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Title: Sir Basil Thomson and the directorate of intelligence: A British experiment in 'high policing’, 1919 -1921
Authors: Majothi, Mohamed Hanif
Advisors: Davies, P
Gustafson, K
Keywords: Special branch;Continental policing;Police intelligence;National security policing;British intelligence history
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Brunel University London
Abstract: Within current British Intelligence literature, there is an absence of any detailed examination of the Directorate of Intelligence (DoI), led by Sir Basil Thomson, a policeman. The DoI was created mostly from the Metropolitan Police Special Branch in 1919 by Cabinet decision, primarily to counter post-Great War Bolshevik inspired activism. It became the first civilian domestic Intelligence organisation in Britain, heralding the formalisation of ‘high policing’, despite the natural British dislike of such ‘Continental’ practices. This research, utilising traditional historical archival methods, is largely underpinned by Brodeur’s ‘high/low’ policing theory. Firstly, the original English aversion to ‘Continental’ policing practices is explained with reference to the evolution of the French Police in the early nineteenth century. This is set against the backdrop of natural liberties enjoyed in England. Specifically, it was the suppressive ‘high policing’ under Joseph Fouché, Napoleon’s Minister of Police that was of concern. This was an important factor in preventing the inclusion of such practices when the Metropolitan Police and Provincial Forces were formed. Secondly, in examining the DoI, it is argued that rather than the military, the police were given the domestic Intelligence function for constitutional reasons. Thomson’s weekly reports to the Cabinet provide insight into how he organised the DoI to execute its mandate. Three examples are detailed to show its work: the 1919 Police Strike, the Nationalist insurgency in Ireland and associated violence on the mainland as well as counter-Bolshevik propaganda. Thirdly, negative accepted wisdoms in literature regarding Thomson are challenged, showing that despite the DoI’s sudden abolition in 1921, it had been efficient and had provided valuable intelligence to government. An aberrant recommendation by the 1921 Secret Service Committee led to the DoI’s abrupt termination by Prime Minister Lloyd George. Efficiency was the reason given for his decision, without Cabinet consultation, when the prevailing view among some Parliamentarians was that that the organisation was too ‘Continental’ in its work, something that was unacceptable with the lessening of the post-war crises.
Description: This thesis was submitted for the award of Doctor of Philosophy and was awarded by Brunel University London
Appears in Collections:History
Dept of Politics, History and Law Theses

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