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Monday, 10 September, 2001, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Ex-MI5 chief 'bullied' over book
Stella Rimington when she was MI5 chief in 1993
Dame Stella was recruited as a housewife
Former MI5 chief Dame Stella Rimington has said she was "bullied, threatened and cajoled" by senior Whitehall officials desperate to stop her publishing her memoirs.

In the first extract of her book, to be published on Thursday and currently serialised in The Guardian newspaper, Dame Stella says cabinet secretary Sir Richard Wilson gave her strict advice not to go into print.

He then "walked me to the door of the building, patted me kindly on the shoulder and said, 'never mind, Stella, go off and buy something'."

If this all sounds rather like a John le Carré novel, it's not surprising. In many ways his account of those days is fairly accurate

Stella Rimington

She said: "I don't like being bullied, which is why I persevered.

"But... even I, a seasoned Whitehall insider, was starting to feel the sense of persecution and fear of the main character of a Kafka novel, in the grip of a bureaucracy whose ways and meaning could not be discerned."

Early days

Dame Stella talked about her early days with the intelligence service. She described how she was first recruited in 1967, as a bored 32-year-old housewife living in New Delhi.

A member of the British High Commission staff, a baronet, tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she would help him out at the office.

She found the job boring, but when she and her husband returned to London, she decided to stay on with the service as a "junior assistant officer".

She said she soon realised a "strict sex-discrimination policy was in place in MI5" - and that it was also extremely old-fashioned.

She described the men as "largely from a similar background. It seemed that they all lived in Guildford and spent their spare time gardening. Many had fought in the war".

The skill was to be able simultaneously to explain the deceit you had been practising and to inspire his confidence in you, all in a very short time before he panicked and left

Dame Stella on recruiting agents

Dame Stella described how she was given the job of identifying as many members of the Communist Party of Great Britain as she could and opening files on them.

She said during that time she was trained in recruiting agents - she had to practice striking up conversations in pubs and finding out all about people's private lives.

She said intelligence officers put a lot of imagination into the recruiting of agents - typical ruses included pretending to sprain your ankle while jogging in the park, as an excuse to get a conversation going.

She revealed that Soviet bloc intelligence officers in the 1970s and 1980s often tried to recruit agents from ethnic minority backgrounds, working on the "usually mistaken" assumption that they would not be loyal to the UK.

She said John le Carré novels were "fairly accurate" in their accounts of the way Moscow and London operated in those days.

And she said some spies seemed to have been given strange uses for all the covert techniques they were taught.

"There was one east European intelligence officer, for example, whose main aim appeared to be to acquire the technology for fast-chilled foods.

"He went to a lot of trouble to get alongside people who worked in the right sort of companies and was prepared to pay considerable sums for the information."

Government 'regret'

Dame Stella has been criticised by many involved with the intelligence services, including former defence secretary Lord King, for publishing the book.

There was one east European intelligence officer... whose main aim appeared to be to acquire the technology for fast-chilled foods

Stella Rimington

The Home Office has said it would not "resist" the book but expressed government "regret" at her decision to publish Open Secret.

Ministers dropped their objections after she agreed to make certain changes.

But the Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, has told the BBC the book does not contain anything startling.

"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.

Secrecy laws 'outdated'

Dame Stella herself has called for the 12-year-old Official Secrets Act to be reformed, as it puts an "unrealistic" burden of confidentiality on former members of the intelligence and security services.

On Sunday her call was echoed by Labour party chairman Charles Clarke MP.

He told BBC One's Breakfast With Frost programme Britain "compares badly with the US" on the issue of secrecy and "we could have a far more open approach on it".

"The process of vetting this sort of thing is very defensive, unnecessarily defensive and damages the public welfare of this country," he said.

See also:

08 Sep 01 | UK
First lady of espionage
08 Sep 01 | UK
Ex-MI5 chief sparks outrage
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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