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State secrets are revealed at Burgh House

PUBLISHED: 16:56 20 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:57 07 September 2010

SECRETS tumbled out in Hampstead when the former head of Britain s intelligence service dropped in the village for a chat. Dame Stella Rimington, the first woman to take charge of MI5, held the audience captivated at Burgh House last Thursday night. Veter

SECRETS tumbled out in Hampstead when the former head of Britain's intelligence service dropped in the village for a chat.

Dame Stella Rimington, the first woman to take charge of MI5, held the audience captivated at Burgh House last Thursday night.

Veteran BBC producer Piers Plowright interrogated the Highgate resident and former MI5 director general.

Dame Stella questioned the government's overreaction after 9/11, saying: "The phrase 'war on terror' is misguided. Calling it a war gives the impression it is something the military can deal with alone.

"You can't deal with it just on a military front. Terrorism must be tackled on several fronts."

Dame Stella said surveillance is a balance between the need for security and private liberty, but felt the balance against individual liberty has swung too far and needs to be reined in.

She joined MI5 in the late 1960s at the height of the cold war, in what she described as a "very male" world. She accomplished many significant firsts at the spy agency, being the first person to open up the body to the public, the first woman to head the organisation and the first director general to publish a book about it.

Mr Plowright said Dame Stella was an "extremely practical, no-nonsense, highly capable, unflappable person", whose proudest moment was opening up the secret services.

Highgate's former spy chief is adding more books to the four she has already written, with a fifth coming out this summer. In another example of art imitating life, the books are thrillers about a female secret agent who manages to succeed in a man's world.

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