Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt


Sir: The spook seems to have spooked himself. David Shayler's story of racing about Europe pursued by his own private fiends and demons ('Life after MI5', 28 March) makes for amusing reading, and it seems a pity to point out that these hideous pursuers are just men from the British Security Service who want to point out to him that he has signed a document in which he pledged not to talk about his employment in the Service. More seriously, he has given his word of honour not to speak or write about it, and he has broken his word.

A few weeks ago I was reminiscing with an elderly lady who gave up her job of being my nanny and took up the much more exciting and important work of service in the RAF Police Unit, stationed in London, during the war. I asked her what duties she had there. `Oh, that would be telling,' she said. Fifty years after the war, there could be no threat to national security from anything she knew, but that was not the point. She had given her word. She will go to her grave with those secrets, and with her honour unmarked.

She is honourable, and Shayler is a shit.

John Mustoe

Blackthorn Cottage, 20 Cross End, Thurleigh, Bedfordshire

A subversive writes

Sir: I wholeheartedly endorse the calls for MI5 to be prevented from destroying the bulk of its historical files ('Once red, but should they still be read?', 28 March).

For the first 88 years of its existence MIS did not release so much as a paper-clip from its archives. Then, last year, material from 1909-19 was released into the Public Record Office, accompanied by a flurry of publicity. But it was soon apparent that this had little to do with glasnost.

The main class of material released (KV1) consists mostly of censored versions of anodyne in-house histories which tell us little of consequence that wasn't already known. The in-house histories contain references to operational records (`Subject Files' and `Personal Files'), but this material is conspicuous by its absence. Only two Subject Files from this period survive, together making up the second class of material released (KV3); both files have sections blanked out. Class KV2, I hear, contains a small number of Personal Files from 1909-19, including one on Ramsay MacDonald, but this class remains closed. The second world war and inter-war material which it is planned to release during 1998-99 will doubtless turn out to have been subjected to similarly drastic weeding and censorship.

There is good reason to believe that MIS has on several (perhaps many) occasions behaved in ways that were inimical to democracy, free speech and civil liberties. The first two decades of MI5 history provide some striking instances. During the first world war a family of socialists was framed by an MI5 agent provocateur on ludicrous charges of plotting to assassinate Lloyd George. MIS is the prime suspect for having leaked the forged Zinoviev Letter in an attempt to influence the 1924 general election. And there is evidence that during the 1920s MI5 colluded with right-wing groups including the British Fascists. The wholesale shredding of MI5 files allows the historical record of such matters to be systematically falsified. Instead of seeing MIS in its true colours (as at best a rather silly waste of money and at worst something quite sinister) we get the image which MIS's spin doctors wish to project.

It is a sad irony that this is happening under a government some of whose members were once sworn enemies of MIS. In 1986 Robin Cook wrote that `today's security services are not pitted against the KGB, they parallel it in the surveillance of their domestic population'. Considering reform, he wondered `whether it would not be simpler merely to legislate for the abolition of the security services', especially in the light of Peter Wright's revelation `that MIS provides no discernible service to the public, even in the intervals between swapping personnel with the Russians and destabilising democratically elected governments' (New Statesman, 12 December 1986, pp. …

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