Chapman Pincher: The far from glorious history of MI5

Share

In the latest attempt to burnish its public image and diminish its aura of secrecy, MI5, the security service responsible for the prevention of espionage, sabotage and now terrorism in the UK, has embellished its website with portraits and potted CVs of its former chiefs, dating back to its pre-Second World War director general, Sir Vernon Kell.

Kell fell foul of Churchill, who sacked him in 1940. Under his replacement, Sir David Petrie, MI5 staged a superb performance against the German espionage threat. Sadly, MI5's performance against the Soviets was appalling to a degree that has only recently been revealed by Russian intelligence files. The Cambridge traitors - Philby, Maclean, Burgess, Blunt and Cairncross - gave the KGB more than 15,000 secret files. At the same time, Klaus Fuchs, Nunn May and Melita Norwood were feeding atomic bomb secrets to the Red Army's intelligence service.

Petrie was succeeded in 1946 by Sir Percy Sillitoe, who shouldered the blame when Fuchs was convicted. He was replaced by Sir Dick White, who had been brilliant against the Germans but failed against the Russians. Though deeply involved in the disastrous defection of Maclean and Burgess, White was switched in 1956 to MI6, securing his old job for his closest colleague - Sir Roger Hollis, who had cleared Fuchs and became the most controversial DG of all.

Under Hollis so many operations failed that his officers suspected he was a Soviet agent. His formal interrogation in 1969 was not revealed until 1981, when the renegade MI5 officer Peter Wright gave me the details. MI5 now dismisses the suspicions as a myth but all the relevant information so far released, by the Russians and by MI5, supports his guilt rather than his innocence.

Except for the first woman DG, Dame Stella Rimington, who shocked colleagues by publishing her memoirs, Hollis's successors have made scant public impact save for Sir Martin Furnival Jones, who helped secure the expulsion of 105 Russian spies from Britain in 1971 - from which the KGB never recovered. With counter-terrorism now the prime responsibility, the current DG, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, faces the toughest MI5 assignment yet.

Chapman Pincher joined the 'Daily Express' as Defence correspondence in 1946, and has written many books on intelligence, including 'Their Trade Is Treachery' (Bantam)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most