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Tinker, tailor, soldier, . . . gay

AN ABORTIVE bomb plot to destroy the Prague-based Radio Free Iraq; the public outing - in every sense - of MI6's Head of Station in Prague; the sudden sacking of the head of the Czech intelligence service and the defection of Saddam Hussein's chief spymaster in Eastern Europe.

This is not the plotline of the latest thriller by John Le Carre, but the mysterious ingredients of the international spy scandal now playing to an audience of furious spooks from Baghdad to London, via Prague and other still-to-be-disclosed locations.

The shadowy web of intrigue threatens to wreck intelligence co-operation between the Czech Secret Service (BIS) and its Western counterparts and highlights the difficulties of integrating the espionage networks of post- Communist Eastern Europe into the Nato intelligence apparatus.

The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are all scheduled to join Nato this spring. The secret services of these former Communist states have historic ties dating from the Soviet era to parts of the developing world, such as the Middle East. So the three new Nato members are seen as boosting the Western Alliance's intelligence capabilities.

But Czech television this week named Christopher Hurran, a British diplomat in his 40s based in Prague, as Head of Station for MI6, the secret intelligence service. His name, address, pictures of his house and the fact he was gay and was living with another man were published in the Czech media.

Now the Czech President, Vaclav Havel, says he is not certain how enthusiastically Nato will reveal classified information to the Czechs "when they see how in the Czech Republic absolutely everything gets gossiped about".

Mr Hurran's naming, which has infuriated Whitehall, followed the sacking last week of Karel Vulterin as head of Czech counter-intelligence services. British officials are livid because foreign intelligence agencies may now use the incident to try to pinpoint previous incumbents as possible MI6 agents. "We do a lot of detailed work with the intelligence services of these three countries, and there are virtually no secrets between us," said one Western analyst. "This episode in Prague and the fact that he [Hurran] has been named could be an embarrassment."

The Czech private television station TV Nova reported that Mr Hurran had written to Jaroslav Basta, minister for the secret services, and to Karel Vulterin, complaining of the supposedly poor quality of the work of the BIS.

The dispute between the two is believed to centre on a highly secret operation involving Jabir Salim, the eastern Europe head of Saddam Hussein's secret police.

Formerly based in Prague, Mr Salim vanished last December. BIS officers angered MI6 by revealing his role as an alleged double agent, and he is now believed to have defected, possibly to Britain. Czech television reported that Mr Salim defected after he was ordered to organise a bomb attack on Radio Free Iraq, the Prague-based broadcasters who beam anti-Saddam propaganda into Iraq.

Many in Prague believe that it was renegade elements in the BIS that leaked the name of the MI6 station head to the Czech press, possibly as revenge for the sacking of Mr Vulterin.

Both the secret services and interior ministries of Central Europe's new democracies are often the last refuge of disaffected pro-Communist elements who resent the loss of their old power and privileges.

After the collapse of Communism in 1989, the new democrac ies were faced with a dilemma about their intelligence agents."The Czechs decided to destroy their old intelligence service and build up a new one, but that left many people angry and disaffected," said one analyst.