Former MI5 spy battles for book

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Former MI5 spy battles for book

A former senior British spy appealed to Britain’s highest court Monday as part of an effort to publish an account of his career in espionage.

Lawyers for the former domestic intelligence officer, who is not named in court documents, told Britain’s Supreme Court that he wants judges to review the MI5 spy agency’s decision to block the publication of his book.

The ex-officer’s lawyers say he was a senior MI5 official with a key post in anti-terrorist intelligence operations and has been bestowed with honors including an Order of the British Empire and an Order of Merit by an unidentified foreign government.

Under Britain’s Official Secrets Act, former intelligence officers need authorization to disclose anything connected to their previous work. Lawyers said that the ex-spy first attempted to publish his book three years ago but was denied authorization. Britain’s Court of Appeal previously rejected the author’s move to have a senior judge review MI5’s publication ban.

It ruled that the ex-officer’s case should not be heard at a traditional court but instead by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal - a legal panel that often sits in private to hear complaints against the intelligence services and some other public bodies that use surveillance.

Lawyers for the former officer, known only as “A’’ in court, say he would have his rights to a fair hearing infringed upon if the case is not heard in a public court.

Gavin Millar, one of the lawyers, on Monday asked a five-judge panel at the Supreme Court to have the case heard in a public court, rather than at the tribunal. Judges will make a ruling at a later date following two days of hearings.

In an article written earlier this year for the Index on Censorship about the case, Tamsin Allen - another member of the ex-spy’s legal team - said the memoir is a “thoughtful and considered autobiography.”

“It is critical of MI5 and the way it treats its own field agents. But he applied his considerable experience to distinguish between real secrets and information that was already in the public domain or was harmless,’’ Allen wrote on the Web site of the organization, a free-speech campaign group.

Britain’s government argues that publishing the book could threaten national security.

In a famous case in 1998, Britain’s government lost a three-year campaign to ban publication of “Spycatcher,’’ a memoir by ex-MI5 officer Peter Wright. He wrote how he and others in the organization “bugged and burgled our way across London.’’

Former MI5 chief Stella Rimmington published an autobiography in 2001, after the government censored some sections and said it regretted and disapproved of her decision to write the book.

Earlier this month, University of Cambridge historian Christopher Andrew published the first authorized history of MI5 - a 1,000-page volume commissioned and vetted by the agency to mark its 100th anniversary this year. AP
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