20 January 2006

Don’t tell the press how we stitched you up

In late 1997/early 1998 I tried to send a couple of letters from Full Sutton prison, where I was living at the time. To my amazement these letters caused an enormous storm of fear, which led to over 2 years of legal actions that cost the British taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds. The claim was made that I was threatening national security by what I had said in those letters. One of my letters was a reply to a letter published in the New Scientist magazine, about the Louise Woodward case, and the other letter was a short article I had written for possible publication in Labour’s Tribune magazine.

Maybe I will go into the details of this gagging attempt in a later post - why was it I couldn’t talk to the press? I had previously sent hundreds of pages of information to Just Television, who were considering making a TV programme about my case, as well as several letters to the Guardian newspaper (Richard Norton Taylor) and the Evening Standard. It seemed I had hit a sore point, and it was apparently the MoD who were most upset that I was discussing my case with the media. I did not want publicity over this issue, but inevitably it caused some interest, as in
this article at the Guardian.

After taking the case for Judicial Review, and almost into a full court hearing, the MoD backed down, and agreed that my letters did not in fact jeopardise national security. Well, I told them that right at the beginning, but their Big Brother tantrums had cost me years of lost time, as well as wasted public money. It was clear they had tried to keep the lid on this can of worms they had created. Well, it’s about 8 years late, but just for the record this is the letter to Tribune they didn’t want you to read:

Doubts are growing about the conviction, under the Official Secrets Act, of Michael John Smith, currently serving 20 years in prison for espionage. The basis of his conviction is unclear, because no risk to national security was proved, and Smith had no access to secrets as Quality Audit Manager at GEC Marconi.

Smith was arrested in August 1992, shortly after KGB Colonel Viktor Oshchenko defected to Britain from his Paris base. It was claimed Oshchenko recruited Smith as an agent, when the Russian worked at the Soviet Embassy in London 1972-79. Oshchenko gave no evidence at Smith's trial.

What sealed Smith's fate was a £20,000 bribe to supply commercial documents from GEC. Harry Williams, the man who bribed Smith, and the source of the money were never traced. Smith's own notes, of meetings with Williams, were the main evidence against him; he was directed to sites previously used by Oleg Gordievsky. Nevertheless, the evidence was inconclusive: no KGB link was identified, and the case involved no secrets - the "in camera" trial kept such facts from the public. It is now thought computer specialist Richard Watson was behind this operation. Watson, who died in 1996, was known to have links to both Oshchenko and MI6. Smith's lawyers believe he was trapped by MI5 and MI6.

An MI5 officer telephoned Smith, tricking him to admit he knew "Victor" - MI5 meant Viktor Oshchenko but Smith knew a Spaniard called Victor. MI5 also linked Smith to KGB agent Mr E, a US citizen recruited by Oshchenko in London about 1978; the names "Viktor" and "George", KGB contacts of Mr E, were used in the telephone call. Smith acted contrary to MI5's predictions on the morning of his arrest and, in their desire to build a KGB profile, the police were caught distorting evidence in court.

Gordievsky and Mrs C (a MI5 Section Head) said Smith worked for the KGB, with Gordievsky insisting Smith's notes were typical of the KGB. Only a week after Smith's arrest Gordievsky was shown MI5's documented interpretation of the case, which he completely accepted. Smith's lawyers stressed that Gordievsky was known to exaggerate, and even the Crown rejected Gordievsky's claim, in his book "Next Stop Execution", that he helped arrest Smith. Gordievsky said he identified all KGB agents when he defected in 1985, but he denied knowledge of Smith, and the intelligence services did not think Smith a threat, as he was not arrested at that time.

Mrs C admitted MI5 had no evidence Smith met Oshchenko, nor anyone else in the KGB, and Smith was under surveillance by MI5 between 1977 and 1992. An ex CIA Station Chief solved the mystery: he said the case was too amateur to be attributed to the KGB, and Richard Watson was indeed an amateur. Oleg Kalugin (a senior Russian diplomat) would have exposed Oshchenko's role in the affair, but he was arrested at Heathrow, on 30 October 1993, as he arrived to give evidence.

The Crown claimed material found in Smith's possession was sensitive, although most was already in the public domain. One obscure "restricted" document, the only classified document in the case, became the surprise exhibit. One MoD expert claimed the document related to Britain's ALARM missile, saying it would enable an enemy to jam the missile, and that Iraq switched off its radar systems during the Gulf War because of ALARM. The expert said Marconi's Technical Director personally confirmed the document's application.

Under cross examination, this expert admitted he was not an expert in missile technology, nor in jamming, and when he said too much an MoD observer banned further defence questions, which left the matter unresolved.

Marconi's name and address are on the "restricted" document, which raises serious doubts: why were no Marconi staff asked to explain it; why was the evidence withheld for 14 months; why did the Crown use a non expert and not an ALARM expert on the key exhibit? An explanation is implied in the Security Commission's report on Smith's case (HMSO, Cm2930, July 1995), which states: 'at the time the document was created it was not specifically linked to a particular weapons system' (Annex A.5). It is clear the document was not used on ALARM.

Smith thinks political motives prompted his conviction, and after 5½ years in prison he remains hopeful, saying recently: 'MI5 and the MoD were so paranoid they scored a home goal; a conspiracy has been perpetrated, and too many people know the truth. I believe Labour's new ethical policies will expose the corrupt methods used to convict me.'

At Smith's trial, Mrs C denied Oshchenko was a British agent before he defected in July 1992. Thanks to Francis Temperville, Oshchenko's French agent, the truth is even more amazing. During Temperville's trial for treason, in Paris last October, it was revealed that Oshchenko operated under the direction of MI6. So, embarrassing revelations are yet to be exposed about Oshchenko.

It didn’t occur to me who Mrs C was until several years later - maybe it was that awful wig and glasses she used to disguise herself - but it appears Mrs C was none other than Stella Rimington.

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