A matter of intelligence

MI5 and the surveillance of anti-Nazi refugees, 1933–50

A Matter of Intelligence is a book about the British Security Service MI5. More specifically, it concerns one particular aspect of its work, the surveillance of anti-Nazi German refugees during the 1930s and 1940s. When Hitler took power in 1933, the Nazis began a reign of terror against their political opponents: communists, socialists, pacifists and liberals, many of whom were forced to flee Germany. Some of these ‘political’ refugees came to Britain, where MI5 kept them under close surveillance. This study is based on the personal and organisational files that MI5 kept on them during the 1930s and 1940s – or at least those that have been released to the National Archives – making it equally a study of the political refugees themselves. Although this surveillance exercise formed an important part of MI5's work during that period, it is a part which it seems to have disowned or at any rate forgotten: the recent official history of MI5 does not even mention it, nor do its ‘unofficial’ counterparts. This study therefore fills a considerable gap in historical research. It traces the development of MI5 surveillance of German-speaking refugees through the case files of some of its individual targets and of the main refugee organisations; it also considers the refugees’ British supporters and the refugee informants who spied on fellow-refugees, as well as MI5's tussles with the Home Office and other official bodies. Finally, it assesses how successful – or how useful – this hidden surveillance exercise actually was.

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‘A Matter of Intelligence contains unique insight into a well-studied era by giving attention to previously unavailable documents from a range of archives... Scholars interested in domestic affairs during the Second World War, intelligence history and transnational history will find this book an informative and well-'researched volume.'
RYAN SHAFFER, Stony Brook University
The Journal of the Historical Association
December 2015

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