The Empire Strikes Back

First pub­lished by RT Op-Edge.

Sir Andrew Parker, the recently elev­ated Dir­ector Gen­eral of the UK’s domestic secur­ity Ser­vice (MI5) yes­ter­day made both his first pub­lic speech and a super­fi­cially robust defence of the work of the intel­li­gence agen­cies. Read­ing from the out­side, it sounds all pat­ri­otic and noble.

Darth_VaderAnd who is to say that Parker does not believe this after 30 years on the inside and the MI5 group­think men­tal­ity being what it is? Let’s give him the bene­fit of the doubt. How­ever, I have two prob­lems with his speech, on both a micro and a macro scale.

Let’s start with the micro — ie the devil in the detail — what is said and, cru­cially, what is left unsaid. First up: over­sight, which the spook apo­lo­gists have dwelt on at great length over the last few months.

I wrote about this last week, but here’s some of that dev­il­ish detail. Parker cor­rectly explains what the mech­an­isms are for over­sight within MI5: the Home Office war­rants for oth­er­wise illegal activ­it­ies such as bug­ging; the over­sight com­mis­sion­ers; the Com­plaints Tribunal; the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment. This all sounds pretty reas­on­able for a demo­cracy, right?

Of course, what he neg­lects to men­tion is how these sys­tems can be gamed by the spies.

The applic­a­tion for war­rants is a tick-box exer­cise where basic legal require­ments can be by-passed, the author­ising min­is­ter only ever sees a sum­mary of a sum­mary.… ad infin­itum.… for sig­na­ture, and never declines a request in case some­thing lit­er­ally blows up fur­ther down the line.

Sure, there are inde­pend­ent com­mis­sion­ers who over­see MI5 and its sur­veil­lance work every year and write a report. But as I have writ­ten before, they are given the royal treat­ment dur­ing their annual visit to Thames House, and officers with con­cerns about the abuse of the war­rantry sys­tem are barred from meet­ing them. Plus, even these ano­dyne reports can high­light an alarm­ing num­ber of “admin­is­trat­ive errors” made by the spies, no doubt entirely without malice.

The com­plaints tribunal — the body to which we can make a com­plaint if we feel we have been unne­ces­sar­ily spied on, has always found in favour of the spies.

And finally, the pièce de résist­ance, so to speak: the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment. How many times do I have to write this? Top cops and Parker’s spy pre­de­cessors have admit­ted to lying suc­cess­fully to the ISC for many years. This is not mean­ing­ful over­sight, nor is the fact that the evid­ence of earlier major intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers was ignored by the ISC, except for the part where they might be under invest­ig­a­tion by MI5 themselves.…

Of course, the cur­rent Chair of the ISC, Sir Mal­com Rif­kind, has entered the lists this sum­mer to say that the ISC has just acquired new powers and can now go into the spies’ lairs, demand to see papers, and over­see oper­a­tional activ­it­ies. This is indeed good, if belated, news, but from a man who has already cleared GCHQ’s endemic data-mining as law­ful, one has to won­der how thor­ough he will be.

While the com­mit­tee remains chosen by the PM, answer­able only to the PM, who can also vet the find­ings, this com­mit­tee is irre­deem­ably undemo­cratic. It will remain full of cred­u­lous yes-men only too happy to sup­port the status quo.

Secondly, what are the threats that Parker talks about? He has worked for MI5 for 30 years and will there­fore remem­ber not only the Cold War era, where Soviet spies were hunted down, but also the very real and per­vas­ive threat of IRA bombs reg­u­larly explod­ing on UK streets. At the same time hun­dreds of thou­sands of polit­ic­ally act­ive UK cit­izens were aggress­ively invest­ig­ated. A (cold) war and the threat of ter­ror­ism allowed the spies a drag-net of sur­veil­lance even then.

V_for_Vendetta_masksHow much worse now, in this hyper-connected, data-mining era? One chilling phrase that leapt out at me from Parker’s speech was the need to invest­ig­ate “ter­ror­ists and oth­ers threat­en­ing national secur­ity”. National secur­ity has never been leg­ally defined for the pur­poses of UK law, and we see the goal posts move again and again. In the 1980s, when Parker joined MI5, it was the “reds under the bed”, the so-called sub­vers­ives. Now it can be the Occupy group encamped in the City of Lon­don or envir­on­mental act­iv­ists wav­ing plac­ards.

So now for my macro con­cerns, which are about wider con­cepts. Parker used his first pub­lic speech to defend not only the work of his own organ­isa­tion, but also to attack the whis­tleblow­ing efforts of Edward Snowden and the cov­er­age in The Guard­ian news­pa­per. He attempts to seam­lessly elide the work and the over­sight mod­els of MI5 and GCHQ.  And who is fall­ing for this?  Well, much of the UK media appar­ently.

This mud­dies the waters. The con­cerns about Snowden’s dis­clos­ures are global — the TEMPORA pro­ject affects not only the cit­izens of the UK but people across Europe and bey­ond. For Rif­kind or the For­eign Sec­ret­ary to com­pla­cently say that GCHQ is over­seen by them and everything is hunkey-dorey is just not good enough, even for the hap­less cit­izens of the UK. How much more so for those unrep­res­en­ted people across the world?

The IOCA (1985) and later and much-abused RIPA (2000) laws were writ­ten before the UK gov­ern­ment could have con­ceived of the sheer scale of the inter­net. They are way out of date — 20th cen­tury rolling omni­bus war­rants hoover­ing up every scrap of data and being stored for unknown times in case you might com­mit a (thought?) crime in the future. This is noth­ing like mean­ing­ful oversight.

Unlike the UK, even the USA is cur­rently hav­ing con­gres­sional hear­ings and media debates about the lim­its of the elec­tronic sur­veil­lance pro­gramme. Con­sid­er­ing America’s mus­cu­lar response after 9/11, with illegal inva­sions, drone strikes, CIA kill lists and extraordin­ary kid­nap­pings (to this day), that casts the UK spy com­pla­cency in a par­tic­u­larly unflat­ter­ing light.

Plus if 58,000 GCHQ doc­u­ments have really been copied by a young NSA con­tractor, why are Parker and Rif­kind not ask­ing dif­fi­cult ques­tions of the Amer­ican admin­is­tra­tion, rather than con­tinu­ing to jus­tify the anti­quated Brit­ish over­sight system?

Finally, Parker is show­ing his age as well as his pro­fes­sion when he talks about the inter­webs and all the implic­a­tions.  As I said dur­ing my state­ment to the LIBE com­mit­tee in the European Parliament:

  • Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and dis­cuss ideas freely and in pri­vacy, we are all liv­ing in an Orwellian dysto­pia, and we are all poten­tially at risk. These media must be based on tech­no­lo­gies that empower indi­vidual cit­izens, not cor­por­a­tions or for­eign gov­ern­ments. The Free Soft­ware Found­a­tion has been mak­ing these recom­mend­a­tions for over two decades.
  • The cent­ral soci­etal func­tion of pri­vacy is to cre­ate the space for cit­izens to res­ist the viol­a­tion of their rights by gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions. Pri­vacy is the last line of defense his­tor­ic­ally against the most poten­tially dan­ger­ous organ­isa­tion that exists: the nation state. There­fore there is no ‘bal­ance between pri­vacy and secur­ity’ and this false dicho­tomy should not be part of any policy debate.

The “Insider Threat”

As the old media pro­pa­ganda battle inev­it­ably heats up around the Edward Snowden case, I stumbled across this little Amer­ican news gem recently. The premise being that poten­tial whis­tleblowers are now deemed to be the new “insider threat”.

Well, the US spooks and their friends have already had a pretty good run through the “reds under the bed” of McCarthy­ism, polit­ical sub­vers­ives, illeg­als, Muslims and “domestic extrem­ists”, whatever the hell that really means leg­ally.  Now they’ve hit on another threat­en­ing cat­egory to jus­tify yet fur­ther sur­veil­lance crack­downs. What’s in a name.….

Firstly, this is old news resur­rec­ted in the wake of the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures to scare people anew. Way back in 2008 the US gov­ern­ment wrote a report about “insider threats” and the per­ceived danger of the high-tech pub­lisher Wikileaks and, in early 2010 the report was leaked to the very same organisation.

Wikileaks1In 2008 the US gov­ern­ment strategy was to expose a Wikileaks source so that oth­ers would be deterred from using the con­duit in future. Well that didn’t hap­pen — Wikileaks tech­no­lo­gic­ally out­paced the lum­ber­ing, bru­tish might of the US and syco­phantic West­ern intel­li­gence agen­cies.  The unfor­tu­nate Brad­ley Man­ning was exposed by an FBI snitch, Adrian Lamo, rather than from any tech­nical fail­ure of the Wikileaks sub­mis­sion system.

What did occur was a mus­cu­lar dis­play of global cor­por­at­ism, with nation after nation capit­u­lat­ing to take down the Wikileaks site, but mir­ror sites sur­vived that poin­ted to Switzer­land (which has a strong tra­di­tion of dir­ect demo­cracy, self defence and free speech and which remains stead­fastly inde­pend­ent from inter­na­tional dip­lo­matic circle jerks the UN, NATO, and such like.

On top of that, all major fin­an­cial chan­nels stopped dona­tions to Wikileaks — an act now been deemed to be mani­festly illegal in some countries.

Now, in the wake of the Man­ning and Snowden dis­clos­ures, the US main­stream media appears, inev­it­ably, to be try­ing to con­flate the cases of known trait­ors with, you’ve guessed it, bona fide whistleblowers.

Cases such as Ald­rich Ames and Robert Hanssen, who betrayed their coun­tries by selling secrets to an enemy power — the Soviet Union — in an era of exist­en­tial threat. They were trait­ors to be pro­sec­uted under the US Espi­on­age Act (1917) — that is what it was designed for.

This has noth­ing what­so­ever to do with the cur­rent whis­tleblower cases and is just so much basic neuro-linguistic pro­gram­ming. *Yawn*. Do people really fall for that these days?

This is a tired old tac­tic much used and abused in the offi­cially secret UK, and the USA has learned well from its former colo­nial mas­ter — so much for 1776 and the constitution.

How­ever, in the CBS inter­view men­tioned above it was subtly done — at least for a US broad­cast — with the com­ment­ator sound­ing reas­on­able but with the imagery telling a very dif­fer­ent story.

In my view this con­fla­tion exposes a dark hypo­crisy at the heart of the mod­ern military-security com­plex. In the old days the “good­ies” and “bad­dies” were simplist­ic­ally demarc­ated in the minds of the pub­lic: free West good; total­it­arian East bad. This fol­lowed the main­stream pro­pa­ganda of the day, and those who worked for the oppos­i­tion — and the Soviet Union gave the US/UK intel­li­gence axis a good run for its money — were pro­sec­uted as trait­ors.  Unless, of course, they emerged from the rul­ing class, when they were allowed to slip away and evade justice.

And of course many of us remem­ber the scan­dal of the Rus­sian spy ring that was exposed in 2010 — many indi­vidu­als who had illeg­ally been infilt­rated into the US for dec­ades. Yet, when they were caught and exposed, what happened?  A deal was struck between the US and Rus­sia and they were just sent home.

No such lib­er­al­ity is shown to true modern-day whis­tleblowers. Quite the oppos­ite, with the UK and the US will­ing to breach all estab­lished dip­lo­matic pro­to­cols to hunt down their quarry. This des­pite the fact that the whis­tleblowers are lib­er­at­ing inform­a­tion about the illeg­al­ity of our own gov­ern­ments to empower all of us to act as informed cit­izens, and des­pite the fact that they are expos­ing global-level crimes.

Bradley_Manning_2Brad­ley Man­ning and Edward Snowden have risked their lives to expose the fact that we are liv­ing under a global police state and that our mil­it­ary and intel­li­gence agen­cies are run­ning amok across the planet, with CIA kill lists, rendi­tions, tor­ture, wars, drone strikes and dirty tricks.

Yet the West is not offi­cially at war, nor is it facing an exist­en­tial threat as it did dur­ing the Second World War or the so-called Cold War.  Des­pite this, the US has used the Espi­on­age Act (1917) more times in the last 5 years than over the pre­ced­ing cen­tury. Is it sud­denly infes­ted with spies?

Well, no.  But it is sud­denly full of a new digital gen­er­a­tion, which has grown up with the assump­tion that the inter­net is free, and which wants to guar­an­tee that it will remain free without Big Brother watch­ing over their shoulders.  Tal­en­ted indi­vidu­als who end up work­ing for the spy agen­cies will inev­it­ably be per­turbed by pro­grammes such as PRISM and TEMPORA. Law­yers, act­iv­ists and geeks have been warn­ing about this for the last two decades.

By 1911 the UK had already put in place not only the proto-MI5, but also then added the first Offi­cial Secrets Act (OSA) to pro­sec­ute real trait­ors ahead of the First World War. The UK updated the OSA in 1989 spe­cific­ally to sup­press whis­tleblow­ing. The US has learned these legal sup­pres­sion les­sons well, not least by shred­ding its con­sti­tu­tion with the Pat­riot Act.

How­ever, it has neg­lected to update its law against whis­tleblowers, fall­ing back instead onto the hoary old 1917 Espi­on­age Act — as I said before, more times in the past five years than over the last century.

This is indeed a war on whis­tleblowers and truth-tellers, noth­ing more, noth­ing less.

What are they so afraid of? Ideal­ists who believe in the old demo­cratic con­sti­tu­tions? The Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights and other such fuddy-duddy concepts?

Or could the real enemy be the bene­fi­ciar­ies of the whis­tleblowers? When the US gov­ern­ment says that Man­ning or Snowden have aided the enemy, do they, could they, mean we the people?

The answer to that would logic­ally be a resound­ing “yes”. Which leads to another ques­tion: what about the nation states — China, Rus­sia, Iran — that we have been told repeatedly over the last few years are hack­ing and spy­ing on us?

The phrase “pot and kettle” springs to mind. There are no good­ies and bad­dies any more. Indeed, all that remains is out­right and shock­ing hypocrisy.

Snowden has laid bare the fact that the US and its vas­sals are the most flag­rant prot­ag­on­ists in this cyber­war, even as our gov­ern­ments tell us that we must give up basic human rights such as pri­vacy, to pro­tect us from the global threat of ter­ror­ism (while at the same time arm­ing and fund­ing our so-called ter­ror­ist enemies).

Yet whis­tleblowers who bravely step up and tell us our gov­ern­ments are com­mit­ting war crimes, that we are being spied on, that we live under Orwellian sur­veil­lance, are now the people being pro­sec­uted for espi­on­age, not the “real” spies and cer­tainly not the war criminals.

In the CBS inter­view, former US Gen­eral Michael Hay­den, ex-head of the CIA and NSA asked: “what kind of moral judge­ment does it take for someone to think that their view trumps that of two pres­id­ents, the Con­gress and Sen­ate, the court sys­tem and 35,000 co-workers at the NSA?”

Er, per­haps someone who does not want to col­lude in the most stark examples of global war crimes and illegal sur­veil­lance? And per­haps someone who believes that the Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights was set up for a reason after the hor­rors of the Second World War?

When the rule of law breaks down, who is the real criminal?

What we are wit­ness­ing is a gen­er­a­tional clash, not a clash of ideo­lo­gies. The old­sters still be believe in the Cold War nar­rat­ive (or even “cow­boys and Indi­ans”?) of good­ies, bad­dies and exist­en­tial threats. The digital gen­er­a­tions have grown up in the wake of 9/11 and all the asso­ci­ated gov­ern­mental over-reaction — war crimes go unre­por­ted and untried, real civil liber­ties are an his­toric arte­fact, and the global pop­u­la­tion lives under Big Brother sur­veil­lance. Why on earth is any­one, really, sur­prised when young people of hon­our and ideal­ism try to take a stand and make a difference?

We should be more wor­ried about our future if the whis­tleblowers were to stop com­ing forward.

The Secret Policemen’s Balls-Up

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge, with the slightly more cir­cum­spect title: “Brit­ish police secretly oper­ated out­side demo­cratic con­trol for years”. Also on HuffPo UK.

In the wake of the global impact of the ongo­ing Edward Snowden saga, a smal­ler but still import­ant whis­tleblower story flared and faded last week in the UK media.

Peter Fran­cis revealed that 20 years ago he had worked as an under­cover cop in the Met­ro­pol­itan Police Force’s secret Spe­cial Demon­stra­tions Squad (SDS) sec­tion. In this role, Fran­cis stated that he was tasked to dig up dirt with which the Met could dis­credit the fam­ily of murdered black teen­ager, Stephen Lawrence and thereby derail their cam­paign for a full and effect­ive police invest­ig­a­tion into his death.  The Lawrence fam­ily cor­rectly believed that the ori­ginal invest­ig­a­tion had been fumbled because of  insti­tu­tional police racism at that time.

The fact that secret police were pos­ing as act­iv­ists to infilt­rate protest groups will come as no shock after the cas­cade of rev­el­a­tions about secret police­men in 2011, start­ing with DC Mark Kennedy/environmental act­iv­ist “Mark Stone”.  Kennedy was uncovered by his “fel­low” act­iv­ists, and nine more quickly emerged in the wake of that scan­dal. This has res­ul­ted in an enquiry into the shad­owy activ­it­ies of these most secret officers, accus­a­tions that the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice sup­pressed key evid­ence in crim­inal tri­als, and a slew of court cases brought by women whom these (pre­dom­in­antly male) police officers seduced.

But the dis­clos­ures of Peter Fran­cis plumb new depths.  In the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder, many left-wing and anti-Nazi groups jumped on the band­wagon, organ­ising demon­stra­tions and pro­vok­ing con­front­a­tions with the far-right Brit­ish National Party.  There was a clash near the BNP’s book­shop in south Lon­don in 1993.  So, sure, the Met Police could poten­tially just about argue that the under­cover officers were try­ing to gather advance intel­li­gence to pre­vent pub­lic dis­order and riot­ing, although the sheer scale of the oper­a­tion was utterly disproportionate.

How­ever, what is com­pletely bey­ond the Pale is this appar­ent attempt to smear the trau­mat­ised fam­ily of a murder vic­tim in order to derail their cam­paign for justice.

The role of under­cover cops spy­ing on their fel­low cit­izens who are polit­ic­ally act­ive is dis­taste­ful in a demo­cracy. And the fact that, until the ori­ginal scan­dal broke in 2011, the recon­sti­t­uted SDS con­tin­ued to tar­get peace and envir­on­mental protest groups who offered no threat what­so­ever to national secur­ity is dis­grace­ful — it smacks of the Stasi in East Germany.

To make mat­ters even worse, when details emerged two years ago, it became appar­ent that the SDS Ver­sion 2.0 was oper­at­ing out­side the formal hier­archy of the police, with what little demo­cratic over­sight that would provide. In fact, it emerged that the SDS been renamed the National Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit (NPOIU) and had for years been the private fief­dom of a private lim­ited com­pany — the Asso­ci­ation of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).  Within a notional demo­cracy, this is just gobsmacking.

So how did this mess evolve?

From the late 19th cen­tury the Met­ro­pol­itan Police Spe­cial Branch invest­ig­ated ter­ror­ism while MI5, estab­lished in 1909, was a counter-intelligence unit focus­ing on espi­on­age and polit­ical “sub­ver­sion”. The switch began in 1992 when Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, then head of MI5, effected a White­hall coup and stole primacy for invest­ig­at­ing Irish ter­ror­ism from the Met. As a res­ult MI5 magic­ally dis­covered that sub­ver­sion was not such a threat after all – this rev­el­a­tion only three years after the Ber­lin Wall came down – and trans­ferred all its staff over to the new, sexy counter-terrorism sec­tions. Since then, MI5 has been eagerly build­ing its counter-terrorism empire, des­pite this being more obvi­ously evid­en­tial police work.

Spe­cial Branch was releg­ated to a sup­port­ing role, dab­bling in organ­ised crime and animal rights act­iv­ists, but not ter­ribly excited about either. Its prestige had been ser­i­ously den­ted. It also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cover cops – known then to MI5 as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands.

It should there­fore come as little sur­prise that ACPO came up with the bril­liant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domestic extrem­ists”. It renamed the SDS as the NPOIU, which first focused primar­ily on poten­tially viol­ent animal rights act­iv­ists, but mis­sion creep rap­idly set in and the unit’s role expan­ded into peace­ful protest groups. When this unac­count­able unit was revealed it rightly caused an out­cry, espe­cially as the term “domestic extrem­ist” is not recog­nised under UK law, and can­not leg­ally be used as jus­ti­fic­a­tion to aggress­ively invade an individual’s pri­vacy because of their legit­im­ate polit­ical beliefs and activism.

So, as the police become ever more spooky, what of MI5?

As I men­tioned, they have been aggress­ively hoover­ing up the pres­ti­gi­ous counter-terrorism work. But, des­pite what the Amer­ic­ans have hys­ter­ic­ally asser­ted since 9/11, ter­ror­ism is not some unique form of “evil­tude”. It is a crime – a hideous, shock­ing one, but still a crime that should be invest­ig­ated, with evid­ence gathered, due pro­cess applied and the sus­pects on trial in front of a jury.

A mature demo­cracy that respects human rights and the rule of law should not intern sus­pects or render them to secret pris­ons and tor­ture them for years. And yet this is pre­cisely what our spooks have been doing – par­tic­u­larly when col­lud­ing with their US counterparts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 have for years oper­ated out­side any real­istic demo­cratic over­sight and con­trol. Until this year, the remit of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment has only covered the policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance of the spies. Since the committee’s incep­tion in 1994 it has repeatedly failed to mean­ing­fully address more ser­i­ous ques­tions about the spies’ role, and has been repeatedly lied to by senior spies and police officers.

The spooks are effect­ively above the law, while at the same time pro­tec­ted by the dra­conian Offi­cial Secrets Act. This makes the abuses of the NPOIU seem almost quaint. So what to do? A good first step might be to have an informed dis­cus­sion about the real­istic threats to the UK. The police and spies huddle behind the pro­tect­ive phrase “national secur­ity”. But what does this mean?

The core idea should be safe­guard­ing the nation’s integ­rity. A group of well-meaning envir­on­mental pro­test­ers should not even be on the radar. And, no mat­ter how awful, the occa­sional ter­ror­ist attack is not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation in the way of, say, the planned Nazi inva­sion in 1940. Nor is it even close to the sus­tained bomb­ing of gov­ern­ment, infra­struc­ture and mil­it­ary tar­gets by the Pro­vi­sional IRA in the 1970s-90s.

Only once we under­stand the real threats can we as a nation dis­cuss the neces­sary steps to take to pro­tect ourselves effect­ively; what meas­ures should be taken, what liber­ties occa­sion­ally and leg­ally com­prom­ised, and what demo­cratic account­ab­il­ity exists to ensure that the secur­ity forces do not exceed their remit and work within the law.

It is only by going through this pro­cess that can we ensure such scan­dals as the secret police will remain firmly in the past. And in the wake not only of Peter Francis’s con­fes­sions but the sheer scale of the endemic elec­tronic sur­veil­lance revealed by Edward Snowden, this long-overdue national debate becomes ever more necessary.

UK Anonymous Radio Interview

Here’s the link to my inter­view tonight on UK Anonym­ous Radio — I had a great time and found it a fun, wide-ranging, and stim­u­lat­ing hour.  I hope you do too.  So, thank you Anonymous.

And also thank you to Kim Dot­com set­ting up the new file-sharing site, Mega, which replaces his illegally-taken-down global site, MegaUp­load.  I have some­where safe, I think, to store my interviews!

What a sham­bolic dis­grace that MegaUp­load raid was, and what a clas­sic example of the global cor­por­at­ist agenda that I dis­cuss in the interview.

I do love geeks.

May 2005 — The Times

MI5 kept school­boy on its files

The part­ner of David Shayler reveals how a let­ter to the Com­mun­ist Party brought its youth­ful author to the atten­tion of the secur­ity services

August 2005

A BOY who wrote a let­ter to the Brit­ish Com­mun­ist Party for a school pro­ject ended up with his own MI5 file, a former Secur­ity Ser­vice officer claimed yesterday.

The boy had asked for inform­a­tion for his school topic, but his let­ter was secretly opened by MI5 in the 1970s when the Com­mun­ist Party was still regarded as a hot­bed of sub­ver­sion, accord­ing to Annie Machon, who worked for the domestic intel­li­gence ser­vice from 1991 to 1996.

Ms Machon is the part­ner of David Shayler, the former MI5 officer jailed under the Offi­cial Secrets Act for dis­clos­ing inform­a­tion acquired in the service.

In a book which has been passed for pub­lic­a­tion by her former employ­ers, Ms Machon says that the schoolboy’s let­ter was copied, as was all cor­res­pond­ence to the Brit­ish Com­mun­ist Party at that time, “and used to cre­ate a PF (per­sonal file), where he was
iden­ti­fied as a ‘?com­mun­ist sympathiser’ ”.

On another occa­sion, a man who was divor­cing his wife wrote to MI5 claim­ing that she was involved in Com­mun­ism, and she was the sub­ject of a per­sonal file, Ms Machon claims in her book, Spies, Lies & Whistleblowers.

She saw the two files, among “more than a mil­lion” when work­ing at MI5, and claimed that they had been in the Secur­ity Ser­vice archives for 20 years. “Why was this inform­a­tion still avail­able to desk officers some 20 years after these indi­vidu­als had first come to atten­tion, in less than sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances?” she writes.

Mr Shayler also made alleg­a­tions about the con­tents of per­sonal Secur­ity Ser­vice files
in 1997, after he left the agency. He said that there were files on Jack Straw, Peter Man­del­son, Peter Hain, Mo Mow­lam, John Len­non and the Sex Pis­tols, among oth­ers. Mr Shayler was charged under the Offi­cial Secrets Act for dis­clos­ing other secret inform­a­tion acquired when he was a serving intel­li­gence officer, and was sen­tenced at the Old Bailey
to six months in prison in 2002.

Ms Machon, 36, who worked in three depart­ments of MI5 — counter-subversion, Irish ter­ror­ism and inter­na­tional ter­ror­ism — joins a rel­at­ively short list of former Secur­ity Ser­vice officers who have man­aged to write books without end­ing up in jail.

The last former MI5 officer to get clear­ance was Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, who was
Director-General of the ser­vice from 1992 to 1996.

Peter Wright, who made alleg­a­tions of bug­ging and burg­lary by the Secur­ity Ser­vice in Spycatcher, pub­lished in 1987, got away with it by mov­ing to Tasmania.

Ms Machon repeats alleg­a­tions made by Mr Shayler that MI6 helped to fund an assas­sin­a­tion attempt against Col­onel Gad­dafi, the Libyan leader, in 1996. It was dis­missed by Robin Cook, the former For­eign Sec­ret­ary, as “pure fantasy”.