Issue 222 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published August/September 1998 Copyright © Socialist Review
`Successive Labour governments have been elected promising to clean up the acts of the spooks at M15 and M16, yet strangely these things never happen'
When plane hijackings were very much the in thing and seemed to occur every other week, there was one which has always stood out for me. It was the time someone hijacked a plane not for a huge ransom, a safe destination or to gain the release of their, comrades, but to be told the 'third secret of Fatima'.
Fatima is a place in Portugal and the Virgin Mary is meant to have appeared there to three children. She did so, according to those who believe such nonsense, bearing a thoroughly right wing message and three secrets.
The first two secrets were long ago revealed, and turned out to be of no import. The third, however, is apparently momentous. It is known only by the children (long since grown old or dead) and to each successive pope. So profound is the secret meant to be that one pope was said to have fainted when he read it, another rendered speechless for days and a third driven to an early grave.
Obviously then, it is truly shocking. Perhaps it says, 'There is no god,' or even worse from the pope's point of view, 'God's a Protestant.' Anyway, it's obviously earth shattering, and some poor guy was willing to hijack a plane to find out what it is.
All of which is providing an enormous temptation for me, a temptation which I can no longer resist. I intend to hijack a Virgin train to Manchester sometime soon and will demand to be told the 'third secret of Whitehall'. I have no idea what this secret is--but whatever it is, it is clearly very profound.
For successive Labour governments have been elected promising to clean up the acts of the spooks at M15 and MI6, to look at the Official Secrets Act, to introduce freedom of information legislation-yet strangely these things never happen. In fact, Labour governments end up being as zealous a friend of the spooks as ever their Tory predecessors were.
The latest episode has been the farcical arrest of ex-M15 man David Shayler. I say farcical because such arrests and prosecutions proved nothing but embarrassing to the Thatcher and Major administrations.
The attempt to block the book Spycatcher by former spy Peter Wright showed up the government in court, gained the book and its author huge amounts of publicity, failed to prevent publication, and therefore allowed us a glimpse at the unaccountable actions of a bunch of right wing cranks completely out of control.
The book confirmed much of what Colin Wallace, another former intelligence officer, had revealed. Wallace told of plots to discredit the Labour government and Labour prime minister Harold Wilson. He told of murderous activity in Northern Ireland where British intelligence was funding, arming and providing men and information for Loyalist extremists.
Wallace himself became the victim of a frame up, a trumped up charge of murder which sent him to jail. His fight for justice gave the spooks more damning publicity.
Other attempts by the Tories to silence whistle blowers were no more successful. A jury decided that Clive Ponting was right to spill the beans about government lies concerning the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands War. Sarah Tisdall was convicted for telling the country about the arrival of cruise missiles.
Quite why the Labour government thinks it will fare any better prosecuting Shayler remains a mystery. For either Shayler is a liar, in which case he is not giving away official secrets, or he is telling the truth, in which case it is the heads of the security services who should be on the chopping block.
If they planned to assassinate Colonel Gadaffi of Libya they were acting illegally and apparently without government sanction.
If they have files on the likes of Jack Straw (a moderate student leader turned hard nosed home secretary) and Peter Mandelson (who apparently for a brief period in his life thought politics was about ideas and principals, rather than spin, image and personal ambition), then why did they and why do they still hold them?
If they were wasting large amounts of money bugging SWP Easter jamborees at Skegness, who was responsible, and what in hell did they think they would discover?
Never was Labour presented with a better opportunity to tackle them, clear up the mess, open the books, kick out the nutters and bring the whole shebang to heel. Instead out comes a publicity booklet from MI5 with a foreword by the erstwhile dangerous subversive Jack Straw explaining that M15 doesn't kill people, doesn't bug their phones, doesn't secretly carry out operations behind the backs of government. Instead it is waging a war, not on its own citizens but on International terrorists and drug smugglers. Mmm. haven't they done well, as Brucie might say!
At the same time Robin Cook explains there was never any plot to kill Gadaffi. How does he know? Apparently they've told him so! So much for the legendary intelligence of Ethics Man.
Jack Straw, meanwhile, apparently has no problem with a file being held on him, and apparently doesn't even want to see it, which to say the least is strange. No doubt were Jack a Catholic zealot, and the pope announced he was going to reveal the third secret of Fatima, Jack would hijack a plane to prevent the secret being revealed.
Such is the power of the third, secret of Whitehall.