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Mon 11 December 2017

The Cold
War period
The Northern
Ireland Troubles
Media Episodes
Political Intrigue
Monitoring Civil Society
Miscarriages of Justice
Foreign Protocols
Proxy Services
September 11
& the Aftermath
Know Your rights
Big Brother Technology
Institutional Structures
Roll Call

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The aim of this dossier is to serve as a reference point for information on covert actions by Government agencies that are inconsistent with stated government policy or which infringe civil liberties hence subverting the normal course of decision-making in a participative democracy.

The dossier identifies some of the complicities between these agencies and the media, PR and academic communities, including the outright recruitment of journalists by the security services and the planting or slanting of news to support Government policy.

It is extremely dangerous to use that vague and woolly word ‘terrorist’ and then on that basis hand over to government the power to decide how it should relate to its people…the language of terrorism is very appealing to government because once it says ‘we know what is about to happen and if we don’t do A, B and C then something terrible will happen – trust us’, really they are on easy street. There is no way of calling [government] to account and that certainly departs from the Human Rights idea of the rule of law….we were told last year how vital these [anti-terrorism] laws were because we were faced by the terrorist threat. The implication was that if these number of people were taken off the streets or that number of powers given to the security services we would somehow or other be protected from the terrorists. But they seem to be as worrying as ever. So there is a voracious appetite on the part of what one might call the secret state – to aggrandizing more and more power and laws – but the more they have, the more they seem to need and the paranoia and our anxiety continues.

Conor Geart, Professor of human rights law at the London School of Economics BBC Radio 4 ‘Start the Week’, 9 December 2002


While much of the information presented in this ‘Theme of the Month’ is of a historic nature, it alerts civil society to the possibilities of surreptitious control, black propaganda, infiltration and the cavalier approach to civil liberties:

  • Individual rights are threatened because it is very easy for the personnel dossiers built up by the security agencies to contain gossip and out of date information. As these files are ‘secret’, there is little recourse for data validation. In 1985 MI5’s database of names contained 500,000 entries (The Guardian, 19 August 1985). By the early 1980s the Service [MI5] had compiled a total of one million personal files, but this included ‘destroyed’ files (placed on microfiche). In Northern Ireland alone there were “at least 1m names” on some security agency’s computer (report by Richard Norton Taylor in The Guardian, 29 September 2000). By 2003, with advances in computer data storage and retrieval techniques such as data mining, it is not improbable if there are records on 10 per cent of the UK population, largely exempt from the disclosure provisions of the Data Protection Act.
  • The working of civil society is undermined when full and free debate at committee meetings and other similar settings is curtailed, fearful of the presence of informers. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was infiltrated by agents and ‘useful idiots’ who maligned and subverted the cause during the 1984-85 miners strike (BBC2 program ‘True Spies’, 3 November 2002). An Oldham imam, Maulana Shafiqur Rehman, was deported from the UK for links with militant Kashmiri groups - lawyers for the imam claimed the deportation order was a punishment for his refusal to co-operate with the authorities and act as an informer for MI5 (BBC, 30 September 1999).
  • Trust in the media is undermined when content is manipulated through the planting of information. At least three instances are now on record: during the NUM strike in the 1980s, the Balkan war a decade later, and the Saif Gaddafy libel case. Prize-winning journalist Peter Gillman noted the ‘unease’ felt by some at the extent a story on the Libyan connection with the Mineworkers was based on intelligence sources and suited the political agenda of the British government. Saif Gaddafy’s successful libel case against the Sunday Telegraph in April 2002 raised questions on the sources used by correspondent Con Coughlin (The Daily Telegraph, 17 April 2002).
  • The lives of bona fide journalists are placed at risk and the profession brought into disrepute through under-cover assignments. During the Balkan Crisis, the British weekly Spectator, published articles by a Keith Craig, the cover for an MI6 agent, part of an attempt to influence public opinion by suggesting a moral equivalence between the Serbs and Bosnians – that atrocities were being carried out by all sides - and not just Bosnian Serb troops (The Guardian, 24 January 2001).
  • Finally, and most alarmingly, instances are on record of under-cover agencies infiltrating a variety of organizations – from radical political groups to businesses. Something is now known of the role of agents provocateurs in Northern Ireland in the 1970s (The Guardian 2 March 1987), taking charge, supplying explosives, and planning terror incidents in order to shape public opinion. In the 1980s, ‘useful idiots’ were found who could be encouraged to trade with Iraq, to be quickly disowned and left to their fate when necessary.

The information has been collated from published sources, including the memoirs of officers of the security services press reports and records released by the Public Record Office. A small number of upright MI5 officers have questioned the activities they are asked to undertake and suffered the consequences – since the revision of Official Secrets Act in 1989 there is no ‘public interest defence’ for whistle-blowers. This is something which the Labour Party campaigned for when in opposition, but abandoned on gaining power in 1997.

A British Muslim community of under 1.8 million (in a total population of 58 million) is today in the spotlight. We see a disproportionate and opportunistic deployment of resources, from attempts to recruit informers to the planting of useful idiots – Muslim organizations have nothing to hide, but it is their duty to preserve their own institutional integrity, to be aware that journalists’ credentials are often not what they seem, and to form alliances with civil libertarians in questioning the modus operandi of the vast, lightly accountable security bureaucracies.

I met people in the security services who talked the most ridiculous nonsense and whose whole philosophy was ridiculous nonsense. If one of them were on a tube and saw someone reading the Daily Mirror they would say: Get after him that is dangerous. We must find out where he bought it’.

Former Prime Minister Edward Heath, Hansard, Commons, 15 Jan 1988


The IRA aside, I was concerned about how I was instructed to carry out operations against tiny organizations and harmless individuals who posed no conceivable threat to national security. I was also shocked to discover the extent to which mail was intercepted, telephones tapped and houses broken into – all in the name of “security”.

Ex-MI5 agent David Shayler, who was sentenced to six months in jail in November 2002 following his conviction for breaking the Official Secrets Act. This brought an end to a five year saga, that included time in a French prison. The Government attempted to have him extradited from France for being a ‘terrorist’.

In the aftermath of September 11, numerous persons, mostly Muslim, have been detained and held without charge or trial in Britain. Too often, it is later uncovered that this was based on evidence that would not stand up before a court of law. These practices must come under the public spotlight and citizens alerted to miscarriages of justice. Citizens seek a secure state – not a security state.