Anti-communist circles

It remains unclear for now, who prepared the reports on the AAM AGMs, who was the ‘well-tried source’ of Special Branch. The only lead is a small note by civil servant Roy Sterlini. In his cover letter to Special Branch, he remarks that the Griffin Press Bureau was the sender of the report on the 1970 AGM of the AAM.

Box 2

The Griffin Press Bureau was housed at 2-3 Norfolk street in central London, an address shared with two anti-communist initiatives, Common Cause and Interdoc. They were part of an ever-changing proliferation of national and international grouplets. It included Brian Crozier, a right-wing strategist on the crossroads of intelligence and propaganda and the Economic League, later exposed for keeping files on employees that were considered a risk by companies in order to blacklist them.[1]see Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, Blacklisted, the secret war between big business and union activists, New Internationalist, Oxford, 2015. .

Cold war warriors, these groups had close links to MI5 or MI6 and received some of their funding from the Information Research Department, the secret propaganda outfit of the Foreign Office, from the CIA – or from both. Further money came from large companies, such as Ford and Shell, and influential rich individuals.[2]John Jenks, British Propaganda and News in Media in the Cold War, Edinburgh University Press, 2006, p.108-109.

However, both Common Cause and Interdoc were propaganda outfits, rather than private intelligence agencies (see Box 2). While the Griffin Press Bureau seems no more than a convenient cover, the most likely candidate to have authored the reports on the Anti-Apartheid Movement is the Economic League. Working for employers mainly, they also had close links to the police.

In 1988, the ITV programme World In Action revealed that the Economic League had someone called Ned Walsh infiltrated in the AAM. Through his membership of the Trade Union Committee of the AAM, he had access to all kind of members-only meetings, including the AGM. (see Box 3.)

Without access to archives due to COVID19, we have not been able to confirm the presence of Walsh at the 1969 and 1970 AGMc yet. Any help with this is hugely appreciated.

Special Branch and the Economic League

In the early 1970s, the League was getting more than £400,00 a year in subscriptions and donations, which they used to employ around 160 staff and print some 20 million leaflets warning against the dangers of subversion.[3]Tony Bunyan, The history and the practice of the political police in the UK, Quartet Books, London, 1977, p. 248.

The informal contacts with Special Branch started at the office. At the time, several of the men working at the EL’s central records and research department, as well as the husbands of some of the secretarial staff, were former or serving Metropolitan Police officers.[4]According to Pauline who was employed by EL in the early 1970s, cited in Smith and Chamberlain, p. 47.

After the League was exposed in 1988 by Granada TV’s World in Action for blacklisting, a former director acknowledged there was a quite active relationship with Special Branch: ‘Obviously we help them [SB] where we can […] there is an exchange of information just in the ordinary course of talking.’[5]Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor, Blacklist: The Inside Story of Political Vetting, Hogart, 1988, p.158.

Meanwhile, Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain in their research for Blacklisted, the secret war between big business and union activists (updated edition 2017) have shown cooperation went far beyond that. They found information on dozens of individuals that could only come from Special Branch in the files of the Consultancy Agency, the outfit that continued the blacklisting service for construction industry after the EL was wound down in 1993.

To gather such information, the Economic League had at least one individual infiltrating unions and campaign groups for decades, but there may have been more. The trove of Economic League documents leaked to Granada TV journalists Tony Watson and Charles Tremayne in 1988 included a complete report of a meeting of the Trade Union Committee of the AAM. They determined that it could only have been written by one person, Ned Walsh.

A member of the Liberal party, Walsh began working for the Economic League in 1961 and joined the science and technology workers union ASTMS to report on union organising. His next step was getting access to the meetings of the AAM Trade Union Committee open only to people representing unions. In that position he attended a wide variety of confidential meetings including AGMs, passing on AAM strategy to those companies who invested in South Africa,[6]Mark Hollingsworth and Charles Tremayne, The Economic League: The Silent McCarthyism, National Council for Civil Liberties, 1989, p. 25-26. and – potentially, eventually – to Special Branch.

It is still unclear when Walsh started going to AAM meetings, and whether it was him who reported on the AGMs of 1969 and 1970. If not, it’s quite like the Economic League had someone else infiltrated, working in much the same way.


 

Cold war warriors

Common Cause was an Anglo-American organisation founded in the early 1950s, soon splitting into Common Cause Ltd and a separate industrial wing, Industrial Research and Information Services. IRIS had secret ‘cells’ in trade unions, mainly those of engineers and electricians, to undermine ‘communists’ and published a ‘red scare’ journal called IRIS News. It was not based at the Norfolk street address, but at the head quarters of the National Union of Seamen.[7]Robin Ramsay, The Clandestine Caucus, Lobster Special Issue, 1996. Although the organisation must have kept files on individuals and groups they considered subversive, there is no evidence on how big the files were or what they contained.[8]Email from Robin Ramsay, 27 July 2020.

Interdoc was an anti-communist network set up in the late 1950s, operating from the Netherlands and Germany. The group was inspired by the Economic League and its aim ‘to counter disruptive activity by the left within the working class through “constructive economic education”’.[9]Giles Scott-Smith, Western Anti-Communism and the Interdoc Network: Cold War Internationale, 2010, p. 38.

The Economic League (see Box 3) was part of this network. In 1964, John Dettmer, its general director agreed to sit on the board of the UK branch Interdoc. He was joined by Brian Crozier, Neil Ellis, a founding member of Common Cause and W. Bertram Hesmondhalgh of Shell’s PR department in London. Shell paid for the group’s secretary, Dick Ellis, a retiring MI6 agent the first two years, while in 1966, the IRD agreed to pay for the office space shared with Common Cause.[10]Scott-Smith p. 111-114, citing internal Interdoc files.

The Griffin Press Bureau does not feature prominently in the networks of anti-communist groups at all. A distribution list from 1968 shows that Interdoc used the Bureau to disseminate their material to the international departments of the Labour, Liberal and Conservative parties, the Trade Union Congress and the National Union of Students.[11]Scott-Smith, p. 199  Giles Scott-Smith, who documented Interdoc, thinks that the Griffin Press Bureau was either a simple front to circulate Interdoc publications to specific political bodies in the UK, or represented a form of outreach for the IRD or Crozier.[12]Email from Gilles Scott-Smith, 27 July 2020. He did not find anything on the Griffin Press Bureau in the archives of Interdoc’s founder of Kees van den Heuvel.

 

References

↑ 1. see Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, Blacklisted, the secret war between big business and union activists, New Internationalist, Oxford, 2015.
↑ 2. John Jenks, British Propaganda and News in Media in the Cold War, Edinburgh University Press, 2006, p.108-109.
↑ 3. Tony Bunyan, The history and the practice of the political police in the UK, Quartet Books, London, 1977, p. 248.
↑ 4. According to Pauline who was employed by EL in the early 1970s, cited in Smith and Chamberlain, p. 47.
↑ 5. Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor, Blacklist: The Inside Story of Political Vetting, Hogart, 1988, p.158.
↑ 6. Mark Hollingsworth and Charles Tremayne, The Economic League: The Silent McCarthyism, National Council for Civil Liberties, 1989, p. 25-26.
↑ 7. Robin Ramsay, The Clandestine Caucus, Lobster Special Issue, 1996.
↑ 8. Email from Robin Ramsay, 27 July 2020.
↑ 9. Giles Scott-Smith, Western Anti-Communism and the Interdoc Network: Cold War Internationale, 2010, p. 38.
↑ 10. Scott-Smith p. 111-114, citing internal Interdoc files.
↑ 11. Scott-Smith, p. 199
↑ 12. Email from Gilles Scott-Smith, 27 July 2020. He did not find anything on the Griffin Press Bureau in the archives of Interdoc’s founder of Kees van den Heuvel.