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21 Dec 1999 : Column 182WH

British Stasi Agents

5 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) rose--

Several hon. Members : Hear, hear.

Dr. Lewis : I am grateful to my hon. Friends for their support, especially my hon. Friends the Members for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) and for Witney--I am sorry, I mean my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir R. Whitney). Hon. Members will appreciate that relevant but subliminal reference.

This debate is about the Stasi archive, not the Mitrokhin-KGB archive. It is about Berlin files, not about Moscow files. It is about original documents, not about handwritten notes. Some might think it a coincidence that, only 24 hours earlier, the Government thought it necessary to rush out by means of a planted written question the news that those who have been exposed by the Mitrokhin archive and the Berlin Stasi files will not be prosecuted, but I do not think so. Whether or not that is a coincidence, it enables me to speak more openly about individual cases than I might have been able to do if a trial had been pending.

I shall not say much about Melita Norwood, because she was discovered in the Mitrokhin archive. However, it is amusing to observe that that lady, who gave away to Soviet tyranny secrets of the British atomic bomb, is often pictured wearing a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament badge--showing her desire that, although the Soviet Union should have had the bomb, this country and its democracy should have given it up unilaterally.

On 21 October 1999, in his statement on the Mitrokhin archive, the Home Secretary referred to the handwritten notes taken by Mr. Mitrokhin that the Secret Intelligence Service smuggled out of Russia. Because those notes were handwritten, they were, as he said,

The Home Secretary said that it "would be wholly improper" to denounce

    "people against whom allegations had been made, without evidence being put before a court of law,"--[Official Report, 21 October 1999; Vol. 336, c. 587-90.] He said that it would be improper to denounce such people if they had not been convicted. However, the question at the heart of this debate is whether it is a criminal offence to co-operate in times of peace with hostile intelligence agencies belonging to a democracy's potential enemies.

There is no doubt that it is a criminal offence to give aid and comfort to the enemy in time of war. However, I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the Government accept that it is a criminal offence for someone actively to co-operate with the hostile intelligence service of a potential enemy, or whether they say that that is not something for which someone can be

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prosecuted. If the former is the answer, those people certainly should be prosecuted, and it is a disgrace that they are not being prosecuted. If it is the latter, the Government cannot have it both ways. If such an action is not a crime, it is clearly wrong to say that the activities of those people should not be exposed to public opprobrium unless and until they have been convicted in a court of law.

The Berlin Stasi archive is housed near the Alexanderplatz. It is called the Archive for the Files of the State Security Service of the German Democratic Republic. The Stasi headquarters had previously been in Normannenstrasse. So far as I have been able to find out, there are only two records of visits by British officials. In 1990, two British intelligence officers visited the Stasi headquarters and took the time to photograph each other sitting on the toilet of Erich Mielke, but they did not bother to look at the documents. A few years later, a bus load of British officials visited the former Stasi headquarters for a Christmas outing.

It appears that the only real work that has been done on the files was by a journalist, Jamie Dettmer, in the early 1990s, and by the academic, Dr. Anthony Glees, in conjunction with the BBC earlier this year. That work contributed to four BBC 2 programmes that were broadcast between 19 September and 10 October this year, which brought to public attention the activities of, among others, Dr. Robin Pearson, Miss Fiona Houlding and Professor Vic Allen. It is interesting to note that although we were told that five cases were being considered for prosecution, the Government have not revealed whom two of the five cases concern. Is Miss Houlding or Professor Allen involved? We know that one case involves Dr. Pearson.

I first raised the fact that no one from the Security Service, the Crown Prosecution Service or the police had been in contact with Dr. Glees--the man who discovered the original material--with the Leader of the House on 28 October and then with the Home Secretary on 6 December. I confirm, yet again, that no one in authority has consulted the man who discovered the primary evidence of Dr. Pearson's activities. That is cause for concern.

However, on 6 December, the Home Secretary said:

It is true that, as a result of Operation Rosewood in the United States, a copy of those KGB editions of Stasi files that were sent to Moscow exists. The American Central Intelligence Agency purchased those files from the Russians at the end of the cold war. However, there is no reason to suppose that the material in them covers anything like all the material in Berlin, so what has been going on? How can a proper investigation be occurring if the Berlin archive has yet to be trawled properly?

I shall spend a few moments on the material that has been found in the Berlin archive to give an idea of what we are contending with. I shall quote some extracts from

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the file on Dr. Robin Pearson. There is a note on 25 August 1978 stating that Armin--the code name for Dr. Pearson--was given

    "DM500 on his departure as expenses for his work in Edinburgh for the security office". As a result of a meeting held on 28 to 30 March 1980 with Dr. Pearson in Budapest, there is a note stating that he

    "is to be given . . . secret ink for handwriting." The notes continues:

    "He is to be asked whether he possesses the necessary technical skills for one-way radio transmission to which he will be introduced later. He is to be given DM500." That is additional to the money mentioned in the first note that I quoted.

On 22 September 1980, there is a note on the file which reports the results of Dr. Pearson's spying on others--he is a university lecturer. It states:

    "YYY has finished studies and stay in Leipzig; meant to get a post at MoD or NATO, but failed security check. Her teachers and father were questioned. Questions too about alcohol and the nature of her relationship with her boyfriend. YYY was one of the students at Leipzig at the same time as A"-- A, of course, is Dr. Pearson--

    "Her boyfriend had been at Leipzig wih A and had developed a relationship with a Russian girl who was now keen to move to the UK. A passes on two surnames of fellow students; one had been vetted for six months. A says there is a crisis in the relationship between the two. . . . A has given information about students of whom one is an intermediary with the British Embassy Berlin, one an MoD translator, one at the MoD vetted for six months and on Chinese studies at Leeds." As a result of a meeting in the German Democratic Republic with his controller from 9 to 17 August 1982, it is noted on Dr. Pearson's file that the transmission of radio signals should begin that year or, if necessary, in January 1983. As a result of a meeting in Paris with his controller from 12 to 13 March 1981, the note on his file states:

    "The most effective goal would be an operation against NATO headquarters predicated upon a post in Brussels, for example the EEC, or in Paris or the Federal Republic. The minimum goal is work in London against the Ministry of Defence." Finally, as a result of a meeting as late as 23 to 29 August 1987, there is a note of a meeting on those dates which states:

    "A declared himself ready to look for students at York university who were operationally interesting and might be won over for us. We have his agreement to use his flat, his address and his telephone to support our Kundschafters."-- Kundschafters are deep penetration agents--

    "A is ready if we need him to serve as the representative of a British flag."-- That is when someone pretends to be the representative of a friendly intelligence service to get information that can then be passed on to a hostile intelligence service. The note continues:

    "It has been agreed to retain contact with him via Gerd who as instructor will come into the operation." There is much more of that kind, but time does not permit me to go into it.

I conclude by asking some questions, of which I would like to have given the Minister advance notice. When I heard that I had secured the debate, I asked my office to ring the Minister's office to ask whether he would like

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time to receive notice of my questions. I did not have the courtesy of a response; I renewed the invitation today, but that invitation has similarly not been responded to. That is a pity; it means that the Minister will read a prepared speech, but in so far as he has flexibility and information at his disposal, I hope that he will respond to the following points.

First, is it a crime to collaborate with a hostile intelligence agency in peacetime; to try to recruit agents among students who could then go on to be in sensitive positions; to be a deep penetration agent oneself--it is clear from the files that both Fiona Houlding and Robin Pearson actively agreed to do that--and to spy on one's colleagues, especially those who might then be travelling at that time to central and eastern Europe and thus to put them in harm's way, which the files bring out clearly in the case of Dr. Pearson? Is that a crime? If it is a crime, why are those people not being prosecuted? If it is not a crime, why are they not being denounced? The excuse of having to wait for them to be convicted in a court clearly would not apply.

Secondly, who are the other two who have now been let off in time for Christmas? Thirdly, why has there been no contact with Dr. Glees, the man who is best able to brief the security services about the material that he found and for whom they should have looked much earlier? Fourthly, why does there appear to have been no proper visit to the Berlin archive by the appropriate authorities to investigate what material is available?

Fifthly, how could a prominent Stalinist such as Professor Vic Allen get away with meeting a succession of Stasi controllers in London, when everyone knew that he was a prime candidate to engage in such activity? I take little pride in pointing out that I drew attention to Professor Allen's record and proclivities in a letter published in The Times in mid-1985. He had a record as long as your arm for subversive affiliations and activities, both in this country and previously in Nigeria.

Finally, what about the 100 leads from the Berlin archive who are supposedly still being investigated? Are they still being investigated--or have 105 people been amnestised for Christmas, rather than just five?

In conclusion, if the Home Secretary and his team spent a little less time posing in pubs with Conservative defectors and a little more time tracking traitors and uncovering them, this country could have more confidence that those who seek to betray it will be shamed, exposed and, if appropriate, prosecuted.

5.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) chastises us for posing in pubs with too many Conservative defectors. If there had not been so many of them in recent years, we would not have had to spend so much time doing that. We give them a friendly welcome; many others will no doubt wish to join us in due course.

The subject of the debate is most important. I welcome the opportunity provided by the hon. Member for New Forest, East to consider these issues. It allows me to focus on some of the events of the cold war

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period and to highlight action that our security services have taken to counter the threat from certain foreign intelligence organisations during and after the cold war.

The hon. Gentleman referred to his telephone calls to my office. I am not sure what time he contacted the Home Secretary's office, but I became aware of his call to my office at 4.15 pm today; I was reading papers at the time and it was not possible or convenient for me to contact him. I am perfectly happy, therefore, to consider the points that he made to me and, in due course, to reply to him in writing. I hope that that is helpful.

Dr. Julian Lewis: That is very helpful. The Minister is right to say that my telephone call was a last-minute, second attempt at a response, but the original approach to the Home Secretary's office was made last Friday, when there was plenty of time.

Mr. O'Brien: When I received the message, I was looking at the briefing papers for the debate. However, I am sure that we will be able to deal with the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

It is clearly an offence to commit acts of espionage that damage Britain's economic and security interests. Quite what behaviour will fulfil the conditions necessary--the mens rea and actus reus of an offence of that sort--will be a matter of law, which will need to be considered by the prosecuting authority. If the hon. Gentleman wishes, I can set out for him what the requirements are, but it is necessary to consider the facts of an individual case and reach a conclusion based on them.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the announcement made yesterday. He rightly drew a distinction between the Mitrokhin archives--they were, as he said, second-hand but important information, and perhaps of different evidential value--and other information that may be available from the Stasi or other sources. The Government accept that distinction. Of the individuals mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, at least one was named as a result of information from the Mitrokhin archive and at least one other--and perhaps more--from the Stasi archive.

The Solictior-General has stated that the prosecuting authorities have reached a conclusion on the five cases. He has decided not to refer any of them to the police for further investigation, mainly because what is known is already enough to make it clear that any prosecution would fail. That view was reached by the Crown Prosecution Service initially and then confirmed by the Law Officers. It is right to say that publicly.

The House will know that the Solicitor-General's step was unusual. Generally speaking, the prosecuting authorities do not make announcements about consideration of individual cases or name people publicly as a result of an investigation of someone's background. If a decision is taken to prosecute, the law takes its course and it is normally wrong to draw attention to individuals when decions have been taken not to prosecute. However, in this particular case, there is a legitimate public interest in security matters and the allegations have been given wide publicity. We therefore decided to end speculation about whether the case against them will continue to be considered. A decision has been reached, as I said, and we have explained why we took it.

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The hon. Member for New Forest, East mentioned that more than 100 people could be investigated and asked whether we were going to conflate the Stasi material and the Mitrokhin material. We cannot comment on the steps taken by the intelligence and security services in pursuit of their inquiries. I can tell him that various steps have been taken and that we are satisfied that the security services are investigating what it is proper for them to investigate.

The publication of the Mitrokhin archive and the East German Stasi records has led to pressure to reveal the names of those against whom allegations of spying for, or assisting, the KGB or the Stasi have been made. It would be wrong to compromise the effectiveness of the security and intelligence services by revealing the cases that they may be working on. Above and beyond that, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in a statement to the House on 21 October,

Dr. Lewis: We have now heard that statement when I quoted it and again when the Minister quoted it. If it is not a criminal offence to do the things that those people did, does the Minister accept that the public has the right to know when they did them, when they are clearly guilty of having done them--even though it may not be a criminal offence? That is the nub of the issue.

Mr. O'Brien: Whether it is a criminal offence depends not just on law but on evidence and hence whether the evidential rules will allow the submission of certain types of information in a trial. Making allegations about what might, if there were sufficient evidence, be criminal offences could amount to denouncing a person as guilty of committing a criminal offence. The suggestion is that the person is guilty, but is not convicted because of a lack of evidence.

We tread a fine line here and we must be careful. It is wrong to criticise, as some unfortunately have, the Crown Prosecution Service for reaching a feeble decision. It was not. The Law Officers reviewed and confirmed it, so that allegation is a cheap approach to politics. I do not accuse the hon. Member for New Forest, East because he did not say that during his speech, but others have. It is wrong for politicians to second-guess the decisions of senior prosecutors and the Law Officers. I do not believe in taking political decisions to prosecute. We are in the business, as were those who sacrificed their careers and sometimes their lives, such as Mitrokhin, of ensuring proper democratic and legal safeguards and the promotion of human rights. That does not mean engaging in denunciations, making political judgments or Star Chamber prosecutions just because it would look good in tomorrow's headlines. It is wrong for politicians to accuse someone of a criminal offence. The Government prefer a more careful and proper approach to such matters and support the proper judicial authorities in taking legitimate decisions.

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I am not going to say more about individual cases, but I can say that the Security Service investigates matters of national security, including allegations and suspicions of spying. It does so under a statutory duty placed on them by the Security Services Act 1989. The Security Service concentrates on investigations of any link that might identify spies who are providing other countries with information that might be damaging to Britain's national security or economic well-being. The Security Service also seeks to frustrate the activities of any foreign intelligence agents who might try to recruit people in this country who could provide access to British secrets.

The hon. Member for New Forest, East claims that the records of the East German intelligence services have not been properly investigated and asked what action the Government had taken regarding former Stasi agents revealed in those records. As I have said, it would be wrong to go into detail about how the security services go about their business. To do so would damage their effectiveness in a vital area of Britain's national interest. It has been the policy of successive Administrations not to comment on such matters. The Government intend the Security Service to do its business in a professional and dedicated manner. We have no reason to believe that it has not done so in these cases.

As the Home Secretary said to the House on6 December in replying to one of the hon. Gentleman's questions, the East German records reveal many leads, which may have to be followed up. The fact that a name appears in East German intelligence records is not, of itself, proof of any wrongdoing--far from it. The East Germans took a keen interest in many people who firmly opposed their regime, as well as those who might have assisted it. They even took an interest in innocent citizens whom they may perchance have encountered.

We should remember the background to the creation of the records. The East German regime oppressed its own citizens and its intelligence services were part of the process of repression. The intelligence services kept records on large numbers of citizens and their contacts. They also kept records on the contacts of those who were interested in their country, on foreigners visiting East Germany, on names reported by their agents as visiting or having contacts abroad. The resulting collection of records was massive and many people named in them are completely innocent. Individuals may have been completely unaware that they had been named. That is why such careful examinations and investigations are necessary.

As I said, the hon. Member for New Forest, East should approach these matters with great care. He mentioned Dr. Glees. If he has relevant evidence, he should urgently contact the Director-General of the Security Service so that the material can be examined. Some countries still seek to gain advantage in economics, politics, and military affairs by the use of covert activity against the United Kingdom. The Security Service remains vigilant to counter any such activity.

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