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Monday, September 13, 1999 Published at 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK


UK Politics

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.
The information which Mitrokhin brought with him was and is of enormous significance to the UK and its allies. It has provided a large number of leads to KGB activities in a period of at least 40 years before Mitrokhin's retirement in 1985.

4. The archive demonstrated the extent to which the KGB had spied successfully over many years in western countries.
It also showed that after increased security measures were introduced in the UK in the early 1970s, the KGB were less successful here than elsewhere.
The material provided by Mitrokhin was carefully assessed by the UK agencies and those of our allies from 1992. This inevitably took a great deal of time.

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.
Mitrokhin brought out no KGB documents. Instead, his information was contained in voluminous notes smuggled out of his office. Given the nature of this material, it was decided by the previous government that the best way to place it in the public domain was by way of a proper historical analysis.
The material was made available to Professor Christopher Andrew of Cambridge University, whose book, co-authored with Mitrokhin, will be published this week. Sir Malcolm Rifkind then Foreign Secretary has told me that these decisions were made with his consent.

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.
The Security Service raised doubts about her communist associations, but further investigation by the service and the police did not substantiate these doubts and she was given clearance for access to sensitive documents.

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.
The Home Secretary of the day, the Rt Hon Sir Frank Soskice QC, was informed of the service's suspicions. The service decided not to interview her because that would have revealed the service's knowledge which was relevant to other sensitive investigations then under way.

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.
She was one of a number of spies in this country and the United States who passed information to the Soviet Union about the development of the atom bomb during the 1940s.
However, the vetting system prevented her from having authorised access to government secrets after 1949.

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.
The view was taken by the service that this material did not on its own provide evidence that could be put to a UK court.
Moreover, a judgement was made by the agencies that material should remain secret for some years as there were many leads to more recent espionage to be followed up, particularly in the countries of a number of our close allies.
It was also judged that interviewing Mrs Norwood, which might have provided admissible evidence, could have jeopardised exploitation of those leads.
These decisions were made by the agencies. Ministers of the day, including law officers, were not consulted.

12. The director general of the Security Service routinely briefs me on the work of the service and its current investigations.
I was made aware in general terms about the Mitrokhin material in 1997 in connection with a separate matter. However, I was first made aware of the role of Mrs Norwood in a minute in December 1998 which informed me of the plans to publish the book.

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.
I was later told that this was an over-simplification. The attorney general's position was explained to me more fully in a note of 29 June which reported that 1992 represented the last opportunity for the authorities to proceed by way of a criminal investigation/possible prosecution.
The attorney general had concluded therefore that there was no decision for him to make.

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.
In a reply to the Security Service earlier this month, the legal secretariat to the law officers reflected the attorney general's view that the position was unaffected by the fact that interview had been given and little that was known of that interview.
The Security Service were invited to revert to the legal secretariat in the event that they considered, following the broadcast, that the position had changed.

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.
The law officers have now been made aware of the case and will be studying the transcript of the forthcoming BBC programme.

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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