THE TRAITORS IN THE COMMONS
Richard Deacon argues that MI5 should be left to investigate politicians ONE learns rather more about national characteristics from studying the records of the world's security and intelligence ser- vices down the ages than from convention- al history. My own researches of this kind showed me that the Russians remain obses- sively suspicious; that the strength of the Chinese is how they manage to adapt sophistication to unsophistication; that centuries of persecution of Jews have made the Israelis the most highly talented of all spies and counter-spies; that sheer thirst for knowledge and a natural inquisitiveness have enabled the Japanese to turn espion- age from purely military matters into a desire for increasing their national prosper- ity and improving the quality of their life.
And the British? In their imperial days their obsession with secrecy was a strength which made them feared in many coun- tries. Today this obsession has become a weakness and very often a source of sheer farce. It has been carried to excess by making the most trivial things subject to the Official Secrets Act, and, as recently been seen, for too long was crown immun- ity allowed to enable hospitals to possess kitchens which were totally unhygienic but safe from prosecution. It is this obsession which has led to so many blunders in the world of security and intelligence in recent years. In the past it did not matter much because on the whole all political parties treated questions of national security as non-party political issues. This is no longer the case, with the result that the most deplorable, ill-informed, pejorative non- sense is poured out in the House of Commons day after day.
So much absurdity has been talked about the British Intelligence and Security Ser- vices, mainly concerning MI5, that it is necessary to sum this up in a few terse phrases. First, there is the allegation in the phrase taken up by most of the media that MI5 initiated a 'smear campaign' against the last two. Wilson administrations. Second, it is said that MI5 set out to `de-stabilise' these same governments; third, that MI5 was infiltrated by Soviet agents in its highest offices; fourth, that MI5 was full of right-wing cowboys actively working to overthrow the Wilson govern- ments and replace them by undemocratic methods.
It helps to take a peep back in history. Between 1936 and 1940 MI5's attention was divided almost equally between watch- ing and tracking down Soviet agents and Nazi sympathisers inside this country. At the time of the abdication of King Edward VIII there were many murmurs among the working classes that Baldwin's government was determined to get rid of the King because he had proclaimed so loudly the need for tackling unemployment: 'some- thing must be done', he had told the unemployed in South Wales. Yet so much more responsible, patriotic and honest were labour and Labour Party leaders in those days that not one of them sought to make political capital out of this. Mean- while MI5 had been keeping close watch on Mrs Simpson, the King's mistress, and her visits to the German Embassy. Details of these visits were passed to the Prime Minister, Baldwin, by his liaison minister on security matters, J. C. C. Davidson (Lord Davidson). On 4 February 1936, when Edward VIII had recently succeeded to the throne, Davidson wrote this 'Most Secret' memorandum: 'Mrs S. is very close to Hoech [Dr Leopold Gustav von Hoesch, the German Ambassador] and has, if she likes to read them, access to all Secret and Cabinet Papers.' In 1940, as a result of MI5 operations, quite a few Conservatives, including a Member of Parliament, were detained under the 18B regulations as posing a possible threat to the security of the nation. One cannot help suspecting that Herbert Morrison, as Home Secretary, made some political capital out of all this, but certainly in this period MI5 sought for left-wing allies and informants as much as those of the Right. Indeed, if at any time MI5 had a slight left-wing bias it was Probably between 1938 and 1945 when Guy Liddell was director of 'B' Division and his friend, Anthony Blunt, served under him.
It is important to get these earlier situations in MI5 into perspective before referring to present-day allegations. Some !night say that Davidson was trying to smear' both his king and Mrs Simpson, just as others (not only Peter Wright) have suggested MI5 was out to 'smear' and `destabilise' Wilson. Yet in each case all MI5 was trying to do was to get at the truth. As a nation we ought to be grateful that there is in our midst an organisation which is sufficiently dedicated to protecting our way of life that it will risk the ignominy of prying into Buckingham Palace (when necessary), or No 10 Downing Street, if there are suspicions that such characters as Rudi Sternberg (Lord Plurenden) and Lord Kagan are regular visitors. The late Lord Wigg, who was for some years Wilson's prototype of Davidson, was much concerned about all this. Almost reluctant- ly and certainly sadly he told me: 'I could never get Harold on his own to warn him as to the background of some of these peo- ple.'
But there were other and more impor- tant reasons why MI5 should have been keeping a watch not only on No 10, but on various Labour ministers and MPs at that time. These reasons are precisely documented in the reports of hearings of the sub-committees of the United States Senate investigating communist bloc activi- ties between 1965 and 1976. These reports include detailed cross-examination of de- fectors from the Soviet bloc and various Britons are named. Yet if one quoted from these reports in total detail in the United Kingdom one would be liable for actions for libel. But the testimony given should have been enough to justify close monitor- ing of some government circles by MI5.
To cite just a few examples of such testimony: on 12 April 1976, Mr Frnatisek August, a defector from the Czech intelli- gence service, told a Senate committee that `there were several members of the British Parliament recruited' by Czech Intelli- gence. A year before, on 18 November 1975, — another Czech defector, Josef Frolik, had told another Senate committee that: because of their significance, constituting a danger to the security of the United States and the Nato states, I briefly mention the following: . . . . a Member of the British House of Commons, former minister of the British Government . . ., Agent L, a Mem- ber of the House of Commons, provided information on the leadership of the Labour Party and on military matters . . . Agent Kmen, an employee of the British Treasury . . .1 know that the Russians can work with the Communist Party of Great Britain be- cause there are quite a few agents in high positions who are secret Communists, not open Communists, and working in the Labour Party and the Union movement.
While anyone in the USA could learn about such Soviet bloc activities in the United Kingdom, nobody in Britain could do so, as some names could not, and still cannot be given, owing to the laws of libel. But is it surprising that MI5 kept a close watch on British government circles at this time? Indeed, even if the information proved to be wrong, something would have been seriously wrong if they had not followed it up.
As to the allegation of the bugging of friendly foreign embassies as well as hostile ones by MI5, there will always be the need to watch out for the traitor inside even the embassy of an ally, as was proved in the Tyler Kent case in the second world war, incidentally another brilliant success for MI5 using agents to infiltrate extreme right-wing circles. When the US ambassa- dor was presented with proof of his code- clerk's activities, including passing on to the Germans hundreds of confidential sig- nals, he immediately agreed to waive Kent's diplomatic immunity. Then there was the MI5 interest in the Cliveden House affair which led to the resignation of the War Minister, John Profumo, and ulti- mately, if indirectly, to the downfall of the Macmillan government. As to whether `Why don't we have black sections, Sir?' Stephen Ward, the osteopath and chief pimp of the Cliveden set, was made a scapegoat by members of the Establish- ment to cover up les liaisons dangereuses, this is surely irrelevant compared to the trapping of the Soviet intelligence officer, Captain Yevgeny Ivanov. At least whatev- er damage had been done was rectified.
Despite the fact that today's society is supposed to be so much more tolerant and permissive than ever before, in many curious respects hypocrisy and bogus moral outrage are more rampant than ever be- fore. It is interesting to note that one of the most successful spies in history was a transvestite, the Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont, who went to St Petersburg as a spy for the French disguised at Mlle Lia de Beaumont and dazzled the court of the Czarina. For several years Gladstone, dur- ing his various prime ministries, could go out on to the streets, rescue whores, take them back to No 10 and arrange for Mrs Gladstone to give them supper. Imagine the howl that would go up if either of these ploys was used today: a parliamentary demand to sack the head of MI6 for employing a transvestite and the instant resignation of the Premier.
Could more parliamentary committee investigation help in keeping MI5 and MI6 under a tighter control without impairing the efficiency of either service? It is very doubtful. While US Senate and Congres- sional committees investigating security matters have proved their worth to a large extent, often to the benefit of other na- tions, one has the feeling that British parliamentary committees have much to learn. So often such committees have found themselves bogged down by mem- bers eternally trying to score party political and personal points rather than giving objective service to the nation. If, howev- er, all political parties in Britain could for once consider the good of the nation rather than the benefit of party, a Freedom of Information Act and a revision of the Offical Secrets Act could help. This would at least stop the prolonged nonsense of obsessive secrecy — for example, the withholding of the papers concerning Rudolf Hess's flight to Britain long after the 30 years' embargo has ended.
Such legislation could also show just what extent the Soviet Union had infil- trated the security and intelligence services between the 1920s and the early 1950s, while, one hopes, not only assuring us that this had finally been checked, but also that some of those alleged to have been Soviet agents in more recent times were totally innocent.
Richard Deacon is the author of The Truth Twisters: Disinformation; recently published by Macdonald. He is also author of histories of the British, Russian, Chinese, Israeli and Japanese secret services.
Christopher Fades will resume his col- umn next week.