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MI-5's 'illegal bugging' of Pak embassy raises a storm

MPs are concerned MI5 may be running a team of "rogue" agents for illegal bugging.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2003 21:34 IST

The bungled MI-5 spying operation against the Pakistan High Commission in London has landed the government in some embarrassment. MPs want to know why the espionage was apparently carried out without the approval of the Home Secretary David Blunkett. MPs are concerned that MI5 may be running a team of "rogue" agents for illegal bugging.

The revelation made by The Sunday Times last week, did not name the embassy concerned but Pakistan High Commission officials later admitted it was its embassy. The newspaper claimed that MI5 agents stole secret codes used by diplomats for sending messages to Islamabad. They also worked out how to bug an internal telephone system and closed-circuit television camera in the office of Abdul-Kader Jaffer, then high commissioner. The operation was aborted after a building contractor renovating the embassy, hired to give MI5 access to the premises developed cold feet and quit. The contractor, code named, Notation was told that Blunkett had warrants.

Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, who takes a close interest in security matters, said the operation had echoes of rogue MI5 missions in the 1960s. "Peter Wright described in his book Spycatcher how MI5 bugged and burgled its way across London," he said. "It seems nothing has changed."

Baker has asked Blunkett to make a Commons statement. He has also asked Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, how he intends to explain MI5’s actions to Islamabad.

Mark Lyall Grant, high commissioner in Islamabad, was summoned to the Pakistani foreign ministry last Tuesday and Pakistan has also complained to the Foreign Office.

A senior Home Office source has been quoted saying: "We made some mistakes and we messed up. We thought it was a golden opportunity in the wake of September 11 to target terrorist activity, but it backfired."

MPs also demanded to know who authorised cash payments of tens of thousands of pounds to Notation. He was paid £61,000 in bundles of cash at meetings in restaurants.

Notation eventually told his MI-5 handler he feared the Pakistanis would uncover the operation and he would be held responsible

First Published: Dec 25, 2003 21:33 IST