A question of cash and charm

November 14, 1997

Inefficient, bureaucratic, mismanaged. The latest charges against MI5, the branch of the secret services responsible for security within the UK, come from former agent David Shayler. Shayler, living overseas, wants an inquiry into MI5's activities, but cannot re-enter Britain, where he faces arrest for alleged breaches of the Official Secrets Act. Last week former MI6 agent Richard Tomlinson was charged under the 1989 act, accused of planning a book about his work.

These are the most recent embarrassments to Britain's security services, which are now under Treasury review. Chris Mullin, chair of the Commons home affairs select committee, has said that the review might lead to "some downsizing" of the agencies, which have "run out of things to do".

So how much do we spend on MI5, MI6 (foreign intelligence) and GCHQ (the government's signals intelligence centre)? The budget for all three is Pounds 713 million. Although the breakdown is classified, it is thought that MI5 receives Pounds 130 million; MI6 Pounds 150 million and GCHQ Pounds 430 million. Manpower at MI5 has dropped from 2,000 to 1,800, MI6 has fewer than 2,000 staff and GCHQ will cut its staff to 4,000 by the year 2000. Next week, perhaps as part of a charm offensive, MI5 will open some of its files to the public for the first time.

Files dating from 1909 to 1919 will be placed in the Public Record Office where spy watchers will be hoping to answer some of the riddles of the first world war.

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