Spy-in-the-bag mystery: Why I think MI6 WERE involved in Gareth Williams cover-up
Dr Stephen Dorril, an espionage expert who wrote the history of MI6, says we should be 'very sceptical about the official version of events'
Dr Stephen Dorril | opinion | November 16, 2013
Even if MI6 had no involvement in the mysterious death of Gareth Williams, it would still have an interest in covering up the circumstances.
The organisation always has been, and always will be, very, very secretive.
A coroner last year ruled that the 31-year-old codebreaker was “probably unlawfully killed” after his body was found padlocked into a holdall in a bathtub.
The inquest was told that police in the case could not speak to his MI6 colleagues directly and the coroner said that though there was no evidence that the intelligence agency was involved in his death “it is still a legitimate line of inquiry”.
MI6 has always tried to keep its work away from public scrutiny. It has a history of not releasing documents, not co-operating with inquiries fully. So people are entitled to be suspicious of any information that does come out.
It would argue there are areas of its work it doesn’t want to reveal. And it doesn’t want people digging too deeply into the actual work Gareth Williams was engaged in.
He operated in an area involving GCHQ and its liaison with MI6, and probing questions would lead on to the sensitive nature of these operations, particularly in the light of the Edward Snowden revelations.
We know from the former CIA man’s leaks how important GCHQ is to British intelligence gathering and that there is extensive monitoring of emails, phones and every kind of digital traffic.
But we still have no clear picture as to what Gareth was working on.
There are a three theories as to how this extremely intelligent man’s body ended up in the locked bag at an MI6 safe house. One is that he himself set this up. He was a loner with a hidden sexual history and the type of work he was doing with GCHQ and MI6 indicates he was one of their brightest stars.
Working in crypto-analysis, he was interested in solving highly complex, deep puzzles of encryption. It is possible that he set this up as an unsolvable problem, a puzzle that would be there for all time.
How could he get into a bag and close it from the inside. Did he have a trick to achieve it without anyone finding out? It is possible.
The second theory is that this was an error, an accident. The third is that he was murdered.
For it to be an accident the investigation has to show that it is possible to get into the bag and close it from the inside. The police now say this is the case.
But for that theory to hold water, they really need to demonstrate that it is physically possible and the inquest heard that two yoga experts tried 400 times to do it without success.
So the theory that it was murder remains strong.
Was the crime scene cleaned up? Police say there is no evidence of a “deep clean”. But forensic scientists found no fingerprints around the rim of the bath, not even Gareth’s own, which suggests someone cleaned up after his death.
And that means someone else was involved.
The coroner said it was likely that the mystery would never be solved, and for that some blame must attach to the reticence of MI6.
Even questions about why Gareth was staying in this flat in Pimlico, South West London – used by both MI6 and GCHQ and only a mile from MI6 HQ – brings with it awkward queries about other safe houses and the agents who uses them.
MI6 also has a long history of covering up its mistakes. It has been less than candid about its intelligence gathering and reliability in the run-up to the war with Iraq. There are the “rendition” scandals of people packed off to the USA and, for some, their subsequent torture.
What little we know had to be dragged out of MI6 by various inquiries and ongoing court cases, and it’s clear that there is still a good deal that remains hidden.
But the service does make sure it gets out its own version of events. It co-operates with certain newspapers, journalists and MPs to get its message across.
MI6 controls what it reveals – it doesn’t want people digging around too much and it certainly doesn’t want full-scale inquiries into what they do.
And in this case a lot of stories about Gareth came from security and defence correspondents with MI6 contacts rather than crime correspondents covering the case.
If something like this had happened in the United States we would know far more about it.
The powers of US Senate committees on intelligence are stronger and they are willing to look at things in far greater depth. It isn’t a perfect system but it is far better than ours.
We do know a lot more about MI6 than we did 20 years ago but, still, no official documents are ever released.
The service is open in saying it doesn’t reveal information because secrecy is its trade and unless it remains super-secret it will lose credibility in the world and agents will not be able to trust it.
But that also means that with the Gareth Williams case we have to be very sceptical about the official version of events.
Dr Stephen Dorril is the author of MI6: 50 Years of Special Operations. Additional reporting: Alun Palmer