Dear Stella Rimington: The Conservative MP and spy fiction writer welcomes the head of MI5's first public appearance at the televised Richard Dimbleby Lecture, but wonders if Irish terrorism really should be on her agenda

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Many congratulations on your graduation from the Lady Di School of Media Presentation. Your high marks in the Coy Look to Camera section are well justified (and I suppose as D-G of MI5 you are to be commended for persuading the Government to allow you to deliver a TV lecture at all). But what of your low score in the Serious Professionalism department?

The collapse of the Soviet bloc left plenty of challenges to British and Western security, but do they really represent a genuine threat to the realm? Are they issues other agencies might address?

As you said, in recent years the Security Service has changed out of all recognition. Independent advisers sit on staff selection panels, and the media is recognised as a potential ally and not an adversary. Counter-subversion is now a very limited area of interest and MI5's principal preoccupation is that of counter-terrorism, a field in which it has limited experience. For many years MI5 provided a single, very distinguished security adviser to the Northern Ireland authorities. Now yours is the lead agency in countering terrorism across the UK. Nearly half your resources are devoted to tackling Irish terrorism.

But is this the best use of resources? The idea that a clandestine organisation should play the prime part in a particularly sensitive area of the criminal justice system has been resisted by the professionals since 1909, the year MI5 came into being, 26 years after the Metropolitan Police had established a SpeciaI Irish Branch. The fact is that while the Provisionals and Loyalists pose a threat to themselves and their rivals in Ulster, they do not undermine our parliamentary democracy. More British soldiers die each year on German autobahns than are killed in terrorist attacks. Does MI5 really have to be involved at all?

To be honest, you have no special skills in collecting forensic evidence, taking witness statements or giving court testimony. Even by Special Branch standards, MI5 are amateurs, but at least the Branch's detectives are subject to a strict code of open discipline. If MI5's performance during the 1982 Lurgan hayshed deaths, and more recently in the Matrix Churchill prosecution, are anything to go by, there is no reason to believe that MI5 has acquired a special rapport with the criminal justice system. Your sophisticated surveillance techniques are no substitute for a single command structure dedicated to eliminating Irish terrorism.

Wouldn't you agree that the Provisionals' international dimension has been very limited? Aren't your many overseas liaison contacts merely duplicating the work undertaken by the police and the Security and Information Service?

Certainly, MI5 has a continuing role in its traditional areas of counter-espionage, sabotage and subversion, but there is no evidence that it is accomplishing anything remarkable in Ireland's bloody conflict.

So mightn't your TV disclosure be interpreted as yet another case of 'Minister, we're doing frightfully well I wish I could tell you how well, but it's so secret'?

One last thing. Would you now consider adopting the American model, where your counterpart, the director of the FBI, holds press conferences and even fields questions?

Yours sincerely,

Rupert Allason

(Photograph omitted)

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