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Sunday 16 June 2013


Forget sex and spooks, virtual spies are bigger threat

Edward Snowden has shown that in the digital world there is no such thing as privacy, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

THE media loves spies, but even more, it loves spies to have interesting sex lives. The allegation by Edward Snowden that intelligence agencies have access to our private data has caused much angst, but that he has abandoned a hot girlfriend has added spice to the story.Of course we should care that the US National Security Agency is engaged in mass electronic espionage, but people like images, and you can't photograph a clandestine surveillance programme. So instead the media and the internet are awash with innumerable photographs of Lindsay Mills posing in a variety of revealing costumes. A modest girl, although she often wears only her knickers, she always finds a way of covering her breasts: a book, ice-cream cones, a knittedtortoise. Whatever is to hand.

She's shared her pain as well as her body with us. After her missing partner had turned up in Hong Kong telling all to the world media, she confided to her blog: 'Adventures of a world-travelling, pole-dancing superhero', that she was, "sick, exhausted, and carrying the weight of the world" and might, "be invoking radio silence yet again. I'll keep you posted, or I won't. Superheroes need an air of mystery!"

Ms Mills has the right prose for this emotionally incontinent era. Her last message could have come from a greeting card suitable for those facing execution. "As I type this on my tear-streaked keyboard I'm reflecting on all the faces that have graced my path. The ones I laughed with. The ones I've held. The one I've grown to love the most. And the ones I never got to bid adieu."

Perhaps I'm being rash, but if La Mills isn't already in discussions with agents and publishers, I'll post a photograph of myself on Facebook wearing a knickers-tortoise combo.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Christine Keeler is back in search of media attention. Now if anyone reading this hasn't heard of her, all you need to know is that in 1963 the mother of all sex scandals rocked the British government, ruined the career of the priapic John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, disgraced some innocent bystanders like Lord Astor, and led to the suicide of Stephen Ward, an osteopath who became the scapegoat of a badly rattled British establishment.

An amiable and kind man with a neurotic need to please, Ward liked bringing poor, pretty young women into society and had introduced Keeler to Profumo, with whom she slept a few times. The defection to Moscow of the double-agent Kim Philby had caused a media frenzy about spy rings, so the revelation that Keeler was also friendly with Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet spy, was what did for Profumo and turned a commonplace story into a sex-and-spy drama which was exaggerated out of all proportion.

The stunningly attractive Keeler became the poster girl of the whole sorry mess, which she revisits occasionally when promoting a book. She's now confessed to having delivered envelopes to the Soviet embassy as part of Ward's "espionage ring". "However I dress it up, I was a spy and I am not proud of it. The truth is that I betrayed my country." She claims that Ward asked her to extract secrets from Profumo and took her to meetings with Anthony Blunt, who was later exposed as being – like Philby – one of the group of spies known as the 'Cambridge Five'.

In fact Ward was actually obliging MI5, and any communications with Ivanov were initiated by them. I fear Miss Keeler's memory may be as faulty as her understanding: Anthony Blunt was long past his spying days in 1963.

"History says my story is about sex," she says. "It is, of course, but that is just moments of it. Over all the years the sex has taken the searchlights off the spies."

In reality, the Profumo story was all about sex. Today's scandal is much more important. Whatever his motives, Snowden has done us a favour by telling us what we should all have had the wit to know. In an age of a communication revolution that has given us the internet, the mobile phone, credit and loyalty cards and sophisticated spy-ware, there's no such thing as privacy.

Of course spooks will use any information they can get hold of to track enemies of their states: they wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't. And inundated with information, they're unlikely to be ferreting through the records of the average Paddy or Mary. But if they do, it's partly Paddy's and Mary's fault for living in a virtual world.

Still, we need limits on the powers of even friendly spymasters. We need to know who has access to our records and what they're likely to do with them. Forget about the sex. It's the spying that we should be taking seriously.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards