Five Eyes: The untold story of the international spy network
Blink, $32.99 pb, 414 pp
Richard Kerbaj is the latest in a long line of journalists and other writers to write a book on the intelligence agencies of the Five Eyes countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). His major claim is that he has conducted interviews with more than a hundred current and former intelligence officers, as well as four former prime ministers, Britain’s Theresa May and David Cameron, and Australia’s Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull. The willingness of so many intelligence officers to speak openly to a journalist, and in some cases to be identified by name, is a mark of how far the relationship between the agencies and external writers has come.
In the first decades after World War II, when what we now know as the Five Eyes arrangements and many of the individual agencies were established, the authorities sought to impose, by such measures as the Official Secrets Acts 1911–89 in Britain and the Crimes Act 1914 in Australia, virtually complete secrecy, not only on their operations but even on their very existence. In fact, while using the courts to suppress unfavourable or unauthorised stories, the British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 employed trusted writers to reveal their achievements. It was by exposing the hypocrisy of this policy that the young Turnbull gained world headlines in the Spycatcher cases in the 1980s.
By the 1960s and 1970s, many books criticised the British and American agencies, often prompted by the disasters of the Cambridge Five in Britain and by the revelations by congressional committees in Washington of the misdeeds of the CIA and the FBI. In the first two decades of this century, a new series of controversies erupted arising from the practices of ‘extraordinary rendition’ and techniques such as waterboarding by US agencies in the so-called War on Terror; the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which the British government justified by an intelligence assessment in what Kerbaj calls the ‘Iraq Dossier’ or the ‘September Dossier’, but that was more widely called the ‘dodgy dossier’; and the 2013 revelations by Edward Snowden of the extent of electronic surveillance by the American and British signals intelligence agencies. All of these aroused intense controversy in the United States and the United Kingdom, which reverberated in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.