Monday, September 13, 1999 Published at 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
The text of Jack Straw's statement
MI5: The home secretary met the head of the security service on Monday
1. With the agreement of the prime minister, I have today invited the cross party Intelligence and Security Committee, under the chairmanship of the Rt Hon Tom King MP, to examine the policies and procedures adopted within the Security and Intelligence Agencies for the handling of information supplied by Mr Mitrokhin.
As much as possible of the committee's report will be published. In addition, I have agreed with the director general of the Security Service that we should strengthen our existing arrangements for oversight in this area with an annual report covering all the Service's current spy cases.
In the light of the ISC report we will, with Lord Lloyd, chairman of the Security Commission, consider whether any matters require to be considered by the Commission.
2. I have today discussed with the director general of the Security Service his report relating to the Mitrokhin case. The following is my understanding of the situation.
3. Vasili Mitrokhin was a KGB archivist who had access to papers which went to the heart of Soviet espionage activity during the Cold War. He defected to the UK in 1992. This was a major intelligence coup.
4. The archive demonstrated the extent to which the KGB had spied
successfully over many years in western countries.
5. In 1996 the previous government made a decision that the extraordinary
circumstances of the case, and the story which Mitrokhin's information
revealed, should be placed in the public domain.
6. Among the material brought out by Mitrokhin were notes relating to Mrs Melita Norwood, the spy known as Hola.
7. Mrs Norwood was first vetted in 1945 for access to government secrets
while she worked for the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association
(BNFMRA) who were undertaking secret work for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
8. The Security Service, however, kept her case under review and further investigations raised new concerns. She did not have authorised access to government secrets after September 1949 and her vetting clearance was revoked in 1951. She was vetted again in 1962 but she was again refused clearance.
9. In 1965 the Security Service received further information about
espionage activity in the immediate post-war period which led it to mount an extended investigation of Mrs Norwood. The investigation left the service with the view that she had been a spy in the 1940s but it provided no usable evidence to support that view.
10. There is no reason to doubt the detail of the material drawn from Mr
Mitrokhin, nor that the KGB regarded Mrs Norwood as an important spy.
11. When Mitrokhin's notes of the KGB archive material became available to British Intelligence in 1992, they confirmed suspicions about Mrs Norwood's role.
12. The director general of the Security Service routinely briefs me on the
work of the service and its current investigations.
13. Prosecutions are a matter for the law officers and the prosecuting authorities and not for the home secretary. The December 1998 minute informed me that the Security Service were then currently considering whether to recommend the prosecution of Mrs Norwood. The attorney general was made aware of Mrs Norwood's case earlier this year.
14. I was next provided with information on this matter in a minute dated
22 April 1999 when I was told by my officials that the attorney general had
sent guidance to the Security Service that a prosecution was inappropriate.
15. In a minute dated 31 August I was told that the Security Service legal
adviser had written to the legal secretariat to the law officers to ask whether
Mrs Norwood's alleged admissions to the BBC changed the position on possible prosecution.
16. So far as the Symonds case is concerned, I was not personally
briefed on this case until this weekend, though officials in my department have been aware of it. I understand that his case and claims were investigated at the time. Some of the same constraints on action applied as in the Hola case.
17. The Security Service and prosecuting authorities will keep any other cases of this kind under review in the light of developments.
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