In 1985 Peter Wright, a senior officer in Britain’s counterintelligence agency MI5, attempted to publish his memoirs. They detailed his work from 1955 to 1976 and advanced the largely discredited thesis that the former head of MI5, Sir Roger Hollis, was a Soviet spy. The British government denied Wright permission to publish on the grounds that he would be violating the Official Secrets Acts, which bound civil servants not to divulge without prior approval official information acquired in the course of duty. However, Wright was then a resident of Australia and intended to publish his book there.

The British government knew that it could not enforce the Official Secrets Act in another country, so it initiated a civil law suit in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, in Australia, to stop publication. Britain claimed that Wright was guilty of breach of contract, the contract being that he in effect had promised his superiors to maintain confidentiality of information acquired in the course of his work. Wright’s defense attempted to demonstrate that no confidentiality was being broken and that Britain was trying indirectly to enforce its Official Secrets Act in Australia. During the trial, it was revealed that in 1980 and 1981, Wright had secretly given his information to Chapman Pincher, a British journalist, who in turn had published Their Trade Is Treachery (1981). The government, however, had taken no action against Pincher, apparently...

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