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John Simkin

CIA involvement in the Labour Party: 1945-2008

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Attempts by the CIA to destabilise Labour governments began with the Clement Atlee government (1945-51). The Strategic Services Unit (SSU) that in 1947 became the CIA had an interesting relationship with the Labour Party. They favoured its anti-imperialist policies that promised an end to the British Empire. However, they totally opposed its socialist domestic policies.

They concentrated on turning the party to the right. This is best explained by Tom Braden, a senior official in the CIA, who was head of the International Organizations Division (IOD) during this period. He explained in an interview that was included in the Granada Television program, World in Action: The Rise and Fall of the CIA (June, 1975):

It never had to account for the money it spent except to the President if the President wanted to know how much money it was spending. But otherwise the funds were not only unaccountable, they were unvouchered, so there was really no means of checking them - "unvouchered funds" meaning expenditures that don't have to be accounted for.... If the director of CIA wanted to extend a present, say, to someone in Europe - a Labour leader - suppose he just thought, This man can use fifty thousand dollars, he's working well and doing a good job - he could hand it to him and never have to account to anybody... I don't mean to imply that there were a great many of them that were handed out as Christmas presents. They were handed out for work well performed or in order to perform work well.... Politicians in Europe, particularly right after the war, got a lot of money from the CIA....

Since it was unaccountable, it could hire as many people as it wanted. It never had to say to any committee - no committee said to it - "You can only have so many men." It could do exactly as it pleased. It made preparations therefore for every contingency. It could hire armies; it could buy banks. There was simply no limit to the money it could spend and no limit to the people it could hire and no limit to the activities it could decide were necessary to conduct the war - the secret war.... It was a multinational. Maybe it was one of the first.

Journalists were a target, labor unions a particular target - that was one of the activities in which the communists spent the most money. They set up a successful communist labor union in France right after the war. We countered it with Force Ouvriere. They set up this very successful communist labor union in Italy, and we countered it with another union.... We had a vast project targeted on the intellectuals - "the battle for Picasso's mind," if you will. The communists set up fronts which they effectively enticed a great many particularly the French intellectuals to join. We tried to set up a counterfront. (This was done through funding of social and cultural organizations such as the Pan-American Foundation, the International Marketing Institute, the International Development Foundation, the American Society of African Culture, and the Congress of Cultural Freedom.) I think the budget for the Congress of Cultural Freedom one year that I had charge of it was about $800,000, $900,000, which included, of course, the subsidy for the Congress's magazine, Encounter. That doesn't mean that everybody that worked for Encounter or everybody who wrote for Encounter knew anything about it. Most of the people who worked for Encounter and all but one of the men who ran it had no idea that it was paid for by the CIA.

This strategy was highly successful with trade union leaders such as Arthur Deakin, the General Secretary of the TUC and in young MPs like Hugh Gaitskell, George Brown, James Callaghan and Denis Healey who were considered to be future leaders of the party.

Harold Wilson was not turned during this period. He was the youngest member of the cabinet as President of the Board of Trade. What is more, while many Labour colleagues were accepting freebies from Americans and going to the United States for holidays, Wilson was travelling east, fixing trade deals with the Soviet Union.

When Hugh Gaitskell died in 1963, Wilson was able to defeat his right-wing rivals, George Brown and James Callaghan. MI5 and the CIA became disturbed by this development. As Peter Wright explained in Spycatcher:

Much has been written about Harold Wilson and MI5, some of it wildly inaccurate. But as far as I am concerned, the story started with the premature death of Hugh Gaitskell in 1963. Gaitskell was Wilson's predecessor as Leader of the Labour Party. I knew him personally and admired him greatly. I had met him and his family at the Blackwater Sailing Club, and I recall about a month before he died he told me that he was going to Russia.

After he died his doctor got in touch with MI5 and asked to see somebody from the Service. Arthur Martin, as the head of Russian Counterespionage, went to see him. The doctor explained that he was disturbed by the manner of Gaitskell's death. He said that Gaitskell had died of a disease called lupus disseminata, which attacks the body's organs. He said that it was rare in temperate climates and that there was no evidence that Gaitskell had been anywhere recently where he could have contracted the disease.

Arthur Martin suggested that I should go to Porton Down, the chemical and microbiological laboratory for the Ministry of Defense. I went to see the chief doctor in the chemical warfare laboratory. Dr. Ladell, and asked his advice. He said that nobody knew how one contracted lupus. There was some suspicion that it might be a form of fungus and he did hot have the foggiest idea how one would infect somebody with the disease. I came back and made my report in these terms.

The next development was that Golitsin told us quite independently that during the last few years of his service he had had some contacts with Department 13, which was known as the Department of Wet Affairs in the KGB. This department was responsible for organizing assassinations. He said that just before he left he knew that the KGB were planning a high-level political assassination in Europe in order to get their man into the top place. He did not know which country it was planned in but he pointed out that the chief of Department 13 was a man called General Rodin, who had been in Britain for many years and had just returned on promotion to take up the job, so he would have had good knowledge of the political scene in England.

During the 1964 General Election campaign Wilson promised to modernize Britain. Making full use of his academic background and poking fun at the aristocratic Alec Douglas-Home, Wilson was able to obtain a five-seat majority in the House of Commons. After the 1966 General Election this majority was increased to 97.

Wilson was fairly successful in his promise to modernize Britain. His government brought an end to capital punishment, reformed the divorce laws and legalized abortion and homosexuality. However, he failed in his attempt to take on the Whitehall security establishment in the so-called D-notice Affair.

Wilson had more difficulty with the economy and in November, 1967, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, James Callaghan, was forced to devalue the pound. Wilson believed that it was the far right in both Britain and the United States that had undermined the UK economy. By the end of the 1960s, with unemployment and inflation increasing, Wilson's popularity declined and the Conservative Party, led by Edward Heath, won the 1970 General Election.

The Labour Party was re-elected to power in 1974. We now know that this victory triggered a plot that attempted to destabilise the government. This conspiracy involved several intelligence agencies, including MI5, CIA, and BOSS. This right-wing cabal also included various military people such as General Walter Walker and David Stirling (SAS).

There are several sources that confirm this plot. This includes MI5 officer, Peter Wright (Spycatcher), Colin Wallace, the British Army’s psychological operations officer who was working in Northern Ireland during this period (Who Framed Colin Wallace?) and Gordon Winter, a BOSS agent (Inside BOSS). All three men were actually involved in this plot against Wilson.

We also have the testimony of Harold Wilson who gave his material to the journalists, Barry Penrose and Roger Couriour (The Pencourt File). This included information about how his circle were being repeatedly burgled. He was also being provided with information from George Wigg, who had good contacts within MI5 (It was Wigg who had disclosed the Profumo Affair).

In fact, we now know that this campaign was not only against the Labour government but also against the Liberal Party and Edward Heath and his closest political allies (Wallace and Winter). Jeremy Thorpe got smeared with the Norman Scott material and Peter Hain got prosecuted for bank robbery. Thorpe and Hain were not convicted but the cases severely damaged the Liberal Party. The most successful smear campaign was against Heath and as a result the right-wing cabal got a hard-line Tory government in 1979 that created mass-employment and destroyed the power of the trade unions. Not surprisingly, Thatcher was the most unpopular politician in British history and was only saved by the Falklands War.

A recently released document shows that MI5 began the campaign against Edward Heath as early as 1972. George Kennedy Young, the SIS deputy director, wrote that “The Queer (Heath) will be overthrown”. Another interesting factor was that Margaret Thatcher’s campaign manager was Airey Neave. During the Second World War he was recruited into M19, a branch of M16 responsible for the support of the French Resistance. After the war he remained in close contact with the intelligence community and in opposition was Thatcher’s spokesperson on Northern Ireland. In 1976 Neave approached Colin Wallace and asked him to provide “dirt” on the Labour Party.

In 1976 Wilson decided to resign from office and was replaced by James Callaghan. Wilson tried to get Callaghan to carry on this investigation but understandably he refused.

Interestingly, the CIA chief in London during this period was Cord Meyer, who worked as Tom Braden’s deputy International Organizations Division (IOD) during Atlee’s government. Later he was to become head of Operation Mockingbird, the CIA’s program to control the world media.

After the defeat of James Callaghan in 1979 Labour remained out of power until 1997. Of course, by this time, the Labour Party had a leader who was completely under the control of MI5/CIA.

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