MI5 allows chink of light to infiltrate world of espionage: Terry Kirby assesses the value of a booklet designed to lift the veil on one half of the security services

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QUESTIONED yesterday by journalists on what she thought about spy writers like John Le Carre, a highly placed official at MI5 replied dismissively: 'Not much.' She added: 'I hope they will get it more right now they have the booklet.'

For the first time since Captain Vernon Kell and Captain Mansfield Cumming jointly established the Secret Service Bureau in 1909, the veil was officially lifted yesterday on one half of the current workings of the nation's intelligence and counter-espionage effort.

The publication of a glossy, 36-page booklet, simply titled The Security Service, with a foreword by Stella Rimington, the modern day successor to Captain Kell, or 'K' as he became known, has ushered in a new era of openness for MI5.

However, the slim number of new facts it contains seems unlikely to render redundant overnight a whole range of spy literature or works like Spycatcher, by former senior officer Peter Wright, and those by Nigel West and Chapman Pincher.

What the booklet leaves out, such as its methods of operation and espionage successes, is more interesting than what it contains. On the Wright affair, it says his claims of an MI5 plot to undermine the Wilson government were found to be false, which he himself acknowledges.

On agents, the booklet admits that it uses members of the public and employees of 'target organisations' as agents. 'Agent operations are highly specialised and are often conducted long-term. The work involves the identification, recruitment and subsequent careful direction of an individual within, for example, a terrorist group or a hostile intelligence service.

'Substantial resources are devoted to providing support for both the agent and the Security Service case officer, particularly to maintain the security of the operation.'

Files are kept on individuals, including many foreign nationals, and organisations, but the brochure stresses 'neither the police nor any other government department has links to the service's computer system'. It states that the service does not target legitimate protest groups, but 'the subversive element within'.

Questioned yesterday about the inaccuracy of its files on alleged Gulf war subversives, whose links to terrorism were never shown, the senior source defended the quality of the information, saying: 'It was a time of war.'

Among the most revealing details is the internal breakdown of the service itself. Two deputy director generals handle operations and administration respectively. Operations includes a department covering protective advice for government and industry and the five key intelligence branches: resources and operations, international and domestic counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and counter-proliferation and counter-subversion.

The core of its 2,000 employees are the General Intelligence group, largely comprising directly recruited graduates, about 25 per cent of whom come from Oxford or Cambridge. They are largely responsible for investigation, assessment and policy.

Observers were surprised yesterday to learn that 70 per cent of its resources were now devoted to terrorism, of which 44 per cent is domestic, mainly Irish, and the remainder international, largely Palestinian or other Middle Eastern groups.

Sources said Irish terrorism accounted for 80 per cent of domestic work, with the remainder involving groups like the Welsh nationalists, Meibion Glyndwyr.

In October last year, the service took over lead responsibility for gathering IRA intelligence. The senior MI5 source stressed that relations with the police Anti- Terrorist Branch were now 'excellent'.