The Spy Who Was Left out in the Cold ; since Being Sacked by MI6, Richard Tomlinson Has Waged War on His Former Spymasters, Outing Key Agents on the Net. Now They're Exacting Harsh Revenge for His Treachery, as Andrew Mueller Discovers. Portraits by Bruno Bebert
Bebert, Bruno, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
It is difficult not to suspect a whiff of self-parody in Richard Tomlinson's choice of interview location. He waves from a gleaming white speedboat, moored amid dozens of millionaires' runabouts on an Antibes pier. It's precisely the sort of setting from which the most famous veteran of Tomlinson's former employers, MI6, might have roared off to battle a bald, cat-stroking megalomaniac in his hollowed-out volcano lair, prior to seducing some improbably named heroine as the closing credits rolled. Tomlinson, however, is not commandeering this vessel on Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service. He's keeping an eye on it for the Antibes yacht brokerage firm he now works for.
"I have a pretty nice life down here," he says. "But do I miss the Service? Yeah, I do. It's very interesting, with tremendous security, lots of investment in training, good fun, and you get a fantastic index-linked pension when you're 55 - you retire on virtually your full salary when you're still young enough to buy a boat and sail around the world. It's a brilliant deal really."
Tomlinson, 43, was sacked by MI6 in 1995. The reasons, he claims, were never made clear. Possibly, he allows, it was one of those unfathomable quirks of office politics. Maybe someone, somewhere, just didn't like the cut of his jib.
Getting straightforward answers out of any bureaucracy in such circumstances can be a chore. Prising truth from an organisation as secretive as MI6 is a task that most people would glumly admit was impossible. Tomlinson has now spent more than a decade repeatedly tilting at this particular windmill, with the result that he has spent various portions of his post-MI6 life on the run, under arrest, in court, in prison, and now in exile - but not out of the reach of Britain's police forces and security services.
On 27 June, 2006, French police, acting on a British warrant and with officers of the Metropolitan Police present, raided Tomlinson's home. The French police took Tomlinson's main computer, his laptop, a friend's laptop, his Psion organiser, his cameras, and his New Zealand passport (as a Kiwi-born dual citizen, Tomlinson was permitted to keep his British passport, at the insistence, he says, of French authorities).
The British police, says Tomlinson, still have all these items in their possession, and won't give them back. Scotland Yard, pressed for a comment, are not, as they put it, "prepared to discuss individuals in terms of property that may or may not have been seized".
They do confirm that Special Branch is looking into "unauthorised disclosure of information in breach of the Official Secrets Act", and that searches in France have taken place. These searches, says the Met, are part of an investigation into "the publication of specific information on the internet".
On 24 April, 2006, the 11th anniversary of his dismissal, Tomlinson started the "Tomlinson vs MI6" blog. Every year on that date, he explains, he has been in the habit of writing to MI6 seeking a meeting, a discussion, an explanation for his dismissal. Despondently concluding that MI6 is no more likely to reply this year than any other, Tomlinson went public.
"I don't know why they are worried about it," he says. "It's just a silly little blog. Even if I wanted to put anything secret up there, I've been out of MI6 for 11 years. I have nothing I could say that's secret.
"When I started [the blog], I was a bit antagonistic, I suppose. There are plenty of things to feel annoyed about with MI6, particularly the way they got us into the war in Iraq. The names I called [MI6 chief] John Scarlett were probably a bit excessive."
"I've been having problems with MI6 for 11 years," Tomlinson continues. "They do things like using their influence to stop me getting visas to go anywhere. So I write to them, and say, 'Look, ring me up, we'll have a meeting, we'll talk it out. …