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.

Let it all hang out

I posted a comment on the website They Work For You 3 days ago. I noticed that there were no comments except for mine, and only one other vote whether the question had been answered or not.

Having read the posts below, why not leave your comments
here as well. Any comment is better than no comment, I always say.

Big Brother is watching you

The picture of George Orwell and his book 1984 was with us again this week, in the form of the Big Brother house. Politician George Galloway MP and monkey skin coated Pete Burns entertained us, because we can listen to all their intimate conversations and hostile exchanges at any time, day or night. Some enjoy living in a goldfish bowl and being on constant public view, although there are certain conversations that could be embarrassing if the wrong people get to hear about them.

Big Brother contestants are paid a lucrative amount to lose their privacy for a few weeks; it is a completely different matter if our elected MPs cannot feel free to talk to their constituents without other interested parties eavesdropping on these conversations. What if I wished to discuss some issue with my MP about the way MI5 had dealt with my own case, maybe even a matter that concerned an illegal act by the Security Service - would I be happy that the very people I was complaining about might listen in on my discussions with my MP? I guess not, but then with a Member of Parliament like Andrew Mackinlay I feel better protected than most.

The point I am referring to is the story in the news this week: after a 40 year period, where it was banned, the phones of British MPs could soon be tapped by the Security Services. Websites such as the BBC (see
link), and journalists such as Richard Norton Taylor (see here) will no doubt continue to report these intrusions into our privacy.

This all reminds me of a situation I experienced back in 1992/3. During the period from my arrest in August 1992 until the end of the trial in November 1993, all of my lawyers' telephones were tapped. My lawyers only found out about this because they had a right to check on what telephone tap warrants had been issued. This obviously gave the Crown an unfair advantage, to listen in and discover what the defence were planning in their case, so the prosecution could think up ways to block our defence strategy. My solicitor Richard Jefferies, my barrister Gary Summers, and Rock Tansey QC would meet in each others homes, so they did not need to discuss my case over the telephone. Clearly, legal privilege was not enough to protect the client-lawyer relationship in my case. If MI5 wants to know what your case is, or who your MP is talking to, then apparently it may soon be entitled to listen in. Don’t forget: this is all in the name of anti-terrorism; I wouldn’t want you to think there was no reason why our MPs needed to be kept under surveillance.

You might think this was more like the sort of thing that happened in Stalin’s Russia, or some police state. The Catholics met in private houses in Elizabethan England for fear of their lives, and now our MPs may have to do something similar to avoid falling foul of the Security Services. Where else might this happen in the modern world? We live in a country that was the home of parliamentary democracy, free speech, and now Big Brother. Which brings me full circle back to George Orwell – now, was he referring in 1984 to Stalinist Russia, or was it dear old England?

Richard Tomlinson's viewpoint

In 1998, my solicitor made contact with Richard Tomlinson's lawyers, in order to discover what he might know about my case. After some correspondence Richard finally sent a letter to the Guardian newspaper (see it on line here). There are errors in his letter, particularly the references to myself and Oshchenko are not correct. However, I print the letter below, because it has an important significance to my case:

Tuesday September 14, 1999
The Guardian

I spy more hypocrisy

During this furore over the non-prosecution of our Soviet spies, we should spare a thought for other so-called traitors who are serving very long sentences in our jails.

In 1992, the same year MI5 learnt about Mrs Norwood's activities, a GEC-Marconi defence engineer, Michael Smith, was arrested by Special Branch in an entrapment operation set up by MI5. They had learnt from Victor Oshchenko, another Soviet defector, that Smith had passed secrets to him while he was a KGB officer stationed in London. Oshchenko was urged to renew contact with Smith and offer him a bribe for some low-level technical information. Mr Smith was arrested at the meeting. The information that Mr Smith had passed to the Soviets was almost certainly of far less importance than that passed by Mrs Norwood. Shortly before his trial, while I was working in MI6, I saw an internal MI5 report that concluded that Mr Smith had not done much damage to Britain's defence interests. Yet he received a 25-year sentence, later reduced to 20 years on appeal. He is in Full Sutton maximum security jail and even if he gets parole is unlikely to be freed before 2009.

I hope Mr Straw decides not to prosecute Mrs Norwood. But if he does not take further action, then he should apply his reasoning consistently and give amnesty to all who are serving sentences under the Official Secrets Act. He should then remove from MI5 and MI6 the powerful influence they have to decide who should not be prosecuted under our secrecy laws. The current furore demonstrates clearly that MI5 and MI6 cannot be trusted to use their powers fairly. (Nothing in this letter is information not otherwise in the public domain.)

Richard Tomlinson

It is interesting what Richard Tomlinson had to say, because he was confirming MI5 had come to the same conclusion as that arrived at in the original MoD damage assessment report, which the MoD prepared for the Security Commission's investigation into my case (see HMSO, Cm 2930, July 1995).

The level of damage, caused by the technical material involved in my case, was assessed by a senior MoD manager (a Deputy Director of MoD Security) as "not serious damage" in March 1994. It was surprising therefore that, at my appeal in May 1995 (some 14 months later), the MoD suddenly changed their assessment to one that "serious damage" had been caused, and it was claimed a document marked “restricted” should have been classified as “secret”.

This drastic change of opinion had arisen because the MoD realised their original damage assessment report did not agree with the evidence given by their own witness at my trial. Rather than give the true evaluation of the material, accurately set out in their original report, the MoD decided to go along with the evidence of the witness - a man who admitted in court he was not an expert in the particular fields on which he gave his evidence about the ALARM missile.

Richard Tomlinson has quite definitely asserted he saw an MI5 report, which concluded that my case had little effect on national interests - no serious damage! However, such is the perverse nature of those holding the key to truth, MI5 cannot now locate this report, and they have accused Richard Tomlinson of making it up. Give me a few hours to search through MI5’s filing cabinets, and I am sure I will be able to find the report.