In the Courts: Jailed former M16 agent may try to publish secrets

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The Independent Online
A former MI6 officer was jailed for a year yesterday for unlawfully disclosing information about his work. But his imprisonment may not stop the `secrets' being published, says Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent.

Richard Tomlinson, a 34-year-old Cambridge graduate, yesterday became the first MI6 agent to be jailed under official secrets legislation since the Soviet spy George Blake, 36 years ago.

Tomlinson, who joined MI6 in 1991 and was dismissed in 1995, admitted passing a synopsis of a proposed book about his experiences in the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) to an Australian publisher. He kept details of his proposed book in secret files on several computers.

Lawyers for MI6 argued that the information contained damaging information about operations and agents obtained by Tomlinson while working for the agency in Moscow, Bosnia and London.

Passing sentence at the Old Bailey the Recorder of London, Sir Lawrence Verney, said: "You showed a determination to publish information which you knew is actually and potential harmful to the public interest. It remains the duty of the Court to pass a sentence which may deter others from pursuing the course that you chose to pursue."

"We are sadly conscious that it may not deter you," he added. This last reference is due to the fact that once Tomlinson has completed his sentence - he will probably serve another four months in jail - there is nothing stopping him going to a foreign country, such as Australia, and publishing his experiences in a repeat of the Spycatcher affair.

He is the first person to be prosecuted under the 1989 Official Secrets Act. The court heard that Tomlinson had contacted Transworld Publishers in Australia after becoming bitterly disillusioned following his dismissal from SIS. His attempt to claim unfair dismissal through an industrial tribunal was blocked by Malcolm Rifkind, then Foreign Secretary.

Nigel Sweeney, prosecuting, said that Tomlinson wrote to SIS saying that his treatment by the agency "made the formerly unthinkable step of contacting a hostile power as something I think of daily."

He also threatened to publish the book on the Internet, but later said it was a bluff.

Last February he signed an agreement with MI6 not to publish anything in return for a cash payment and help in finding work. SIS also arranged for some sessions with a psychiatrist. But in April he flew again to Australia to find a publisher for his book and told a commissioning editor that he wanted to reveal the "unscrupulous and immoral" actions of MI6.

He was arrested on 31 October by Metropolitan Police Special Branch at his home in Milton Keynes where they found copies of the book and chapters on a personal computer and a larger machine at his home. A second computer with a copy of the book was stolen, although MI6 is suspected of being responsible.

John Wadham, Tomlinson's solicitor, said after the case that his "only crime was to produce the synopsis of a book which was never published".