Spies' 'turf wars' under surveillance

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Indy Politics

Chief Political Correspondent

The risk of "turf wars" between MI6 and MI5 after the end of the Cold War is to be investigated by the Commons committee of senior MPs with the task of scrutiny over the secret services.

Tom King, the chairman of the committee, said the MPs would also question whether MI6, the classic James Bond-style network of overseas spies, had withdrawn too far from the former Soviet Union.

The committee told the Prime Minister in its first report that it would be concentrating its first inquiry on the way the two agencies and GCHQ, the telecommunications listening post, had adapted to the post-Cold War era. It will also look into co-operation with the US Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The committee, which is due to report early next year, is giving priority to finding out whether there is competition between MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, and MI5, the Security Service, which has statutory responsibility for countering terrorism, espionage and subversion at home.

MI6, which moved to its new headquarters at Vauxhall Cross last year, was set up in 1909 under Sir Mansfield Cumming, known as "C", for intelligence- gathering overseas.

The end of the Cold War led to cutbacks in overseas operations, and pressure within the MI6 empire to operate more widely at home, particularly in the anti-terrorist and anti-drugs role.

There were reports in the 1970s of competition between the two services in Ireland, but the peace process in the province has added to the pressures to co-ordinate their work more effectively, particularly with the police.

Mr King said of the agencies' roles in the post-Cold War era: "Obviously this is a new situation - some things remain, and some things change.

"Without wishing to cause alarm, are they properly co-ordinated, is there too much potential for turf wars, is there a seeking of new spheres of influence and competition?"

The cross-party committee, which includes Lord Howe, the former Foreign Secretary, does not have a remit for oversight of day-to-day operations by the security and intelligence services, but it will study policy and financial management, which, hitherto, has had little parliamentary accountability.

The MPs have already visited the agencies' headquarters, on opposite sides of the Thames. MI5 also moved into expensive converted offices on the Embankment last year, and questions about the lavish lifestyle of the spies are certain to be raised.

Other priorities identified by the committee for later investigation include the extent to which it is appropriate for Britain to maintain a "global reach" in intelligence; and the need to protect the intelligence network from betrayal, like the Ames case in the US, which may also have claimed the lives of British agents.

The committee reported to John Major that it was operating "within the ring of secrecy" and had been encouraged by the openness of intelligence "insiders".

In addition to the three agency heads, it has interviewed the Foreign Secretary, the Cabinet Secretary, the Home Secretary, the chairman of the Cabinet Joint Intelligence Committee, Paul Lever; and Gerry Warner, the UK Intelligence Co-ordinator.