Rifkind puzzles over espionage mystery he helped make public

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The Independent Online
SIR MALCOLM Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary, said yesterday that he was "puzzled" as to why other Conservative ministers were not informed by the intelligence services about Colonel Vasili Mitrokhin, the KGB defector.

MI6 told Sir Malcolm in 1996 of Col Mitrokhin's archive of KGB documents, which had been brought to Britain in 1992. But, he says, he was not given details of the two British spies. "That would not be information I would have expected to get as Foreign Secretary."

But Sir Malcolm said he would expect the Home Secretary and the Attorney- General to have been informed. "Why the security services didn't do that in this case is a matter which certainly puzzles me."

It was Sir Malcolm who decided, controversially, to allow MI6 to hand the defector and his material to Professor Christopher Andrew, the Cambridge historian. "They were Russian secrets, not British secrets, and therefore there was no reason they could not be made public."

Asked why it took so long for him to be told of the archive, he said: "It was that breadth of information which explains why it took four years between 1992 and 1996 for the information to be analysed and scrutinised."

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has ordered MI5 to review its procedures for informing politicians of its activities in the wake of the revelations. He has also ordered the organisation to produce an annual report of all its active spying cases.

"If the information was being given, why did that not include the fact that they had identified someone who was believed to have been a Russian spy," Sir Malcolm asked. "That is a very serious question which an inquiry will no doubt establish."

The Home Secretary's action comes after the disclosure that Melita Norwood, 87, had passed atom-bomb secrets to the KGB. Her identity and that of John Symonds, a former policeman, was contained in by Col Mitrokhin's archives.

Professor Andrew said that Mrs Norwood's claim that she has no regrets "stick in the gullet". Although he does not believe the great-grandmother should be prosecuted, he said she ought to face up to the fact that she had been helping one of the most corrupt and murderous regimes of the century.

Mrs Norwood was taking a relaxed view of her notoriety yesterday. If jailed, she would take the opportunity to catch up on reading the works of Karl Marx and would try to recruit her fellow inmates to communism, she said.

The Commons oversight committee for the secret and intelligence services, chaired by Tom King, may call Mrs Norwood to answer questions. The committee is sending a questionnaire to key players in the spy "farce", including Stephen Lander, the current director-general of MI5, and ministers, past and present.

The Home Secretary and his Tory predecessor, Michael Howard, are expected to be called to give evidence to the committee about the allegations that MI5 and MI6 failed to keep ministers informed.