Letter: Real secrets and mere paranoia

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The Independent Online
Sir: The trouble with the D-Notice committee ('D-notice committee's abolition is urged', 24 September) is that it cannot differentiate between real secrets that might harm our security, and the inherent paranoia among the intelligence services, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, who believe everything must remain secret for ever.

Some years ago, a retired army officer wanted to write a modest account of his codebreaking work in India in 1944-45 against the Japanese. He was abused by the committee for 'letting the side down' and encouraging others to write about similar subjects. Eventually, his book was published because the committee ingenuously claimed he had been an 'outsider' and not an 'insider' at the Government Code & Cypher School.

My book about British codebreaking against the Japanese before Pearl Harbor ran into similar problems, and the committee solemnly told my American publishers such revelations might damage today's national security. Fortunately, they took a very robust view and told the committee they did not show manuscripts to foreign governments.

What makes all this so ridiculous is that it encourages whistleblowers, whereas, if there was some co-operation between the agencies involved and requests for elderly information (some of it more than 50 years old), history could be properly told.

Only last week, a book published in America contains copies of pre-Pearl Harbor decrypted Japanese messages that the author obtained from Bletchley Park in 1945, yet the same material is still not available to British historians in the Public Record Office and, it seems, despite the fine promises, William Waldegrave is powerless to make GCHQ release it.

Yours faithfully,




24 September