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Fri 24 October 2014
29 Dhu al-Hijjah 1435 AH  

Introduction
The Cold
War period
The Northern
Ireland Troubles
Media Episodes
Disinformation on Bosnia
The BBC and war coverage
Jon Snow - The newscaster who
said 'No'
The Saif Gaddafy libel
Sandy Gall in Afghanistan
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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Untitled Document

Media Episodes

Disinformation on Bosnia

If the recollections of the renegade MI6 agent Richard Tomlinson are a reliable guide, the MI6 planted at least two articles in the weekly ‘Spectator’ magazine in the course of the Bosnian war in the 1990s. The articles, which included bitter attacks on British journalists, including the BBC correspondent Kate Adie, were written with a Sarajevo dateline under the name of Kenneth Roberts, during the civil war in Bosnia.

The Spectator described ‘Roberts’ as someone working with the UN in Bosnia as an “advisor”, and that the author's name “has been changed at his request". It did not say that the writer was an MI6 officer. The officer has already been publicly identified as Keith Craig. These MI6 articles appeared to be part of an attempt to influence public opinion during the Bosnian crisis by suggesting atrocities were being carried out by all sides - and not just Bosnian Serb troops. This was consistent with Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd’s attempts to block all attempts on lifting the arms embargo placed on the Bosnian Muslims and to suggest a moral equivalence between the Serbs and Muslims.

Dominic Lawson, Spectator’s editor in this period, vigorously denied working for the MI6, though Tomlinson claimed that Lawson's MI6 identity was "Smallbrow". In his recent published compilation about MI6, the author Stephen Dorril points out that Dominic Lawson’s brother-in-law at the time, Anthony Monckton, was himself a serving MI6 officer, who was to take over the Zagreb station in the Balkans in 1996.

Tomlinson himself was sent to Bosnia in 1992 posing as a journalist. He also claimed he was given cover by the Spectator magazine while on a mission to Macedonia to develop contacts with ethnic Albanian politicians.

(The Big Breach by Richard Tomlinson, ZAO Narodny Variant, 2000; http://www.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4122582,00.html; http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,428597,00.html)

BBC and war coverage

Brendan Simms, author of ‘Unfinest Hour – Britain and the destruction of Bosnia’ writes:

“Far from being a full paid-up supporter of the Bosnians in their quest for international intervention, the Corporation often unconsciously or uncritically absorbed Whitehall rhetoric and became easy prey to FCO [Foreign & Commonwealth Office] and MoD [Ministry of Defence] briefings. The most obvious and insidious sign of this was the persistent reference to ‘all three warring sides’ or the ‘three warring factions’, thus equating the internationally recognized authorities in Sarajevo with Serb and Croat rebels. The Bosnian government forces, which in some theatres included substantial Catholic Croat and Orthodox Serb contingents, were routinely – and not quite accurately – described by the BBC as ‘the Muslims’ or ‘Muslim forces’. In time, this elision became second nature: when an ethnic Croat - who had been clearly identified as such prior to the programme – appeared on Newsnight as a spokesman for the Bosnian government, he was described on air by the presenter Kirsty Wark as a ‘Muslim’. Subsequent protests elicited the response that viewers believed the terms ‘Muslim’ and ‘Bosnian’ so synonymous that departure from this rule would only confuse them. Moreover, in the attempt to provide ‘balance’, the BBC gave exaggerated exposure to the Serb viewpoint. As Lee Bryant, the press officer at the Bosnian embassy for much of the war, remarked in August 1995, it was almost impossible to get Newsnight to interview his ambassador. Many editors and journalists at the BBC,’ he said, ‘get bored of hearing the Bosnian case because it is so simple. So they’ll take the Serbs every time because they’ve always got something extreme to say and it’s good television.’

Even more egregious was the way in which straightforward news reports on the World Service were ‘spun’ by officials in Whitehall. As Vladimir Lojen, an employee of the BBC Croatian Service through most of the war, observed, ‘The sad fact is: Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office Briefings have been seeping in an undiluted form into the World Service programmes.’ This was reflected in the tendency to conceal the extent of Bosnian Serb atrocities and suggest a moral equivalence between the ‘warring sides’. Thus in March 1993, the UN stated that the aircraft which had bombed the enclave of Srebrenica had not been formally identified but were seen flying off in the direction of Serbia. In the BBC broadcast this was rendered as : British sources say checks are being made to determine where the planes had come from’. In June 1995, three years into the siege of the Bosnian capital, one news bulletin reported that ‘Targeting of residential districts of Sarajevo with mortars and rockets, apparently fired from Bosnian Serb positions is a relatively new development.’ In August 1995, an American official was quoted by dispatches and agencies as saying that although both Bosnian government forces and Croats were responsible for isolated ourtrages, ‘The vast majority of ethnic cleansing since 1992 can be attributed to the Bosnian Serbs.’ In the subsequent World Service news broadcast this was rendered as ‘An American official said that Croatian and Muslim forces had also carried out atrocities’ without any mention of the original distinction on which the thrust of the original story rested. As Lojen observes, ‘The effort to obscure the obvious, question the indisputable and balance the unbalanceable [was] one of the cornerstones’ of World Service coverage throughout the war. As such, it had become a mere extension of a British policy designed to blur the distinction between aggressor and victim and to keep demands for international military intervention at bay.”

[Unfinest Hour – Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia by Brendan Sims, Allen Lane, 2001]

(A Letter to the BBC World Service - from Vladimir Lojen a former employee http://www.barnsdle.demon.co.uk/bosnia/bbcwor.html)

Top

Jon Snow - The newscaster who said ‘No’

“The manner of the British intelligence services’ invitation to me to work for them persuades me that enlisting journalists was, and possibly still is, commonplace.

The letter and subsequent interview came as I was joining ITN. A Mr D Stilbury, writing from the old War Office Building, had done his stuff. He certainly knew a great deal about me, relationships, friends, politics and career prospects. He was also pretty certain that I would accept his tax-free offer to double my then salary and that for years to come would be able to count on me to continue in the media, whilst at the same time keeping tabs on subversive or left-wing journalists on Fleet Street. My refusal, after two interviews, to have anything to do with him or the SIS for which he said he worked angered him considerably. I left his office 18 years ago flattered and appalled in equal measure, recognizing how easily it would have been to give in….

Mr Stilbury’s annoyance at my failure in this regard, centred on a perceived lack of patriotism, less to my country, I suspected, than to my class and to the establishment I was fast joining. Yet the greatest defense of democracy, we have been taught lies in a free press. I sometimes wonder what kind of compromise might have had to have been entered into for me to present a major television news programme at 7 pm, a few hours after a dash from some clandestine salaried encounter to disclose or receive intelligence about some issue of interest to the security services. How often has the viewer, or reader been denied the full facts as to precisely where the “messenger be he or she a television news operative, or a newspaper columnist – is coming from?

We fiercely protect our sources, not least because we depend on them. But that protection serves another purpose too- shielding our viewer or reader from the true nature of the relationship we enjoy with the authorities …. This is not a matter of spying, nor taking payment for information and services exchanged – at least not usually. This is about singing up to an unwritten clutch of rules, to join an undescribed club, in which both the journalist and the subject of interest enter into a pact to deny the “information consumer” the full facts of what is going on."

[The Guardian Friday December 30 1994]

Top

The Saif Gaddafy libel

In November 1995, the Sunday Telegraph linked Saif Gaddafy, son of the Libyan dictator, with currency counterfeiting and money laundering. The story was written by Con Coughlin, the paper’s then chief foreign correspondent, and it was falsely attributed to a “British banking official”. Saif Gaddafi took the newspaper to the High Court in London in a libel action, and in April 2002 it admitted that there was no truth in the allegations.

The full background to this episode has been documented by David Leigh:

“The paper was unable to back up its suggestion that Gaddafy junior might have been linked to a fraud, but pleaded, in effect, that it had been supplied with the material by the Government. In a long and detailed statement, which entered the public domain in the course of a judgment given in an interlocutory appeal on 28 October 1998, the paper described how, under Charles Moore’s editorship, a lunch had been arranged with the then Conservative foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, at which Con Coughlin had been present. Told by Rifkind that countries such as Iran were trying to get hold of hard currency to beat sanctions, Coughlin was later briefed by an MI6 man – his regular contact. Some weeks afterward, he was introduced to a second MI6 man, who spent several hours with him and handed over extensive details of the story about Gadafy’s son. Although Coughlin asked for evidence, and was shown purported bank statements, the pleadings make clear that he was dependent on MI6 for the discreditable details about the alleged counterfeiting scam. He was required to keep the source strictly confidential.

Throughout the formal pleadings, the Telegraph preserved the fig-leaf of its sources by referring to a “Western government security agency”. But this veil of coyness was blown away by City solicitor David Hooper in his book on libel published in March, Reputations Under Fire, where he says briskly: “In reality [they were] members of MI6” So, unusually, an MI6 exercise in planting a story has been laid bare.”

(David Leigh, ‘Britain’s security services and journalists: the secret story’, in British Journalism Review, Vol. 11, No. 2, 2000, pages 21-26; http://www.bjr.org.uk/data/2000/no2_leigh.htm)

Sandy Gall in Afghanistan

Seamus Milne, in his book ‘The Enemy within’ notes:

“ More recently, Sandy Gall, the ITN reporter and newsreader, boasted of his work for MI6 in Afghanistan during the 1980s and his liaison meetings with MI6 officers at Stone’s Chop House in Piccadilly. ‘Soon after I returned to London’, Gall wrote in his memoirs, ‘I received an invitation to have lunch with the head of MI6….I was flattered, of course, and …..resolved to be completely frank and as informative as possible, and not try to prise any information out of him in return, This is not normally how a journalist’s mind works.’ Indeed not.”


Northern Ireland Troubles












 


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