British Briefing

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British Briefing, originally Background Briefing on Subversion, was a clandestine newsletter circulated to a secret list of politicians and journalists which smeared trades unionists and left-wing MPs. A note in each issue asked readers 'to refrain from mentioning it, or its existence, or from direct quotation.' [1]

The existence of British Briefing was made public in December 1989 by the Guardian. The paper obtained a copy of a letter from David Hart to Sir Gordon White, the US chairman of the Hanson conglomerate, who had recently appointed a director of British Airways. Hart said that he was also writing on behalf of Lord Harris of High Cross, founder of the Institute of Economic Affairs. His letter made an appeal for £250,000 in the name of the International Freedom Research Foundation. The letter read: 'Ralph Harris and I are now able to let you know of our programme of research and education which we believe qualifies for support by a leading international enterprise such as the Hanson Trust ... The enemies of freedom are to be found both at home and abroad. The Prime Minister has described the enemies of freedom at home as "the enemy within".' [2]

It has been reported that the Background Briefing on Subversion was produced by the Institute for the Study of Conflict from 1979. However, the most detailed report suggests that the operation was conducted by Brian Crozier [3] who left the Institute for the Study of Conflict that year. The Background Briefing on Subversion was written by Charles Elwell, formerly of MI5’s F branch which targeted ‘subversives’. [4] From 1988 onwards Elwell’s Background Briefing on Subversion was taken over (in terms of sponsorship rather than authorship) by the anti-union activist David Hart and became British Briefing. [5] The Background Briefing on Subversion and British Briefing were based on paranoid and sometimes bizarre exposés. One issue of British Briefing published in 1989 condemned the housing charity Shelter for 'Communist affiliations' and the World Council of Churches, for its support for the Institute of Race Relations. [6]

Whistle blower Colin Wallace has commented that: ‘Many of the smears in British Briefing are exactly the same sort of thing I was being asked by MI5 to spread in the 1970s. Some of the politicians…are the very same people I was being asked to smear.’ [7]

See Also

Notes

  1. Richard Norton-Taylor and David Rose, 'PM adviser in smear campaign', Guardian, 14 December 1989
  2. Richard Norton-Taylor and David Rose, 'PM adviser in smear campaign', Guardian, 14 December 1989
  3. David Rose, 'Murdoch funded Kinnock smears', The Observer, 23 December 1990
  4. Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Charles Elwell: An MI5 officer during the cold war, he went on to target domestic 'subversives'’, The Guardian, 21 January 2008
  5. David Rose, 'Murdoch funded Kinnock smears', The Observer, 23 December 1990
  6. David Rose, ‘Special Report: Top companies funded smears through charity’, The Observer, 16 December 1990
  7. quoted in Seumas Milne, ‘The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners’, (London: Verso, 1984) p.332