The British security forces and the Communist Party

A chapter based on the following text is contained in the book illustrated left, available online in Kindle. 



Undoubtedly, the most serious and foul of the dirty tricks carried out on the Communist Party was the so-called `Zinoviev Letter’, a document purporting to come from Grigori Zinoviev, the president of the Communist International, urging the British Communist Party to stir up the masses in preparation for civil war. The letter was shown as a genuine piece of intelligence to the first Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. It was agreed that the letter would be kept secret but it was inevitably leaked to the press, when the Daily Mail published it a few days before the general election. It was partially down to this that the Labour Party lost the election. The Communist Party consistently denounced this as a forgery and this was long denied by the establishment until, as Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook commissioned the Foreign Office’s Official Historian to write a report on the matter.
This report was claimed to be an exercise in openness that placed a huge amount of material in the public domain. But only the official historian of the Foreign Office was allowed to see the files. Despite the fact that the official report concludes that two MI6 officers were involved in passing the fake to the Foreign Office, and the Foreign Office was provided with supposedly corroborative proof by MI6 which was itself suspect, the report concluded no evidence of an organised conspiracy against Labour by the intelligence agencies.
But such dirty tricks were only the icing on the cake. Spying on the legally-established British Communist Party was endemic in the 20th century.   In his book ‘A Matter of Trust’, Nigel West says that `F branch (of MI5) have long established moles in most leftist organisations’. MI5 had an extensive network of agents inside the labour movement, aiming to keep them safe by never overexposing them. 
One MI5 agent, Betty Gordon, spent 10 years in the CP, becoming personally close to Harry Pollitt. Tom Driberg, later a Labour MP, was an MI5 informant (not a key agent) inside the CP, in 1954, the CPGB expelled Driberg for being Agent M8. MI5 also put an agent into CND’s headquarters, one Harry Newton, who had been recruited by the security forces when a member of the CP in 1950. In the 1970s he was Treasurer of the Institute of Workers’ Control.
In The Guardian of November 27th 1999, the writer and ex-secret service officer John le Carré (real name David Cornwell) wrote an affectionate in memoriam to an old informer of his. The recently deceased ‘Harry’ had been long-term stalwart of the Communist Party. This deep mole had attended weekly debriefing sessions with MI5 controllers from the late 1950s. He had volunteered for the most difficult jobs in the Party, becoming a trusted and valued comrade, even if the intelligence he provided did not amount to much.
By the time that it publicly declared that `communist subversion’ was no longer a key target for its activities, MI5 had eventually accumulated a quarter of a million files on the Communist Party of Great Britain. This is an extraordinary degree of intelligence given the level of Party membership at any one time, even if agglomerated over the entire period from 1920. The agency claimed that it knew of ‘thirteen General Secretaries and at least one in eight of all full-time officials’. Moreover, there was permanent surveillance on the part of MI5, including a hidden microphone embedded in the wall of the Party national office in King Street, London. [Peter Hennessy `The SecretState’ Penguin (2003)]
Releases into the public record of the national archives in May 2003 from the security forces included files on a large number of British communists and sympathisers from all periods, wartime and post-war periods until 1953, the present cut-off date for release of Security Service files. Material from more recent times might prove controversial! What the files indicate is that prominent national and regional figures in the Communist Party were subject to permanent surveillance. The main reason they have been released is because they seem to show nothing much of interest.
For example, the files on Robert Robson cover the period from 1922 to 1953. He had been London District Organiser from 1927 to 1933, and was the head of the Organisation Department in 1935, in which role he played a leading part in recruiting volunteers for the Spanish Civil War. Though his role in the Party seemed mostly to be with organisation, it was suspected that he was also involved with undercover work. Files for 1922-35 include circulars he issued, Passport Office restrictions listing Robson and others, preventing travel within the Empire and intercepted phone conversations. There are Special Branch reports on Robson’s quite personal life. He had marital difficulties, suffered serious illness and his wife turned to religion. So, scenting vulnerability, the Security Service considered turning him but shied at the danger of a serious attempt to recruit him. Even so, the life-long of surveillance continued at least from 1935 to 1953.
Bob Stewart (always Robert in the files) was a founder member of the Communist Party and long the British representative on Comintern executive. Files released for 1926 to 1941 report extensively on his daily life. A bundle covering 1927-31 includes correspondence relating to Stewart’s visit to Norwegian trade unionists and Chinese communists. Another file contains a summary of investigations on Stewart between 1922 and 1929. It includes correspondence with Zinoviev relating to propaganda work in the UK and the Empire. There is a copy of a telegram sent from Stewart to the Kuomintang, condemning the massacre at Wahn Sien and pledging British workers’ support for revolution in China. Particular interest was paid to an informant in Ireland on visits made by Stewart to Dublin in 1929 and 1930 to encourage Irish communists, including details of contacts with Irish Republicans in August 1929.
The files for the period 1941 to 1951 detail Stewart’s observed activities during the period April 1941 to February 1945. There are intercepted phone conversations, including one of December 1943 where Stewart apparently talks disparagingly of contact with a Soviet intelligence group, for which he had done some work, saying ‘…the things I’ve done for that b! But I might have been caught quite easy because I carried the stuff … bloody lucky we were …’ There is also a copy of a letter from Harry Pollitt to Stewart on the occasion of the latter’s 70th birthday.
John Ross Campbell was also a foundation member of the Party, arrested in the 1926 police raid on its headquarters. He served on the executive committee of the Party and became editor of the Daily Worker in 1949. Reports of Campbell’s activities from 1920-53 include speeches, pamphlets, articles, his election addresses, intercepted telegrams, telephone and written communications, along with general surveillance material, even on his wife, Sarah. One report includes internal speculation that, when Campbell was appointed editor of the Daily Worker, John Gollan was made assistant editor to make sure that he always followed the party line.
Clearly much of the espionage conducted against the Communist Party was pointless and trivial. Papers released in 2005 indicate that a wide range of people were closely watched by MI5. The Rev Michael Scott came to MI5’s notice in the early 1930s when, according to the files, his “contacts with the party were certainly close”. MI5 kept tags on him, liaising with the South African security service up to 20 years later even though by then he had little contact with the CP.
Hugh MacDiarmid was a pen name for Christopher Murray Grieve, first noted in MI5 files in 1931. His name had been mentioned by a group of Communist journalists, meeting in a social setting at a Fleet Street pub. Soon after, an MI5 informant reported a speech by MacDiarmid in which he said Scotland “did not end at the Cheviots but that Lancashire was its rightful boundary”. Quite how the reportage of juicy items such as this helped the British Empire remains quite elusive!
Perhaps at first sight the case of Betty Reid might suggest more purpose but not when one considers the results of the twenty years of surveillance revealed. She first came to the attention of the Security Service in 1936 when she took up employment at the Left Book Club department of publishers Victor Gollancz. Perhaps suspicions were aroused when she toured the Soviet Union as a member of a group whose numbers were reduced to just three by Moscow’s refusal to sanction visas. Either way, a close watch was established on her, and all the files contain detailed accounts of Reid’s movements and meetings, reports of speeches, and copies of intercepted correspondence and telephone conversations.
The six files on Reid during the period 1936-1956 that have been released are truly innocuous, boring even. They detail her every move and every conversation, even the food she ate at her favourite lunchtime café. But there appears to be little if anything of a security intelligence nature. KV 2/2042 (1936-1950) covers the period when Reid was secretary of the Holborn Branch of the Communist Party and also Secretary of the London Council for Anti-Fascist Aid (from May 1941 the National Council for Democratic Aid), the body which supported refugees from fascist Europe in Britain. Possibly this connection with incoming foreigners made her a target.
From 1946, Reid was in charge of Party ‘membership’ issues in the CPGB Organisation Department in King Street. This responsibility included the vetting of membership applications, to check for infiltration from fascist or Trotskyist groups, or the security forces. Presumably, Reid’s role made her a target of some interest for MI5 for the two decades that they constantly intercepted her telephone conversations.
The files contain intercepted phone calls and reports of conversations to the difficulties Reid was facing in her work over childcare. Much later in life, she was to realise in retrospect that the ideal person to look after her two boys whilst she worked, who she found through advertising in Soviet Weekly and with whom she was to forge a close friendship, was an MI5 plant. This belated realisation of hers then received wide publicity, especially since Reid then sought out the woman and re-established relations with her to such an extent that they exchanged cards until her death! Although even now Reid and the spy are both dead, the released files do not confirm her suspicions, even though the woman plant did admit her role to her. `Security sources’ told the Guardian that at least one withheld document was to protect the names of MI5 informants. [Richard Norton-Taylor `The Guardian’ September 5th 2005]
The early 1950s files provide an appraisal of Reid by an internally placed source code named North, the identity of the spy is still unrevealed: “In spite of her bulk and apparent lack of beauty she is a feminine personality … [who] tends to have a disarming effect on comrades who have been summoned to see her, and who have mounted the stairs to the Org. Dept. prepared for severity. As far as I know, she has been entirely responsible for the elaborate machinery for the vetting of party comrades … Her patience and robust sense of humour are more than a match for the leg-pulling to which she is constantly subjected, and her great weakness is a profound liking for cheese cake!”
Reid’s meetings in 1955 with her contact in the Soviet embassy in London, Second Secretary Nikolai Tiomfeev, whom she describes as her ‘cream cakes pal’ are detailed. The only item of note is that seemingly Timofeev was astounded that the workers who printed the Daily Worker It seems likely that it was more a case of watching her in case she was watching them that impelled the spooks to spy on a cake loving mum for twenty years non-stop!    were not Party members.
MI5 files from 1949 on the perceived `penetration’ of the education system by the Communist Party were released in 2005. [Foreign Office paper FO 371/77385 1949 National Archives] One contains a note written in August of that year by MI5 on Communist attitudes towards education and the recruitment of teachers as what it saw as being part and parcel of “a struggle against the mastery of capitalism”. The report, which presumably found its way to Labour government ministers noted the way in which the Soviet Union had supposedly sought to penetrate the teaching profession across the globe and particularly in Britain.
The agency claimed to have infiltrated the CPGB and obtained extensive internal information despite the fact that the Party attached considerable significance to “the safeguarding of membership particulars”. It was said that the Communist Party of Great Britain attached “considerable importance” to recruiting teachers and that this was reflected in the Party having some 775 teachers amongst its 38,766 membership. The Foreign Office commented on the MI5 memorandum: “that education is considered not only as an important field for exploitation but also as analogous to an industry, is not perhaps without significance”.
It is not unconnected perhaps that, in 1948, the Labour government introduced security vetting, aimed at excluding Communists from positions where they might supposedly damage national security, 167 civil servants lost their jobs. Such vetting continued over the next few decades, even within the BBC which appointed a Special Assistant to the Director of Personnel to vet names of successful job applicants, especially graduate trainees, film editors, journalists, arts producers and drama directors. Only in 1985 did the BBC acknowledge for the first time it vetted staff via MI5.
Mtf anti-communist bans in unions.
In the late 1940s, Walter Citrine, as the head of the newly nationalised British Electricity Authority demanded a purge of communists in London Power Stations. The investigation was carried out by Roger Hollis, the head of `C’ division.
The Intelligence forces that had worked against Nazi Germany found no difficulty in quickly reverting to their pre-war obsession with the Soviet Union, following the 1945 victory. This was formalised with the creation of the Information Research Department (IRD), in 1948. This was a psychological warfare organisation, set up within the Foreign Office. Labour junior Foreign Minister of the time, Christopher Mayhew, died years later assuming that IRD had been his creation. But he had merely adopted proposals which had already been agreed on by the secret state. IRD grew to have a staff of 300 and became the leading source for Communist conspiracy theorists in academia and the media. The following sentences are based on impeccable historical sources, yet published comments on these lines in the 1948-76 period would have been dismissed as crackpot conspiracy theories, or Communist propaganda.
In 1956 IRD began running operations intended to damage the image of the Communist Party. IRD briefed most mainstream British journalists and hundreds world-wide in the first really organised spin-doctoring of the British media. Even as late as 1976, when IRD’s role began to be exposed and the role taken back in-house within the Secret Intelligence Service, as many as 92 British journalists were still on its distribution list. Most approved journalists, in defiance of supposed norms of journalistic practice, habitually and lazily used the texts supplied to them with minimal editing. Classified material, with suitable `interpretation’ was fed to trusted correspondents. Its “most important propaganda weapon” in eastern Europe was the BBC.
The BBC, far from carrying out its supposed mission to be fearlessly independent, was up to its eyes in collaboration with the SIS. It was established practice for the Chief Assistant to the Director General to liaise with MI5 on behalf of his boss, he would receive quarterly security briefings to keep the BBC up to speed with the requirements of the security forces. Shortly before he became BBC Director General in the 1950s, Sir Huge Green unhesitatingly spoke of its propaganda role (a phrase he had no problem in employing) to the NATO College in Paris. As late as 1985, Special Branch were using the roof of the BBC’s central London offices to film a demonstration against the plan to abolish the GLC. [Stephen Dorril `Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Inteligence Service’ Touchstone (2002)]
Little wonder that, in the cold war period, the view of the world crafted by the secret service, was the standard for public opinion. The bulk of IRD distortions of the motives and actions of Communists and their allies would be laughable if it were not for the tragedy that often resulted. For example, the IRD and MI6 worked with the CIA from as early as 1962 to undermine President Sukharno of Indonesia, after the US and Britain secretly agreed a strategy to “liquidate” him, the consequence of which was the genocidal elimination of at least a million Indonesian Communist Party members. [Paul Lashmar and James Oliver, `Britain‘s Secret Propaganda War’ Sutton Publishing (1998)]
IRD also fed information and damaging propaganda on Communists and sympathisers within the British labour movement through confidential recipients of its briefings. Vic Feather, later General Secretary of the TUC, was certainly one if its main informants from early on. Documents were supplied to the media and to the Labour Party National Agent’s Department and the Organisation Subcommittee, the disciplinary machinery of the party. Information on a local basis from police Special Branches also came in from routine surveillance of local Communist Party branches, local unions and organisations such as CND.
Data collection by business groups such as the Economic League and the Building Employers Federation was important from the period from the 1920 to the 1970s and the Special Branch particularly collaborated with local employers and their national self-help agencies. MI5’s `C’ division handled security clearance for defence contracts and worked closely with private sector intelligence groups, such as the Economic League. Duncan Campbell, in his book “On the Record”, suggests that the Economic League had office space in MI5 headquarters and was financially supported by it too.
One of the first examples on the closeness between employers’ associations and the security forces cam out as early as 1937. The Daily Worker obtained correspondence between John Baker White and Robert Rawdon Hoare that the Economic League had illegal contacts with the police. These letters described the deal struck between Hoare and Detective Eckersley who “promised to give me [Hoare] as long as I like looking over the Communist industrial file in their office. . . I am also in touch with the Salford Police; their Communist man having already called at this office”. Another memo indicated that the police were going to supply a report of a private Communist Party meeting in Brighton to the League. [Mike Hughes `Spies at Work’, 1 in 12 Publications (1994)]
The US State Department, via the London embassy, also supplied a vast amount of intelligence. Despite the opening of archives in the USA, little of this role has yet been elucidated, no doubt because of the sensitivity of the notion of interference in sovereign states. But over a thousand pages of reports made by the New Zealand US embassy to the State Department on the tiny local labour movement have been declassified and show surveillance down to the level of trades councils and union branches. It is more than likely that a similar degree of interest was shown on the far more significant British labour movement.
Home Office papers released in 1995 first revealed for certainty that agents were placed right at the heart of the CPGB’s leadership. In September 1940, Sir John Anderson, in referring to these agents was only in favour of prosecuting the CP leadership because of its attacks on pre-war appeasers and hostility to the war at that stage of its phoney character “if that can be done without uncovering channels of information which it is essential to keep”. In other words maintaining the inside agents was more important. [Guardian February 8th 1995] Only a couple of low grade agents have so far been revealed, one Olga Gray was infiltrated into the Party in the pre-war years for example. In 1950 M15 burgled the office where the CPGB’s membership list was held and photographed some 55,000 records. Then there was the 1950s bug, or radio-microphone, found in King St, the Party’s central office, in 1975.
The Tory government in the early 1960s spent a fortune in public money funding anti-communist activities out of the Secret Fund, which underwrote the security forces, although few at the time realised it. (Cabinet papers, released under the thirty-year rule, back these points up.) A former Attorney General, Lord Shawcross, set up Industrial Research and Information Services (IRIS), which may not have been as successful as it was in targeting left candidates in union elections for smearing right up to the 1980s, if it had been known publicly that Ford and Shell funded it in tandem with the government. Particular targets were DATA, the ETU, the NUM and the AEU. Communists knew of these activities as they experienced them at the sharp end and suspected foul play but could not prove it.  [Morning Star 3.1.1995]
The eighth batch of secret files released in 2001 (a thousand files still remain closed and who knows how many were `lost’?) “fully vindicates those radicals who claim that the 20th century British state erected a substantial system of surveillance mainly aimed at the left”. [Robert Taylor, New Statesman 19.11.01] A vast number of individuals had secret files held on them detailing all manner of matters. Many prominent intellectuals, often harmless individuals who liked to be honest in their thinking, who were never anywhere near like being attached to the subversive activities of social dissidents, such as Communists, had bulky files of subjective comment devoted to their entire lives.
Just for a moment, apply the previous sentence not to Britain but to the Soviet Union, or the GDR. It is a salutary lesson to reflect that all states, however relatively stable their social relations, engage in prying, often jumping to ludicrous conclusions in the process. But “British Communist Party members came under the closest surveillance of all”. We now know that, for example in 1935, there were no less than 3,000 “security points” covering Communists. This is something like one-fifth of the membership of the Party at that time. For cost effectiveness, only the key comrades, the most stable of the membership, were selected for phone tapping, mail interception, or even shadowing of their movements.
Such tapping, bugging and mail interference was so widespread and routine that Communists bore the mild inconveniences that arose, usually due to ineptitude, with humour. A former postman in Whitechapel in 1946, where the Party had an MP (Phil Piratin, Mile End) and quite a few councillors, noticed that none of these people got their mail “without it went upstairs to be examined”. The “Indoor Investigation man was never off the sorting office floor … making sure that the usual addresses were taken off the frames for their journey to some secret hide out upstairs”. [Bill Connor of Heywood, Lancashire, Guardian 1.2.1997]
Such intervention routinely continued until, certainly, the most recent years. Annie Machon, a former and now disillusioned agent of the security forces has revealed that her duties enabled her to know that all post to the Communist Party’s headquarters was routinely copied. Even when a schoolboy wrote, asking for information on a topic for a school project, he was assigned a personal file and labelled a sympathiser[Annie Machon `Spies,Lies and Whistleblowers’ The Book Guild (2005)]
Harold Wilson’s outburst against “a tightly knit group of politically motivated men”, during the 1966 seamen’s’ strike was fed by M15’s daily report on its activities to the Prime Minister. But the Special Branch of the police service focused on provocation and dirty tricks, rather than on spying on the work of the Party. In 1968, Special Branch even set up the Special Demonstration Squad, known internally as “the hairies” for their adoption of fashionable long hair and beards. One of the “hairies” borrowed a technique from Frederick Forsyth’s novel `Day of the Jackal’ and searched gravestones for the names of young children who would have been a similar age to himself for an alias. Spies were given new names, addresses, apartments, driving licences and national insurance numbers.
Whilst in March 1985 former M15 officer Cathy Massiter revealed on Channel 4’s 20/20 Vision programme `MI5’s Official Secrets’, that in the 1970s, the security forces engaged in systematic spying on CND, the National Council for Civil Liberties and other progressive organisations. M15 had kept Harriet Harman, Patricia Hewitt and Bruce Kent – all to become mainstream Labour MPs or candidates – under constant surveillance. Massiter expressed disquiet about MI5’s over zealous definition of term “subversive”, as applied to the National Council for Civil Liberties and CND. She revealed that MI5’s definition of subversion was being distorted and widened and that its own rules were being violated.
Communist trade unionists like Ken Gill and Mick McGahey had their phones routinely tapped and the latter had his London hotel room bugged.
A private detective agency, Euro-Tec, was recruited by the Special Branch to spy on London dockers during the 1972 dock strike, the dispute which lead to the imprisonment of the Pentonville 5. One Euro-Tec agent has revealed that in the early Seventies thousands of shop stewards and union officials, their families and friends were regularly monitored. A former chairman of the T&G, Brian Nicholson, has been revealed by the release of papers under the 30-year rule to have been at the very least an informant (he says he spoke to anyone who asked him questions) of the security forces.
Common Cause launched Industrial Research and Information Services (IRIS) in the mid 1950s to produce propaganda against Communists and their allied. This became especially important in the area of union elections in the 1970s, particularly so in the AEU and most especially in the West Midlands. IRIS even set up what it called cells, in a deliberate parody of Communist methods of work, in unions to combat the left.
After Labour again formed a government in February 1974, IRD scaled down its formal briefings on the left and contracted that role out to Brian Crozier, who had been working with IRD and the CIA for twenty odd years. Crozier played a role in the creation of the SDP, and had even briefed Margaret Thatcher, as leader of the opposition, on the British Party. This style of working closely with outside anti-communist political forces, and increasingly so with less and less stridently right-wing forces, developed even more as the 1970s progressed.
As the left began to secure greater authority within the Labour Party, all of the techniques carried out on Communists over the previous quarter if a century became ever more applicable to the non-communist left. Ron Hayward, then General Secretary of the Labour Party, was told in 1974 by a private security company that the Labour Party’s headquarters were bugged. He did not believe in the tip off but should have done. [Robin Ramsay `The Clandestine Caucus’ (self-published pamphlet 1996)]

In 1975 the Labour Government devised a definition of ‘subversive’, meaning persons ‘threatening the parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means’. This was rapidly taken to mean any dissident with trade union links. The BBC documentary series of three programmes, `True Spies’ in 2002 lifted the lid on some of the activity of the security forces in the British labour movement. [The True Spies series was first shown on BBC Two beginning Sunday 27 October 2002] This revealed how Metropolitan Police Special Branch officers were injected, during the height of the left-wing militancy of the late 1960s and 1970s, into left organisations as undercover operatives.

Special Branch’s interest in actor Ricky Tomlinson, during his time as a trade unionist, touched on in one of the series of programme was widely publicised. But infiltration went much deeper. Activists would be nurtured by operatives offices were bugged and burgled. Post was opened and keys copied in small plasticine blocks and passed to Special Branch and MI5. Joe Gormley, President of the NUM, kept MI5 briefed on strike plans in 1972 and 1974. Many union leaders would be `helped’ along when they had serious internal trouble. Within a few weeks of the 1972 miners’ strike MI5 shifted the emphasis of its work to domestic subversion from the left. MI5’s F branch was massively and rapidly expanded. Even Harold Wilson was under surveillance in the run up to 1974 election; MI5 had a file on Wilson with codename ‘Henry Worthington’.
Former Special Branch officers revealed that Ford car plant at Halewood on Merseyside, only agreed to invest there because of a secret deal with MI5 and Special Branch. The entire workforce and all applicants for jobs were routinely vetted by Special Branch. Part of the plan drawn up was to make certain that work would carry on smoothly at Ford in case of strike action. Reporters spoke to a former trades union activist and Communist Party member, who was secretly vetted by Special Branch and denied a job at Ford’s Halewood plant. 
In 1979, convenor and leading Communist Derek Robinson was sacked from British Leyland’s Longbridge car plant, partly on the evidence of the leaking to Michael Edwardes (according to him in his memoirs) of the written minutes of a Party meeting concerned with opposing the plan of to run down British Leyland. The reality of the plot is open to speculation but MI5 is supposed to have had an agent in place, code-number 910, very close to Robinson. It has been claimed that 910 was a Communist Party member, worked at Longbridge and was a member of the AUEW as `a highly placed union official’, which probably meant a member of the joint shop stewards’ committee, but he might have been simply a shop steward. Either way, he knew the main union leaders and was “an easy man to look after, he would enjoy a couple of pints in an ordinary pub somewhere where he may not be recognised, and then always wanted to eat fish and chips in your car before he got home, and that’s the way you ran him”. The information he supplied concerned the unions’ intentions, especially on strikes. He was. All his reports were instantly reported on to MI5, which held him in the highest regard as a “very, very highly valued” agent.
Notoriously, during the 1984-5 miners’ strike, when a later head of the security services, Stella Rimington, was Assistant Director of MI5’s F Branch, the spooks had a field day.  Interventions to undermine the strike through the establishment of `National Working Miners’ Committee’ was only the tip of the iceberg. The story splash on 28th October 1984 in the Sunday Times about NUM Chief Executive Roger Windsor’s fund-raising meeting with Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi led to subsequent allegations that Windsor was an MI5 ‘mole’ within the NUM, denied by both Windsor and the NUM.
In December 1984, the Home Office issued new guidelines defining subversive groups as “those which threaten the safety or well being of the State, and which are intended to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means”. The following April, in a written answer to the House, Mrs Thatcher further elaborated on acceptable targets: “An individual who … is a member of a subversive group…whose aims are to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means … is, or has recently been, sympathetic to or associated with members or sympathisers of such organisations or groups, in such a way as to raise reasonable doubts about his reliability … is susceptible to pressure from such organisations or groups”.
Documents released in 2005, reveal the extent of Special Branch surveillance of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain in the early 1980s. [Guardian 27th September 2005) The Branch, which acted as the monitoring body for MI5, penetrated the organisation from the very top to bottom. Officers would report on as trivial a detail as a supermarket worker handing out leaflets to work colleagues. The numbers attending and the subjects discussed at local group meetings were reported; even the left wing bias of posters stored in a member’s garden shed would be noted! The files, released to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act, indicate that the finest detail of the events of the AAM executive committee or annual conference were regularly reported to the Branch. Profiles of each and every member of the 30 member executive were developed and it was noted that 13 of these were members of either the SACP or CPGB

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