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MI5 from the Kaiser to Al-Qaeda

Christopher Andrew, Emeritus Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, Cambridge University

Date/Time: 5th February 2013

Christopher Andrew’s talk, illustrated with declassified photos of formerly top secret intelligence operations, showed the major influence of MI5 on British security, and political, imperial and gender history during a century when the priority change from counter-espionage to counterterrorism. MI5 has had a major impact on both world wars, the Cold War, and campaigns against terrorism. British prime ministers, however, have varied greatly in their responses to MI5 intelligence. Before World War Two, Neville Chamberlain did not credit accurate intelligence obtained by MI5 from a German Embassy spy about Hitler’s foreign policy. By contrast, at the start of the Cold War Clement Attlee requested more meetings with the director-general of Ml5 than any other twenty-century prime minister. The role of women in Ml5 is also an important new area of research; within the British government structure, it was in Ml5 that the ‘glass ceiling’ was first cracked and then first broken.