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Terror cops hunt laptop snatched from retired MI5 spookmistress

Hapless thief may accidentally read her turgid novels

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A laptop belonging to the former boss of MI5 has been nicked while she was passing through Heathrow Airport.

Dame Stella Rimington's computer was swiped after she left the machine on a luggage trolley at Heathrow airport last Tuesday, The Sun reports. There's no evidence the theft was anything more than opportunistic. Even so the SO15 police counter-terrorism command is investigating the incident, which has raised concerns because of the possibility that the computer might contain contact details for Rimington's former colleagues, even though she left the service 16 years ago.

Rimington, 77, served as the first female Director-General of the UK's Security Service (aka MI5) for four years between 1992 and 1996. It's thought her appointment inspired the casting of Judi Dench as spy chief "M" in recent editions of the James Bond films, though Rimington as Security chief was in charge of mainly UK-based spookery as opposed to the overseas operations of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

A source apparently told The Sun: "Dame Stella seems to have forgotten the tricks of her tradecraft since leaving MI5. CCTV shows the laptop in the upper compartment of her trolley as she left the terminal building at Heathrow last week.

"It’s possible it was taken while her back was turned. But it seems more likely that she left the computer on the trolley and somebody took it after she was driven away."

Since retiring as a spymaster, Rimington has become a novelist. It's unclear whether the swiped laptop (brand unknown) was either backed up, encrypted or password protected.

Back in 2000, two serving MI5 officers lost their laptops in the course of buying a train ticket and having a drink in a bar, respectively. It's to be hoped that computer security among spooks has improved since but it's difficult to know for sure.

MI5 does not have a press office and avoids comment on intelligence matters.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at web security firm Sophos, commented:

"Whoever stole Dame Stella's laptop was not targeting her specifically and is more interested in selling the computer down the pub than attempting to uncover any secrets on her hard drive." ®

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