British journalists worked for MI6 during the Cold War: investigation

Numerous notable journalists working for some of Britain’s most prestigious publications routinely collaborated with British intelligence during the Cold War, according to a BBC investigation. In 1968, Soviet newspaper Izvestia published the contents of an alleged British government memorandum entitled “Liaison Between the BBC and SIS”. SIS, which stands for Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6, is Britain’s foremost external intelligence agency. The paper, which was the official organ of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, claimed that the foreign correspondents of most leading British newspapers secretly collaborated with the British intelligence community. It also alleged that the BBC’s world radio service had agreed with MI6 to broadcast preselected sentences or songs at prearranged times. These signals were used by British intelligence officers to demonstrate to foreign recruits in the Eastern Bloc that they were operating on behalf of the UK. At the time, the BBC virulently rejected the Izvestia’s claims, calling them “black propaganda” aimed at distracting world opinion from the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops, which had taken place some months earlier. But an investigation aired this week by the BBC Radio 4’s investigative Document program suggests that the memo published by the Soviet newspaper was probably genuine. The program says it discovered a memorandum in the BBC’s archives, which laments the embarrassment caused to MI6 by the Soviet claims. The memorandum, dated April 24, 1969, describes MI6 as “our friends”. The BBC program, which is available to listen to here, discusses the Soviets’ claims that several notable British journalists were MI6 agents. They include Edward Crankshaw and David Astor of The Observer, Lord Hartwell and Roy Pawley of The Daily Telegraph, Lord Arran of The Daily Mail, Henry Brandon of The Sunday Times, and even Mark Arnold-Foster of the left-leaning Guardian newspaper. Leading veteran security and intelligence correspondent Phillip Knightley told Document that he would not be surprised if Izvestia’s claims turned out to be true. Another expert, Stephen Dorril, who has authored extensively on the history of MI6, told the program that he believed the memorandum was probably given to the Soviets by George Blake, an MI6 officer who spied for the USSR. Blake was later convicted to 42 years in prison, but managed to escape to Moscow in 1966, where he still lives today.

15 Responses to British journalists worked for MI6 during the Cold War: investigation

  1. Paul says:

    Britain isn’t the only country to use the cover of a Journalist to spy. In the Middle East the arrest of a journo for spying is a very common thing, the Arabic word ‘Jsassus’ meaning to spy.
    I believe the great Frank Gardner was [wrongly] arrested for spying in the Gulf only to be released and sent on his way

    Spying is forbidden in the Muslim society which is why coverage of such terror groups is difficult.

    Trying to take a radio transmitter through customs in a variety of Arab states is a sure way to detention and an unplanned meeting with a representative of your nation’s Ambassador who will be able to do little for you.

    If you have a Press card in your pocket at the time you’ll be deeply in the mire!

  2. Peter Wallerberger says:

    You may be interested to read an article in RIANOVOSTI dated 11/11/2012 – Paul, regarding former KGB Colonel George Blake who had just turned 90 years old !!

  3. Paul says:

    Thanks Peter; I’ll certainly do that.

  4. AlbertE. says:

    Kim Philby used the guise of a journalist to spy for the Soviets during the Spahish Civil War and then in the aftermath of his firing from MI6. Those various KGB and GRU case officers often described themselves as correspondents for TASS, Izvestia, etc. And investigative journalist quite often functions in the same manner as a case officer, cultivating inside sources, etc. Walter Cronkite wanted the CIA to name the names of those journalists that had worked for the CIA but it was no soap.

  5. AlbertE. says:

    Espionage is foridden in an Islamic society except for the various internal security agencies that spy on their own people using the various methods of the authoritarian or totalitarian regimes of Iraq, Syria, Egypt, etc. There is a widespread “diaspora” of Arab nationals all over the world possible sources for external espionage too I might well imagine.

  6. Paul says:

    Excellent piece Peter; thanks for the pointer.

  7. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Albert E > In particular – the post WWII history of how the Intelligence Agencies of Syria, Egypt
    and Argentina (to mention just a few) were “re- configured” , re-built and controlled is most interesting. None of those involved at such a level were in anyway Islamic, nor were they bound by Islamic Laws – quite the contrary – but they did speak Fluent German and their skills did much to sculpture the structures and operations of those countries Intelligence aparatus especially in areas such as propaganda, internment and torture – something they were particulary well versed in.

    (Sorry to digress from the original subject matter!!)

  8. Paul says:

    I’d agree with that view Peter especially as those who would obey the tenets within the Qu’ran without question would certainly by fundamentalists. The Arabian states are not fundamentalist and like the west have a need to ensure that a fundamentalist ideology is not set up within thier borders; hence their security apparatus.

    Apart from radio transmitters being taken into Arab states some also ban the use of Skype; quite simply because of the difficulty in processing it into the spoken word.

  9. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Skype – forgive my ignorance Paul – but wasn’t that what the gifted Mathematical genius – Gareth Williams was so close too solving ? ( before his sudden and untimely murder )

    Is Skype used like in Steganography ?? (So complicated it makes your Radiograma look positively easy in comparison !!)

  10. Paul says:

    Hello Peter, I can’t comment on what Gareth Williams was working on as I don’t know. I do know that VoIP protocols [Skype is just a commercial name] are dashed difficult to intercept due to the way their data is sent and of course whatever encryption is applied to it. Steganography is another entity and nothing like VoIP.

  11. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Thanks for clarifying that Paul – I thought it was VoIP.

    Note: I think I actually meant ‘digital steganography'(both image & text or combination thereof)_

    Keep up the good work with monitoring Numbers Stations – it is still an important sphere of operations –
    both tried and proven.

  12. This collaboration carried on beyond the end of the “cold war”. David Rose admitted to being an MI6 agent:

  13. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Thankyou Michael – that X reference is excellent.Probably one of the most forthright and meaningful literatery works that I have ever read on the subject in question.

    The comment regarding M.I 5 & it’s need to justify the huge cost of constructing it’s new
    Headquarters and it’s rapidly increasing operational costs is most interesting,Particulary
    when the timeline mentioned is overlaid on your own unfortunate experience.
    It’s certainly odd what Government Departments will do in order to ‘justify their existance’
    not to mention guard their budget allocations against austerity measures.

  14. As you probably know, David Rose played an important role in exposing the story about the Mitrokhin Archive. Now we know his relationship with MI6 it is not difficult to understand why Rose was chosen for that job.

    I wrote to David Rose in 2001, seeking his help over the Mitrokhin material allegedly referring to me. Rose’s response was designed to put me off making any attempt to question the Mitrokhin material, and that must have been what his handler told him to say.

    At no point in the legal process was I made aware that there was anything relating to me from a man named Mitrokhin. It was Viktor Oshchenko that we were told was the man making claims that I had been involved with Russian intelligence. I published this some years ago:

  15. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Mr Rose was probably correct in trying to warn you off . Digging into the Mitrokhin files may well merely re-activate the Billiards game and for all you know someone might be just waiting in the wings to play another “nurse shot”. Perhaps such a move will be detrimental for you personally –
    maybe that’s what the Journalist was trying to convey to you .
    You can’t win this Michael – “Governments do as Governments do” , neither you nor I will ever
    be able to change that – lest not in the area you were unfortunate enough to be tangled up in.

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