The Second World War occurred between 1939 and 1942 and involved the world super powers who had formed alliances as well as the rest of the world. Britain just like any other country saw the need to enhance security at a time when it was threatened by the war. The Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) is the British intelligence service responsible for overseas collection and thorough analysis of human intelligence regarding the countrys security. SIS was formed in 1909 as a secret service and mainly operated during World War 1. However, the role of SIS was greatly manifested during the Second World War. The paper will focus on exploring the role that the British intelligence service played during the Second World War.
Origin of SIS
Before SIS was formed, Britain collected intelligent information regarding her security in an ad hoc manner. From the 17th century, the English secretaries used to approve parliament funding for spies who were appointed to collect information about Britains enemies. By the end of the 19th century, the army and the navy had established their intelligent groups. The military mainly utilized intelligent information acquired by attaches in different foreign countries. From the 20th century, Britain had more rivals Germany being the main threat to her security. Thus, the government officials sought to form a more organized intelligence service as compared to what previously existed.
The Secret Service Bureau and the Secret Intelligence Service operated for many years without the public knowledge. However, the Intelligence Services Act of 1994 commissioned the service such that it operated on a legal basis. I feel that the commissioning of the Secret Intelligence Service was an unexpected move from the British government which is known to uphold secrecy in its intelligent operations. For instance, since intelligent groups started being formed in the 17th century, the information and the existence of spies did not get to public domain.
The Secret Intelligence Service was originally half of the Secret Service Bureau while the other half was the Home Section at Nascent Security Service, M15. As such, the reasons and justifications for the formation of SSB were similar to those that led to the establishment of SIS. It would therefore beat logic to discuss SIS without prior knowledge on the existence and functioning of SSB. I will therefore dedicate the next section of the paper to discussing the origins and operations of the Secret Service Bureau.
Secret Service Bureau
There are claims that the British intelligence service was mainly founded on false information especially when it came to Germany. For instance, when Germany started expanding their naval and military bases, the British also started fueling the rumor that they were also responding in kind. The false of the intelligent information collected in my view is what fueled and heightened the tension between Britain and Germany. The spy fever gripped the British government to an extent that citizens were requested to offer any information of suspected German spies in their region. Many people wrote letters claiming to have seen German spies in their regions. However, in 1909, Britain conducted an investigation and found out that there existed no German spies in the country and the tension was uncalled for since there was no threat. Nonetheless, Britain went ahead and created an intelligence agency to counter the threat supposedly posed by Germany. The agency was formed despite the fact that there was no distinction between facts and propaganda. Hence, the Secret Service Bureau was formed.
From its inception, the Secret Service Bureau was intended to function in collaboration with the Admiralty and the War Offices. The bureau was also to work hand in hand with the foreign affairs office where all the work of spying was conducted from the outside world. The main concern for creating the SSB was to create an institutional cut out between all departments of the state that required the use of intelligence and any operations in the spying field that were likely to be identified and exposed.
The first leader of the Secret Service Bureau was 50 year old Mansfield Cumming who was a navy officer. Cumming resumed office in 1909 despite his lack of expertise and communication skills to conduct intelligence operations. It is said that on his first day in office, he entered in his diary that there was no one to see or anything to do. Previously, the Foreign Affairs office and the Home Sections shared an office. However, in the year 1910, Cumming decided to set up his own office in Vauxhall Road. Cumming then set up an address to which all letters directed to the intelligence office were sent.
During the First World War, the role of the Secret Service Bureau increased which forced the bureau to expand into other offices. In addition, more officers were vetted and interviewed to fit different positions in the bureau. In November 1914, Germanys former naval officer Karl Kruger approved the British intelligence service in Holland and offered information regarding how a navy should be constructed and how fleets should be disposed. Kruger also gave secrets of how Germany had lost in previous battles as well as insights on how to proceed with World War 1. Kruger was even willing to share more information but at a fee. The intelligent information from Karl Kruger was insightful to Britain and the country was more determined to improve their intelligence service.
After the World War 1, Cumming felt that there was need to reduce the costs of operation at the department. Hence, he opted for the department to move to cheaper premises. Cumming was also keen on preserving secrecy in his department to an extent that one had to go through a process before acquiring the bureaus address. Cumming was even reluctant in giving the military intelligence officer the address. It is clear that Cumming was a very secretive man and am assuming that is one of the reasons why he was selected to head the department which highly valued secrecy.
Throughout the First World War, the bureau adopted the use of different names such as the Secret Service, Foreign Secret Service and MI1(c). However, from the year 1920, the bureau adopted the name Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) which has continued to be used since then. During the Second World War, the officers also used the term MI6 as a convenience for SIS and to create a distinction between SIS and MI5. In my opinion, it is evident that the Secret Intelligence Service has had great transformations from its inception. The agency started as a simple organization meant to collect information from within and also outside Britain. The SIS then grew into a massive department with many officers and more roles depicting the high need for intelligence in Britain at the time.
SIS and the Second World War
In 1938, the Secret Intelligence Service had started preparing for any possibilities of war. For instance, the service established another department titled Section D under the leadership of Laurence Grand. The section was tasked with the role of planning, preparing and when necessary carry out attacks as opposed to the role of collecting intelligent information. Grand laid out solid plans to sabotage Germanys electric power, communication infrastructure and agriculture. He also crafted a plan of protecting Britain from attack by safeguarding her electricity, communication and agriculture. It is wise to note that during the second world war, the focus of the Secret Intelligence Service has changed to not only collect intelligent information but to also prepare and plan attacks during the war.
Role of Secret Intelligence Service during World War II
During the Second World War, the Secret Intelligence Service played a key role in sabotaging enemies. The secret service intercepted Germanys communication system and also fed German spies with false information. The Secret Intelligence Service achieved a lot especially in unearthing spies from enemy countries such as Germany. The service also succeeded in turning the enemy spies to their side such that they would give false feedback to Germany. The strategy worked well for the British because they managed to distract their key enemy Germany with fake information. When the United States joined the war, the Secret Intelligence Service helped to train their personnel from the department of Strategic Services. The USA also helped Britain to fight Nazi regime and its sympathizers.
The success of the secret service only came after many incidents of confusion during the war. The confusion was especially because the agency lacked the required level of expertise and number of officers to handle the workload which had increased tremendously. When war was declared, the intelligence officers were faced with problems of having to handle numerous vetting requests, a lot of suspect information and dealing with Nazi sympathizers who were preparing the ground for German invasion in Britain. The challenge heightened when within the first six months of the war about 64,000 foreign citizens from Germany and Austria were imprisoned without trial. The secret service hence had to conduct interviews on all foreigners to ensure that none was a German ally and that none was a cause for threat of domestic rebellion.
It is evident that it is during World War II that British Secret Intelligence Service was tasked with a series of responsibilities. The responsibilities as earlier stated did not come without some level of hitches. Just like any organization, more responsibilities often create pressure on the employees and until they adjust to the volume of work expected from them, then success is not guaranteed. However, the British secret service quickly reorganized themselves to handle the difficult task of combating enemies.
Intelligence and its Impact on Military and Political Actions
Intelligence in Britain just like any other government is used to collect information regarding foreign countries. The information that is targeted is often about the countrys capabilities and probable courses action by those countries. Rarely do nations collect intelligent information regarding their allies; it is mostly about their enemies or perceived threats. Intelligence is fundamental in enabling nations make decisions regarding their security, defense systems and foreign affairs.
Intelligence is usually conducted on national, tactical and counterintelligence levels. National intelligence commonly referred to as tactical is the broadest of the three levels and involves country collecting information regarding their enemies strengths and likely causes of action. Tactical or combat intelligence is mainly used to collect information which is then used by military commanders. Military actions are often guided by intelligence because actions for combat may require information from different levels of intelligence to ensure countries do not entangle themselves in modern wars. Modern wars would be detrimental especially because countries have devised dangerous and more effective weaponry.
Counterintelligence on the other hand, is a level of intelligence that involves a country working to maintain and protect the secrecy of its intelligence operations. The purpose of counterintelligence is to prevent agents from enemy countries from gaining access to the government, security agencies or intelligent information. Counterintelligence is also involved with operations aimed at combating terrorism, drug trafficking and cyber-attacks emanating from advanced technologies. Counterintelligence often involves countries interfering with their enemies intelligence system through placement of moles and converting the enemies spies to offer them the required information.
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