Tag Archives: BBC

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.

5 Comments

Filed under Reviews, War History

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Political History, Reviews

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.

5 Comments

Filed under Political History, Reviews, War History

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Current affairs, Reviews

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.

13 Comments

Filed under Current affairs, Reviews