SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE SERVICES – 22 June 2000
Dr Julian Lewis: I begin with an apology for missing a small part of the Back-Bench contributions at the start of the debate for a reason which I cleared with Madam Speaker's Office in advance, but I apologise nevertheless. I think it almost presumptuous to intrude on a debate that has been dominated, from the Conservative Benches at least, by a raft of Privy Councillors and former Ministers; none the less, I shall give it my best shot.
This is one of those occasions when I think I perhaps made my most useful contribution before making my speech. To my surprise, I managed to secure from the Home Secretary a frank and unequivocal undertaking that, if and when the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Neath (Peter Hain), does what he said he would do, as stated in The Sunday Times on 11 June, and asks
"to see his MI5 file after discovering that the security service kept records on his case for 25 years",
he will be sent away with a flea in his ear. That is in a sense the second undertaking in a row, because, as some hon. Members might recall, my previous campaign was provoked by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Peter Mandelson), now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, demanding a couple of years ago that all old MI5 files, including the one held on him, should be destroyed. After initiating a special debate on the subject, I secured the Home Secretary's agreement that the Public Record Office would be properly brought into the process. A satisfactory outcome has now been reached, whereby files of historical value will be preserved on a much greater scale.
The hon. Member for Workington (Dale Campbell Savours), who is sadly not in his place, paid eloquent tribute to Vasili Mitrokhin for what he did. Indeed, as we are talking about an intelligence triumph of which this huge book is only the tip, it must surely be recognised that 90 percent of the credit should go to Mr Mitrokhin. The other 10 percentan essential 10 percent should be divided between MI6 and MI5 for getting him and his material safely out of Russia, processing and distributing it, and safeguarding its security so that the leads that it gave could be followed up as effectively around the world as has evidently been the case.
However, I am sure that the Security Service, in particular, did not like one aspect of the Mitrokhin affair – the emphasis that Mr Mitrokhin rightly put on publication. I understand that Mr Mitrokhin insisted that if he were to allow the use of his material – and it remains his material – for intelligence purposes, it must be published to the world, for which I give him three hearty cheers, more hearty even than the plaudits that he has already rightly received during the debate. I have told the House on previous occasions of my concern about what I regard as the unnecessary cover-up culture involved in dealing with historical events on which the Security Service could easily afford to lift the curtain.
In the previous debate on the subject on 2 November 1998, I referred to the fact that Mosley's British Union of Fascists was funded by Mussolini. We now know that, as early as 1935, special branch and MI5 had verified that that was happening on a large scale. It should not have taken until late 1983 for the historical record to be set straight and for confirmation to be forthcoming from the Security Service archives.
Similarly, we know that the British Communist party – despite all its vehement denials year in, year out – was in the pay of the KGB and was funded at least from 1958 until at least 1979 by cash payments to Reuben Falber in this country from his KGB contact. Sums of up to £100,000 a year were involved –heaven knows what that would be worth today. We know that only because of the discoveries made in the archives in Moscow. If MI5 knew about it – I bet it did – it hung on to that secret material for a very long time.
It is important to destroy that cover-up culture on historical matters because such dilemmas, debates and controversies often repeat themselves. When fighting front organisations for the communists in the postwar period, it would have been helpful to cite the example of front organisations for the fascists in the prewar period having been funded in that way. It is also important as a deterrent. As Professor Christopher Andrew has said – although I am unsure whether it has been referred to in the debate – perhaps Mitrokhin's greatest achievement is the fact that no one who has ever been in contact with the KGB can be sure that sooner or later such deplorable behaviour will not come to light. That is a devastating blow to the Russian intelligence agency's reputation, which it will take decades to overcome, if it ever can.
Having said all that, I was a little disappointed – I should not be surprised if Mr Mitrokhin himself were a little disappointed also – that this thick volume did not contain a larger number of revelations about spies in Britain. Indeed, when it was to be published, it was not intended to reveal the identity of Melita Norwood. She was identified only as Agent Hola or, as had been known for many years from the Venona transcripts, Agent Tina. Her identity became known only because of the sleuthing of David Rose, the BBC journalist who put together the film series "The Spying Game", of which more in a moment.
The problem is that the Security Service seems to take the view that unless and until a person is convicted in a court of law – no matter how guilty that person is of treachery, spying or acting as an agent of influence for a foreign and hostile power – that person's name must never be revealed, even if there are no security implications. I believe that if the evidence is strong enough, such an approach is fundamentally wrong and unjust. People in public life are often accused of all sorts of wrong-doing without being convicted in a court of law. The burden is on the accuser to prove his or her case, and the remedy of taking a libel action is there for the accused if the accusation is false. I do not like the way decisions to conceal identities are made – sometimes for security reasons or as a bargain, but sometimes just to cover up embarrassment and so as not to rock the boat – because all too often people guilty of gross misconduct and treachery do not suffer even the punishment of having their deeds exposed to the contempt of their fellow countrymen.
I refer again to the excellent series "The Spying Game", and congratulate the BBC on that fine example of public service broadcasting. However, it had a slightly unfortunate aspect as it ran the exposure of a number of spies from different sources into a single collection. For example, Dr Robin Pearson, the Hull lecturer, was exposed not by the Mitrokhin archive but by the Berlin Stasi archive, which has been available for some considerable time and was excellently researched by Dr Anthony Glees, the academic who was the principal researcher for the relevant episodes of that series. Similarly, the identity of Professor Vic Allen, CND executive member, a Stasi agent in regular contact with East German intelligence who reported and spied on the anti-nuclear movement in order to make it even more helpful to Soviet foreign policy and military objectives than it was of its own volition, came out into the open only because of the revelations in the Stasi archive.
Some documents in that archive were not handwritten notes, valuable though those are, as in the case of Mitrokhin, but original documents such as receipts for the blood money that Dr Pearson took from the East German intelligence agencies for his treachery, signed in his own hand. There should be no question of covering up the identities of those people, even if, for one technical or security reason or another, they are not to be prosecuted.
Eventually, I managed to secure a debate on the Berlin Stasi archive. However, I remain concerned that no proper examination of it was made until Dr Glees went out there and made those discoveries for himself. Security Service operatives had been out there for a couple of days and took photographs of each other sitting on the toilet of Erich Mielke, the former intelligence boss. That was it, although there had been a Mitrokhin operative in reverse – Operation Rosewood – a few years earlier. The Americans succeeded in purchasing a vast quantity of Stasi material, which they made available to the British, just as we made the Mitrokhin material available to them. Nevertheless, there was no guarantee that everybody awaiting discovery in the original Berlin archive had been picked up in the archive sold to the Americans and passed on to us.
I want to cover two more points. The Home Secretary made a remark earlier, and I hope that no enthusiastic representative of his checking his contribution for tomorrow's Hansard will be tempted to alter it. He mentioned the threat from the Soviet Union then and the former Soviet Union now. He was right to make that remark, and I hope that it appears in the record tomorrow. There is still a threat from the former Soviet Union. This morning, I checked with the Clerk of the Defence Committee, on which I have the privilege to serve, whether it would be in order to refer to something that happened in a meeting yesterday between ourselves and representatives of the Russian Duma. He confirmed that the meeting was not held under Chatham House rules or off the record, but I shall not be too specific.
I was perturbed by the presentation given by a number of members of the delegation, with whom I shall enjoy sitting down for dinner this evening at the invitation of Madam Speaker, for which I am grateful. I hope that it is not withdrawn in the next hour and a half. One of the delegation's observations can be summarised only as a crude attempt to divide the United Kingdom from the United States by suggesting that we should all be terribly concerned about the way in which the United States tries to promote its own security interests at the cost of those of Europe and the United Kingdom. There were also appeals to the fact that we had fought on the same side against the Nazis. That was true from 1941-45; I am not sure that it would bear scrutiny for 1939-41.
There were attempts to balance the enormously restrained NATO military attacks in the Kosovo crisis with the sheer barbarism in Chechnya. Incidentally, who believes that the bomb explosions in Moscow were caused by Chechen terrorists, conveniently giving the Putin regime the excuse that they needed to go in and devastate their homeland? Many Kremlinologists of repute in this country do not believe that it was anything other than a provocation and a pretext for both electoral and tactical military reasons by the Russian special services.
There have been worrying developments. There has been a noted rise in antisemitic attacks in Russia. There has been an attempt by President Putin to displace the rabbi who serves the Russian-Jewish community with an extreme fundamentalist rabbi, who would be unrepresentative. There has been the arrest of Vladimir Gusinsky, which means the silencing of an independent voice that is critical of the regime, and this also carries overtones of antisemitism.
During the election campaign, the one person, Grigori Yavlinski, who might have made it necessary for President Putin to go into a run-off ballot, was attacked on official television for being supported by "foreigners, Jews and homosexuals". The one thing that can be said about the situation in Russia is that although the Putin project is to recreate the power structures of the communists, it is to do it without Marxist ideology. The aim is to restore a powerful state and eventually to build a new version of the former USSR where there is political and military dominance, without the economic burdens of direct administration. That is an advantage because it does not involve the ideology that carries the appeal into other countries that communism used to have.
If the Home Secretary now recognises that there is still a threat from Russia, which we hope to get along with much better in the future than we did in the past, it is only right for him to reverse a decision, which I have been asking him repeatedly to do, to dismantle what was for many years the most important branch of the Security Service, namely F branch, which dealt with subversion. According to the third edition of the glossy booklet entitled "MI5 The Security Service", the
"Security Service currently has no investigations in this area"
that is, the area of subversion. It continues:
"During the financial year 1997/1998 only 0.3 percent of the Service's resources were allocated to the remnants of this work, predominantly to pay the pensions of retired agents."
It is not satisfactory that a country that still faces threats and that could still be subject to subversion should have dismantled the section of its Security Service that deals with subversion. I have been grateful to the Home Secretary for what he has done in preserving files. I have been grateful to him also for what he has said today about preserving the ability of the Security Service not to have Members demanding access to their own files. I would be even more grateful to him if he would restore the one missing element of the jigsaw, which is the anti-subversion apparatus of MI5.