Thursday, January 7, 2010

Spooks and Suspicions

Christopher Andrews recently published an 'authorised history' of MI5. I rather thought, in my naive and trusting way, that this might be a good thing. After all, when I was young, the British Government did not admit that MI5 and MI6 existed, still less that their functions included spying on British people who supported Trades Unions, political reform and/or the Labour Party.

At least now we know we have secret policemen and something about what they do to us and pretend to do for us. And from Peter Wright's celebrated book 'Spy Catcher', we also know that MI5 officers sometimes used to be lawless, corrupt and devotedly fascistic and that the Government (attempting to conceal these truths) would not hesitate to be 'economical with the actualite' as a very senior Civil Servant admitted, under cross examination, in an Australian court.

So far so good - an official and authorised history of a body like MI5 could only throw a little light on secret matters, however discreetly the book was constructed, however many documents in MI5's files had been 'redacted', (the bureacrats' word for concealed, censored, suppressed.)

In a long letter to the London Review of Books, (3rd. December, 2009), Mr. A. W. Brian Simpson writes about Mr. Andrews' book.

Mr. Simpson has written about the detention of aliens and citizens in time of war, both during the First World War and during the Second. These topics are almost wholly omitted from Mr. Andrews' book, although it is known that MI5 was the prime mover in making arbitrary imprisonment normal in Britain.

Some 30,000 aliens and 1,700 citizens were detained without trial in the early years of the Second World War and many remained in prison throughout hostilities. This was almost certainly a pointless exercise in messing up people's lives. "Only one of the aliens, Klaus Fuchs, later - after release - became a spy."

MI5 also contributed to government policy and has successfully influenced successive governments in favour of trials in camera and other impositions on British subjects. "There is not a mention (of this) in the official history."

"Since MI5 was invented, there is no doubt that there has been a steady erosion of civil liberties in Britain, much of it in the name of security ... MI5's input into the evolving policy remains concealed."

MI5 came into being before the First World War so it has exercised influence in Britain throughout the Twentieth Century. It is appalling that the official, authorised history, should not describe at least some of the policies and policy initiatives which it has espoused in the last hundred years.

NB: 'Redacted' is a word I had never heard until five or six years ago and is, I think, a fine example of what George Orwell imagined and categorised as 'NewSpeak'.

'Suppressed' or 'censored' are so much more precise - the advantage of using the word 'redacted' is that very few people understand what it means.

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