MI5, 1909-1945: An information management perspective

Alistair Black, Rodney Brunt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The late-Victorian and Edwardian revolution in information management offers a meaningful lens through which to observe the activities of MI5, Britain's leading counter-intelligence agency. Established in 1909, MI5 was immediately faced with the huge task of organising the mass of disparate information which its investigations generated. In response to problems thrown up by both the period of international tension which preceded the First World War and the war itself, MI5 developed a relatively efficient, labour-intensive information management infrastructure. The cashing in of the peace dividend after 1918, despite ongoing issues of security arising from the Communist 'threat', resulted in a deterioration of information management in MI5 in the inter-war years and the virtual collapse of the organisation's information system at the start of the Second World War. This presented opportunities for renewal along more mechanised lines, as well as by means of a tightening of existing manual methods. By 1945, MI5's information management efficiency had been largely restored. The history of information systems in MI5 between 1909 and 1945, as revealed in recently declassified documents in the Public Record Office, adds to the evidence that the formal recognition of the value of information management in organisations occurred well before the onset of the computer age. However, the efficiency of the systems which evolved in MI5's formative years, although impressive in many respects, was undermined in the long term, it is suggested, by an inward-looking culture which manifested itself in a reluctance, especially between the wars, to look outside the organisation to contemporary practice in business and in library science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-197
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Information Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Library and Information Sciences


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