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  • Behind the Enigma

  • The Authorised History of GCHQ, Britain’s Secret Cyber-Intelligence Agency
  • By: John Ferris
  • Narrated by: Charles Armstrong
  • Length: 30 hrs and 32 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Europe
  • 4.0 out of 5 stars (22 ratings)

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Summary

Bloomsbury presents Behind the Enigma by John Ferris, read by Charles Armstrong.

You know about MI5. 

You know about MI6. 

Now uncover the story behind Britain’s most secretive intelligence agency in the first-ever authorised history of GCHQ.

©2020 John Ferris (P)2020 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

All cloak, no dagger

Since WW2, the United Kingdom has maintained its global influence not through its dwindling military power but its skill in hacking everyone else's calls and messages and then giving them to the United States. As this book makes clear, the so-called 'special relationship' hinges predominantly, and precariously, on the ability of Britain's 'signals' intelligence agency GCHQ to keep one step ahead in the bugging game. Given the sensitivity and importance of its work it's hardly surprising that its secrets are among the UK's most closely guarded, and that any 'authorised' history is unlikely to contain any new or startling revelations. Anyone interested in civil service internal politics may find this work fascinating but you will need expertise in cryptography to decipher the endless stream of acronyms. Those expecting tales of James Bond style derring-do and Dan Brown style conspiracies will be disappointed, as will anyone hoping for a reasoned discussion, or indeed any discussion, on the wrongs and rights of "bulk interception" of everyone's internet activity.

10 people found this helpful

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GCHQ?

Nothing to do with GCHQ, more or a history book of anything but! I’m not surprised it’s none returnable

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

Didn't finish it.

I found the narrative a monotone, jumbled mess.
A name would spring up for example and I'd find myself wondering where this particular person had came into the story, and I'd have to track back. The reason said person was missed was because the narration sounds like a laboured chore.

1 person found this helpful

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I got a lot out of this book.

It is a history book, and it does cover a lot of ground. But having grown up in an era when secrecy was considered paramount, I was fascinated to (a) learn about the role Bletchley and GCHQ played in the Second World War, in Suez, in the Falklands, and their response to the Ed Snowden revelations. (b) to gain a new insight into the labour relations at GCHQ that used to play our evening news so often.

The book is organised into sections covering different topics and time lines, and while I was reading it the news was released about the new Australia UK USA (AUKUS) agreement, and reading this book helped me perceive that such a deal can be seen as a natural progression from what has been in place for decades.

Many other reviews here seem to be rather negative, but I think that unfair - the content meets the promise of the title in my mind, and while the subject may not be of interest to all, I am surprised anyone who was attracted by the title was then disappointed by the content.

I also found the narrator did a brilliant job. Again some others have commented that there was not enough animation in the narration, but I prefer factual content read as it is done so here, focusing on clarity of delivery let me pull out of it what interested me.

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Didn't persevere with it.

Having read GCHQ Centenary Edition by Richard Alrich I had high hopes for this. I found it much as some other listeners have commented i.e. it is like listening to a very long BBC Shipping Forecast. Had the narrator slipped in "Rockall, Fisher, German Bight" I may well not have noticed. There is undoubtedly a wealth of information and the narrator is to be commended as it cannot have been easy to orate and record such dry prose. Endless facts and military abbreviations do not a story make alas. Also I fail to see how a book that describes itself as a 'history' can leave out (at least as far as I read) the genuinely thrilling events that involved our intelligence agencies and not involve the reader far more in the human element of what went on over 100-plus years. Disappointing.

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Sterile, bland, dull.......

This book gives you no reason to live.
Takes a potentially interesting subject and keeps it secret