[MGSA-L] Calder Walton, Empire of Secrets, and Cyprus

DANIEL P. TOMPKINS pericles at temple.edu
Thu Mar 21 20:10:00 PDT 2013

Bernard Porter reviews the book in the subject line in in the current *London
Review of Books *, commending Walton for what appears to be a quite honest
history of the British intelligence agency MI5.  What's important for the
list is what I had not known: that MI5 worked not only in UK but in the
colonies, and that one of its achievements was to warn against torture and
"rough treatment" by colonial authorities.  John Harding in Cyprus is cited
as a prominent example of a governor who violated the anti-torture code,
and the review quotes some revealing remarks by him.

The Official Secrets Act, from this point of view, functioned partly to
keep the British from learning just how awful the British had behaved.
 This was essential, Porter says:

It’s pretty obvious why British governments have been anxious to keep the
history of their secret service secret for so long. In the case of
decolonisation, which is the subject of Calder Walton’s book, revelations
about dirty tricks even after fifty years might do irreparable damage to
the myth carefully cultivated at the time: which was that for Britain,
unlike France, say, or the Netherlands, or Belgium, the process was smooth
and friendly. Britain, so the story went, was freely granting
selfgovernment to its colonies as the culmination of imperial rule, which
had always had this as its ultimate aim – ‘Empire into Commonwealth’, as
the history books used to put it. If for no other reason, the myth was
needed in order to make ordinary Britons feel better.

If "ordinary Britons" felt better, "ordinary Cypriots" (or Kenyans or
Indians, etc.) did not.


Dan Tompkins
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