Westminster Six taste the secret life at MI5's table: Steve Boggan turns sleuth at the spycatchers' HQ to discover the exclusive culinary delights offered by Stella Rimington

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The Independent Online
THE SECURITY guard lowered his copy of Detective Dragnet, brushed the crisps from his tunic and did his bit for MI5. 'I don't know naffink,' he said. 'And even if I did, I couldn't tellya.'

This was the man guarding the underground entrance into which, minutes earlier, six MPs had been driven for a rendezvous with Britain's top spymaster, to a lunch that had become the worst secret MI5 never kept.

Members of the Home Affairs Select Committee were to meet Stella Rimington to demand more accountability, more monitoring of the security services and, while they were at it, to ask just who had made those Squidgy telephone tapes.

Secrecy was paramount. Earlier, as they gathered at the members' entrance in New Palace Yard at the House of Commons, the MPs knew nothing of their destination. Noon, the appointed hour, came and went; two Ford Granadas waited for the six while speculation over their destination grew. It was to be an assignation at the Reform Club; at a country house restaurant; at the Third Man in Battersea.

Finally, with Big Ben showing 12.17, the six made their move. Sir Ivan Lawrence, the Conservative chairman of the committee, stepped into the first Granada with Labour's Barbara Roche and his Tory colleague John Greenway. Behind were Dame Jill Knight and Labour's Chris Mullin and Mike O'Brien.

Their cars set off, and the race was on. Dozens of reporters and photographers scrambled into waiting cabs or on to the pillion seats of 10 waiting motorbikes. Around Parliament Square, past Downing Street and along the busy streets of London's West End, the two cars were slowed by the skilful cramming tactics of the press pack. Photographers pushed back full-face masks to leer at their subjects, shouting: 'Ere, Sir Ivan,' and snapping away.

Within 16 minutes, as the straggling convoy turned into Gower Place, the secret was out. The MPs swept into the underground car park of MI5 headquarters itself. Bets were settled and the assembled hacks set about subjecting the secret service to some serious scrutiny. What, they wanted to know, was for lunch?

The security guard wouldn't help. 'Can't tellya, won't tellya,' he said. Asked for his name, he used the classic spy contingency: 'Smiff.'

The man in the grey suit in reception was no more forthcoming.

Is this the headquarters of MI5? 'It is a government building,' he replied.

Does Stella Rimington work here? 'A lot of people work here.'

What's for lunch? 'I'm afraid I can't tell you that.'

It was at this point that Agent One was rumbled. Agent One was hiding in a car park opposite MI5's entrance and he was reporting the pack's every move into a walkie-talkie. Panic set in once he was spotted by the Independent. Stuffing his handset into his coat, Agent One began to blush. 'I can't comment,' he said, when asked whether he worked for MI5. But what of accountability? What of scrutiny? What of openness? What's for lunch? 'I have nothing to say.' And he ran for cover.

Within minutes, Agent Two was spotted. Agent Two was a young woman whose coat pockets were not deep enough to hide the aerial of her walkie-talkie.

After successfully parrying Questions One and Two - Are you from MI5? Why are you watching? - with blanket denials, Agent Two blew her cover with Question Three, What's for lunch? 'I am not at liberty to say,' she said, and gave the game away.

After the meeting, Sir Ivan said: 'We covered all the ground you would have expected us to cover.' The ground included MI5/ GCHQ involvement in making the royal tapes and on that the committee was, he said, 'charmed and reassured'.

But the members who, before the lunch, were pushing for more openness and accountability, would say nothing more about the meeting after it. Even Mr Mullin, the justice campaigner who played a big part in lobbying for the release of the Birmingham Six, refused to break ranks - but he did produce the MI5 menu.

The Westminster Six, he said, had smoked salmon, lamb cutlets, Duchesse potatoes, tossed salad, souffle Monte Cristo, wine and coffee.