The BBC producer was caught, on film, mouthing to a colleague: "I really want to have a bath with you"

It is a tiny eye up in the corner of the studio, and so very easy to forget - it is early in the morning, and three hours of live radio requires a certain focus. How long, I wonder, before one of us is caught out by the new Today programme webcam? You may spot us snoozing during a heart-rending report on flood or famine in a far-off land, or swapping inappropriate jokes instead of listening to improving Thoughts for the Day. And although you will not be able to hear what we say, there is a cautionary tale doing the rounds among the staff. A former Today producer was badly caught out, while working on a television show that used a live shot of the newsroom as a backdrop behind the presenter; a lip-reader eavesdropped - if that is the right word - on his conversation with a female colleague and complained formally to the BBC because it included the words: "I would really like to have a bath with you." After a few days as the object of attention from one of the world's most efficient internal security services, I have become paranoid about being watched.

I abandoned the party conferences early this year - Charles Kennedy caught me sneaking my suitcase out of the Swallow Highcliff Hotel after only two days of Liberal Democrat debate, and I swear I saw his eyes cloud over with envy for a moment - and flew to Israel in search of war criminals. It is warmer on the Mediterranean coast near the Lebanese border than it is by the English Channel in Dorset, but Nahariyya has a certain spiritual and architectural affinity with Bournemouth. The huddles of exiled soldiers from the now disbanded South Lebanon Army were eerily evocative of the scenes I had left behind. Rather like the melancholy platoons of political enthusiasts you see in the lobbies and bars of our seaside hotels, they seemed forever to be caballing and conspiring, oblivious to the sparkle of the sand or the majesty of the waves. The SLA men and their families have been living a curious half-life since they fled Lebanon after Israel's withdrawal in May - the Israelis have billeted several hundred of them in Nahariyya's holiday cottages and the log cabins nestling among the pine trees in the surrounding countryside.

I am making a film for the BBC's Correspondent programme about the Khiam detention centre in southern Lebanon; many of the guards and interrogators who made it so notorious are now living in exile in Nahariyya. There are no known photographs of our Mr Big - the camp commandant. All we had to go on was a description put together from the testimony of former inmates: 70-plus, dapper dresser, smoker. This being the Middle East, everyone smokes, and Nahariyya is a retirement town for the prosperous. It is now full of respectable elderly gentlemen wondering excitedly why the youthful blonde woman sitting at the corner cafe - our producer, Giselle Portenier - gave them such a full and frank eyeballing.

And there was the issue of language to resolve if we did find him. We were told he only understands French and Arabic. I have always found that my best French comes to me under pressure, but you only get one shot at door-stepping a real villain, and I still cannot quite work out the French for: "We have a witness who claims you attached an electrode to his left testicle."

For several weeks in the summer of 1987, in the heady days when it looked as if the Iran-Contra saga might destroy the Reagan presidency, the television pack staked out the home of Robert McFarlane, the national security adviser who began it all when he so bizarrely and secretly flew to Tehran with a Bible and a chocolate cake in the shape of a key. One morning, a cameraman kicked the Washington Post off the family's front porch - the idea was that McFarlane would have to step down the path to pick it up, vulnerable to cameras and reporters as he did so. As the Americans are so pompous about journalistic practice, the cameraman was fired; in Britain, he would probably have been given a bonus for enterprise.

What are the ethics of the journalistic ambush? We debated the question, over fried fish and Merlot from Mount Carmel, beneath the walls of the crusader port of Acre - just occasionally, this job lives up to its stereotypes. We had tracked Mr Big to a gratifyingly extravagant penthouse flat with a sea-view - the Israeli taxpayer is footing the bill.

Could I disguise myself as a plumber to gain access? Or a flower deliverer? In the end, I did it the old-fashioned way: I knocked on the door and had it firmly shut in my face - by Mr Big's daughter. It was our only chance - the government's men in shades were on to us by now.

Driving up to Cambridge to chair a discussion ("Journalism, fact or fiction"), I found myself regretting yet another day away from home. But the town quickly worked what Roger Scruton's new book England: an elegy calls "enchantment" - impossibly, magically handsome in the late September sun. The panel was made up of Minette Marrin and Katherine Whitehorn, plus a brace of politically dissonant Simons: Heffer and Hoggart. They all told some very funny anecdotes, but it was Simon Hoggart who drew the biggest laugh, with a story about Martin Bell. While filming a loyalist riot in Belfast, our lost confrere found himself being handbagged by an elderly lady. His protestations were met with a memorable rebuke: "You are filming something that isn't happening." That, on reflection, is rather how I feel about the Today programme's webcam.

This article first appeared in the 09 October 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Schools that teach children to lie