British attitudes to the intelligence services are governed by two separate obsessions. The discovery of Maclean, Burgess, Philby and Blunt as Soviet agents has produced a long-lasting preoccupation with hunting down moles, ‘agents of influence’ and the like. Newspapers love it, the public are interested, and the whole business is endlessly stoked by the more enfevered spirits of the Right. There is no doubt that this is a compulsion which goes beyond reason: Blunt, after all, had given up his allegiance to Communism by 1951, yet the whole business is still breathlessly featured by the quality Sunday press several times a year. The second obsession is that of all British governments to prevent their voters knowing even the most elementary facts about the intelligence services their taxes pay for. The Peter Wright trial in Australia has recently brought out the full absurdity of this, with Sir Robert Armstrong attempting at one point to suggest that the very existence of MI5 and MI6 (let alone the identity of their directors) was a secret which could neither be confirmed nor denied. There is no other state in the world which behaves like this and national security cannot be the reason for it. The Russians, after all, are fully cognizant of the existence of MI5 and MI6 and of their directors’ identity – and even the Soviet state tells its citizens that the KGB exists and who the head of it is.
It is on this crazy situation that Chapman Pincher has built his entire career. Since he is extremely right-wing, and willing to swallow even the most ridiculous claptrap in the furtherance of the Anti-Communist Cause, Pincher at least has some access to the officers of MI5 – for in practice the one small hole in the veil of secrecy is the one through which titbits of information are fed to a privileged coterie of writers or journalists on the far right. In Pincher’s work the two obsessions chase each other’s tails: the alleged need to protect national security legitimates the compulsive secrecy, while the need to expose Communist infiltration legtimates attempts to pierce that secrecy. Pincher has been going round and round this mulberry bush for forty years now, with considerable commercial success.
Pincher’s latest offering is at least as awful as the rest. As a literary construction it is a mess, rambling endlessly and repetitively around the same warmed-over material which he has already recycled in Too Secret Too Long, Their trade is treachery and other melodramas. Needless to say, Pincher accepts as gospel virtually every allegation ever made by the extreme Right in either Britain or the US. Thus Joe McCarthy’s allegation that Alger Hiss was a Communist spy is treated as simple fact, as is his claim that FDR’s most trusted adviser. Harry Dexter White, the founder of the IMF and the World Bank, was also working for the Kremlin. The intellectual level of the book is perhaps best illustrated by Pincher’s laborious attempt to construct a mathematical equation to explain treason. The equation, in case LRB readers would like to use it in their Christmas party games, is: A + m + r + b + f + s + i → T, where A is access, m is money, r is resentment, b is blackmailability (sic), s is self-satisfaction, i is ideology, and T is Treason. Ha, thought I’d forgotten f? No, it’s just that f is the pièce de résistance: it stands, would you believe it, for flawed character.
It is with some relief that one turns to Anthony Glees’s Secrets of the Service. Glees is a professional historian and rightly attempts to place British intelligence operations in the context of the twists and turns of British foreign policy. In so far as it is possible, Glees has been meticulous in his examination of the available sources and is almost painfully judicious in sorting the wheat from the chaff. The basis of the story he has to tell lies in the two enormous changes the war brought to MI5 and MI6. The sheer necessity of national survival and the huge expansion of the services had the effect of bringing a whole new wave of highly talented intellectuals into the services, which, until then, had been the exclusive fief of ‘anti-Bolshevik old buffers’. These recruits were so markedly superior that they rapidly rose to positions of power and influence. Given the nature of the Thirties intelligentsia, it was pretty well inevitable that these recruits should have included at least a few who were to turn out to be Soviet moles. The second change followed from the fact that, from June 1941, as Glees puts it, ‘the Soviet Union was England’s only chance of defeating Hitler.’ An immediate decision was taken to stop reading Soviet radio traffic and a large measure of intelligence collaboration with the USSR was instigated. There were always strict limits to this: a team of people was specially charged with drawing up bundles of intelligence marked ‘OK for Russia’, but given that everything gained from the most important source of all, Enigma, was held back, the Russians were always getting far less than half of what we could have told them. (No doubt the same was true in reverse.)
This was, of course, a combination of circumstances in which the likes of Kim Philby were likely to thrive. For the two changes worked together: the young intellectual recruits as a class tended to feel contemptuous, even angry, at their elders’ continuing obsession with the Bolshevik menace to the virtual exclusion of the threat posed by the Nazis. One of the most interesting passages in Glees’s book is his report of an interview with a former MI6 officer who worked with Philby through that period.
‘Philby,’ the officer said, ‘seemed so bright and dynamic … The “old buffers”, the prewar ex-Indian police officers who formed the core of MI6, were simply not a match for him: he was able to ridicule the “Indian Policemen”, obsessed with Communists and drinking cups of tea … Like Blunt, too, Philby was simply a very clever man, far above the level of most of the other officers.’ Among the new recruits, he recalled, there was a strong feeling that people ‘like the deposed King and Mrs Simpson’ had deceived the public about Nazism, encouraging them to see it as a bulwark against Bolshevism and depicting the greatest evil as another war with Germany. This naturally led to a counter, pro-Russian feeling, which has since been misunderstood:
Chapman Pincher is quite wrong to see Oxbridge intellectuals as responsible for this sort of view. The Daily Mirror and Cassandra were far more significant: it was an anti-upper-class populism that made us so pro-Russian … People had different illusions about Russia and its future … They knew that one day Russia might be our main target, but for the moment it was the Germans who were the bad ones.
Glees rather tut-tuts about all this, suggesting that it shows a terrible naivety about Soviet intentions and that perhaps British Intelligence would have been better-off without all these bright recruits, given that a number of them were Soviet moles. This seems to me wrong-headed in several different ways. The key judgment is surely that of William Strang, the Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, in a paper of May 1943:
We need Russian collaboration. The conclusion of the Anglo-Soviet Treaty marks our decision that this must be our policy … even if fears that Russia lay a ‘heavy hand’ on eastern, central and south-eastern Europe are realised … I should not like to say that this would be to our disadvantage … It is better that Russia should dominate Eastern Europe than that Germany should dominate Western Europe.
Of this passage Glees asks, ‘How could he have got things so wrong?’ and suggests, darkly, the pernicious influence of Philby, Blunt and Burgess. Yet it is clear that Strang was absolutely right. German domination of Western Europe presented Britain with an immediate threat of invasion and of the butchery of many of its citizens: Soviet domination of Eastern Europe has never posed anything like the same danger to our national interests. And the task of defeating Nazism was so urgent that we could not afford to let our intelligence services remain in the hands of the ‘old buffers’. If the price for that was the admission of a number of Soviet moles to the service, then, despite all the damage they did, it was a price worth paying. In fact, the reason MI5 got itself into such a disastrous mess with Kim Philby had nothing at all to do with any sort of opening up towards the liberal intelligentsia: quite the reverse. The point is not often enough made that Philby’s cover was to join the pro-Nazi Anglo-German Fellowship and to become an active sympathiser with Franco (by whom he was decorated). The real scandal about Philby’s recruitment was that we were fighting a war against Fascism and yet MI5 was quite happy to promote into a leading position someone with overtly pro-Fascist views. Nor can this have been a fluke: Philby’s Soviet controllers were nothing if not pros. They had no doubt studied their target with care and reached the conclusion that the apparent possession of extreme right-wing views would make Philby all the more acceptable within MI5. In this they were proved triumphantly right.
It is worth emphasising, too, that the intelligence services had been securely in the hands of the political Right from 1909 to 1939 and that the period when the Right’s hegemony was tempered to any degree lasted at most six years. Unfortunately, Glees’s book, thoughtful, serious and well-researched though it is, does not really live up to its title, for it is almost wholly concerned with the war period, thereafter tending to wander off on long excursions. The fact that these excursions have their interest (was Hollis a spy: definitely not, says Glees) is only partial compensation. It would have been interesting to hear how the resumption of anti-Bolshevik normalcy after 1945 affected the service’s culture and personnel, whether any of the ‘old buffers’ made a comeback in the new climate of Cold War, and so on.
What is not in doubt is that the circumstances of the post-war period have progressively and dangerously shifted the intelligence services to the right. To be fair, it would have been hard for any institution to keep its sense of balance through more than forty years of Cold War. But to those pressures many others have been added, all pushing in the same direction. The era of decolonisation saw the services deployed against a whole panoply of left-wing Third World nationalists – in Nasser’s case they were willing to go so far as to attempt his assassination. At home, even Labour politicians were willing to see Communists as the principal enemy – hence the scandalous attempt by a committee of right-wing Labour MPs headed by George Brown to get MI5 to spy on their left-wing opponents within the Party in 1961, and Wilson’s use of MI5 against the seamen’s strike in 1966. Meanwhile the successive defections of Maclean, Burgess and Philby not only created an atmosphere of hysterical anti-Communist mole-hunting within the service but led to American threats to withdraw co-operation on the grounds that the British were a security risk.
This threat of American non-co-operation was the final turn of the screw. British politicians, eager to see themselves as Greeks to the American Romans, were mortified at the thought that we might be dumped as untrustworthy. Moreover, MI6 had come to rely heavily on its links with the Americans: US Intelligence was vastly bigger and better-funded, and had the priceless asset of satellite intelligence, which we did not. To be cut off from all that would relegate the British to the level of the French or Italians, would finally bury our great power status, would ruin MI6. Successive British premiers, on visits to Washington, repeatedly attempted to assure one US President after another that we had put our house in order, that now we could really be trusted. But in order to be trusted the British would have to satisfy the demands of the all-powerful and long-serving head of CIA counter-intelligence, James Jesus Angleton, who has recently died.
The undeniably brilliant Angleton was also at least half-crazy. He saw moles everywhere and had paralysed the CIA for years on end with his frenetic witch-hunting. (One CIA officer wrote a bitter report suggesting that if there was a KGB mole inside the CIA, it had to be Angleton since no one else had done anything like so much damage to the Agency. The officer was forced to resign.) Angleton himself was so high-handed and paranoiac that he would refuse to attend briefing sessions with intelligence colleagues on the grounds that he did not wish to break his cover, for any of them might be moles. Within the US he organised Operation Chaos, a vast, illegal mail-opening, phone-tapping surveillance of anti-war and dissident groups, and he was wont to interfere grossly and on the flimsiest suspicion in the affairs of other countries. He was finally sacked in 1974 when Operation Chaos broke surface – at which point it was also discovered that on the basis of no evidence at all he had told the head of Belgian Intelligence that the CIA chief of station in Brussels was a KGB mole. For many years, retaining US confidence in MI5 meant keeping James Angleton happy.
Angleton’s pressures served greatly to reinforce the position of the extreme righting zealots within MI5. The most alarming feature in all this was the total credibility conferred by Angleton on the Soviet defector, Anatoly Golitsyn. Golitsyn had a theory which depicted virtually every international event since 1945 as a Soviet manipulation. Soviet moles were everywhere, said Golitsyn, and the Soviets had duped the West at every turn. The bitter Soviet-Yugoslav conflict? A mere ruse to fool the West: Tito was a KGB tool. The Sino-Soviet conflict? Another vast KGB ruse to make the West think the Chinese and Russians were at loggerheads when in fact they had planned the whole thing together. And so on and so on. Despite the transparent craziness of such notions, the head of MI6 himself, Sir Maurice Oldfield, went along for some time with the idea that the Sino-Soviet split was a fake. The terrifying fact was that Angleton, when asked about co-operation with friendly intelligence services, would deny that there was such a thing as a friendly intelligence service. Keeping Angleton happy increasingly meant keeping Golitsyn happy, for Angleton believed everything he said.
Golitsyn had defected in Finland in 1961 and immediately asserted that almost every other Soviet defector was a double agent: that is, that he, Golitsyn, could alone be trusted. Virtually all Western governments had been penetrated at the highest level, he said. Jacques Foccart, De Gaulle’s legendary spy chief, was actually the French Philby and there was a whole network of spies (‘the Sapphire network’) within the French Government. A huge and inconclusive hunt was conducted. Then Golitsyn announced the existence of the ‘Sasha network’ in German Intelligence. Another huge and inconclusive hunt. Occasionally, Golitsyn did provide useful leads, but mainly his accusations led to paralysing wild goose chases. (Golitsyn believed that he himself should be given the directorship of a Nato security service, a sort of Western Cheka, and Angleton actually got him an interview with Bobby Kennedy so that he could put in his request for $30 million to set up such an organisation. He was bitterly disappointed when the ambition wasn’t realised. In the end, Golitsyn did so much harm to Western intelligence services that an inquiry was held – to determine whether he might not have been a Soviet mole himself. As for England, Golitsyn said there had been a ‘Ring of Five’ big-time spies: Burgess, Maclean and Philby and two others who were at large. Thus began the endless search for the Fourth and Fifth Man. It is this story which is at the root of the accusations against Sir Roger Hollis, for when Blunt was turned up – not through Golitsyn’s efforts – it was already gospel among MI5 mole-hunters that there must be a Fifth Man somewhere.
More alarming still was Golitsyn’s allegation that the KGB had so penetrated the Labour Party that it was little better than a Soviet fifth column. This notion has provided the basis for a particular genre of right-wing thriller based on a Soviet takeover of Britain through its Labour moles – a genre inaugurated by Constantine Fitzgibbon’s When the kissing had to stop. Most shocking of all was Golitsyn’s suggestion that Gaitskell had been murdered to make way for a Soviet plant. In no time Angleton had drawn the obvious conclusion that Harold Wilson was a mole – in typical Angleton fashion he held back the ‘evidence’ for this on the grounds that the British were not secure enough to be told it – and MI5 were launched on a trail of investigation and anxiety about the Labour leadership. As far as one can see, the only points that could be made against Wilson were that he had a liking for seedy businessmen, some of whom, like Lord Kagan, he eventually ennobled, and that he had visited the USSR 19 times. Leaving aside the extreme difficulty of believing, on the basis of Wilson’s years in government, that he was a Communist, we have to remember that Wilson also befriended and distributed titles to men like Alun Chal-font, Eric Miller and Jimmy Goldsmith, and that he seems, indeed, to have been a very poor judge of character in those who flattered his ego. As for the 19 trips to Moscow, Wilson was always prey to the hope that he could achieve an economic turn-around via a large increase in Soviet trade, that this would be his own personal trump card. It goes without saying that, had he indeed been a Soviet mole, the last thing his KGB controllers would have allowed would have been give-away trips to Moscow. One must bear the Philby example in mind: Philby, as far as we know, never went near Moscow till he defected. The Philby model suggests that the cover for a Soviet mole today would be extreme Thatcherite views, an admiration for Norman Tebbit and Roger Scruton, and a subscription to the Salisbury Review.
The moment of truth arrived in 1964 when Wilson became prime minister and attempted to impose his own appointee as head of MI5. The service resisted and Wilson backed off. Indeed, to prove his good will Wilson even acquiesced in the continuing surveillance of a large number of Labour ministers and MPs. This was enough to ruin the careers of several alleged security risks (one, Bernard Floud, committed suicide), but the only MP who was found taking money from the Eastern bloc was Will Owen. (This is quite surprising: so many MPs are on the take from one interest or another that one would have thought even a random sort-through might have thrown up half a dozen.) There was anxiety about the contacts of some of Wilson’s personal friends – notably, Kagan. But again nothing was proved: the most that could be said was that anyone who conducted business with the Eastern bloc was bound to brush up against the ubiquitous KGB at some point or other. There was, in sum, remarkably little to show for the enormous investigative effort mounted over a period of years.
The important thing was that the security service was all but out of control: the British Prime Minister had in effect surrendered his power of appointment to Angleton’s veto and allowed the service to live out its fantasies at the expense of his own party and government. Wilson was, of course, paranoiacally suspicious of plots against him within the Labour Party, particularly when he thought they emanated from James Callaghan, and he knew that George Brown, his old leadership rival, had attempted to enlist MI5 support against him and some of those who were close to him. Callaghan, who is sometimes said to have used the Labour Party treasurership to cosy up to the trade-union paymasters, used his tenure of the Home Office in 1967-70 largely as a launching-pad for involvement in Northern Ireland, which inevitably brought him into close contact with the security services. Wilson seems to have feared that Callaghan had cultivated the same sort of special relationship with those services which he was supposed earlier to have gained with the unions. Putting two and two together, Wilson may well have decided that he must keep the intelligence service sweet in order to stop it ganging up with Callaghan against him. For Wilson, despite all his vainglorious talk about the ‘smack of firm government’, was not a man to reflect that appeasement simply encourages more bullying.
All of this came to a head in the wake of the 1973-4 miners’ strike and Labour’s surprise victory in February 1974. The shock of seeing a Tory government evicted by what appeared to be almost insurrectionary means (the mass picketing of the Saltley coke depot was the locus classicus of this image) produced hysteria in the Conservative Party. Some Tory MPs began openly to espouse institutional strategems – PR, a written constitution etc – to prevent any future ‘imposition of socialism’. Lord Hailsham characteristically inveighed against what he called ‘elective dictatorship’, while more generally the refusal to accept the verdict of the electorate was justified with talk of ‘adversarial politics’. It goes without saying that all these concerns were to vanish like chaff once a Tory government, bent on far more nakedly adversarial policies than anything favoured by Wilson-Callaghan, was itself elected on a minority vote. But in the feverish atmosphere of 1974-75 that seemed a distant, perhaps unrealisable prospect: after all, October 1974 saw Labour win its fourth election out of the previous five, thus severely weakening the Right’s faith in the ballot box. In this climate all manner of schemes flourished for military intervention in case of a ‘breakdown of the civil order’; private armies like ‘GB 1975’ were publicly set afoot (no doubt other initiatives remained more discreet, more truly private); and the lessons of ‘low-intensity warfare’ learnt in Northern Ireland were pondered for their relevance to the mainland. There is an uncomfortably close parallel with the way the French Army attempted to extend to the French mainland, at the expense of the civilian power, the practices it had learnt in Algeria.
The significance of the miners’ strike, in other words, was to extend the concerns which had long been the preoccupation of a mere cabal within MI5 to wide sections of the Tory Right. Meanwhile the pressure from Washington did not lessen until Angleton was finally sacked in December 1974, and the pot he had stirred so hard for so long continued to boil for some while after that. An indication of the prevailing climate within MI5 is given by the fact that it was in 1975 that Michael Bettaney (later jailed for trying, unsuccessfully, to sell secrets to the KGB) was recruited. What is usually forgotten in the Pincheresque version of events is that Bettaney was a deeply unstable young man, committed to the extreme Right. Having failed to become a Catholic priest, he fell in love with a German girl, announced that he would have preferred to have been born German, and was well-known for his habit of giving the Nazi salute. The fact that someone with such an obviously volatile, extremist, perhaps even fascist disposition should have seemed an acceptable recruit to MI5 says not a little about that organisation’s state of mind in 1975.
Meanwhile, on returning to power in February 1974, Wilson seems to have capitulated even more abjectly than before to the pressure of the intelligence services. Callaghan, it should be remembered, had attempted to stage an intra-Cabinet coup against Wilson in 1969; there was no love lost between the two men; and Wilson was already worried about Callaghan’s links with the intelligence world. Yet Wilson now made Callaghan Foreign Secretary, with direct responsibility for GCHQ, MI6 and, via the Joint Intelligence Committee (for which he provides the chairman), links with MI5. On the other hand, this was the time when the services for which Callaghan was responsible were running amok. How far was he really in charge? Was Wilson’s sudden resignation as premier in 1976, and his deal to ensure the succession for Callaghan, related to concerns stemming from the intelligence world? Then again, the South African security service, BOSS, was heavily engaged in dirty tricks campaigns against Liberal and Labour politicians at about this time: was Callaghan aware of this?
Not the least interesting aspect of the current controversy over the Wright memoirs is the way in which both Wilson and Callaghan have kept the lowest possible profile, Callaghan only finally supporting the call for an inquiry when continuous pressure from the Labour Party and the press would have made it more embarrassing not to. (It is known that in the weeks before issuing his inquiry appeal Callaghan had been in frequent phone contact with Downing Street. Might he not already have known, when issuing his appeal, that Mrs Thatcher would turn it down?) Wilson, of course, did speak at the time of MI5 and BOSS plots against him, but age and ill-health seem to have reduced him to a state of bland benignity about everything. Callaghan is another matter. Harry Wharton, a former MI5 operative named by the Labour MP Dale Campbell-Savours as having played a part in the destabilisation campaign (though Mr Wharton fiercely denies this), has not unreasonably pointed out that he was given the CBE on Callaghan’s recommendation and that if credence were lent to the allegations made by Mr Campbell-Savours, it would imply that Callaghan himself was conniving in such a campaign. Callaghan has now twice in succession picked a fight over Labour defence policy in an election run-up, acting for all the world as if he wished to keep faith with the military establishment and actually prevent his own party returning to power. It is clear that there are a lot of burning questions to which Callaghan could give the answer if he cared to, and that he doesn’t care to.
Callaghan, however, will never hold power again. Mrs Thatcher presumably will. The really tough questions relate to what her inner circle, and she herself, were up to in the mid-Seventies. It is at this point that the picture achieves maximum murkiness. The Tory MP, Airey Neave, who had gained junior office under Macmillan but had been shunned by Heath, had decided in 1974 that Heath must go and begun to scheme for Thatcher’s succession. Neave, who had an earlier career in MI9, maintained close links with the intelligence world, and it is difficult to believe that he was not, at the least, fully aware of its goings-on in this period, particularly since it now emerges that some members of MI5 had also come to the conclusion that Heath must be replaced by a tougher, harder Tory leader. We now know that this period saw large-scale law-breaking by the services: unauthorised phone-taps, mail-openings, burglaries and smear campaigns against both Heath and leading Labour and Liberal politicians. Some of the key questions to which we require answers are:
1. Mrs Thatcher’s victory in the Tory leadership contest represented an unprecedented triumph for the Tory Right and Thatcher herself was desperately conscious that she would not survive as leader if she did not win power at the first attempt. With Neave acting as her éminence grise she must surely have known of the MI5 destabilisation campaign against the Labour Government: but how far did she or Neave encourage it?
2. Those wild spirits who were dreaming of a military coup, or something very like it, would have had one question at the front of their minds: if they were able to dislodge the Labour Administration by unconstitutional means, would the Tory leadership accept power won in this way? The Thatcher inner circle of this period included such men as Robert Moss, who played a somewhat shadowy role in Chile, allegedly for the CIA, and was a leading apologist for the Pinochet coup. Was there any contact between the Thatcher entourage and such groups as Colonel David Stirling’s GB 75? Did Mrs Thatcher know that Airey Neave had been involved in discussions about raising a ‘resistance army’ if Labour were returned in 1979?
3. Airey Neave was later killed by a car bomb outside the House of Commons. It has always been believed that this was the work of the IRA. However, Enoch Powell, normally one of the IRA’s most implacable enemies, has suggested that the assassination was the work of the British and US intelligence services. (A former army intelligence officer, Captain Colin Wallace, has revealed that at one point the assassination of Ian Paisley was under active consideration by the services.) Mr Powell is unlikely to have made such an allegation without at least some circumstantial evidence. What is this evidence and has it been investigated?
4. The Thatcher period itself has seen an unprecedented politicisation both of patronage appointments and of the use to which theoretically non-political arms of the state have been put. It has also seen a considerable centralisation of police powers and, as we know from the Massiter revelations, a wide and continuing use of illegal phone-taps etc against those believed to be the Government’s political opponents. We also know that Mrs Thatcher, when appointing Sir Maurice Oldfield to a senior intelligence post in Northern Ireland in 1979, was kept in ignorance of the fact that Sir Maurice was a homosexual, even though this had been known to senior figures in the intelligence community for many years. This suggests that, initially at least, the intelligence world was taking the same high-handed line with its political masters as before. The question is: has the Thatcher Government brought the intelligence service under control and, if so, to what uses is that control being put?
5. It is clear that our intelligence services have been far more closely controlled by their American counterparts than by any British authority: the great wave of ‘bugging and burgling across London’ seems, for example, to have taken place at the CIA’s behest – to have replicated the Operation Chaos which Angleton had simultaneously launched in the US. How far is our intelligence service still primarily under foreign control?
6. Finally, what has happened to those intelligence operatives guilty of illegal actions: have they been sacked or retained? Or even promoted? (The news that the MI5 officer in charge of the Seventies smear campaign has just been re-engaged as an adviser to the service is hardly reassuring.) Are there still elements within MI5 and MI6 who retain their faith in Golitsyn’s fantastic allegations? It is worth pointing out that in 1984, 23 years after Golitsyn’s defection, a number of former intelligence officers thought it worth helping Golitsyn to publish his fantasies, declaring them to be of the greatest importance and relevance. Astonishingly, when the book, New Lies for Old, came out, the Sunday Times ran excerpts from it repeating the suggestion that the Sino-Soviet split was all a KGB fabrication and so on. When I mocked the book in a review, the editor of the Sunday Times Review Section wrote angrily that he had been assured by intelligence officers of the validity of Golitsyn’s allegations. The idea that the Sunday Times would give preference to the views of extreme right-wing spooks over those put forward over the years by its own journalists was not the least remarkable feature of the affair. It seems clear that, in some circles at least, Golitsyn’s fantasies are alive and kicking.
At the time of writing it seems unlikely, despite the heroic decision of the Independent to publish and be damned, that we are going to get any real answers to these questions. Mrs Thatcher has acted much as she did during the Westland Affair, denying absolutely what is quite generally known to be fact and suddenly announcing that an internal inquiry has taken place and found that everything is 100 per cent OK. Via their usual conduits within the Murdoch press and the Telegraph papers, both the security services and Sir Robert Armstrong have been declaring their willingness, even their enthusiasm, for an inquiry. How could they possibly have been ignorant of the fact that there had (according to Mrs Thatcher) just been an inquiry? Similarly, Mrs Thatcher tells us that MI5 did not mount a surveillance operation against the Labour Government in the mid-Seventies, while CIA spokesmen have publicly confirmed CIA participation in just such an operation.
It would in any case be unwise to place much faith in the notion of an official inquiry into MI5. It’s unlikely that an opponent of open government like Sir Robert Armstrong would favour such an exercise unless he were confident that it would be waste of time. An inquiry would mean that a committee of the great and good (Lord Franks yet again?), selected by Mrs Thatcher, would meet in camera and emerge with a bland report. Everything essentially fine. Rumours almost wholly unfounded. All responsible citizens will understand that national security precludes provision of any actual details. Some mistakes were made, but these were minor and no one is to blame. Valuable lessons learnt and long since put into practice. Rigorous discipline, fine tradition, record of responsibility, nation can take legitimate pride in service. Those who made the mistakes did so honestly and for patriotic motives. But in any case they are no longer with the service. In fact, most of them are dead. Indeed all of them are dead. Long ago. God save the Queen.
What we need is not a one-off inquiry but a permanent charter setting out exactly what the intelligence services are and are not allowed to do, and a permanent Parliamentary oversight committee on the American model. We also need to make a comprehensive move towards more open government in the manner discussed by Clive Ponting, John Ranelagh, Michael Zander and Simon Lee in Freedom of Information … Freedom of the Invididual?, a new collection of essays edited by Julia Neuberger.
Three newspapers are currently being sued and two others prohibited from carrying material that discusses allegations of treason on a grand scale. That is, the argument of national security is being used to prevent discussions of a gross threat to national security – and in that extraordinary cause the freedom of the press is taken to be expendable. How can we not feel bitter at the fact that this enormity is being practised on us at precisely the same time that the Irangate hearings in Washington are demonstrating the necessity of a free press and real Parliamentary scrutiny? Next year will see the 300th anniversary of the Glorious Revolution. It would be nice to think that we might celebrate this event by taking steps to control our irresponsible executive, and thereby emerge at last from our ancien régime.