17 Dec 21

The Five Eyes intelligence construct has I would contend, had a very significant bearing on most of our careers. Originating in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, as the Cold War became ever more deep-rooted, the Five Eyes intelligence community – the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, became the guardians of our nations’ most prized national security insights, whilst guarding and protecting our own vital ground. Notwithstanding the frequent prophesies of its demise, it is likely to fulfil this essential geostrategic remit for many years to come.

Anthony Wells is a former Royal Navy Officer, who is acknowledged to be both an academic and a highly accomplished intelligence practitioner. He has served in both UK and US intelligence agencies, as a British and latterly as a US citizen. His unique personal experience and unrivalled bilateral access brings his very readable book to life. He charts the changes, challenges and successes that he has witnessed during the last 50 years. Covering the intelligence and naval luminaries he has worked with and been mentored by, including Admiral Reginald ‘Blinker’ Hall (of World War One ‘Room 40’ and Zimmerman Telegram fame), Admirals Nick Hunt, James Eberle and US Admirals Trost and Gravely, Wells describes well the way in which strong interpersonal relationships help to unlock intelligence sharing of our most sensitive secrets. Like any book on intelligence, it must necessarily constrain itself to that which is releasable to the public domain and doesn’t compromise trade-craft. Whilst there are few salacious contemporary intelligence tales, there are some really fascinating facts buried herein. I for one was unaware of the role our Norwegian NATO ally played in supporting the Falklands Campaign, passing intercepted Soviet Intel on Argentine force dispositions to GCHQ.

Wells is candid about the successes and failures of intelligence, although he observes that very often perceived failures in Allied insight are often mis-represented to suit political ends. In the aftermath of Iraq few can doubt that there are undoubtedly shortcomings on both parts. He offers reflections on the Invasion of Kuwait, the Global War on Terror, Afghanistan and Iraq, whilst telegraphing the challenges posed by a resurgent Russia and an increasingly strident China. In the final chapter the author offers a thoughtful insight into the future of the Five Eyes Community in the 21st century. He wrestles with the technological challenges posed by the ‘internet of things’, 5G communications, near seamless satellite coverage of the earth, and the unmasking potential of Quantum computing on cryptography. Whilst these developments may be novel and hugely significant the principles of intelligence and counter-intelligence remain relevant today.

So without giving too much away, the essence of effective intelligence, I would recommend Anthony Wells’ book to readers and intelligence practitioners. I would advise Naval and Joint Intelligence staff to read it, primarily to understand better the lineage and value of the Five Eyes Intelligence Community – it would be a great addition to the Joint Maritime Intelligence Course (if that’s what it is still called!) reading list.

The last thing I would say, perhaps more so for the author than a prospective reader, is having read an ‘Advance Reading – Pre-Sale Copy’, there is a need to correct some irritating factual mistakes which slightly undermine the credibility of the book – notably referring to ‘September 11, 2011’ and the ‘F34 fighter’. Accuracy and attention to detail have long been key facets of making intelligence believable.