DisInfoWars with Tom Secker- Institutional Secrecy

Following on from last week's show I look at how the intelligence services who were causing mayhem in Northern Ireland were protected by a culture of institutional secrecy in the British government. Via a little-known government file that was declassified in 2009 I tell the story of government policy on avowing the existence of the security services.

This episode focuses in on the late 1970s when a major shift in that policy - admitting MI6's existence after 30 years of denial - was contemplated by the Prime Minister. The tale of how this shift was averted involves the Cabinet Secretary Sir John Hunt and a woman who would herself soon be Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. By reconstructing the timeline of events I offer a different view of how this potentially major shift in policy was diverted, which resulted in the existence of MI6 not being officially admitted until 1994.

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  1. Gary Binmore says:

    The rolling 30 year rule – brilliant!

    How did the country with the most active intelligence service in the world for centuries (with the possible exception of Russia) get away with professing that it didn’t have an intelligence service?

    Apart from that Yes Minister clip, I can’t recall this crazy lie being parodied too often. British comedy as an instrument of the establishment? Can a country that still has a monarchy be that sophisticated? No offence, but can a country that took Margaret Thatcher seriously be sophisticated at all? “The treatment meted out to the Americans!”

    The American strategy – saying the intelligence service exists to report to the president while letting it secretly do whatever it wants – is much smarter. How did it not occur to anybody in MI6 that this would be a much less labor intensive strategy than outright denial?

    Do you know why “military” is misspelt in the seal? Surely that gets corrected whenever J Bond walks past it?

    • I’m guessing this episode didn’t really strike a chord with a lot of people because yours is the only comment. But I’m glad you enjoyed it, and you’re right – aside from Yes, Minister I cannot think of any examples of this being satirised. But then, I wasn’t born until the early 80s. I do remember as a kid watching the news and seeing the new MI6 building and wondering why they were pretending this was an announcement when I’d spent my childhood reading the Bond novels and suchlike.

      And yes, this country is not very sophisticated politically. We’re morons when it comes to politics. Hence Thatcher, Blair, Cameron. We vote in TERRIBLE people. And yeah, the fact we still have a monarchy is astounding to me. There are so many paradoxes to Britain – we have one of the oldest electoral democracies in the world, but still have a monarchy. We have a huge capitalist market economy and a huge socialist welfare system. We are both extreme nationalists and extreme internationalists at the same time. I’ve given up trying to make sense of all that and these days just try to focus on what the intelligence services are up to. At least they’ve got some kind of sophistication, they’re worthy of trying to work against.

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