Press: How Not to Silence a Spy

Banned in Britain, an agent's memoirs become big-selling news

Spycatcher, the autobiography of Peter Wright, former assistant director of Britain's counterintelligence agency, is not the stuff of a runaway best seller. The writing is pedestrian, and many of Wright's revelations about the inner workings of MI5, although sensational, have been made elsewhere. But a 23-month campaign by Margaret Thatcher's government to ban the book and any reports about its contents in Britain and the Commonwealth has turned the book into an international publishing phenomenon. It has also sparked a showdown between a defiant Fleet Street and a stubborn Prime Minister over Britain's press and secrecy laws.

Seven of Britain's 20...