It is entirely legitimate for those whose lives have been affected by vetting, purging and blacklisting (not to mention more nefarious activities) to demand to be told how such things came about. It is also legitimate for historians of the British state and of political "extremism" to seek access to the treasure-house of source material which MI5's records must surely constitute. Most importantly, the British people are entitled to know the full story of what MI5 has been up to in our name and with our money.
The argument that all such considerations are outweighed by the need to preserve the anonymity of MI5's informers cannot be sustained. In relation to very old files, there is surely no duty of confidentiality to long- dead spies. Regarding more recent records, there exists a workable model in the shape of the American Freedom of Information Act, which allows for the identities of officers, agents and spies to be deleted from security and intelligence documents.
The American example also provides some clue as to what MI5 really fears. Despite the best efforts of America's spooks to cover their tracks, documentation has emerged which reveals blatantly undemocratic and unconstitutional activities undertaken in the name of "counter-subversion".
If there is good reason to believe that MI5 has behaved similarly, employing agents provocateurs, colluding with right-wing political factions, and interfering with both elections and elected governments, revelations of such goings-on are the last thing MI5 wants intruding into the carefully orchestrated public relations campaign with which it has been attempting to justify its continued existence since the end of the Cold War.
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