Spymistress not spooked when given third degree by audience

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The Independent Culture

The former head of MI5 Stella Rimington had her diplomacy tested at her event yesterday, not by her interviewer, Woman's Hour's Jenni Murray, but by fierce interrogators in her audience.

The former head of MI5 Stella Rimington had her diplomacy tested at her event yesterday, not by her interviewer, Woman's Hour's Jenni Murray, but by fierce interrogators in her audience.

Rimington came totalk about her novel, At Risk, which she says is not autobiographical despite the much-remarked-on fact that the central character is a woman MI5 agent who bears a startling resemblances to its author. To be an "agent runner", as the heroine is (and Rimington was for many years) needs "sympathy, warmth and persuasion, as well as a certain ruthlessness which I also think is a feminine characteristic," she explained. She added "anyone trying to make a bomb from the recipe in At Risk would be deeply disappointed ... are better places to find a recipe for a bomb than in the pages of a novel, on the internet, actually".

But Rimington's audience was not happy to stick to fiction. "If you had been in the position of John Scarlett as head of the JIC when Alastair Campbell requested that you alter the conclusion of the final JIC dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, would you have [done so]?" asked one. There was a long pause. "I donít know, is the answer, because I wasn't in that position". But if you ask me what I think about putting a dossier into the public domain, I would say that I think it is fraught with difficulty, because intelligence is never precise," she eventually replied. "If you try to turn that into something that is capable of being put into the public domain, in order to make it comprehensible, to a very large extent those caveats have got to be removed, and I think that's what happened. So had I been around I would certainly have thought, 'No good is going to come of this, putting intelligence into the public domain,' and that is my feeling about what happened there."

In At Risk, Rimington has portrayed a young woman terrorist with some degree of sympathy, and this is a decision she had no qualms about defending. "Although I have no sympathy with what they're trying to do, I have a certain amount of sympathy with their backgrounds, which have led them to this particular point in their lives," she explained. "And each one has got something in their life that has caused them to take one route rather than another route."

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