MI6 archives reveal plans for WWII and Cold War black operations

Sir Stewart MenziesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Recently declassified British archives reveal a host of audacious plans for covert operations aimed at Nazi-occupied Europe during wartime and, after 1948, inside the Soviet Union. The plans, proposed by British intelligence officials, ranged from relatively innocuous psychological operations to assassinations of key political figures. The wartime plans were proposed in 1944 by Charles Peake, a British intelligence officer detailed to the headquarters of General Dwight Eisenhower. The iconic American military commander was in charge of plans for Operation OVERLORD, the allied troop landings on the beaches of Normandy in northern France. According to documents released last week by the United Kingdom National Archives, Peake’s proposal was entitled “Assassination Priorities for OVERLORD”. It contained an extensive list of senior German and French Axis officials that should be targeted for assassination in preparation for the D-Day landings. The hit list included “certain Germans in key positions in France”, notably Field Marshals Gerd von Rundstedt and Erwin Rommel. It also incorporated several senior members of France’s Nazi-controlled Vichy administration under Marshal Philippe Pétain. The proposal, however, was quickly shot down by no other than General Stewart Menzies, Director of the Secret Intelligence Service (known as MI6), who feared that intrusive covert actions by allied operatives would cause brutal reprisals against allied prisoners of war. Ironically, Menzies, known in government simply as “C”, drafted an ever more ambitious plan for black operations after the end of World War II, this time targeted at the Soviet Union. In 1948, “C” presented the British Foreign Office with “a comprehensive political warfare plan” to include the use “of both special operations and deception” designed to counter what London perceived at the time as “the growing Soviet threat”. The plan proposed a varied range of black operations including relatively “minor acts of sabotage and intimidation” aimed at causing “general nuisance” inside the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. Examples of such actions were circulating anti-communist propaganda posters, “throwing ridicule” at Soviet communist officials or government institutions, distributing forged Soviet currency, ration cards or travel passes, and —bizarrely— deploying “odour bombs” at meetings of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. But the list of proposed clandestine actions also included sabotage of Soviet transportation hubs and locomotive networks, “incendiarism”, and even sending “explosive parcels” to Soviet government apparatchiks, causing their “liquidation”. Menzies also suggested “framing [Soviet] diplomats and other officials by planted evidence”, and even “kidnapping […] high-ranking communist personalities […] in such a manner as to give the appearance of defection”. The memo concludes with a stern reminder that such “special operations of a violent or subversive nature” must in peacetime remain “unacknowledgeable” and must in no way implicate His Majesty’s Government. But the list was rejected almost immediately upon being presented by MI6 to the Foreign Office, on February 13, 1948. It seems that Foreign Office officials were doubtful that operational denial could be assured in case Soviet authorities uncovered the actions. But The Daily Telegraph, which accessed the declassified documents, reports that the Foreign Office did approve a proposal for the establishment of a curiously named Information Research Department, tasked with the “clandestine dissemination of oral and written propaganda” in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc.

9 Responses to MI6 archives reveal plans for WWII and Cold War black operations

  1. “It seems that Foreign Office officials were doubtful that operational denial could be assured in case Soviet authorities uncovered the actions”

    I expect what we are actually looking at is simply another step in the philosophy known in shorthand as “CYA” .. more properly called ‘plausible denial.” It is not the Soviets only, one must be concerned with, but the oversight.

    “Now Menzies, we all know the Lords will be sharpening the axe over at the Tower and it will be our heads, if it were ever to be discovered we had done this and it became known. So be a good lad and understand we cannot sanction anything on paper. There you go now!” (with a wink and pat on the back)

  2. Pete says:

    From 1945 in MI6 two factions (intelligence gathering versus special ops/subversion) fought for policy attention and MI6’s very limited funding. Special ops, for a time, was able to pursue subversion activities in the Soviet Bloc (probably best documented against Albania http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albanian_Subversion). Significantly MI6 (with experience but vey little money) mainly used American OSS (then CIA) money to do it.

    Once the CIA was established in 1947 and America gained more experience CIA appeared to take over much of the running. Kim Philby’s liaison contacts with the US but also Russia meant the MI6 and CIA (BGFIEND and OBOPUS for the Albania Project) operations were doomed. Albanian agents were captured the moment they entered Albania – similar happened to South Vietnamese agents the CIA dropped into North Vietnam in the 1960s.

    Since the 1950s MI6 has had the sense to stick to intel gathering core business while the CIA has the money to constantly reinvent a paramilitary covert action role – the last permutation being the armed drones – which CIA has just lost. But CIA will rise again, weapons and all.

  3. @ Pete Few are aware of the extent of CIA militarization of which drones were but the most visible asset. Under Bush/Cheney and into Obama, particularly during Robert Gates and General Patraeus tenures, many American special operations forces were essentially integrated to CIA clandestine services command structure outside of normal DoD control channels. The drones are only a first step in clawing territory back for the Pentagon but it is a two edged sword in any case. Our Pentagon is severely compromised by a ‘Christian Taliban’ mentality resulting from Bush promoting ideologue generals into positions of power (the ‘Officer’s Christian Fellowship’ whose senior members practically own the Pentagon) and neo-conservative politics rule the day at what is supposed to be an apolitical institution. Not a very promising future from a sanity perspective (I hate to say)

  4. AZ says:

    The history books do not even mention the the secret partneship of Ibn Saud,JackPhilby and Allen Dulles,toghether they were the secret source of oil,wealth and International influence that worked behind scenes to the Nazis on the world stage.

  5. Pete says:


    Yes excessive religion for military and intelligence officers is risky for democracy. Preceding Dubya’s neocons the Reagan years spawned a religious dynasty typified by the arch Catholic Bill Casey (CIA Director 1981-87).

    Casey presided over a time when CIA paramilitary activities in supplying Stingers and other arms to the Mujahideen (which eventually morphed into Taliban and AQ). But this CIA activity was seen a good anti-Communist cause.

    MI6 also played a role in this arms supply http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_war_in_Afghanistan#Foreign_involvement_and_aid_to_the_mujahideen .

  6. @Pete

    You are correct in the Reagan years assessment. The point man for integrating government to ‘faith based initiatives’ (Catholic & Protestant) was Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese. A spin-off of this is ‘The Federalist Society’ where you not only find stellar cretans with names like John Yoo (Bush ‘torture is legal’ lawyer) Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, but also Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (society steering committee), as well Associate Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia, all arch conservative Catholics. Scalia’s supreme court appointment actually precedes the creation of the society but he was mentored to the SC by Ed Meese and is in fact an antecedent de facto society appointment to the court.

    Chief Justice Roberts is a close personal friend of society member Shannen Coffin, Coffin was Cheney’s Vice Presidential counsel during the Bush era international crimes spree. Just a few examples of how neo-conservative religious extremist consolidation of power is ongoing – a bit off topic but none the less interesting

  7. S says:


    It is important to note that even in the 1950s MI6 wasn’t independently conducting covert operations due to their need of funding from the nascent American espionage service(s). The Kim Philby disaster and the “Cambridge Five” lead to American counterintelligence distrusting their British counterparts, which meant that MI6 lost its American covert action funding. This loss of funding, in tandem with the Foreign Office and the PM beginning to advocate a less hardline position against the nation that could turn the UK into radioactive debris in an hour, meant that the MI6 lacked funding to do anything but intelligence collection.

  8. AlbertE. says:

    “intrusive covert actions by allied operatives would cause brutal reprisals against allied prisoners of war”. Even without even one “intrusive covert action” the Soviet carried out “brutal reprisals” against allied prisoners. Those allied prisoners including thousands of American POW being held by the German when “liberated” many were shipped off to the GULAG never to be seen again and if you had a Polish or Russian last name your were shot on the spot. That being done by the Soviet without EVEN ONE THING BEING DONE TO THEM.

  9. AlbertE. says:

    Indeed, it possibly can even be suggested that through Philby the Soviet themselves were the source of the ideas for “intrusive actions”. Control the anti-Soviet campaign by the use of Philby and his position as head of anti-Soviet activity for MI6.

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