When you think of British Intelligence, the likes of James Bond and Mycroft Holmes come to mind. Unfortunately, the real agencies which include MI5, SIS, DI, etc. sadly aren’t as covert or as intelligent as fiction portrays them to be. Much like their western counterparts, intelligence leaks and scandals happen a lot more often than they’d like to or admit, thereby causing quite the uproar. Let’s read through the list of the biggest scandals that involve British Intelligence.
- The Zinoviev Letter
The Zinoviev Letter was a document written by a famous Communist leader which stated that a Labor Party victory of the 1924 British General elections would be a victory for Communism in the United Kingdom. The Labor Party chose to keep the letter a secret, fearing that its release would only secure them a loss. Shortly before the election, the Labor Party faced a vote of no confidence when they chose not to prosecute a prominent Communist author for mutiny. Sources claim that the Zinoviev Letter, which was intercepted by MI5, somehow made its way to the press which as predicted, led to the Labor Party’s loss of the election. In the years following, the authenticity of the letter was questioned many times and there are some who claim that the letter was planted by MI5.
- Clockwork Orange
From 1974 to 1975, several members of the British Intelligence were accused of plotting to conduct a smear campaign against then-Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. The accusations went as far as claiming that a coup d’état was on the horizon for the minister, but they were found out before it got to that point. The extent of their involvement is not fully known but it was discovered that they installed several secret recording devices at the Prime Minister’s 10 Downing residence. It is believed that they wanted to gain information to try to implicate the minister. The ordeal led Wilson to create a policy called the Wilson Doctrine, which prevents any agency from bugging members of British Parliament.
- The Butler Review
Some years after the Iraq War began in 2003, the entire world learned that the reason for the initial invasion was not that the country had a secret stash of weapons of mass destruction. It was alleged that a coalition of world leaders wanted to invade to control the country’s vast oil reserve. The charge was led by American and British troops and when the discovery was made, British Intelligence faced significant backlash. The reason why is because they failed to conduct their own investigation, blindly following the information given by American intelligence. The review, now called the Butler Review, was the official inquest into how badly British Intelligence failed.
- Spycatcher, the Novel
In 1987, Peter Wright, a former high-rankingMI5 officer released a book that he called “Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Office.” In his book, he went into graphic detail about some of the agency’s questionable practices that he’d personally witnessed or researched. The book was instantaneously banned throughout England and any media source who tried to talk about the book’s content was immediately issued a gag order by the government. The book became a best-seller and was reviewed in every country except Old Blighty. The book is still banned to this day, and Wright was denied full pension “on a technicality”.
- The Cambridge Five
The Cambridge Five was arguably the biggest embarrassment in British Intelligence history and it led to worldwide paranoia about Soviet moles. The Cambridge Five, so-named because the members all attended Cambridge University, were a group of (at least) five undercover spies who not only successfully infiltrated British Intelligence agencies but relayed deep held secrets to the Soviets for more than two decades between the 1930s and 1950s. If it weren’t for two members fleeing to Moscow, the group would not have been discovered. It was the scandal of all scandals and caused an international frenzy as governments around the world looked for spies within their own country.