Spies will face mental health check to prevent embarrassing mistakes

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The Independent Online

Britain's spies are to face rigorous mental health checks after a series of embarrassing security breaches culminated in a drunken agent leaving his laptop in a London taxi.

Britain's spies are to face rigorous mental health checks after a series of embarrassing security breaches culminated in a drunken agent leaving his laptop in a London taxi.

The incidents left secret agents' bosses wondering if the stresses of the job were proving too much for some of them. Now the neuroses of secret service personnel are to be spotlighted by American-style psychometric testing, a committee of MPs disclosed yesterday.

Concern over leaks deepened in March this year when an officer from MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, mislaid his laptop after a night at a tapas bar near the organisation's Vauxhall offices. The distraught agent was forced to place an advertisement in the London Evening Standard pleading for the safe return of his computer, which contained unencrypted information.

That incident came just days after an MI5 officer had hislaptop stolen while queuing for a ticket at Paddington Station.

More seriously, security procedures had already come under review when David Shayler, a former MI5 officer, fled to Paris after claiming the running of the organisation was shambolic.

Tests being developed by MI5, MI6 and the Government's GCHQ listening centre would be able to identify potential culprits in advance by highlighting "adverse character traits", the Intelligence and Security Committee said in its annual report.

The security service accepted there was still "scope for significant improvement", the committee added.

Annual appraisals on all staff should be supplemented by home visits once every five years. While there, investigators could check for signs of unexplained wealth which might betray the sale of secrets.

A seven-point "risk-rating" system already in place at GCHQ provided a systematic means of identifying some character defects, the committee said, and should be adopted by MI5 and MI6.

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