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Censorship

Ex-MI6 Officer Publishes Banned Novel on Blog 67

SpooForBrains writes "Ex-MI6 officer Richard Tomlinson has been fighting a battle with the UK Secret Services for some time now, over his plans to publish a novel detailing his experience in the service, and over claims that he published a list of MI6 agents online (a claim he denies). The latest salvo in the battle (as reported on The Register occurred on Friday when he published the first chapter of his new novel "The Golden Chain" on Blogspot. He has since put up all the remaining chapters, apparently in an attempt to have them seen before the security services have them taken down."
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Ex-MI6 Officer Publishes Banned Novel on Blog

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  • by megla ( 859600 ) on Monday September 18, 2006 @07:00AM (#16128978)
    ...I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
  • by Chacham ( 981 )
    Is this really a good thing?

    Let me guess, this guy believes there should be no such thing as state secrets. The government should be open!

    <insert patron deity here> help us all!
    • Re:Moo (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 18, 2006 @07:26AM (#16129091)
      By default the government should be open. Encouraging anything less is nothing more than an evil attempt to harm and subdue a free people.

      If the government believes that any specific data may compromise the lives of any person unduly, the government can be allowed to make its case and fight for the data to remain secret.

      Some people seem to forget that this is how it was before WW2 because people were wise enough at the time, and chronologically close enough to historical examples, to know that no government can be trusted unless the people have been allowed to know what it is doing.
      • Official Secrets Act (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Monday September 18, 2006 @11:09AM (#16130745) Homepage Journal
        This is the pernicious thing about the Official Secrets Act. According to the Economist anyway, it sets the default for all government information to "secret". Publish the menu for the Whitehall cafeteria and you're theoretically violating the act. The Economist published the price of a cup of tea and said this made them criminals.

        That's a more serious issue than the question of whether items explicitly classified should be published. Remember, it's easy to get a document classified without showing that it has anything to do with national security.
    • But in the US our freedom of the press is supposed to be unlimited. Which is why the state needs secrets... because anyone who finds them out can often publish them with impunity.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Chacham ( 981 ) *
        But in the US our freedom of the press is supposed to be unlimited. Which is why the state needs secrets... because anyone who finds them out can often publish them with impunity.

        Not really. Freedom of the press is more about opinions than information.

        Can the press print copywrited material? Can the press print libel? Can the press advertise cigarettes? Can the press print a detailed how to make highly explosive material?

        The freedom is for political expression, where the "expression" does not contain inform
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by v3rgEz ( 125380 )
          Can the press print copywrited material?
          Yes, with impunity if they follow fair use news-worthiness rules. Google it.

          Can the press print libel?
          Yes. If they source it properly they can even print it without being sued, but unlike in Britain, America does not have prior restraint so they are free to print it ... if they can afford the consequences.

          Can the press advertise cigarettes?
          Yup. Read magazines much?

          Can the press print a detailed how to make highly explosive material?
          Yup, and they do it all the time ...
        • The answer to all those questions is a resounding YES. It depends on how rich and/or corrupt you are if you can make them stop doing so.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AceCaseOR ( 594637 )
        However, I feel that the line should be drawn with certain things. You shouldn't give information that would jepordize the lives of servicemen and women by disclosing precise positions of military units (*cough*Geraldo Rivera*cough*), and you shouldn't give information that would jepordize the safety of active duty field agents by disclosing their identity (the whole Valarie Plame incident - yeah that information should not have been leaked, but they reporter shouldn't have published it - someone could have
    • Re:Moo (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fosterNutrition ( 953798 ) on Monday September 18, 2006 @08:05AM (#16129282) Journal
      That is the same argument the British government put forward when Peter Wright did the same for MI5 in his "Spycatcher" book. Mr. Wright had been a faithful servant of the secret services for many years, and responsible for some very major intel breakthroughs, including some that were critical to the British war effort against the Axis. He, however, had good reason to believe that the highest levels of MI5 had been infiltrated by the Soviets, and he decided to take action.

      He wrote a long report ("The Dossier") and sent it straight to the Prime Minister, who promptly forwarded it to the accused managers for review. They, of course, gave themselves a clean bill of health, and started making life hell for Mr. Wright. Disgusted at how his efforts to help his country were going nowhere, he decided to go public. "Spycatcher" was the result of that decision.

      When he attempted to have it published in Britain, his publishers were pressured into dropping the book ("invited to have tea with the Treasury lawyers" is the jargon), and he eventually took it to an Australian firm. The aussies went ahead with the book, and the British government sued him in Australia. The judged ruled in Mr. Wright's favour, noting that the British government's case was entirely laughable and irresponsible.

      To my knowledge, the book is still banned in Britain. However, in the rest of the world it became a massive best-seller, and eventually shamed the British government into pushing for reforms of the recruitment process of the intelligence services.

      This is another case of a book that was deemed to be full of state secrets, and therefore should be kept hidden. However, how was it beneficial to the government of Britain, or the national security of Britain, to ignore and hush up the fact that their intelligence services were riddled with moles? In some cases, state secrets must be busted open, because sometimes they are only secret because they are embarassing, not dangerous.

      I say give this guy a chance. If he's just a fame seeker who is gratuitously spilling secrets to get himself on a best-seller list, shut him down. But if he has something important to say - publish the hell out of his book. Make it visible in every corner of the world and make sure some change comes of it.
      • Re:Moo (Score:4, Informative)

        by Haeleth ( 414428 ) on Monday September 18, 2006 @11:03AM (#16130683) Journal
        To my knowledge, the book is still banned in Britain.

        May I suggest you attempt to verify your knowledge before making accusations like that? In fact, the book was never banned in Britain at all, AFAICT, and has certainly been openly sold in Britain ever since its first publication abroad.

        What really happened is more complicated and somewhat less sinister.

        Once the British government brought proceedings against Wright in Australia, in June 1986 two British newspapers picked up on the story and published some excerpts. The government therefore obtained a legal injunction forbidding those newspapers (and those two alone) from publishing any more excerpts. In 1987, when the book was published in the USA, a third newspaper attempted to publish excerpts, and another injunction was issued. The three injunctions were then challenged in the House of Lords (the British equivalent of taking the case to the Supreme Court), which initially confirmed them while the case was in progress; but ultimately in October 1988 the Law Lords ruled in favour of the newspapers and overturned all the injunctions.

        Note that at no point was possession of the book itself banned in Britain; while it was not published in Britain at first, many copies were imported from the USA, and no attempts were ever made to prevent that or to prosecute any importers.

        The "bans" were very specifically limited to publication of excerpts in three newspapers, and those bans lasted less than 2 years before they were overturned by due legal process. So while the government did indeed attempt to censor the book, we're not talking about an oppressive totalitarian regime that decrees what its citizens are allowed to think; we're merely talking about a government being duly diligent in its efforts to ensure national security.

        And I seem to recall that even in the USA, with its consitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech, you can cause a national scandal by revealing the identity of a CIA field agent...
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          I think that there has been a bit of a misapprehension here. I am in no way suggesting that the government of Britain is a sinister totalitarian regime, or anything of the sort. I am sorry that you seemed to take the comment of a stranger on the internet as such an offense to your national sentiment - of course, I am assuming that you are a Briton, the only reason I can find for your ire. On the other hand, it seems you have also assumed I am American (c.f. "even in the USA, with its consitutionally guarant
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by I_M_Noman ( 653982 )
          In fact, the book was never banned in Britain at all, AFAICT, and has certainly been openly sold in Britain ever since its first publication abroad.
          According to Wikipedia, it certainly was banned in the UK [wikipedia.org]. Hell, Wright even talks about it in my paperback copy. The ban was lifted in 1988.
  • YRO?!!! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 18, 2006 @07:03AM (#16128990)
    What the hell does this have to do my rights online?

    Do the editors not realize the rights of military personnel are not the same as civilians? There are some things they can and can't do even after they leave the service.

    In any case, I don't really see the relevance of this on slashdot. If you replace blog with book, I don't know how this is news for nerds.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Ah, good ol' USA, where willful ignorance is a value to be celebrated, and a chance to learn something new is probably going to get you sent STRAIGHT to hell.

      Come on. As a nerd, don't you have some of that inquisitiveness that divides the nerds from the sheep? You've got a guy here who's decided that the public's right to know outweighs the government's desire for secrecy. Aren't you the least bit curious about the experiences this guy must have had to turn his attitude that way? For your benefit?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I have to agree with this. Admittedly, my knowledge is US-specific, but I'm positive the basics are the same for the UK. In the US, if you wish to obtain a security clearance, you have to sign a document essentially stating that you will protect classified information for the rest of your life. In this case, the UK isn't infringing on the rights of an average citizen, the UK government is going after a man who promised to keep certain secrets, and is now going back on his promise. Legal issues notwithst
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        In the UK we have the official secrets act which in theory every citizen is party to but when you join up with e.g. the armed forces, government etc. you are required to confirm your understanding of what is required of you by signing a form.
        • Does the UK have contracts that extend past your association with the group?

          I mean, at a regular job, if you sign a paper saying you won't do X and you do it -- as long as the action wasn't illegal all they can really do is kick you out. But he's already left the army. They can't say the contract is still in effect, it's been voided for some time.
          • by jabuzz ( 182671 )
            The contract is with the state, and it is binding for life. It is no different from an NDA. You agree to the contract and in exchange you get access to priviledged information, that you agree not to divulge to anyone without permission. He does not have permission to make the disclosures he wants to. He is a dishonarable gold digger, who sees a fast buck divulging the secrets.

            Now my Grandfather who spent WWII interogating what he described as "odious people" (aka high ranking German officers) and then went
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Tim C ( 15259 )
              The contract is with the state, and it is binding for life. It is no different from an NDA. You agree to the contract and in exchange you get access to priviledged information, that you agree not to divulge to anyone without permission.

              It's not clear whether you're talking about the US or the UK, but certainly in the UK that's not the case. The Official Secrets Act is a law, and is binding on you whether you know it or not. When you apply for security clearance you do indeed sign a bit of paper confirming y
              • In the US, there's very little information that's "born classified", mostly things like nuclear weapons design, names of secret agents (unless they've embarassed the president), etc. - Bush and his gang are trying to change that, but for the most part, people with normal security clearances aren't allowed to divulge specific classified information, but are otherwise not restricted. There are higher levels of security clearances for which you do have to agree to governmental pre-review of anything you publi
                • In the US, there's very little information that's "born classified", mostly things like nuclear weapons design, names of secret agents

                  Nuclear weapons design is not born classified. If I design a device that goes 20kT boom, I can publish it if I want to. It's just the stuff that the US has designed that's classified. Likewise, I might be able to publish a list of secret agents, provided I use no classified sources.

                  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Monday September 18, 2006 @08:33PM (#16135137) Journal
                    Just because something's classified doesn't mean you can't publish it - it just means you can be busted after the fact if you do so, though the government will often try to prevent publication.


                    With nuclear weapons, the laws and court cases have varied. Some good references on "born classified" are at Federation of Atomic Scientists" [72.14.203.104] and Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]. Then there's the case of "The Progressive", which published information in ~1976, but it apparently wasn't sufficiently detailed to count as Restricted Data or Formerly Restricted Data, so the Feds lost their case against them. On the other hand, back in the mid-70s, a Princeton student designed an atomic bomb for his junior physics project and his paper got classified and confiscated (though he did get an A on it -- Phillips wasn't some brilliant whiz kid, he was a mediocre student who needed a really good project to get his grades back up.)

                    Names of Secret Agents - Ex-CIA agent Philip Agee published a list of names of probably CIA agents, derived from non-classified sources, which is why Congress passed a law that says *you* can't do the same thing and then-CIA-honcho George H.W. Bush called people who did that traitors. The law is somewhat narrow - it doesn't look like Scooter Libby necessarily violated it.

                    Cryptographers ran into lots of problems with it in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s - if you submitted crypto technology for a patent, the NSA could declare it to be classified and rip it off, and you wouldn't be able to publish it - but if you published first, you couldn't get a patent, unless you were very careful about timing (since US patent law, unlike most European patent law, gives you a year from publication to apply for a patent) - the US academic crypto journals were mostly strict and conservative about accepting papers that might get classified before publication. Diffie, Hellmann, Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman had to play games to publish, and they did so successfully. And US crypto export laws, which were designed to keep military hardware from being sold to Commies, had trouble coping with books printed on dead trees, that was clearly covered by the First Amendment, so the PGP folks were able to force the issue by exporting printed copies of their code and having friendly European academics scan it in for them. On the other hand, Raph Levien never got his T-shirts back...

                    • On the other hand, back in the mid-70s, a Princeton student designed an atomic bomb for his junior physics project and his paper got classified and confiscated

                      Notice that it was classified after the fact. 'Born classified' would mean that that information is classified by its very existence, even if the government doesn't know about it.

              • by Budenny ( 888916 )
                Yes you are quite right, its as binding without a signature as with. Its a law of the land, not a civil contract or any kind of contract.

                On Tomlinson - are there actually any disclosures in his novel? It is most probably a publicity stunt.
        • by goatan ( 673464 )
          The offical secrets act is actually very weak. How many succesful prosecutions of the act have you seen? very few if any i would bet, the gorvernemnt always prosecuts but rarley gets the conviction it would like. and to qoute yes primeminster the oofical secrets act isn't there to protect secrets its there to protect officals".
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I don't have any time to read the book, so I have to ask: What could this guy possibly have to say that he didn't have to say in his first book "The Big Breach"?

        As I understood it, the first book was about what a shambolic state MI6 was in back when he was employed there - someone please correct or confirm. If that is the case then I understand why he may have seen this as a good thing to do in the interests of national security (publicity is sometimes the only way to get people to wake up and change thing

      • Re:YRO?!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by headonfire ( 160408 ) on Monday September 18, 2006 @09:39AM (#16129959)
        If you were asked to keep a secret by the government that resulted in the fleecing of millions of taxpayers, would you? how about if it was something that had resulted in one or more deaths? would you keep it secret, then? what about gross abuse of government, and thereby taxpayer, resources? would you keep it a secret then? so you signed a piece of paper. are you going to let that stop you from releasing information you feel needs to be available? What if your commanding officer or fellows were, say, abusing prisoners of a false war in extremely demeaning and inhuman ways? would you report, then?

        where do you draw the line between what the state has a right to hide and what it must not?

        in short: who's watching the watchers?
        • by argent ( 18001 )
          If you were asked to keep a secret by the government that resulted in the fleecing of millions of taxpayers, would you? how about if it was something that had resulted in one or more deaths? would you keep it secret, then?

          Civil disobedience is always an option, and what makes civil disobedience honorable is accepting the consequences of being caught.

          where do you draw the line between what the state has a right to hide and what it must not?

          The conscience and moral character of the whistleblowers.
          • Is it really just an option, past a certain point? Wouldn't you consider it more of a duty to report something grossly wrong with the way the government is being operated, even if the government tells you not to?

            Do you really want people *without* consciences or good moral character working in your government? Of course there will always be bad apples, but shouldn't a requirement of public service (that's what a government is, after all; they don't exist purely for their own right - do they?) be to actual
            • by argent ( 18001 )
              Wouldn't you consider it more of a duty to report something grossly wrong with the way the government is being operated, even if the government tells you not to?

              Um, yes, that was my point. The thing is, if there is something wrong with the way the government is being operated, you're likely to suffer negative consequences after you report it... you're not going to expect the government to save you from the government?

              Must a government rely on a system of martyrs to be accountable?

              "The tree of liberty must b
              • yes, I do expect the government to "save me" from itself, heh. I'd expect, of course, a full line of inquiry and investigation, probable detainment, and dismissal from my position, yes, but I do not expect jailtime or execution if the information I have revealed shows abuse, neglect, or wrong-doing on the part of a person or peoples involved in a public trust position.

                I'm not talking "took home one too many pens from the office", I'm talking "started putting people on no-fly lists just to meet quotas", or
                • by argent ( 18001 )
                  Historically true. But I question that "must" with a "why?" Is it not possible to break free from that cycle?

                  The best we've come up with is a mechanism to try and ensure the patriots get vindicated posthumously.
                  • Yeah, and that's, uh, extremely discouraging to any would-be patriots of our age, I do believe. Nobody wants to die these days, because we're often so very far from the spectre of death. Shit, I know I don't want to die, and i don't even want to kill anybody - i just want them to stop being douchebags and give us back our government. So often it seems that those in power box themselves in so tightly, though, that they leave no option for change other than blood. I think our original system allowed for a
                    • by argent ( 18001 )
                      Yeah, and that's, uh, extremely discouraging to any would-be patriots of our age, I do believe.

                      Of any age.

                      I'm not saying this is good.

                      I'm simply saying it's necessary.
    • Re:YRO?!!! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Don_dumb ( 927108 ) on Monday September 18, 2006 @07:28AM (#16129099)
      This person isn't in the military per se MIx workers are civil servants (and that is probably what a member of one would be offically) but they have still signed the Official Secrets Act (like all civil servants), and probably have signed much more resricted non-disclosure agreements.
      So yes, this isn't really anything to do with 'our rights'. Although he might argue that his are being attacked as just about everyone else, has released books, but only after the MOD has vetted them first.
      I dont know how many books have been forced to be edited as a result of the MOD reviewing the books of MIx bosses and SAS solders, but whenever they had misgivings (Andy McNab for instance), it just gave the book more publicity "The book they didn't want to you to see" and such like.

      This guy probably has a really boring book, but now it doesn't seem so boring.
      • by jonadab ( 583620 )
        > This person isn't in the military per se

        Eh. MI _stands_ for "Military Intelligence", so at the very least they like to think of themselves as military-ish. In any case, changing the words "military personnel" to "intelligence officers" does not change the previous poster's point, as far as I can tell. I don't think CIA employees should be able to publish just any information they want, that they've obtained in the course of their job, so why would MI6 officers be different in that regard?

        We're not t
        • by bil ( 30433 )
          Eh. MI _stands_ for "Military Intelligence",

          Their official name is SIS or the Secret Intelligence Service. The name MI6 is more of a nickname then anything else, sort of like calling the (current) Russian intelligence service the KGB.

          Apparently MI6 was the liason department between SIS and Military Intelligence during WWII.

          The rest of the point stands however.
    • ...might be as to whether or not HE realizes that the rights of military personnel are not the same as civilians.

      Something tells me this guy's going to end up doing time, no matter how good his book might have been.
    • by julesh ( 229690 )
      What the hell does this have to do my rights online?

      The "you" of the title is plural not singular. Our rights online include those among us who are members of the military. And its online 'cause he's publishing it in a blog.

      Nobody's forcing you to read the story.
    • by kfg ( 145172 ) *
      In any case, I don't really see the relevance of this on slashdot. If you replace blog with book, I don't know how this is news for nerds.

      Power.

      KFG
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by enrevanche ( 953125 )
      That depends. If it relates to current ongoing operations, yes then he should not be writing about them. However, if it is about reasonably distant past operations, then it has no right to stop him. If a government is ashamed about what it has done, then it's time to start acting responsably. Too many things are marked state secrets because the government does not want its own citizens to know what it has done and the types of things it continues to do.

      Anyways, this is about a novel, not a work of non-fic

  • Smells suspicious (Score:3, Interesting)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Monday September 18, 2006 @08:01AM (#16129263) Journal
    I call BS.

    One might suspect that the main stream media is gullible and naive enough about the web, but one would hope that /. would be a little more skeptical about such a blatant effort to 'guerilla market' someone's crappy book.

    I couldn't have said it better than a comment on the guy's own blog:
    "Presumably your book is being banned on the basis of its quality, which is average at best. "Hit with the force of a tsunami" - awful. And a protagonist who doesn't need to work for a living, rather conveniently. I saw The Constant Gardener at the cinema, and this smells like a cheap rip-off. And don't get me started on predictability...

    You needn't live in fear of MI6 mate, it's the readers you should be afraid of."
  • by Tryfen ( 216209 ) on Monday September 18, 2006 @08:36AM (#16129498) Homepage
    • Thanks for the link.

      The book, "The Big Breach", is available on the site, although Cryptome's page is badly obsolete. (The domain "thebigbreach.com" is in the hands of a squatter and plg-gcie.com has no server.)
  • Do not pass Go.
    Do not collect $200.
    Do not drop the soap.

    (Shamelessly stolen from www.gucomics.com :)

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