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Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK
Spy guide on the net
MI6 building
The workings of MI6 are summarised in the booklet
Probing the shadowy world of secret agents has been made a little easier with the publication of a government guide to Britain's security services, available on the internet.

The Cabinet Office's booklet National Intelligence Machinery outlines the history and work of the three main intelligence agencies - MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

In a foreword to the 26-page publication, Prime Minister Tony Blair praises the "unsung" work of the anonymous agents.

"Secret intelligence gives the government a vital edge in tackling some of the most difficult problems we face," he says.

Accountability

He lists how agents warn of threats to national security, promote international stability, protect the armed forces, contribute to economic health and fight terrorism and international crime.


David Shayler, former MI5 agent exiled in France
David Shayler has slammed the guide
The prime minister stresses that although much intelligence work needs to remain secret, the services must be "properly accountable".

He adds: "The intelligence agencies are fully professional and are staffed by dedicated men and women," he adds.

"They serve their country well. We owe them a great deal for their unsung work."

'Window-dressing'

But former MI5 agent David Shayler, living in exile in France, dismissed the booklet as "window-dressing".

"This is supposed to show the government's commitment to freedom of information but it has only the most basic of details," he told BBC News Online.

"Frankly it is the sort of information which only the public of a totalitarian state would not be able to find out.

"Compared to the American concept of freedom of information, we are light-years behind," he added.

The guide has been posted on the internet and is also available from Stationery Office bookshops.

Asked whether copies had been ordered by the Russian Embassy in London, a government spokesman said: "I imagine they would just tap on to the website."

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