This is a brief guide to researching British government records on security history. Security history records are wide-ranging and can sometimes be complicated. Not all records are available to the public and not all survive. Of those that are open to the public, most are available at The National Archives. This guide will help you gain a general overview of the main sources of the information that exists, and where to find it.
What records can I see online?
Security Service miscellanea
Search Discovery, our catalogue for selected Security Service documents which have been made available digitally. Use selected keywords and phrases, such as "security service" (in speech marks), to help narrow down your search.
What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?
Search and browse our catalogue for the following departmentsdepartment - The highest level in our records hierarchy, usually corresponding to the government department of origin to gain an overview of security history from various government and military records:
- Security Service (KV) - records of MI5Security Service (United Kingdom). Some were destroyed by bombing in 1940
- Cabinet Office (CAB) - memoranda and minutes of various JICJoint Intelligence Committee (United Kingdom) meetings can be found here
- Government Communications Headquarters (HW) - records of GCHQ
- Ministry of Defence (DEFE) - records relating to defence and the DISDefence Intelligence Staff - a constituent part of the Ministry of Defence concerned with gathering, analysing and assessing intelligence information can be found here
- Special Operations Executive (HS) - functioned during the Second World War to promote sabotage and subversion
- Foreign Office (FO) - correspondence, policy and negotiation with other states. Some material on the activities and funding of MI6Secret Intelligence Service (United Kingdom) can be found here
- Home Office (HO) - this series focuses on domestic and internal affairs
Most records of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) are not open to the public.
What records can I find in other archives and organisations?
Consultative Group on Security and Intelligence Records
Vist the webpages of the Consultative Group on Security and Intelligence Records for further help and guidance on intelligence-related records. This group is specifically set up to help the official, archival and academic communities with security and intelligence related material.
What other resources will help me find information?
Browse the history and records section of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) website for information on the organisation's history and records policy.
Browse the Security service (MI5) website for more information about the organisation.
Browse the history section of the Government Communications Headquarters website for more information about the organisation's past.
Search The National Archives' bookshop to see whether any of the publications below may be available to buy. Alternatively, look in The National Archives' library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.
British Intelligence by Stephen Twigge, Edward Hampshire and Graham Macklin (The National Archives, 2008)
The Defence of The Realm: The Authorised History Of MI5 by Christopher Andrew (Penguin, 2009)