Tag Archives: BBC

Churchill’s First World War – BBC4

On 30 July 2013 BBC4 broadcast a documentary called Churchill’s First World War. The BBC website describes it as follows:

Drama-documentary about Winston Churchill’s extraordinary experiences during the Great War, with intimate letters to his wife Clementine allowing the story to be told largely in his own words. Just 39 and at the peak of his powers running the Royal Navy, Churchill in 1914 dreamt of Napoleonic glory, but suffered a catastrophic fall into disgrace and humiliation over the Dardanelles disaster.

The film follows his road to redemption, beginning in the trenches of Flanders in 1916, revealing how he became the ‘godfather’ of the tank and his forgotten contribution to final victory in 1918 as Minister of Munitions. Dark political intrigue, a passionate love story and remarkable military adventures on land, sea and air combine to show how the Churchill of 1940 was shaped and forged by his experience of the First World War.

The programme was billed as being a drama-documentary, but the dramatisations were fairly limited: scenes of Churchill (Adam James) in the trenches and making a speech and shots of Clementine (Verity Marshall) at home. Most of it consisted of comments by experts, archive footage and extracts from private papers. The majority  of these were letters between Winston and Clementine, but there were also extracts from the papers of others, including Admiral Jackie Fisher, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s wife Margot and Andrew Gibb, an officer in Churchill’s battalion on the Western Front.

Churchill began the war as First Lord of the Admiralty, the Royal Navy’s political head. In July 1914 the bulk of the fleet was at Portland on the south coast. He decided to move it overnight to its war station at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, which was, according to Prof. Andrew Lambert of King’s College London, the critical point.

Prof. Gary Sheffield of Birmingham University said that Churchill’s problem was that he was not trusted. He regarded himself as a soldier, perhaps a warrior, and possessed an unquestioning belief in the British Empire, as did most British people at the time.

In 1914 Churchill wanted to be involved in the land campaign, which was then more significant than the war at sea. The RN’s air arm, the RNAS, had sent units to Dunkirk in order to bomb Zeppelin bases, which gave him an opportunity. They were accompanied by armoured cars, which were supposed to protect the airfields, but also undertook what David Tilley, Curator of the Tank Museum, describes as ‘buccaneering patrols.’

Churchill would build on the RNAS’s experience with armoured cars to carry out experiments with trench crossing machines, eventually leading to the development of landships, or tanks. Prof David Ceserani of Royal Holloway London noted that Churchill was a very modern military figure who appreciated the value of science and technology in warfare. However, he was an egomaniac, who had enormous self-confidence and energy, but sometimes struggled to work out what was a good idea and what was a bad one.

On 3 October the port of Antwerp was on the verge of surrender. Holding it would stall the German advance. Churchill rushed the Royal Naval Division, made up of naval reservists without ships and marines, to Antwerp, with some of them travelling in 100 commandeered buses. He wanted to resign his Cabinet post and be appointed a general. According to Sheffield, this caused derision amongst his Cabinet colleagues, who laughed at him.

Antwerp fell on 10 October, and 1,000 member of the RND were interned in the Netherlands. Churchill was branded a reckless adventurer by the Press, although Lambert noted that the extra week that the Germans took to capture Antwerp did make some difference to the war.

Lambert and Sheffield agreed that Churchill wanted to emulate his great ancestor the Duke of Marlborough by producing a war winning stroke. He saw Gallipoli as being his chance, but the campaign ended in disaster. Churchill fell out with Admiral Sir John ‘Jacky’ Fisher, the navy’s professional head, the First Sea Lord. Lambert said that each really wanted the other’s job. The deterioration in their relationship was shown by Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, via letters held by that archive.

The failure at Gallipoli meant that the ruling Liberals had to bring the Conservatives into a coalition government. Churchill had originally been elected to Parliament as a Conservative, but then switched to the Liberals, so was distrusted and disliked by the Conservatives. He lost his job as First Lord, though he remained in the Cabinet.

It was at this time that he took up painting. It had a therapeutic effect on him, although Alice Martin, the House and Collections Manager at Chartwell, his former home, noted that he painted a very dark self-portrait at this time: usually his paintings were bright.

In late 1915 he resigned from the Cabinet, and sought a commission on the Western Front: he was a Major in the Oxfordshire Hussars, a yeomanry [reserve cavalry] unit. He hoped that Sir John French, the commander of the BEF, would give him command of a brigade, but French was replaced by Sir Douglas Haig before this could be finalised. Haig gave Churchill command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. Churchill was English, but he was MP for a Scottish constituency, Dundee.

It was probably better for Churchill that he was given command of a battalion rather than a brigade; the latter would have been too big a promotion, and would have meant that he would have been out of touch with the average soldier.

Clementine, according to Dr Tiffany Jenkins, agreed. She knew he was under great danger in the trenches, but urged him to stay for the sake of his political career, which was more important to him than his life. Clementine saw Winston’s war lust and realised that she was the only person who could restrain him. She wrote to Asquith defending Winston when he was sacked as First Lord, but Jenkins said that she was really accusing Asquith of being weak.

Packwood noted that Clementine was his defender and anchor in Westminster whilst she was in France. She was very busy, since she was also involved in setting up canteens for munitions workers. She and Winston wrote to each other almost every day whilst he was at the Western Front.

Patrick Hennessey, a former Army officer, noted that Churchill, a cavalry officer commanding an infantry battalion, got off to a disastrous start, but quickly turned it round. He recognised the importance of making the men’s conditions better, and targeted lice. His battalion became, and remained, one of the least lice plagued battalions on the Western Front. His time on the Western Front showed him as caring, focussed and sensitive. He possessed the ability of great military commanders to be imperturbable under fire.

On 7 March 1916 Churchill returned to the House of Commons. He had by then made his peace with Fisher, and made a very badly received speech calling for Fisher to be recalled. He returned to the Front, staying to May, when his battalion was merged with the 7th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers because to casualties

Churchill believed in attrition by metal and machines rather than men. He noted that the Allies had lost air superiority, and criticised the government and the generals. He said that: ‘Machines save life. Machine power is a substitute for manpower. Brains will save blood.’ He wanted tanks to be used in a mass attack, so was angry when the secret was given away in November 1916 by an attack of only 50 tanks.

Churchill was close to David Lloyd George, who became Prime Minister in late 1916. He hoped that this would mean his return to the government, but Prof. Richard Toye of Exeter University pointed out that Lloyd George was not initially in a strong enough political position to bring Churchill back to office.

By the summer of 1917 U boats were threatening  to starve Britain into submission. Lloyd George took the  risk of appointing Churchill as Minister of Munitions in July 1917 as his spirit and imagination were needed to increase production of the equipment and ammunition required to win the war. Churchill also had the grasp of detail needed to organise munitions production. He was not, however, in the War Cabinet so was excluded from the highest level of strategy and decision-making.

Sheffield commented that Churchill wanted to build up resources, wait for US help and win the war in 1919. However, the Germans took the offensive in March 1918. Ceserani noted that this converted the war into one of manoeuvre in which tanks, trucks and logistics were vital. Churchill’s Ministry of Munitions replaced the huge losses of tanks and guns in March 1918 and provided the enormous quantities of ammunition needed in 1918.

At Amiens in August 1918 the British Empire forces combined the use of tanks, artillery and aircraft to defeat the enemy. This led to the 100 days campaign that culminated in victory.

Lambert argued that the First World War convinced Churchill that he was a man of destiny because he could recover from anything.

The programme showed that Churchill made many mistakes during the First World War, losing office for a while and ending the war with a lesser political position than he had held at its start. However, its conclusion was that during the First World War:

‘No man learnt more of war command. It was a bitter but complete apprenticeship…First would come more wilderness years… But when summoned again, a greater warlord, steeled by the Great War, was ready and prepared to fulfil his destiny.’

For UK viewers, the programme is repeated on BBC4 at 2240 on Thursday 1 August, and is available on the I-Player until 6 August. It will probably be shown again on BBC4: such programmes tend to be shown a lot.

 

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Spying on Hitler’s Army – Channel 4

Channel 4, the British TV channel, recently broadcast a drama-documentary titled Spying on Hitler’s Army: The Secret Recordings. It showed how the UK obtained intelligence from German PoWs by secretly recording their conversations. The initial interrogations of prisoners decided which ones could be useful sources of intelligence. They were then sent to one of three stately homes, where they lived in comfortable conditions, not knowing that their conversations were being recorded.

The programme focused on Trent Park, just to the north of London, where the inmates (or guests as the British called them) included seven generals; Wilhelm von Thoma, Ludwig Crüwell, Johannes Bruhn, Heinrich Kittel, Paul von Felbert and Dietrich von Choltitz. They were kept in a relaxed atmosphere, even being allowed day trips to London. Their chief captor, who they believed to be Lord Aberfeldy, a distant relative of the Royal Family, acted more like a host to his host guests.

Aberfeldy was actually Ian Monroe, an officer in MI19, the part of British intelligence responsible for obtaining information from enemy prisoners. He asked encouraged his ‘guests’ to speak by asking them leading questions. Even the grounds of Trent Park were bugged; Monroe made certain that he asked his leading questions when near enough to a microphone for it to pick up the reply.

Many of the people who transcribed and translated the prisoners’ comments were German Jewish refugees who had joined the British Army. One of them, Fritz Lustig, was interviewed in the programme. He gave an interview to BBC Radio’s Witness programme late last year; it is available online, apparently without time or geographical restrictions.

At the end of the war the recordings were destroyed and transcripts of the conversations locked away. The transcripts were declassified a few years ago, and are in now available in the UK National Archives. They were discovered there by chance by Prof. Sönke Neitzel, now of the LSE, when he was researching U-boat crewman. He and several other historians appeared in the programme: Helen Fry, author of The M Room: Secret Listeners who Bugged the Nazis, Joshua Levine and Col. Kevin Farrell. It also featured Prof. Stephen Reicher, a social psychologist who commented on how an ordinary person could become a genocidal murderer.

The programme showed reconstructions of conversations between the German PoWs, interspersed with archive footage and comments by the historians. The actors spoke English, but the dialogue was an accurate translation of what the prisoners actually said.

Much of the programme dealt with the conflict between von Thoma, a patriot but an anti-Nazi, and Crüwell, a Nazi. The other main focus was on war crimes. The transcripts showed that the German Army, not just the SS, had participated in the Holocaust. General von Felbert, who had been sentenced to death by Hitler because he allegedly surrendered too easily, was disgusted by war crimes. General Kittel, however, complained to the SS about mass executions of Jews, but only because they were being carried out in public and the location of the mass graves might lead to his troops’ drinking water being contaminated.

The transcripts gave useful military intelligence as well as information on atrocities. Von Thoma told Crüwell of the existence of the V2 rocket and the importance of the Peenemunde research facility, which was subsequently bombed by the RAF.

Not only officers had their conversations recorded. A private called Pffanberger talked about the terrible conditions and high death rate in the Buchenwald concentration camp. He had been an inmate there for seven years because he was suspected of being a communist, until manpower shortages led to him being conscripted into the army.

None of the information used was used in war crimes trials. The British decided that they did not want to give away an intelligence technique that had proved to be very useful in the war, so might be needed again

A very well made and interesting programme, although perhaps not as new a story as the makers seemed to believe, given that Prof. Neitzel’s book on the subject, Soldaten, was published in English early last year and in German in 2011. I did laugh at one point when the German generals, in captivity, berated the other German generals who had just surrendered to the Red Army at Stalingrad.

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The Iraq War – BBC2

On 29 May 2013 BBC2 broadcast the first of a three part series on The Iraq War, billed as being ‘The inside story of the war in Iraq’. The description of the first episode, titled ‘Regime Change’, from the BBC website says that:

The people at the top of the CIA and Saddam’s foreign minister describe just how the US and Britain got it so wrong about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction before the invasion.

Tony Blair recounts how he flew to President Bush’s private retreat at Camp David to go head to head with Vice President Dick Cheney. Colin Powell explains how he came to make his disastrous presentation to the United Nations. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw describes how he – and even President Bush himself – tried to persuade Tony Blair that to join in the invasion was political suicide.

As well as Cheney, Powell, Blair, Straw and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, interviewees included more junior British, French and US officials; Kurdish leaders such as Jalal Talabani, Leader, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Barham Salih, Prime Minister Kurdish Region and Massoud Barzani, Leader Kurdistan Democratic Party; and Iraqis including Salim Jomaili  of the Secret Service, Republican Guard General Raad Hamdani, Foreign Secretary Naji Sabri, UN Ambassador Mohammed Douri and General Hussam Amin, Iraqi liaison to UN weapons inspectors;

Jomaili said that, just after 9/11, the USA asked Iraq, via what was described as ‘a trusted emissary, to help in the War on Terror against Al Qaeda. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz agreed, but President Saddam Hussein argued that UN sanctions against Iraq were also terrorism, and had killed far more than died on 9/11. Jomaili said that USA thought that Iraq was playing games and dropped its request. He also argued that Saddam’s regime was opposed to religious extremists, so did not support Al Qaeda.

After the Afghan Taleban were deposed in early 2002 Cheney turned his attention to what he thought was the next likely source of terror: Iraq. He asked CIA if it was possible to organise a coup. Luis Rueda, the CIA’s Chief of Iraq Operations, explained in the programme that he told Cheney that this was impossible because Saddam had crushed all internal opposition.

The USA therefore turned to the Kurds for intelligence. They had helped the USA in the past, but had suffered as a consequence. They said that it was impossible to remove the regime without external help, and would not be left stranded again.

The USA feared that Saddam would supply Al-Qaeda with nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons of mass destruction (WMD). His army had already used chemical weapons against both Iran and his internal opponents.

In the UK Blair supported the USA, but faced domestic problems. Alastair Campbell, his Head of Communications, said that the head of the Secret Intelligence Service had returned from a trip to the USA believing that war with Iraq was a matter of when, not if. Straw thought that there were two issues: to support the US desire for regime change or just to force Saddam to comply with UN resolutions? Blair thought that the separation was unreal, as Saddam would not comply. Straw pointed out that the UK considered that going to war just to change the regime was illegal.

In Iraq, Hamdani warned Saddam that there was a real risk of war, and that Iraqi weapons were obsolete. He risked his life by trying to point out these home truths to Saddam. However, Saddam, whilst dismissing his fears, took no action against him.

Powell was worried that Bush was being pushed into war; all his briefings were on military operations. Powell thought that the USA needed allies, so convinced Bush to seek new a UN Security Council resolution. Cheney was unhappy; he thought that Saddam was good at deception, and made a public speech criticising the idea of weapons inspectors.

Powell, lacking US allies, looked to the UK, meeting Straw to try to form a coalition. The UK regarded war without another UN resolution as being illegal, and could not have obtained a Parliamentary majority for it.

Blair thought that the UK had to be clear to the USA that it was a firm ally, not a fair weather friend, but would have been in an impossible position if Bush had supported Cheney. However, the President opted for a UN resolution.

Amin said that Saddam thought that the USA and UK would never be satisfied so played for time. Most governments thought that Saddam was lying when he denied having WMD. He had kept some after the Gulf War because he feared an attack by Iran, but later had them destroyed as he was afraid that they would be found. All paperwork relating to them was also destroyed, in case it was later found.

The CIA conducted a global search for evidence about WMD. At one point it thought wrongly that Iraqi Foreign Minister Sabri wanted to defect; see the blog entry on The Spies Who Fooled the World, a previous BBC documentary, for more on this part of the story.

In the UK opposition to the war and demands for more information were rising. Blair presented a dossier prepared by the intelligence services to Parliament; it included the infamous and now discredited claim that Iraq could launch WMD within 45 minutes. Blair admitted that he now wishes that he had just published the intelligence reports.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution  giving Iraq 30 days to prove the absence of WMD unanimously. A 12,000 word Iraqi report was not enough for the USA, according to Stephen Hadley, the  Deputy National Security Adviser.

Bush asked the CIA for the intelligence case for war, and was told by CIA Director George Tenet, who did not appear in the programme, that it was a ‘slam dunk.’ The US case was to be presented to the UN by Powell. He complained that he lacked back up for the assertions made, and was given only the WMD case, not the human rights or terrorism ones. However, Bush had already made up his mind.

One apparently key piece of evidence was a recorded conversation in which Hamdani appeared to tell a subordinate to hide his units’ chemical weapons. Hamdani said that he was only making sure there was no trace of old chemical launchers for the UN to find.

There were huge anti-war demonstrations in 60 countries one weekend in February, including one of a million people in London. Blair needed a second UN Security Council resolution, but Cheney thought that this was a sign of weakness. Hadley said that Bush thought that it was important to go the extra mile for an ally.

The French, according to de Villepin thought that there was not enough evidence to go to war. President Jacques Chirac met Russian President Vladimir Putin and de Villepin met Powell, who said to him ‘don’t underestimate our determination.’ Chirac announced soon afterwards that France would veto the resolution.

The Labour Party whips estimated that half of their MPs would vote against was or abstain without a second resolution. Hadley said that Bush would have preferred the UK dropping out of the coalition to Blair having to resign. However, Blair said that he would prefer to have quit as PM than to have backed down; see the BBC website for an extract from the programme.

The Labour leadership managed to persuade two-thirds of their MPs to back war, enough the vote for war to be passed in the House of Commons with Conservative support. Straw adopted the old British policy of blaming the French; he told Labour MPs that the USA and UK had been forced into war by the French veto as a Security Council Resolution backed by the threat of war would have forced Saddam to stand down.

Three of Saddam’s security team were spying for CIA. They reported that he was at palace on banks of Tigris as war was about to start, giving the USA an opportunity to decapitate the enemy and perhaps win without serious fighting. There was a nightmare that it was disinformation, and some other target such a school would be hit. Cheney recommended taking the chance, and Bush decided to strike as soon as the deadline had expired. Initial reports said that a body resembling Saddam had been taken out of the rubble, but it was not him.

As war was about to start, Saddam told the Republican Guard to go to Palestine to liberate Jerusalem from Israel after they had defeated the USA; ‘a fantasy, a dream’ according to Hamdani. He asked Saddam’s son Qusay if Iraq did have WMD. He was worried that chemical weapons might blow back onto his own troops, but was told ‘don’t worry, we don’t.’

The programme is available for UK viewers on the I-Player until 19 June. The second episode next week recounts how the USA and UK won the war, but lost the peace.

There were a number of co-producers, who will presumably show the programme in their markets: National Geographic, Canal+, NHK, ABC, SVT, NRK, RDI/Radio-Canada, VPRO, DRTV, TVP.

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North Korea Undercover – BBC Panorama

On Monday 15 April 2012 the BBC broadcast a documentary in its Panorama series featuring an undercover report on North Korea from John Sweeney. The programme was controversial before it was broadcast because Sweeney, posing as a professor, joined a party of LSE students who were on an eight day tour of North Korea.

The students were told that the party would include a journalist, but at least some of them thought that this meant a single print journalist, rather than a three person TV crew. Some of the students have complained, claiming that the BBC put their safety at risk, and that they have received threatening emails from North Korea. The programme did obscure the identities of some members of the party.

The LSE and other academics have attacked the programme, alleging that the affair may damage their reputation for independence and transparency. See the websites of the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the BBC for more details of the controversy.

UK viewers can view the programme online via the I-Player. Panorama documentaries remain available for 12 months on the I-Player rather than the normal one week.

The most interesting part of the programme turned out to be a series of comments from Western experts and North Korean defectors filmed elsewhere, rather than the undercover film. The programme showed what Sweeney described as a ‘landscape bleak beyond words’, but did not add a great deal to our knowledge of North Korea because the tourists were closely supervised by two guides.

The tour featured numerous power cuts, including one when the party was visiting a factory that made electricity generators. They could not go further than the visitor’s centre because the factory has switched over to making military equipment because of the threat of war.

Other visits included a bottling plant where no bottling was taking place and a collective farm that lacked fields, crops and animals. In the words of The Independent’s TV critic, ‘North Korea is so poor that it can’t even build a convincing Potemkin village.’ For part of the tour, they stayed at a spa hotel that was surrounded with barbed wire.

One afternoon the party visited a hospital that had some impressive medical equipment, but no patients. It was explained that they are treated in the morning, and work or carry out social activities in the afternoon. The tourists could not meet the patients without their permission, and could not obtain their permission without meeting them,

The BBC crew did manage to take some photos of signs of poverty witnessed from the tour bus, despite being told not to do so by one of the tour guides. They included a women doing her washing in an icy river, people scavenging in mud and a market that appeared to lack any produce.

There were some interesting snippets from the tour. Posters of Marx and Lenin had disappeared from Pyongyang over the previous year, suggesting a focus on Nationalism rather than Communism.

There are now a million mobile phones in North Korea; they are not supposed to be used for international calls, but Sweeney got a South Korean signal on his i-phone when near the border.

A bank was being built next to the party’s Pyongyang hotel by a joint venture with a Chinese bank, showing continued Chinese investment.

The party visited the De Militarised Zone between the North and South on a day when North Korean TV was stepping up its threatening rhetoric against the South and the USA. There were no South Korean guards at the Joint Security Area, which Sweeney said was unusual. Perhaps they had been withdrawn to avoid an incident that might escalate?

Overall, however, the film from inside North Korea added nothing to a previous BBC documentary that was made openly a couple of years ago. The most interesting parts were the brief interviews with three Western experts and, especially, three North Korean defectors.

Professor Brian Myers of Donseo University said that the North Koreans were not planning a nuclear war, but one could come about due to some disastrous miscalculation. A higher proportion of population is in uniform than was the case in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy before WWII. He argued that it is a far right, ultra Nationalist state, not a Communist one.

John Everard, the UK Ambassador to North Korea in 2006-8, describes it as being a  ‘deeply racially biased’ society. He said that Kim Jong Il was an admirer of Hitler and copied him, eg North Korean rallies are modelled on the Nuremberg ones. He commented that ordinary North Korean people would admit to him that their country was poor and backward, but blame this on outside pressures. He pointed out that the growth in the use of mobile phones means that news can now spread round the country far more quickly than in the past.

Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Security Studies, explained that Kim Il Sung, still head of state 19 years after his death, is regarded as a ‘kind of god.’

The best part of the programme was the brief interviews with three of the 25,000 North Korean defectors living in the South. Sweeney could have avoided the controversy and made a better programme by staying in the South and showing more of these.

Ji Seong Ho said that saying the wrong thing would mean being sent to a political prison camp; ‘disagreement means death.’ There was a famine in 1990s after North Korea lost of support from the USSR. He lost a leg and a hand after he fell under train whilst trying to stealing coal to pay for food. His grandmother and neighbours died of starvation, and he saw lots of corpses in cities at alleyways, markets and at railway stations. Two years ago the UN estimated 6m North Koreans (25% of population) needed urgent food aid.

A female doctor  who declined to be interviewed, presumably because she still has family in the North, said that the people of the North do not rebel because they are brainwashed from an early age. Doctors who asked for more money for medicines would have been killed regardless of their ranking.

Defector Jung Gwang Il was formerly an inmate of one of North Korea’s concentration camp, Camp 15. He said that the dead were not buried in winter because of the hard ground, but were left in a warehouse until April, by when the corpses were decomposing. They were then buried, 70-80 bodies per hole. Defectors say that the concentration camps getting bigger under Kim Jong Un’s regime. The programme showed brief footage of the Yodok Camp, which is available on You Tube.

Sweeney’s conclusion is that Kim Jong Un is an untested leader, who feels that he must threaten war to establish his position, but could take it too far and cause a war.

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The Spies Who Fooled the World – BBC

On 18 March 2013, the BBC broadcast a documentary called The Spies Who Fooled the World as part of its Panorama current affairs series. The spies in question were those whose claims that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were used by the UK and US governments to justify the invasion of Iraq 10 years ago. Other sources that showed that Iraq did not have WMD were rejected because their intelligence did not fit the views of the UK and US governments.

The programme was presented by Peter Taylor, who has made many programmes about terrorism and espionage, including Modern Spies last year.

The most important source for the existence of Iraq WMD was Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, code-named Curveball, an Iraqi who claimed political asylum in Germany in 1999. He claimed to be a chemical engineer who had worked at an agricultural seed plant. According to him, mobile laboratories capable of producing biological and chemical weapons were based there.

August Hanning, then Director of the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND), and Joschka Fischer, then German Foreign Minister, told the programme that the Germans were sceptical about al-Janabi’s claims and had cut their links with him by the start of 2001.

For example, satellite photos showed that an articulated lorry could not get out of the warehouse that he said the mobile labs operated from. A friend and former boss of al-Janabi described him as a congenital liar. Al-Janabi admitted on the programme that he made up his claims.

After 9/11, however, President George W. Bush erroneously linked Saddam Hussein with Al-Qaeda. Curveball’s intelligence was too useful to the US case to dismiss it. There were some doubts within the CIA and MI6 about him, but his claims were accepted. The programme quoted an MI6 report as saying that:

 Elements of [his] behaviour strike us as typical of individuals we would normally assess as fabricators [but we are] inclined to believe that a significant part of [Curveball's] reporting is true.

Further intelligence came from an Iraqi defector, Major Muhammad Harith, who claimed that the mobile labs were his idea and were mounted on seven Renault trucks. The Americans became suspicious of his story because it was elaborate and unbelievable. He was branded as a fabricator in mid 2002, but his claims remained on record.

Further intelligence appeared to show that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. Rocco Martino, who had dealings with the Italian and other intelligence services, provided Elisabetta Burba, a journalist who appeared in the programme, with documents that purported to show that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from Niger. An Iraqi ambassador had visited Niger in 1999, but most of these papers were crude forgeries. Martino’s family said that he was too ill to comment.

An interview with the late Dr Brian Jones, a WMD expert at British Defence Intelligence, was shown in which he said that Saddam had sought nuclear weapons, but there was no suggestion that he had acquired them or was close to doing so. However, the alleged attempt remained on UK and US files.

In April 2002, British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Bush at his ranch in Texas and agreed to support military action against Iraqi WMD if the UN route had been exhausted. In July, Sir Richard Dearlove, head of MI6, told Blair that war with Iraq was seen as being inevitable in Washington as information and intelligence was being fixed round the policy. Dearlove was invited to appear on the programme, but said that he did not want to comment on the subject until the current Chilcot Inquiry into the war has concluded. Blair was too busy to participate.

Pierre Brochand, then Director of the French Foreign Intelligence Service (DGSE), said that intelligence was used to disguise a war of choice as a war of necessity.

In July 2002, Blair was told by Jonathan Powell, his Chief of Staff, that public opinion was ‘fragile’ and a ‘Rolls-Royce’ information campaign was required to convince the British public of the necessity for war.

MI6 received three new pieces of information whilst preparing  a dossier on WMD that would be published on 24 September.

Iraqi WMD could be launched within 45 minutes. This came from the Iraqi National Accord, a group of Iraqi exiles based in Jordan. According to Dr Ayad Allawi of the INA, the source was an Iraqi artillery Colonel, who was assuming that boxes delivered to his unit contained biological or chemical weapons without knowing for certain. His claim that they could be deployed within 45 minutes referred to short range battlefield weapons, but the report applied it to longer range strategic missiles.

The other two new sources were too late to actually be included in the dossier, but reinforced its case. The first was a spy with access to the production of chemical and biological agents. The other was a spy called Red River, who produced hearsay evidence of mobile chemical labs, but made no claim connecting them to WMD.

Blair regarded the dossier as making it beyond doubt that Saddam had WMD. Lord Butler, who headed the first British inquiry into WMD, said that Blair did not lie, but misled himself. General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff at the time,  said that ‘what appeared to be gold in terms of intelligence turned out to be fool’s gold,
because it looked like gold, but it wasn’t.’  Butler and Jackson both argued that Blair was not a liar, but genuinely thought that Saddam had WMD.

The Bush Administration wanted to use Curveball’s evidence to make their case. August Hanning of the BND sent a cable to George Tenet, Director of the CIA, warning that this intelligence was uncorroborated. The CIA claims that it never left the desk of Tyler Drumheller, then head of its European section; Drumheller stated in the programme that he had passed it on.

In early 2003, two pieces of intelligence that claimed that Iraq did not have WMD came to light. French intelligence had a key intermediary, an Arab journalist who knew several Iraqi ministers, including the Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri. . They passed him onto Bill Murray, the CIA’s Paris station chief. The Arab wanted $1m for his information, but Murray beat him down to $200,000, including expenses. The expenses included a new suit for Sabri; he was to wear it when making a speech to the UN in order to prove that the intermediary was genuine.

Murray said that Sabri told the CIA via the intermediary that Saddam was interested in acquiring WMD, but then had only a few chemical weapons left over from the 1990s. Sabri did not appear on the programme, but issued a denial that he had provided information to the CIA. The intermediary was invited to participate, but did not do so because the BBC refused to pay him the €10,000 that he wanted in return.

Murray said that his report on Sabri’s testimony was used selectively. He argued that very bad intelligence reached the leadership quickly, whilst better intelligence did not make it.

The other source was Tahir Habbush al-Tikriti, head of Iraqi intelligence. He met an MI6 officer in Jordan, telling him that Iraq had no WMD. MI6 thought that both these pieces of intelligence were dis-information, designed to  mislead. Tahir is the most senior member of Saddam’s regime to still be at liberty.

On 5 February 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell put forward the case for Iraq having WMD. Joschka Fischer presided over the meeting. In the programme, he said that Powell claimed things that he could not be certain of to be facts.

No WMD were found after the war. Red River, the MI6 spy, failed a lie detector test. The 45 minute claim was dropped. In April 2004 the CIA and MI6 met Curveball and declared him to be a fabricator. Tenet resigned from the CIA a week later. Curveball admitted on the programme that the US/UK coalition went to war on a lie.

Overall, it is clear that the war was launched on faulty intelligence. At best, it may be said that the US and UK governments started with a view about Saddam and WMD and rejected intelligence that did not fit with this preconceived notion. All evidence has to be considered, not just that which confirms what one wants to hear.

For viewers in the UK, the programme is available on the I-Player from this link, which says that it is available until 18 March 2014, far longer than programmes normally stay on the I-Player. It was made jointly with ZDF of Germany.

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The War of 1812: In Our Time, BBC Radio 4

A recent broadcast in the BBC Radio 4 series In Our Time dealt with the War of 1812. The programme is introduced by Melvyn Bragg, who discusses the topic with three experts. Subjects are drawn from Culture, History, Philosophy, Religion and Science. It has been broadcast since 1998, and every episode can be downloaded for free from the BBC website. As far as I know, there are no geographic restrictions.

Click here for the programme on the War of 1812, here for the series homepage and here for the archive of history programmes from 1998-2011. More recent programmes, not sorted by category, can be found from this link.

The BBC website describes the 1812 programme as follows:

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the War of 1812, the conflict between America and the British Empire sometimes referred to as the second American War of Independence. In June 1812, President James Madison declared war on Britain, angered by the restrictions Britain had imposed on American trade, the Royal Navy’s capture of American sailors and British support for Native Americans. After three years of largely inconclusive fighting, the conflict finally came to an end with the Treaty of Ghent which, among other things, helped to hasten the abolition of the global slave trade.
Although the War of 1812 is often overlooked, historians say it had a profound effect on the USA and Canada’s sense of national identity, confirming the USA as an independent country. America’s national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner began life as a poem written after its author, Francis Scott Key, witnessed the British bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore. The war also led to Native Americans losing hundreds of thousands of acres of land in a programme of forced removal.
With:
Kathleen Burk Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at University College London
Lawrence Goldman Fellow in Modern History at St Peter’s College, University of Oxford
Frank Cogliano Professor of American History at the University of Edinburgh
Producer: Victoria Brignell

In 1812, the USA was caught in the middle of a major war between Britain and France. It was trying ineffectually to defend itself against stronger powers who wanted to dictate who it could trade with. Both Britain and France introduced measures aimed at preventing the USA from trading with the other.

The Royal Navy had 130-140,000 men, and used impressment of British merchant seamen to maintain its strength. It was losing men to the USA;  some deserted the RN, whilst others were British merchant seaman who had decided to work on US ships and had become naturalised US citizens. The British did not recognise naturalisation, arguing that once a British subject, always a British subject. Up to 8,000 US sailors were impressed into RN.

Other causes of the war were Canada and also the Native Americans. Some Americans, including Thomas Jefferson, thought that the USA could just march into Canada and Canadians would willingly become Americans. Some wanted to annex territory, others wanted to take territory as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

There was increasing tension between Native Americans and settlers from 1808-9 in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. A Native American revival was led by two Shawnee brothers; Tecumseh, who provided strategic and military leadership, and Tenskwatawa, the spiritual leader. The British provided arms and support as they wanted a Native American buffer between USA and Canada.

In 1807 HMS Leopard forced the USS Chesapeake to strike her colours. Four US sailors were killed and four sailors removed; one was British born and the others were US born, but had been impressed into the RN and then deserted. Two were African-American, one of them a former slave, so had no British heritage.

Previous British impressment of US sailors had been from merchant ships, but the Chesapeake was a warship. The USA was not prepared for war, lacking the naval power for a conflict with Britain, so President Jefferson tried to exert economic pressure on Britain. His measures stopped US exports to Britain, but not US imports from Britain, so damaged the USA more than Britain

Some Americans feared that the British wanted to re-annex their former colonies, but this was not a British war aim, although some British newspapers still called the USA the colonies.

By 1812, there was a belief in USA that national honour was at stake and that this required war.

The British were initially under-resourced; they had 5,000 troops in Canada and limited naval forces in North America and the Caribbean. They were able to send reinforcements as the Napoleonic Empire collapsed, and had 100 ships in the war zone by the summer of 1814 and 50,000 troops there by the end of the war.

The USA was  unprepared; it had 7,000 regulars at start of war and had a particular problem with lack of trained officers. It did have state militias, totalling 4oo-500,000 men in theory, but some states were unwilling to pay the taxes needed to raise large forces. Some, especially in New England, wanted to fight only in defence of their territory and were unwilling to allow their militias to take part of an invasion of Canada.

The Americans were shocked that the Canadian militia fought well in defence of their territory. Invasions by both sides were unsuccessful because their militias fought better when defending than when attacking.

Links between the British and Native Americans severed in 1813; the naval battle on Lake Erie cut the supply route and Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames. The USA was waging two wars, one with the British and one with the Native Americans.

The British were never going to be able to conquer the USA, but in 1814 they landed at Washington as a diversion to take pressure off Canada. They intended to march in with a small party under a white flag and use the threat of burning the city to levy a fine, but were fired on from a private house.

Consequently, they executed the inhabitants of the house and burnt government buildings, including the Presidential Palace (now the White House) and the Library of Congress. They did not attack private property except for the house from which they were fired on. This was revenge for the US burning of public buildings in York (now part of Toronto).

There were few major battles, but the British launched a number of punitive expeditions to punish the Americans. At Baltimore in 1814, the RN had to stand-off Fort McHenry,  so could not support the army, which had to withdraw. Fort McHenry withstood bombardment by the RN, resulting in Francis Scott Key writing a poem called the Defence of Fort McHenry. It was later set to the music of a British song and became The Star Spangled Banner, the US National Anthem.

The war was a disaster for the Native Americans, who lost their historic links to Britain. After a decisive defeat by militia led by Andrew Jackson, they were forced to cede land and pushed westwards. Jackson became a national hero and was elected President in 1828. He then pursued a policy of removing the Native Americans from US territory.

There was opposition to war in both countries. In the US, this came from the north east, which traded with Canada. In addition, many in centre of country were uninvolved, in contrast to the War of Independence, which had effected everybody. In Britain opposition came from liberals and also on the grounds of the cost of a war that was diverting military and financial power from the more important conflict with France.

Peace attempts began in 1813 with an attempt at mediation by Tsar Alexander of Russia. It was rejected because both sides still thought they might gain an advantage and get more.

Napoleon’s abdication in 1814 lessened friction between the countries. The British no longer needed to interfere with US commerce or to impress US sailors. Negotiations at Ghent begin in August 1814 and a treaty signed on 24 December 1814. However, the final and biggest battle took place at New Orleans on 8 January 1815 as news of the treaty had not arrived.

New Orleans was a decisive victory for the USA, which inflicted 25% casualties on the 10,000 strong force British force. This led to the US people thinking that they had won the war, as they heard first about this victory and then learnt of the peace treaty soon afterwards. However, the British might have repudiated the treaty and tried to hold New Orleans if they had won the battle there.

The treaty settled nothing about the causes of the war, but the war boosted US self-confidence and gave the Canadians a sense of national identity. There was no further Anglo-American war. It was not very important to the British, for whom it was quickly over-shadowed by Waterloo. By 1823, Britain and the USA were co-operating over the Monroe Doctrine. The big losers of the War of 1812 were the Native Americans.

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MI6 and the Media: Document, BBC Radio 4

The latest programme in the BBC radio series Document dealt with alleged links between MI6, as the organisation officially called the Secret Intelligence Service is popularly known, and the British media during the Cold War. The format of this programme is that it starts with a document or documents and then tries to find the historical story behind the document or documents. A previous post on this blog discussed an earlier episode, which analysed relations between Britain and Vichy France during WWII.

Click here to listen to it from the BBC website; as far as I am aware, there are no time or geographic restrictions on its availability. Note that the online recording starts with a brief trailer for a later programme.

The BBC describes the programme as follows:

Jeremy Duns examines leaked documents which suggest close links between MI6 and the British press during the Cold War.

In December 1968, the British media was shaken by a series of secret documents leaked to Soviet state newspapers. The documents claimed a range of key Fleet Street correspondents and news chiefs were working for the intelligence services. Further papers alleged close links between the BBC and MI6.

At the time, the documents were dismissed by the British media as forgeries, part of an escalating propaganda battle played out in the Russian press. In this edition of Document, Jeremy Duns uncovers evidence which suggests that the papers were genuine and examines how they might have found their way into Soviet hands.

Notorious spies George Blake and Kim Philby are among those under suspicion of having leaked the documents.

Jeremy Duns speaks to distinguished Sunday Times journalist Phillip Knightley, and historian of the intelligence services Professor Christopher Andrew.

The story began with in August 1968, when the Red Army invaded Czechoslovakia in order to put down the Prague Spring, crushing the Czech leadership’s vision of ‘Socialism with a human face.’ The invasion was heavily criticised in Britain by both the media and the government.

This coverage appeared to anger the USSR, since in December the Soviet newspaper Izvestia published a series of articles attacking the British media, which it accused of ‘being an accomplice in ideological subversion.’ Jeremy Duns came across this whilst researching a book on an unrelated spy operation. The Soviets claimed that a large part of the British media was directly working with MI6.

Their source was what they claimed to be a series of MI6 memos. These are the documents analysed in this programme. They included the code names of MI6 officers assigned to work with named journalists, all beginning with BIN. It was also alleged that the BBC was broadcasting coded messages on behalf of MI6.

The allegations were described as ‘rubbish’ by the left-wing Guardian, whilst the right-wing Daily Telegraph thought that they were ‘clumsy and crude.’

Duns looked into the story to see if there is any truth in it. He started with government archives, but MI6 has not released any relevant documents, and none could be found in the UK National Archives.

He then proceeded to interview a number of people who might know the truth. In 1969 Bill Norris reported on the Nigerian Civil War for The Times. He was approached by the British military attaché, who wanted him to provide intelligence on military strength in the north of the country. He declined as he was not a spy and regarded what he was being asked to as being both unethical and very risky. Others agreed to help the military attaché , but Norris would not say who they were.

Kim Philby, the KGB double agent inside MI6 who defected in 1963, made allegations about links between MI6 and the British media in a 1971 interview with Izvestia. One of documents was dated 1959, raising the possibility that Philby might have supplied them to the KGB.

Rupert Allason, who writes on intelligence matters under the pseudonym of Nigel West and studied the KGB files on Philby in the 1990s, did not find this credible as Philby had no access to MI6 files after 1951. Allason was unsure of the authenticity of the documents. He said that MI6 was very cautious of journalists, although some of them were ex MI6 officers.

Dr Stephen Dorril of the University of Huddersfield found the documents more compelling; he has written several books on the British security and intelligence services. He said that the details of how MI6 operates and its relations with journalists revealed in the memos suggested that they were real. He had previously been told of the BIN code names by an ex officer. He suspects that the memos came from George Blake, another KGB double agent in MI6. Blake was involved in recruiting journalists for MI6 and gave almost all the documents he encountered to the KGB.

Philip Knightley, a former Sunday Times journalist, was a contemporary of many of the journalists named in the memos. The allegations do not surprise him, as he had heard the same names quoted before around Fleet Street. He thinks that the documents are genuine.

The former Labour Cabinet Minister Tony Benn wrote in his diary in December 1979 that Mark Arnold-Forster had told him that he worked for MI6 whilst being a Guardian journalist during the period covered by these allegations..

One of the journalists accused of working for MI6 was David Astor, editor of The Observer. Jeremy Lewis, who is writing a biography of him, thinks that the allegations are plausible. Astor had a relationship with MI6 at start of WWII, and this may have continued.

Duns then visited the BBC archives in order to investigate allegations against it. A redacted memo of 24 April 1969 could be read by holding it up to the light. It expresses sympathy for friends who had been caught up in the Soviet propaganda attacks; friends is a euphemism for MI6, but there was nothing else on the subject in the BBC files.

Prof Jean Seaton of the University of Westminster, the official BBC historian, pointed out that the KGB would try to brand BBC World Service Russian broadcasters as spies in order to discredit them.

There is less evidence against BBC than the print media of the employment of journalists by MI6, but the question of it transmitting secret messages on behalf of MI6 remains. This involved the broadcast of prearranged tunes or sentences so that an MI6 officer could prove to somebody from the Soviet Bloc that he was trying to recruit that he had official backing. This is plausible according to Seaton, who pointed out that it was WWII tradecraft.

Prof. Christopher Andrew of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, the official historian of MI5, said that his first instinct on seeing the documents was that they were photographs taken by a Minox miniature camera rather than the originals. This points towards them having been taken by Blake, who used a Minox to copy large number of MI6 documents.

All the journalists singled out as potential MI6 agents are now dead, but cross-referencing of their careers suggests that the documents are from the late 1950s, when Blake was operating as spy. He was discovered and sentenced to 42 years in prison in 1961, but escaped in 1966 and reached the Soviet Bloc. Philby was already in Moscow, and the KGB would have sought Philby’s advice on what propaganda  would have the greatest impact on the UK public. Andrew pointed out that this would apply whether or not the documents were genuine.

Sir Alastair Horne worked for British intelligence in WWII. After the war he became a journalist for the Daily Express, which sent him to Berlin in the early 1950s. He was asked by Maurice Oldfield, his wartime boss, to run three agents in West German ministries. He did not want to and thought that it would interfere with his journalism, but felt that it was something he had to. He thought that it was unethical, but that we were fighting a war against a miserable and ghastly dictatorship that wanted to take over our way of life.

Soviet propaganda may actually have been the truth in this case, but the nature of the contacts remains unknown; they might have been more informal than claimed by the Soviets. Andrew has no doubts that there were contacts, but is cautious about their nature. Dorril thinks that there is much more to come out about co-operation between MI6 and newspapers during Cold War. Knightley believes that such links are dangerous as the opposition will assume all journalists have intelligence links if one is shown to have them.

An interesting programme in an interesting series. The intelligence services played a major role in the Cold War, and there is no doubt much more still to be discovered on the subject.

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Prisoner Number A26188 – Henia Bryer: BBC TV

A documentary titled Prisoner Number A26188 – Henia Bryer was shown on BBC1 on Sunday 27 January 2012. It told the story of Henia Bryer, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust and now lives in Cape Town, South Africa. It was made by her niece Lisa Bryer, who was one of the producers of The Last King of Scotland. A26188 was the number tattooed on Henia’s arm in Auschwitz; she refused to have it removed after the war.

Most of the 45 minutes programme consisted of Henia speaking to camera, interspersed with still photographs of the Holocaust. The only archive film was the British one about the liberation of Belsen, which was narrated by Richard Dimbleby. Henia’s husband, two sons and grandson also spoke.

In 1939 Henia lived in Radom in Poland with her parents, an older brother, a younger brother and a sister who was the youngest of the four children. The older brother was physically, but not mentally, disabled as a result of problems with his birth. Henia’s father owned a shoe factory, so the family had a comfortable life before the war.

The Germans entered Radom on 9 September 1939, eight days after they invaded Poland. They immediately installed loudspeakers, which spewed out hate propaganda, leaving nobody with any doubts about their attitude towards the Jews.

The Jews had to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David on them. Some people were puzzled to see Henia wearing one, as she was fair haired and did not conform to the Nazi stereotype of the Jew.

Henia’s family were initially able to survive because her father had a store of gold coins. He was forced to continue working, but was no longer paid.

In 1941 the Radom Ghetto was established, with about 30,000 inhabitants. There were actually two ghettos; Henia and her family lived in the larger of the two, where there were 10 people to a room. Her younger brother was taken away to work in an armament factory. He survived, but never told her about his experiences.

In 1942 20,000 of the people in the Ghetto were shot or sent to death camps.

Henia had a lucky escape when she was suffering from an abscess. There were no dentists, so she was to go to the hospital to have it lanced. It burst on the day that she was due to go, so she stayed at home. Everybody at the hospital was killed that day.

Her older brother was not so lucky. Because of his disability he had to go to the hospital, which he knew meant his death. Henias said that:

He knew exactly what was happening… he took off his winter coat and he gave it to my mother and he said: ‘Give it to someone who will need it. I won’t need it any more’. And she came home with a coat.

In March 1944 the ghetto was closed and the last 300 Jews were loaded onto cattle trucks, with no ventilation, toilets, water or light, and taken to the Majdanek concentration camp. There, they were stripped and given thin, striped uniforms. The women were separated from the men. This was Henia’s first encounter with female SS guards; she commented that they were even crueller than the SS men.

After 6 weeks she was sent to Plaszow, which she said was well portrayed in the film Schindler’s List. Most of its inmates came from Krakow. She was employed as one of a team of 10 women who had to push wagons loaded with stones along rails from a quarry. The camp did not have a crematorium, so the bodies of the victims of hangings, shootings and disease were burnt on a nearby hill, with the ashes flying over the camp.

Henia’s younger sister was taken away with many other children. Loud music was played in the camp as the children were sent to their deaths.

The Jews were allowed to rest on Sundays. The Germans would surround a barrack, and take its inmates away to donate blood to be given to wounded German soldiers. The amount of blood that was taken and the poor diet meant that those forced to donate would not survive long. When Henia’s barracks was chosen there appeared to be no escape. She stayed in her bunk and managed to convince an SS man that she had typhus, so was not taken away.

Her father was beaten to death by a Kapo, one of the prisoners who oversaw other inmates in return for better conditions.

In October 1944 Henia was sent to Auschwitz, where she encountered her mother and her best friend. Like all Jews arriving at Auschwitz, she had to undergo a selection for slave labour of death. It was conducted  by Josef Mengele, who sent her for slave labour.

As at Majdanek, she was stripped and then issued with clothes. In this case, they were civilian ones, but they were too smal for her. Expecting to die because of the intense cold, she started crying. She heard somebody calling her name, but could not see him through her tears. The voice told her to approach a nearby fence. On the other side was one of her father’s former employees. He worked in the part of the camp that sorted out the possessions of the dead, and he provided her with warm clothes that fitted.

Henia met two identical twins from Radom, who were being used for Mengele’s human experiments. she said that they were lucky to be warm in the experimental block, whilst she was cold, hungry and carrying out hard labour. They told her not to envy them.

She was evacuated from Auschwitz just before the Red Army arrived, and took part in a death march. Many prisoners were shot because they could not keep up; their corpses were all along both sides of the road. She ended up at Bergen-Belsen.

Henia had seen people dying and being shot, hanged, punished and tortured, but Belsen was the biggest shock. She had never seen anything like the huge mountain of corpses, which were partly decomposing. She said that ‘even by the standards of Auschwitz, this was the pits.’

She caught typhus at Belsen, where people just sat around waiting to die. 13,000 prisoners, including the only friend that she had in the camp, died even after if was liberated by the British. There were not enough doctors, and many inmates could not cope with the better food that they were now given.

Some survivors from Radom were in Stuttgart, so Henia went there and met her mother. It was difficult to re-build their lives, and they had not psychiatric help. They stayed with an uncle in Paris for two years, before using false passports to go to Palestine in 1947 on a Greek ship.

They found Henia’s brother in Israel. He and she both served in the army. They underwent a healing process in Israel, but had a rule that they did not talk about the camps at home, so Henia does not know how her brother and mother survived. She met Maurice, her South African husband in 1952, and moved first to Bloemfontein and later to Cape Town.

For UK viewers, the programme is available on the I-Player until Saturday 2 February. It was made by an independent production company, which will no doubt have sold it to other countries.

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Modern Spies Part 2- BBC2

The second and final episode of Modern Spies  was broadcast by BBC TV on Monday 9 April. It was presented by Peter Taylor, a BBC journalist who specialised in Northern Ireland in the 1990s and has reported widely on al-Qaeda since 9/11. It discussed the lengths to which the intelligences services are prepared to go in the fight against terror and asked whether or not British intelligence officers have a licence to kill. Click here for my blog on the first episode.

As in the first episode, Taylor interviewed serving British intelligence officers. They were identified by only their first names,  their faces were obscured and actors spoke their words, so we have to take their word and that of the BBC that they were who they claimed to be. Given Peter Taylor’s reputation, I would be surprised if they were not genuine. There were also open interviews with former senior British police officers and Israeli intelligence officers, current and former CIA and FBI officials and William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary.

It was claimed that there are about 2,000 al-Qaeda inspired terror suspects in the UK. In 2010 MI5 carried out extensive surveillance on a group suspected of planning attacks on major targets in London, including placing bugs in suspect’s homes. The MI5 and police officers interviewed said that everything they did was proportionate and legal, and that they were accountable to a high level of government. The evidence gathered was so convincing that the nine accused pleaded guilty and were given long prison sentences.

Security services make use of ‘sting’ operations, where undercover officers pretend to be able to supply suspected terrorists with the weapons and equipment needed to carry out their operation. There is a risk that these cross the line into entrapment, where the undercover officers entice the suspects into attempting to carry out an act of terror.

A British ‘sting’ operation against the Real IRA came close to entrapment, with the result that only one of the two suspects was convicted. This was blamed on the undercover agent not being trained by MI5; he was recruited specially for this operation, because MI5 did not have an agent with what was described as the ‘right face’ for the mission.

The US uses undercover agents more aggressively than Britain does. This was claimed to risk claims of entrapment. An operation, again carried out by outsiders brought in specially for this mission was described.  The Albanian-American Muslim Duka family took a film of themselves firing automatic weapons, whilst shouting Allah Akbar and Jihad, to a shop for conversion into a DVD. The film company informed the FBI which, lacking suitable agents, recruited two Albanian-Americans to penetrate the group.

Six men, including three Duka brothers, were convicted of buying weapons as part of a plan to attack the US military base at Fort Dix. There appeared little doubt that they had done so; the issue was that the FBI undercover agents may have proposed the operation and thus been guilty of entrapment. One of the undercover agents was paid $240,000 and the other received $150,000 and had deportation proceedings against him dropped.

The  question of whether or not British intelligence officers have a James Bond style licence to kill was discussed. The interviewees were adamant that they do not, and the programme then moved on to other intelligence services that have used assassination.

Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, has admitted that it hunted down and killed the Palestinians responsible for the deaths of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972; it argues that its motive was to prevent future attacks, rather than revenge. A fictionalised version of this story was told in the film Munich.

A team of up to 20 Mossad agents is believed to have assassinated Mahmoud al Mabhouh of Hamas in Dubai in 2010. The programme showed hotel CCTV footage of the agents, who were out of the country by the time that al Mabhouh had been found dead in his hotel room. Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence service, has also killed Palestinians.

The USA has killed a large number of al-Qaeda leaders in drone attacks. A total of 3,000 people have died in these, including innocent bystanders. Britain also uses drones. US Navy Seals assassinated Osama Bin Laden last year.

One awkward revelation for the British intelligence services was that Britain co-operated in the extraordinary rendition of the Libyan opposition leader Abdel Hakim Belhaj  to Libya in 2004. Belhaj was then the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which MI6 feared was close to al-Qaeda. He is now a senior military commander in the new Libya, which Britain helped to create.

This came to light when Libyan intelligence files were discovered after the headquarters of Libyan intelligence were bombed last year. Britain has always denied any involvement in torture, but Belhaj says that he was tortured during his captivity.

This was a very interesting series. To some extent, we were told only what the intelligence services wanted us to hear, but it had unprecedented access. It was noticeable that criticisms had to made tangentially, by talking about things that the Americans and Israelis had done, and which Britain might also have done.

It is available for UK viewers on the I-Player until 12:19am on 20 April. No co-producers, so I do not know if it will be shown in other countries.

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Modern Spies – BBC2

Modern Spies is a two-part BBC TV series that looks at the real world of modern spies and  compares it with the fictional spy world. There were clips from Spooks, 24, James Bond and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but the programme was mostly concerned with the real world. It was presented by Peter Taylor, a BBC journalist who specialised in Northern Ireland in the 1990s and has reported widely on al-Qaeda since 9/11.

For the first time interviews with serving British intelligence officers were broadcast on TV. They were identified by only their first names,  their faces were obscured and actors spoke their words, so we have to take their word and that of the BBC that they were who they claimed to be. Given Peter Taylor’s reputation, I would be surprised if they were not genuine.

They came from all three UK intelligence agencies; the Security Service, better known as MI5, which deals with threats to the UK’s national security; the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, which is responsible for intelligence operations abroad; and GCHQ, responsible for electronic security, codes and cyphers. This was the first time that cameras had been allowed inside GCHQ’s main site at Cheltenham. Science fiction fans (and perhaps conspiracy theorists) may be amused to learn that Britain’s military satellite communications network is called Skynet, the same name as the computer network that is humanity’s enemy in the Terminator films.

Some of the interviewees were from the CIA and FBI; they were named, but were either senior enough to already be publicly known or else retired.  A lot of it was devoted to recruitment; British and American intelligence agencies now have recruitment films on their websites. In the past, MI5 and MI6 recruited via informal approaches at universities, mainly Cambridge and Oxford.

Post 9/11 there has been a need for Asian agents who can infiltrate al-Qaeda. A ‘sting’ operation was re-enacted. British Asian MI5 agents persuaded a British member of al-Qaeda that they could supply him with weapons. The al-Qaeda man was arrested.

One of the FBI  officials interviewed said that 9/11 led to a downgrading of counter-intelligence (operations against foreign intelligence services) as counter-terrorism was expanded. This created problems because, despite the end of the Cold War, Russia continues to spy on the West. It was claimed that there are now as many Russian spies in the USA as there were Soviet ones during the Cold War.

In a well publicised case 10 Russian spies were arrested in the USA in June 2010. Most of them were ‘dead doubles’; Russians who had taken the identity of Americans who were born around the same time as themselves but died young. The exception was Anna Chapman, who has become the best known of the 10 because of her looks. She was able to operate under her own name because her ex-husband, Alex Chapman, is British.

The FBI investigation into the Russian spy ring was also re-enacted. Chapman did not meet her contact, but used a laptop with an encrypted wi-fi connection to send information to somebody a short distance away. The FBI broke the encryption and arranged a meeting between her and one of its own agents, who took the laptop for repair.

The Russian agents were arrested when the FBI realised that they were getting close to a Cabinet official. It was suggested that she might have been a ‘honey trap’ agent; one whose job is to obtain sensitive information by seducing somebody who possesses it. The FBI has subsequently issued a statement saying that Chapman had not attempted to seduce the Cabinet official. In fact, another Russian spy, Cynthia Murphy, who worked on Wall St, had several meetings with a financier who was a friend of the Cabinet official.

The 10 Russians were eventually swapped for four Russians accused of spying for the West. One potentially tragic impact of the case is on the two daughters of Cynthia Murphy and  her husband Richard, also a member of the spy ring. The BBC programme  suggested that their marriage was arranged as part of their cover by the Russian intelligence services. The daughters, having been born and brought up in the USA, now find themselves living in Russia with parents whose marriage may be a sham.

The programme talked about honey traps as if they were always used to entrap men by having them approached by younger and extremely attractive women, who would use pillow talk to obtain secrets. However, I recall reading during the Cold War of handsome and charming male agents who would seduce lonely government secretaries in order to obtain secrets.

Intelligence depends on the sources of information. An enormous risk is of acting on intelligence provided by a rogue source. Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, an Iraqi defector code-named ‘Curveball’, told German intelligence, the BND, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. His information was used by the USA to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He admitted on-screen that he made up his stories of secret factories and special trucks carrying bio-weapons. According to The Guardian, he did so in order to bring down Saddam’s regime and had an agreement with the BND that they would not pass his information onto other countries. He claims to be ‘comfortable’ with what he did.

A major intelligence threat to the West is coming from China. The Chinese intelligence services like to operate via what are known as ‘cut-outs.’ These, rather than a Chinese intelligence officer, deal with the sources. The sources may not know who they are supplying information to, and the risk that the intelligence officers may be arrested is considerably reduced.

It was claimed that China has obtained full details of all US nuclear weapons and it was pointed out that China’s newest combat aircraft, the J-20, is very similar to the Lockheed Martin F-35. It was alleged that the Chinese had obtained details of the F-35 by hacking into the computers of BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin’s British partner.

A very interesting programme. albeit on a subject where you can never be sure that you are being told the whole truth. Like the spies, you are reliant on your sources. However, Peter Taylor has a good reputation so I think that we learnt as much of the truth as we are likely to on this subject.

More to follow on the second programme, which deals with the questions of how far the British intelligence services will go to protect the country from terrorist threats and whether or not they have a licence to kill.

For UK viewers, the programme is available on the I-Player until midnight on 16 April. There were no co-producers, so I do not know if it will be shown in other countries.

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