Dutch are outraged as British spy chiefs poach their spooks

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The Independent Online

First, they advertised for a new James Bond. Now, desperate British spy masters have begun stealing agents from Holland, birthplace of the seductive Mata Hari.

First, they advertised for a new James Bond. Now, desperate British spy masters have begun stealing agents from Holland, birthplace of the seductive Mata Hari.

The beleaguered secret service is so in need of new spies that last year it ran newspaper advertisements and set up a telephone hotline for would-be 007s. Now the Dutch government is furious because MI6 has been recruiting its spooks to spy on Eastern Europe.

The Prime Minister, Vym Kok, was so angry he ordered a senior British diplomat to be thrown out of the country. The man, believed by the Dutch to have been an undercover officer, is understood to have left the Netherlands in August.

In a covert operation of their own, Dutch security officers spied on the British embassy, and may even have bugged it, to catch the "diplomat" discussing terms with several of their former colleagues.

Until now, the only notable spy in Dutch history was Mata Hari, the dancer who relished subterfuge. She was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in 1876, and had affairs with high-ranking officers on both sides during the First World War. She was shot by the French.

The Dutch foreign intelligence service closed in 1994. Some officers joined the domestic security service, the BVD, but others were left unemployed. Many were specialists in East European and Russian mafia drug smuggling.

Details about the British operation to recruit these experienced agents emerged after a complaint to the Dutch national ombudsman. One said he had been harassed by the BVD and pressured to confess an involvement with the British.

"The annoying thing is that a friendly intelligence service is involved," said a confidential BVD report. Whitehall sources suggest MI6 carried out the recruitment campaign to boost its operations in Eastern Europe. The Foreign Office has refused to comment.

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