clandestine equipment of all sorts and special operations matters, such as sabotage, explosives, fuses, drugs and other chemical tasks. SIS’s wartime technical establishments were amalgamated into the Government Communications Centre, which dealt with radio communications and electronic development. Since this branch also managed the Foreign Office’s secure communications, it was administered jointly by SIS and the Foreign Office. Because both establishments took on a support role for agencies other than just SIS, arrangements were made (as envisaged in the Bland Report) for their funding to come from the Open Vote. Paralleling research and development was the administration of stores and equipment, including transport. An experienced army quartermaster colonel with the designation Q was brought in to manage this side of things. Q Branch also took over a photographic-reproduction and training team, which was housed in Broadway alongside a printing and roneo (reprographics) section which had existed since before the war.

Beginning in September 1947 the Training and Development Directorate produced a series of ‘Development News Letters’ to inform colleagues about their work. ‘The task of the Development side of D.T.D.’, declared the first newsletter, ‘is to evolve items of equipment for specialised work. We need [for example] a special type of silent weapon; we do not therefore have to do research work on either guns or silencers. That we leave to the research establishments, but we take their guns and their silencers and adapt them to meet our special needs.’ The range of work undertaken (and also therefore the kinds of activities that SIS operations might include) was indicated by the ‘five main lines’ currently under investigation. First was ‘a device which will increase the security of operators on burglarious enterprises’. Infra-red equipment having been found to be too heavy, a torch which cast a ‘deep red light’ was being worked on. Second was ‘a knock-out ampoule or tablet which will behave in a reasonably predictable manner’, bearing in mind ‘the variability of human beings’. Third was ‘a method of opening combination safes’, an ‘intriguing’ subject about which the experts were ‘not without hope’. They were experimenting with electronic devices ‘and not the sandpapering of finger tips which, we are convinced, was never an effective method of “finding the gap”’. Fourth was ‘a gun silencer which does not become less silent with use’. The department had already developed such a gadget and it needed only ‘to be adapted to a specific weapon when the requirement arises’.

The final problem was the ‘destruction of paper’, not at all an easy task, but one which the painful experience of the war suggested was worth addressing, bearing in mind the problems stations had experienced destroying documents ahead of the German blitzkrieg in 1940. In addition to the instances where a courier might need to destroy paper quickly, as well as the ‘daily destruction of waste’ in a building where fires might not be permitted, the research team focused on ‘the destruction of all those files you have kept till the last moment’ – inevitably those would include the most secret and most valuable papers – ‘and the last moment comes a little sooner than you expected. There is no time now to shovel the stuff in the fire because a determined man could hit you with one hand and pull the stuff out of the stove with the other.’ Various techniques were being tested, including accelerated burning and the chemical destruction of paper. Acid, for example, would destroy paper but at normal temperature this might take several days. A mechanism therefore had to be devised to raise the temperature both to char the paper (as ‘charred paper is easily soluble in sulphuric acid’) and to speed up the process as a whole. But no foolproof system had been developed yet. While the aim was to ensure ‘the rapid destruction of a filing cabinet full of files’ and ‘we hope the paper will disappear in the short time it takes a man to run up a flight of stairs’, the ‘way things are going it will have to be a short, fat, man with gout and broken wind’.

Postwar development work also reflected the special operations possibilities which were being discussed for the Service, as well as the challenge of infiltrating agents into hostile territory. In January 1948 the problem of throwing tracking dogs off the scent was being addressed, and tests conducted with different substances, including osmic acid which had ‘the power to destroy the sense of smell for about a fortnight and if its effect is to thoroughly bewilder the dog for even one day we shall have achieved something’. The following year a detailed report was produced on air-supply operations, clearly drawing on wartime experience, and some ‘notes on dogs’ indicated how far research had gone on this topic. Aniseed had been suggested for putting off tracker dogs. ‘Everyone whom we thought knowledgeable on this subject’ had declared that ‘a dog could not resist aniseed’, but ‘when we tried it we found dogs “couldn’t care less” about aniseed or any other nice thing’ if they had ‘been trained to indicate man scent’. Someone had proposed that ‘bear fat or cheetah fat’ would awaken ‘atavistic memories’ in a dog ‘and he will run from these substances. We doubt it, and not without reason. During the last war a piece of bear fat was obtained and offered to a dog. It was eaten faster than a week’s meat ration.’ Another approach was to mask human scent and experiments were being planned with deodorants, though this was thought to be no more than ‘chancy’, since to neutralise human scent a heavy concentration of the substance would be required which did ‘not seem practicable under operational conditions’.

A ‘Development Progress Report’ for December 1949 further illustrates the range of work being done at the time and the extent to which SIS liaised with other government departments on technical matters. An investigation into the use of helicopters had been started with the RAF’s Transport Command Development Unit and a prototype compass for use in folding canvas boats had been ‘tried satisfactorily by Admiralty departments’. The War Dog School in Germany was working on the problem of evading tracking dogs, and a request for a ‘full investigation’ on ‘the use of hypnotism and/or drugs during briefing and interrogation’ had been placed with the RAF Medical Services Directorate, who were also being asked to study ‘the uses of plastic lenses as a method of simulating severe cataract of the eyes so as to avoid conscription for forced labour’. A remote ‘train count device’ was being given preliminary testing by the back-room specialists before SIS subjected it to field trials. Andrew King, the Controller Eastern Area (created in May 1947 to cover Germany, Austria and Switzerland), had ‘submitted a requirement for drugged cigarettes’ and it had been established that ‘cocaine was the only likely drug . . . which would produce the effect desired’. But it had ‘been impossible to obtain a sufficient quantity of cocaine in this country’ to manufacture enough cigarettes. An investigation on the ‘use of biological and chemical warfare agents by saboteurs’ had been referred to the Microbiological Research Centre at Porton Down, who had replied that biological warfare agents were ‘not sufficiently specific in their action to make possible their use by saboteurs’.

Meanwhile, the problem of destroying paper had been ‘satisfactorily solved’. The original aim of destroying a filing cabinet full of files proved to be so difficult that the technicians ‘asked for a review of the absolute minimum of documents that could be held, and finally got an agreement that code books and three top secret files would suffice’. This had a total weight of nine pounds of paper ‘when the hard covers of the code books were removed’. With this new target, progress was rapid and, ‘under laboratory conditions’, by interleaving the documents ‘with oxygen carrying material’, they succeeded in destroying the lot in less than two minutes. The next stage was ‘to mock up a safe to see if the paper could still be destroyed under rigid security conditions’. About forty spectators assembled for an outdoor trial which went spectacularly well, as one account testified: ‘For perhaps fifteen seconds after initiation there was no appreciable change other than a small trickle of smoke from the vent holes at the base of the safe. Then, as combustion got under way, the volume of smoke increased, soon to be replaced by long, roaring tongues of flame.’ Some spectators said afterwards that they felt the safe was ‘on the point of explosion’ and they noted that ‘so great was the force of gas issuing from the jets that the safe was lifted some inches off the ground’. The writer was unable to confirm this ‘as by that time he had retired to a place of safety behind the building’. A usable safe producing a less violent combustion process was developed, in which ‘hardly any flame emerged from the vent holes, although large quantities of smoke made the immediate area uninhabitable’. But the research and development section were able to celebrate a job well done and the production of a satisfactory incendiary safe in which nine pounds of paper could be ‘completely destroyed in just under 2 minutes’.

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