Posts Tagged ‘Spy Satellites’

Secret Society: 1980s Documentary on British Culture of Political Secrecy

January 16, 2015

The government’s response to the terrible events in France last week, when gunmen murdered 12 people, including the staff of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and then held people hostage in a Jewish supermarket, has been to pass further legislation attacking basic civil rights. This legislation not only gives the security services further powers to monitor telephone and internet communications, it also provides for suspected returning terrorists to be denied entry to Britain. Terrorists and those convicted of ‘terrorist-related activity’ may also be subject to a form of ‘internal exile’, under which they can be removed from their homes and placed anywhere up to 200 miles away from their family and friends.

Dangers of the Government’s Anti-Terror Laws

There are provisions within the new legislation to regulate and protect the public, such as the creation of a human rights committee to oversee the law’s application and prevent abuse. Critics of the laws have pointed out that it is unclear how the proposed committee would operate, and who would sit on it.

This should be a cause for serious concerns, considering the way the government has already tried to cut down on our basic democratic freedoms, all under the pretext of protecting us from terrorism. The Tories and their Lib Dem lackeys have tried to pass legislation creating secret courts. These would try cases relating to national security in secrecy, excluding the press and the public. The accused and their lawyers would denied access to sensitive evidence, and would not know who their accusers are. This is a Kafkaesque travesty of justice, of the type the great Czech writer described in his novels The Castle and The Trial. It is an attack on the basic foundation of British justice since Magna Carta, that you may know who your accuser is, and the crime for which you have been charged. It is telling on this point that Cameron, when asked what Magna Carta was when he appeared on American television, didn’t know.

Official Secrecy, Workfare and ATOS

And then there is the culture of official secrecy, which still continues despite the Blair government’s publication of the Freedom of Information Act after the American model. The government has passed further legislation to weaken it. It has refused to publish the precise figures of the numbers of people dying after they were found fit for work by ATOS after requests by bloggers and disability rights campaigners, including Mike over at Vox Political. Johnny Void and others have described how the government has also refused to release the names of the firms signed up to the workfare scheme. The government’s excuse for this is the frank confession that the measure is so unpopular that if they do, the firms using unpaid workers under the scheme would be placed under such stress that they would be forced to withdraw and the scheme collapse.

Highly Placed Paedophiles and Murderers

The most sinister, odious and pernicious aspect of this culture of official secrecy has been the protection it has given to highly placed paedophiles, such as the Lib Dem politician, Cyril Smith. A dossier of 22 paedophile politicos has now been passed on to the police. Horrifically, three people may have been murdered by a paedophile ring of politicians using the Elm Tree guest house in the 1980s. A male prostitute, who went to these orgies claimed that the ring had been responsible for murders of two boys, one White and one Asian. A worker for Lambeth Council, Bulic, was also found dead a week after stating that he felt his life was in danger due to his knowledge of the ring and its activities. Leon Brittain, Thatcher’s secretary of state, was handed a dossier on such highly placed child molesters by Geoffrey Dickinson in the 1980s. Brittain claims that he passed them on to MI5, who misplaced them.

The obsession with official secrecy, in which successive governments have withheld information from the public, is responsible for serious miscarriages of justice and threatens to undermine basic political and civil freedoms. It has also allowed the vicious, sadistic and exploitative abusers of the young and helpless, such as Thatcher’s friend, the monstrous Jimmy Savile, to escape justice.

Duncan Campbell’s Documentary, Secret Society

Government secrecy was also a major issue of national importance and interest in the 1980s. One of the small, single issue parties that appeared in the 1987 general election was the ‘Deep Throat’ party. This was a group of five men, who refused to make any statements, and refused to show their faces as a protest against ‘excessive government secrecy’. More seriously, that same year the BBC broadcast the documentary Secret Society by Duncan Campbell. In the words of the blurb put up for it on Youtube on Edgar Lobb’s channel, this covered

‘secret groups, committees and societies that operate silently within British government. The first episode about secret cabinet committees features author Peter Hennessy, Clive Ponting and MP Clement Freud amongst others. In this freedom of information tour de force Campbell exposes the secret decision to buy U.S. Trident nuclear submarines as well as laying bare the cabinet level dirty tricks campaign against CND and its general secretary Bruce Kent. Margaret Thatcher, James Callaghan, the British Atlantic Committee, The ultra-right Coalition for Peace Through Security and the cabinet secretary come in for sharp criticism for keeping key decisions secret from MP’s. The series consists of the following 6 programmes: 1. The Secret Constitution: Secret Cabinet Committees; 2. We’re All Data Now: Secret Data Banks; 3. In Time Of Crisis: Government Emergency Powers; 4. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO): making up their own law and policy; 5. A Gap In Our Defences – about bungling defence manufacturers and incompetent military planners who have botched every new radar system that Britain has installed since World War II; 6. Zircon – about GCHQ with particular reference to a secret 500 million satellite. Missing are last two (5 and 6) programmes. His support for this series was one of the key reasons BBC Director General, Alasdair Milne (who was replaced by Michael Checkland, an accountant) was sacked. This Journalistic Coup d’Etat was conducted by Lord Victor Rothschild, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Marmaduke Hussey in 1986. The BBC’s independence has been under sustained assault ever since. Secret Society was suppressed from high above since it was simply too controversial as it openly exposed various secret groups operating invisibly inside British government. They made damn sure no one would ever discover them but they were very wrong. Find out who they are and what are they doing without your knowledge.’

The Situation Today

Maggie’s Politicisation of the State

It’s a very interesting series, and still deeply relevant today. It shows how deeply ingrained the culture of secrecy is in Westminster. Conservative hacks on the Spectator, Daily Mail and elsewhere, like Quentin Letts, lined up to criticise Blair’s administration for politicising the civil service with the immense numbers of SPADs – special advisors – they took in to supplement and replace that of the civil servants, whose job this traditionally was. Yet this programme shows that it really began with Thatcher and her campaign against CND. It also shows how the Maggie’s government was prepared to lie and spread what was basically propaganda in order to support a pro-nuclear stance, as well as spy on and disrupt CND members, meetings and protests, quite apart from the use of government resources and civil servants for her own political campaign.

Official Sale of Personal Data

The episode ‘We’re All Data Now’ also remains relevant. It shows how official bodies were intent on spying on us, and governmental bodies were keen to sell our personal information to private companies right at the beginning of that trend. It’s grown immensely in the nearly thirty years since that programme was first broadcast, and is now, more than ever, a danger to our privacy and personal freedom. Especially as the Coalition believes it has a right to sell our personal medical history to private health companies. All in the interest of promoting greater efficiency and competition, of course.

It’s important here also to note that the weak legislation that was put in place to protect our personal details from government acquisition did not come from British politicians, but was forced on them by the Council of Europe. The Conservatives and Farage’s UKIP would like to scrap the current human rights legislation, because it has, they feel, been imposed on us by the European Community. It hasn’t. As Mike and others have shown, it comes from the Council of Europe. This episode, nevertheless, shows what we can expect if the Tories and UKIP go ahead with their plans. The present protection for personal information was only grudgingly conceded after pressure from the Europeans. With that removed, we can expect the wholesale scrapping of the current human rights legislation, and the further development of an authoritarian surveillance society, which regards its citizens’ personal details as just another product to be acquired and sold.

Nuclear War and the Britain of V for Vendetta

As for the discussion of the secret preparations for the establishment of American military authority in Britain, and the more or less complete dismantlement of democracy and its replacement with a military dictatorship, this is very much the kind of Britain that Alan Moore and John Lloyd portrayed in V for Vendetta. In the original Warrior comic strip, the Fascist British state had arisen after a nuclear war between the West and the Warsaw pact over the Solidarity crisis in Poland. It was a projection of the worst elements of the Thatcher administration, and followed from a general concern in British comics at the time with the renewed anti-immigrant campaigns of the National Front and the Monday Club within the Tory party. The Britain portrayed in V for Vendetta was not under American control. However, the provisions in the secret treaty with America providing for the establishment of secret courts, the mass conscription of labour, the imprisonment and internment of pacifists and political dissidents, and the creation of a dictatorship are very much like that of the dystopian Britain in the strip.

Anderton, ACPO and the Underground Press

As for ACPO, James Anderton was notorious at the time as the right-wing policeman, with a bitter hatred of homosexuals and other social deviants and misfits. A biography of him that appeared a few years ago bore the title, God’s Cop, after his statement that he believed he was doing ‘God’s work’. Manchester’s Picadilly Press, which published, among other literature, the highly transgressive Lord Horror, which cast Hitler, the Nazis and Lord Haw Haw in the style of characters from the fiction of William S. Burroughs, were raided regularly by Anderton. They took their revenge by sending him up in their comics and fiction.

Duncan Campbell remains very much active today, campaigning against the growing encroachment on our civil liberties of state surveillance. There are a number of videos of him speaking on this topic on Youtube, and he also has his own site on the web.

See Part 2 of this article for a description of the contents of individual episodes.

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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