MI5 refuses historian Hobsbawm access to his file

March 2nd, 2009 - 6:55 pm ICT by IANS  

London, March 2 (IANS) The British government has been challenged to explain why Britain’s most eminent historian has been barred from seeing a file kept on him by the domestic spy agency, MI5.
Eric Hobsbawm, one of the world’s best-known historians, has been told by the MI5 he is not entitled to see the file, for which he applied under the Data Protection Act, the Guardian reported Monday.

“To the best of my knowledge I have never been involved in anything of security interest,” Hobsbawm said Sunday.

“I think the only reason can be that the security people don’t want to give away who snitched on me to the authorities.”

Hobsbawm, in his 90s, is a Marxist but also a recipient of the Companion of Honour, an award given by the Queen to only 45 Britons for outstanding achievements.

Labour House of Lords member David Lipsey, who has tabled a question over the MI5’s action in the upper house, told The Guardian there was no good reason for withholding the files from the historian, adding: “Professor Hobsbawm is arguably Britain’s most distinguished historian.”

Hobsbawm applied in June 2007 for access to his personal files under Britain’s Data Protection Act, but was told by the MI5: “We have conducted a search of Security Service records and have determined that the service does not possess any personal data to which you are entitled to have access under section 7 of the act. You should not take this response to imply that the Security Service does or does not hold any personal data about you.”

Hobsbawm said that as an undergraduate communist at Cambridge University, he knew Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, James Klugmann and others - men who spied for the former Soviet Union during the Cold War years.

“But I had no dealings with their activities. They can’t say there isn’t a file,” Hobsbawm said.

“Since I knew many people, now dead, whose files have been accessed, and some material by me or referring to me is therefore already available, I can see no reason why my own file should be withheld.”

“Getting to see the files might help me to correct any errors in my autobiography,” he added.

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