In a recent article by journalist Nafeez Ahmed on right-wing and far-right entryism into the counter-terrorism think-tank sub-culture, one reference immediately stood out. This reference was to the Institute for the Study of Conflict, a think tank that was very influential within the counter-terrorism community in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. During that period the ISC was closely linked to the MI5 divisional head responsible for organising the surveillance of the radical left – including barristers and Labour politicians who went on to become Government ministers (and a politician – Mr Corbyn – who may well become prime minister). The ISC was also responsible for several dirty tricks campaigns, including the publication of a magazine that specialised in smears against the left – a magazine, incidentally that was funded by a certain media mogul, who is still very much influential today, in our daily and world affairs. See below for more…
(Note: the above video on the plot to overthrow Harold Wilson features Brian Crozier – see below.)
According to the article by Nafeez Ahmed, the ISC was “created jointly by the British and American intelligence services, specifically the CIA and the Foreign Office. The ISC’s point-man in the British intelligence establishment was Sir Peter Wilkinson, a former officer with the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War (an agency that was later subsumed into MI6), who was later appointed Coordinator of Intelligence and Security in the British Cabinet Office and Cabinet Office intelligence chief.”
Earlier, in 1968, Brian Crozier set up the Current Affairs Research Services Centre, and two years later wrote to Wilkinson to ask for his help in transforming the research unit into a fully-fledged Institute for the Study of Conflict (Wilkinson was to eventually become a member of ISC’s Council of Management and also edited an issue of ISC’s journal, ‘Conflict Studies’).
Crozier was regarded as an ‘expert’ on terrorism; another so-called ‘expert’ and member of the ISC was Richard Clutterbuck. Crozier provided advice to MI5, the Foreign Office and to the CIA. Notoriously, Crozier was identified as one of the cabal who promoted the idea of a mutiny by the British military of the Government (then under Harold Wilson).
Interestingly, among a tranche of documents leaked from the ISC to Time Out magazine in 1975 was a memo from John Whitehorn urging member companies of the CBI to increase their funding to five organisations working against “subversion” in British industry. ISC was one of the five organisations. Others included were the Economic League, Common Cause, Aims of Industry and Industrial Research and Information Services – all far-right organisations committed to countering trade unions.
Let’s explore more…
B. The MI5 connection
In the 1970s and 1980s undercover policing and infiltration of left-wing groups was largely organised by MI5 in co-operation with Special Branch. Charles Elwell was the head of MI5’s ‘F Division’, which specialised in domestic subversion, until 1979. Elwell also happened to be a senior figure within the Institute for the Study of Conflict. ‘F2’ Division was the section of MI5 that was later shown to be responsible for the surveillance of ‘left wing’ radicals, some of whom went on to become Labour MPs and Ministers in Government.
According to ex-F2 staffer (then whistleblower) Annie Machon, F Branch regarded the following well-known individuals worth monitoring:
“John Lennon, Jack Straw MP, Ted Heath MP, Tam Dalyell MP, Gareth Peirce (solicitor), Jeremy Corbyn MP, Mike Mansfield (barrister), Geoffrey Robertson (barrister), Patricia Hewitt MP, Harriet Harman MP, Garry Bushell (journalist), Peter Mandelson (European commissioner), Peter Hain MP, Clare Short MP, Mark Thomas (comedian), Mo Mowlam (politician), Arthur Scargill (NUM leader, who famously had his own recording category: unaffiliated subversive), Neil Kinnock (politician), Bruce Kent (peace campaigner), Joan Ruddock MP, Owen Oyston (businessman), Cherie Booth aka Blair, Tony Blair MP, David Steel (politician), Teddy Taylor MP, Ronnie Scott (jazz musician), Robin Cook MP, John Prescott MP, Mark Steel (comedian), Jack Cunningham MP, Mohammed Al Fayed (businessman), Mick McGahey (former union leader), Ken Gill (former union leader), Michael Foot (politician), Jack Jones (former union leader), Ray Buxton (former union leader), Hugh Scanlon (former union leader), Harold Wilson (politician), James Callaghan (politician), Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian journalist)…. I also came across a file called: ‘Subversion in contemporary music’, which consisted of press clippings about Crass, then a well-known, self-styled ‘anarchist’ band; the Sex Pistols; and, rather surprisingly, UB40.”
Annie Machon confirms Elwell’s role in ISC smear campaigns:
She explains: “The ‘subversion’ of cabinet ministers Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt was to have been leading members of the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL — now Liberty), the very organisation designed to protect us from such unwarranted abuses of our liberties. At one point David [Shayler, her MI5 colleague who was responsible for monitoring the left, including anarchists] came across a series of minutes on a file dating from the early 1980s. They were written by Charles Elwell, a publicly named and notoriously paranoid former head of F2 ,who saw a red under every bed, and who had successfully argued that members of the executive of the NCCL were recordable as ‘suspected sympathiser: Communist’, simply for being members of the executive. He based this assumption on the fact that, as one or two leading members of the NCCL had Communist sympathies, the organisation was therefore by definition a Communist front organisation.”
Elwell undoubtedly would have passed on information from F2 research to the ISC and from there to ‘Background Briefing’ (see below).
Machon also comments: “It [F2] justified its work against legitimate non-subversive organisations such as trade unions, CND, the NCCL and the Greenham Common women by saying that it was not investigating these organisations or their members per se but was investigating subversive penetration of these groups….MI5 could investigate an individual — that means tap their phones, follow their movements, break into their houses, place a bug in their homes — simply for being a member of the Executive of the NCCL, without having to establish any other connections to communism….”
[Currently, the Cameron Government claims that MPs will not be monitored under the Investogatory Powers Bill, if it becomes law. However, Ms. Machon reminds us that… “[NCCL heads] Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt learnt of the infringement of their rights when former MI5 officer Cathy Massiter blew the whistle on the [Intelligence] services in 1984. As a result, they took their case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and won because MI5 was not a legally constituted and democratically accountable organisation, the minimum standard in a democracy. It was only as a result of this ruling that Parliament finally put MI5 on a legal footing for the first time and made it accountable to ministers in the 1989 Security Service Act.”]
According to Guardian journalist Richard Norton-Taylor, Elwell also targeted Harman’s husband, Jack Dromey. “He opened a file on him during the late 1970s after the Grunwick dispute, in which Dromey, now Labour party treasurer, played a leading part. Other trade union leaders on whom Elwell and his MI5 team kept files included Jack Jones, the transport workers’ leader, and Hugh (later Lord) Scanlon, president of the engineers’ union, the AUEW. “Fact sheets” on the two trade union leaders were regularly distributed to 10 Downing Street and selected ministers. In 1977, Scanlon was prevented from becoming chairman of British Shipbuilding because MI5 advised that he should not see documents marked confidential or above.”
C. The spycops connection
Elwell’s ‘F2’ branch also undertook the sort of undercover work later associated with what are now dubbed ‘Spycops’. Anarchist groups were one target – these included the Direct Action Movement (later renamed Solidarity Federation) and Class War. Liaising with the undercover cop who was tasked with infiltrating Class War was the responsibility of David Shayler.
According to Machon: “Some years before David had joined F2, a Metropolitan Police Special Duties Section (SDS) agent, codenamed M2589, had penetrated Class War. Unlike the vast majority of agents recruited by MI5, he was not a member of an organisation who had been ‘turned’ by the service. He was a full-time policeman from Special Branch under deep cover. For six days a week, he lived, ate and breathed the life of a class warrior before returning to his normal life with friends and family for a day. Whether Class War merited this kind of resource intensive coverage is open to debate. I quote David: “When I met M2589 in February 1992, at a safe house in London, it was quite obvious that this peculiar arrangement had affected the agent psychologically. After around four years of pretending to be an anarchist, he had clearly become one. To use the service jargon, he had gone native. He drank about six cans of Special Brew during the debrief, and regaled us with stories about beating up uniformed officers as part of his ‘cover’. Partly as a result, he was ‘terminated’ after the 1992 General Election. Without his organisational skills, Class War fell apart.”
There was also a link between the ISC and undercover policing: John Alderson, the director of the Bramshill Police College in 1972, asked ISC’s Peter Janke to help the college develop a course on terrorism and counter-subversion. This was signs of things to come re. think-tanks…
D. The media mogul & the smear campaigns
One of ISCs projects was ‘Background Briefing on Subversion’, a bulletin that was circulated privately to those on the right, including Tory MPs. ‘BB’ (as it became known) specialised in smears against well known charities, such as Oxfam and Shelter and NGOs such as the National Council for Civil Liberties. One of the publication’s early researchers was Paul Staines (aka blogger Guido Fawkes) who worked for the Committee for a Free Britain (which involved David Hart, Rupert Murdoch and Sir James Goldsmith), the Adam Smith Institute and the Libertarian Alliance. Other contributors included Crozier, who was also closely linked to the CIA.
Charles Elwell, after his retirement from MI5 in 1979, was appointed editor of ‘British Briefing’ (the successor to ‘Background Briefing’). Richard Norton-Taylor explains that BB “consisted of ill-founded claims about Labour and trade union activists, pressure groups, charities and writers. Among those it accused of helping the communist cause were Chris Mullin, Labour MP for Sunderland South. British Briefing’s targets included the housing charity Shelter, Lord Gifford QC, the leftwing barrister, and the playwright Howard Brenton.”
But what was possibly most revealing was the person who part funded ‘Background Briefing’ – namely Rupert Murdoch. According to an Australian report, ‘In his autobiography, [Brian] Crozier acknowledged his financial backers, including “Rupert,” subsequently identified as Murdoch by one of Crozier’s associates. In December 1990, the Guardian reported that Crozier’s publishing business, Sherwood Press, was bailed out by News International, Murdoch’s British holding company. News took a half-stake in the business and assumed liability for its debts, then said to total £90,000.’
From the Daily Telegraph: ‘In spite of everything, [David] Hart worked his way back into favour, maintaining his political profile by founding the Campaign for a Free Britain and issuing newsletters propounding his anti-Soviet views. With some help from Rupert Murdoch, he secretly financed a newsletter, British Briefing, edited by Charles Elwell, a former MI5 officer in charge of “counter-subversion”.’
Note: An anarchist paper, called ‘Black Flag’ was believed to have been the first to expose Murdoch’s funding of BB (via basic research at Companies House). Poetic justice? In December 1990, The Observer subsequently ran two stories on the smear campaigns, including how as a result of these revelations Murdoch would not be receiving an honorary knighthood. (P.S. Thanks to Peter Jukes for locating and rerinting the two Observer articles.)
Needless to say, once his connection with ‘Background Briefing’ was exposed, Murdoch promptly distanced himself. Hart – who was an adviser to Margaret Thatcher and who set up a scab union to defeat the miners during the 1984 strike – then took over the funding of the paper, which was renamed the equally innocuous ‘British Briefing’.
E. On to the present…
In 1977 the ISC published a report co-written by Caroline Cox on how leftwing “radical minorities” were subverting “capitalist, free market civilisation.” Cox went on to become Baroness Cox and a former deputy speaker of the House of Lords and also a special representative for the Foreign Office Freedom of Religion Panel. In 1987 she co-founded the Committee for a Free Britain – also, incidentally, funded by Ruper Murdoch.
According to Nafeez Ahmed, “In his book, Conservative Party Education Policies, 1976-1997, historian David Callaghan documents how in the 1980s, Cox and [Dr. John] Marks operated a network of neocon ideologues known as the Hillgate Group, which coordinated various publications to influence government policy. Their focus was hyping up the threat of Marxist, left wing or “radical” infiltration of British academia. Another Hillgate Group member, philosopher Roger Scruton, told Callaghan that these policy reports were in fact “quietly encouraged by 10 Downing Street to concoct an outside pressure group to influence policy.” Cox and Marks also campaigned against peace groups, which they labelled as “subversive” organisations exploiting their charitable status to promote pro-Soviet propaganda. “Key institutions, particularly educational institutions” were being “infected” by “institutionalised leftism,” they opined, especially in the media, schools,and universities, undermining the “moral legitimacy of British society”.
For a time the ISC shared offices with first RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) and later the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies. In late 1989 the ISC merged with Paul Wilkinson’s Research Foundation for the Study of Terrorism to form the Research Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism (RISCT), which was disolved in 2001.
There is probably no exact equivalent to ISC today, though no doubt Dr Ahmed would nominate their ‘spiritual successors’ as the Henry Jackson Society or the Centre for Social Cohesion, or even the Quillam Foundation.
What is not in doubt is that the ‘counter-subversion’ industry connects all sections of the ruling establishment – the military, the political establishment, the police, the intelligence community and certain sections of the media. This industry is expert at manufacturing consent (to borrow a phrase from Noam Chomsky) – though only the kind of consent that the establishment approves of. Step out of line and…
P.S. To see more articles on spycops, MI5, etc, just click on the relevant tags in the Tag Cloud on the right.