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MI5 and the Extreme Right

John Simkin

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As a result of information acquired by the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act MI5 were using undercover agents to spy on the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the 1980s. This information only adds to the evidence that the MI5 has always been under the control of the far right.

This has been true since 1907 when Major Vernon Kell become Director of the Home Section of the Secret Service Bureau with responsibility for investigating espionage, sabotage and subversion within and outside Britain. Later the organisation became known as Military Intelligence (MI5). Kell and his men exclusively targeted left-wing activists.

By 1918 MI5 had files on 137,500 individuals. This included trade unionists, members of the Independent Labour Party and those who had campaigned for peace negotiations during the First World War.

In October 1924 the MI5 intercepted a letter written by Grigory Zinoviev, chairman of the Comintern in the Soviet Union. This investigation eventually became known as the Zinoviev Letter Scandal. Zinoviev's letter urged British communists to promote revolution through acts of sedition. After consulting Basil Thomson at Special Branch, Kell showed the letter to Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour Prime Minister. Kell told MacDonald that MI5 and the Special Branch were convinced the letter was genuine.

It was agreed that the letter should be kept secret but someone leaked news of the letter to The Times and the Daily Mail. The letter was published in these newspapers four days before the 1924 General Election and contributed to the defeat of Ramsay MacDonald and the Labour Party. After the election it was claimed that two of MI5's agents, Sidney Reilly and Arthur Maundy Gregory, had forged the letter and had been involved in leaking it to the press.

This did not stop the Labour Party being elected to power five years later. This time MI5 used a different strategy for dealing with the growth in socialism. It is the same strategy they have used ever since. You “turn” the leaders of the labour movement. Ramsay MacDonald was only the first leader turned in this way. Others, like Tony Blair, were recruited early in their political career.

In 1925 Vernon Kell appointed Maxwell Knight as Director of Intelligence of the British Fascists (BF). Knight played a significant role in helping to defeat the General Strike in 1926 and by the early 1930s was placed in charge of B5b, a unit that conducted the monitoring of political subversion.

The vast majority of Knight's agents were part-time. Knight recruited a large number of his agents from right-wing political organizations such as the Nordic League, British Union of Fascists and the Right Club. This included William Allen and William Joyce who was later to become known as Lord Haw Haw in Nazi Germany.

The KGB used this against MI5 by getting their agents such as Kim Philby and Guy Burgess to join right-wing organizations that were working with Maxwell Knight. They were recruited as neo-fascists when in reality they were devout communists.


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