Rimington calls for independent vetting of spy memoirs

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The Independent Online
MI5 and MI6 are studying plans for a new body to vet the memoirs of former spies in the wake of the row over Stella Rimington's autobiography.</p>Dame Stella, the former head of MI5, is publishing her memoirs, entitled Open Secret: From Bored Housewife to Head of the Secret Service, this week. She is also considering writing spy novels.</p>After encountering bitter opposition from senior civil servants such as Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, Dame Stella called yesterday for an independent system of vetting former officers' books and for the overhaul of the Official Secrets Act.</p>The Home Office repeated its criticism of Dame Stella's memoirs, and refused to comment on her proposals. "Our position remains that we would want to point out our regret and discontent with the decision to publish," a spokeswoman said.</p>But it emerged yesterday that both MI5 and MI6 are already considering plans to set up a review committee. Last year, senior CIA officials came to London to brief Stephen Lander, head of MI5, and Richard Dearlove, head of MI6, about the agency's long-standing vetting system.</p>Numerous former CIA chiefs have written authorised memoirs. Rupert Allason, the former Tory MP who writes on spying as Nigel West, said the CIA's publications review board was expected to read and vet memoirs within three weeks, although it fell short of being fully independent.</p>He said Dame Stella was right to demand reforms in the UK. At present, senior spies who write unauthorised books submit their manuscripts to civil servants without any clear rules or rights.</p>"The potential for embarrassment is huge," Mr Allason said. "They really should grow up and acknowledge they would be better off by allowing people to make authorised disclosures."</p>However, Lord King, the former Tory defence secretary and head of a Whitehall intelligence committee, warned that Dame Stella's book would open the floodgates for other senior MI5 and MI6 officers to publish their own memoirs.</p>"The danger is the signal that it sends out to people is that the intelligence and security services from the very top are now prepared to talk about that they do," he said. </p>