GCHQ AND ME: My Life Unmasking British Eavesdroppers

I STEPPED FROM the warmth of our source’s London flat. That February night in 1977, the air was damp and cool, the buzz of traffic muted in this leafy North London suburb, in the shadow of the iconic Alexandra Palace. A fellow journalist and I had just spent three hours inside, drinking Chianti and talking about secret surveillance with our source, and now we stood on the doorstep discussing how to get back to the south coast town where I lived.

Events were about to take me on a different journey. Behind me, sharp footfalls broke the stillness. A squad was running, hard, toward the porch of the house we had left. Suited men surrounded us. A burly middle-aged cop held up his police ID. We had broken “Section 2″ of Britain’s secrecy law, he claimed. These were “Special Branch,” then the elite security division of the British police.

For a split second, I thought this was a hustle. I knew that a parliamentary commission had released a report five years earlier that concluded that the secrecy law, first enacted a century ago, should be changed. I pulled out my journalist identification card, ready to ask them to respect the press.

But they already knew that my companion that evening, Time Out reporter Crispin Aubrey, and I were journalists. And they had been outside, watching our entire meeting with former British Army signals intelligence (Sigint) operator ≈, who at the time was a social worker.

Aubrey and I were arrested on suspicion of possessing unauthorized information. They said we’d be taken to the local police station. But after being forced into cars, we were driven in the wrong direction, toward the center of London. I became uneasy...


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