Secrets and Lies

Another look at British Intelligence in the WNU

by David Kennedy

When it comes to deciphering the Byzantine structure of the British Intelligence Agencies, Brad Mengel has got further than most. However, his article "Keeping Secrets" fell victim to the alphabet soup and civil service gobbledegook employed by all intelligence services to maximise confusion, leaving it unclear how the various terms used actually relate to each other. This is hardly surprising, as the information publicly available, even in the current culture of openness, is incomplete, inconsistent and often incomprehensible.

Through means I am not at liberty to divulge I was fortunate enough to gain the relevant records of Kate Reed, Sally Rhodes, Tom Crane and Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart, which helped clarify things. I also utilised the scrawled notes of conspiracy theorists James Stevens and Danny Bennett, although I rejected most of their claims [1].

Firstly, it has to be understood that Mycroft Holmes' position, at the time of "All Consuming Fire", was entirely unofficial. As he told his brother and Watson, he was assigned by Queen Victoria personally because the official channels "run the whole thing like an Eton game". Whilst maintaining his subordinate Foreign Office position, in which he was known for his ability to "connect-the-dots" between disparate topics, he also reported directly to her, completely bypassing official channels, hence his brother's comment that "occasionally, he is the British Government" [2] . In essence, the Diogenes Club, like most intelligence organisations before it, can be seen as an instrument of the crown, rather than the state.

In "All Consuming Fire" it is suggested that Mycroft's insistence to the then Prime Minister William Gladstone that the Foreign Office's "covert diplomacy" operations needed to be more organised and go deeper had no effect, save to attract the attention of the Queen. In fact, Gladstone, although he wouldn't dream of admitting a junior clerk had a point, was struck by this. However, because he saw spying as being degrading and un-British, he decided to choose a known criminal for the task. This was of course, James Moriarty, the first "M". As well as "standard" secret service duties he was also (and even more foolishly) put in charge of organising those "gatherings of unique individuals" that had been of service to the crown since the 17th century. When Mycroft found out about all this he was, naturally, livid. He asked Queen Victoria, by coded telegram, if she could change Gladstone's mind, but the Premier, although always courteous and respectful to his Queen, seldom actually listened to her. All Mycroft could do was hope that the Diogenes could stop Moriarty actually causing a war.

(Records which were... borrowed... from the MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall Cross by Stevens in the course of an investigation suggest that at least one member of Moriarty's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was actually a Diogenes agent. Tantalisingly, it does not state whom.)

Following the events of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", Mycroft was invited to take over the Secret Service, Her Majesty's Government still having no idea of the truth behind the Diogenes Club. Mycroft accepted the role, also taking the codename "M". In fact, a combination of secrecy and embarrassment lead to Mycroft usually being considered the first "M". Or at least the first proper "M".

Unbeknownst to all, save the Queen, Mycroft was concerned that an official position, with the PM looking over his shoulder, could tie his hands. He decided the Diogenes Club, with its hand-picked semi-autonomous agents, and lack of Government pressure (or indeed knowledge) should continue. Confusingly, many members of the Secret Service Bureau were also members of the Diogenes Club. (This started when Mycroft used Diogenes members to replace many of Moriarty's agents, who had either followed him into The Circle Of Life, or were arrested for treason on Mycroft's first day.) Even more confusingly, once the tradition was established, many agents became "ordinary" members, with no idea the club was anything other than "the last refuge for the most unclubbable men in Britain". Henry Merrivale is the best example of someone who was simultaneously an official agent of the SSB and a freelancer on behalf of the Diogenes. In 1900, however Mycroft's role as "M" was taking up more of his time, and he appointed Sir Charles Beauregard the new Chairman of the Ruling Cabal of the Diogenes.

Meanwhile, the Bureau was getting more organised, as the world prepared for war. In 1909 Mycroft was assigned two deputy directors by Prime Minister Herbert H. Asquith, Captain Vernon Kell and Sir Mansfield Cumming. "K" specialised in internal security in the Internal Branch, "C" in overseas espionage in the Secret Intelligence Bureau. "M" supervised them both. In 1914 the two parts of the organisation were separated and Kell became the first Director of MI5. Mycroft remained Director of what was now MI6 throughout World War I, amongst other things reworking the agency's Quartermaster Section to being, not just a supplies department, but an armaments research and development laboratory. To deliver the equipment thus designed to British Embassies around the world, without attracting suspicion, he created the fictitious "Universal Exports" company, which would later become MI6's primary cover. Mycroft retired in at the end of the war.

The next "M" was Sir Henry Merrivale, who set up MI6's "00" section. He served in the role for twenty years, before being replaced by Angus McTarry in 1938.

By this time, concern over the European situation had led to a host of different intelligence services being set up by the War Office, including MI1: Codebreaking (also C&C Unit), MI4: Aerial Reconnaissance, MI7: Extraterrestrials and the Supernatural, and many others, often with overlapping dominion. The numbers, originally based on Mycroft, Cumming and Kell's office door numbers, were assigned more or less at random. As if this wasn't confusing enough, each organisation had a slew of subsections.

In 1940 Colonel John Race became the second "K", although he disliked the codename and was generally called "Control". [3] In 1941 McTarry was killed whilst consulting with Sir James Bond. Sir Henry Merrivale returned to the Director-General's post until the end of the War.

After WWII the organisations changed again. It was decided, amongst other things, that since the two original services had the briefs "internal security" and "external security", just about everything else could go down to them. Also, since they were now under the auspices of the Home and Foreign Offices, rather than the War Office, it was felt that the "Military Intelligence" suffix was inappropriate. MI6 was renamed Secret Intelligence Service, MI5 became the Security Service, MI7 became C19 and MI1's C&C Unit (occasionally called Double C) grew into the Government Communication Headquarters. Of course the old names and obscure nicknames were still used, so two people in different sections of the SIS might easily refer to the parent organisation (or each other's departments) by completely different terms. During the Cold War obsfucation by the Secret Services wasn't just the nature of government departments. It was official policy.

SIS, now run by Sir Miles Messervy, was variously known as MI6, Y1, the Firm, occasionally MI9 and simply the Service. Subsections included Q Branch (also called the Armoury), Department S and "00" Section. It also had a branch for liasing with international organisations such as UNCLE.

The Security Service was also called MI5, the Circus, Department Z, C15 and Special Security. And, just to confuse things, simply the Service. After the War Johnny Race was replaced as Control by a man I have been unable to find any details of, but who was very much in the Machiavellian mould of Professor Moriarty, deliberately playing Britain's other defence organisations to increase the reputation of his own Service, whilst hushing up any situations that might occur closer to home.

C19's nicknames included MI7 and the Ministry of National Security. It is the most secretive of the services. Even those who know of its existence see it mainly as the UK government liaison with the military group UNIT (one of the organisations set up under section 0 of the UN Charter), a task that requires co-operation with the Defence Intelligence Service. Before that it supervised a similar national organisation called the Intrusion Counter Measures Group. The only director of C19 there is any real record of was Sir John Sudbury in the 1980s.

Subsections of C19 include the Department of Observation and Measurement of Scientific Work, an environmental watchdog group generally referred to (in the days before environmentalism was taken seriously) by the disparaging name of Doomwatch, and Department 7, an occult investigation team.

The American reader might like to think of the Security Service as being equivalent to the FBI (but without the powers of arrest), SIS as being equivalent to the CIA, and C19 as being equivalent to Bureau 13, or the FBI's X-Files division. GCHQ is equivalent to the NSA.

The Diogenes Club also continued, under Edwin Winthrop. It gradually became more of an open secret. as more government and civil service officials needed to be taken into confidence, or began their careers as Diogenes agents (a large number of C19 agents began at the Diogenes for some reason[4]). It probably became the control centre for what Mengel calls the "talented amateur" section.

In 1974 George Smiley became Chief of the Security Service (Circus) following the death of the then Control. However, he had recently discovered that the Circus was even more corrupt than he'd always suspected (he had resigned twice on matters of principle) and much of the organisation was in disarray, owing to the events that revealed this, the exposure of the biggest double agent scandal since the 1930s. By 1977 he had resigned again.

In the 1980s the Diogenes Club was finally disbanded. Evidence suggests it may have been on the order of Prime Minister James Hacker, probably upon the advice of the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby[5]. By 1995, when Sally Rhodes visited the building, it was completely deserted. It is likely, however, that the organisation it was a cover for, run at the time of it's disbanding by Richard Jeperson, has simply gone deeper underground, becoming as much of a secret as the Diogenes was under Mycroft. Ironically, it was around this time the rest of the Services became more open, with the public announcement that Barbara Mawdsley [6] had become the first female "M" in 1995.


1874: Mycroft Holmes first suggests an organised official intelligence agency to Gladstone. He is (seemingly) ignored. Gladstone is ousted later that year, but Disraeli is equally unreceptive.

1880: Mycroft Holmes is authorised by the Queen to set up his own agency, answerable only to her, based in the Diogenes Club. He sets up a Ruling Cabal of trusted advisors, with himself as Chairman.

1892: Back in power for the third time, Gladstone sets up a government secret service, claiming it as his own idea. Professor James Moriarty becomes the first director, codenamed "M".

1898: Events of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen". Holmes becomes second "M".

1900: Sir Charles Beauregard becomes Chairman of the Ruling Cabal of the Diogenes Club.

1909: Asquith reorganises the Secret Service Bureau, assigning two sub-directors "K" and "C".

1914: WWI begins. "K" becomes director-general of MI5. SSB renamed MI6. Mycroft sets up Q Branch and "Universal Exports" cover.

1918: Sir Henry Merrivale becomes "M". Sets up "00" division.

1930s: Threat of war leads to the creation of various overlapping espionage agencies including M17, established by certain Diogenes members to investigate anything that falls outside the bounds of rational explanation.

1938: Angus McTarry becomes "M".

1940: Kell quits the service. Colonel John Race becomes "K". Generally called "Control".

1941 McTarry killed. Merivale becomes "M" again.

1945: MI5 renamed Security Service. MI6 renamed SIS. MI7 renamed C19. Sir Miles Messervy becomes "M". Colonel Race replaced as Control.

1946: Edwin Winthrop becomes Chairman of the Diogenes Club's Ruling Cabal.

1951: Defection of Philby, Burgess and McLean. Evidence suggests "the Doctor" may have been involved.

1974: Death of Control, during the "Karla Incident". George Smiley becomes temporary Director-General of the Security Service (Circus).

1980: Richard Jeperson becomes Chair of the Diogenes Cabal.

1980s: Diogenes Club disbanded by Government order. Current cover for Jeperson's organisation unknown.

1995: Barbara Mawsley becomes "M".


[1] Kate Reed was the journalist who broke the Dracula story, excised from Stoker's version of events, but restored to history by Kim Newman. Her current status (living, dead, other) is unknown.

Sally Rhodes is a private investigator, whose clashes with media mogul Derek Leech were also chronicled by Newman. Both Reed and Rhodes had reason to investigate the Diogenes Club when they became involved in the furore over the Jewel of the Seven Stars.

Tom Crane is a journalist who became involved with C19's supernatural subsection Department 7. His reports were dramatised under the title "The Omega Factor".

Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart is a noted historian and author of "The Zen Military", a history of the paramilitary organisation UNIT extensively quoted in Ben Aaronovitch's account of the "Battlefield" incident.

James Stevens was a reporter, whose own account of UNIT was published as "Who Killed Kennedy" (co-written by David Bishop) shortly after his disappearance. It is widely discredited.

Danny Bennett is or was a reporter for the BBC. His extensive "secret histories of the world", many of which contradict each other, were rejected by the Corporation, but were turned into a series of comic novels by author Tom Holt.

[2] As reported in "The Bruce Partington Plans". This indiscretion left Mycroft disappointed with his brother, displeased with Watson and absolutely furious with Arthur Conan Doyle. There would be a coolness between the Diogenes and Sir Arthur from then on.

[3] Noted points in Johnny Race's career have been recorded by Dame Agatha Christie, including his encounters with Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile and Cards on the Table.

[4] In fact, as part of the cover-up of its own activities, C19 encouraged people to think that all the active espionage work in the realms of the outre was being done by the "talented amateurs" of the Diogenes.

[5] The history of Hacker's political career, and Sir Humphrey's part in it, can be found in his Diaries, edited by Antony Jay & Jonathan Lynn, and published under the titles "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister".

[6] To clarify: you don't actually have to have a name beginning with an "M" to qualify as Director-General of the SIS. It just seems to have worked out that way.


James Bond films and novels

Smiley novels by John LeCarre

FAS Intelligence Resource Program (

BBC Crimefighters- Intelligence (

British Telefantasy (

Disclaimer/Note: The history of espionage is confused and confusing, even in our world. All three accounts of MI5 and MI6 I've found contradict each other. While I've tried to keep to the facts as much as possible (except where the fiction contradicts them, obviously), it has not always been clear what the facts are.

© 2002 by the author David Kennedy