The shady world of British espionage: the real James Bonds

Night vision goggles.

They sit alongside the paraphernalia of intelligence: double identity paperwork, suitcase broadcast radios, a pipe which doubles as a small but perfectly formed gun. Instructions for use in the field.

And here in London we can inspect them at close range. MI5 and MI6 may have a cloak-and-dagger present, but their past is part of an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in Southwark.

Here you can search files on past agents and operations, and see some of the artefacts which have formed part of the day-to-day organisation of British Intelligence since the forming of the Secret Intelligence Service in 1909.

It covers operations in the first and second world wars as well as the Cold War.

And one of the final parts of the exhibition – called ‘Secret War’ – is a representation of how the SAS freed hostages taken at the Iranian Embassy in 1980.

It is a little surreal having the things which have been kept secret for so long open to public scrutiny.The gadgets that James Bond used in the field were not so very far-fetched after all, if the exhibits at the IWM are anything to go by.

If you are far, far away from London it is worth knowing that both MI5 and MI6 have websites. Although whether you can access them outside Britain, we have not yet tested.

The MI5 site is here, and the MI6 site here; while you can find details of the Secret War exhibition at the Imperial War Museum here.

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12 comments

  1. Ah how I miss the IWM and it’s wonderful exhibitions. In the US we have the international spy museum in DC, which has a good collection, but I’d love to see the Imperial War Museum’s. Heavy sigh

    Is this to be a permanent exhibit?

    1. Yup: whenever you make it across the pond, Thomas, Secret War will be waiting.

  2. yes yes and yes, we can access SOMETHING on each link. Whether or not every aspect is readable I can’t tell you.

    1. Hullo, Sidey :-D New gaff….Maybe its encrypted! Non-Brits have to decode the heiroglyphs first!

  3. I loved your post on the Secret War exhibit, and I’m tempted to take the “Intelligence Officer Challenge” on the MI6 website – though I’m worried what it might reveal. Thanks for a fascinating post!

    1. Hi – thanks for popping in to read! Good luck with the challenge, should you choose to accept the mission….

  4. Might have to take a trip to this one, my great uncle was a spy. This was only discovered by his family after his death, so we never got the opportunity to quiz him about it….I could find out some of his secrets. N x

    1. We must pack a picnic and head off there together some time :-) Plenty of buttons for the boys to press…

  5. fortunately as a foreigner, there is no chance they will want me as a spy, so I don’t need to take the test ;-)

    1. Well, that’s a load off both our minds, Sidey :-D

  6. Thanks for commenting on my site or I might not have discovered yours! I plan to visit the IWM on my next trip to my childhood home in England. Both places are perfect for researching future manuscripts and uncovering secrets. Miff isn’t the only one with a spy in the family.

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