26 January 2006

Similarities with the ABC trial of 1978

I print below an interesting comment I have received from one of my readers Sal ibn Hari. It takes me back a few years, but I actually remember reading about this ABC trial as it unfolded. The story had been covered in the Timeout magazine, which I used to see most weeks, and I believe mere mention of the details of the case seemed to cause great alarm amongst the authorities. If memory serves me correctly, I think there were heated arguments about what could or could not be published in the press - ultra secret stuff was apparently involved - but this turned into another of those fairy stories the security services like to dream up.

Anyway, this is what Sal ibn Hari has to say:

I have read your blog from start to today. What an interesting account of a less than known spy story. I was interested in the mention of Dr Meirion Francis Lewis and the *accuracy* of his evidence.

I must admit to not knowing much about the various DEFSTANS used but I do like a good spy story. Yours, in the aftermath of your actions is all the more interesting for this.

When I read of Dr Meirion Francis Lewis, a man I have never heard of, I immediately remembered another trial, which on immediate reflection seemed far from your case, but on second thoughts was a lot nearer.

In February 1977 a conversation occurred between two journalists and an ex-corporal who was involved with the interception of radio transmissions. The reason for this conversation, in which Britain’s Signals Intelligence was discussed, was due to the ex-corporal’s disillusionment with his work there. Well the two journalists and the specop involved were arrested by Special Branch and charged with offences under S1 OSA as normally reserved for foreign spies.

The reason for my recollection was due to the included phrase, -- ‘technical issues surrounding the one important exhibit - the “restricted” document.’

The case to which I refer above is the so called ABC case. The restricted document phrase reminded me of one exhibit within the case that was presented by the prosecution, a photograph of the Post Office Tower [Now BT Tower] near Goodge Street London W1.

The actual image showed the tower from the base looking up and almost to the centre, at the point of interest, could be seen the three antenna galleries holding a variety of dishes and parabolic reflectors.

Apart from standard telecommunications links the tower was also part of “Backbone” designed to allow a continuation of communications should nuclear war erupt. As documented in a variety of books such as “War Plan UK” Duncan Campbell, [see here for a taster] and “Beneath the City Streets,” Peter Laurie. There may well have been a mention in Duncan Campbell’s “Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier: American Military Power in Britain” as well.

This photographic evidence was discounted on the production of a souvenir postcard bearing the same image.

The mention of Dr Meirion Francis Lewis and his evidence reminded me of “Colonel B” in this case [actually Colonel HA Johnstone] the main prosecution witness who received protests of his anonymity on 18th November 1977. He was, apparently, overall head of British army sigint and part of the intelligence staff at the MoD in London. But the trial judge, Mr Justice Willis had been a member of the Royal Corps of Signals too.

No doubt, that due to some of the evidence to be used by the prosecution, some members of the Jury expressed doubts about their signing of the OSA in connection with their jobs. The defence asked for some signs as to why and it became evident that three individuals would not view the trial sympathetically, and certainly not impartially. One had worked in the civil service, another a squadron security clerk in the army but the last had served in the SAS for some years. This ex SAS officer was the Foreman of the Jury having volunteered himself for the job. According to Crispin Aubrey’s account in “Who’s Watching You?” this ex SAS juror had made it clear that he had no doubt of the guilt of the defendants and spent much of his time persuading the other jurors around to his view.

The Trial referred to as the ABC trial after the commencing letters of the three defendants surnames ended with all receiving minor non-custodial sentences under S2 OSA on 17 November 1978.

More info via “Who’s Watching You?” Crispin Aubrey Penguin books 1981.

I wish you the best of luck with your quest.

Sal ibn Hari 260106

Many thanks to Sal ibn Hari for providing this comment, and if you want to contact him his e-mail address is: mukhabarat2003@yahoo.co.uk

I note that all the books mentioned about appear to be available on the Amazon website.

Security Commission report Cm2930

I noticed today that the Security Commission's report about my case is available on the Amazon website here if anybody is interested.

Richard Tomlinson contacts British MPs and MEPs

After Richard Tomlinson had kindly assisted my solicitor in identifying that MI5 had double standards - a public and private view about my case - I was anxious to see if he had any more information that might help me. Unfortunately Mr Tomlinson could not help me further, and I expect my case would have been quite insignificant in the other work he was doing at the time of my arrest and trial. Nevertheless, Mr Tomlinson did try to raise the profile of my case and put his points to Britain’s MPs and Euro MEPs:

From: Richard Tomlinson
(a secret location)

Monday, August 09, 1999

To: Michael John Smith
H.M.P Full Sutton, York

Dear Mr Smith,

I received a copy of the letter that you sent to my solicitor. I am sorry to bring the disappointing news that I really do not know anything more than I have previously said in my letters to your solicitor. Whilst I suspect that you are correct in many of the points that you make in your letter, I really do not have any specific knowledge or evidence that could support your case.

I really feel desperately sorry for you as you clearly have been made a victim of the intelligence services desperate desire to protect their own interests and the mythology that is attached to their work. The sentence that you have received is ludicrously disproportionate, and reflects very poorly on British democracy.

I have sent the attached email to every British and Euro MP, but I fear that there are not many who have the courage to take on the intelligence services.

Yours sincerely,
Richard Tomlinson

The content of Richard Tomlinson’s email to MPs and MEPs is printed below:

Dear Sir/Madame,

I would like to draw your attention to the unfortunate case of Michael John Smith.

Mr Smith is a former Marconi engineer who in 1993 was convicted of breaking the 1911 Official Secrets Act, and was sentenced to twenty five years in prison [the sentence passed at the trial, but reduced to 20 years on appeal].

In my opinion this sentence was ridiculously and disproportionately large. Mr Smith supplied minor defence “secrets” to a Russian intelligence officer in an entrapment operation set up by MI5 and MI6. If such an entrapment operation had been set up by the police, the case would have been thrown out of court. But because it was set up by the intelligence services and was deemed important to “national security”, the evidence was deemed admissible. Moreover, the information that Mr Smith passed to the Russian officer was by no means important. While serving in MI6 at the time of Mr Smith’s arrest, I saw a classified internal MI5 document which concluded that Mr Smith’s acts had not caused any harm to Britain’s defence interests, as the information was all low level and out of date. Of course, Mr Smith’s defence lawyers were never appraised of this document and at his trial prosecution witnesses (all MI5 officers or Russian traitor Mr Oleg Gordievsky) grossly exaggerated the importance of the information passed over by Mr Smith.

Mr Smith has not committed a crime that merits twenty five years imprisonment. Such a disproportionate sentence reflects very poorly on Britain’s intelligence services. By way of illustration, today ten Briton’s in Yemen - a country we perceive as having a poor human rights record - received a more moderate ten year sentence for the far more serious crime of plotting to overthrow the state. Mr Smith is an unfortunate victim of our intelligence service’s strategy of mythologising intelligence work in order to protect their budget, lack of accountability, and power.

I think that there is an urgent need to reform the Official Secrets Acts to reflect modern times. The 1911 Act, under which Mr Smith was convicted, is for “collaborating with the enemy”. Surely nobody today could claim that Russia is an “enemy”, and that the world we live in today is still relevant to the geopolitical climate of 1911.

Yours sincerely,
Richard Tomlinson

Richard Tomlinson makes a startling revelation

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
55a Northgate
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.

Yours sincerely,
Richard Tomlinson