Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer (also Spycatcher), is a book written by Peter Wright
Peter Wright
Peter Maurice Wright was an English scientist and former MI5 counterintelligence officer, noted for writing the controversial book Spycatcher, which became an international bestseller with sales of over two million copies...

, former MI5
The Security Service, commonly known as MI5 , is the United Kingdom's internal counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its core intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service focused on foreign threats, Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence...

 officer and Assistant Director, and co-author Paul Greengrass
Paul Greengrass
Paul Greengrass is an English film director, screenwriter and former journalist. He specialises in dramatisations of real-life events and is known for his signature use of hand-held cameras.-Life and career:...

. It was published first in Australia. Its allegations proved scandalous on publication, but more so because the British Government attempted to ban
thumb|[[Book burning]] following the [[1973 Chilean coup d'état|1973 coup]] that installed the [[Military government of Chile |Pinochet regime]] in Chile...

 it, ensuring its profit and notoriety.


Spycatcher details the author’s work seeking to discover a Soviet mole
Mole (espionage)
A mole is a spy who works for an enemy nation, but whose loyalty ostensibly lies with his own nation's government. In some usage, a mole differs from a defector in that a mole is a spy before gaining access to classified information, while a defector becomes a spy only after gaining access...

 in MI5, and that the said mole was Roger Hollis
Roger Hollis
Sir Roger Henry Hollis, KBE, CB was a British journalist and secret-service agent, who was Director General of MI5 from 1956 to 1965.-Early years:...

 — a former MI5
The Security Service, commonly known as MI5 , is the United Kingdom's internal counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its core intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service focused on foreign threats, Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence...

 Director General; it also describes people who might have or might not have been the mole; and renders a history of MI5 by chronicling its principal officers, from the 1930s to his time in service.

Moreover, Spycatcher tells of the MI6
Secret Intelligence Service
The Secret Intelligence Service is responsible for supplying the British Government with foreign intelligence. Alongside the internal Security Service , the Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence Intelligence , it operates under the formal direction of the Joint Intelligence...

 plot to assassinate President Nasser
Gamal Abdel Nasser
Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein was the second President of Egypt from 1956 until his death. A colonel in the Egyptian army, Nasser led the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 along with Muhammad Naguib, the first president, which overthrew the monarchy of Egypt and Sudan, and heralded a new period of...

 during the Suez Crisis
Suez Crisis
The Suez Crisis, also referred to as the Tripartite Aggression, Suez War was an offensive war fought by France, the United Kingdom, and Israel against Egypt beginning on 29 October 1956. Less than a day after Israel invaded Egypt, Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum to Egypt and Israel,...

; of joint MI5-CIA plotting against left-wing British Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Harold Wilson
James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, FRS, FSS, PC was a British Labour Member of Parliament, Leader of the Labour Party. He was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s, winning four general elections, including a minority government after the...

 (secretly accused of being a KGB
The KGB was the commonly used acronym for the . It was the national security agency of the Soviet Union from 1954 until 1991, and was the premier internal security, intelligence, and secret police organization during that time.The State Security Agency of the Republic of Belarus currently uses the...

 agent by the Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn
Anatoliy Golitsyn
Anatoliy Mikhaylovich Golitsyn CBE is a Soviet KGB defector and author of two books about the long-term deception strategy of the KGB leadership. He was born in Piryatin, Ukrainian SSR...

); and of MI5’s eavesdropping on high-level Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...


Wright examines the techniques of intelligence services, exposes their ethics
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...

 (speculative until that time), notably their 11th Commandment
Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue , are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in Judaism and most forms of Christianity. They include instructions to worship only God and to keep the Sabbath, and prohibitions against idolatry,...

: Thou shalt not get caught, and explains many MI5 electronic technologies (some of which he developed), for instance allowing clever spying into rooms, and identifying the frequency that a superhet receiver is tuned to
Operation RAFTER
RAFTER was a code name for the MI5 radio receiver detection technique, mostly used against clandestine Soviet agents and monitoring of domestic radio transmissions by foreign embassy personnel from the 1950s on.- Explanation :...

. In the afterword, he states that writing Spycatcher was motivated principally to recuperate pension income lost when the British government ruled his pension un-transferable for earlier work in GCHQ, a ruling that severely reduced his pension.

Publication and trial

Wright wrote Spycatcher upon retiring from MI5 and while residing in Tasmania
Tasmania is an Australian island and state. It is south of the continent, separated by Bass Strait. The state includes the island of Tasmania—the 26th largest island in the world—and the surrounding islands. The state has a population of 507,626 , of whom almost half reside in the greater Hobart...

. He first attempted publication in 1985. The British government immediately acted to ban Spycatcher in the UK. Since the ruling was obtained in an English court, however, the book continued to be available legally in Scotland, as well as overseas. It also attempted halting the book's Australian publication, but lost that action in 1987; it appealed but again lost in June 1988.

English newspapers attempting proper reportage of Spycatchers principal allegations were served gag order
Gag order
A gag order is an order, sometimes a legal order by a court or government, other times a private order by an employer or other institution, restricting information or comment from being made public.Gag orders are often used against participants involved in a lawsuit or criminal trial...

s; on persisting, they were tried for contempt of court
Contempt of court
Contempt of court is a court order which, in the context of a court trial or hearing, declares a person or organization to have disobeyed or been disrespectful of the court's authority...

, although the charges were eventually dropped. Throughout all this, the book continued to be sold in Scotland; moreover, Scottish newspapers were not subject to any English gag order, and continued to report on the affair. Inevitably the British government's lack of preparation and knowledge of the legal differences between different countries within the UK weakened its standing in the case. Quantities of the book easily reached English purchasers from Scotland, while other copies were smuggled into England from Australia and elsewhere. A notable television report at the time featured a reporter flying to Australia, then flying back into England with ten copies of the book which he declared to Heathrow airport's customs officers. After some discussion, he was allowed to continue his carriage of the books into England, as they had been given no specific instructions to confiscate them.

In mid-1987, a High Court judge lifted the ban on English newspaper reportage on the book, but, in late July, the Law Lords
Judicial functions of the House of Lords
The House of Lords, in addition to having a legislative function, historically also had a judicial function. It functioned as a court of first instance for the trials of peers, for impeachment cases, and as a court of last resort within the United Kingdom. In the latter case the House's...

 again barred reportage of Wright's allegations. Eventually, in 1988, the book was cleared for legitimate sale when the Law Lords acknowledged that overseas publication meant it contained no secrets. However, Wright was barred from receiving royalties from the sale of the book in the United Kingdom. In November 1991, the European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is a supra-national court established by the European Convention on Human Rights and hears complaints that a contracting state has violated the human rights enshrined in the Convention and its protocols. Complaints can be brought by individuals or...

 ruled that the British government had breached the European Convention of Human Rights in gagging its own newspapers. The British Government’s legal cost were estimated at £250,000 in 1987.

The Daily Mirror
The Daily Mirror
The Daily Mirror is a British national daily tabloid newspaper which was founded in 1903. Twice in its history, from 1985 to 1987, and from 1997 to 2002, the title on its masthead was changed to read simply The Mirror, which is how the paper is often referred to in popular parlance. It had an...

 published upside-down photographs of the three Law Lords, with the caption 'YOU FOOLS'. British editions of The Economist
The Economist
The Economist is an English-language weekly news and international affairs publication owned by The Economist Newspaper Ltd. and edited in offices in the City of Westminster, London, England. Continuous publication began under founder James Wilson in September 1843...

 ran a blank page with a boxed explanation that
"In all but one country, our readers have on this page a review of 'Spycatcher,' a book by an ex-M.I.5 man, Peter Wright. The exception is Britain, where the book, and comment on it, have been banned. For our 420,000 readers there, this page is blank - and the law is an ass."

Malcolm Turnbull
Malcolm Turnbull
Malcolm Bligh Turnbull is an Australian politician. He has been a member of the Australian House of Representatives since 2004, and was Leader of the Opposition and parliamentary leader of the Liberal Party from 16 September 2008 to 1 December 2009.Turnbull has represented the Division...

, later a minister in the (conservative) Australian Liberal Government and then in September 2008 Opposition Leader, was the lawyer who overcame the British government's suppression orders against Spycatcher. The book has sold more than two million copies. In 1995, Wright died a millionaire from profits of his book.

Subsequent impact

The concepts and use of Public Key Infrastructure
Public key infrastructure
Public Key Infrastructure is a set of hardware, software, people, policies, and procedures needed to create, manage, distribute, use, store, and revoke digital certificates. In cryptography, a PKI is an arrangement that binds public keys with respective user identities by means of a certificate...

 were discovered by James H. Ellis
James H. Ellis
James Henry Ellis was a British engineer and mathematician. In 1970, while working at the Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham he conceived of the possibility of "non-secret encryption", more commonly termed public-key cryptography.-Early life, education and career:Ellis was born...

 and British GCHQ scientists in 1969. After the re-discovery and commercial use of PKI by Rivest
Ron Rivest
Ronald Linn Rivest is a cryptographer. He is the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Computer Science at MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a member of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory...

, Shamir
Adi Shamir
Adi Shamir is an Israeli cryptographer. He is a co-inventor of the RSA algorithm , a co-inventor of the Feige–Fiat–Shamir identification scheme , one of the inventors of differential cryptanalysis and has made numerous contributions to the fields of cryptography and computer...

, Diffie
Whitfield Diffie
Bailey Whitfield 'Whit' Diffie is an American cryptographer and one of the pioneers of public-key cryptography.Diffie and Martin Hellman's paper New Directions in Cryptography was published in 1976...

 and others, the British government considered releasing the records of GCHQ's successes in this field. However, the untimely publication of Spycatcher meant that the government once again issued a gag order and full details of GCHQ achievement were never revealed. Richard Walton from GCHQ later said "It was a time when the government security market was expanding beyond the traditional military and diplomatic customer, and we needed to capture the confidence of those who did not traditionally deal with us. We were in the middle of Thatcherism
Thatcherism describes the conviction politics, economic and social policy, and political style of the British Conservative politician Margaret Thatcher, who was leader of her party from 1975 to 1990...

, and we were trying to counter a sort of 'government is bad, private is good' ethos. So, we had the intention of publishing a paper, but that idea was scuppered by that blighter Peter Wright, who wrote Spycatcher."

The primary case around which Spycatcher is based, that the Director General of MI5 - Roger Hollis - was a Russian spy, is brought up-to-date by Chapman, Pincher (2009), Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders, and Cover-ups: Six Decades of Espionage Against America and Great Britain. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-6807-4. Updated edition published in the UK 2011 by Mainstream. ISBN 978-1-8459-6769-7.


  • Burnet, David; Thomas, Richard (1989). "Spycatcher: The Commodification of Truth". Journal of Law and Society. Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 210–224

External links

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