The British Ambassadors to Istanbul in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: Sources of Intelligence and Political Reporting
Keywords: Mid-Nineteenth Century, British Ambassadors to Istanbul, Political Reporting
This article mainly seeks to illuminate the specific methods and main sources used by the British ambassadors in Istanbul to obtain accurate intelligence for their reports to the Foreign Office. It appears that the British ambassadors used different channels for different types of information. First and foremost, they had urgent demands to know what was going on in the city. The Dragomans played a principal role in meeting that need. Their ability to get intelligence in advance on specific events was undeniable. Similarly, the British citizens and newspaper correspondents supported the embassy from another spot with some other details of the matter. It was of the greatest value to the embassy to have information on a regular basis from all over the Ottoman territories. The extensive Consulate establishment in the East certainly served for this purpose. The consuls acted as de facto intelligence agents in their respective areas, notably, in places where they were close to the Empire's borders. The intercourse between the British embassy and the other friendly courts in Istanbul also produced valuable information. The reports of the British military officers sent to the embassy can be counted within this context as well. All these channels served to get information mainly by uncovered means. However, the British representatives also used more covert means which resembled the twentieth century forms of intelligence gathering. In this type of activities they used three mechanisms. In the first instance, the Ottoman high officials were the actors, and information in these cases was supplied in more devious ways. In the second model, there was an 'outlying' department required to be served by agents not recognised as belonging to the Embassy. The persons working in this can be categorised as secret agents. In the third formation, there were unofficial negotiators who acquired the sympathy and confidence of the Ottomans. In addition to their negotiating ability, and position as secret go-between the two sides, these people also furnished the embassy with very important information about the particular events and subjects. It is evident however that the British ambassadors used the covert means quite effectively. Many important documents obtained and events learned through these mechanisms.