Open Secret : The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5, Paperback

Open Secret : The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 Paperback

4.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


Stella Rimington was educated at Nottingham Girls' High School, and Edinburgh and Liverpool Universities.

In 1959 she started work in the Worcestershire County Archives, moving in 1962 to the India Office Library in London, as Assistant Keeper responsible for manuscripts relating to the period of the British rule in India.

In 1965 she joined the Security Service (MI5) part-time, while she was in India accompanying her husband on a posting to the British High Commission in New Delhi.

On her return to the UK she joined MI5 as a full-time employee.

During her career in MI5, which lasted from 1969 to 1996, Stella Rimington worked in all the main fields of the Service's responsibilities - counter-subversion, counter-espionage and counter-terrorism - and became successively Director of all three branches.

She was appointed Director-General of MI5 in 1992. She was the first woman to hold the post and the first Director-General whose name was publicly announced on appointment.

During her time as DG she pursued a policy of greater openness for MI5, giving the 1994 Dimbleby Lecture on BBC TV and several other public lectures and publishing a booklet about the Service. She was made a Dame Commander of the Bath (DCB) in 1995 and has been awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws by the Universities of Nottingham and Exeter.

Following her retirement from MI5 in 1996, she has become a Non-Executive Director of Marks & Spencer, BG Group plc and Whitehead Mann GKR.

She is Chairman of the Institute of Cancer Research and a member of the Board of the Royal Marsden NHS Trust.

She has two daughters and a granddaughter.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320 pages, 16
  • Publisher: Cornerstone
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Autobiography: general
  • ISBN: 9780099436720



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Review by

About a month ago, a friend without a computer called me up and asked if I could order her a copy of "At Risk", a novel by Stella Rimington, the former Director-General of MI5, the British internal secret service. While placing the order, I noticed that Stella had also published an auto-biography. Since truth is stranger than fiction, I ordered it.Her career started as a secretary for MI-5, in India in 1965. She was in India with her husband, and she was just looking for a job to fill her time until they started a family. When they returned to England, she continued working as an "assistant officer". (Women were never made full officers.) In 1973, at age 37, she was promoted to the position of "officer" the same position as male graduate new-hires. She continued working after her two children were born; which was unheard of in that era. I could easily relate to her descriptions of coping as a working mother.When her husband left, she had to continue working to survive. Also in this time, the service was going through significant transitions in their business practices and philosophy. She describes the impact of the break-up of the Soviet Union (who she spent most of her time spying on).A very interesting book, from a different era, about an unusual topic.P.S. MI-5 does not employ "agents". MI-5 employees "officers" who "run agents"; i.e. get information from people who are willing to give it. Sometimes the agents are paid, but lots of time they are politically motivated.

Review by

A well written and very interesting insider's account of working at all levels in the Security Service during a period of huge change within and outside the Service. The author is clearly a well-balanced and rational individual and strikes what seems to me to be the right balance between the need for secrecy and the drive for openness and transparency. This convinces rather more than either conspiracy theories that MI5 is spying on absolutely everyone and everything, or that (a la Chapman Pincher) it has been virtually a wholly compromised tool of the KGB. More books like this from leading figures in the public sector would also help in breaking down misconceptions of the role of public services held by both some of the public themselves and in particular by the media.

Review by

Stella Rimington was the first female director-general of MI5, the British secret service. She retired in 1996 and wrote her autobiography, Open Secret between August 1998 and December 1999 based solely on her memories. In addition to being the first female director-general, she was also the first one whose appointment had been publically announced and whose name was made public. During her tenure the service moved to a new level of openness. Nevertheless, the British government didn't take kindly to the idea of a retired secret service head publishing her autobiography and, when she submitted it for review upon completion, it wasn't approved for release until July 2001.Although the book deals largely with her 27 years with MI5, it also covers her childhood during WWII, her time as a foreign service wife in India and Belgium as well as the impact her career had on her family life. Since the publication of the autobiography, she has published several spy novels.I read the book because Ms. Rimington spoke at Chautauqua this summer and her talk was excellent. I enjoyed the book, and would definitely recommend it, although it wasn't quite as "I can't bear to put it down" as I had expected.

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