Information Research Department

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Microphones-2-.jpg This article is part of the Propaganda Portal project of Spinwatch.
Announcing the death of the covert Information Research Department, 1978: David Leigh 'Death of the department that never was'. The Guardian, 27 January 1978, p. 13.

The Information Research Department, founded in 1948 was a covert anti-communist propaganda unit within the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The department was closed down by then Foreign Secretary, David Owen, in 1977. The last head of the IRD was Ray Whitney, later a Conservative Party member of parliament and junior minister.

The IRD... played a major role in Western news and cultural media from 1948-1977. It financed a publishing house ‘Ampersand’ and at one time employed a staff of 300. A secret Foreign Office memo in February 1948 described the establishment of the IRD as a response to the “developing communist threat to the whole fabric of Western civilization”. The origins of the IRD lie in the recommendations in a paper put up by the Imperial Defence College.

In their book on the IRD, Lashmar and Oliver note that “the vast IRD enterprise had one sole aim: To spread its ceaseless propaganda output (i.e. a mixture of outright lies and distorted facts) among top-ranking journalists who worked for major agencies, papers and magazines, including Reuters and the BBC, as well as every other available channel. It worked abroad to discredit communist parties in Western Europe which might gain a share of power by entirely democratic means, and at home to discredit the British Left”.

IRD fed information and propaganda on 'communists' within the labour movement through confidential recipients of its briefings one of whom is now known to be the late Vic Feather into the media, and into the Labour Party's policing units, the National Agent's Department and the Organisation Subcommittee.

However a more insidious role has been documented by Lashmar and Oliver. These authors explain that in the 1960s the Foreign Office was fearful that the British-backed neighbouring Malaysian Federation would be influenced by Sukarno's independent stand and this would result in the loss of the world's largest source of rubber. Moreover, Britain had a 40 percent stake in Royal Dutch Shell with its monopoly status in Indonesia, controlling at the time 75 percent of the world's oil production. Their book details the role of IRD and British propaganda efforts against Indonesia's Sukarno in 1965, before and after the so-called abortive "coup," which became the excuse for Suharto's genocide against the PKI. IRD and MI6 "black" operations were intense before and after this alleged coup, as forged documents suggesting PKI atrocities and Chinese intervention were combined with sophisticated signals intelligence that monitored Sukarno's every move.

By the late-1960s the IRD was cut back by the Labour Government, and Intelligence writer Stephen Dorril states that it found additional work in Northern Ireland: “its Information Policy section was engaged in the 1970s in running propaganda campaigns against mainland politicians”. IRD was closed down in 1977 because its cover was blown by a persistent researcher Richard Fletcher. The Foreign Secretary at the time, David (now Lord) Owen was reported in The Guardian (18 August 1995) as stating that the IRD had become involved in the grey area of manipulating journalism and that clandestine operations were MI6’s job, not that of a “civil department”.[1]

Role in Indonesia

John Pilger writes:

In 1965, in Indonesia, the American embassy furnished General Suharto with roughly 5,000 names. These were people for assassination, and a senior American diplomat checked off the names as they were killed or captured. Most were members of the PKI, the Indonesian Communist Party. Having already armed and equipped Suharto's army, Washington secretly flew in state-of-the-art communication equipment whose high frequencies were known to the CIA and the National Security Council advising the president, Lyndon B Johnson. Not only did this allow Suharto's generals to co-ordinate the massacres, it meant that the highest echelons of the US administration were listening in.
The Americans worked closely with the British. The British ambassador in Jakarta, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, cabled the Foreign Office: "I have never concealed from you my belief that a little shooting in Indonesia would be an essential preliminary to effective change." The "little shooting" saw off between half a million and a million people.
However, it was in the field of propaganda, of "managing" the media and eradicating the victims from people's memory in the west, that the British shone. British intelligence officers outlined how the British press and the BBC could be manipulated. "Treatment will need to be subtle," they wrote, "eg, a) all activities should be strictly unattributable, b) British [government] participation or co-operation should be carefully concealed." To achieve this, the Foreign Office opened a branch of its Information Research Department (IRD) in Singapore.
The IRD was a top-secret, cold war propaganda unit headed by Norman Reddaway, one of Her Majesty's most experienced liars. Reddaway and his colleagues manipulated the "embedded" press and the BBC so expertly that he boasted to Gilchrist in a secret message that the fake story he had promoted - that a communist takeover was imminent in Indonesia - "went all over the world and back again". He described how an experienced Sunday newspaper journalist agreed "to give exactly your angle on events in his article . . . ie, that this was a kid-glove coup without butchery".
These lies, bragged Reddaway, could be "put almost instantly back to Indonesia via the BBC". Prevented from entering Indonesia, Roland Challis, the BBC's south-east Asia correspondent, was unaware of the slaughter. "My British sources purported not to know what was going on," Challis told me, "but they knew what the American plan was. There were bodies being washed up on the lawns of the British consulate in Surabaya, and British warships escorted a ship full of Indonesian troops down the Malacca Straits so that they could take part in this terrible holocaust. It was only later that we learned that the American embassy was supplying names and ticking them off as they were killed. There was a deal, you see. In establishing the Suharto regime, the involvement of the IMF and the World Bank was part of it . . . Suharto would bring them back. That was the deal."
The bloodbath was ignored almost entirely by the BBC and the rest of the western media. The headline news was that "communism" had been overthrown in Indonesia, which, Time reported, "is the west's best news in Asia". In November 1967, at a conference in Geneva overseen by the billionaire banker David Rockefeller, the booty was handed out. All the corporate giants were represented, from General Motors, Chase Manhattan Bank and US Steel to ICI and British American Tobacco. With Suharto's connivance, the natural riches of his country were carved up.[2]

Role in Northern Ireland

Edward Heath’s government brought the IRD into the propaganda war against the IRA in the early 1970s. [3] The first IRD officer to arrive in Northern Ireland was Hugh Mooney in June 1971. He was followed a month later by Clifford Hill, who compiled a report on information requirements that was circulated in September 1971. Hill called for the appointment of a press liaison officer, who would “ensure close liaison between the information agencies in Northern Ireland, London and overseas, to plan a systematic campaign of propaganda, and to cultivate visiting journalists. He will be concerned with all information activities.”

Hill’s report noted that “a senior Army officer is joining the HQ staff (temporarily) and will be made available for contact work ‘downtown’ in close contact with the Press Liason Office” This was Col Maurice Tugwell who was seconded to the IRD by the Chief of the General Staff, Lord Carver. [4]

The report were accepted by the Prime Minister and Hill himself was appointed to the press liason post. On 15 October, Downing Street Press Secretary Sir Donald Maitland invited the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence to join a liaison committee to oversee Hill’s work .

In a 2002 statement to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, Sir Donald claimed he had little involvement with the IRD. [5] However, in a letter to the Prime Minister on 4 November 1971, he stated: “The liaison group, consisting of representatives of No. 10, the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, met under my chairmanship with Clifford Hill this morning. We agreed on Hill’s tasks and objectives.” [6]

“Parallel with this committee, Sir Dick White, Norman Reddaway and I have decided on the machinery for placing anti I.R.A. propaganda in the British press and media. This machinery is already in operation. Its first major task will be to produce articles which will counteract the effect of the Compton Report.”

The brief concluded: “The IRA’s connections with other urban guerrilla organizations should be emphasised in order to show that the hard core Provisionals have ambitions quite unconnected with the status of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland or indeed with partition.”

An appraisal of IRA propaganda was produced by Col Tugwell on 9 November [7]:

IRA Propaganda Organisation
7. IRA propaganda has its base in Dublin where both factions run their own information centres, both with the title "Irish Republican Publicity Bureau." Each has a full time staff and has subordinate directors in Belfast, Londonderry and elsewhere. The campaign is pushed by numerous front organisations and by Republican sympathisers who, having themselves been taken in by the propaganda, are willing to spread the word. These organisations include:
a. The Association for Legal Justice (which has been the principal agency for coordinating the campaign alleging brutality during internment and interrogation).
b. Republican Clubs (which have always been fronts for the Sinn Fein political party and which now help to disseminate the propaganda of whichever faction they have chosen to support).
c. The Belfast Central Citizens Defence Committee (once given a cloak of respectability as representative of the Catholic population of the city, but now heavily involved in promoting IRA interests).
d. The Irish News (a newspaper that has long represented Republican opinion in Ulster and is now an organ for printing IRA propaganda).
e. Catholic Ex-Servicemans Association (is becoming increasingly involved with the IRA as a front organisation).
f. NICRA (Directed by Kevin McCorry)
g. Various Relief and Action Committees in Catholic Areas.
h. Minority Rights Association.
j. Various regional Citizens Defence Committees working to the CCDC.
k. SDLP.
l. PD and other "New Left" organisations.
m. Vigilante or street committees, who organise allegations and fake damage, etc.
n. University groups and teachers.
o. RTE and newspapers in the Republic to varying degrees, with the Irish Press particularly active.
p. Committee for Truth (Fr Denis Faul - brutality allegations vehicle).
q. Association of Irish Priests (Ulster Branch) (Secretary Terrance O'Keefe, Coleraine University)).
r. A number of RC priests, but Frs Brady, Faul and Egan are prominent.

This remarkable document reads as if it were written on the assumption that any organisation criticizing British policy in Ireland must be an IRA front. This definition was wide enough to draw in not only human rights activists like Fr Faul, but the Irish state broadcaster, establishment newspapers and the main constitutional nationalist party in the North.

Col Tugwell’s view of ordinary nationalists was equally jaundiced:

So long as it appears to the majority of Catholics that the British Army is a threat to their community by acting as an "instrument of Stormont" and is believed by many as being an obstacle to their political aspirations they can be expected to believe most of IRA statements; and as long as they believe they repeat. The indigenous Irish, once convinced that their cause is just, possess a breath-taking ability to lie with absolute conviction, not just in support of something they believe to be true, but to put across a story they know very well is untrue. In this way, convincing witnesses can invariably be produced at a moment's notice to sell whatever line the IRA consider to be to their advantage. Members of the IRA and their supporting propaganda agencies have good contacts in high places in the various media newspapers, radio and television, who can guide them over publicity at short notice. The Irish are also remarkably adept at picking up and repeating propaganda points they hear being expounded by their leaders, both political and IRA, on the radio and television.

Even though it was intended for internal consumption, it is difficult to know whether this document was the product of calculated disinformation, genuine paranoia or a confused mixture of the two.

Col Tugwell told the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that his staff branch, Information Policy, did not engage in psychological warfare. [8] However, his evidence was contradicted by Colin Wallace, an army press officer who worked with the unit.

“The Psy Ops or Information Policy Unit as it was known, comprised (in addition to myself) one Colonel, one Lieutenant Colonel, plus representatives of the Foreign Office Information Research Department (IRD), support by a team of Army NCO’s who handled the unit’s archives and photographic facilities,” Wallace told the Inquiry. [9]

“Senior Intelligence officers from London came to Northern Ireland and ‘saw’ communist figures involved in various civil rights and protest groups. This in turn gave credence to the theory of a world-wide terrorist conspiracy. There were a number of organisations in Britain that were sympathetic to the IRA without really understanding what the IRA was about. The paranoia took on a level of importance which it did not merit, but nonetheless, it existed.”

Wallace presumably did not know that playing up this theory was part of the IRD’s brief from the Whitehall Liaison Committee chaired by Sir Donald Maitland. Ironically, the focus of Information Policy’s propaganda would eventually be turned back on Downing Street itself with the Clockwork Orange operation, which Wallace described in his second statement to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.

“Clockwork Orange was designed to target sectarian assassination groups by psychological means to reduce their effectiveness,” Wallace testified. “After the first general election in 1974 the targets changed to focus more on left wing groups and Labour politicians. “

An example of this black propaganda is attached to Wallace’s statement as appendix five .

Supposedly written by an IRA defector, it includes a reference to Wilson’s meeting with the IRA in March 1972.

“I believe that the pieces relating to Harold Wilson were included by the Security Service to demonstrate that the Labour Government’s policies in Northern Ireland were helpful to or approved by the IRA,” Wallace testified.

In late 1974, Wallace refused to have anything further to do with Clockwork Orange. He was suspended a few months later, ostensibly for passing documents to the journalist Robert Fisk. [10]

BBC - willing propagandist 1950s – 1980s

From the outset of its creation in 1948, the Information Research Department (IRD) in the Foreign Office set out to manipulate the BBC. Ralph Murray, the first head of the IRD is quoted as saying “our situation is now such that it seems essential that we should approach the BBC and cause them, by persuasion if possible, to undertake such programme developments as might help us”.

Michael Nelson, who was allowed access to the BBC archives notes, “The Foreign Office regarded the BBC as by far the most important propaganda weapon it had in Eastern Europe”. He disclosed that BBC correspondents in Eastern Europe in the 1950s, including the veteran broadcaster Charles Wheeler, were fed classified material gleaned from covert intercepts of Soviet bloc communications to generate anti-communist propaganda broadcasts during the cold war. In another private arrangement between the BBC and the Foreign Office, confidential letters written to BBC correspondents by people living in the communist bloc at the start of the cold war were passed on to the MI6.

Some of the BBC’s senior management was unabashed with this propaganda role, notwithstanding public statements of impartiality and objectivity. In the 1950s, shortly before he became Director General of the BBC, Sir Hugh Green devoted much of an address to the NATO Defence College in Paris on psychological warfare to a description of the BBC and propaganda. He did not hesitate to use the word propaganda repeatedly.[11]




  • Ralph Murray, founding director, former BBC journalist, then PWE 'radio operations in the Balkans before taking on broader responsibilities for propaganda and political warfare, mainly in the Eastern Mediterranean.[14]
  • John Peck, director following Murray ifrom 1951-3[15]
  • John Rennie, 'had done propaganda in the United States during the war'[16] and who subsequently served as head of MI6, was head of the department between 1954 and 1958.
  • Lt Col Leslie Sheridan, in 'charge of channeling the propaganda' as 'Editorial Adviser' had 'worked in Fleet Street before joining SOE where he created espionage and propaganda networks in neutral cities using journalists as cover; even in IRD a colleague (Norman Reddaway) said Sheridan "tended to go back to the era of dirty tricks"'[17]
  • J. H. Adam Watson, Deputy director

Early staff included: Robert Conquest | Hugh Lunghi | Jack Brimmell | Cecil Parrott | Peter Wilkinson | Norman Reddaway


Brian Crozier



Resources, sources, external links, notes

Powerbase Resources

Successor departments


What is Communism? By a Student of Affairs, Background Books, London: Batchworth Press, 1951 (covert product of the Information Research Department of the Foreign Office - This copy used to belong to the Economic League (Central Council) Information and Research Departments, whose stamp can be seen on the inside title page.)



  • Overt and Covert: The Voice of Britain and Black Radio Broadcasting in the Suez Crisis, 1956 by Gary D Rawnsley, 1956. Intelligence and National Security, 11:3 (July 1996), pp. 497-522
  • MI6. Fifty Years of Special Operations by Stephen Dorril, Fourth Estate)
  • MI6 : Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service by Stephen Dorril, Touchstone Books, 2002
  • War of the Black Heavens: The Battles of Western Broadcasting in the Cold War by Michael Nelson, Brassey’s, 1997
  • Who Framed Colin Wallace? by Paul Foot, Macmillan 1990.
  • The Guardian, 28 July 1985
  • The Guardian 19 August 1985
  • The Observer, 1 September 1985
  • The Times, 20 October 1997)

External links


  1. Sources: Britain's Secret Propaganda War By Paul Lashmar and James Oliver, Sutton Publishing, 1998; MI6: Fifty Years of Legal Thuggery By Stephen Dorril, Fourth Estate, 1996)
  2. John Pilger Politics We need to be told Published 17 October 2005
  3. Bloody Sunday Inquiry CS2 - Closing Submission by Counsel to the Inquiry - Appendix - Military Information Activity in Northern Ireland
  4. Statement of Lord Carver, Bloody Sunday Inquiry, 24 November 2004.
  5. Statement of Donald Maitland GCMG, OB, Bloody Sunday Inquiry, 23 November 2004.
  6. Donald Maitland, Letter to Prime Minister, 4 November 1971, National Archives DEFE 13/684
  7. Maurice Tugwell Public Opinion and the Northern Ireland Situation, A Note by the Colonel GS Staff (Information Policy, HQ Northern Ireland9 November 1971, National Archives DEFE 13/684
  8. Maurice Tugwell, Statement to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, 20 November 2002.
  9. Colin Wallace, Statement to Bloody Sunday Inquiry, 3 December 2002.
  10. Paul Foot, Who Framed Colin Wallace? Macmillan, London, 1990. Chapters 2-4.
  11. Source needed
  12. Richard James Aldrich, Espionage, security, and intelligence in Britain, 1945-1970, Manchester University Press, 1998, p.234.
  13. Evidence of Thomas Christopher Barker (pdf), Bloody Sunday Inquiry, accessed 12 July 2010.
  14. British Propaganda And News Media in the Cold War, By John Jenks, Edinburgh:EUP, 2006, p.63
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.