Posts Tagged ‘Michael Smith’

Private Eye on Sunday Times’ Smear of Michael Foot as KGB Agent

October 3, 2018

The media this week has been full of the news about a book about the KGB defector, Oleg Gordievsky. Gordievsky was a high-ranking KGB officer, whose father was also a KGB officer, and who had been slated to be the next chief of the Soviet spy agency and secret police. When he defected, Gordievsky brought with him whole dossiers of KGB records, which were invaluable for ending the Cold War. However, Gordievsky himself was a self-admitted liar. And one of those lies was that the former leader of the Labour party, Michael Foot, was a KGB agent codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’.

This falsehood was published in 1995 by the Times, and was promptly answered by a libel action by Foot and a cover by Private Eye sending the whole thing up. Foot won the case, and the Eye also published an article taking apart the whole story and exposing the Times’ article for the libel it was.

Now with the publication of the new biography, the Sunday Times has decided to repeat the libel again. And Private Eye has responded again with another article effectively demolishing this sorry piece of gutter journalism. The piece was published in last fortnight’s Eye for the 21 September to 4 October 2018, and entitled ‘Shooting Yourself in the Foot’, and runs

<strong>”MI6 believed Michael Foot was paid Soviet informant,” a Times front-page headline announced last Saturday. “Truth about former Labour leader emerges 23 years after he sued Sunday Times for libel.” The editor of the Times, John Witherow, also published the Sunday Times story about the former Labour leader in 1995 – and is clearly still sore about the embarrassment and ridicule it earned him.

It’s not only the editor, it’s the same story-based entirely on a claim by former double agent Oleg Gordievsky that he once saw a KGB file marked “Agent Boot”, which apparently referred to Michael Foot. The only difference is that the previous version was taken from Gordievsky’s memoirs while the latest one comes from a new biography of the spy.

According to the Times, The book “presents the first corroboration by MI6 officers of the allegations made by the Soviet defector”. No it doesn’t, at least not in the normal meaning of corroboration, ie additional proof or confirmation. In 1995 the Sunday Times reported Gordievsky’s allegation that the KGB regarded Foot as an agent of influence; now the Times says some people in MI6 thought the Russians regarded him as an agent of influence. And why did they think that? Because, er, Gordievsky had told them so. In short, not a smidgin of supporting evidence has “emerged” since Witherow last ran the story.

At the time of the earlier farrago, the Sunday Times claimed that it was “based on interviews with Gordievsky and six other former KGB officers”. But it omitted to add that only Gordievsky believed in “Agent Boot”. Although the paper claimed that the London-based KGB colonel Mikhail Lyubimov had recruited Foot, Lyubimov himself promptly denied it.

So the allegations were not made by “the KGB”, as Witherow told his readers 23 years ago and again last Saturday. They came solely from a single ex-KGB man, Gordievsky – whose unreliability was officially confirmed in May 1995, just three months after the Sunday Times splash, by the then solicitor-general Sir Derek Spencer. Speaking on behalf of the government during an appeal by Michael Smith, who had been convicted of spying for the Russians, Spencer told the Lord Chief Justice that some boasts made by Gordievsky in his memoirs were “not correct”. He described one of Gordievsky’s claims, about identifying undercover KGB agents to his British controllers, as “another exaggeration”. As the judge observed: “He must have lied to everybody at one time or another.”

With just one witness to rely one, it’s no surprise that Witherow and the Sunday Times couldn’t defend a libel action against Foot. More surprising is that the editor is now repeating even the most egregious howlers from his previous debacle. According to the 1995 story, for instance, Foot regarded Moscow as “a beacon of world peace” until 1968, when the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia brought him “down to earth with a bump” and he ceased to be a fellow-traveler. Exactly the same narrative appeared in last Saturday’s Times. From the 1940s to the 1960s, it claimed, Foot was an “agent of influence” who could be “fed pro-Soviet ideas and reproduce them in articles and speeches” – but in 1968 he became “intensely critical of Moscow in the wake of the Prague Spring”. After that, his “enthusiasm for the Soviet Union appears to have waned”.

The claim that Foot was a pro-Soviet mouthpiece until 1968 is easily disproved. As long ago as 1946, a Labour MP wrote to Tribune complaining of the “jaundiced prejudice against Russia” in Foot’s articles. In 1948, soon after becoming Tribune’s editor, he published a leader attacking left-wingers who “are still gulled by the monstrous delusion that the Russians are the friends, not the enemies, of democratic socialism”. During the Soviet blockade of Berlin, he urged the West to “drive a land passage through the Russian zone against Russian resistance and if necessary by force of arms”.

When Ian Mikardo MP resigned from Tribune’s board of directors in protest at the editor’s anti-Soviet stance, Foot was unapologetic. “The Soviet leaders … believe as a matter of theory that the end of establishing Soviet Communism wherever they can justifies any means for its attainment,” he wrote. “They believe also as a matter of theory in secrecy, censorship, dictatorship and the ruthless annihilation of the rights of individuals.” And so it went on. When the Russian tanks crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956, Foot was quick to condemn this “hideous outrage”.

Odd behavior for a man who, the Times alleges, wa sbeing paid to publicise “pro-Soviet ideas”. Why didn’t they ask for their money back. (p. 10).

Foot was right: the Soviet Union and the Communists were always hostile to democratic socialism, though Stalin used the existence of democratic socialist parties and other left-wing organisations to provide a spurious democratic justification for his transformation of their countries into Soviet satellites after the end of the Second World War. Stalin would amalgamate the Communist parties of the various countries the USSR had liberated with the largest left-wing party. This was usually the mainstream, democratic socialist under the pretext of reuniting the two forms of Socialism. Before the First World War in Germany and Italy, for example, there was only one socialist party, which included not only democratic socialists – reformists – but also radical Marxist revolutionaries. After the First World War, the radical Marxists split away from the reformist majority parties to form their countries’ Communist parties. In countries where the socialism was weak, Stalin amalgamated the Communists with the largest and most popular left-wing party, such as the various Peasants’ Parties. The new, umbrella Socialist party would then make a statement adopting Marxism-Leninism – the Communism of the Soviet Union – their official ideology, and the democratic socialists would find themselves purged and either executed or sent to the Gulags.

In the West there were some mainstream socialists, who really did believe that Stalin represented Socialism, such as the Fabians. But Foot, to his immense credit, clearly wasn’t one of them.

However, Maggie Thatcher hated socialism, because it came from the same ideological roots as Communism, and the Tory press in the 1980s was very quick to smear any Labour politician or activist as a potential traitor or agent of Moscow. Foot came in for particular abuse because of his support for CND and unilateral nuclear disarmament. It was therefore inevitable that one of the Tory papers would eventually smear him as a KGB agent.

As it stands, the Sunday Times has form on libeling people. As well as smearing Foot, it also libeled Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Since that article came out, the Sunset Times has repeated the smear and tried to back it up, and the Eye has published yet another tearing it to shreds.

The satirical rag has done an excellent job attacking the lies and falsehoods against Foot. Too bad that it also seems to have swallowed the lies and falsehoods about Jeremy Corbyn.