I’ve been reading with some interest and amusement the battle going on between ex-MI6 officer Richard Tomlinson living in France and the British secret services.
The latest twist is that he’s started posting parts of his novel on the Net because MI6 has told him it is withholding his computers as the novel breaches the Official Secrets Act.
Tomlinson was recruited into the foreign wing of the secret services in 1991. He’s fluent in five languages (English, French, Spanish, German, Italian) which helps. He was then unceremoniously kicked out in 1995 for what remain opaque reasons, and which Tomlinson claims he doesn’t understand. He tried to take MI6 to an employment tribunal but the Home Secretary prevented it from happening.
So he did a Peter Wright and wrote a book about his time in MI6 called The Big Breach, which you can now buy for Â£7 or download for free. In fact I think I’m right in saying he put it on a Russian website for free and then the fact that the information was then widely available was used to beat MI6 in court (the same argument used to lift the ban on Wright’s Spycatcher). He was imprisoned in 1997 for breaching the Official Secrets Act and was released in 1998.
Tomlinson suggested that MI6 had been behind the death of Princess Diana by drawing a link between her death and a plan he had seen to wipe out Slobodan Milosevic. This gained him some notoriety, which, presumably was the point it saying it in the first place. He apparently met up with Mohammed Al-Fayed, which put a big dent in his credibility but no doubt proved financially beneficial.
Anyway, Tomlinson was mostly left alone. At least until he started up a blog on 9 April this year and started trying to wind up his former employer. He ended his first post with: “Anyway, let the game begin….”
He threatened to start posting letters about his dismissal, then made a Freedom of Information request for his employment records into to stir MI6 into action. Then, he started laying into John Scarlett – the head of MI6 and previously a figure of some controversy as head of the Joint Intelligence Committee – because of the appalling Iraq War dossiers.
“I knew John Scarlett when I was in the service. He was a serious (even humourless), deadly cautious individual who carefully considered every word of every document that was put in front of him,” Tomlinson wrote before making various allegations. Big mistake.
This niggling went on, with Tomlinson commenting on current events and MI6’s likely hand in them. He then threatened to start publishing the name of MI6 agents on the Net. And suddenly there was a list – of 116 alleged MI6 agents. Tomlinson swears blind he had nothing to do with it, and on balance, it looks very likely that he didn’t. But MI6 had clearly characterised him as a threat – the taunting of Scarlett not helping – and decided to nobble him.
Suddenly his house in France is raided, with the help of French police, and his possessions and computers seized. His original blog was taken down. Since then he has been fighting a petty battle with MI6 over his possessions, publishing all the letters and emails he gets, complete with names and addresses.
The latest twist is that MI6 is justifying not returning his computer because there is stuff on it that breaks the Official Secrets Act. Tomlinson has finally managed to get MI6 to admit that it is referring to a novel he had started writing. And so, as a response, he has posted the first chapter of the novel on his blog.
I really don’t know why Tomlinson is determined to wind up MI6 so much (although MI6 are stupid not to realise that the more they poke him…), but I do love watching the light shone on the sometime hilariously secretive SIS. Is the novel any good? No, not really, but then most spy books aren’t.
Update: Tomlinson has now posted the rest of his novel – unfinished and up to an eighth chapter – on the blog claiming that he wants it up there so the UK authorities can’t trick the French into arresting him for breaching the Official Secrets Act. This is, of course, bunkem and it is the attention – most likely from the story I wrote for The Register – that has given him the impetus to shove it all up online.
I have nothing against Mr Tomlinson but I strongly suspect that if he ever does get a tribunal over why he was fired from MI6, he’ll find the personnel file says something along the lines: “Attention-seeker. Security risk due to acute desire to please.”