GCHQ: The Secret Wireless War 1900-1986

GCHQ: The Secret Wireless War 1900-1986

Nigel West
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
GCHQ by Nigel West is a truly expansive history of the UK's SIGINT capabilities, up to 1986. The author is so well versed in the arcane dealings of the intelligence community that The Sunday Times reported that he is believed by some people to be the unofficial historian of the secret services.

This is both a niche book for the expert or armchair enthusiast and a general primer for the wider historian, especially for those with a passing interest in Bletchley, the Enigma machine and their role in WW2. It covers the full gamut from the early days of SIGINT (signals intelligence) across the British Empire to the pivotal part SIGINT played across two world wars and the Cold War that followed.

Despite having to appeal to such a varied readership, the book flows really well. Nigel West has pitched it nicely and consequently it is an enjoyable read, with the right balance of detail and narrative. My only gripe (and it is a really small one, given the title which I should have noted...) is that this is a reprint of a book written in 1986 and therefore the history ends in 1986. It might have been nice to have had a bit more added about the intervening 30 years and the role SIGINT played in Iraq and Afghanistan. To be honest though, the first time I realised this was a book written in 1986 was three pages from the end when it referred to a first generation Cray supercomputer in the present tense.

The book is available from Amazon here: £10.79 on Kindle and £20 in hardback. The first print run can still be found on Amazon as well here: a second hand copy can be picked up for under £10, including P&P.

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