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United Kingdom and Northern Ireland

von Tony Bunyan (Großbritannien) und Mike Tomlinson (Nordirland)

This article signs introductory a detailed picture of the british intelligence services:

C.1 MI5, the Security Service

A.1 MI6, the Secret Service or Secret Intelligence Service

D.1 Defence Intelligence Staff

B.1 Government Communication Headquarters - GCHQ

The following parts deal with the central structure of intelligence, telephone tapping and new UK secrecy definitions.

The role of the intelligence agencies in the North of Ireland first is described by basic information on the Security Service (MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the RUC Special Branch and Military Intelligence and then the co-ordination between them is discussed.


C.1 MI5, the Security Service

MI5, the Security Service, was founded in 1909. It deals with counter-espionage and subversion within the UK and the colonies. The ending of the Cold War posed more of a threat to MI5 than to MI6. MI6 claim that there are many potential threats to the interests of the UK, in the EC, Eastern Europe and the Third World. The gathering of political and economic intelligence, countering rival espionage agencies, as well as keeping an eye on the nascent democracies in Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) ensures its role well into the future. The exchange of intelligence with the KGB and other East European agencies on Third World countries previously close to the Soviet Union is one of its current priorities.

With decolonisation in the postwar period MI5 saw its role contract but this coincided with the increased Soviet ’threat’ which gave it a new role. Counter-espionage against the Soviet Union in the UK and counter-subversion against supposed Communist sympathisers were it main tasks. In the seventies it also developed a counter-terrorist branch. With the ending of Soviet espionage and subversion, real or imagined, and with their own assessment that internal subversion was at a low point, MI5 searched for a new role.

Terrorism is the issue which has allowed MI5 to take a major part in the working groups of Trevi (the inter-governmental grouping outside of EC structures). MI5 has been active in the Trevi network since it was set up in 1976. It also participates in the ‘Police Working Group on Terrorism' - meetings of EC security services, Special Branches and police. Indeed, it has argued that the EC is becoming part of the ‘domestic' rather than a ‘foreign' sphere.

The Special Branch (which is part of the police force) was founded in 1883 to combat Irish Fenian bombings. It maintained this role in Britain while also helping MI5 with espionage and counter-subversion. However, a power struggle resulted in 1992 in MI5 being given the lead role in combatting Irish terrorism. A similar struggle is taking place over their respective roles in the EU. The Special Branch in the Metropolitan Police through its European Liaison Section (ELS) established links with its counterparts from 1976 and has a dedicated communications system. But it was MI5 who trailed and pinpointed three IRA people in Gibraltar who were shot dead in 1988. 

The Security Service Act 1989

This Act was the first to recognise the existence of MI5, the internal security agency since its formation. The role of MI5 is defined in the Act as:

"the protection of national security and, in particular, its protection against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage, from the activities of agents of foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means... (and) to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands".

It thus officially recognised the working definition of ’subversionused by MI5 and the Special Branch since 1970 to justify the surveillance of political and trade union activists. The Act allows MI5 to apply to the Home Secretary for a warrant to enter and/or interfere with property, that is, to secretly enter a home or office; to steal or plant material; and to install listening devices. It created the post of Security Service Commissioner whose job is 

i) to review the issuing of warrants;

ii) to forward cases where the Tribunal finds evidence of unlawful actions by MI5 to the Home Secretary with a recommendation for compensation to be paid. The Tribunal is comprised of between three and five lawyers appointed by the Queen. When it investigates complaints - about ‘interference with property' or the passing of derogatory information to an employer (e.g. the Civil Service or defence contractor) - the Tribunal has to decide if MI5 acted properly. In deciding whether MI5 acted within its powers MI5 is able to argue that it had ‘reasonable grounds for believing' that the person was or is a member of a: 

category of persons regarded by the Service as requiring investigation in the discharge of its functions...

The Tribunal is not allowed to give any information to a complainant except where it makes report to the Home Secretary to recommend compensation because it decides MI5 has acted outside of its remit. With this exception it is not allowed when turning down a complaint to say whether or not a person was or was not subject to surveillance. Moreover, the decisions of the Commissioner and the Tribunal ‘shall not be subject to appeal or liable to be questioned in any court' (para 5.4).

Annual reports on MI5: 1990-1993

The first annual report of the Security Service Commissioner, the Rt Hon Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, contained no figures on the number of search warrants issued to MI5 (the Security Service) by the Home Secretary. Nor were any of the 55 complaints made by members of the public upheld by the new Tribunal. Judge Stuart- Smith said it would not be ‘in the public interest' to give the figures.

The report stated that applications for warrants can be made to the Northern Ireland Secretary as well as the Home Secretary, and indeed to any Secretary of State in emergency if the Home Secretary is unavailable. The report makes clear that search warrants are issued not just against individuals but also for organisations (para 4), and that MI5 fronts applications from other agencies (para 3). Applications are made to the Warrants Unit in the Home Office, are valid for up to six months and are renewable. The report also indicates that warrants are issued for fishing expeditions as the information sought by MI5 ‘may be vital in determining whether such a threat is real or not' (para 12).

In the second report, for 1991 (issued in 1992), Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, said MI5 no longer destroyed any of its records, even those it opened erroneously, in case the Security Service Tribunal (which investigates complaints by members of the public) wants to see them. The policy, he reported: ‘is to retain records indefinitely in case they are of relevance any time in the future...and they [MI5] cannot accurately predict when files will ever be needed again. In my opinion as a general policy this is acceptable'. 

MI5's procedure is first to open a ‘temporary' file, with a maximum life of three years where they are uncertain if a permanent one is required. Then a ‘permanent' file is opened using a system of colour coding which controls how files are used. Once the ‘permanent' file is opened there is a period coded ‘green' when the person is put under surveillance. At the end of the ‘green' period it changes to ’amber' when further inquiries are prohibited but new information can be added. After the designated ‘amber' period a file is coded ‘red' when inquiries are prohibited and are any substantive additions. Finally, after a period of ‘red' coding the file is microfilmed and the hard copy destroyed. At this point the computer index entry in MI5's central registry index is moved from the ‘Live Index' to the `Research Index'.

The logic of the Commissioner becomes quite tortuous when he comes to consider records held by MI5 which, but for the Security Service Act 1989, would have been destroyed. ‘Temporary' files which do not become ‘permanent' files would previously have been destroyed after three years so too would `permanent' files on individuals and organisations erroneously opened - now they are retained in case the Tribunal wants to see them at some undefined point in the future.

MI5 holds records on those it vets or places under surveillance. These fall into several broad categories: those vetted for jobs in the Civil Service, defence industry, police and other sensitive areas; those thought to be engaged in espionage on behalf of a foreign power, and their perceived ‘supporters' or ‘sympathisers'; those suspected of involvement in terrorism; a broad spectrum of those perceived to be in positions of power and influence (including prospective parliamentary candidates, academics, leading industrialists and journalists - ‘agents of influence' in CIA parlance); and those considered to be ‘subversives' or a potential threat to national security (this last category is said to contain more than 1 million names).

Over the three year period a total of 102 people complained that inquiries were being made into their activities. In 99 cases the Commissioner says ‘no such inquiries were made'. In the remaining 3 cases either inquiries had been made but had now ceased or the Tribunal concluded: ‘that the Service has reasonable grounds at that time for deciding to institute or continue inquiries about the complainant' (para.7). A further total of 22 people complained that MI5 had disclosed information about them in the vetting procedure - in only 2 cases had this been done and this was justified because ‘the Service has reasonable grounds for believing the information to be true' (para.7). The Commissioner's work receives little attention in the press and parliament because it is widely viewed as giving little information and providing token accountability. [Security Service Act 1989: Report of the Commissioner for 1990, Rt Hon Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, Cm 1480, March 1991, HMSO; Report of the Commissioner for the Security Service for 1991,Cm 1946, HMSO, 1992; Report of the Commissioner for 1992, Security Service Act 1989, Rt Hon Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, March 1993, Cm 2174; Report of the Commissioner for 1993, Rt Hon Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, March 1994, Cm 2523.]

MI5 first court appearance

In 1992, after a two month trial and four days deliberating their verdict the jury at Caernarfon crown court found a young Welshman, Sion Roberts, guilty of sending four incendiary devices to prominent Conservatives and senior police officers. The same jury acquitted two others, David Davies and Dewi Williams, of conspiracy to cause explosions (Roberts was also acquitted on this charge). Dewi Williams had been described by the prosecution of being the articulate leader of the group. This was the first trial in which MI5 officers gave evidence in court. The trial arose out of the second homes, arson campaign organised by Meibion Glyndwyr which has produced more than 200 reported incidents since 1979. The prosecution case rested on investigations by the North Wales police, its Special Branch and Special Operation Unit and MI5 (the internal Security Service). The cornerstone of the case against three men was the ‘terrorist cell theory' which the jury rejected in throwing out serious charges of conspiracy.

In November 1991 there were 38 MI5 officers following Roberts at a protest march in Caernarfon. A few days earlier over 20 MI5 officers kept Davies under observation. This surveillance was supplemented by burglary and bugging (for this MI5 would need a warrant signed by the Home Secretary). In November 1991 MI5 agents entered Roberts's flat and placed bugs and hidden video cameras in it (some of the tapes were shown to the jury). On 5 December they entered his flat again and the four officers found explosive devices - Roberts' defence counsel unsuccessfully argued that the agents planted this evidence because of their inability to find hard evidence. These two operations were code-named ‘Seabird' and ‘Mountain'. [Secret Police on trial, Philip Thomas, Planet, April 1993; Guardian, 10.3.93.]

MI5: structure:

Number: 2,235

Cost: about £150 million

HQ location: Thames House, London (this new HQ cost £256 million) Director-General: Stella Rimmington

Despite the ending of the Cold War there have been few changes in the structure of MI5. There has however been a shifting of resources from `Cold War' sections to anti-terrorism and European interests.

MI5 has several branches:

A Branch: with the following sections:

A1: operations (including bugging and breakins)

A2: technical back-up (surveillance devices)

A4: direct surveillance - watches, including vehicles

A5: scientific research

B Branch: personnel

B1: recruitment

B2: personnel management

B3: general management services

B5: finance

C Branch: protective security

C1: security in Whitehall

C2: vetting government contractors

C3: vetting civil servants and Ministers

C4: security against terrorist attacks

F Branch: Domestic surveillance

F1: Communist Party (CPGB)

F2: trade unions

F3: [non-Irish terrorism]*

F4: agents in the CPGB and trade unions

F5: [Irish terrorism]*

F6: agents in radical groups and terrorist organisations

F7: surveillance of political and campaigning groups

* These roles have been moved to a new Branch: T.

K Branch: Counter-intelligence (inc. counter-espionage)

K1: potential espionage in government departments

K2: monitors KGB and GRU (Soviet military intelligence)

K3: recruitment of Soviet agents

K4: surveillance of Soviet diplomats, trade delegations etc.

K5: recruitment of East European and Chinese agents

K6: recruitment of other ‘hostile' intelligence agents in UK

K7: investigation of penetration of UK security and intelligence agencies including MI5.

K8: non-Soviet bloc counter-intelligence

S Branch: training and computer systems

S1: runs the Joint Computer Bureau linked to other agencies including MI6.

S2: registry of files

S3: training

S4: supplies, travel arrangements.

T Branch: anti-terrorism

T1: Irish terrorism

T2: non-Irish terrorism

Special Branch:

Numbers: around 1.500

Cost: not known

Location: in London at the Metropolitan Police HQ, New Scotland

Yard, London; in the provinces at police force HQs.

Head: John A Howley, Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Metropolitan Police force.

The Special Branch is formally part of the police force. It deals with counter-subversion, counter-terrorism, and public order. Since 1992 its historical role of countering IRA terrorism has been taken over by MI5.

A.1 MI6, the Secret Service or Secret Intelligence Service

MI6, or the Secret Service or Secret Intelligence Service, was set up in 1911. It is responsible for gathering intelligence and carrying out espionage operations outside of UK and its few remaining colonies. The areas in which MI6 is traditionally proficient are ex-colonies in Africa and Asia - where MI5's responsibility ended MI6 took over. In Europe, in the postwar period, it developed a small but effective intelligence system. The ending of the Cold War saw it extend its role in Central and Eastern Europe with the Czech intelligence service a special ally. MI6 is formally under the Foreign Office, most of its agents operate from British embassies and high commissions abroad under diplomatic cover (it also uses UK businessmen to gather intelligence).

Much of the postwar period was blighted for MI6 by suspicions of `traitors' in its ranks. It was not until 1991 that a former KGB colonel, Yuri Modin, confirmed that the `Fifth Man' recruited by the Soviets in the 1930s was John Cairncross. The others were Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Sir Anthony Blunt. This ended years of speculation that the `Fifth man' was Sir Roger Hollis, the head of MI5 between 1956 and 1965 [Guardian, 23.9.91; Sunday Times, 22.9.91.]

The current MI6 Head

David Spedding, 51, was been named as the new head of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in March 1994. He will take over from the current chief, Sir Colin McColl, in September. Spedding began his career as an intelligence officer in 1967 and spent his early years training as an Arabist at the Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies, a Foreign Office establishment located at Shemlan in Beirut. He then become second secretary at the embassy in Beirut until he was - one of a number of SIS officers - named by Kim Philby in 1971. Following Philby's disclosure he was transferred to Santiago, Chile, where his two-year (1972-1974) posting coincided with the CIA-backed overthrow of the Allende government by the military dictator, General Pinochet.

In 1978 he was posted to Abu Dhabi and between 1981 and 1983 he was at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. He served as a counsellor in Amman from 1983-1986, a period when Jordan was acting as a conduit to supply Iraq with western arms. He returned to London in 1986 where he took responsibility for Middle East affairs and was the officer in charge of covert intelligence operations during the Gulf War. He was also in charge of a joint operational section that liaised with the Security Service, MI5. In 1992 he became director of operations for MI6. [Guardian 5.3.94.; Daily Telegraph 5.3.94.]

The Intelligence Service Bill

The Intelligence Service Bill was introduced in parliament on 23 November 1993. It is intended to legitimise MI6 (also known as the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), or the Intelligence Service). The Bill also covers Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), founded in 1946, at Cheltenham, which together the American National Security Agency (NSA), monitors telecommunications throughout the world. This Bill, which has been introduced in the House of Lords, supplements the Security Service Act 1989 which covers MI5's activities. The provisions are in many ways the same as in the 1989 Act with the proposed appointment of a Commissioner (a senior judicial figure) reporting to the Prime Minister and a Tribunal to which complaints can be made. Neither of which has engendered much public confidence. The Bill does not cover the activities of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) or the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), which is in the Cabinet Office. Section 1 of the Bill sets out the role of MI6. Its functions are defined as:

(a) to obtain and provide information relating to the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands; and

(b) to perform other tasks relating to the actions or intentions of such persons... (in relation to) the interests of national security, with particular reference to defence and foreign policies...the interests of the economic well-being of the UK...or in support of the prevention or detection of serious crime.

Or in plain language to: spy on ‘hostile' foreign countries; to subvert and or undermine organisations or political parties opposed to governments the UK supports; to gather economic intelligence in ‘hostile' and ‘friendly' countries in order to further the interests of UK businesses and capital; and to act in support of MI5, the Special Branch and the police in countering terrorism, drugs, money laundering and illegal immigration.

GCHQ role covers exactly the same objectives - national security, economic well-being and serious crime - and its functions are to: 

monitor or interfere with electromagnetic, acoustic and other emissions and any equipment producing such emissions and to obtain and provide information derived from or related to such emissions or equipment and from encrypted material (Section 3).

In other words the interception, transcription or interference with the communications of foreign governments, military forces, international companies and private individuals. The actual activities of MI6 and GCHQ are only set out in regard to the ‘Authorisation of certain actions' which are defined in Section 5. This says that if the Secretary of State (the Foreign Secretary) issues a warrant: ‘No entry on or interference with property or with wireless telegraphy shall be unlawful...'. The only limit to the issuing of warrants is that actions should be of ‘substantial value' in MI5, MI6 and GCHQ carrying out their defined (vague) functions. MI5 can execute warrants in the UK on behalf of MI6 & GCHQ (except in the detection of serious crime which is the preserve of the police). The Bill also sets out `Authorisation for acts outside the British Islands' (in other countries). Section 7 states that if an agent or official of MI6 acts, outside the UK, in a way that would normally make then liable to prosecution under the criminal law, they will not be liable if their actions are authorised by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can authorise potentially ‘illegal' activities if they are in pursuance of the functions of MI6. The Secretary of State is given a general power to authorise these actions which can include a ‘particular act or acts, acts of a description specified in the authorisation or acts undertaken in the course of an operation so specified' and these may be limited to a particular person, or persons, or they may not.

After years of speculation about the need for parliamentary oversight of UK security and intelligence agencies (along the lines of the US, Canadian and Australian models) the Bill introduces the Intelligence and Security Committee (Section 10). This committee, on the face of it, will be able to examine ‘the expenditure, administration and policy' of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. It will comprise six members drawn from either the House of Commons or the House of Lords (excluding government Ministers). They will be appointed by the Prime Minister, after consulting the Leader of the Opposition. In practice the members of the committee are likely to exclude critics and be comprised of trustworthy figures. Moreover, they will all be bound for life by the Official Secrets Acts. Schedule 3 of the Bill sets limits on the information to be given to the committee: all information passed to the committee will be approved by the Secretary of State and may be refused if it is `sensitive information'. ‘Sensitive information' (Schedule 3, section 4) covers the identification and details of ‘sources of information', ‘operational methods', ‘particular operations' which have been carried out or are being planned by the agencies, and information which another government refuses to disclose. The only information for which it appears there is a positive right that is covered by the Public Records Act 1958 - that is, information that is at least 30 years old. [Intelligence Services Bill (H.L.), 23.11.93, 20 pages, HMSO; The Security Service, 36 pages, HMSO; Central Intelligence Machinery, 28 pages, HMSO; Commons Hansard, 30.11.93; Guardian, 25.11.93.]

MI6: structure

Number: 2,300

Cost: about £150 million

HQ location: Vauxhall Cross, London (a new HQ costing £93 million)

Head: known as "C", David Spedding


MI6's work is divided in two main sections:

Directors of production - on a geographical basis:

DP1: covers Europe. There is a Controller for the Northern Area (P1) covering the Soviet Union and Scandinavia;

a Controller for the Western Area (P2) responsible for France, Spain and Northern Africa; and 

Controller for the Eastern Area (P3) covering Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

DP2: Controller for the Middle East (called P4)

DP3: Controller for Far East (P5) which also covers Latin America.

DP4: responsible for London-based operations

Directors of Requirements:

In the following sections: political affairs, air, naval, military, counter-intelligence, economic, financial, GCHQ, and scientific.

D.1 Defence Intelligence Staff

The DIS was set up in the major reorganisation of the UK defences and the Ministry of Defence in 1964. Each service (Army, Navy, Air Force) have their own intelligence arms, the DIS provides the overall assessment and evaluation.

Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS)

Numbers: 700

Cost: n.k.

HQ location: Main Building, Whitehall, London SW1.

Head: Chief of Defence Intelligence Staff (CDI)

DIS, set up in 1964, it gathers intelligence on `threats' from surveillance, military attaches in UK embassies, SIGINT from GCHQ, and from the US NSA.

The three main directorates are:

* Directorate of Management & Support Intelligence

* Directorate of Economic & Logistic Intelligence

* Directorate of Scientific & Technical Intelligence

B.1 Government Communication Headquarters - GCHQ

GCHQ's role is officially described in recruiting literature as being responsible for ‘ensuring the security of British official and military communications ... and cryptographic equipment and systems to protect these'. In theory it is sponsored by the Foreign Office however most of its budget comes from the Ministry of Defence. It is part of the worldwide SIGINT network first set up by the UK and the USA under the UKUSA Treaty of 1946 - together with Canada, Australia and New Zealand (later they were joined by West Germany, Denmark, Norway, Japan and South Korea). The UK and USA are however the two key players. They have divided up the world and monitor through tracking stations and satellites microwave and ground telecommunications. Some of the links in the chain are the UK base at Agios Nikolaos in Cyprus and the US satellite base at Pine Gap in Australia.

While one of its main tasks is to gather intelligence from countries considered ‘hostile' it is by no means limited to this.

Increasingly GCHQ gather economic intelligence from `hostile' and `friendly' countries. It has also, from the mid-1980s, supplied extensive surveillance inside the UK.

GCHQ: size and structure:

Number: 6.500 civilians plus 3.000 army and RAF signals specialists based in the agency's outstations. 

Cost: officially £500 million

Location: Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

Director: Sir John Ayde


GCHQ has two main directorates:

Directorate of Organisation and Establishment with a number of divisions:

C: overseas staff

E: personnel

F: finance and supply

G: management and general

M: mechanical engineering

Q: technical

R: security

Directorate of SIGINT:

H: cryptanalysis

J: special SIGINT

K: general SIGINT

S/T: statistical operations

W: search technology

X: computer services

Z: liaison

GCHQ also has: directors of communications and communications security; a directorate of SIGINT plans, and a director of plans and policy staff.

It is worth noting a development in the late 1980s when a new special unit K20 was set up to monitor telephone calls and the activities of radical groups and individuals within the UK. It passes this information to the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in the Cabinet Office.

GCHQ: A rare insight

In July 1991 Granada's ‘World in Action' programme carried an interview with Robin Robison, an administrative officer in the Joint Intelligence Unit (JIU) until 1990. Mr Robison, a Quaker, resigned because of what he saw as the abuse of power by the intelligence agencies in monitoring telephone calls, telexes and other phone transactions. The JIU services the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) which collates and analyses intelligence from MI5, MI6, GCHQ, and Defence Intelligence (DIS).

The programme revealed that GCHQ at Cheltenham and its listening post at Bude in north Cornwall are routinely gathering conversations quite unrelated to espionage. In the post Cold War period the gathering of economic intelligence has moved to the fore both on UK companies, competitors in Europe, and Third World countries. The supposedly private communications of organisations like Rolls Royce, Marconi, British oil and mining companies are also being intercepted.

Individuals whose action might embarrass the government or state agencies have also been targeted. These include the telephones of Lieutenant Robert Lawrence, the Falklands war hero whose story was told in the film ‘Tumbledown' because of Ministry of Defence concern over his claim for compensation; the Vatican and Roman Catholic archbishops to evaluate their attitude to changes in Eastern Europe; Kathleen Tacchi-Morris, the founder of Women for World Disarmament; east European trade unions; and Campbell Christie, general secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress.

The interception of communications is not limited to individuals. Communications satellites over the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and the Middle East are routinely trawled through ‘standard baseband surveys' or all calls to a particular dialling code are down loaded. The increased use of ‘keyword' software now enables them to select and transcribe a greater volume of traffic. The legality of this operation is highly questionable. The Interception of Communications Act was passed in 1985 after pressure from the European Court of Human Rights. It was supposed to place limits on those placed under surveillance and the grounds for doing so. The Act placed the formal responsibility on the Home Secretary to issue warrants but this GCHQ operation, run in conjunction with the US National Security Agency, comes under the Foreign Secretary.

The central structure of intelligence

* Permanent Secretaries Committee on the Intelligence Services (PSIS):

chaired by the Cabinet Secretary. Members include: the Permanent Under Secretaries of the Foreign Office, the Home Office, the Treasury, and the Chief of Defence Staff. 

* Joint Intelligence Organisation (JIO):

is based in the Cabinet Office. Analyst and assessment staff prepare daily reports and long-term analyses. It sends information to the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).

* Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC):

started in 1936 and brought within the Cabinet Office in 1957. A group of officials who filter information between the experts and ministers. It has two overseas offshoots - JIC (G) based in Bonn, chaired by the local MI6 station chief monitoring political and economic developments in Central and Eastern Europe. JIC (C) based in Cyprus, monitoring the Middle East.

JIC's members include the Coordinator of Intelligence and Security, the heads of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ, the deputy chief of Defence Staff responsible for intelligence, and the Chair and Deputy Chair of the JIO assessment staff. 

JIC also has a number of specialist sub-committees (Current Intelligence Groups - CIGs).

The first half of JIC's meeting are attended by the CIA and representatives of the Canadian and Australian intelligence services. Weekly intelligence reports are sent to Minsters in the JIC Red Book every Thursday morning.

* Coordinator of Intelligence and Security:

currently Gerald Walker. He reports directly to the Prime Minister, and is responsible for ensuring the smooth cooperation between the different agencies.

* Cabinet Committees

The government announced in May 1992 `in the interests of greater openness' the names and membership of Cabinet Committees. These included the Ministerial Committees on:

- Defence and Overseas Policy (OPD);

- Nuclear Defence Policy (OPDN);

- European Security (OPDSE);

- Hong Kong and other dependent territories (OPDK);

- Northern Ireland (NI);

- Intelligence Services (IS); 

- Home and Social Affairs (EDH) and 

- Ministerial Sub-Committees on:

+ European Questions (OPD(E));

+ Terrorism (OPD(T));

+ Drug Misuse (EDH(D)); and 

+ Women's Issues (EDH(W), chaired by the Secretary of State for Employment).

However, no details were given on ad-hoc committees of which there were 140 in the last five year parliament on issues like the poll tax. Nor were details given on the official inter-departmental committees headed by Permanent Under-Secretaries (top civil servants) of which there were 100 in the last parliament. It is these latter committees which prepare all major policy reports for ministerial committees.

Details were given on the Ministerial Committee on Intelligence chaired by the Prime Minister and charged with keeping ‘under review policy on the security and intelligence services' (the other members being the Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, Defence Secretary, and Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster). But no details were announced on the inter-departmental Electronic Security Committee, the Permanent Under-Secretaries Committee on Security and Intelligence Services (PSIS) or the powerful Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).

* Security Commission

At the beginning of October the government announced the appointment of three new members of the Security Commission: Sir John Blelloch, KCB, Lord Lieutenant, Sir Derek Boorman, KCB and Sir Christopher Curwen, KCMG. The Security Commission was established in 1964 to investigate breaches of security and unauthorised leaks of information and to recommend any changes in procedure. There are seven members of the Security Commission from which three or four are usually chosen to form a panel to investigate a particular breach of security.

Sir John Blelloch retired as Permanent Under Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office in 1990. Sir Derek Boorman was Chief of Intelligence at the Ministry of Defence 1985-8. Sir Christopher Curwen is listed as having ‘recently retired as a Deputy Secretary in the Cabinet Office'. In fact Sir Christopher was the Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator in the Cabinet Office. His successor in this post is Gerald Warner, a former Foreign Office official and member of the Police Complaints Authority.

Whitehall does not officially acknowledge the name of the Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator or identify the names of the heads of MI5 or MI6. The Director General of MI5 is Patrick Walker and the Chief of MI6 (the overseas intelligence agency) is Sir Colin McColl. [Downing Street press release 1.10.91; Guardian, 2.10.91.]

Telephone Tapping


The only official figures for the interception of communications (telephone-tapping, mail-opening and bugging) are now given in an annual report by the Commissioner appointed under the 1989 Interception of Communications Act. No figures are given for interception by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) nor for the use of telephone ‘metering' - which logs calls made and the telephone numbers - and is widely used by the police, Special Branch and MI5.

The number of warrants issued for telephone tapping and mail-opening in 1993 was one of the highest since records began in 1937. A total of 998 warrants were issued in England and Wales (covering telephone tapping and mail-opening) to the Metropolitan Police Special Branch, the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), and HM Customs and Excise.

The figure allegedly also includes those issued to the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham but the number of warrants issued by the Foreign Secretary - who is responsible for GCHQ - are not published this is misleading. Past evidence of massive trawling by GCHQ suggested that they monitor over 35.000 communications a year (telephone, faxes etc). Nor are the figures for warrants issued by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State published.

The figures for 1993 published in the annual report of the Commissioner for the Interception of Communications Act 1985, Sir Robert Bingham, show that 893 warrants were issued for telecommunications tapping and 105 for mail-opening - as these figures relate to ‘warrants' these may refer to an individual or an organisation (through which many individuals may be surveilled). The table below gives the figures for the past five years and the past top numbers for warrants. This shows that the 1993 total was the highest outside of the Second World War (1939- 941) and the 1948 dock strike.

1939: 1002

1940: 1682

1941: 1042

1948: 973

1989: 458

1990: 515

1991: 732

1992: 874

1993: 998

The figure for Scotland was an all-time high since the number of warrants issued was first published in 1967. The number of warrants issued by the Secretary of State for Scotland in 1993 was 112 for telecommunications and 10 for mail-opening, a total of 122 warrants. This surpasses not just the 92 warrants in 1992 but also the post-1967 high of 75 during the 1984/5 miners strike. The figures for Scotland are: 

1984: 75

1985: 68

1989: 64

1990: 66

1991: 82

1992: 92

1993: 122

The Commissioner reports states that there had been in the ‘past a reluctance on the part of some [Scottish] police forces to apply for warrants' - this has, the report says, now been rectified. The Secretary General of the Scottish Trades Union Council, Campbell Christie, commented: ‘this report will never cover interceptions without warrants..[it] does not reflect the true extent of interceptions taking place'. Mr Christie has begun a legal action against the UK government in the European Court of Human Rights after a former official in the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) based in the Prime Minister's office said that in 1992 he was the target of mail and telex interceptions. The report states that there has been a significant increase in the number of warrants issued to HM Customs, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, MI5 (because of the anti-terrorist work it has taken over from the Special Branch) and the Northern Ireland Office. It also says, like the past two years, that no individuals and ‘only a very few organisations' are placed under surveillance on the grounds that they are ‘subversive' (that they are a threat to ‘parliamentary democracy or national security'). A disturbing omission from the report is that, for the first time since the Commissioner was appointed, no figures are given for the number of complaints made to the Tribunal by the public are given. [Report of the Commissioner for 1992, Cm 2522, HMSO, March 1994; Tapping the Telephone, POEU pamphlet; Interception of Communications in the UK, Cmnd 9438, 1985; State Research, no 18, June/July 1980; see also Statewatch, vol 1 no 4, vol 2 no 5, vol 3 no 5.]

New UK secrecy definitions

The UK has four Official Secrets Acts - 1991, 1920, 1939 and 1989. These proscribe the ‘leaking' of information on defence, intelligence and security setting out penalties (fines and prisons sentences) for those who pass on secrets and those who publish them. In April 1994 the government announced a new system of classifying secret documents known as the ‘protective security marking system'. The Prime Minister said that the new system followed a review conducted in the light of the changing nature of threats to national security. He said: 

In recent years, the nature of the threats to government security has changed. Whilst some of the traditional threats to national security may have somewhat reduced, others have not. The security of government is also increasingly threatened by for example theft, copying and electronic surveillance, as well as by terrorism. 

The new classification system still has four categories (full-text given below). The language too has been modernised. Markings are given to ‘assets' (including information) whose exposure or publication would ‘compromise that asset or information'. 

* The first is Top Secret: the old definition related to ‘causing exceptionally grave damage to the nation', the new one says: 

the compromise of this information or material would be likely: to threaten directly the internal stability of the UK or friendly countries; to lead directly to widespread loss of life; to cause exceptionally grave damage to the effectiveness or security of UK or allied forces or to the continuing effectiveness of extremely valuable security or intelligence operations; to cause exceptionally grave damage to relations with friendly governments; to cause severe long-term damage to the UK economy.

* The second Secret previously defined as ‘causing serious injury to the interests of the nation' is now: the compromise of this information or material would be likely: to raise international tension; to damage seriously relations with friendly governments; to threaten like directly, or seriously prejudice public order, or individual security or liberty; to cause serious damage to the operational effectiveness or security of UK or allied forces or the continuing effectiveness of highly valuable security or intelligence operations; to cause substantial material damage to national finances or economic and commercial interests.

* The third Confidential was ‘being damaging to the interests of the nation' and is now: the compromise of this information or material would be likely: materially to damage diplomatic relations (i.e.: cause formal protest or other sanction); to prejudice individual security or liberty; to cause damage to the operational effectiveness or security of UK or allied forces or the effectiveness of valuable security or intelligence operations; to work substantially against national finances or economic or commercial interests; substantially to undermine the financial viability of major organisations; to impede the investigation or facilitate the commission of serious crime; to impede seriously the development or operation of major government policies; to shut down or otherwise substantially disrupt significant national operations.

* The fourth Restricted was ‘being undesirable in the interests of the nation' and is now: the compromise of this information or material would be likely to affect diplomatic relations adversely; to cause substantial distress to individuals; to make it more difficult to maintain the operational effectiveness or security of UK or allied forces; to cause financial loss or loss of earnings potential to or facilitate improper gain or advantage for individuals or companies; to prejudice the investigation or facilitate the commission of crime; to breach proper undertakings to maintain the confidence of information provided by third parties; to impede the effective development or operations of government policies; to breach statutory restrictions on the disclosure of information; to disadvantage government in commercial or policy negotiations with others; to undermine the proper management of the public sector and its operations.

The existing system is based on the four security classifications plus ‘a complex range of privacy markings (eg: ‘Commercial in Confidence', ‘Management in Confidence'). What the new system does is to abolish these privacy markings and incorporate the areas covered by them into a classification system previously limited to defence and national security. Thus government policy, the operations of the public sector, and private financial and commercial interests are brought within the ambit of ‘official secrecy'. [Cabinet Office press release, 23.4.94.]

Intelligence Agencies and the North of Ireland


On 8 May 1992, the British Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, announced that the Security Service, MI5, was to be given the lead responsibility for intelligence work against the IRA in Britain, taking over from the police Special Branch. MI5 already had primary responsibility for intelligence work in relation to loyalist (eg Ulster Volunteer Force, Ulster Freedom Fighters) and international terrorism, as well as IRA activity in Europe and elsewhere. The new policy reflects a substantial shift in the priorities of British intelligence compared to the period of the Cold War. Nearly half of MI5's 2.235 staff now work on the conflict over the North of Ireland, at a annual cost of more than 80 million pounds. Most of this activity, however, takes place in Britain.

In the North of Ireland itself, the Royal Ulster Constabulary's Special Branch (RUC SB) plays the main role in gathering intelligence and, in theory, has overall responsibility for policing and intelligence work. It is by far the largest agency in the field with a staff of 660 running hundreds of paid informers, but it works alongside three other bodies: MI5, Military Intelligence (intelligence units of the British Army) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). MI5 is thought to have an active staff of about 100 in Ireland, most of whom are based in the North. The British Army has a number of units mainly concerned with surveillance and intelligence analysis, but it also runs informers and has operational control over the elite Special Air Service (SAS) which has killed around 50 people including 30 IRA volunteers, since 1969.

The Security Service, MI5

The head of MI5 in the North of Ireland is known as the Director and Co-ordinator of Intelligence (Northern Ireland) (DCI (NI)) and was, until June 1994, John Deverell.* The DCI (NI) sits on MI5's Board in London and reports directly to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He also chairs the Northern Ireland Security Committee attended by representatives of the British Army, RUC and government ministers and sits on the Joint Intelligence Committee in London - he is reported to have easy access to the Prime Minister. Deverell was at one time tipped to become head of MI5 but his career was damaged by revelations concerning the WARD and SCREAM undercover operations in Germany which were designed to establish informers in expatriate Irish communities throughout the world. These operations clearly breached the agreement between the German and British authorities regarding the scope of British intelligence work in Germany. In an embarrassing security leak, An Phoblacht/Republican News published documents detailing the two operations and naming Deverell in 1989.

MI5's headquarters, known as The Department, is based at Stormont, on the site of the old Stormont parliament (suspended when Direct Rule from London was introduced in 1972) on the fringes of east Belfast. It has two operational bases in Belfast city centre, one at River House in High Street and the other at Churchill House, Victoria Square. The latter is the centre for electronic surveillance, including telephone monitoring, for which MI5 receives assistance from the Cheltenham-based Government Communications Headquarters. GCHQ goes under the name of Composite Signals Organisation in the North and Diplomatic Telecommunications Maintenance Service in the South.

MI5 also retains offices at Army Headquarters in Lisburn and at Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) HQ in Dundonald (east Belfast). 

While in theory the RUC has overall responsibility for counter-terrorism, in practice MI5 is in the stronger position of power and influence over British policy. Its links to RUC Special Branch are via a small network of Security Liaison Officers.

Secret Intelligence Service, MI6

During the earliest years of the current conflict, the British government favoured the use of MI6 in the North of Ireland (and in the South). On the basis of countering IRA bombing campaigns in Britain, MI5 pushed for a presence in the North and from 1973 onwards began to build itself organisationally. From that time onwards, MI6 has played only a minor role. However, that role has had considerable political and intelligence significance. 

It was a senior MI6 officer, Maurice Oldfield, who was appointed as Security Co-ordinator for Northern Ireland in October 1979. (Less than a year later, Oldfield was removed from this position because, as Mrs. Thatcher's claimed, he had ‘confessed' to being homosexual.) It was also an MI6 agent (Michael Oatley) who acted as Mrs. Thatcher's direct link to the republican leadership during the 1981 hunger strike, apparently over the heads of MI5 and the Northern Ireland Office. The same agent was involved in the latest discussions with Sinn Fein representatives, revealed in the autumn of last year (1993).

By the late 1970s, most MI6 agents had been taken over by RUC SB or MI5, and MI6 itself had withdrawn from RUC and Army headquarters, although it retained an office at Stormont. MI6 is thought to have an operational staff of about 25 in Ireland as a whole, split between the Stormont office, an office at Army HQ Lisburn and the British Embassy in Merrion Road, Dublin. 

RUC Special Branch

RUC Special Branch is formally constituted as the RUC's E Department. It is headed by an Assistant Chief Constable (Brian Fitzsimons*) who presides over an organisation subdivided by function and three regions (Belfast, North and South). E1 looks after vetting of personnel, internal security, the supply of under cover vehicles and security of communications (mail and telecommunications). E2 is the department responsible for legal liaison, the interrogation centres and SB activity in prisons. E3 collates all intelligence gathered by field operators, informers and uniformed officers. It is split into three sections. E3A evaluates intelligence on republicans, while E3B and E3C are concerned with loyalists and leftists and other groups (eg animal rights) respectively.

E4 is the operations division which carries out the day-to-day field work of intelligence gathering. E4A carries out person-to-person surveillance and achieved a certain notoriety through ‘shoot-to-kill' actions in the 1980s which were the subject of the Stalker inquiry. Technical surveillance - the installation of bugs, tracking devices etc. - is the responsibility of E4B. Finally, E4C and E4D carry out photographic and video surveillance. 

Military Intelligence

The British Army runs its own intelligence operation in the North of Ireland under the name of Northern Ireland Command Military Intelligence (NICMI). Very little is known about NICMI and its organisational structure. On the operational side, it is reputedly made up of staff from the SAS, the Royal Corps of Signals, the Royal Air Force (which pilots helicopter surveillance), 14th Intelligence Company and Field Research Units (or Forward Reconnaissance Units). These units were set up by Commander of Land Forces Major General Glover in 1980. All intelligence from Army sources is stored on the Crucible computer at Lisburn HQ which is maintained by 12th Intelligence and Security Company. 

The role of military intelligence has come to light in three recent incidents. The two corporals attacked and killed at the funeral of one of those who in turn had been killed by loyalist Michael Stone's attack on the burial of the three IRA volunteers, shot by the SAS in Gibraltar, were part of the Signals Corps. 14th Intelligence Company killed three men robbing a bookmakers' shop in Belfast's Falls Road in January 1990. While it was claimed they had stumbled across the robbery, other reports suggest that the men were deliberately targeted because the under cover unit thought they had acquired intelligence maps of West Belfast targets while robbing a car outside a bar. More significant is the case of Brian Nelson. Nelson worked for FRU for ten years. During this time he was the intelligence officer for the loyalist group, the Ulster Defence Association. This gave military intelligence direct knowledge of all UDA operations, including killings and the large shipment of arms from South Africa in 1989.


Since the early years of the current conflict in Ireland, there has been rivalry and conflict between MI5 and MI6, as well as between the British military and the RUC. The co-ordination of intelligence agencies has therefore been a long-standing issue. 

In the late 1970s, the first of three Tasking and Coordination Groups was established. Based at Castlereagh in Belfast, the TCG proved so successful in ‘tasking the SAS for executive action' (i.e. identifying targets for the SAS to eliminate) that two more were established soon afterwards for the RUC's other regions - one at Gough Barracks, Armagh, and the other in Derry. The TCGs combine the intelligence of RUC SB, MI5 and the Army, allowing the linking together of informer-based intelligence and the surveillance and ambush activities of undercover units. The Army representative on TCGs is almost always a veteran of an SAS or 14 Intelligence Company tour. The bulk of intelligence available to the TCGs comes not from MI5, FRU or 14 Intelligence Co., but from RUC SB.

A review of policies governing the use of informers and the sharing of intelligence, conducted by a retired MI5 officer, led to the setting up of the Provincial Executive Committee in 1992. This provides top level co-ordination between the intelligence agencies within the North and includes the Army's Commander of Land Forces, the head of RUC SB, a Deputy Chief Constable with special responsibility for police/Army liaison, and MI5's Director and Coordinator of Intelligence.

The RUC Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, would like to see co- ordination taken further, however, with the establishment in Britain of a National Anti-Terrorist Unit. He proposes that the unit would have four concerns. The first would be the cultivation of informants, the second with the gathering, analysis and assessment of intelligence, the third with providing an operational capacity to respond to such intelligence, and the fourth, a training, legal and support service wing.

The unit, Annesley suggests, would incorporate the Security Service, the Metropolitan Police Special Branch and Anti-Terrorist Unit, with a significant input from provincial CID and Special Branches. It would also include military and customs personnel with the capacity to co-opt specific skills from other agencies or departments as appropriate. The National Anti-Terrorist Unit would provide a single police and intelligence focal point for liaison with the RUC, the Garda (the police in the Republic of Ireland) and the police forces and intelligence services of Europe and North America. The head of the unit would have a line of command to the Home Secretary but with direct access to the Prime Minister. A National Anti-Terrorist Unit of the kind envisaged by Annesley would involve MI5 as a partner, not as the lead authority.

* Killed on 2 June 1994 while travelling from the North of Ireland to a conference at Fort George, Scotland. 25 intelligence personnel and four RAF crew were killed when their Chinook helicopter crashed on the Mull of Kintyre. Among the dead were ten members of RUC SB, including the head of SB, 2 regional heads and the divisional heads of E1, E2, E3, E3A, E3B, and E4. 5 MI5 agents also perished in the crash along with a British Army colonel, three Intelligence Corps lieutenant colonels, and five majors. It is widely acknowledged that the crash killed the upper echelons of the intelligence agencies in the North of Ireland, including key members of the Provincial Executive Committee.
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