• Undercover work
  • SAGE
  • The ‘nudge’ unit
  • The ‘super recognisers’

Undercover work

Rob Evans in the Guardian, 11 November 2020, ” The leftwing journalist and intellectual Tariq Ali was spied on by at least 14 undercover police officers who went to extraordinary lengths to keep tabs on his political activities, a public inquiry has heard.” click here.

Rob Evans in the Guardian, 3 November 2020, ” The security service MI5 worked closely with undercover police officers to infiltrate the campaign against the Vietnam war, documents released to a public inquiry have disclosed.”, click here.

SAGE Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies

Ian Sample in the Guardian, 25 April 2020, “Sage comprises two dozen or so experts. Today, two-thirds are men. Some members are there to share advice from more specialised sub-groups. During the coronavirus pandemic they include the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, or SPI-M, made up of outbreak modellers from Imperial, Edinburgh and the London School of Hygiene and Tropic Medicine among others..Then there are the behavioural scientists who feed into Sage via the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behavioural Science, or SPI-B. Another group that has a representative on Sage is the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, or Nervtag, home to the virologists and respiratory disease specialists who study the pathogens and their effects on the body. click here.

The ‘Nudge’ Unit

Ken Sengupta in The Independent, 3 April 2020, “Former intelligence analyst specialised in China and cyber warfare has just joined key team . . .Rachel Coyle, who has received an MBE for services to defence, is the new managing director of the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) helping to develop strategy for the pandemic at the Cabinet Office. . . . It was set up 10 years ago by the Cameron government and ownership is shared between its staff, the Cabinet Office and the charity Nesta which deals with innovations.” click here

The ‘Super recognisers’

Alex Moshakis in The Guardian, 11 November 2018, “. . .. In September, two super recognisers employed by the Metropolitan Police Force identified the Russian nationals later accused of the Salisbury Novichok poisonings, having sifted through hours of CCTV footage. In August, the Met announced it would abandon the use of facial recognition software at this year’s Notting Hill Carnival (in previous years the technology had confused men with women – an embarrassing blunder), but that it would instead deploy super recognisers, who it considered better able to accurately spot the faces of troublemakers in dense crowds.” click here


The Massiter revelations

Arthur Scargill, the NUM and the useful idiots

The Ford plant in Liverpool

Imam Shafiqur Rehman

The Massiter revelations

In March 1985, Cathy Massiter, an MI5 officer who left the service after 12 years, made disclosures to Channel 4’s 20/20 Vision programme ‘MI5’s Official Secrets’ that the telephone lines of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) had been tapped. The MI5 had classified these organizations as ‘subversive’, which in her opinion was being overzealous: “We were violating our own rules. It seemed to be getting out of control.”

Cathy Massiter testified that she was required to compile a report based on her MI5 files for DS19, a special unit inside the Ministry of Defence set up during the tenure of Michael Haseltine. The MI5’s coverage was so pervasive that at least four future ministers were ‘on file’. For example this included Patricia Hewitt, then general secretary of the NCCL (1974 to 1983) and Harriet Harman (NCCL legal officer from 1978 to 1982). On the basis of Harman’s marriage to Jack Dromey (who MI5 suspected of having pro-Communist views) and the fact that Hewitt was a friend of William Birtles (who was a friend, in turn, of D.N. Pritt, described by MI5 as a “staunch friend” of the Communist Party), both women were branded on the MI5 files as “Communist sympathisers.”

Among other pressure groups targeted in the early 1980s was the Anti-Apartheid movement because the MI5 deemed it to be a front for a ‘revolutionary communist group’. The Channel 4 programme also revealed that MI5’s phone tapings included Mr Sid Harroway, shop steward convenor during the Ford strike at Dagenham in 1978 and a communist. Sir Robert Armstrong, the Cabinet Secretary, defended this action in 1986 by stating that “the Communist Party is still regarded in the United Kingdom as one of the organizations subversive of parliamentary democracy”.

Harman and Hewitt successfully took their cases to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 1990 that the files on them were in breach of Article 8 of the European Human Rights Convention. This article guarantees protection of private life.

Arthur Scargill, the NUM and the useful idiots

During the 1984-5 miners’ strike, an elaborate plot was conceived by the authorities with the connivance of the media to villify the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and its elected officials, Michael McGahey and, in particular Arthur Scargill – Margaret Thatcher’s bete noire. The allegations against Scargill blackened his reputation from which he has yet to recover.

Seamus Milne’s investigation into the affair also highlighted the role of a British Pakistani, Muhammad Altaf Abbasi, who was among the group of prisoners released by the Pakistan authorities in the aftermath of the 1981 PIA hijacking carried out by the Al-Zulfikar paramilitary/terrorist group. On return to his family in Britain, Milne writes, “Abbasi was regarded by many of those active in Pakistani opposition politics in Britain as an agent of the Islamabad government or of British intelligence”. Abbasi started a ‘Green Book Centre’ from which Gaddafy’s political tract could be disseminated. In 1984, Abbasi contacted the NUM and offered to serve as a middleman with Libya. In October 1984 Abbasi organized a meeting in Paris at which Salem Ibrahim, Gaddafy’s representative put a question to Scargill: “Would the miner’s leader go to Tripoli to explain the NUM’s position’? Scargill refused, saying if Libya wanted to help British miners, it should suspend the strikebreaking sales of oil to the United Kingdom”. Unbeknown to Scargill, Abassi then coaxed a weak reed within the NUM ranks, chief executive Roger Windsor to visit Tripoli. A photo of Windsor kissing Gaddafi on both cheeks rocked Britain and effectively demonized the NUM and Scargill, because public memory was still fresh with the killing of PC outside the Libyan embassy in London. The Sunday Times was able to publish the minutest details of the movements of Abbasi and Windsor in Tripoli – reportage which was to win The Sunday Times reporter Jon Swain the 1984 ‘Reporter of the Year’ award.

A misinformation campaign then alleged that Scargill and another NUM official Peter Heathfield had diverted funds from Libya to aid the strike effort to settle their personal home mortgages. Ten years after the event, Seamus Milne concluded that “every single one of the orginal claims proved to be untrue, unfounded, wildly misrepresented or so partial as to be virtually unrecognizable from any factual information…Nor, as the evidence now makes clear, could what in fact were simply ‘paper refinancings’ have ever been made with Libyan cash – because the fabled ‘Gaddafi money’ never even arrived in Britain until long after the transactions were carried out. The central allegation was a paper-thin lie, the by-product of a deliberate set-up…At every stage and in every aspect of the affair, the fingerprints of the intelligence services could be found like an unmistakable calling card. From the openly advertised intelligence contacts used in the original Sunday Times scoop on Roger Windsor’s 1984 Libyan trip, to the CIA’s tame Russian miners who helpfully called in the Fraud Squad….to the GCHQ leaks on secret-service manipulation of the Mirror-Cook Report stories, to Miles Copeland’s warnings to Scargill and Heathfield about an intelligence set-up, to Tam Dalyell’s Whitehall tip-offs about Windsor and Stella Remington…the intelligence connection ran like a poisoned thread”.

Abbasi himself denied dealing with the Security services, but went on the record stating that “I don’t think it is an unpleasant thing to be a member of an organization of a country of which I am a citizen. MI5 is there to look after the security of the country of which I am a citizen and there is no harm in working with it”. Abbasi’s hapless contact in the NUM, Roger Windsor also issued an open letter to the MI5 senior officer during the NUM crisis, Stella Remington [later MI5 Director General] that included the following bizarre passage, “Perhaps you would not welcome a public enquiry into all the events surrounding the NUM activities during and since the strike, as it might reveal that you were not as effective as you might have liked to have been, or as others would credit you” and concluded with reference to the ‘gross violations of civil liberties’ during the miners’ strike.

The NUM headquarters in Sheffield and the offices and homes of branch officials were bugged. Transcripts from these taps were sent to the National Reporting Centre at New Scotland Yard, which was responsible for deploying police officers in the coalfields, and to MI5’s F2 Branch. MI5 sent intelligence reports to the Civil Contingencies Unit in the Cabinet Office. Undercover police and MI5 operatives masqueraded as miners during the strike, singling out miners for arrest or acting as agents provocateurs to provoke violent incidents. In June 1984, two plain-clothes policemen were caught red-handed in disguise at the Creswell Strike Centre in Derbyshire. Throughout the year-long dispute, the security services leased the building opposite the NUM’s headquarters at St. James’s House in Sheffield. Every single NUM branch and lodge secretary had their phones monitored, as well as sympathetic support group activists and trade unionists across the country.

MI5 was obsessed with Scargill, who even had his own classification, – “Unaffiliated Subversive”, said David Shayler. ‘Operatives covertly followed him, tapped his home and office telephones and recruited an agent inside NUM. When I saw his file it contained a massive forty volumes. Defending the Realm by Mark Hoolingsworth and Nick Fielding, Andre Deutsch, 1999, pp77

[The Enemy Within – MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill Affair, by Seumas Milne, Verso, 1994;

Last year, after years of mounting concern that I had been wrong about Scargill, I finally apologised to him for the Mirror’s accusations. I had come to believe that the cloak-and-dagger tales I had published were untrue and that, just as Maxwell had suggested (probably disingenuously), we had been misled. One key witness changed his mind within a couple of weeks and another was ordered by the French courts to repay a debt to the NUM which he had previously accused Scargill of stealing. The whole case against Arthur gradually unravelled and gave credence to the belief that we had been duped by a secret service plot. Despite his denials, our chief accuser Windsor was named in parliament as an MI5 agent – and I was doubly convinced when the former head of MI5 said so ambiguously that he “was never an agent in any sense of the word that you can possibly imagine”. Roy Greenslade writing in The Guardian, 8 May 2003 http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,951322,00.html

The Ford plant in Liverpool

In October 2002, the BBC 2 series True Spies described how Fords, which had a giant car manufacturing plant at Halewood on Merseyside, only agreed to invest there because of a suspected secret deal with MI5 and Special Branch. According to Former Special Branch officer Tony Robinson the entire workforce was routinely vetted:
“My senior officer said: ‘One of your responsibilities, Tony, is to make certain that the Ford factory is kept clean of subversives.’ And part of the plan drawn up was to make certain that work would carry on smoothly at Ford without the expected Merseyside disease of strikes and layoffs.”

The officer told the programme that every week Ford would secretly submit a list of the latest job applicants to the local Special Branch: “We were expected to check these lists against our known subversives, and if any were seen on the list then strike a line through it……We’re talking about thousands and thousands of families dependent on continued employment…you have a small group of subversives who can bring that factory to a stop, then I think the ends justify the means.”

Imam Shafiqur Rehman

Imam Shafiqur Rehman from Oldham, Lancashire was brought before a special immigration tribunal – the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) – in August 1999 to consider a demand for his deportation by the Home Secretary on national security grounds. The hearing was attended by two MI5 officers. The Times (17 August 1999) reported: “Witness J was head of the MI5 group that monitored terrorism on the Indian subcontinent. Witness A was in charge of investigations into Islamic extremists from the area operating in the United Kingdom”. The charge against the imam was that he had raised cash and organised young British Muslim recruits for the Markaz Dawa al-Irshad (MDI). Witness A stated that a substantial percentage of cash raised by Mr Rehman’s group went to fund a jihad in Kashmir. Mr Rehman and his supporters had done nothing in this case but he was “regularly involved in jihad training. We are concerned at the potential threat to national security”.

However an underlying concern during Imam Shafiq’s hearing was his allegation that he had been approached to serve as an informer by the MI5 in 1997 and had refused. A third MI5 officer at the hearing, Witness I according to The Times report, admitted that in 1997 the Security Service had thought of recruiting him. Imam Shafiq said that the deportation order was to punish him for his refusal.

The SIAC hearing headed by Justice Potts overturned the expulsion order and said the Home Secretary had failed to show that Rehman posed a threat to national security. The government subsequently took the case to the Court of Appeal, which overturned the earlier ruling. The Court of Appeal law lords also changed the definition of national security:

The three judges, headed by Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls, ordered the SIAC to reconsider and suggested the commission had applied the wrong legal test as to what constitutes a threat to national security – that to qualify for expulsion the alleged risk posed by Rehman had to be directed against Britain. While Mr Straw conceded that Rehman was “unlikely to carry out acts of violence” in this country, he argued that his activities “directly support terrorism in the Indian sub-continent” and were likely to continue. Lord Woolf agreed that the “promotion of terrorism against any state is capable of being a threat to our own national security”. He said the Government was entitled to treat any undermining of its policy to protect the country as being contrary to security interests. Imam Shafiq had been denied legal aid in his case, and was represented pro bono by Sibghat Kadri QC.