Information Research Department
The Information Research Department, founded in 1946 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 neighboring 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”.
Role in Indonesia
John Pilder 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.
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.
- 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.
- John Peck, director following Murray ifrom 1951-3
- John Rennie, 'had done propaganda in the United States during the war' 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"'
- J. H. Adam Watson, Deputy director
- Hugh Mooney, based in Belfast from 1971
- Clifford Hill, based in Stormont from 1971
- Maurice Tugwell, Army Colonel appointed to the IRD in 1971.
- All-India Radio, India
- Antara, Indonesia
- Arab News Agency
- Background Books
- Batchworth Press
- Bellman Books
- Globe Agency
- Near and Far East News Group
- Sharq al Adna, (Palestine, then after 1948, Cyprus)
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.)
- British Satellite News
- Information Policy
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office
- London Correspondents Service
- London Press Service
- London Radio Service
- 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
- The Guardian, 28 July 1985
- The Guardian 19 August 1985
- The Observer, 1 September 1985
- The Times, 20 October 1997)
- David Leigh, "Death of the department that never was", Guardian (UK), January 27, 1978, page 13.
- Ups and downs of a maverick, book review from The Spectator'
- The Literature of Intelligence: A Bibliography of Materials, with Essays, Reviews, and Comments J. Ransom Clark Emeritus Professor of Political Science Muskingum College, New Concord, Ohio UNITED KINGDOM Post-World War II, Information Research Division (IRD)
- HUGH WILFORD The Information Research Department: Britain's secret Cold War weapon revealed Review of International Studies (1998), 24: 353-369 Cambridge University Press doi:10.1017/S0260210598003532
- 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)
- John Pilger Politics We need to be told Published 17 October 2005
- Source needed
- British Propaganda And News Media in the Cold War, By John Jenks, Edinburgh:EUP, 2006, p.63