In trying to raise new grounds to appeal against my conviction, one of the difficult, if not impossible tasks was to get through the thick impenetrable barrier that surrounds the information held by MI5 and MI6. How was I expected to challenge evidence given at my trial by Stella Rimington (Mrs C) and Oleg Gordievsky, when I had no access to the files of material these organisations had collected about me and the events surrounding my case? We only have to review the shambles that arose when selective information was published in the dossiers supporting the war in Iraq, about WMD (weapons of mass destruction), to see that all was not well inside the intelligence services.
Even the person identified as being responsible for my arrest, Viktor Oshchenko gave no witness statements or testimony at my trial, and he has disappeared into apparent oblivion after he arrived in the UK. According to public records, Vasili Mitrohkin’s contact with MI6 preceded Oshchenko’s defection by several months, and he appears to have been the real person responsible for my arrest. Mysteriously, Mitrokhin was not linked to my case until the Mitrokhin Archive was published in 1999, and his name was never mentioned at any time throughout my arrest, trial or subsequent appeal.
Despite this lack of access to what MI5 and MI6 really knew about my case, the defence team had to keep searching for clues and possible grounds to open up a new appeal. So it was with some interest that I learned from my solicitor how he had made contact with Richard Tomlinson, an ex MI6 officer who said he knew something about how my case had been perceived from within MI6 and MI5.
From: Richard Tomlinson
Mon 05 Oct 1998
To: Mr Roger Clapham
Drummond Phillips Solicitors
Wakefield, WF1 3BP
Dear Mr Clapham,
Michael John Smith
I was working in MI6’s Soviet operations department at the time of Mr Smith’s arrest in July 1992.
Although I was not directly involved in the management of Oschenko’s defection or of the subsequent arrest of Mr Smith, my immediate colleagues were. Indeed, one of my line managers (P5) went over to Paris to escort Oschenko back to the UK.
Shortly after Mr Smith’s arrest, I saw a document that may be helpful to Mr Smith’s case. It was an MI5 report summarising the debriefing of Oschenko and the information which Mr Smith had allegedly given Oschenko. It concluded that Mr Smith had not given any important or damaging information to Oschenko. This was consistent with what we knew about the “intelligence threshold” of KGB officers. They were notorious for siphoning up low level intelligence which western intelligence services would not regard as worthwhile reporting. I joked with the colleague with whom I shared an office that it looked like Mr Smith had merely given Oschenko “a few pages of Jane’s Defence Weekly”. We concluded that Mr Smith would probably only receive a fine or not be prosecuted at all.
I was therefore very surprised when I learnt of MI5’s claims at Mr Smith’s trial of the extent of the damage allegedly caused by him, and the extraordinary sentence which he subsequently received. At the time, I presumed that new evidence had come to light since his arrest. Now that I have a more sceptical view of the integrity of the intelligence services, I suspect that this may not be the case. I suspect that the evidence of the initial debrief of Oschenko was over-ruled and exaggerated at a higher level in MI5 in order to ensure that Mr Smith received a heavy sentence.
The intelligence services depend on disproportionate sentences for breaches of the OSA to cultivate the mystique of the importance of their work. I believe that Mr Smith has been made a victim of this tactic.
I am not sure how helpful this information will be to Mr Smith, as it is impossible to get disclosure of MI5 and MI6 documents. However, please do not hesitate to contact me directly or my lawyer, John Wadham, if I can be of further help.