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Leading Article: Sacking comes to the world of George Smiley

It would never have happened in Smiley's day. Then, spies disgruntled and disaffected with the secret service that employed them fought back by selling secrets to the enemy. Treason, they called it. But it was all done away from the glare of publicity. Between friends who were enemies, and all that. In the eyes of those secretive establishment patriarchs, the Nineties strategy for the disaffected spy will seem an even greater betrayal. One sacked spy wants to take MI6 to the European Court of Human Rights with a claim for unfair dismissal.

Imagine it, that ever-so-secret, ever-so-British institution forced to wash its dirty linen in a European court. Who knows where it might end? James Bond would have to answer countless charges of sexual harassment. And no one could justify the recruitment of Wormold, the hapless vacuum- cleaner salesman - Graham Greene's man in Havana - on grounds of merit and equal opportunities. What incompetence are spies dismissed for: putting coded information in the wrong hollow tree trunk?

"National security" should not save MI6 from such public humiliation. We want to know why our spies get sacked.