Why am I hounded by Britain simply for telling the truth?

I'd have broken the Official Secrets Act if I'd told the Home Secretary MI5's carpets were grey
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THREE WEEKS ago I was released by a French court after the British government had demanded my extradition on grounds of breaching the Official Secrets Act. It decided that my criticism of the British intelligence services was a political act, a verdict which clearly embarrassed the UK authorities.

After I had become able to discuss my position with my partner, my lawyer and my family, I decided to offer the Government an olive branch. Although the French court had effectively given me license to make new disclosures, without the fear of extradition, I told the Government that I did not want to go down this path.

Given the embarrassment to the Government and MI6, and the fact that it would make more sense to them to have me in the UK, I expected they would seize this opportunity to enter into an agreement which would allow me to return to the UK without fear of prosecution.

The Government wrote to my lawyers earlier this month curtly stating that it would not enter into a dialogue. This position was confirmed by government lawyers last week .I suppose I should have expected such a naive and small-minded reaction from the authorities as this has been the hallmark of their behaviour since I first went on the record in August 1997.

Rather than deal with my legitimate disclosures, the authorities have accused me of being a a rebellious "loose-cannon", selling secrets for money, and of being a traitor.

First, let me say that I was motivated by conscience to expose wrong- doings in the services. It would have been easy for me to simply accept this malpractice and continue to do the job that I had after leaving MI5.

I realised that, after I had gone into print with various disclosures, it was highly likely the authorities would seek to imprison me. In view of this, I took pounds 20,000 expenses so I could leave Britain and live abroad while the government responded .

I am in no doubt, given the authorities' keenness to have me thrown in jail in France, that they would have had no compunction whatsoever about holding me in HMP Belmarsh for up to 12 months on remand before any trial, had I stayed in Britain. I also agreed to return this money as part of the negotiations with the government earlier this year.

Second, I'm not a traitor. A traitor is someone who gives secrets to an enemy power, usually in a covert relationship. I have never disclosed the names of agents or operatives and have always deliberately kept my disclosures vague so their identities are not compromised.

Third, every bit of information I have disclosed has had a very strong public interest reason for its disclosure. I have, for example, pointed out that Jack Straw, the current Home Secretary and arguably the least militant Labour politician of his generation, has an MI5 file for being a "communist sympathiser".

I have also disclosed that MI6 paid money to an Islamic extremist group to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi, an attack which went wrong, killing Libyan civilians.

I have also described how an MI5 officer received an intelligence report warning of an attack on the Israeli Embassy but failed to respond to it before the actual attack in July 1994. The report subsequently turned up in another officer's cupboard, in an apparent attempt to cover up the oversight. As a result of my disclosure, it now appears that MI5 failed to disclose their intelligence report to the defence during the trial of those charged, and subsequently convicted, of the bombing.

Yes, I admit I have broken Britain's draconian 1989 Official Secrets Act but I would even have broken the law if I had told the Home Secretary that the carpets in the MI5 building were grey. Of course, if I had made my disclosures before 1989, I would probably not have been prosecuted as I would have cited the public interest defence that existed then.

Many people were anxious when this defence was removed from the Act by the then Conservative government. In fact, Tony Blair, Jack Straw and John Morris, the current Attorney General, all voted against removing the public interest defence as it would deter political whistleblowers. So why have they changed their stance now they are in government?

It cannot be because there is proper overseeing of the agencies. Ministers rely on the heads of the agencies to assess their organisation's activities and performance. The Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee have no right to call witnesses and demand papers, unlike similar bodies in other western democracies.

When I made my disclosures, I thought the Intelligence and Security Committee as part of its role would take my evidence and hold the agencies to account. Despite my offers the committee has refused to listen to me, let alone objectively assess my evidence.

The UK had recently (and belatedly) begun the process of incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law. Although the convention makes provision for the state to curtail freedom of expression to protect national security, it excepts a degree of "proportionality". As a blanket ban on freedom of expression, the Official Secrets Act will have to be reformed.

So I now find myself obliged to live abroad for breaking a law that is to be reformed. Although I have been released from La Sante prison, I am now effectively imprisoned in France. If I leave, I risk the British Government applying for my extradition again from another country.

When I was arrested on 1 August 1998, I was still in the process of negotiating with the Government so that I could return to the UK without being imprisoned. At the time, the Attorney General seemed prepared to agree that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute me (but would not write this down). The report for my extradition was clearly an attempt to silence me as it coincided with my efforts to make the public aware of the MI6- funded plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi.

As things stand, I cannot help feeling that I'm being left in political exile because I have told the truth, and in doing so have embarrassed the intelligence services.

If my experience has taught me anything, it is that the obsessive secrecy of the British state allows the intelligence services to exert an unhealthy influence over a democratically elected government. How else can we explain the reaction to my situation of a Labour government elected on a platform of information and commitment to basic human rights?

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