Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point: Forum
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
Forum 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 

Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 11:07 GMT
Former spy Richard Tomlinson quizzed

To listen to coverage of the forum, select the link below:

28k


Richard Tomlinson is a former British spy whose book about the inner workings of the intelligence service has just been published in the UK.

In it, Tomlinson reveals information about MI6 spying missions and tells how British agents pursued him across several continents after he was sacked from the service in 1995.

Tomlinson was imprisoned in 1997 for breaching the Official Secrets Act. His former employers did their best to stop the book -The Big Breach: From Top Secret to Maximum Security - from being serialised in the press.

Richard Tomlinson answered your question on Wednesday from his temporary home in France.


Transcript:


Richard Tomlinson, Derby:

Do you feel being on the run around Europe and living in fear in Italy and now France has all been part of some futile quest which is not really going to register with who it should - i.e. the man in the street?


Richard Tomlinson:

I don't know why he is calling it a quest - a quest is probably the wrong word to describe it. It has been an extremely hard few years and I think writing this book has put an end to it. I wrote the book to put an end to this hassle and being chased around and it seems to have worked.


David Hemsworth, London, UK:

Do you feel that the contents of your book may jeopardise certain aspects of national security?


Richard Tomlinson:

Not at all - no. I was a junior office five or six years ago and I didn't know anything that was even secret then. I have changed all the details and a lot of the times, places and names of various people. Even if I had set out to write a book that damaged national security, I couldn't because I don't know anything of that importance.


News Host:

Well you say that but it does seem to have caused quite a stir.


Richard Tomlinson:

MI6 have reacted very angrily at it because it undermines their mythological status that they have in Britain. It doesn't cause any damage to national security but it will allow MPs and people like the Intelligence Services Committee - Tom King's committee - to ask questions of them and in a democracy I think that is a good thing.


Nigel Davis, Manchester, UK:

Do you not have any conscience of being the worse example of gamekeeper turned poacher?


Richard Tomlinson:

Well I was working for MI6 so I wasn't a gamekeeper - MI5 really have the gamekeeper role. But I haven't set about to do this deliberately. This has been a whole series of incidents which have been beyond my control. I haven't gone into this fight with MI6 out of volition - I have been trying desperately to settle it outside of writing a book. Before writing the book my lawyers negotiated with them endlessly and they refused to do it and so this is what has happened. I have ended up writing the book to put an end to the hassle.


Andrew, London, UK:

How prevalent is Britain's upper-class/establishment in MI6 and assuming MI6 is made up primarily of "old school tie" types does that hinder the operation of the agency in such a competitive world given that other countries recruit the best and brightest regardless of class or social background?


Richard Tomlinson:

Yes it does - that is a good question. The upper echelons - especially the older officers - are very much drawn from Army, public school, university backgrounds. MI6 are conscious of changing though - they have tried to recruit a lot of people from other backgrounds. But as quick example off the top of my head, I was once talking to a guy who was working against the drug trade and he came up to me and he had no idea what the difference was between marijuana, cocaine and Ecstasy was and I explained what the difference was and it turned out that he had never once been in a night club - he was a young guy - younger than me and he had never once been in a night club - That is the sort of guy working in there. It is a big hindrance - I mean how that guy was supposed to work against people in the drug trade, I don't know.


News Host:

But do you think things are changing now?


Richard Tomlinson:

Yes they are aware that they need to change the profiles and they are recruiting from a much broader base. They were at least five years ago and suspect they have carried on that work.


News Host:

So you don't have to have been educated at public school to get into MI6 then?


Richard Tomlinson:

No, not at all. But you do need to have gone to university but that helps for a lot of jobs.


Russell Long UK:

Why do people who used to work in the secret services - in the security services - feel the need to profit by exposing its innermost workings? Didn't you sign an agreement not to reveal any of these workings when you joined and shouldn't you be behaving more responsibly towards your ex-colleagues?


Richard Tomlinson:

If you read my book you will realise it is MI6's spin on the events and that my version is very different. I was sacked unfairly. I tried to take them to the industrial tribunal - they refused to let me take them to court and I have been fighting for that right - which is a basic human right. They have put me through me through five years of real torment and I have written this book entirely to end that torment. I haven't written it to profit. If you actually read my book you will see that I will give the money to charity - if I am allowed to get any money from it and if I am allowed to take them to court.


News Host:

You obviously feel you have been treated very badly. Why did that come about - what is behind all of this?


Richard Tomlinson:

Well the reason I was treated very badly is because there is no accountability of the organisation to the Government and that leads to abuse of power. Like in any organisation that it not accountable - whether it be to shareholders or to government or to a board of directors - you get an abuses of power. What they did was to arrogantly sack me believing that I couldn't do anything about it because they would just stop me taking them to an industrial tribunal. I think one good thing that has come out of my book is that that procedure is being looked at and more democratic control is being brought over the intelligence services all around.


Ahmed, London UK:

What is your knowledge of the involvement of MI6 in the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al-Fayed? What is the truth?


Richard Tomlinson:

I don't know anything more than I put in the book. What I put in the book is that Henri Paul, who was the driver at the time of the accident, was an MI6 informer and rather interestingly, he was missing for about half an hour before the accident - no one knows where he was and then when he was killed he was found with a very high level of alcohol in his blood and a very substantial amount of money in his pocket. Now putting those three pieces of circumstantial evidence together, I suspect that shortly prior to his death he was in a meeting with his MI6 handler. I think that MI6 should hand over his personal file as a witness statement because clearly in an inquest into his death, knowing where he was for that missing half hour - who he was with and how much alcohol he had drunk are very important factors into the inquest of the accident. That is all I have said in my book and that is all I do know.


News Host:

So are you saying in the book that the truth has not emerged or that you simply don't know?


Richard Tomlinson:

What I am saying is that there is important information in MI6 files and I think that they should be handed over to the judge in charge of the inquest.


Masood Soorie, London, UK:

If you believe you were competent and suited to the job why do you think that MI6 sacked you?


Richard Tomlinson:

Yes, I don't know. This is a big mystery to me too. There was an element of a personality clash between myself and my personnel officer. Certainly when I came back from Bosnia - as many soldiers are when they come back from Bosnia - it took me a while to readjust to life in London. I saw some rather awful sights there and when you come back to London it takes a while to get used to the triviality of many people's lives in London after seeing people being killed and having their houses blown up in Bosnia. I was a little bit depressed when I came back from Bosnia and I think those things combined to lead to my dismissal. It was really just very, very bad management and MI6 didn't want to admit there mistake afterwards.


News Host:

I suppose what the questioner was suggesting was that you weren't very good at your job and that is why you lost it?


Richard Tomlinson:

No, I was excellent at my job. My line-managers always gave me excellent reports. My last line-manager gave me a glowing report and he was extremely angry with the personnel department when they sacked me.


Andy Millward, UK:

What is your attitude to the Official Secrets Act? Is freedom of information in general alien to the established civil service ways of governing the UK?


Richard Tomlinson:

No it is not alien. I think many people in government realise that the Official Secrets Act is dead in its current form and it needs to be rewritten. Clearly there is a need for protection of information that comes from sensitive sources i.e. informers overseas - there is a need to protect those individuals. But the way the Official Secrets Act is written at the moment - MI6 and MI5 use it to cover up their incompetence and that has to stop.


News Host:

A lot of people think that there is a culture of secrecy in Britain. Do you think things are changing and what sort of impact do you think the Internet has on these things?


Richard Tomlinson:

Yes, I think it is very true that there is a culture of secrecy in Britain of all the western powers and democracies - it is the most secrecy obsessed of any country and that has to change. I think there has been a variety of things driving that - one of which is the European Human Rights legislation which Britain's secrecy Acts are incompatible with. The other thing is indeed the Internet. How do you combine the freedom of information on the Internet with what the intelligence services aim to do? All those things combine to mean that these factors should be radically reformed.


David Kelk, Cardiff, and Rob Stewart, London, UK:

I am interested in working along the lines of your job. How would somebody begin to become a British agent like yourself? What are the perks and is it well paid?


Richard Tomlinson:

Yes, it is a fantastic job and it is very well paid. You are paid on a Civil Service scale but with a 10 per cent bonus on top of that. I was very adequately paid when I was working there. To apply you need to have a university degree - I don't think there is much chance of them employing someone who doesn't have a good degree from any university - it doesn't matter which university. Be good at languages and be interested in living and working overseas, have an out-going personality - I think if you have all of those things then write in and apply. It is a good and interesting job as long as I hope they have got their personnel management sorted out now.


News Host:

People I think imagine it is a glamorous job - perhaps even a dangerous job at times. Does the reality bear any relationship whatsoever to the fictional version of the secret agent?


Richard Tomlinson:

Well I think if you read my book it gives a fair indication of what life is like there. You do spend quite a lot of time working behind a desk but it is interesting desk work. You do get to do some interesting travelling and meet some very, very interesting people and go to parts of the world that you would never go to visit in any other job. So I think the best thing probably is to read the book and draw your own conclusions really.


News Host:

You have spoken of being pursued by MI6 across Europe, is that still the case? Are you still being followed and will you ever return to Britain to (in your words) clear your name?


Richard Tomlinson:

Since I have written the book, I haven't been followed and I haven't been hassled and so the objective of writing the book seems to have been accomplished. As far as returning to the UK goes, I don't really have any intention of going back because I like living abroad - it is one of the reasons I joined MI6 is because I like living abroad and I like living where I live in France. But I would go back only if I am allowed to take MI6 to an industrial tribunal but I think there is very little chance of them allowing that.


News Host:

So do you think that the publication of the book has in a sense taken the heat off?


Richard Tomlinson:

Yes, it appears to have done so - yes.


News Host:

You say it is unlikely then that you would come back unless you could take MI6 to a tribunal. How do you see your future?


Richard Tomlinson:

Well it is a lot better now than it has been for the last five years because it seems to be that I am not under surveillance and I am not getting hassled anymore. I want to try and find an alternative career now and put all of this behind me now.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
See also:

02 Feb 01 | UK
No profits for spy author
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Links to more Forum stories