A glimpse behind the curtain of diplomatic intrigue

FEW AGENTS have been "outed" quite so luridly and comprehensively. But Christopher Hurran, the MI6 station chief in Prague turned unwilling star of Czech television, is a fairly typical example of the intelligence officer working under diplomatic cover at a British embassy.

Every foreign correspondent learns to spot them - the first or second secretary you run into at the embassy Christmas party, charming but utterly vague when pressed on their line of work. "Bit of politics, bit of economics, liaison, that sort of thing." The Diplomatic Service List gives no clue, and the Foreign Office will not say a word.

What is slightly unusual in this case, intelligence experts said last night, is Mr Hurran's senior rank. As counsellor, he is the third-ranked diplomat in the Prague mission. But he may not have been the only intelligence officer there.

In important posts such as Moscow (and quite possibly Prague), a two- tier system might operate. There could be a "visible" MI6 man - in this case Mr Hurran almost certainly - whose identity was known to the host government, and as such was perfectly placed to deal with "walk-in" defections during the Cold War.

Then there would be the invisibles who never broke cover, whose identity was (theoretically) unknown to the host government. They could be first or second secretaries or even their spouses - as was Janet Chisholm, wife of an MI6 man in Moscow, who was contactperson for the super-spy Oleg Penkovsky before he was caught and executed by the Russians in 1962.

Even the fact that Hurran is gay is less unusual today. Back in the mid- 1980s, Sir Antony Duff, then head of MI5, pressed for homosexuals to be permitted to work for the service. Today being gay is no disqualification for a posting abroad with MI6 or the Foreign Office; indeed, it can be an advantage. For one thing, single people cost less. For another, spouses can be big problems in their own right, especially if obliged to give up work and live in a country they may detest.

The Hurran "outing" is unlikely to have been caused by nostalgia for the old days when Czech and British spooks were on opposite sides. In contrast to the incompetence displayed by the BIS, the modern Czech intelligence service, over Mr Hurran, the Czechs were much admired during the Cold War - "as good as, or better than the Russians," one MI6 veteran recalls.

"Almost certainly many of the old people are still there, you simply can't clean out the Augean stables entirely ...When ideologies change, secret services are like the wiring in the house that's being sold. The new buyer turns the switch, and the lights still work."

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker