Last year the Daily Telegraph reported that a devout Christian was rejected for a job at the Government’s communications headquarters (GCHQ) because his religious beliefs had raised “national security issues”. When Charles Storey told interviewers that his devotion to God outweighed his loyalty to the state he was informed he was “not a suitable candidate”.

In common with most stories relating to the three national security agencies – GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 – the report failed to examine in any detail the issues of personal loyalty that might be involved. It is understandable that a committed Christian working in the moral minefield of modern technology, and the hacking of cyber traffic and social communications, might in some circumstances be troubled by qualms of conscience. And promoting extraordinary rendition for intelligence-gathering purposes would almost certainly seem an unacceptable practice.

But in the 1950s, when I joined M15 and later moved to M16, I experienced few contradictions to my Catholic faith. It was clear that the national good coincided with Christian welfare. Britain and her Western allies in Europe faced the dual threat posed by communism from the East and subversion at home, and the resources of MI5 were concentrated on the fight against an enemy with many clandestine sympathisers in Britain. Reds were known to be hiding under many beds, not always the obvious ones, and it was impressed on MI5 recruits like myself that our job was to find them.

Christians realised that should atheistic communism triumph it would inevitably attempt to destroy the Church as it had in Russia and other countries in Eastern Europe. Catholics in particular were mindful of this danger. Convents in Romania and Hungary of the Sisters who had educated me had been desecrated and their nuns abused, and the papacy was described by Sir Alec Randall, a former member of the British Legation to the Holy See, as the “most consistent and powerful opponent of international communism”. The fact that much of MI5’s information was gleaned from clandestine telephone tapping never caused me any soul-searching.

Working in the MI6 office in Hong Kong in 1958, I encountered communism at first-hand when visiting Catholic refugees who had fled across the border from China to the British colony. They were housed in stinking shanty towns, and their plight, and that of the Maryknoll Sisters who had been expelled from China with them, was heartbreaking.

Unbeknown to my colleagues in the office, I sometimes spent the evening helping the Sisters in their school. These visits to an area close to the communist border might have been questioned had they been discovered, although my boss at that time would probably have understood my motives. Maurice Oldfield, later head of M16, was a man who made no secret of his Christianity.

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