This book, published in 1987 in America, Australia and Canada, is well described by its subtitle:"The candid autobiography of a senior intelligence officer". Written from recollection by Peter Wright, the book describes his experiences working for MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence and counterintelligence agency. He joined the agency in the early 50's as their first scientist, and through dedication and perseverance, was appointed as the head of two branches of MI5 at different times, despite the difficulties he encountered. He retired in early 1976 to farm horses in Australia.
Earlier chapters of the book are enthusiastic stories of developing and using new technology. He describes with avid relish the early years of his career, during which he played a key role in developing and implementing cutting-edge surveillance technology, most of which were audio bugs of some kind. He weaves a confusing tale involving MI5 and rival and enemy agencies trying to second guess each other; MI5 bugged many embassies and other buildings used by soviet agents and other spies, but the targets frequently appeared to discover the electronic incursion, often removing or disabling the device, but sometimes appearing to restrict the uses to which bugged rooms and phone lines were put, and generally expertly weaving a web of deceit.
The book gets bleaker as time goes on. Without summarising the entire 382 page book, the main theme is Wright's largely unsuccessful attempts to launch a full scale investigation into possible Soviet penetration of MI5. Wright made himself somewhat unpopular in MI5 and related agencies by insisting that evidence pointing to "high level penetration" should be fully investigated. His efforts were resisted, possibly due to the impact such investigations could have on morale and partly to avoid scandal, but another possible factor could be that his allegations, which at one time involved the then director of MI5, Roger Hollis, were being blocked by Soviet agents high in the civil service hierarchy.
The release of this book caused considerable controversy, and the British Government attempted to prevent it from being published. Peter Wright has been accused of fabricating much of the book. I got the impression that the book was an attempt by a largely misunderstood person to tell his side of the story, while revealing to the public the inadequacies of acencies like MI5 and the CIA, whose operations are steeped in such secrecy that inevitably, ludicrous tales obscure what fragments of truth are available.
The book is stuffed full of information, but the reader will find it quickly apparent the the author is a scientist, not a writer. The narrative jumps back and forward in time so often that the only way to build an accurate timeline for the events the book describes would be to take extensive notes. Despite being difficult to read, I would suggest that anyone who is interested in intelligence agencies and their effect on civil liberties should read this book.