Orders of the Day — Intelligence Services Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:47 pm on 22nd February 1994.

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Photo of Mr Rupert Allason Mr Rupert Allason , Torbay 7:47 pm, 22nd February 1994

I have no idea. I have described only one case of hostile penetration of GCHQ—the case of Geoffrey Prime. It has been argued that the information that he betrayed over a long period was probably more damaging than anything that was betrayed by the other individuals in the secret service.

Let us not suppose for one moment that the threat of espionage has come to an end. When right hon. and hon. Members open their newspapers tomorrow, they will read about an espionage case in the United States that has been brewing for some weeks and which is regarded as one of the most serious Russian intelligence service penetrations of the American intelligence establishment. The fact is that the cloaks and daggers were not put away at the end of the cold war.

There is a continuing role for the SIS and GCHQ. One sometimes wonders how one can judge whether one is getting value for money from an intelligence agency, because Ministers invariably ask the director-general of the Security Service and the chief of the SIS how they are doing, and are told, "We are doing tremendously well. We are doing so well that we cannot tell you all the details, because, quite frankly, you do not want to know them. But, yes, you are getting value for money."

I suggest that there are ways in which one can judge the performance of a security or intelligence agency. A classic way is by the receipt of defectors. The SIS has a long and impressive record of receipt of Soviet defectors, particulary during the latter part of the cold war. If an intelligence agency is not trusted, it is unlikely to receive defectors. That one criterion is useful.

In the past 20 years, we have received Vladimir Kuzichkin, Ilya Dzhirkvelov, Oleg Lyalin, Vladimir Rezun and, in 1985, Oleg Gordievsky. Whatever one says about the bad old years, if one can run an agent for between 12 and 14 years—up until Oleg Gordievsky's defection in 1985—that says a tremendous amount about that agency. It means that it can keep a secret for that length of time. It means that, operationally, it can run an agent for that length of time. All that is to the credit of the intelligence agency and goes a long way to demonstrating its integrity.

The principal role of an intelligence agency is to avoid being taken by surprise. That is a problem for all great nations. There have been appalling examples of nations being taken by surprise, the classic being Pearl Harbour. Israel is often credited with having a tremendously impressive intelligence service, but it does not deserve that reputation. The 1973 Yom Kippur conflict is the classic textbook example of how a nation can be taken completely by surprise. The Americans were taken by surprise in Korea, and by the Tet offensive in Vietnam. The collapse of the Soviet bloc was predicted by nobody, least of all by the Central Intelligence Agency.

We were taken by surprise in the Gulf war. No amount of overhead surveillance or satellite system can penetrate the thoughts of Saddam Hussein or get close to his cabinet and discover his intentions. We were taken by surprise there in a way that we were not a decade or so earlier when troops and HMS Bulwark were deployed in the Gulf to prevent and deter aggression.

We were taken by surprise in exactly the same way during the Falklands crisis. We had few assets in south America.