Well, that got your attention…
Lord Mountbatten’s biographer, the historian Andrew Lownie, has obtained recently released FBI documents concerning Mountbatten’s sex life. The reports reveal that Mountbatten was a multiple adulterer and a predatory homosexual at a time when homosexuality was illegal in the UK. Any of this could have led to a risk of blackmail and a consequent threat to national security. The FBI began gathering intelligence on Mountbatten in 1944 when he became supreme allied commander in southeast Asia. They continued collecting intelligence on him until the 1970s.
This is all very salacious, but the collection of this intelligence raises other questions. Lownie discovered that certain records had been selectively destroyed. One particular document was destroyed just a few days after he expressed an interest in the files. Historians find that this is a common practice with secret service files in all nations.
Of course, operational security and operating methods must be protected. But if you control the historical documents then you control history. The current system effectively gives intelligence services carte blanche to decide what the truth will be. Those who are accused cannot speak out in their defence. This cannot be healthy. There have been some improvements. Not so many years ago, it would have been unthinkable that secret government papers could have been used by historians. But in the 1990s, the UK introduced the Waldegrave Initiative that allowed selected historians, such as Gill Bennett of the Cabinet Office, access to intelligence service records. This has not always been an improvement: the SIS official historian, Professor Keith Jeffrey, constantly complained that he was not able to include information – even of the most inoffensive type – because of SIS paranoia. It means that the official history of SIS is today often of less use than the unofficial histories that have been written using a wider variety of sources. There is also the fact that the historians who are granted access under this system may be people who will simply say what the services want them to say in order to keep their highly lucrative positions.
The bottom line is that intelligence services must be protected, but they must not be allowed to write history. Guidelines should be introduced that prevent intelligence and security services selectively destroying their records. All records should be retained. The files may need to be kept secret for very long periods of time, but they should not be dispensed with altogether. Only this way, can we have any hope that the full truth about certain historic events may one day emerge.
*Those interested in the subject of Lord Mountbatten’s escapades should consult Andrew Lownie’s book “The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves” which is expected to be published on 22 August.