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Tuesday, 13 June, 2000, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
MI5 criticised over spy 'failures'

Melita Norwood's KGB career lasted 40 years
The UK's domestic secret service agency, MI5, has been strongly criticised by MPs over its investigation into KGB spy Melita Norwood.

The Intelligence and Security Committee attacked MI5's decision not to prosecute Ms Norwood as a "serious failure", saying it had allowed the case to "slip out of sight" for five years.

It emerged that the government's law officers were not told about the decision when it was made by MI5 in 1992.

Efforts to keep ministers informed on the case were so scant that the US President could have learned about MI5's intelligence success before the British Prime Minister, said the committee.

But Downing Street on Tuesday praised the security services, pledging its full support for their work.

Home Secretary Jack Straw said the government accepted all of the committee's recommendations, but insisted that it had uncovered no evidence that democratic oversight of MI5 was inadequate.


The revelation that 87-year-old Melita Norwood had spied for the KGB for 40 years was one of the most sensational legacies of the Cold War.

From 1930 until her retirement in 1972, Mrs Norwood supplied information, including developments in Britain's atom bomb technology, to the KGB.

MI5 headquarters
MI5's actions were questioned

Last autumn, the Home Secretary told the Commons that in 1992, MI5 had decided against prosecuting Mrs Norwood - without informing the law officers.

The cross-party Intelligence and Security Committee was asked to investigate and tabled 40 questions for MI5 and the foreign intelligence agency, MI6, to answer.

'Serious failure'

In its report, published on Tuesday, the committee said that it was a "serious failure by MI5 not to refer the case to the law officers".

"This failure resulted in the decision whether or not to prosecute Mrs Norwood effectively been taken by the security service (MI5)," the report said.

"The committee is concerned that the service used public interest reasons to justify taking no further action against Mrs Norwood when this was for the law officers to decide.

"We also believe that the failure of the security service to interview Mrs Norwood at this time prevented her possible prosecution."

Downing Street has sprung to the support of the security services in the light of the report.

We have world class security services who do a valuable job protecting British interests

Government spokesman
A spokesman said: "The government is not pretending that things don't go wrong, but the prime minister is and remains a very big supporter of the important work they do.

"We have world class security services who do a valuable job protecting British interests.

"You only hear about them when things go wrong, such as when a laptop computer goes missing, or in this case."

Following the revelations over Mrs Norwood's case, supervision of MI5 has already been strengthened but more changes may be implemented.

Lifelong communist Mrs Norwood said money was not the reason she had worked for the Russians.

She said she thought some of the information she had access to "might be useful in helping Russia keep abreast of Britain, America and Germany".

The committee also made similar criticisms over MI5's handling of the case of a second Soviet spy in Britain - John Symonds.


The spying activities of 87-year-old Mrs Norwood were first unmasked when the KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin defected to Britain in 1992 bringing vast quantities of material with him.

But the case only became public last year when a book based on his material by Professor Christopher Andrew was serialised in The Times and featured in a BBC TV series.

The report praised the role of the Secret Intelligence Service MI6 in successfully extricating Mr Mitrokhin and his files from the Soviet Union.

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