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Saturday, 8 September, 2001, 19:06 GMT 20:06 UK
Ex-MI5 chief sparks outrage
Dame Stella Rimington, with MI5 HQ in background
Dame Stella Rimington: A personal account of MI5 life
Former MI5 chief Dame Stella Rimington has sparked outrage by planning to publish her memoirs and calling for reform of the Official Secrets Act (OSA).

Dame Stella's book, Open Secret, is due to be serialised in The Guardian newspaper next week.

She is the first British spymaster allowed to talk frankly about her experiences in the intelligence services.


I believe that Stella Rimington has let down herself, her service and her country

Julian Lewis
Tory MP
The Home Office said "Our position remains that we would want to point out our regret and discontent with the decision to publish."

But officials refused to comment on calls to change the 12-year-old Act.

Tory MP Julian Lewis, who sits on the Defence Select Committee, said: "I believe that Stella Rimington has let down herself, her service and her country.

"It's not so much what may be in this publication but the fact that the retired head of the service has chosen to do this means that in future people at numerous lower levels will be able to say 'If she can do this why can't I?'."

Margaret Thatcher's former press secretary Sir Bernard Ingham said: "She is doing herself no favours at all and she should shut up because she is bringing contempt on herself and the whole business."

The government objected to the book but dropped plans to block it after she agreed to make certain changes.

Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian
Alan Rusbridger says the fuss over the book is unnecessary
Dame Stella, who maintains her memoirs will not risk lives or jeopardise national security, has called for the OSA to be reformed.

She said MI5 bosses were "ridiculously careful" about the contents of the book, telling her to remove any mention of the SAS, even when describing the well-documented killing of three unarmed IRA members by SAS soldiers in Gibraltar in 1988.

'Regret and discontent'

Dame Stella said the OSA needed reforming because it imposed an "unrealistic" duty of confidentiality on former members of the security and intelligence services.

Roger Bingham, of the pressure group Liberty, said Dame Stella was right to challenge the Act, which he said was "long overdue" for reform.


We want greater Parliamentary scrutiny and accountability for the security service

Roger Bingham
Liberty
In an interview with The Guardian, she said it should be made easier for former members to write about their work, and called for an independent review body to vet publications.

She also revealed MI5 tried to stop her publishing her book but said she never intended to betray secrets or embarrass the service.

But Mr Bingham said she did not go far enough in calling for change.

He said: "We would call for a wider reform than Dame Stella is calling for, so that there is a clear and proper definition rather than a vague definition which allows excessive security at the moment.

"We want greater Parliamentary scrutiny and accountability for the security services."

Former Tory MP and intelligence expert Rupert Allason said Dame Stella had a "perfect right" to publish her memoirs.

But he added: "She spent 15 years trying to stop people like me from writing on the subject and reminding retirees on what is euphemistically called their obligations.

"It does not behove her now to completely reverse her position."

'Treacherous' act

The Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, said Dame Stella's book was a frank account of her role as the first woman in charge of MI5, but did not contain anything startling.


She spent 15 years trying to stop people like me from writing on the subject and reminding retirees on what is euphemistically called their obligations.

Rupert Allason, author and former MP
She admitted MI5 was over-enthusiastic during the cold war, with files opened on people not actively threatening the state.

She also gave the first official confirmation that during general elections MI5 checked prospective MPs to see if "there is anything in there of importance ... so the prime minister can take it into account when he forms his government".

But Mr Rusbridger told the BBC the fuss over the book was unnecessary.

"It's actually a very personal book about her own life. Her marriages, her divorce, her children and how she struggled to keep that on the road at the same time as her job," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"[Dame Stella] says there have been behind the scenes attempts to intimidate her"
Roger Bingham, a lawyer for Liberty
"It is very important that the act is reformed"
See also:

22 Jun 99 | UK
Behind the MI5 myth
22 Sep 99 | Britain betrayed
Spying Who's Who
17 May 00 | UK
The culture of secrecy
06 Dec 00 | UK
MoD fails to stop SAS book
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