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<nettime> Adam Curtis: BUGGER



   Thursday 8 August 2013, 17:31

     Adam Curtis

   The recent revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden were
   fascinating. But they -- and all the reactions to them -- had one
   enormous assumption at their heart.

   That the spies know what they are doing.

   It is a belief that has been central to much of the journalism about
   spying and spies over the past fifty years. That the anonymous figures
   in the intelligence world have a dark omniscience. That they know
   what's going on in ways that we don't.

   It doesn't matter whether you hate the spies and believe they are
   corroding democracy, or if you think they are the noble guardians of
   the state. In both cases the assumption is that the secret agents know
   more than we do.

   But the strange fact is that often when you look into the history of
   spies what you discover is something very different.

   It is not the story of men and women who have a better and deeper
   understanding of the world than we do. In fact in many cases it is the
   story of weirdos who have created a completely mad version of the world
   that they then impose on the rest of us.

   I want to tell some stories about MI5 -- and the very strange people who
   worked there. They are often funny, sometimes rather sad -- but always
   very odd.

   The stories also show how elites in Britain have used the aura of
   secret knowledge as a way of maintaining their power. But as their
   power waned the "secrets" became weirder and weirder.

   They were helped in this by another group who also felt their power was
   waning -- journalists. And together the journalists and spies concocted
   a strange, dark world of treachery and deceit which bore very little
   relationship to what was really going on. And still doesn't.

          [image: Secret Squirrel]


   In January 1991, as the Gulf War began, MI5 became convinced they had
   discovered a secret Iraqi terror organisation based in Britain.

   They had found a list of thirty three Iraqis who were studying for PhDs
   in London. The list had been sent by the Iraq embassy in London to the
   Bank of England to ask the Bank not to freeze the grants the students
   lived on. The Bank sent the list to MI5 and the agents quickly realised
   that actually they were looking at something far worse -- a nationwide
   Iraqi military terror cell.

   The reason they knew this was because the person who sent the list was
   the deputy military attache at the embassy.

   Immediately the police were told to swoop on the 33 "students" -- and
   they were taken to a disused military camp at Rollestone in the middle
   of Salisbury plain and interned as prisoners of war. They were
   surrounded by two levels of high security razor wire and guarded by a
   hundred heavily armed soldiers.

   It was the first time anyone had been held like this in Britain since
   the Second World War.


   In fact the letter showed nothing of the kind. The Iraqi military
   attache was also in charge of administering student grants for Iraqis
   studying in Britain.

   Some of them did get funding from the Iraqi military -- for studying
   things like the structure of polymers. But, as a British professor
   pointed out, if that same interpretation were applied to British
   science students, over half of them would be immediately re-classified
   as terrorists.

   Here is part of a programme made later that year about the absurdity of
   what happened. It shows how neither the detainees or their lawyers were
   even allowed to know what the evidence was that had led to them being

   The man who defends MI5 with such fervor will turn up later in this
   story -- playing a very odd role. he is called Nigel West -- but his real
   name is Rupert Allason.

   I've added on the news reports of the same Iraqis suddenly being
   released from the heavily fortified camp. But now everyone is referring
   to them as "students".


   An inquiry was held later that year into the scandal. It asked MI5 to
   produce its evidence. Other than the letter, the secret agents came up
   with nothing.

   They had imagined the whole thing. But they justified it by saying

   "It was best to err on the side of caution".



   William Le Queux was a popular novelist in the early part of the
   twentieth century. He was half French, half British and he wrote books
   with wonderful titles like Strange Tales of a Nihilist.

          [image: Strange Tales of a Nihilist]

   Le Queux had started off as a journalist on the Daily Mail -- but then
   had travelled around Europe getting to know lots of famous and infamous
   people. But as he did so he became convinced that many of the European
   countries, but most of all Germany, envied Britain and wanted to get
   their hands on the wealth of the Empire.

   The trouble was that the British people didn't realise this. So Le
   Queux set out to warn them -- above all by telling them that the Germans
   were sending spies to Britain to prepare for an invasion.

          [image: Le Queux book covers]

   But the ruling classes in Britain laughed at Le Queux. They said it was
   just fiction -- which it was. Plus he wasn't really British and he
   hadn't been to a proper school, he was far too vulgar and insistent in
   his patriotism. In short he was a bore.

   So Le Queux did what anyone in their right mind would do in such a
   situation. He turned to the Daily Mail.

   He wrote a gripping account of a future German invasion of Britain and
   took it to Lord Northcliffe who ran the Mail. It was called "The
   Invasion of 1910" and it described how the Germans landed in East
   Anglia and marched on London.

   Northcliffe loved it -- but the Mail's circulation department said that
   many of the towns on Le Queux's invasion route didn't have many actual
   or potential Daily Mail readers in them.

   So Lord Northcliffe changed the route of the invasion to make sure that
   all the towns that were sacked and pillaged had lots of Daily Mail
   readers. Here is the map of the invasion as agreed with the circulation
     [image: Le Quex map]

   The serialisation was an enormous success. The prime minister got up in
   the House of Commons and said Le Queux was "a pernicious scaremonger"
   and that the story was "calculated to alarm the more ignorant public
   opinion at home."


   Then things started getting out of control. Thousands of Daily Mail
   readers sent Le Queux letters telling him that they had spotted people
   acting suspiciously -- which meant they must be German spies.

   The letters were mirror images of what Le Queux had written in his
   books. But rather than making him suspicious, Le Queux decided that
   this proved that what he had written as fiction must actually be true.
   There was a gigantic German spy ring in Britain.

   Thousands of Daily Mail readers couldn't be wrong.

   The man whose job it was to uncover spies in Britain was very excited
   by all this. he was called Colonel Edmonds. He had a tiny budget and
   two assistants -- and noone on the General Staff bothered with him.

   But now Col. Edmonds saw his chance. He teamed up with Le Queux and
   together they bombarded the Committee for Imperial Defence with the
   evidence from the Daily Mail readers. Edmonds said that the government
   should set up a "secret service bureau" to combat the threat.

   The head of the Committee -- Lord Haldane -- said this was ridiculous.
   But even he couldn't stand against the wave of spy fever that was
   sweeping the country. He gave in -- and MI5 was set up -- created in
   large part by the dreams of a socially excluded novelist, and the
   paranoid imaginings of the readers of the Daily Mail.

     [image: Le Quex title page, Spies of the Kaiser]

   But the problem for MI5 was that the spy network didn't exist. The
   Germans did have some agents in Britain -- but nothing like the 5000
   that Le Queux had described.

   When war against Germany was declared in 1914 -- MI5 immediately rounded
   up 21 alleged German spies and proudly announced they had broken the
   network. But a brilliant piece of historical research by the historian
   Nicholas Hiley has shown that this wasn't true.

   Hiley doesn't mince his words. Here are his conclusions (Kell and Holt
   Wilson were the director and deputy directors):

   "One of the most famous successes of the British Security Service was
   its great spy round-up of August 1914. The event is still celebrated by
   MI5, but a careful study of the recently-opened records show it to be a
   complete fabrication -- MI5 created and perpetuated this remarkable lie.

   The great spy round-up of August 1914 never took place -- as it was a
   complete fabrication designed to protect MO5(G) from the interference
   of politicians or bureaucrats.

   The claim made next day that all but one had been arrested was false,
   and its constant repetition by Kell and Holt-Wilson was a lie."

   In other words -- MI5 had followed the shining example of William Le
   Queux and made it all up.

   But that didn't matter -- because it made a great story, and journalists
   loved it. Even in 1997 the BBC made a breathless documentary -- using
   the recently released files -- about how in 1914 MI5 had brilliantly
   rounded up the Kaiser's spy network on the eve of the first world war.

   Aside from perpetuating a fiction, the film has two great moments -- one
   is an interview with the grandson of the deputy head of MI5 who has an
   immortal line about his grandfather -- "of course he was very private
   about MI5 -- so the family knew nothing".

   And the end the programme has some wonderful stills of the party MI5
   held to celebrate the end of the war -- it's on their rooftop. Their
   faces are great.


   After the first world war MI5 declined in importance. But with the
   growing fears of communism in the 1920s and 30s a new threat emerged -
   not just communist agents from abroad, but British communists who might
   betray their own country.

   In many cases they came from the same upper classes as those running
   the secret services. And a strange dance began -- of toffs suspecting

   But even then MI5 couldn't get it right.

   Take the case of Cecil Day Lewis -- who was Daniel Day Lewis' father.
   Back in the 1930s he was a teacher at Cheltenham College -- one of the
   great Victorian public schools.

   But, despite his job, Cecil was convinced that he was really a
   revolutionary. And in 1933 he decided to foment revolutionary action in
   Britain -- by writing a poem. It was an epic he called "The Magnetic
   Mountain". He said his aim was to create

   "A violently revolutionary poem with abundant images (for example) of a
   barren, cancerous land led by 'getters not begetters', demanding 'It is
   now or never, the hour of the knife/ The break with the past, the major

   Here is Cecil Day-Lewis looking both poetic and radical -- alongside
   some of the poem -- (you can see where Daniel Day Lewis gets it all

          [image: Cecil Day Lewis with poem]

   But Day-Lewis was disappointed by the lack of reaction. He admitted
   that the poem "did not create the slightest ripple of outrage amongst
   the guardians of Cheltenham."

   Even though the communist magazine -- the Partisan Review -- had said
   that it was "perhaps the most important revolutionary poem as yet
   written by an Englishman".

   And then MI5 noticed Cecil Day-Lewis. Not because of the poem -- but
   because he had sent £5 as a donation to the headquarters of the
   Communist Party in London. So MI5 decided to put Day-Lewis under
   intense surveillance.

   The historian James Smith has written a wonderful book about how MI5
   spent a lot of time covertly watching many upper class British writers
   between 1930 and 1960. It is a great book because what it records is a
   strange and confused dance of manners among different parts of the
   British elite.

   Smith describes how MI5 got the local police to spend weeks watching
   Day-Lewis' house and intercepting his post. But they found nothing
   suspicious. Their report said that:

   "Day-Lewis seldom wears a hat, and is not altogether of smart
   appearance in dress. He is a good singer. He has moved into his cottage
   after having considerable structural improvements done there."

   MI5 were completely incompetent. They didn't discover the poem that
   Day-Lewis hoped would help to bring about a communist uprising in

   And not only did they miss the poem -- they didn't even realise he was a
   poet. All in all MI5 found nothing dangerous or revolutionary about
   Cecil Day-Lewis. It was humiliating.

   But they might have been right. James Smith describes how a few years
   later in 1940 Cecil Day Lewis was getting his mistress Rosamund Lehmann
   to pull strings in the British establishment so he could avoid getting
   called up to go and fight the fascists.

          [image: MI5 vol 1 secret]

   But in 1940 MI5 had its greatest success. It not only found a real
   German spy network in Britain -- but managed to persuade many of the
   German agents to switch sides.

   It was called the Double-Cross system -- and it is celebrated in
   histories of MI5 as a brilliant use of espionage. The German agents
   carried on spying for their masters in Berlin -- sending back detailed
   reports. But the information was all fake, designed to mislead and
   confuse the Nazis.

   But something else happened to all the intelligence agencies during the
   war -- MI6 as well as MI5. As they grew massively in size they became
   riddled with factions and infighting. And because all this happened
   behind a wall of secrecy, there was little to stop things becoming
   vicious and poisonous.

   The journalist Phillip Knightley has written a really good history of
   spies -- called The Second Oldest Profession. In it he quotes an agent
   describing what happened during the war years:

   "The whole organisation was riddled with nepotism -- dim, dreary people
   of utter unmemorability; sub-men who were doubled up with other sub-men
   to create an illusion of strength and only doubled the weakness; others
   made memorable only by poisonous, corrupt malevolence or crass, mulish
   stupidity; the whole run by a chain of command remarkable for its
   feebleness. The entire service was decrepit and incompetent."

   At the end of the war the new Labour government knew that something had
   to be done to sort out MI5. So they went and found Percy Sillitoe -- who
   was running a sweet shop in Eastbourne

     [image: Sillitoe]

   Sillitoe had retired after being Chief Constable of Glasgow -- where he
   had become famous as the only policeman brave enough to take on the
   "Razor Gangs" in the eastern part of the city.

   The gangs had names like The Bingo Boys and The Baltic Fleet -- and they
   terrorised Glasgow as they fought each other with hatchets, swords,
   open razors -- and razor blades stitched into the brims of their hats.

   You can get a sense of Sillitoe from this short film where he shows the
   BBC a new kind of armoured car he has invented to stop criminals
   holding up vans carrying cash. He invented the security van.

   I very much like how he says he is "concerned for the little man".

   I've also added an odd bit from a BBC film about graphology where the
   expert -- a "psycho-graphologist" -- analyses Percy Sillitoe's signature,
   and compares it to J Edgar Hoover's signature. Hoover was Sillitoe's
   American counterpart.


   The government asked Sillitoe to come and sort out the chaos in MI5 -
   and he agreed. But he quickly found that it was a very odd place -- all
   the insiders hated him, and they ridiculed him by speaking in Latin
   (which he didn't understand) in front of him. Plus they deliberately
   gave him the wrong papers when he went to see the Prime Minister.

   Sillitoe came back and told his wife -- "I sometimes think I am working
   in a madhouse." But he realised that he was dealing with very much the
   same situation that he had found in the slums of Glasgow -- different
   factions locked together in a strange, poisonous bubble.

   Here is a section of a very good film, made much later, about the
   successors to the razor gangs of Glasgow -- the gangs that Sillitoe had
   tried to suppress in the 1930s. And you can see the similarity to the
   world of the spies -- as one of the gang members puts it, "it's two ends
   of the same street at war with each other".

   I also love the pigeon-fancier who shows off the most high-security
   pigeon loft you have ever seen. He then reveals that he doesn't breed
   the pigeons for racing. Their job is to go and kidnap the pigeons from
   the other gangs.


   But before Sillitoe could do anything, it all went terribly wrong.
   Suddenly traitor after traitor was revealed in the very heart of the
   British establishment. It wasn't just pretentious radical poets who
   were a threat -- it was spies, diplomats and nuclear scientists within
   the system itself who had been giving away secrets to the Russians.

   There was a high-flying diplomat called Donald McLean, a nuclear
   scientist at the heart of Britain's atomic bomb project called Klaus
   Fuchs, plus two of MI6's top agents -- Guy Burgess and Kim Philby.

   One of MI5's main jobs was to find traitors -- but the awful truth was
   that it had failed to spot any of them.

   Percy Sillitoe was booted out. But things got even worse. In 1964 MI5
   were told that one of their own men had been a spy for the Russians. He
   was called Sir Anthony Blunt -- and not only had he been high-up in MI5
   -- but he had gone on to work in Buckingham Palace looking after the
   Queen's art collection. And even worse than that he was the Queen
   Mother's cousin.

          [image: Anthony Blunt]

   MI5 interrogated Sir Anthony and he calmly said that it was all true -
   he had been a traitor. MI5 was so embarrassed that they kept it all
   quiet, gave Blunt immunity from prosecution, and he carried on working
   at Buckingham Palace.

   The Daily Mail later said that the Royal Family had known all along
   anyway. That as far back as 1948 Sir Alan Lascelles -- the most senior
   aide to the Royal family -- had whispered "that's our Russian spy" to
   someone else as they passed Blunt in the palace.

   But that could have been a misinterpretation. Blunt had shocked the
   Queen Mother by telling her that he was an atheist -- and she had
   immediately assumed that meant he must be a communist.

   Clever Queen Mother -- wrong but right.

   Blunt had also become a bit of a TV star. Starting in the early 60s the
   BBC went to him regularly to take the viewers on a tour of the
   treasures of Buckingham Palace -- a sort of early Fiona Bruce.

   Here is part of one programme from 1962 -- two years before he was
   exposed as a traitor. Followed by a bit of another programme from 1972
   -- when a self-confessed KGB agent takes the viewers round Buckingham
   palace. Spot the difference.

   And at the end there is footage from 1979 -- when Blunt was exposed as a
   traitor. It's from some rushes I found in the library. The press
   chasing Sir Anthony are straight out of a British movie. And I love the
   interviewer's obsession that it was Blunt's "homosexual leanings" that
   made him betray his country.

   Blunt, though, doesn't bat an eyelid. It's as though he is still
   talking about some painting.


   Then, in 1971, MI5 got another big shock to the system. Most of their
   opponents -- Russian secret agents in Britain -- were kicked out, leaving
   MI5 with little to do. The irony was that it happened as a result of
   one of their few successes.

   In August 1971 an ordinary London policeman arrested a man who was
   driving drunkenly down Tottenham Court Road. He turned out to be Oleg
   Lyalin who was a KGB agent. Lyalin spent a lot of his time buying socks
   in the West Midlands -- pretending to be a member of the Soviet Trade
   delegation. But really he was spying.

   Lyalin panicked and offered to tell MI5 the names of all the Russian
   spies in Britain. In return he wanted to stay and live in Britain with
   his mistress. MI5 agreed -- and the Home Secretary expelled 105 other
   members of the trade delegation, because Lyalin said they were spies.

   Here are the reports -- plus a "News Special" which is an early example
   of the way TV journalism would report the hidden world of spying. It's
   got an anonymous British "research scientist" called "Jim Walker" who
   got caught up in all this -- and has some great MI5 surveillance footage
   of Jim and his controller Viktor leaving information at a "dead letter

   Plus a very good telephone non-interview with the British Ambassador in


   But the problem for MI5 is that the expulsions pretty much destroyed
   the KGB presence in Britain.

   The historian Stephen Dorril who has written a series of brilliant
   detailed histories of the intelligence agencies says that a later KGB
   defector called Oleg Gordievsky admitted that "the London residency
   never recovered from the expulsions".

   Dorril also says that the British government and its civil servants
   were well aware of this, and they became deeply suspicious of claims
   from MI5 and it's K Branch -- whose job was to monitor foreign agents -
   that there was still a big Soviet threat in Britain:

   "Senior civil servants dealing with the intelligence community were
   therefore aware that K Branch claims about the penetration of British
   political life and the threat to security from Soviet bloc operations
   were generally exaggerated."

   The brutal fact was that by the early 1970s MI5 not only had very
   little to do -- but also it's political masters were beginning to
   question whether it might be seriously incompetent.

   Edward Heath -- who had been Prime Minister when all this was happening
   -- later got up in the House of Commons and said bluntly what he had
   discovered about MI5 officers:

   "They talked the most ridiculous nonsense, and their whole philosophy
   was ridiculous nonsense.

   If some of them were on the tube and saw someone reading the Daily
   Mirror they would say -- 'Get after him, that man is dangerous, we must
   find out where he bought it.' "

   But those in charge in Britain also realised that there was nothing
   they could do to question or control the spies. The next prime minister
   in the 1970s -- Harold Wilson -- wrote a very serious book called The
   Governance of Britain full of long serious chapters.

   But when he got to chapter nine -- about


   This is what it looked like.

     [image: Wilson chapter]

   There are two paragraphs explaining that the prime minister has
   ultimate responsibility for the security agencies. And it ends with two
   more that simply say this:

   "The prime minister is occasionally questioned on matters arising out
   of his responsibility. His answers may be regarded as uniformly

   There is no further information that can usefully or properly be added
   before bringing this Chapter to an end."

   In response to these kind of doubts and attacks MI5 turned inwards.

   The problem for the MI5 men -- stuck in their secret bubble -- was that
   they just couldn't believe that their failure was due to them being
   useless at their job. Not only had they failed to find any of the
   traitors, but operation after operation had ended in failure. And they
   convinced themselves that this meant there had to have been another
   traitor lurking somewhere in their building -- the MI5 HQ in Mayfair.

   They began a mad search for enemies inside the organisation itself -
   seeking to find more hidden traitors who could be used to explain why
   MI5 kept failing to do its job properly.

   It was the search for "Fifth Man" -- to go with the other four already
   exposed, Burgess, McLean, Philby and Blunt

          [image: MI5 building]

   A small group of MI5 men went to their boss and said they wanted to
   investigate all the past failures looking for evidence of treachery.
   Their boss was called Sir Roger Hollis -- and he said no. His argument
   was that operations often went wrong because of simple human failure,
   and to re-examine them on the basis that failure was evidence of
   treachery would tear the agency apart.

   Imagine what it would feel like he said to know you are being watched
   because a past operation you were involved with had gone wrong. "It's
   like the Gestapo" he said.

   So the small group of Mi5 agents decided he must be the traitor.

   Here is a picture of Roger Hollis.

          [image: Hollis]

   The small group in MI5 now became convinced that their organisation was
   not just penetrated by the Russians, it was actually run by a Soviet
   agent. They knew they had to get the truth out somehow even if it meant
   breaking the law. So they found a friendly journalist called Chapman
   Pincher and told him the hidden truth.

          [image: Hollis papers]

   Here is Chapman Pincher being interviewed on the Wogan programme about
   what then happened. Up to this point Pincher had been the Defence
   correspondent on the Daily Express. He was successful for getting
   "scoops" from "inside sources" -- although the historian EP Thompson
   said that really Chapman Pincher was:

   "A kind of official urinal in which ministers and intelligence and
   defence chiefs could stand patiently leaking."

   What the dissident MI5 agents now told Pincher was like super
   high-grade piss. Or, as he puts it in the Wogan interview, "it was like
   walking into an Aladdin's Cave". But what Pincher wrote was going to
   open the floodgates to a new kind of conspiracy journalism that still
   holds sway over large parts of the media imagination.

   Have a look at him and decide yourself -- high grade toilet or
   investigative journalist? Or maybe often they are the same thing?

   I've also included Pincher being interviewed on the TV news reports as
   the scandal unfolded. Everyone tries to get in on the act. The BBC
   presenter quotes Kim Philby as saying that Hollis wasn't very good at
   his job. But the presenter says that this is "ambiguous" -- and might be
   proof that Hollis really was a Soviet agent.


   The leading MI5 dissident who was leaking the information to Pincher
   was called Peter Wright. He was one of the most senior members of MI5
   but he was also somewhat paranoid.

   To get a sense of Peter Wright and how he saw the world I have put
   together some bits of him being interviewed in the 1980s about another
   of his conspiracy theories. This was that the Prime Minister -- Harold
   Wilson -- had also been a Soviet agent.

   In Wright's mind much of the British establishment had been directly or
   indirectly taken over by the Soviet Union. He had no hard evidence for
   this -- but he was driven by an underlying mind-set that was going to
   spread throughout much of the intelligence agencies -- and journalism -
   over the next twenty years.

   This said that if you imagined the other side was doing something
   devilish and deceptive -- then they probably were. It meant that in the
   dark world of intelligence, imagination was more powerful than obvious
   facts. Because if you couldn't find the evidence it proved how clever
   the enemy had been at covering their tracks.

   It was a fevered romantic view of the world that would both entrance
   the readers of newspapers -- but would also lead the intelligence
   agencies into the disaster of the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
   in 2003

   Here is the grandaddy of that conviction -- Peter Wright. The person
   called Angleton he refers to was an even odder American equivalent of
   Wright who was high up in the CIA -- and who also was convinced Wilson
   was a Soviet agent.

   The tone of Wright's plaintive child like statement about Angleton -
   "he believed it -- he did" tells you a great deal about the emotions
   driving these strange men in their spy-bubbles.


   But as in all organisations -- egos started to come into play. Other MI5
   agents started leaking other names to other journalists. Pincher's main
   rival was a writer called Nigel West.

   Nigel upped the stakes. He began to publish books and articles alleging
   that all sorts of other people had been traitors. Here he is on
   Nationwide in 1981 in full flow. He says that a man called Leo Long was
   a traitor, and then goes on to suggest that others -- including even the
   former Governor of Uganda, Sir Andrew Cohen -- might be traitors.

   It's worth looking closely at what Nigel West says about Sir Andrew
   Cohen -- because it shows how weird this paranoid outpouring from the
   secret world was becoming. When he was an undergraduate at Cambridge in
   the 1930s Cohen had been a member of an intellectual society called The
   Apostles. So had two of the spies -- Burgess and Blunt.

   The interviewer asks Nigel how he knows Sir Andrew might be a traitor.
   Nigel says:

   "I haven't named him (Sir Andrew) up to now because it's not known
   whether he was a Soviet agent. But I think it's worth saying that
   anybody, if you are talking about the Apostles, many of them were
   Soviet agents. And he would undoubtedly have been questioned since he
   rose to a very senior position in the Department of Overseas

   That's it. But Nigel does have a fabulous haircut.


   In the early to mid 80s more and more names poured out -- all accused of
   being KGB agents in the heart of the British establishment.

   One newspaper grouped them under headings


   There was one great apology

   "Our list of MI5 spy suspects included Cedric Belfrage who MI5 officers
   said had made a partial confession and we said was dead.

   We are glad to make it clear he is alive, never made any confession and
   maintains he should not have been on the MI5 list at all."

   And Mrs Thatcher also got involved. Because it seemed to prove to her
   the thing she had believed all along -- that the British establishment
   were weak, spineless and easily corruptible. She happily admitted in
   Parliament that Anthony Blunt had been a traitor. And here she is in
   1986 merrily joining in with the latest accusation -- that Lord
   Rothschild had been the 5th Man.

   It later turned out that he wasn't.


   It became farce. The journalists who had started the mole-hunt went to
   war. Nigel West wrote a whole book announcing that he had discovered
   that the 5th man wasn't really Hollis, but was actually Hollis' deputy.
   He was a man called Graham Mitchell who in his spare time was a grand
   master in correspondence chess.

   Apparently the dissidents in MI5 were convinced that the letters he
   sent his chess-friends were his way of contacting his Soviet
   controllers. The moves he typed out were actually secret codes that
   disguised his treachery.

   Here is one of Graham Mitchell's games that he played in 1950. You are
   looking at a complicated code, whether it was secret messages to the
   Russians has never been proved.

          [image: Graham Mitchell chess]

   Another writer then found a letter in an old government file that had
   been written by Roger Hollis in the 1940s saying that the Russians
   shouldn't be trusted. Some journalists said that this proved he wasn't
   a traitor. But others said that Hollis had put the letter there
   deliberately so it could be found and throw MI5 off the scent.

   Here are the TV reports -- both of the Graham Mitchell "revelation", and
   the Hollis letter. The leader of the pack -- Chapman Pincher -- still
   insists Hollis is the 5th man. Nigel West says he is innocent.

   But Nigel now has a very good late 80s haircut.


   Then another writer called W. J. West wrote a book saying that the 5th
   man was Hollis after all.

   W J West turns out to have been an ex-hippie whose early years were
   memorably captured in a semi-autobiographical novel by another
   ex-hippie -- called "Ten Men". She describes a road trip across America
   as she desperately but unsuccessfully tries to shag him.

   Here's his book about the Fifth Man.

          [image: West book]

   But then -- in the midst of all these weirdos -- a dissenting voice

   James Rusbridger had been a spy back in the 50s and 60s -- and he now
   wrote a book called The Intelligence Game arguing that all this was
   rubbish -- and that all the journalists had been conned by a crazy gang
   of right-wing nutters in MI5.

   Rusbridger said that the newspapers and TV were being used to promote
   the obsessive belief of MI5 officers that their failure to do anything
   worthwhile for a quarter of a century was the consequence of there
   being a Russian spy in MI5.

   They couldn't face the fact that they were completely useless and

   At last a voice of sanity.

   But unfortunately James Rusbridger was then found dead in his garden
   shed -- apparently the victim of an auto-erotic game that had gone
   wrong. He was naked apart from a rubber coat and a gas mask -- and his
   feet and legs were attached to the wall by a complicated system of

   Of course it might have been a fiendishly clever assassination.

   Or just another spy-world weirdo.

          [image: Rusbridger]

   But this crazed witch hunt didn't harm MI5 at all. Quite the opposite -
   because together the spies and the journalists created an image in the
   public imagination of a dark world full of hidden treachery. The spy
   world became a fascinating other universe that was full of layer upon
   layer of deception, where the men who inhabited it spent their time
   trying to penetrate through the circles of falsehood to the inner
   sanctum of truth.

   It was an image that was powerfully helped by John Le Carre's novels -
   and his anti-hero George Smiley. Le Carre's novels were a clever piece
   of PR -- because they appeared to be more gritty and realistic than the
   glamourised James Bond image.

   But it was just another layer of deception -- because Smiley and his
   search for a hidden mole expressed powerfully the paranoid and
   unfounded fantasies of the dissident MI5 agents.

   But it was a world that was all made-up. Le Carre -- who had himself
   been a spy -- admitted this, and described what the true reality of the
   spy world was:

   "For a while you wondered whether the fools were pretending to be fools
   as some kind of deception, or whether there was a real efficient
   service somewhere else.

   Later in my fiction, I invented one.

   But alas the reality was the mediocrity. Ex-colonial policemen mingling
   with failed academics, failed lawyers, failed missionaries and failed
   debutantes gave our canteen the amorphous quality of an Old School
   outing on the Orient express. Everyone seemed to smell of failure."

          [image: Smiley covers]

   But this new image couldn't conceal MI5's incompetence for long.

   Because at the very same time that everyone was talking excitedly about
   completely invented moles, MI5 missed the real moles at the heart of
   the intelligence services -- even though they were completely obvious,
   and almost screaming to be noticed.

   Michael Bettaney worked in counter-espionage in MI5. He had been
   recruited when he was at Oxford university -- where he had been an
   admirer of Adolf Hitler and had a habit of singing the Nazi Party
   anthem in local pubs.

   Here is Bettaney back then.

          [image: Bettaney]

   MI5 did a thorough check on him -- called positive vetting -- and decided
   he was fine. Perfect MI5 material. Bettaney was then sent off to
   Northern Ireland to fight terrorism where he was wounded by a car bomb.
   He then had a horrible experience. Hidden in a cupboard he had to watch
   in silence as one of his informants was shot through the kneecaps boy
   other terrorists.

   Here is Bettaney later -- after he had been working for MI5.

          [image: Bettaneyi 2]

   Bettaney came back to London a changed man. He decided that MI5 was
   both corrupt and incompetent. He started drinking heavily and told his
   colleagues loudly that he was no longer a fascist -- but he had become a

   So MI5 decided to promote him. He was positively vetted again -- found
   to be perfect MI5 material, and sent to the Russian desk.

   Bettaney became more and more unstable. In October 1982 he was
   convicted of being drunk and disorderly. The next week he was convicted
   for fare-dodging. Finally MI5 did begin to notice -- and two separate
   inquiries were set up to look into Bettaney's behaviour. But each was
   unaware of the other's existence.

   Neither of them noticed that he had been stealing a huge amount of MI5
   top secret documents and stashing them at his home. Bettaney was only
   caught when he took some of the best of these secrets and tried to
   stuff them into the letter box of the Second Secretary of the Russian
   Embassy -- Mr Gouk.

   This is a picture of Mr Gouk.

          [image: Gouk]

   Mr Gouk was so confused by this that, instead of passing them on to the
   KGB, he went round to MI5 and gave them back, and told them where they
   had come from. MI5 arrested Bettaney and he was put on trial.

   The man who was in charge of the vetting of government employees -- like
   Michael Bettaney -- was then allowed to vet the members of the jury at
   Bettaney's trial. Luckily this time he got it right -- and Bettaney was
   sent to prison on the Isle of Sheppey for 23 years.

   Here are some of the reports. Including Nigel West turning up yet again
   on Breakfast Time. Even Nigel is shocked by how MI5 didn't spot
   Bettaney. And he's having a bad hair day.


   The terrible truth that began to dawn in the 1980s was that MI5 -- whose
   job it was to catch spies that threatened Britain -- had never by its
   own devices caught a spy in its entire history.

   The case that really shocked Mrs Thatcher was the traitor Geoffrey
   Prime. In the 1970s he had worked at the top secret listening centre
   GCHQ and had been selling all it's secrets to the Russians.

          [image: Prime]

   And yet again it wasn't MI5 who uncovered his treachery -- it was the
   local police in Cheltenham.

   In 1982 a policeman came to his house enquiring about his car -- a
   rather distinct two-tone brown and white Mk IV Cortina -- a which had
   been seen in the vicinity of an assault on a young girl.

   Prime told the policeman that he had been at home all day. But that
   evening he and his wife Rhona went for a drive to the top of Cleeve
   Hill. As they sat in the twilight Prime told Rhona that he was the man
   the police were looking for. And not only that, he was also a Russian

   Here is part of a very powerful interview Rhona Prime gave to the BBC
   where she describes that day -- and what she then did.


   Prime was a paedophile -- and had used spying techniques to monitor the
   activities of thousands of young girls around Cheltenham. He had
   created a vast set of index cards which showed when the girls were most
   likely to be alone at home. He then went round to their houses in his
   two tone Cortina and sexually assaulted them.

   Despite this Prime had been positively vetted six times.

   Even the Russians got worried about his paedophile activities and
   seemed to want to dump him. In 1980 Prime had gone to Vienna to meet
   the KGB. Instead of meeting him secretly as they normally did, the
   Russians took him openly to the best restaurants where they knew
   Western intelligence agents would recognise them as KGB agents.

   But even then noone noticed them -- or Prime.

   Prime's wife Rhona wrestled with her conscience -- and in the end went
   to the police and told them everything about Prime. He was sent to jail
   for 35 years for spying and 3 years for the assaults on young girls -
   which says a lot about the priorities of the British establishment at
   that time.


   The cases of Bettaney and Prime revealed not only just how incompetent
   MI5 was -- but also how sad and seedy the secret world of spies really

   But even in the midst of all this treachery -- a surprising thing

   Rhona Prime decided to stand by her husband. Here is Rhona describing
   how her deep christian beliefs gave her the strength to stand by her
   husband. She is very calm and composed, and somehow her dignity makes
   you realise just how odd the whole spy thing was. A strange hysteria
   driven by totally inadequate men -- both agents and journalists -- who
   were incapable of dealing with real human emotions like love and

   Rhona talks about something else -- unconditional love. Receiving
   unconditional love, she says, makes us whole and beautiful people
   because we are totally accepted. The very opposite of treachery.


   At the same time, one of the original traitors -- Kim Philby -- died in
   the Soviet Union. The BBC cameraman Phil Goodwin has given me the
   unedited rushes recording Philby's funeral in Moscow. He found it in
   the back of a cupboard in the BBC's Moscow office.

   It's an amazing record of a weird communist state funeral -- held for an
   upper class Englishman in a Moscow graveyard in 1987. Standing all
   around are the faces of the Russian side of the spy world -- and it is
   great to look at their faces, peeking out for a moment from their
   traditional secrecy.

   Then Philby's coffin arrives accompanied by a military band and members
   of the KGB holding all Philby's Soviet medals on orange cushions. It's
   an extraordinary scene. But also watch the woman with red hair. She is
   Philby's widow -- Rufina -- who had lived with him and helped him through
   alcoholism and depression.

   Watch what Rufina does. It's really moving. Love and loyalty breaking
   through again into this narrow, nasty world.


   And even Michael Bettaney found love. Marion Johnstone, who was a
   research scientist and also a communist, wrote to him in prison in
   1985. She began to visit him -- and they became engaged.

   But in 1995 there was a security scare that reawakened all the spy
   journalists on papers like the Mail -- and made them huff and puff
   again. Marion was found to have taken some photos and made some
   drawings of the landscape on Sheppey around the prison and given them
   to Bettaney.

   The prison authorities confiscated them, and the journalists
   immediately said that this was part of an escape plan to spring the
   traitor from jail. Marion denied this -- she insisted that because
   Bettaney was kept in solitary confinement she just wanted to show him
   how beautiful the landscape was outside.

   And she is right. The landscape around Bettaney's prison, Swaleside, is
   extraordinary and beautiful. A little while ago I managed to get onto
   Deadman's Island which is nearby on the river Swale.

   It is a moody place because it is where prisoners from a long time ago
   -- the Napoleonic wars of the 1800s -- were buried. They had been held on
   the "hulks", floating prisons off the coast of Sheppey.

   What makes the island so strange is that it is covered by water every
   high tide -- and that washes away the mud and opens up the prisoners'
   graves. It means that the island is littered with human bones.

   The warden of Deadman's Island very kindly showed me round -- and here
   he is showing me the open graves and the bones of prisoners, other
   kinds of traitors, from a very different war of long ago.


   But what really did for all of the intelligence agencies at the end of
   the eighties is that none of them predicted the collapse of communism.

   Mrs Thatcher's advisor -- Charles Powell -- summed up the extraordinary

   "The biggest single failure of intelligence of that era was the failure
   of almost everybody to foresee the end of communism. it caught us
   completely on the hop. All that intelligence about their war-fighting
   capabilities was all very well, but it didn't tell us the one thing we
   needed to know -- that it was all about to collapse.

   It was a colossal failure of the whole Western system of intelligence
   assessment and political judgement."

   But the real reason that the intelligence agencies didn't predict the
   collapse of the Soviet system was because many of the people at the top
   of the agencies couldn't believe it was true.

   Sir Percy Cradock was one of the most powerful figure in the British
   establishment. He was the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee
   -- which co-ordinated the activities of MI5, MI6 and other intelligence
   groups. Even at the end of the eighties when everyone else was
   realising that the Soviet Union was collapsing, Sir Percy remained
   convinced that this was all a trick. That the Soviet Union was still
   aiming for communist domination of the world.

   Here is Sir Percy

          [image: Percy Cradock]

   Cradock -- along with a number of others high up in the intelligence
   agencies -- really believed that Gorbachev's reforms were just a cunning
   ruse to deceive the West. And -- as Mark Urban has pointed out in his
   book UK Eyes Alpha -- Sir Percy used his position to make sure that this
   view dominated the Joint Intelligence Committee.

   But as Urban also points out -- Sir Percy and his allies had no secret
   evidence for this. They relied on what was pompously called "analysing
   open source data". Otherwise known as reading the newspapers and
   watching TV. Except they interpreted that data in a mad way -- driven by
   their own fevered imaginings of a world completely possessed by
   infinite levels of deception

   Mrs Thatcher realised this was bonkers -- and she finally gave up on the

   And that really should have been that for MI5.

   Except ten years later it was saved by the War on Terror -- and since
   then MI5 has grown massively. But what no-one seems to know is whether
   MI5 has changed.

   For most of the twentieth century the combination of ineptitude and
   secrecy created an organisation that retreated more and more into a
   world of fictional conspiracies in order to disguise it's repeated
   failures. The question is whether the same is true today?

   Disasters like the total intelligence failure over the WMD in Iraq
   would suggest that nothing much had changed. But the trouble is there
   is no way we can ever find out. The spies live behind a wall of secrecy
   and when anyone tries to criticise them, the spies respond by saying
   that they have prevented attacks and saved us from terrible danger. But
   they can't show us the evidence because that is secret.

   It was recently revealed that back in the 1970s -- at the height of the
   obsession with traitors -- MI5 trained a specially bred group of Gerbils
   to detect spies. Gerbils have a very acute sense of smell and they were
   used in interrogations to tell whether the suspects were releasing
   adrenaline -- because that would show they were under stress and lying.

   Then they tried the Gerbils to see if they could detect terrorists who
   were about to carry a bomb onto a plane. But the gerbils got confused
   because they couldn't tell the difference between the terrorists and
   ordinary people who were frightened of flying who were also pumping out
   adrenaline in their sweat.

   So the gerbils failed as well.

   Perhaps MI5 shouldn't have given up so easily. Maybe what we need is a
   better class of gerbil to find out the truth? But maybe we have them
   already -- they're called journalists.

          [image: gerbil]

   But the saddest thing in this whole story is that Rhona Prime did not
   stay with her husband Geoffrey. In 1995 she met and fell in love with
   someone else.

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