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March 31, 1985|HARRY TRIMBORN

MI6: BRITISH SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS 1909-1985 by Nigel West (Random House: $16.95). With its tables of organization and rosters of personnel, "MI6" deals more with the administration of Britain's foreign espionage activities than with the skulduggery of agents out in the cold. In rather dry, scholarly fashion, West, a recognized authority on British espionage, concentrates on operations during World War II. He also covers Britain's role in the establishment of its one-time U.S. counterpart, the OSS--Office of Strategic Services. Yet some of the most interesting aspects of the book cover the earlier periods, beginning with the inception of the service after the turn of the century when a couple of amateur Royal Navy espionage sleuths decided to spy on naval installations in the northern German port of Kiel. A companion work to West's earlier book on Britain's counterespionage service, "MI6" lacks the drama of similar books by more exciting writers. Yet, it exudes a sense of authenticity and knowledge about a fascinating subject.

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