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Secrecy and Spies: British Intelligence in the Modern World (PO9A6)

For most of the twentieth century, the British intelligence community operated completely in the shadows. Heads of agencies were not named; the doors to the intelligence archives remained firmly closed; and parliamentary discussion about espionage was strictly forbidden. Any MP who dared to ask a question about intelligence risked being made a pariah; it was not only against the national interest to mention intelligence in the House, but un-gentlemanly.

Today, however, the picture is very different. In 2009, both the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Service (SIS/MI6) celebrated their centenary by publishing large authorised histories. A further watershed was achieved in 2013 when Britain’s three top spy chiefs (MI5’s Andrew Parker; SIS’s John Sawyers; and GCHQ’s Iain Lobban) spoke at an unprecedented televised hearing to respond to allegations made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The main aim of this module is to critically examine the role and significance of the British intelligence community in national security policy-making.