Friday, January 27, 1978
DETAILS are coming to light for the first time of the
secret death, after a 30-year secret life, of a worldwide British propaganda
network, operating against communism and mostly in the
The operation was radically reorganised into a
smaller, still secret, Foreign Office department with a brief to support
British interests in general. Indeed, it is reported from a number of
IRD as it was known, also performed a legitimate task of research and information. Indeed it can be argued that a successful propaganda operation must for most of the time provide objective and useful information. Besides its activities abroad therefore, it provided an often valued service to journalists and writers in this country. That is the view of Guardian journalists who have been on its mailing list.
Journalists are accustomed to supping with a long spoon from all kinds of sources. and it is no reflection on any, of them that IRD approval of them and they included some of the best known writers on foreign affairs. There is evidence that IRD did its best to disguise its real role in distributing propaganda from some of its clients: the operation, carried out over the entire 30 years since the war, was on the secret vote, and has never been made known to Parliament or public.
Since the last war,
As a former senior CIA official, Robert Armory, said rather enviously in an interview 10 years ago. complaining of disclosures that the CIA funded student bodies, and other organisations: ``In our free motherland of England...everybody shushes up in the interest of their national security and what they think is the interest of the free world civilisation.''
Christopher Mayhew, then a junior Labour F.'. Minister, invented IRD, writing a confidential paper to Ernest Bevin, the Foreign Secretary of 1947. He proposed a covert ``propaganda counter-offensive'' against the Russians by means of a new FO department. Attlee called him down to Chequers to discuss it and until 1950 Mayhew ran IRD with Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, then deputy under-secretary at the FO and later chairman of ITA.
The Department was secret.
``We certainly did absolutely nothing to distort or twist the British media'', he says: ``It was only black propaganda in the sense that our work was all undercover and the existence of the department was confidential.''
The main victims of the secrecy seem to have been foreign newspaper readers and the British public who were kept in the dark, while non-accountable cold warriors went to work nominally at least, on its behalf.
The Russians knew about it from the very beginning because Guy Burgess. one of the three Communist defectors in the Philby affair, was posted to IRD in 1948. Mayhew wrote a memo sacking him after few months for being ``dirty drunk and idle.''
IRD was staffed with many émigrés, from Iron Curtain countries, often journalists and writers specially recruited into this airless world. IRD officials themselves were screened from parts of what went on and ordered not to tell even other FO staff where they worked. Their task was set out in a document former staff recall, speaking of ``forces'' at home and abroad to be fought. Reference books alluded only to IRD's ``special tasks.'' In last year's diplomatic list the cover still kept up. IRD's job, it says, is merely the compilation of information reports for HM missions abroad.
Modelled on wartime psychological warfare
operations, IRD flourished in the 1950s. The staff of the Soviet section alone
rose from 20 to more than 60. Embassies had resident 110 men under cover who
planted material on local journalists and opinion formers. This was controlled
first from offices in Carlton House Terrace, and then, as it expanded, from the
12-storey Riverwalk House, Millbank, in
A typical IRD operation in its heyday would have been, for example, to study Eastern block press reports of drunkenness and produce an article rubbing in just how rife alcoholism was under communism. Senior officials concede that past material was heavily ``slanted.''
The CIA, whose worldwide propaganda operations, radio stations and front news agencies have recently been extensively exposed, would call this ``grey'' propaganda. It was basically factual material to which ``spin'' could be added at will.
The ethical objection which is raised by IRD's critics both inside and outside Whitehall is that the public does not know what it is getting and so cannot make allowances for the ``spin.'' It differs thus from straightforward propaganda for the British point of view which is plainly not bad thing.
IRD also encouraged book production described
David Floyd, Communist affairs correspondent of
the Daily Telegraph, also recalls writing a booklet on
IRD's main targets were in the
By the time IRD was finally purged, one of its list contained a cross section of the General Council of the TUC. The journalists list contained about 100 names.
Those we have traced include two Labour journalist MPs, Roderick MacFarouhar and Colin Jackson. There were three writers connected with the Financial Times; five from the Times; two from the Observer; five from the Sunday Times; five from the Telegraph; six from the Economist; one from the Daily Mail; two from the Mirror; one from the Sunday Mirror; and one from the Express.
Guardian journalists on the lists included Hella Pick, Michael Simmons, Ian Wright and Victor Zorza.
Other journalists were informally blacklisted as politically undesirable or had assistance withdrawn if they became politically embarrassing.
British introductions to IRD were made
discreetly: one distinguished liberal journalist recalls how he was taken to
lunch at a
They were told documents were ``prepared in the FCO primarily for members of the diplomatic service, but we are, allowed to give them on a personal basis to a few people outside the service who might find them of interest...they are not statements of official policy and should not be attributed to HMG, nor should the titles themselves be quoted in discussion or in print. The papers should not he shown to anyone else and they should be destroyed when no longer needed.''
Eventually IRD's star began to wane. It was cut down in 1964 and again in 1968, former employees say. In 1970 under the then PUS, Sir Denis Greenhill, it was ``slashed'' according to several government sources. Around this time IRD was told to stop concentrating so heavily on communism and promote other British interests. It set up a counter subversion unit to deal with the IRA. It was also encouraged to moderate its briefing material.
It published a loose leaf manual. The IRA-Aims,
Policy, Tactics, delivered among others to Ian Hamilton at the Institute for
the Study of Conflict. It included intelligence material and descriptions of
IRA front organisations in
Publications included, for example, lists of to Communist front organisations such as the forthcoming world youth festival in Havana and booklets on African, Asian and Russian affairs as well as a cyclostyled Background Briefing at regular intervals.
By 1976 IRD was no longer secure in its covert
tasks. Sir Michael Palliser, the news PUS and a ``reforming bureaucrat'' as one
colleague describes him ordered a hard look to be taken at it. Sir Colin Crowe,
former High Commissioner in
A second internal inspection of IRD followed. Owen was apprised of the situation when he took office and authorised the disbandment of IRD in May '77.
The Think Tank Inspectors have reported FO
information departments were being reorganised. In fact 20 or 30 IRD-staff were
retired, made redundant or transferred to the research department proper.
Almost Ł1 million was then being spent by the FO on - ``unattributable''
propaganda. The Think Tank was scathing about the value of information work in
general but said unattributable material had a role in creating helpful political
attitudes in the more influential
Government propaganda has no stopped. A new
department, Overseas Information Department has been set up inside the FO
proper, much smaller and with a much wider brief. Senior Government figures
emphasise no domestic propagandising as such goes on since Owen's arrival. It
is also reliably ported in