Spycatcher

From Academic Kids

Spycatcher cover

Spycatcher is a book by the former MI5 secret service operative Peter Wright. It caused a scandal on its release not so much because of its allegations but because the British government attempted to ban it, thereby ensuring its notoriety.

The book primarily details Wright's efforts to uncover a Russian mole in his organisation. Wright alleges that this was Roger Hollis, a former Director General of MI5. He also describes a variety of figures in the intelligence service who might or might not have been the mole, and effectively provides a history of the service via its principal players from the 1930s to Wright's own period.

In addition, the book makes several scandalous allegations, such as that there was a MI6 plot to kill President Nasser during the Suez Crisis, and that MI5 and the CIA joined together in a plot against British Prime Minister Harold Wilson (who had secretly been accused of being a KGB agent by Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn, and who, as a left-wing politician, was a natural target for MI5). Wright also says that several high-level Commonwealth conferences were bugged.

The book also provides an examination of the techniques used by the intelligence services, along with a candid expose of their ethics which had until then been mere speculation (notably the "11th commandment" which states that "thou shalt not get caught"). Wright explains many of the technologies used by MI5, some of which he developed himself, and which allowed the agency to bug rooms using a variety of clever electronic techniques.

The book was written after Wright left MI5 and when he was living in Tasmania. The first attempt to publish it was made in 1985. It was immediately banned in the UK although sold overseas. Several British newspapers attempted to report on its principal allegations but were served with gag orders. They persisted and were tried for contempt of court. Throughout all this, quantities of the book were smuggled into the UK for sale. Eventually in 1988 the book was cleared for legitimate sale when the Law Lords admitted that its publication overseas meant it no longer contained secrets. Additionally, in 1991, the European Court of Human Rights found that the British government had breached the European Convention of Human Rights in gagging the newspapers.

The book is regarded as being flawed by many, who consider it full of factual holes and unproven allegations. Some consider it to be written from too personal a standpoint, something which weakens the allegations. Others suggest that if the British government hadn't caused a scandal by attempting to ban the book, it would have been overlooked by many. Wright says directly in the book's afterward that one of the primary reasons for writing the book is make up for lost income due to the British government deciding that his pension was not transferable from his early work at GCHQ; by this ruling, Wright's pension was severely shortened.

Peter Wright died in 1995, after being made a millionaire by the book.

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