Posts Tagged ‘Requisitioning’

Secret Society Part 2: Description of Episodes

January 16, 2015

In the first part of this post I talked about Duncan Campbell’s 1987 series, Secret Society, which sought to uncover the some of the secrets of the British state. These included programmes on the existence of secret cabinet committees; Margaret Thatcher’s surveillance, harassment and campaign to discredit CND; the establishment of increasing numbers of computer databases holding personal information, and the sale of this information by local government to private companies; the secret treaty with the Americans providing for the creation of a highly authoritarian British state effectively under American military control in the event of a nuclear war; the Association of Chief Police Officers, and its secretive and highly authoritarian structure and dealings with the authorities; the purchase of faulty radar equipment by the British state from private companies; and the Zircon affair, when Campbell’s documentary revealed the existence of a British spy satellite. Below is a fuller description of the contents of the individual episodes I was able to find on the web, and links to them on Youtube.

Part 1: Secret Cabinet Committees, covered the various committees, that were so secret that not even cabinet ministers knew of their existence, nor which of their colleagues sat on them. It also described how Clement Freud attempted to pass a secret government act, which aimed at making government far more open. This was effectively torpedoed and emasculated by Jim Callaghan’s government.

After the fall of Jim Callaghan’s administration following the Winter of Discontent, Thatcher’s government was determined to continue the culture of secrecy. She set up a series of secret government committee to destroy CND. Her tactics included doctoring the findings of a report into the results of a possible Soviet nuclear attack on Britain. As the predictions of the number of cities destroyed was far too high to be acceptable to the British public, Maggie and her ministers and advisers altered them. In their approved version, the Soviet missiles missed many major cities, to destroy empty land in the countryside, like Snowdonia. Eventually the report was scrapped, as the successive political alterations to it made it so unrealistic as to be useless.

Thatcher also set up two societies to tackle CND directly. These consisted of the Campaign for Peace for Freedom, a more or less respectable, open organisation, and the Coalition for Peace through Security. This was a far more sinister organisation, bankrolled by the Conservative America group, the Heritage Foundation. This group specialised in disrupting CND marches and protests. an Anti-CND think tank was established, and members of CND spied on by Michael Heseltine. At the same time, the line between government and political party became blurred. Government civil servants were drawn in to plan Thatcher’s campaign for re-election, against previous protocols that kept the two apart. One example of the way the line between the state and political party was crossed by Thatcher was the involvement of her press manager, Bernard Ingham, in the Westland affair.

Episode 2: We’re All Data Now, described the way confidential information kept by public officials, such as local councils, were now sold to private industry. It covered the emergence of the private databanks, that were responsible for the unsolicited mail now coming everyday through the mailbox. The documentary found that every council, except for Greenwich, had sold the voters’ roll, the list of people on the electoral roll and their address, to private industry. At the time, there were only two of these private databases, CCN and UAPT. These also collected information from other sources, and were involved in debt collection. The documentary expressed concern about the collection and storage of information on people from their birth onwards on computer, and the release of sensitive personal information held by the NHS to other official organisations. It specifically criticised the NHS Central Index as a threat to privacy and freedom.

The Home Office was also busy compiling its own databases. These included one on cars, and a Suspect Index, for use by passport officials identifying politically dangerous or suspect people entering Britain. There were about 10,000 people on it, including the actress and political firebrand Vanessa Redgrave, and the radical politician and civil rights agitator Tariq Ali.

There was pressure on the government to pass legislation guarding against the collection of personal information by the government. This resulted in the Protection of Information Act. Although the government tried to pass this off as its own initiative, it was really due to pressure from the Council of Europe. Britain was threatened with a serious loss of trade with the continent unless we passed legislation protecting us from government spying. The Act was still unsatisfactory in a number of ways. One of the speakers in the documentary states that it basically said that so long as an official department notified the authorities of what they were doing, they could do it. The Inland Revenue, for example, gave personal information to other government departments, including the police. There were also provisions that allowed some official organisation to acquire information illegally, without leaving an official record that they had consulted individual personal records.

Episode 3: In Time of Crisis, covered the secret official obligations to America and its armed forces over here, which would come into effect in the horrific event of a nuclear war. They were based on those drawn up during the Second World War, but went far beyond them. They were drawn up by Peter Harvey and remained highly confidential. The government denied they existed, and they were even secret from parliament. It’s no wonder, as they effectively provided for the military occupation of Britain by the US and the creation of a highly authoritarian government.

If the unthinkable had occurred, the treaty provided for the selective arrest of dissidents and protestors, including the mass internment of pacifists and political opponents. The government would also pass a series of measures to control transport and movement by the public. These were aimed at controlling panicking crowds as well as political dissidents. Refugees were to be kept off the roads, which would be reserved for the armed forces. Whole areas around military bases, some stretching for miles, would be placed under military control. Officially, the British police would retain their primacy in the relationship between British and American forces. In reality, American forces would be used to suppress British dissidents. Civilian government would also leave the ruins of London, to direct events from a secret national centre. The programme gave the estimated numbers of American troops that would enter Britain to fight the war. In its first stage, there would be about 75,000 American troops stationed here. This would rise to 3-400,000. Amongst other resources, holiday ferries would be commandeered to ferry American troops to and from mainland Europe.

The treaty also provided for the requisitioning of important supplies and the imposition of conscript labour. All oil would become national property, including that in private cars, and reserved for official use. Hospitals would also be obliged to treat combat troops, who would take priority over civilians. The treaty was signed in 1973 under Ted Heath. Kenneth Clarke even took steps to identify those with the necessary skills required in wartime, who would be drafted into working and labouring for the government.

Finally, the treaty allowed the establishment of secret courts, and the operation of government without any democratic controls or safeguards.

Britain was not the only country by far that negotiated a treaty like this. A similar agreement was concluded between the Americans and Germany, and by 13 other nations. Unlike Britain, Germany’s treaty with the US was a matter of public record and not a state secret. In fact, Britain out of fifteen nations was unique in keeping the treaty secret.

Episode 4: The Association of Chief Police Officers – ACPO.
ACPO was the highly secretive and very undemocratic organisation for very senior rozzers. One of those speaking on the documentary included its deputy head, the controversial head of Manchester police, James Anderton. ACPO’s governing committee, the Central Conference had links to other organisations, where it kept in contact with civil servants. The Conference’s meetings were extremely secret, even from the Association’s rank and file. The president of the Association was selected by its Policy Committee, and not elected by its members.

The Association was responsible for some of the brutal tactics meted out to the strikers during the Miners’ Strike, particularly at the Battle of Orgreave. The Association produced a manual on riot control, whose tactics were in contravention of home office rules. One example of this was the use of truncheons, which went far beyond what the official guidelines considered acceptable. The Association also set up a National Responding Centre during the Miners’ Strike, which threatened to become the core a national police force, a further contravention of official policy. The NRC was official dismantled, but was then set up again in the guise of Mutual Aid. This raised the spectre of the emergence of a militarised police force, like those in many continental nations. Anderton maintained, however, that the Association did not want the creation of a single national police force, and that the NRC was its alternative to it. The Association was nevertheless politically active, directly lobbying parliament on issues such as the Public Order Bill.

ACPO also developed guidelines for intelligence gathering, under which the constabulary were to collect information, even on members of the public. Police officers were supposed to cultivate informants and sources of information on every street. Reports were compiled not only on criminals, but on ordinary people in the street going about their business. Sixty per cent of those spied on were ordinary people with no criminal convictions. Sometimes people were reported for the most trivial reasons, showing the Conservative political beliefs of the compilers. For example, there was a report on a teenage girl, simply for being pregnant and ‘having shocking pink hair’.

The Association’s authoritarian structure and secrecy was not popular with other parts of the police force. The police authorities, for example, were critical of the domineering power of the Chief Constable.

Part 5: Zircon.

Zircon was the highly secret, multi-million pound British spy satellite. It was so secret that this part of the documentary brought the BBC and its reporter, Duncan Campbell, into direct conflict with the government. Campbell was only able to get official acknowledgement of its existence by catching out the government’s scientific adviser.
Campbell pretended to want to talk about another issue entirely. He then sprang the question on the adviser without warning, who responded with the barely audible gasp of ‘I can’t talk about that’. As a result, the Special Branch raided the headquarters of BBC Scotland, who made the series, and the premises were secured for two years under the Official Secrets Act. Opposition MPs raised questions in the House about the raid, while Malcolm Rifkind denied the government was responsible. Thatcher nevertheless sacked the Beeb’s Director General, Alisdair Milne, because of the incident.

Here are the show’s episodes:

Episode 1: Secret Cabinet Committees
Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2wGQfqQBMM

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2hySVTwV7s

Episode 2: We’re All Data Now

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDS3VtzC-yk

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuIasa6CmnY

Episode 3: In Time of Crisis

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIEnrFtoZ-c

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPniRV2IVSk

Episode 4: ACPO

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fM975q7ErfU

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVpAoFpPQog

Here’s the BBC report on the Special Branch raid on BBC Scotland after the Zircon programme.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRuH7WPmD90

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