An American Website posted what it purported to be the names of 74 members of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, yesterday.
It was not clear last night what action British intelligence officials or lawyers will take to try to get the names taken off the Website and prevent further dissemination of them. However, they are likely to conduct a damage limitation exercise and warn those individuals who have been identified. Eighteen of those named on the Website have held the rank of ambassador.
The Website lists the names under a message thanking someone who it refers to simply as "A".
It is not the first time names claimed to be of former or serving MI6 officers have been posted on an American Website. About six years ago, the former MI6 officer, Richard Tomlinson, was alleged to have given a long list of names to a Website address. Mr Tomlinson, who was jailed for breaking the Official Secrets Act, denied the allegation.
He was sentenced after revealing classified information about MI6. He later left Britain and wrote a book which was published in Moscow and Edinburgh.
More recently, newspapers in Croatia have published the names of alleged MI6 officers serving in that country.
The names were published against the background of a bitter feud in the Croatian military and security services over the hunt for alleged war criminals.
The D Notice committee, which advises editors on security and intelligence matters, asks the British media not to name MI6 officers even if they have been named elsewhere.
In America it is an offence to deliberately reveal the identity of an undercover CIA agent. A grand jury investigation was launched after the identification of CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose name was given to several journalists by an unnamed source in the US government in 2003. A New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, was jailed recently for refusing to reveal the identity of the source.
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