The British government is trying once again to ban publication of a book about the intelligence services, stirring more controversy about freedom of the press in Britain. The government obtained a court injunction last weekend against the Sunday Times and the Observer newspapers, preventing publication of material from a book on British intelligence activities occurring more than 35 years ago. The book, ``Inside Intelligence,'' is the memoirs of Anthony Cavendish, who worked for the British intelligence agency, MI6, between 1948 and 1953.
The memoirs reportedly do not contain the broadly damaging allegations of misdeeds in the security services found in Peter Wright's ``Spycatcher,'' which also has been banned. But Mr. Cavendish has had difficulty getting the book published and last month sent out several hundred privately printed copies to friends in Parliament and government agencies.
The Sunday Times reported on the Cavendish ``Christmas card,'' and government officials have since tried to block publication of excerpts in the national press.
A London court has granted the government a temporary injunction, although it allowed the republication of material already published in the press, except for one disclosure which the Sunday Times said it was not allowed to identify.
Acting editor of the Sunday Times, Brian MacArthur, said, ``The maintenance of press freedom in this area of public life [national security] requires constant vigilance and now seems constantly under threat.''
In the book, Cavendish describes how he was trained to undertake clandestine operations and how MI6 sent agents overseas undercover as journalists, sometimes with the cooperation of newspaper owners, including the former owner of the the Sunday Times, the late Lord Kemsley. He also described Britain's attempts in the early 1950s to destablize the Soviet Union by sending boatloads of men armed with weapons and explosives into the country.
Cavendish has said his main purpose in writing the book was to clear the name of his friend, the late Sir Maurice Oldfield, an ex-director of MI6 and a former security chief for Northern Ireland. According to the book, Mr. Oldfield was subjected to a smear campaign by a rival agency, MI5, involving accusations that he had homosexual liaisons during his tenure in high governmental positions.
A former deputy director of MI6, George Kennedy Young, said Cavendish should be prosecuted if he broke the Official Secrets Act. ``But he hasn't, and the government should not abuse injunctions in their attempts to censor information which is 30 years old,'' Mr. Young told the Sunday Times.
Cavendish said he never took an oath requiring a lifelong duty of confidentiality to the Crown, a practice which did not begin until the 1960s after the defection of spy Kim Philby to the Soviet Union.
Parliament expects to debate the Official Secrets Act again this week. The government is appealing an earlier court ruling which denied a permanent ban on the publication of allegations made in ``Spycatcher.'' A hearing for its appeal has been set for Jan. 18.