Former British spy posts agents' names on the Internet

More than 100 endangered by man jailed for trying to publish a book on MI6

May 14, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LONDON -- An embittered former British spy has used the Internet to make public the names of a large number of secret agents, but officials in London said yesterday that the World Wide Web site had been shut down and no duplicates had surfaced.

The Foreign Office said British security and the lives of more than 100 people were put in jeopardy by the action, which was attributed to Richard Tomlinson, 35, an agent of the Secret Intelligence Service, formerly known as MI6, who was let go in 1995 and later served a jail term for violating Britain's Official Secrets Act.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said yesterday that the Web site, based in the United States, had been taken off the Internet "apparently at the initiative of the provider." It had appeared Tuesday night, setting off frantic official efforts to silence it.

Foreign Office experts were no longer able to access it yesterday, the spokesman said, convincing them that it had been removed.

The Internet is feared by intelligence agencies as a particularly dangerous and untrackable threat to national security since it is virtually beyond the control of national laws and authorities. Even with the Tomlinson Web site shut down, British officials faced the problem that once a page has appeared on the Internet, it is simple for other users to copy it and repost the contents on their own Web page -- a process known as "mirroring."

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said the list, said to include 116 names, was "riddled with inaccuracies" but that "nevertheless, the release of any such list, however inaccurate it may be, is a deeply irresponsible and dangerous act." Some were names of people with no connection to the security services and some were retired agents. But some were names of current operatives, the Foreign Office spokesman said.

This month, Britain obtained an injunction in Switzerland to shut down another Web site based there and operated by Tomlinson, on which he had threatened to publish intelligence information. Tomlinson lives in Geneva.

"I regret Tomlinson appears to nurse an irrational, deep-seated sense of grievance," Cook said.

Tomlinson served six months of a one-year sentence in 1997 after pleading guilty to trying to publish a book revealing his knowledge of the agency's activities, Cook said. He had been arrested after showing a seven-page synopsis of his intended book to an Australian publisher.

Released from prison last May, Tomlinson went to France, Spain and then to Switzerland. He asserted that British security officials followed and harassed him on his travels. He repeatedly complained about the British government's decision in 1995 to bar him from appealing his dismissal.

Cook turned aside those complaints yesterday, saying: "I can report that when Tomlinson left the service, he was assisted to find employment and did himself say it was the job of his dreams. He did also receive appropriate settlement from the service."

Pub Date: 5/14/99

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