An MI5 A4 surveillance officer has had to resign because his wife sold a story to The News of the World newspaper that the Formula One boss, Max Mosley, son of notorious fascist Sir Oswald Mosley, had indulged in a Nazi-inspired orgy with her and four other prostitutes in a cellar in Chelsea, one of the swankiest areas of London.
This raises an interesting question. Either the A4 officer, reportedly a former Royal Marine, had no idea that his wife was working as a prostitute, in which case, what the hell was he doing working for the surveillance unit of MI5? Not quite the sharpest knife in the block, then. Or he knew, but chose to keep it quiet – a serious vetting offence. Which was it?
The move against Mosley certainly seems to have been a “honeytrap” of sorts – at least on the part of The News of the Screws, which reportedly equipped “Mrs Bond” with the cameras. But beyond that? The Screws and its sister paper The Sunday Times asserted that the MI5 connection was just a coincidence, as did The Sunday Telegraph, known in spook circles as the in-house magazine of MI6.
The Mosley case does have historical echoes. A similar, and notorious case, occurred in the 1970s. Lord Lambton, at the time the RAF Minister in Edward Heath’s government, was caught in flagrente with a call girl and, even worse, was caught on film smoking a joint. Lambton had to resign in disgrace.
But there was more to it. The News of the Screws photographer lurking in the wardrobe had been lent the night-vision camera by an MI6 agent to obtain nice, clear images.
Why did MI6, the foreign intelligence gathering agency, target Lord Lambton? Well, according to the agent in question, Lee Tracey who first came to the public’s attention in the Profumo Affair, MI6 was motivated by a desire to embarrass MI5, which it deemed not to be up to scratch in its domestic spying work.
So the “honeytrap” is a tried and tested method to compromise your opponents and score political points. But, unless there is some private feud with the spies, it does seem unlikely in this case. Mosley may enjoy an exotic sex life, but does the F1 boss really look like he poses a legitimate threat to national security? .
The more fundamental issue is surely the effectiveness of MI5’s in-house vetting section. How did the A4 officer’s marriage to a prostitute escape their notice? The section responsible, C4, checks the backgrounds of employees to the nth degree – a system called “Developed Vetting”. Any character “defects” must be picked up via an extensive series of checks.
In the wake of this scandal, an inevitable unnamed senior Whitehall source was quoted as saying “I cannot talk about individual cases, but we do expect high standards of behaviour from all staff at all times, both professionally and privately”.
Well, sort of….
When I was recruited in 1991, MI5’s primary concern was that unknown transgressions could lead to blackmail. If the misdemeanours were minor but admitted, MI5 tended to turn a blind eye.
In the 1990s MI5 still had an official policy of not employing homosexuals. As late as the 1980s, homosexuality had been deemed by the service to be a “character defect”, as well as a potential source of blackmail. As you sign away your employment rights when you join MI5, there was no point in anyone crying “discrimination”. The position changed in 1995, and one brave soul did step out of the closet at the time. Also, when I worked there, dope-smoking was commonplace amongst young officers – and some coughed (if you’ll pardon the pun) to this during their vetting interviews. No action was taken. Similarly, infidelity was a vetting offense, but many (married) officers were at it like the proverbial rabbits.
Perhaps it has tightened up since my day. However, this seems unlikely given the recent scandal. How can we expect MI5 to adequately protect this country when it can’t even police its own staff?