By PATRICK COCKBURN and PAUL LASHMAR
LONDON - The British Court of Appeal ruled yesterday that extracts of the book by former MI6 officer New Zealander Richard Tomlinson can be published in Britain.
The British Attorney-General, Lord Williams of Mostyn, had opposed publication on behalf of the Government.
New revelations in the book include claims that, in 1991, MI6 tried to discredit Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the then soon to be elected United Nations Secretary-General, by planting stories in the British press saying he was mentally unbalanced because he believed in UFOs and extraterrestrial beings.
It exposes the role of the SAS regiment in helping MI6 operations and the way MI6 officers create false identities for themselves.
Yesterday, three judges declared that it was for individual newspapers to assess when material in a book by a former spy has entered the public domain and can therefore legally be published.
Lord Phillips, the Master of the Rolls, sitting with Lord Justice Tuckey and Lord Justice Longmore, said that it was desirable that there was consultation between the newspaper and MI6 before it published matters which might be capable of damaging the service.
"It is not right that they [editors] should be subjected to a fetter on freedom of expression which goes beyond a promise to wait for the material to become public," Phillips said.
Tomlinson's book The Big Breach: From Top Secret to Maximum Security was due to be published in Moscow earlier this week but was delayed pending the Appeal Court hearing in London.
Selected excerpts have been reprinted in the Russian press.
Mystery still surrounds the identity of the Russian publishing company, whose founder was murdered seven years ago, and which claims to operate from an a long-abandoned apartment.
The Independent has obtained a copy of the 332-page book and it alleges that the CIA had asked MI6 to spread the smear against Boutros Boutros-Ghali because it suspected him of being pro-French, but was prevented under United States law from manipulating the press itself.
The book gives a vivid picture of the life of a middle-ranking MI6 agent and the working atmosphere within the organisation.
It does not explain why Tomlinson, who joined MI6 in 1991, should have been fired four years later.
It also underlines the extent to which MI6 agents relied on posing as freelance journalists during their foreign assignments.
Tomlinson quotes a fellow agent as protesting that Dominic Lawson, then the editor of the Spectator, apparently referred to in MI6 by the code name 'SMALLBROW,' had agreed "to let me go to Tallin undercover as a freelancer for his magazine."
"The only condition is that I have to write an article, which he'll publish if he likes it. The cheeky bastard wants a story courtesy of the taxpayer."
The book begins with a disclaimer saying that the names of all serving MI6 officers have been changed except those whose names have already been mentioned in the press or have given permission for their own names to be used.
Details of operations in which Tomlinson was personally involved ring largely, but not entirely true.
He has a long account of the defection of Colonel Alexander Simakov formerly of the Russian strategic rocket forces, who was out of a job in Moscow and wanted to come to Britain.
Tomlinson writes that the defector had starry-eyed aspirations, he wanted "a house with a straw roof and garden full of flowers, $US100,000 ($319,280) in cash, and a Ford Orion GLI with executive pack."
Somewhat to the surprise of MI6, faced with a flood of defectors after the break-up of the Soviet Union, Savinkov turned out to be a gold mine of information.
A missile specialist at MI6 said that Savinkov had revealed the location and layout of the main Russian nuclear command post inside a mountain in the Urals.
Unfortunately, Savinkov had left a notebook filled with notes from the missile tests in his mother-in-law's sewing box in Moscow.
Tomlinson then recounts how he attended a business conference in the Hotel Metropol in Moscow in preparation for retrieving the notes.
During the conference he saw an old acquaintance on the other side of the room who knew him under his real name.
Instead of steering clear of the old friend Tomlinson goes up to him and introduced himself under his alias.
He asked him to go for a walk during which he explains that he is working for MI6 under a false name.
"I'm sure you'll understand this would cause a right stink back home if this gets out, but I'm confident you'll keep this little encounter to yourself," he says.
Later Tomlinson goes to an outer suburb of Moscow and retrieves the sewing box.
Such bursts of frankness may have contributed to Tomlinson's sacking.
He himself says he is still mystified by his sudden fall from grace, aside from official criticism of his failure to wear a tie during a meeting with a senior Serbian leader in Bosnia. The latter half of the book is an account of his increasingly bitter dispute with MI6 and his efforts to make a living.
His book is only the start of months of problems for MI6 and the domestic security service, MI5.
David Shayler, a former officer with MI5 who fled to France after disclosing details of a number of secret operations to a Sunday newspaper, goes on trial in April on charges of breaching the Official Secrets Act.
That will be followed by the publication of the autobiography of Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5.
The move has been greeted with fury by senior intelligence chiefs.
They see it as giving the green light to others who want to publish books.
- HERALD CORRESPONDENTS
By PATRICK COCKBURN and PAUL LASHMAR