EVERY week some of the most sensitive discussions about the Patten package take place among an unlikely group of officials at Government House. Those present are not the ones most closely associated with the Governor's democratisation blueprint. Instead, seated around the table in Upper Albert Road are Secretary for Security Mr Alastair Asprey and his officials, as well as Commander British Forces Major-General John Foley and other, anonymous, members of his entourage. They represent the shadowy - and largely unknown - side of the battle over the Patten package, with the security services being called on to do all they can to aid the Governor's cause during the weekly meetings of the highly sensitive Local IntelligenceCommittee (LIC). It is a role which will never be officially acknowledged, except perhaps when the relevant files are declassified in Britain in 50, or maybe even 100, years' time. Yet some of the Governor's remarks in recent interviews give the game away, by hinting he is relying on intelligence intercepts in the battle with Beijing. For when Mr Patten talks, without supporting evidence, about divisions in the Chinese leadership over policy towards Hongkong, it is in the manner of someone who has seen a classified report on the issue but cannot publicly refer to it. This is nothing new. Previous governors, such as Lord Wilson, also used intelligence intercepts to help in disputes with China. Mr Patten has experience of using intelligence services, having spent two years as a junior minister in Northern Ireland. Information is now passed on to him at meetings of the LIC - Hongkong's equivalent of the influential Joint Intelligence Committee in London, that monitors reports from British spies around the world. MANY LIC papers are effectively classified for ''UK eyes only'', and local officers do not normally sit in on its meetings. A more select body, called the Governor's Security Group, also meets regularly under Mr Patten's chairmanship. Some of the information passed on at such meetings is from the Hongkong Government's Special Branch. But NCNA officials take it for granted their phones are being tapped - ''it's the first thing we're warned about when we arrive,'' said one - and so there is only limited value in such intercepts. Instead the most valuable intelligence comes from the British officials present. They are shadowy figures nominally attached to the Foreign Office and officially described as security liaison officers, but in reality members of the security service MI6, based at military headquarters in HMS Tamar. Such spies relay the information gathered by British intelligence's worldwide network - a network that includes the monitoring station in Chung Hom Kok, which tries to tap in to secret radio traffic between Beijing and the NCNA's Happy Valley headquarters. The network also embraces intelligence from defectors - such as the Chinese embassy official who sought asylum in Sweden earlier this year - who have seen confidential documents on the Chinese Government's stance. But, most importantly, it includes information obtained on the mainland, via the British Embassy in Beijing or through MI6 officers operating out of the territory. The detail with which senior Hongkong Government officials talk about the existence of rival factions within the Chinese leadership, who are divided over how to respond to the Patten package, suggests they have seen some evidence to substantiate it - in the form of the minutes of Politburo, or other high-level, meetings. Those need not come from spies inside the Chinese leadership, although that is a possibility which should not be ruled out. Instead, such minutes can now readily be obtained in certain circles in Beijing - witness the ease with which students plastered accounts of Politburo meetings around Tiananmen Square during the 1989 pro-democracy protests - or through the embassies of more neutral countries. BUT even as British agents around the world are playing their part in gathering intelligence to help Mr Patten in his battle against Beijing, they also have to worry about it leaking away through the activities of their opposite numbers. The Chinese security services have also been mobilised to join the fight. Indeed, some insiders worry that stories about splits in the Beijing leadership have been planted as disinformation by Chinese intelligence, using one of the oldest tricks in theespionage book. Worse still, British intelligence fears the recent choice of former senior Hongkong officials and Executive Councillors as advisers to Beijing poses a security risk. One clearly-planted article in the Fleet Street press expressed particular concern whether the appointment of Sir David Akers-Jones - who was privy to all of the government's secrets as a former chief secretary and acting governor - would pose a securityrisk. As Mr Patten will know from experience, the twilight world of intelligence gathering rarely produces conclusive proof of anything. Which is why, perhaps, despite the best efforts of the Local Intelligence Committee, he still chooses to lead with his instincts.