Letter: MI5 guards its ancient secrets

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The Independent Online
Sir: Marika Sharwood (letter, 1 September) should not be so surprised that MI5 will not let her see their historical files.

In 1967 blanket approval was given for all MI5 records (right back to 1909) to be withheld from the Public Record Office. This approval was renewed in 1992 and endorsed by the 1993 White Paper on Open Government, which referred to the need to protect the details of "methods of operations" and the identities of intelligence personnel.

As Ms Sharwood says, in America it is possible to see such material, albeit in a "sanitised" state. It is also possible there to see documents sent by MI5 to the American authorities, although in Britain the same papers remain closed.

Now we are promised a Freedom of Information Act here; and there are rumours of some kind of release of MI5 files. Historians must shout loud for an end to the idiocy of keeping 88-year-old files secret in order to safeguard details of operations against the Kaiser and the identities of spooks who died before most of us were even born.


History Department

Christ Church College

Canterbury, Kent