Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS - MI6): Background information when reading A Spy by Nature

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A Spy by Nature

A Novel

by Charles Cumming

A Spy by Nature by Charles Cumming X
A Spy by Nature by Charles Cumming
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2007, 368 pages

    Nov 2008, 368 pages


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About this Book

Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS - MI6)

This article relates to A Spy by Nature

Print Review

According toSIS's informative website, a formal and permanent British intelligence service was first established in 1909; but the history of British intelligence organizations engaged in foreign intelligence goes back at least to the 15th century (Thomas Cromwell ran secret agents in Europe on behalf of Henry VIII and Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I's "spymaster", maintained a network of 50 secret agents abroad and a substantial network in Britain.

The first head of the Service was Captain Sir Mansfield Cumming RN (no relation to Charles), who signed himself "MC" or "C" in green ink. This began the tradition of the head of the Service adopting the initial 'C' as his symbol (the inspiration for James Bond's 'M'). During World War I, the Foreign Office, and therefore the Secret Service Bureau, was effectively integrated into the the Military Intelligence Directorate, where it was known as MI1 - one of ten military intelligence units established by the end of WWI.

After the War, Cumming managed to engineer the return of the Service to Foreign Office control, and in the 1920s it became known as SIS. During the 1930s the title M16 was adopted as a "flag of convenience" for SIS and was used extensively during World War II - it was one of 17 military intelligence units established by the British during the war. 'M16' fell out of official use years ago but many writers and journalists still use it to describe SIS.

Fun link: TakeSIS's test to see if you'd be a good recruit (I failed dismally!)

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

This article relates to A Spy by Nature. It first ran in the August 9, 2007 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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