Secrets row ... Stella Rimington



Chief Reporter

THE former head of MI5 has written a sensational book lifting the lid on the intelligence service, The Sun can reveal.

Officials are desperate to get Dame Stella Rimington's explosive £1MILLION memoirs banned but she has vowed to go ahead.

Last night Government lawyers were scrambling to get a High Court injunction blocking publication.

But Dame Stella, 63, was said to be determined to press ahead with the explosive book.

Negotiations were under way in a bid to water down her disclosures if necessary and ensure no sensitive material is published.

If the book goes ahead, it will be the first time a top Secret Service spook has revealed details of their career.

Last night a senior Government source said: "Secrets are secrets and they should be kept that way."

Dame Stella became Director General of MI5 in 1992 and retired in 1996.

She began writing her 150,000-word life story last year.

Last night Dame Stella confirmed to The Sun: "Yes, I am writing a book. I have written a draft which I have submitted to the relevant Government authorities.

"It is a personal memoir. It is not my intention to disclose any information of a sensitive nature.

"We are discussing it all in a very amicable manner and I am sure there won't be any problems."

Asked if she realised that she was the first-ever head of MI5 or MI6 to write their memoirs, Dame Stella simply said: "Quite."

Dame Stella refused to divulge the name of the publishers with whom she is negotiating.

A security source said: "Her draft manuscript does give away a lot of sensitive information, although she stops short of naming British agents.

"But it appalling that she should consider lifting the curtain of security hanging over MI5 by even a fraction.

"There has never been any official history of MI5 or MI6 - and it should stay that way.

"We are now negotiating with Dame Stella to try to ensure that if the book is published it does not give away any secrets.

"But we have to accept that there would be no interest in her memoirs unless they revealed some of the secrets of MI5."

Dame Stella was the first woman ever to be appointed to head MI5 - and Bond film bosses hired Dame Judi Dench to play 007's boss M in recognition of the fact.

She was also the first to be photographed and officially named.

Dame Stella ran MI5 during the height of the terrorist threat from the IRA.

And she was given regular in-depth briefings about terrorists and big-time drug barons.

In retirement, she earns an estimated £60,000-a-year from her directorships of Marks & Spencer and British Gas. She also draws a sizeable Government pension based on the £90,000-a-year salary she earned as MI5 chief.

A disgruntled security source said: "We can appreciate that Dame Stella wants to make a bob or two. But she could hardly be described as hard-up.

"It is scandalous that she is trying to make more money this way."

Governmment fury over Dame Stella's revelations boiled over because of a stream of books by men holding sensitive positions.

Gulf War commander General Sir Peter de la Billiere opened the floodgates when he lifted the lid about SAS secrets during the 1991 Gulf War. As a punishment he was then banned from going to his old SAS base.

SAS sergeant Andy McNab jumped into the breach by writing his best-selling book Bravo Two Zero about the exploits of his behind-the-lines patrol during the Gulf War.

All serving and former members of the SAS were then asked to sign contracts agreeing that they would not publish their memoirs.

And massive efforts were made to halt publication of books on MI5 by author Nigel West and ex-spy Peter Wright.

A Goverment source said: "Dame Stella seems to have slipped through the net.

"We are doing all we can to prevent publication of her book in its present form.

"There has been all this flak about the renegade MI5 officer David Shayler's revelations.

"It would seem two-faced to pursue him and try to arrest him while the ex-boss just gets on with writing her own money-spinning memoirs."

It is understood Home Secretary Jack Straw, who has overall responsibility for MI5, is being kept informed about the book.

Despite the fears expressed by insiders, an official Government source said last night: "Dame Stella has submitted a text in accordance with the rules.

"The matter is now under consideration. She shares the Government's overriding concern that nothing should appear which is damaging to national security.

"The matter continues to be discussed between the parties."

The source went on: "There is no comparison between David Shayler and Dame Stella.

"Shayler ran away and took secrets with him and now faces arrest because of breaches of the Official Secrets Act.

"Dame Stella has played everything by the rules and has submitted her manuscript to the relevant authorities. What is actually published still remains to be seen."

In recent months a string of embarrassing blunders have rocked Britain's security services.

The Sun revealed how spies from MI5 and MI6 both lost laptops containing secret information within 24 hours of each other in March.

One - packed with Ulster secrets - was stolen from the MI5 agent after he put it on the floor while buying a ticket at a London Underground station.

The MI6 officer lost his while on a drunken night out at a London tapas bar near to his HQ. It was believed to contain names of spies working abroad.

The computer was recovered after worried security bosses placed an anonymous newspaper ad offering a substantial reward for its return.

In April a senior Army officer had a laptop containing sensitive files nicked from between his feet as he waited to catch a plane at Heathrow airport.

In another incident this year, intelligence chiefs feared that agents' lives could have been put at risk by the publishing of a top-secret MI5 report on an American Internet site.

'Scandal is worse than Spycatcher'

Top secret ... M15's HQ in London

THE memoirs of Stella Rimington could do enormous damage to British intelligence operations, an expert warned last night.

Author Chris Dobson said: "Our enemies could use her book to build up a picture of how our security services work, even though she may not reveal names of agents."

He claimed the row over Dame Stella's autobiography would be greater than that which erupted over MI5 officer Peter Wright's book, Spycatcher, in the 1980s.

Mr Dobson said: "This is far, far worse.

"That caused an enormous stink, even though Wright was a fairly low-ranking officer.

"The idea of a very senior person, in fact the last-but-one head of MI5, writing a book is unthinkable.

"I believe these sorts of people should simply keep their traps shut.

"Not so long ago the names of the heads of MI5 or MI6 were never published.

"Then the names came out and Stella Rimington was the first security chief to be photographed. She even produced a glossy brochure about MI5."

Mr Dobson, who has written several books on security, went on: "There has always been a great veil of secrecy over MI5 and MI6 and that is as it should be. What we are seeing is a breakdown of the system of confidentiality.

"If the head of MI5 can get away with writing a book, lowlier agents will think that they can try to go into print as well."

In 1982, spy writer Nigel West - the pen-name used by former Tory MP Rupert Allason - was barred from publishing a history of MI5.

The book, called A Matter of Trust, breached the Official Secrets Act with references to a string of incidents and operations since World War Two.

It was ruled: "These could only have been revealed by past and present members of the secret service."

West, 50, eventually saw an edited version of the book published.

M15 is 'out of control'

Wright ... fury at book

PETER Wright was an MI5 bugging expert and its top mole-hunter.

But after retiring in 1976 he sparked fury by claiming the service was "out of control" in his book Spycatcher.

His most famous disclosure was that MI5 plotted to oust Harold Wilson as Prime Minister.

The Tory Government obtained injunctions against British newspapers to prevent them reporting the book's contents.

It finally came out in Britain in 1988 after a Lords ruling. Wright died in 1995 aged 78.

On run to stay free

Shayler ... fled abroad

SHAYLER, 33, served in two sensitive posts with MI5 - T Branch, which deals with the IRA, and G9A, the Libyan desk.

After quitting in 1997 he sold his MI5 secrets to a Sunday paper for £10,000.

These included stories of bugging people ranging from Peter Mandelson to John Lennon. He also claimed MI5 had a file on Sir Edward Heath.

He has been hiding in France since being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act - but it was claimed yesterday he was set to return to face the charges.