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Secret Victory

The Intelligence War That Beat the IRA
Narrated by: Nick Cracknell
Length: 9 hrs and 10 mins
Categories: Non-fiction, Politics
5.0 out of 5 stars (2 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Terrorist leaders are not benevolent men inclined to make peace but vicious bullies. The IRA was the Islamic State of its day. Northern Ireland, Iraq, and Afghanistan are similar wars. In these, an insurgency like the IRA/Sinn Féin mix is the main problem.

A proven solution is the rule of law, where police intelligence dominates because investigative practices fail. The approach - widely misrepresented and commonly misunderstood - devastated the IRA. Some terrorists were killed, most were in prison, many were on the run, and the rest feared the same fate. The IRA was forced into a ceasefire.

Had this been disclosed in promoting the peace, nations would have benefited and lives saved. But the political endgame was botched. Unrepentant insurgents in government tainted security to sanitise their past. IRA leaders became peacemakers. Others contemplating conflict watched. Al-Qaeda was encouraged. New York's twin towers stood tall. Peace had a price.

©2016 William Matchett (P)2017 William Matchett

Critic Reviews

"William Matchett's Secret Victory provides a vital case study in counterterrorism at a time the West needs every lesson it can get. It may deal with Ireland, but it provides vital insights into both the value of human intelligence and the limits of force." (Anthony H. Cordesman, Burke Chair in Strategy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.C.)

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  • Brian M
  • 13-01-2020

Very one sided with lots of false claims

At first I found this book interesting. As an American and someone who studies The Troubles and the Peace Process I thought this started out in an interesting way and so I thought this would make for an interesting listen. As the title indicates, this is a book written from the security forces point of view. It gives a fairly balanced account at the start of The Troubles and how the Northern Ireland government mishandled the unrest of the late 1960s. But at some point this just turns into a completely one sided and false narrative about how the RUC were professional police doing a fair job, which is total nonsense. The author makes many false claims - many of which even the British government has admitted were their fault, the army's fault and the fault of the RUC. Northern Ireland was an apartheid state, not quite as bad as South Africa but still an apartheid state, and the RUC was the chief tool of the NI government (before it fell) and the British State of maintaining the apartheid they'd created. His blathering on about how professional the security forces were in NI is refuted by facts and history. So his take on things really falls into the category of misinformation at best, his delusion at worst. I will grant that there has been a lot of propaganda throughout the years of The Troubles and the peace process from all sides. This is just propaganda from someone with an agenda to defend the security forces. If you listen to this with that in mind, it is still an interesting listen from the point of view of the security forces, but just be ready to wade through a lot of washing over and absolution of the very bad conduct of the security forces in what was a period of time where most of the sides involved acted with very bad conduct.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 26-03-2018

10 sides to every story

the other best book of the troubles would be Killing Rage. Secret Victory is a side that longed to be told. that being said I don't remember the Glennane and group being mentioned.

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  • Derrick
  • 30-12-2017

Flawed history

I have been privileged to know a number of people who played senior roles in the intelligence and military community in "The Troubles", including one at the very centre of its most controversial incident. As a consequence, I have always had an inherent respect for the hard-won success of the security services in "The Troubles". So I listened to this book hoping for an analysis of the approach that was taken and how it led to the undeniable military victory over the IRA and on to the Good Friday Agreement.

I was disappointed.

A minor point, but this is drawn from the author's PhD thesis and there is no harm in that, but it bears the traces of such and as a result lacks some readability. Other reviewers have criticised the lists of murders. which do go on for 10 minutes or more. I have a mixed view. They add little to the narrative, but deserve remembrance.

Where I take exception to this book is at its core purpose; to provide an academic-standard analysis of what, by any standards, was a complex and multi-faceted conflict. He also attempts to draw parallels with Iraq in the post 2003 period. The analysis is weak and scant, but the author shows his hand pretty early on with references to "bleeding heart liberals". His bottom line is that the Special Branch-led approach was effective and everything else failed; it felt like he was saying: "Trust me, I have interviewed SB members and they have told me so".

Having had similar conversations, I know this to be correct, but I am not purporting to write a book on it. But the real issue is the lack of balance and analysis. Anything outside of his core thesis is belittled out-of-hand. The world was much more complicated than that. Further, the peace settlement is portrayed as a cynical betrayal of all that had been achieved. I wonder how many people walk the streets of NI today who would not have had that peace not been forged when it was?

In terms of the parallels with Iraq, the analysis is plainly naive. It clearly scored points for his PhD that he interviewed David Patraeus and learned that Patraeus drew parallels with NI, but to suggest that the Special Branch model bears any relation to Iraq skims (again) across still more vast chasms of complexity. It escapes the author's attention that the armies of 2003 were a foreign force of invasion and occupation to ALL the citizens of Iraq, and that this invasion was a matter of months ago as opposed to centuries (for a minority) in the case of NI.

All in all, a bit of a wasted opportunity to get a thorough, balanced narrative when so many of the architects of victory are fast disappearing.

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  • Steve H
  • 29-11-2017

Very disappointed

This story was a big let down it was mostly dates and names and ages that are in news reports , I was very disappointed in this book .

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  • jirvine57
  • 25-01-2018

Very one sided

I found this book to be very heavily in favour of one outlook, it paints the special Branch as a bunch of equal opportunity police officers, the author is critical of the military due to the lack of trust, as a former soldier I can tell you this was for a very good reason. The author has either a very vivid imagination or he is a bigot. That is my own opinion, I got about 1 hour into the book and stopped listening.

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  • Richard b
  • 04-07-2017

Excellent counter to the propaganda of the murder gangs

The book cuts through much of the distorted double speak of the murderous PIRA and their apologists in the political arena, it also shows the iniquitous failings of Major and Blair to fully defeat the insurgents, above all it shows the courage and professionalism of The Det E4 SB and SAS, let's hope there will never be a need for a sequel.

7 people found this helpful

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  • hugh taylor
  • 18-04-2018

Biased reporting

A very biased report only to be expected from special branch mostlyy one sided he should get his facts right One star only but narration was very good

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  • Liam Kane
  • 22-09-2020

Opinion presented as fact.

If you are looking for an objective account / analysis of how Special Branch and the Security services fitted into the historical landscape in Northern Ireland do not read this book. Overflowing with conjecture and demonstrable bias it appears more as a piece of conspiracy theory than a useful historical analysis. A book that provides no meaningful value and if anything will leave its readers with a completely distorted and inaccurate understanding of past events. Arguably a book more about propaganda than discussing the past.

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  • Pete Page
  • 26-04-2020

Secret Victory - Moral Justification

Interesting facts and viewpoints from a respected police veteran of the troubles. A topic dear to me and my military past. The author has done much to redress the balance in a climate looking for scapegoats in an unbalanced theatre.

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  • Mr R B
  • 30-09-2019

Worth sticking with

A couple of the one star reviews here either come from another side in the conflict or objected to the narrator reading out lists. He only does that in a couple of places and those can be skipped if it really irks, but I listened through it ok. I guess these are just tables in the actual printed copy. I'm old enough to have lived through all this but only ever saw it via the news. I was interested to hear an insider's view and it was worth listening to. The narrator has a good voice for the listener and there's lots of stuff in here which never made it onto the news / into the public domain - and therefore never to people like me. If I have a complaint then it does seem a bit longer in places than it needed to be (aside from the lists) and I think that an abridged version could probably hit all the important facts in about half the time, but I stayed with it and I'm pleased that I did.

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  • Original Ronaldo
  • 27-03-2019

An enlightening account from the quiet side.

A highly enlightening, engaging account from the quiet side of conflict. An irregular war, won with controlled force and intelligence then predictably sold out by vacuous politicians. And a lesson in history unsurprisingly ignored.

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  • Bookworm
  • 19-02-2019

Interesting book making the case for Special Branch

This is an interesting book making the case against the all too readily accepted claim that the Republican movement in N.I. underwent a Damascus Road conversion to peace and arguing that they were forced to abandon violence because of the work of RUC Special Branch. The author makes a convincing case with careful research which is well presented. Interestingly he draws out the fact that lessons from NI were not learned in establishing a police force until late in the day at the cost of many lives. He also makes intelligent points about the links between the PIRA and terrorists and terrorism in the 21st century. I rated the book 4 star rather than 5 star simply because I feel the author neglects the role of others in the fight against terror in NI. The contribution of RUC officers outside of Special Branch was, I felt, not given enough attention while the role of the Army and particularly the locally recruited Ulster Defence Regiment was overlooked. I appreciate that isn’t the focus of the book but largely ignoring the contribution of others outside RUC SB was a weakness of another wise excellent book.