London: The veil of secrecy which traditionally surrounds operations of Britain`s secret service was partially lifted Tuesday with the publication of the first authorised history of MI6, the country`s foreign intelligence service.
The author, Professor Keith Jeffery of Queen`s University, Belfast, was given unrestricted access to MI6 archives, on condition that he would not name or allude to any agent whose identity was not already in the public domain.
"The reality is actually more difficult than the fiction. Because you`re dealing with real people, you realise that they have their weaknesses and strength," Jeffery told a news conference in London Tuesday.
His book, ‘MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949’, covers the first 40 years of the existence of the service.
"For MI6, this is an exceptional event. There has been nothing like this before and there are no plans for anything similar in the future," said John Scarlett, a former MI6 chief.
Jeffery said he was able in his research to "lay to rest the myth that MI6 had a licence to kill", although "fatalities" did occur in the course of its work, particularly during wartime.
"I looked very hard for `bad stuff`," he said. "In the end, I found less evidence than perhaps we might have expected, certainly less evidence than I might have expected as the amateur espionage fiction buff that I was."
Jeffery`s research did not cover the treachery of Kim Philby, one of Britain`s 1930s "Cambridge spies" who served with MI6 in the 1940s but did not come under suspicion as a Soviet agent until after the period covered by the book.
Philby died in Moscow in May, 1988.
The publication follows the release last year of the first-ever history of MI5, the secret service division that focuses on gathering intelligence in Britain.