Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire

By Calder Walton

The winner of the 2013 Longman-History Today Book Prize is the gripping and largely untold story of the role of the intelligence services in Britain’s retreat from empire.

Against the background of the Cold War, and the looming spectre of Soviet-sponsored subversion in Britain’s dwindling colonial possessions, the imperial intelligence service MI5 played a crucial but top secret role in passing power to newly independent national states across the globe.

Mining recently declassified intelligence records, Calder Walton reveals this ‘missing link’ in Britain’s post-war history. He sheds new light on everything from violent counter-insurgencies fought by British forces in the jungles of Malaya and Kenya, to urban warfare campaigns conducted in Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula. Drawing on a wealth of previously classified documents, as well as hitherto overlooked personal papers, this is also the first book to draw on records from the Foreign Office’s secret archive at Hanslope Park, which contains some of the darkest and most shameful secrets from the last days of Britain’s empire.

Packed with incidents straight out of a John le Carré novel, Empire of Secrets is an exhilarating read by an exciting new voice in intelligence history.

Format: Paperback
Release Date: 30 Jan 2014
Pages: 448
ISBN: 978-0-00-745797-7
Calder Walton is a leading expert among a new generation of intelligence historians. He has published widely on intelligence history and contributed to a number of books on British foreign policy and international relations. While completing a PhD in history at Trinity College, Cambridge, and then a post-doctoral Fellowship at Darwin College, Cambridge, he was one of the principal researchers on Christopher Andrew’s unprecedented authorised history of MI5. He lives in London, where he works as a barrister. This is his first book.

”'A superb and engaging account of the role of intelligence during the decline of Britain’s Empire” - Daily Express

”'A fascinating history of intelligence and empire. Walton’s book is perfectly timed, as Britain braces for a possible public inquiry into allegedly systemic torture of prisoners in Iraq. Walton provides appalling insight into the use of torture throughout the withdrawal from empire” - Observer

”'There is enough human anecdote and eccentricity in 'Empire of Secrets’s 'high octane' narrative to please even the most satiated consumer of such subjects … a story that often left me wondering what on earth we pay these people for” - Michael Burleigh, Literary Review

‘Walton is a very good writer. ‘Empire of Secrets’ fairly rips along, summoning in places the verve of a good spy novel … It is to his credit that he has produced such a gripping, thoughtful and satisfying book on an aspect of British history still largely hidden by shadow’ Daily Telegraph -

”'A compulsively readable tale of loss of empire, a necessary process of decolonisation overseen by MI5” - Times

”'[An] agreeably lively account” - Sunday Telegraph

”'Fascinating … moves the spooks from the periphery of history to its heart … A well-documented, courageous and incisive first book by an author who has inhabited the real world of intelligence rather than a James Bond fantasy … required reading” - The Tablet