"Whistleblower" David Shayler

Former MI5 officer Shayler burst upon the public consciousness in August 1997 with articles in the Mail on Sunday about mismanagement and misdeeds at his former employers. The newspaper ran a front page story on 24/Aug/1997 under the headline "MI5 Bugged Mandelson" with the claim that Blair's favourite had his phone tapped for three years in the late seventies.

In 1999 the journalists who wrote the Mail on Sunday articles, Mark Hollingsworth and Nick Fielding, authored a (quite exhaustive) book on "Shayler-gate", under the title "Defending the Realm: MI5 and the Shayler Affair". The winter 1999 issue of Lobster magazine (#38) carries a review of this book. The reviewer considers "the whole Shayler affair is quite odd" since Shayler is a "technocrat" who "ratted" not out of ideology but apparently for personal reasons, and is an animal of the system he criticises. Lobster goes on to contrast the mistreatment of Shayler with the permitted publication of the book.

David Shayler joined MI5 in Oct/1991 and worked there for five years. He started at F Branch (counter-subversion) in Jan/1992, and worked in T Branch (Irish terrorism) from August 1992 until October 1994. The book gives a lot of detail about MI5's offices at Thames House which cost 265M to refurbish (well over budget), its computer systems (project Grant, MI5's integrated IT system was scrapped at an estimated cost of 25M), and organisational structure (appendix 1 gives a detailed listing of MI5 departments). The book makes much of the Security Service's "inefficiency" and "old-fashioned" methods, with "arrogant managers" and "demoralised and demotivated staff". But it also gives a great deal of detail on such topics as vetting, surveillance of perceived subversives, the extent of telephone tapping and files on often blameless people, and MI5's occasionally successful but sometimes not operations against the IRA - such as the Bishopsgate bomb in April 1993 which Shayler says MI5 should have prevented.

Shayler says in July 1994 Mossad told MI5 about imminent Hezbollah bombings of Jewish targets in the UK - but the security service ignored the warnings and didn't tell the police. And in Feb/1996 Libyan dissidents tried to blow up Gadaffi in an MI6-funded plot, but failed - Shayler heard of this conspiracy from a contact in SIS.

By 1996 Shayler was becoming disillusioned with his employers and late that year he started meeting Fielding. After a few months he planned to write a book on his time at MI5; instead, on 24 August 1997, the first set of articles (ST970824) appeared in the Mail on Sunday. Shayler and his girlfriend Machon left for Holland just before the Mail published. The MoS articles alleged Mandelson's phone was tapped in the late seventies; a file was kept on Jack Straw (TM970825), the Home Secretary, twenty years ago, as a suspected Communist sympathiser; Guardian foreign news editor Victoria Brittain was suspected of money laundering for the Libyans, and was bugged and followed; and Shayler castigates his ex-employers for their "inflexible bureaucracy". The Sunday Times published an outline (ST970831) of Shayler's career on 31 August.

Differing reasons are put forward for why Shayler chose to go public with his claims. The Daily Mail itself said on August 28/1997 that he "resigned five months ago after being refused a promotion and took his story to a newspaper". But Shayler denies this. There is no dispute however that the newspaper paid Shayler at least 39,000 for his disclosures; he says this was to cover "living expenses" for his time in exile.

The Mail on Sunday intended to publish more allegations the following Sunday 31 August 1997, but an injunction (TM970901) that Saturday "gagged" them. Shayler and Machon's flat in Pimlico was broken into by police and allegedly left in some disarray. Shayler continued to live in France, and in July 1998 he tried to set up a website with his claims, and made further claims of a plot against Libyan leader Gadaffi. As he did this on 1/Aug/1998 he was arrested in Paris by French police following an extradition request by the British. The Sunday Times on 2/Aug/1998 (ST980802) published the following front-page article;


On the same day the Mail on Sunday also ran a front-page story on the arrest, with an unnamed "source" quoted as saying "MI5 had known Shayler's whereabouts in his secret Continental hideaways ever since he went public", continuing "we had our ways of tracking him." He was held at Sante prison until 18/Nov/1998 (ST981119) when a French judge released him on the grounds that extradition did not apply for political offences.

Shayler returned to the UK voluntarily in August 2000 and was arrested and finally convicted under the 1989 Official Secrets Act. On 5/Nov/2002 he was sentenced to six months in jail, but served less than seven weeks in Ford Open Prison, in sharp contrast to Tomlinson's suffering at Belmarsh. In July/2003 he failed to clear his name at the Appeal Court. He tried to stand in the 2005 general election in Tony Blair's constituency. Since then he has conspiratorially theorised that 9/11 was an inside job designed to allow America to invade Middle Eastern countries. As of 2009 he has developed a drug addiction and mental health problems, which his friends and family say were caused by his victimisation by the Security Service.

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