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The Official Secrets Act
by Thomas Baines

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Dear readers, I am about to let you into a secret - one that I shouldn't be telling. Don't you find it a thrill telling something you shouldn't? I do - especially when it is possible that I could be in serious trouble if they found out! I know what you are thinking, 'Well, what's all this bull about a secret, and who are they?' On reflection, I-I'm not too sure I should tell you. ... Oh, to hell with it, just this once I'll tell somebody!

Well, I belong to an intelligence agency, actually it's MI6 (the Firm), which may sound to be an exciting and grand way of life - but believe me, for many of us it's just the opposite. It isn't just my own duties that are soul-destroying and boring beyond belief, but it appears to be the lot of everyone else who I come into contact with there - with the singular exceptions of Vronsky and Ivanovitch. ... Even when I come across any one of our field operatives, his demeanour indicates a life that is anything but exciting. The fact that every one of them is a candidate for the services of Alcoholics Anonymous definitely isn't due to any dangerous duties involved, but to sheer bloody boredom. ... How do I know? Once in a pissed state they invariably open their hearts to anyone who happens to be in their company and is willing to listen and pay for the drinks.

"Then why don't you just jack it all in?" you may ask.

Well, I could say the fact that the salary isn't bad and it's a job for life with a good pension on retirement at fifty-five makes one hesitate before seriously contemplating alternative employment in the outside world - but that wouldn't quite be it. No, it's the Official Secrets Act! ... Every one of us at the Firm had to read and sign it before we were taken on. At the time its implications seemed a great thrill - one that tended to become quickly deflated once we became aware of the full extent of our duties. As a matter of fact, I have since come to the conclusion that the real intention of the Act isn't to stop anyone divulging anything about their duties or anything at all connected with them - indeed not! No, it's to give you a much-needed sense of your own importance - nothing else! You see, like it or not, everyone needs to have something to hang on to. Something that makes one feel somewhat superior to most others - and what better than to belong to a very select club - the Official Secrets Act Colleagueship. It's like being a Freemason but without all the bullshit.

"All right," you may say, "So you know what it's really all about. Then why the hell do you go along with it all? Why not just get out into that outside world and get a job you may even like?"

Pride! That's the answer. Let me explain: I don't have to look very far in this life in order to find some bloke who is taller, cleverer, better looking or much more confident than me, and definitely happier (or appears so) - all good grounds for me to be jealous. But the natural feelings of inferiority that normally abound within me are on such occasions cast to one side by the thrill of the knowledge that he most likely hasn't signed the Official Secrets Act. And you can't have a more pride-grabbing reason than that.

I know what your next question will be: "What about the people you know who have also signed the Act, and are taller, cleverer, better looking and so on, than you?"

Oh, that's quite simple - I would guess that none of them have arrived at the real reason for the Act. Therefore my unique knowledge puts me on a higher plane than them in the pride stakes. ... I don't have to guess that there are a couple of things that are puzzling you, one of which you must find incredible. Therefore in order to put your minds at rest I will deal with them, the lesser in importance first of all:

This job of mine at MI6 - what kind of duties do me and my colleagues have that are so boring and soul destroying? Well, I, em, I know I shouldn't really tell you - but we are all involved in... No! No! I can't - it wouldn't be right. It isn't that our work is of a serious or sensitive nature – far from it. It's a question of - you know what! If you had signed the Official Secrets Act, would you tell what your duties are? Perhaps you would - but I wouldn't, nor would the lads at the Firm - you see, we all share that same feeling of pride in having signed. It's like being put on Scouts’ Honour. ... That's it - you will just have to guess.

Now for Vronsky and Ivanovitch. Yes, they must be puzzling you greatly. No, I haven't made a mistake, nor am I trying to take the pi... - em, I haven't made up their names. They really do work for the Firm, and are as British as you or I, assuming you are British that is. If you are somewhat clever you may have guessed that Sergi Vronsky and Aleksi Ivanovitch have Russian-sounding names. But any doubts about where their loyalties lie must be cast from your minds - they are definitely not Russian agents of the KGB. Do think they would be allowed to sign the Official Secrets Act if they were? Never! For any of you who has a doubtful and cynical nature, let me put you right, they are not - definitely not! ... Why those names, that they were given at birth? The answer is quite simple - both come from families of Russian immigrants who must have come over here donkey's years ago. There are many people residing here who have foreign ancestry - look about yourself, you must know at least one. It's even more so in the States - you should hear the names of many of CIA officials who come to us in order to discuss... Whoops, sorry, I nearly contravened the Act!

Getting back to the pride stakes - I wish I were of officer rank, like Vronsky and Ivanovitch. Why? Well, because it would mean that I would be called 'Sir' by most people in the Firm, and would be looked up to by most mere mortals outside who know or have guessed about my superior status.

"How would they guess about your elevation to the ranks of the Gods?" you may ask.

Oh, it's quite simple - being such a superior being would be readily observable. No need to tell anyone, not even hint at it during conversation. No, I would exude such feelings of observable pride and superiority that the lesser ones could not help but notice, and defer accordingly. You have a good look next time you are outside - the commissioned types are so easily recognisable, even without a uniform. ... Talking of uniforms, it is a source of great disappointment to me that we Official Secret Act Signers at the Firm don't have a uniform like the armed services - that would make everything worthwhile. Then if the uniform was such that I looked like an officer, not only would the ordinary ranks from different branches of the forces feel the need to salute me in public, but more importantly, lots of people would see them doing so. ... Another thing - I know that, unlike it was with the holders of the Order of Lenin, the wearing of a special uniform or badge would not entitle me to go to the front of any queue - but there would be some who would expect it of me. This would be very pertinent in my case, for with my present status and given my character, I am one of those unfortunates who people tend to push in front of - who can blame them? After all, how are they to know that I have signed the Official Secrets Act?

I can almost hear you saying: "So that's it, the secret that you shouldn't be telling us, is that you have signed the Official Secrets Act."

No, it isn't! Though I'm beginning to think that by telling you I have, could be contravening it - heaven forbid! So please keep it to yourselves. Here, I meet a bit of a problem - how do I tell you this secret, one that I shouldn't be telling, but at the same time not contravene the Act? ... Hold on, I've just realised that I can tell you without in any way contravening it! By the way, I trust that you will not mention to anyone about what I am going to tell you.

Well, here goes:

It's about Vronsky and Ivanovitch - yes, I know I've already told you that they are as British as me, and possibly you, and they are definitely not spies for the KGB. But there is more – you see, they in fact also work for another intelligence agency - the CIA. Yes, the Yanks!

"Why them?" You may ask with good reason?

It's quite simple really. Our cousins and best allies don't really trust us. In fact, they don't trust anyone who doesn't eat blueberry pie or neglects to celebrate the Fourth of July. The fact we speak the same language as them (at least, I think we do) makes things even worse. You see, even in this day and age, many of them think there could be a little bit of the Commie in every Limey, especially those who have been to Oxford or Cambridge - Philby, Burgess, Maclean and Blunt are remembered in more than a few minds over there, as though their activities for their masters in Moscow happened only a short time before last fall. ... Why Vronsky and Ivanovitch? ... Well, for a start neither of them went to those hallowed places of learning. Then there's the fact that Sergi and Aleksi don't have first names anything like Kim, Guy, Donald or Anthony - that really put them in good stead. Then the money offered was very good - just for handing over copies of the odd top secret document every now and again.

How do I fit into all this, especially since I know all about Sergi's and Aleksi's undercover activities for our cousins?

The truth of the matter is that I also work with them – not in stealing the actual material, but delivering it to an American Peace Movement official stationed in Putney. Not that our clandestine involvement lessens any sense of rank between us - I, quite rightly, still call Vronsky and Ivanovitch Sir, even when making a collection.

How and why did I come to get involved?

It was when I was over in Washington D.C. for a meeting of our Combined Ordinary Ranks Christmas Party Committee - I'm the secretary for our department. I decided to have a lone midnight stroll past the Lincoln Memorial, when I met this hook... em, this young lady. Well, to be brief about it, I accepted her kind invitation to go and look at her apartment. We later had a few drinks there, and to tell the truth I got a little drunk - I'm sorry, but I told her more than I should have. It was just after I told her all about my pride in having signed the Official Secrets Act, that three CIA operatives burst into the room. Each had one of those official badges in one hand and a revolver in the other - she whipped out her badge and gun too. ... That was it! It wasn't the money offered that made me decide to work for them - no, it was the fact that I had mentioned the Official Secrets Act - the room was bugged! All they had to do was to threaten to tell my superiors in London that I had talked about it, in order for me to capitulate - I had no choice. It wasn't the risk of prison that did it. No, it would have meant that I would be struck off the list of signers. Then all would have been lost - no more hidden prideful thoughts, and with that, no more feelings of inward superiority! ... So now you know – but remember, mum's the word!

It has just struck me that you may be wondering how I could tell you about our activities with the CIA, whilst at the same time not contravening the Official Secrets Act. ... Well, it's really quite simple - I haven't! Let me explain: The Official Secrets Act applies solely to we who have signed it, and as far as I'm concerned it covers only our Service's work. ... When the Yanks convinced me that it was in my own interests to cooperate with them, they didn't get me to sign their version of the Official Secrets Act - if they have one. I didn't even have to touch my heart and give any kind of oath in front of Old Glory. ... So there, my conscience is quite clear, and nothing you may say will convince me otherwise. I have definitely not contravened any Act!

There is of course another matter that any one of the more cynically-minded of you may wish to raise, namely: How come I can help to pass top secret information to a foreign power, and still not have contravened the Act? ... It's quite simple to explain: I cleverly tamper with every document, so that many bits of the information contained therein mean the opposite to that intended, and where numbers are involved I delete a nought every so often. ... So there, I am not passing any really secret information on to them. And since the Act does not mention the passing of disinformation, like it or not, I am in no way a traitor - my conscience is very clear on that score!

A thing that has puzzled me and perhaps the more astute of you, is why the Yanks haven't realised they are being passed disinformation? ... The only thing I can think of is that so many people are passing clandestine material to them, they haven't time to check before filing it away to be looked at some distant date.

Well, that seems to be just about it. At last I've told someone. It isn't that I have any feelings of guilt or anything like that. No, it's just that there are times when one needs to share ones innermost secrets with somebody. It's like cleansing the soul, with the resultant feelings of purification acting as a means to carry on with a very clear conscience - especially with regard to the Official Secrets Act.


It is just likely that the more intelligent of you will have guessed that what I have written is nothing more than a load of drivel, with not an element of truth in it. Well, I must reluctantly admit that this is so - I was merely taking the pi... having a little bit of fun with you. Please forgive me.

Therefore in order to put the record straight, I guarantee the following: Sergi Vronsky and Aleksi Ivanovitch do not exist - even if they did, can you really imagine them working for MI6? There was no young lady in Washington D.C. - and definitely no passing of information to the CIA. ... Furthermore, there is no such thing as the Official Secrets Act - definitely not! I repeat – definitely not!

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