- With the agreement of the Prime Minister, I have today invited the
cross party Intelligence and Security Committee under the chairmanship
of the Rt Hon Tom King MP to examine the policies and procedures adopted
within the Security and Intelligence Agencies for the handling of information
supplied by Mr Mitrokhin. As much as possible of the Committee's report
will be published. In addition I have agreed with the Director General
of the Security Service that we should strengthen our existing arrangements
for oversight in this area with an annual report covering all the Service's
current spy cases. In the light of the ISC report we will, with Lord Lloyd,
Chairman of the Security Commission consider whether any matters require
to be considered by the Commission.
- I have today discussed with the Director General of the Security Service
his report relating to the Mitrokhin case. The following is my understanding
of the situation.
- Vasili Mitrokhin was a KGB archivist who had access to papers which
went to the heart of Soviet espionage activity during the cold war. He
defected to the UK in 1992. This was a major intelligence coup.
The information which Mitrokhin brought with him was and is of enormous
significance to the UK and its allies. It has provided a large number of
leads to KGB activities in a period of at least 40 years before Mitrokhin's
retirement in 1985.
- The archive demonstrated the extent to which the KGB had spied successfully
over many years in Western Countries. It also showed that after increased
security measures were introduced in the UK in the early 1970s the KGB
were less successful here than elsewhere. The material provided by Mitrokhin
was carefully assessed by the UK Agencies and those of our Allies from
1992. This inevitably took a great deal of time.
- In 1996 the previous Government made a decision that the extraordinary
circumstances of the case, and the story which Mitrokhin's information
revealed, should be placed in the public domain. Mitrokhin brought out
no KGB documents. Instead his information was contained in voluminous notes
smuggled out of his office. Given the nature of this material, it was decided
by the previous Government that the best way to place it in the public
domain was by way of a proper historical analysis. The material was made
available to Professor Christopher Andrew of Cambridge University, whose
book, co-authored with Mitrokhin, will be published this week. Sir Malcolm
Rifkind then Foreign Secretary has told me that these decisions were made
with his consent.
- Among the material brought out by Mitrokhin were notes relating to
Mrs Melita Norwood the spy known as HOLA.
- Mrs Norwood was first vetted in 1945 for access to government secrets
while she worked for the British Non- Ferrous Metals Research Association
(BNFMRA) who were undertaking secret work for the Department of Scientific
and Industrial Research. The Security Service raised doubts about her communist
associations, but further investigation by the Service and the police did
not substantiate these doubts and she was given clearance for access to
- The Security Service, however, kept her case under review and further
investigations raised new concerns. She did not have authorised access
to government secrets after September 1949 and her vetting clearance was
revoked in 1951. She was vetted again in 1962 but she was again refused
- In 1965 the Security Service received further information about espionage
activity in the immediate post-war period which led it to mount an extended
investigation of Mrs Norwood. The investigation left the Service with the
view that she had been a spy in the 1940s but it provided no usable evidence
to support that view. The Home Secretary of the day the Rt Hon Sir Frank
Soskice QC, was informed of the Service's suspicions. The Service decided
not to interview her because that would have revealed the Service's knowledge
which was relevant to other sensitive investigations then underway.
- There is no reason to doubt the detail of the material drawn from Mr
Miitrokhin nor that the KGB regarded Mrs Norwood as an important spy. She
was one of a number of spies in this country and the United States who
passed information to the Soviet Union about the development of the atom
bomb during the 1940s. However the vetting system prevented her from having
authorised access to government secrets after 1949.
- When Mitrokhin's notes of the KGB archive material became available
to British Intelligence in 1992, they confirmed suspicions about Mrs Norwood's
role. The view was taken by the Service that this material did not on its
own provide evidence that could be put to a UK Court. Moreover, a judgement
was made by the Agencies that material should remain secret for some years
as there were many leads to more recent espionage to be followed up, particularly
in the countries of a number of our close allies. It was also judged that
interviewing Mrs Norwood, which might have provided admissible evidence,
could have jeopardised exploitation of those leads. These decisions were
made by the Agencies. Ministers of the day, including Law Officers, were
- The Director General of the Security Service routinely briefs me on
the work of the Service and its current investigations. I was made aware
in general terms about the Mitrokhin material in 1997 in connection with
a separate matter. However, I was first made aware of the role of Mrs Norwood
in a minute in December 1998 which informed me of the plans to publish
- Prosecutions are a matter for the Law Officers and the prosecuting
authorities and not for the Home Secretary. The December 1998 minute informed
me that the Security Service were then currently considering whether to
recommend the prosecution of Mrs Norwood. The Attorney General was made
aware of Mrs Norwood's case earlier this year.
- I was next provided with information on this matter in a minute dated
22 April 1999 when I was told by my officials that the Attorney General
had sent guidance to the Security Service that a prosecution was inappropriate.
I was later told that this was an over- simplification. The Attorney General's
position was explained to me more fully in a note of 29 June which reported
that 1992 represented the last opportunity for the authorities to proceed
by way of a criminal investigation/possible prosecution. The Attorney General
had concluded therefore that there was no decision for him to make.
- In a minute dated 31 August I was told that the Security Service legal
adviser had written to the Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers to ask
whether Mrs Norwood's alleged admissions to the BBC changed the position
on possible prosecution. In a reply to the Security Service earlier this
month, the Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers reflected the Attorney
General's view that the position was unaffected by the fact that interview
had been given and little that was known of that interview. The Security
Service were invited to revert to the Legal Secretariat in the event that
they considered, following the broadcast, that the position had changed.
- So far as the Symonds case is concerned, I was not personally briefed
on this case until this weekend though officials in my Department have
been aware of it. I understand that his case and claims were investigated
at the time. Some of the same constraints on action applied as in the HOLA
case. The Law Officers have now been made aware of the case and will be
studying the transcript of the forthcoming BBC programme.
- The Security Service and prosecuting authorities will keep any other
cases of this kind under review in the light of developments.