Spies on the inside. Banned book tells of British intelligence `dirty tricks'
Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, by Peter Wright. New York: Viking Penguin. 392 pp. $19.95. CAN the Western democracies, committed to open governance and the citizen's right to know, learn to rein in their intelligence services, whose watchwords are secrecy, aggressiveness, and unaccountability?Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The answer thus far is no. Consider the revelations about the abuses of power that have characterized the frequent CIA scandals, from the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to the Iran-contra operation.
Consider also the uproar in Britain caused by the Thatcher government's injunction against Peter Wright's ``Spycatcher.'' The book contains a three-page bombshell: the accusation that fully 30 of his fellow MI5 (domestic counterintelligence) officers were plotting in 1974 to topple Harold Wilson's Labour government by leaking allegations to the Conservatives regarding Mr. Wilson's - purported - pro-communist sympathies and associates.
This charge against MI5 is not new: Wilson, having resigned, made it openly in 1977. Nor is intelligence manipulation of elections entirely new: The Conservative landslide in 1924 owed much to a Red-baiting intelligence leak to the press of the so-called ``Zinoviev letter'' from Moscow. Wright, however, is attacking from the inside and the far right, while offering leads regarding ``the Gang of Thirty'' that British journalists are now pursuing. Mrs. Thatcher blocked press publication of excerpts from ``Spycatcher'' until she won the general election: A dozen lawsuits and countersuits were filed. While the book is being peddled in London unofficially, the House of Lords moved last week against the British Court of Appeal, which had lifted the injunction, and major newspapers are still forbidden to report on the book in any detail.
By asserting that an MI5 cabal intended to subvert the political process, Wright is mocking at ``fair play'' and ``the gentlemanly consensus'' of British life. Forget the myths, he insists: Hardball is MI5's favorite sport. Witness the important details he adds to our scanty knowledge of British plots to assassinate Nasser during the 1956 Suez crisis. And witness MI5's readiness in early 1959 to hunt down and kill Colonel Grivas, the greek Cypriot guerrilla leader. Though Wright suggests that MI5 quit the assassination business after 1960, the charges against it in Northern Ireland now cannot be ignored.
Abuse of power, that supremely American theme that excites attention and sales, is marginal, however, to ``Spycatcher.'' Wright's heart is in the Great Mole Hunt. The search for Soviet spies in British intelligence has boiled and simmered since Burgess and Maclean - forewarned - fled to Moscow in 1951.
The defection of Kim Philby in 1963, the uncovering of Anthony Blunt in 1964, various intelligence failures of that decade, all shocked many MI5 officers, Peter Wright very much included. There was jeering from the CIA and the FBI, which the British for so long had patronized. Wright and his dissident friends began their hunt, questioning hundreds of people over the years, and concluding that Roger Hollis, the director of MI5 from 1956 to 1965, was a Soviet spy, the much-celebrated ``fifth man,'' who had helped bring British intelligence - perhaps Britain itself - to its sorry state.