MI5 drops cloak of secrecy to reveal its true colours

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The Independent Online

In the cloak and dagger world of Britain's secret services the code of silence was paramount. Even everyday details were considered too risky for public release in case they could damage national security. But in the modern world of espionage there is a new culture of openness and MI5 is finally prepared to blow the whistle on some of its less sinister secrets.

In the cloak and dagger world of Britain's secret services the code of silence was paramount. Even everyday details were considered too risky for public release in case they could damage national security. But in the modern world of espionage there is a new culture of openness and MI5 is finally prepared to blow the whistle on some of its less sinister secrets.

After claims by the exiled agents David Shayler and Richard Tomlinson that under Britain's draconian secrecy laws they could be arrested "just for discussing floor coverings", the organisation is keen to dismiss such allegations as false propaganda.

Next week foreign agents, rival governments and the public will be able to discover, without difficulty, such nuggets of information as the breakfast menu at MI5 headquarters, the colour of their pens and even the shade of carpets.

In breaking with tradition, MI5 is at last willing to admit that carpets at its plush headquarters, Thames House in central London, are ... mid-blue.

Next week an entry on MI5's website is expected to explain that the Official Secrets Act covers information only directly related to security and intelligence work.

It is a way of ruling out the use of secrecy laws to prosecute former spies who reveal trivial details of life in the services.

MI5, however, is no stranger to the secrets of home furnishings. It used to have a powerful computer in Northern Ireland that kept on record the innermost details of certain "suspect" households - including the colour of their curtains and carpet.

Since 1989, when the Conservative government first acknowledged their existence, the security services have taken steps to open themselves to public scrutiny. MI5 has since acted to counter some of the myths about itself, including allegations that it assassinated opponents and bugged critics.

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