Mr Straw must put our spies in order, not jail the one who blew the whistle

Share

Glienecke Bridge it is not. David Shayler's arrival in Dover this morning may be the product of a deal negotiated with this British Government, but it hardly compares with the famous exchanges of spies between East and West across the river outside Berlin.

Glienecke Bridge it is not. David Shayler's arrival in Dover this morning may be the product of a deal negotiated with this British Government, but it hardly compares with the famous exchanges of spies between East and West across the river outside Berlin.

The former spy's return from exile has its elements of farce, and yet the issues raised are grave. Even the fact that Mr Shayler is, to be blunt, one zero short of the full 007, is a serious condemnation of the poor quality of the recruitment procedures of the British security services.

Mr Shayler may not have been a very good spy, and some of his revelations strain for effect. But that does not justify the way he and some of his friends have been treated, which should be unacceptable in a country proud to call itself a democracy

Nor are all Mr Shayler's allegations easily dismissed. If the British security services were involved in a plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi then this raises a principle which should be debated in Parliament. Robin Cook says Mr Shayler is making it up. Mr Shayler says the Foreign Secretary would not have been told. The allegation should be investigated, and clear limits to what is acceptable in dealing with hostile nations laid down.

Equally, it is clearly in the public interest that the issue of the security services' monitoring of politicians should be discussed openly. Mr Shayler's revelation that MI5, the domestic security service, kept a file on Peter Mandelson hardly came as a surprise - whether or not it was right - given his schoolboy membership of the Young Communist League. Yet it raised significant questions about the nature, extent, duration and purpose of such monitoring. While it must be accepted that not all the contents of files should be open to inspection, the existence of files should at least be made public.

What has been baffling about the Shayler affair has been Labour's extraordinary aping of the paranoid response of past governments. Administrations of both party colours - mostly Conservative but always conservative - have always responded to allegations of incompetence and worse on the part of the security services by clamping down on the breach of official secrecy rather than by addressing the substance of the claims themselves.

It was surely not unreasonable to hope that a new generation coming to power, bearing some folk-memory of liberal attitudes to freedom of information and some experience as left-wingers of being on the receiving end of state authoritarianism, would herald a fresh approach.

Fat chance. Witchfinder Straw and Righteous Blair repeated all the old errors of the Ponting and Spycatcher cases by trying to lock Mr Shayler up and, when he fled to France, ignominiously failing to have him extradited. Not only that, but the police then arrested one of Mr Shayler's friends and held her in custody for 12 hours.

Most baffling of all, this all happened under a government which is incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into British law - a thoroughly admirable move that will greatly strengthen the increasingly liberal hand of judges in their interpretation of Britain's secrecy law. Is it too much to hope that the deal by which Mr Shayler is allowed to return to his own country includes the understanding that the charges against him will in due course be quietly dropped?

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

PHP Web Developer (HTML5, CSS3, Jenkins, Vagrant, MySQL)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: PHP Web Develo...

Network Engineer (CCNA, CCNP, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNA, CCNP, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice