A short commentary on the collapse of British security is overdue. This
column recently commented on two British intelligence officers who lost
These laptops were packed with secret, encoded data. An officer of MI6 got
drunk and lost his laptop (probably in a taxi) on March 3. The next day an
officer of MI5 had his laptop stolen from between his legs while buying a
ticket at a Paddington Tube station in West London. And now, incredibly, a
third sensitive British laptop has been stolen. As one distressed British
official asked, “Why don’t these people have their laptop chained to one
hand when they leave their office?”
The details of the latest bungle first appeared in Britain’s Sun
newspaper, which reported that a British army officer had his laptop stolen
at Heathrow Airport. The British high command acknowledged that the
incident was “incredibly embarrassing,” but they claim that the lost files
were not damaging to the country’s national security. Not surprisingly, a
similar claim was made after the London Guardian reported that plans
relating to British nuclear weapons were found lying on a sidewalk near the
Aldermaston nuclear weapons factory in Berkshire. A spokeswoman of the
British Defense Ministry said that “most” of the information found on the
was already public domain. This is another way of saying that “some” of the
information in the documents might have been sensitive.
The British, we know, have had a horrible security record in recent
decades. Their intelligence services suffered penetration by Russian agents
in the 1940s and ’50s. British intelligence officials employed by Moscow
included such high flyers as Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Sir
Anthony Blunt. Things could only go downhill from there. Even Prime
Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government could not come to grips with the
bungling of the services. This inability was in full view during the
“Spycatcher” scandal, which erupted in the mid-1980s. At that time, Peter
Wright, the former Assistant Director of MI5, went public with his memoirs.
Therein he related the dismal history of the British security services.
According to Wright the Russians were always running circles around British,
American and Canadian intelligence. The Cold War was a fiasco for the West,
in his view.
The Spycatcher scandal should have been a wakeup call, but it wasn’t.
The rottenness of Britain’s counterintelligence system reflected a more
general rottenness. The Thatcher government suppressed Wright’s book,
prohibiting its publication. In England, unlike in America, there is no
Bill of Rights guaranteeing freedom of the press. Despite intensive
lobbying by the Guardian, Times, Independent and Observer newspapers the
British establishment banned Wright’s memoirs from publication. To further
prevent word of Wright’s allegations from leaking out, the police raided
magazine and television offices. They hammered down the doors of
independent journalists. Television programs on the subject were banned.
The British establishment had a very important secret to keep. It was the
secret one keeps when no other secrets are left. It is the secret that says
you cannot keep a secret. Quite naturally, even this cannot be kept.
In addition to recounting the history of Russia’s Cold War dominance in the
espionage game, Peter Wright offered a reason for this dominance. He
suggested that Britain was penetrated by Russian agents — penetrated at the
very top. It was not a case of the moles that had already been exposed.
There were others, burrowed even more deeply in the system. Wright openly
declared that Sir Roger Hollis, the chief of MI5 in the 1960s, was a leading
suspect. Even more shocking, Wright made a case against former British
Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Wright said that before Wilson had become
Prime Minister “he worked for an East-West trading organization and paid
many visits to Russia.” But this was not the only evidence pointing to a
problem with Wilson. It seems that the previous leader of the British Labor
Party, Hugh Gaitskell, died prematurely of a strange disease. In fact,
Gaitskell’s physician went to MI5 and reported “that he was disturbed by the
manner of Gaitskell’s death.” It seems that Gaitskell had died of something
called lupus disseminata. As it turns out, this disease is extremely rare
There were three additional facts about Gaitskell’s death that made
Wright fear the worst.
First, Gaitskell told Wright that he was going to Russia a month before
his death. Second, seven years previously the Russians had developed a
chemical that could induce lupus in rats. Third, KGB defector Anatoliy
Golitsyn had independently informed MI5 that the KGB had been planning a
high-level assassination in Western Europe “in order to get their man into
the top place.”
Besides all of this, before Gaitskell’s death, the Russians had promoted
an expert on Britain, General Rodin, to head the KGB department responsible
for assassinations. For Peter Wright all of these red flags could not be
Of course, the sudden death of a Labor Party leader should not directly
implicate the fellow who consequently rises to the top. After all, Prime
Minister Tony Blair became Labor Party leader after his predecessor, John
Smith, died suddenly of a heart attack in May 1994. And we should not jump
to any hasty conclusions because Mark Seddon, a member of the National
Executive Committee of the Labor Party, has suggested that Blair is building
a Leninist type party in Britain. Nevermind that three of Blair’s ministers
have overt communist backgrounds, or that Blair was the first Western leader
to embrace President Vladimir Putin in Russia — a former KGB officer who
once led the Russian secret police.
People should not jump to conclusions when facts seem to point in a
certain direction. Not only must we refrain from undue suspicion, we must
be very careful to avoid something called “McCarthyism.” In other words, we
must refrain from calling something a duck, even if it walks like a duck or
takes the Fifth to avoid quacking like a duck.
So it must be emphasized that it doesn’t matter if Prime Minister Blair’s
favorite pollster, Phillip Gould, has said that “in period of change, a
little bit of Leninism goes a long way.” What matters is that Mr. Gould
once left a copy of the Labor Party’s secret strategy at a burger bar in
King’s Cross. And what do these papers tell us about Blair’s leadership?
As Mark Seddon explains in a Nov. 6 article in Britain’s Tribune, Gould’s
recommendations for New Labor have to do with creating a “centralised
command structure” based on “Leninist simplicity.”
Perhaps that is the path — and the only path — to building the kind of
police state that can keep Britain’s secret. After all, it has worked for
China and Russia. Maybe it will finally fix the problem in Britain.