Sunday Times 6 September 1992
A transcript of the complete article is printed below:
Secrets sold to Russia in MI5 blunder - How Soviets obtained details of British nuclear weapon
Sunday Times, 6 September 1992
Insight: David Leppard, Nick Rufford, James Adams
Britain’s security service, MI5, is conducting a wide-ranging inquiry into how some of the nation's most sensitive military secrets were sold to Russia.
MI5 officials discovered last month that details of a British free-fall nuclear bomb and blueprints of the sophisticated Rapier anti-aircraft missile system have been passed to Russia’s KGB by a man already suspected of espionage.
The inquiry is focusing on how MI5 allowed the man to continue passing defence secrets to Russian intelligence despite having identified him as a likely KGB mole nearly 20 years ago.
The espionage plot was discovered by Scotland Yard’s Special Branch after a man was arrested earlier this year and charged under the Official Secrets Act.
Senior MI5 and Special Branch officers are debating whether to disclose the full extent of the leak now or wait for an embarrassing court case to reveal the security blunder.
The alleged mole, a former member of the now disbanded British Communist party, was first suspected in 1976 while working for EMI, the electricals firm, which later merged with Thorn.
He is understood to have obtained and sold to Moscow details of the complete trigger mechanism for the British free-fall nuclear bomb. At the time, the bomb was an important part of Britain’s nuclear forces and designed for use against Warsaw Pact countries.
A police investigation in 1976 failed to obtain enough evidence to prosecute the suspected KGB agent under the Official Secrets Act.
The man was arrested this year following a tip-off from a Russian defector and a surveillance operation on his home. Security sources say he was paid £10,000 by another, unidentified, British KGB spy for passing on his last batch of secrets.
The row within the security service centres on how its counter-espionage agents, whose job is to detect spies in Britain, lost track of the suspect after he left EMI to join GEC-Marconi.
The alleged KGB agent, an engineering expert, is said to have gained high security clearance within GEC. By the late 1980s, and until just before his arrest last month, he had access to some of the country’s most sensitive military secrets.
“This guy is a professional agent, highly trained in tradecraft and tremendously good,” said a security source. “He is probably the most proficient KGB spy since Geoffrey Prime.” [Prime was jailed for 35 years in 1982 for betraying top-secret information to the KGB while working for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham in the early 1980s]
Among the GEC projects allegedly betrayed by the KGB mole was the aiming and tracking system for the short-range Rapier ground-to-air guided missile system.
The information could enable the Russians to develop counter-measures to blind the missile.
The loss of secrets to the KGB is a blow to the Ministry of Defence, which spent millions of pounds developing Rapier’s complex electronics. The missile is used by the army and RAF, and has been sold to the Americans and other allies.
“There is an almighty row going on into how MI5 let him get away with it, especially after they caught him out in 1976,” said the source. “This will cause enormous embarrassment for the security services.”
The scandal emerged after evidence of the suspected spy’s background was provided to MI5 by Victor Oshchenko, a top-ranking Russian intelligence officer and former KGB official, who defected to the West in July.
Oshchenko is understood to have been the British mole’s KGB “case officer” during the mid-1970s. He is currently in an MI5 safe house.
An official at the Russian embassy in Paris and a former colonel in the Russian security ministry that took over from the KGB, Oshchenko has provided a wealth of detail on British military secrets sold to the Russians during the past 20 years.
This article carries a strong presumption of guilt, and this attitude was later maintained by the judge during his pre-trial rulings for admissibility of evidence. There are also inaccuracies in the article, which would distort the opinion of anyone who read it. Any jury member who read the article could have been influenced, and persuaded that evidence existed where it did not.
Although the article makes the point that I had leaked information to the Russians about Britain’s free-fall nuclear bomb (WE-177), at the time this story was leaked MI5 had already made the decision there was insufficient evidence to include that accusation as part of the charges against me, and so this indicates deliberate mischief by those doing the leaking.
The claim that blueprints of the Rapier missile system had been passed to Russia was also false, as the documents concerned were found in my possession. These blueprints did not show the Rapier missile system, but related only to one small component used in a piece of Rapier test equipment, and the evidence at my trial was that this component was in fact obsolete.
There has never been any suggestion that I was suspected of doing anything illegal in 1976, and it was not possible there was any police investigation to prosecute me that year, because I continued to work on Britain’s nuclear weapon until 1978.
It is ludicrous that the article claims I had “high security clearance within GEC” or that I “had access to some of the country’s most sensitive military secrets”. The information in my GEC personnel file demonstrated that I had the lowest level of security clearance.
According to a CIA tradecraft expert witness at my trial, the so-called tradecraft in my case was basic, and fairly amateur. Therefore, yet again, this article is exaggerating the facts of my case.
So, who would benefit from the leaking and publication of an article like this one? It seems MI5 comes out of it badly. If the aim was to create prejudice against my defence, then that does appear to have been a major motive for this operation.
At the time of the leak, access to information about my case was limited to very few people or organisations. So, who would have an agenda to leak this story, and try to damage the reputation of MI5 at the same time? The indication given to me by my solicitor was that this story had been offered to a couple of newspapers during a very short period. The Guardian thought they were going to get the story, but it appears the Sunday Times was the outlet that was successful.
We often hear that phrase - “Freedom of the Press” - and look in sympathy at people living under totalitarian and repressive regimes, who have no access to unbiased information. In such countries journalists often risk their lives to tell the truth about daily life and political corruption. The press in the UK would never repress information to prevent embarrassment to the government - would they? Or would the UK press act like toadies and publish what our masters require to be published, as though the real Editor was in Downing Street rather than Wapping?
It is odd the Sunday Times has close ties to sources within the intelligence community. Why should that be? Why should the “Insight” team have access to material like that in this article, unless it suits the Secret Services to leak such material? These Insight journalists must be in bed with the security services - can a Leppard change its spots?
So, when the press works hand in hand with the security services, they are able to publish anything. Even the Official Secrets Act can be bypassed when it suits them, and who else would support the breaking of the OSA but MI5 and MI6?
But what is particularly significant is the timing of this article. It was published precisely at the time Mitrokhin made a critical visit to the UK, to discuss details about the removal of his archive to the UK and the defection of him and his family.
It is my belief that the real culprits behind the Sunday Times article was MI6, those masters of disinformation. That old rivalry between MI5 and MI6 was at a high point in 1992, and there are very few organisations with the ability or the motive to attack MI5 in the way that this article was leaked. MI6 was the organisation that captured those golden prizes of Vasili Mitrokhin and Viktor Oshchenko. These defectors demonstrated that the KGB was active in Britain under the very noses of MI5. MI6 wanted to flag up the failings of MI5, and what better way to do it than a big leak.
P.S. It is another twist on the story, after the Sunday Times was allowed to get away with printing this article about my case, that Stephen Dorril had to have his book withdrawn from the shelves. The book, “The Silent Conspiracy - Inside The Intelligence Services in The 1990’s”, was found in contempt of court for suggesting that the Sunday Times had printed an article prejudicial to my defence. You can read about it here, but there is no accounting for the bizarre double standards that exist when the establishment either does or does not support the breaking of the rules.
P.P.S. We now know that, at 14 July 2011, News International and the Rupert Murdoch empire is completely compromised in its relationship with the Police and the political class. James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and ex News of The World Editor Andy Coulson are also implicated in wrong-doing regarding the use of unethical methods to find information that could be used in stories in their newspapers. I now believe that the Special Branch policeman who headed the investigation against me, Detective Chief Superintendent Malcolm McLeod, was using his knowledge about the evidence in my case to feed stories to the press, that were designed to undermine my Defence. It was completely wrong that the Police should use the media to bolster their case, and it should not have been allowed under British Law. Let us hope that all the details about the Police involvement with News International will be revealed in the coming months, and that Malcolm McLeod will be called on to answer what he did in leaking evidence from my case to the Sun and Sunday Times newspapers.