Posts Tagged ‘James Angleton’

Tony Benn on ‘Spycatcher’ and the Wilson Smears

January 8, 2019

Tony Benn was a passionate defender of civil liberties and an advocate of expanding democracy further against the attempts of the establishment to limit it. He was therefore a critic of Britain’s intelligence agencies and their repeated attempts to destabilise and undermine the left. The publication of Peter Wright’s Spycatcher in the ’80s caused massive controversy, because of its description of the activities by them. Thatcher invoked the Official Secrets Act to suppress its publication in Britain, but it was freely available elsewhere in the world. In his 1988 book, Fighting Back, Benn discusses the book and its revelations about just what the CIA and MI5 were up to, including their smears against the former Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson.

Among the pieces Benn quotes and discusses was Wright’s statement that MI5 bugged and burgled their way across London on behalf of the state, while civil servants looked the other way;

that during the Suez crisis, MI6 planned to assassinate Nasser using nerve gas;

that James Angleton, the head of the CIA, wanted to expand their London station and infiltrate and absorb MI5 completely;

that the intelligence agencies had always taken information from peoples’ national insurance files, and were setting up a computer link to do the same;

and that Angleton believed that Wilson was a Soviet agent, based on an anonymous Soviet source. (Benn, Fighting Back, pp. 237-8).

He then goes on to quote Wright on how MI5 was plotting to smear Wilson from the end of the Heath government. Wright wrote

As events moved to their political climax in early 1974, with the election of the minority Labour Government, MI5 was sitting on information, which, if leaked, would undoubtedly have caused a political scandal of incalculable consequences. The news that the Prime Minister himself was being investigated would at the least have led to his resignation. The point was not lost on some MI5 officers.

Wright continued on page 369 of his wretched book

The plan was simple. In the run-up to the election which, given the level of instability in Parliament, must be due within a matter of months, MI5 would arrange for selective details of the intelligence about leading Labour Party figures, but especially Wilson, to be leaked to sympathetic pressmen. Using our contacts in the press and among union officials, word of the material contained in MI5 files, and the fact that Wilson was considered a security risk would be passed around. Soundings had already been taken, and up to thirty officers had given their approval to the scheme. Facsimile copies of some files were to be made and distributed to overseas newspapers, and the matter was to be raised in Parliament for maximum effect. It was a carbon copy of the Zinoviev letter, which had done so much to destroy the first Ramsay MacDonald Government in 1928. [sic] ‘We’ll have him out’ said one of them. ‘this time we’ll have him out.’ Shortly afterwards Wilson resigned. As we always used to say in the office ‘Politicians may come and go, but the security service goes on forever. (Both quotations in Benn, p. 238).

Benn then went on to say about these revelations that

If any of them are true MI5 officers were incited to break the law, have broken the law, did attempt, with CIA help, to destroy an elected government, and any responsible Prime Minister should have instructed the police to investigate, with a view to prosecution, and the Courts should have convicted and sentenced those found guilty. The charge which the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, the Law Officers, the Police, have to face is that they have all betrayed their public trust, and the judges who have upheld them are in clear breach of the Bill of Rights of 1689. For if ministers can arbitrarily suspend the law, and claim that issues of confidentiality, or national security, justify a ban on publication; and if the judges issue an injunction, there could be no limit to the suppression of any information which might embarrass any government. (Benn, p. 239).

The Wilson smears have again become relevant after the recent revelations from the Anonymous hacking group, which the government admitted following a question by Labour minister Chris Williamson, that the Tory government was funding a private company, the Institute for Statecraft, to publish anti-Putin propaganda on the internet as part of its programme, the Integrity Initiative. This propaganda included smearing European and American politicians and officials, who were held to be to close to Putin. And so they smeared Jeremy Corbyn, just as the press a little while ago also tried smearing him as a Czech spy. Investigation has shown that the Institute for Statecraft and the Integrity Initiative uses staff from MI5 and the army’s internet counterintelligence units, to the point where journalists investigating it have described it as a British intelligence cut-out.

It is over forty years since Harold Wilson left office, but the British intelligence services are back up to their old tricks of smearing Labour leaders as Russian agents. Benn wanted legislation put in place to make the British secret state fully accountable to parliament. The British conspiracy magazine, Lobster, has making the same argument since its foundation in the 1980s.

Benn and Lobster are right. Our intelligence agencies are out of control, and a danger to democracy.

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Lobster: MI5 Suspicious of Harold Wilson because ‘Pro-Israel’

May 5, 2016

The conspiracy/parapolitics magazine and website, Lobster, has run a number of articles over the years on the British intelligence agencies and their suspicion and smears against the Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson, as a Soviet spy. In issue 13 of the magazine, its editor, Robin Ramsay, carried a piece about an interview he once did with Colin Wallace, a British army officer working in their psy-ops unit in Northern Ireland. Wallace was supposedly contacted by an MI5 officer, who asked him to compile a spurious document, purporting to come from Irish Republicans, which would smear various politicos. Wallace’s notes, as revealed to Ramsay, showed the bizarre thinking and deep suspicion the agency had of a number of senior politicians, including Harold Wilson. Wilson was considered particularly subversive because they thought, as did James Angleton, the head of the CIA, that he was controlled by the Soviets. One of the signs that he was under the thumb of the Soviets was that he was ‘pro-Israel’.

There you go. The Right are now busily attacking Labour for being ‘anti-Semitic’, because Corbyn doesn’t believe in persecuting the Palestinians. Forty years ago, they were out gunning for Harold Wilson, partly for the opposite reason: he was ‘pro-Israel’. The political stance has changed, but the Right still hates Labour because of its attitude to Israel and Palestine. Assuming, of course, that this isn’t a case of finding any old smear that will do the job against Labour.

Banned from TV Under Thatcher: Maggie’s MIlitant Tendency

October 2, 2013

The Conservative party is always keen to watch for and denounced supposed left-wing bias in the BBC. There is an entire website, Biased BBC, which is full of such accusations. The Conservatives have, however, used their influence when in power to censor and suppress any material of which they didn’t approve. I’ve already blogged about how Thames TV lost its broadcasting licence because of Thatcher’s disapproval of the World in Action documentary, ‘Death on the Rock’. Another documentary that incurred Thatcher’s displeasure was the Panorama edition, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’. Mainstream political parties and organisations, such as Labour, are frequently targeted for infiltration by extremists, such as the various Communist sects. Called ‘revolutionary entryism’ by the extreme Left, the process is designed to allow the smaller, more extreme party to be able to take over its larger, more mainstream host. The extremists are thus able get into power, which they could not do on their own behalf. The nascent Communist party tried these tactics in Weimar Germany when the SPD split following the Council Revolution of 1919. The Communists tried to infiltrate the more extreme, break-away faction, the USPD, with the intention of breaking it up. This would remove the party as an alternative to the Communists. At the same time they hoped to radicalise the more extreme members of the USPD, and so get them to join the Communist party. It didn’t work, and the USPD eventually reunited with the parent party, the SPD, the German equivalent of the Labour party.

Similar tactics were tried in the ’70s and ’80s by other Marxist groups, which tried to get into the British Labour party. Harry Conroy records in his biography of Jim Callaghan (London: Haus Publishing Ltd 2006) hearing a conversation between a Maoist and another extremist about how they intended to infiltrate the Labour party. In the 1980s there was the controversy over the activities within Labour of the Militant Tendency, a radical group, which seemed intent on rigging elections and other activities in order to seize power within the party. Eventually they were expelled by the then leader, Neil Kinnock. This was, however, used by the Conservatives to show that Labour was full of splits, with a weak leadership, and that it had been infiltrated by ‘Reds’. Once Labour got in, these infiltrators would use their power to set up a Communist dictatorship. It was the classic ‘Red Scare’, and was run by the Sun. It also supplied the basis for one of Frederick Forsythe’s novels, in which MI% agents have to stop a Labour party infiltrated by Communists from gaining power and turning the country into a puppet of the Soviet Union. The plot appears to represent genuine fears on the part of the CIA and MI5. James Angleton, the head of the CIA, believed that Harold Wilson was a Soviet agent, a belief shared by his colleagues in MI5 and in the Conservative party. One of those who bought this rubbish was one Margaret Thatcher. Sadly, the Red scaremongering didn’t end with the suspicions about Wilson. In the 1990s the Times libelled Michael Foot by claiming that he was a Soviet agent codenamed ‘Agent Boot’. So much for the Times as a centre of journalistic excellence.

What was not widely known at the time was that the Conservatives were also afraid that they had similarly been infiltrated by the National Front and other Far-Right organisations. A 1983 report by the Young Conservatives concluded that ‘organised infiltration is a reality’. They identified the Fascist groups that had infiltrated the Party as WISE, Tory Action and the London Swinton Circle, as well as David Irving’s Focus Policy Group. A number of Conservative MPs, which belonged to some of these groups were also suspected of NF membership or sympathies. These included Harvey Proctor, Ronald Bell and Gerard Howarth, as well as George Kennedy Young, a former deputy head of MI6, who had almost taken over the Monday Club in the 1970s, and who was particularly active in Tory Action.

The Tory party was also faced with a series of public scandals where members of the party publicly declared their support for Racial Nationalism and the Far Right. I distinctly remember a report on the Six O’clock News about the leader of either one of the Young Conservative groups or Union of Conservative Students in Northern Ireland, Tinnies, who had publicly embraced the Front’s racism. Tinnies declared of himself and his followers that ‘we are not Fascists. We are Thatcherite achievers. But if Mrs Thatcher does not want us, we will go to the Far Right.’ I’ve heard since that it was because of Fascist infiltration and sympathies amongst the membership that the Tories wound up the Union of Conservative Students, and replaced it with Conservative Future.

Larry O’Hara, a historian of Fascist politics in this period and a staunch anti-Fascist, has argued that there was no organised infiltration of the Tory party in the 1980s. The NF members, who joined the Tories, according to O’Hara, did so due to disillusionment with the NF after its catastrophic performance in the 1979 bye-election. Moreover, according to O’Hara, the actual core membership of the BNP is small, perhaps only about 200 members. Most of its members leave after about two years as they are simply anti-White immigration and have no interest in Fascist ideology. Andrew Brons, then the chairman of the NF, and the leader of the ‘Strasserite’ faction in 1984 vehemently denied that the NF had any such policy. He stated ‘the idea that we, a radical, Racial Nationalist party, should seek to infiltrate the unsavoury corpse of the Conservative party is so ludicrous that is should not need to be denied.’ Nevertheless, at the time the idea that the Fascist fringe had infiltrated the Conservative party was all too credible. Mrs Thatcher’s model of a monetarist state was General Pinochet’s Chile, and she herself was friends with the Chilean dictator. The Fascist future depicted in Moore’s ‘V for Vendetta’ strip seemed all too likely to come true. The BBC’s long-running documentary series, Panorama, investigated the allegations that the Tories had indeed been infiltrated. The resulting programme, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency, was not, however, broadcast as Thatcher had it suppressed.

In fact long before the Thatcher administration the membership of the Conservative Party and various Fascist organisations had overlapped. In the immediate period after the First World War Right-wing Tories had formed militantly anti-Socialist, anti-Semitic groups such as the British Fascisti. The first editor of the BNP after it was formed from the merger of the White Defence League and National Labour Party in 1960 was Andrew Fountaine. Fountaine was a Norfolk landowner, who had fought for the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Fountaine had been adopted by the Tories in 1949 as their candidate for Chorley. He was later thrown out of the party after he made a speech at the Conservative Party Conference criticising it for allowing Jews to gain important public offices. he then stood as an Independent Conservative in the 1950 election, only losing it by 341 votes. In 1958 he formed his own National Front, which was dissolved at the foundation of the BNP. In the 1970s and 1980s the National Front had a deliberate policy of trying to recruit members of the Conservative party, as well as alienated Whites in inner city areas. David Irving’s Focus Policy Group had made repeated attempts to purchase the mailing list of Conservative activists.

Other links between the Conservatives and the Far Right was through the various anti-immigration groups, such as the Race Preservation Society. These brought together Fascist organisations such as the BNP and Northern League as well as members of the Tory party. They were backed by wealthy private individuals, which allowed them to publish a series of magazines and pamphlets. These included Sussex News, Midland News, the British Independent, New Nation and RPS News. It has been said, however, that the RPS was not a Fascist organisation, but a federation of racial populist, anti-immigrant groups. WISE, whose initials stood for Welsh, Irish, Scots, English, was another racist, anti-immigrant group also maintained contact with the both the Conservative Party and the Fascist fringe. In the 1970s following the immigration to Britain of Asian refugees from Idi Amin’s Uganda, a number of former Conservatives joined the NF, such as John Kingsley Read and Roy Painter. These embarked on a struggle for power within the NF, which culminated in Read replacing Tyndall as chairman in 1975. The Monday Club was another society in which the Conservatives mixed with members of the NF. At an anti-immigration rally in September 1972 held by the Monday Club, the NF provided the stewards and 400 members of the audience. After George Kennedy Young was defeated in his bid to become chairman, the NF was gradually excluded from the Club. The Club ultimately presented their books for examination by Lesley Wooler, of the Jewish 62 group, to make sure there were no more anti-Semites within it. Despite this, the Monday Club still retained a reputation for racism, especially after various anti-immigration rants by Norman Tebbit, one of the Club’s members and member of Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet. So embarrassing is the Club’s reputation that about a decade ago David Cameron officially announced that he was severing the link between the Tory party and the Club.

The Tory party has nevertheless had links and shared members with the extreme Right over the years. This eventually became so embarrassing for Thatcher that she had the Beeb’s investigation into it pulled from the airwaves. This demonstrates the Tory party’s own willingness to use censorship and manipulate the news when th threatens their hold in power. In this respect, they may act precisely like the Fascist organisations from which they are so keen to distance themselves.

Meanwhile, here’s Spitting Image’s satirical suggestion of where Maggie that the idea for her policies.
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It’s on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2DnW5uC1_A.

Sources

Larry O’Hara, ‘Notes from the Underground: British Fascism 1974-92 – Part 1, 1974-83, in Lobster 23: 15-20 (June 1992).

Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918-1985 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1987).