Who minds the minders?

12 Nov

I am a great believer in the cock-up theory of history. In my experience and reading this is infinitely more convincing than devious and sinister plots created by criminal masterminds and traitors. In terms of fiction, it is a bit boring. When researching my stories of MI5 and MI6 I cannot help but find that they have been incredibly inept in almost all of their dealings. If only because their opponents were as bad or worse at the great game, they occasionally achieved some minor successes. However, in terms of MI5, their greatest coups were started by a simple policeman making a routine enquiry, and many of the operatives of MI5 seem to have been of the conspiracy nut variety, and very probably still are.

The worrying thing about what Edward Snowden has shown is that many of us are getting our emails read and our phone calls intercepted. I would like to believe that the operatives of MI5 and GCHQ are wonderful people, but the record shows otherwise. There are certain types of behaviour which are completely legal but could still result in blackmail. What if someone in public office is having an affair and the intercepts can prove this? It is really none of our business, in almost all circumstances. Would I be considered a dangerous radical if they found I read the Guardian or kept this type of blog?

This is from Adam Curtis’ blog, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/posts/BUGGER He says of MI5:

‘For most of the twentieth century the combination of ineptitude and secrecy created an organisation that retreated more and more into a world of fictional conspiracies in order to disguise it’s repeated failures. The question is whether the same is true today?

Disasters like the total intelligence failure over the WMD in Iraq would suggest that nothing much had changed. But the trouble is there is no way we can ever find out. The spies live behind a wall of secrecy and when anyone tries to criticise them, the spies respond by saying that they have prevented attacks and saved us from terrible danger. But they can’t show us the evidence because that is secret.’

There was a parliamentary committee last week where the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ were questioned. No doubt the committee found nothing useful.

In the very short Chapter nine of Harold Wilson’ book, ‘The governance of Britain’, there are two paragraphs explaining that the prime minister has ultimate responsibility for the security agencies. And it ends with two more that simply say this:

“The prime minister is occasionally questioned on matters arising out of his responsibility. His answers may be regarded as uniformly uninformative.

There is no further information that can usefully or properly be added before bringing this Chapter to an end.”

The veil of secrecy is always kept and we can never fully examine what they are doing. Since 9/11 the security agencies have greatly expanded, but seem to have produced very little of obvious use.


Jon Wakeham is the author of two books concerning the creation of the British security agencies, ‘Most Secret’ and ‘Down in the Flood’.


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