Press cutting

Former MI5 employees Cathy Massiter and another revealing telephone tapping and infiltration of unions and CND in a 1985 press cutting

The spymasters who broke their own rules, The Guardian, 1 March 1985, page 13 (no authors stated)

The spymasters who broke their own rules

The IBA is still refusing to show the controversial 20/20 Vision film on MI5 and the Special Branch. Here, for the first time, is an edited transcript of the programme with the detailed quotations from the two former MI5 employees which have caused such a political furore

ALTHOUGH the two former MI5 employees, both women, are covered by the Official Secrets Act, they have decided in the public interest to talk about their work.

They don't know each other. But during their service they each became alarmed at the extent of MI5's clandestine operations in Britain, spying on political parties, trade unionists and pressure groups like CND whose views are dissenting but not illegal.

One of the women was an MI5 clerk. She wants to remain anonymous but has sworn a long, detailed statement revealing how MI5 targets certain trade union leaders and taps their telephones. She said:

“I think it is totally unjust and immoral to direct these surveillance techniques and operations against decent and law abiding trade unionists and members of legitimate political parties and organisations like CND.”

The second woman, Cathy Massiter, was an intelligence officer who actually ran MI5's investigation into CND. She left MI5 a year ago. She's taken the unprecedented step of speaking publicly because of her worries about MI5's secret operations against CND. She said:

“We are violating our own rules. It seemed to be getting out of control. This was happening not because CND as such justified this kind of treatment but simply because of political pressure, the heat was there for information about CND and we had to have it.”

In 1970 Cathy Massiter was a dissatisfied librarian. She went back to her university appointments board, seeking a new career. She explained:

“They were aware of a job going with M.o.D. which they understood was to do with processing information. They knew very little about it - they ouldn't give me any details.

“I got a letter from R branch, the personnel branch of MI5, not of course identifying themselves as such but saying could I come for an interview. Suddenly, I found myself a member of the staff of MI5.”

Most of MI5's work isn't glamorous - it's painstaking and tedious. Cathy Massiter spent many years in F branch, which, among other things, studies left wing subversives in industry.

Much information about trade unionists is supplied by Special Branch officers, the policemen who work most closely with MI5. Britain's 1500 Special Branch officers investigate terrorism, espionage, sabotage and subversion. New Home Office guidelines published last December state: Subversive activities are those which are intended to undermine or overthrow Parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means.

The programme dealt with two cases of Special Branch infiltrations of legal organisations. One was by a man named White, recruited by the Special Branch after he became a member of the National Front. On the programme White admitted taking part in beatings and burglary to protect his cover within the NF.

The other was described by a man named Mackie, a Manchester councillor who explained that someone he knew infiltrated Friends of the Earth for the Special Branch. Councillor Mackie's contact confirmed that he did work for Manchester Special Branch but refused to be interviewed about why he was monitoring FoE and also the National Council for Civil Liberties.

The Home Office guidelines go on: Data on individuals or organisations should not under and circumstances be collected or held solely on the basis that (such) a person or organisation supports unpopular causes.

They don't say “unpopular” with whom. However, NCCL was certainly unpopular with MI5. During the mid 1970s under a Labour government, an assistant director at MI5 personally had NCCL targeted as a subversive organisation.

Cathy Massiter explained: “Anyone who was on the National Executive of NCCL, who worked for NCCL, or who was an active member to the degree of being say a branch secretary of NCCL, would be placed on permanent record and the routine enquiries would be instituted to identify such people and police inquiries were sought.”

Q. What would you ask the police to do ?

A. “The police were actually sort of asked to identify branch secretaries in their area and report on the activities of the NCCL.”

Q. Did the police or Special Branch have agents, as such, inside NCCL?

Cathy Massiter remembers some of the many NCCL officials that MI5 recorded.

“People like Patricia Hewitt (presently an adviser to Neil Kinnock) who used to be his general secretary Harriet Harman (Labour MP) who used to be its legal officer. They would be put on record as communist sympathisers. Hewitt because of her close association with somebody who was at the time a member of the Communist Party, a close personal association.”

Q. But she's now in close political association with the leader of the Labour Party.

A. “That's right.”

Q. But she's done nothing wrong, nothing illegal with her political activity.

A. “No, no.”

Q. Yet MI5 has a file on her.


Q. Do you think that's right?

A. “No. I don't.”

Q. But MI5 clearly do.

A. “Yes.”

Q. But how did it happen that an assistant director of MI5 was personally able to have NCCL targetted in this way?

A. “What seems to have been the deciding factor was his own view that NCCL's attacks on certain institutions such as the police um were deliberate attempts to undermine these institutions.”

TAPPING telephones and infiltrating trade unions is carried out by MI5's “F” branch, now considerably expanded since the early 1970s. In her statement, the other former MI5 employee, a clerk, says they tapped the phone of Duncan Campbell, a prominent writer on the defence and intelligence matters. They wanted to trace his sources. Left wing trade unions were tapped too.

During the 1977 firemen's strike, officials of the Fire Brigades' Union were convinced that telephones at their strike headquarters in Leeds were tapped.

Soon after the firemen's strike ended in 1978, the MI5 witness joined the Security Service as a clerk and began attending training sessions. She said

“A woman lecturer told us, rather boastfully, that MI5 had long term moles inside certain trades unions so deep that even their own families didn't know their true purpose.”

Cathy Massiter did not know the clerk but she began her Security Service career on the industrial desk in 1970. she confirms that MI5 does have moles inside trade unions.

In her sworn statement, the former MI5 clerk reveals the names of some left-wing trade unionists targeted by the Security Service for telephone taps and even a break in.

Margaret Witham of the Civil and Public Services Association:

Mick Duggan of the same union:

Derek Robinson, then a British Leyland shop steward:

Mick Costello, a Morning Star journalist and a Communist Party official:

Bill Dunn and Gerry Cohen, two other Communist Party officials and John Deason of the Socialist Workers Party.

Cathy Massiter was also aware of phone taps on trade unionists deemed subversive by MI5.

“Whenever a major dispute came up, er, something at Fords or the mines or Post Office, there was a big Post Office strike while I was there, immediately it would become a major area for investigation: what were the communists doing in respect of this particular industrial action and usually an application for a telephone check would be taken out on the leading comrade in the particular union concerned.”

But according to the former MI5 clerk, certain telephones were tapped in the late 1970s irrespective of any industrial dispute. She said:

“Mick McGahey, a prominent communist and mineworkers' leader and a member of the Scottish TUC, was subjected to extensive surveillance, including the tapping of his home telephone.”

She learned that MI5 bugged McGahey's London hotel and a cafe where he met other trade unionists. Arthur Scargill's phone was tapped too during the late seventies.

“Scargill himself would occasionally shout abuse into the phone at the people who were tapping him.”

Was it likely that Arthur Scargill's phone would have been tapped during the latest miners' strike? Cathy Massiter:

“I would think it very likely, highly likely, in view of his particular history and his known political views.”

In late 1978, the Labour government was fighting for its life. Its ability to contain the unions and enforce its pay policy turned crucially on what happened to pay negotiations at the Ford Motor Company.

Syd Harraway, a communist, was then key shop stewards convener at Ford's car plant in Dagenham. His phone was permanently tapped and the MI5 clerk transcribed his calls.

“This seemed to be economic information from within a legally constituted trade union organisation which the Security Service and the government had no right to know.”

We asked Cathy Massiter to speculate on why such economic information might have been sought.

“Well, I can only assume that it was requested because the Department of Employment was seeking in some form, this information. It surprised me in a way it was done so blatantly.”

The only published document governing MI5's conduct is called the Maxwell Fyfe Directive, named after the Home Secretary who issued it in 1952. It says:

“No inquiry is to be carried out on behalf of any government department unless you are satisfied that an important public interest bearing on the defence of the Realm ... is at stake.”

We asked Cathy Massiter if it would be legitimate for MI5 to pass on information about union pay negotiations, obtained via a phone tap, to a government department:

“I would say not and it highlights very clearly this extreme ambivalence between what the Security Service is there to do, what it perceives itself as being there to do, to study subversion, and what actually happens in practice which is in effect to broaden the study quite a long way beyond those guidelines.”

In her sworn statement, the former MI5 clerk says she was told that MI5 broke into the home of Ken Gill, a communist, general secretary of TASS, the white collar section of the engineering union, and a member of the TUC's general council. His home telephone was tapped but he got even closer scrutiny during the 1970s when TASS, the draughtmens' union, planned to merge with the engineers, she said:

“His home had been broken into and a bug placed inside a room to monitor talks between Mr Gill and other trade unionists prior to or during the merger. “I found this a sinister intrusion into a person's civil rights and privacy.”

Ken Gill has confirmed to us that important meetings regarding the unions merger were held in his home during this period.

IN 1981, Cathy Massiter was chosen to take over MI5's investigation of left-wing subversive influence within CND. She felt such limited study of CND was legitimate. But she says increasing political pressure meant she ended up studying the organisation as a whole and led to the Security Service breaking its own rules.

“You couldn't just concentrate on the subversive elements of CND, you had to be able to answer questions on the non subversive elements and the whole thing sort of began to sort of flow out into a very grey area.”

Q. This is the dilemma presumably of not knowing someone as a subversive until you monitor him?

A. “Yes there is some truth in that, but in that case you know they're going to be monitoring all of us, aren't they?”

Her first job was to read MI5's files on CND. In the mid sixties, CND had been classified as a subversive organisation - active members were recorded as communist sympathisers and went into MI5's records. MI5 has two thick files on Bruce Kent, CND's general secretary. And Barbara Egglestone, national organiser of Christian CND, is on file, too.

Q. She's neither a communist nor a communist sympathiser. And yet MI5 has a file on her? Does that disturb you or anything?

A. Very much, yes”

People like Barbara Egglestone were filed as Communist sympathisers when CND was treated as a subversive organisation. But by the time Cathy Massiter began her study in 1981, CND itself was no longer on the subversive list.

According to the rules, that should have meant that active investigation stopped, and that membership of the organisation was no longer enough to make someone a subversive. MI5's interest in CND should have been limited to studying the influence of Communists and Trotskysts within it. But the practice was different from the theory.

Cathy Massiter believed this was because of increasing political pressure.

By 1981, the peace movement had become a mass movement, mounting the biggest demonstration ever seen in Britain. A year later, MI5's need for more inside information on CND became urgent.

Cathy Massiter said:

“I think it was perceived as more than ever necessary that we had to be able to answer very precisely whatever questions we were asked about CND and its subversive penetration which meant that our study had to be perhaps rather closer than it certainly would have been otherwise.

“One of the means that was used was the introduction of an agent, a chap who had worked for MI5 for many years, 20 or 30 years all together, into CND headquarters.”

The agent was Harry Newton, a 60-year-old lecturer in trade union studies and a life-long activist in left wing political groups. He'd been recruited by MI5 in the 1950s when he was a member of the Communist Party.

He became treasurer of the Institute for Workers Control, a left wing think tank supported by prominent trade union officials like Jack Jones and Alex Kitson an MPs such as Tony Benn.

Harry Newton joined CND in 1982 and his first job for MI5 was to attend CND's annual conference.

Cathy Massiter said:

“We sort of regarded it as very important to know as soon as possible after the conference who the new people on the national council were so that we could make our usual breakdown of how many subversives were on it and could sort of pass the information along to the interested parties at Whitehall. After that he became involved in CND headquarters.

“What tended to come across was very general information about what was going on in CND headquarters. It was fairly low level stuff. I mean he was able to chat to people like Bruce Kent, this sort of thing.

“Harry was still very caught up in the idea of the international Communist conspiracy and therefore had a bit of a tendency to see the hand of the communists everywhere.

“I mean, he had quite a strong opinion that Kent might be a krypto Communist um. I personally saw no justification for this whatsoever but that certainly was the view he expressed.”

Q. That's something that might find its way off to Bruce Kent's MI5 file?

A. “Yes indeed.”

Harry Newton died in 1983. Cathy Massiter says there were other agents inside CND, put there by Special Branch around the country. Such infiltration reflected the State's concern about the peace movement both in terms of its susceptibility to political manipulation and as a public order issue. That concern was most acute in 1983, election year. In January, Michael Heseltine set up a special unit called Defence Secretariat or DS19, to combat CND's unilateralist propaganda.

Cathy Massiter became concerned after a senior official from the counter propaganda unit DS19 approached her boss at MI5.

Cathy Massiter said:

“What they appear to have requested was information about the subversive political affiliations of leading members of CND including members of the national council and people working for CND.

“It seems to have been part of erm what DS19 felt that they required in order to fulfil the brief that they had been given by the Defence Minister, Mr. Heseltine, and they appeared to feel that MI5 were the best people to supply this information.”

After the approach from DS19 Cathy Massiter was instructed by her superiors to go through MI5's files, extracting non-classified information on any extreme left wing affiliations of CND's leaders. She did so and wrote a report which was passed on to DS19. But why was she concerned by this episode?

“It was very a important party political issue.

“Unilateral nuclear disarmament had been adopted as a policy by the Labour party, a general election was in the offing and it had been clearly stated the the question of nuclear disarmament was going to be an important issue there. It did begin to seem to me that what the Security Service was being asked to do was to provide information on a party political issue.

Q. Do you think that's a legitimate function of MI5 and someone like you, an intelligence officer?

A. “It's clearly not a legitimate function because it directly contravenes the charter.”

The Maxwell Fyfe directive says that it is essential that “... the Security Service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias or influence.”

Cathy Massiter said:

“I did express my concern on this issue and I know other people did so too, who were aware of the work that I was doing. The difficulty is that having expressed one's view, there is no way of taking it any further. If your view is not accepted you're simply left with the option of accepting the situation or of course ultimately resigning, if you feel that strongly about it.”

Before a Home Secretary signs a phone tap warrant for MI5 he has to be sure the case involves:

Major subversive, terrorist or espionage activity:

The information gathered must relate directly to the defence of the Realm:

Normal methods of investigation must have been tried and failed or be unlikely to succeed.

CND's allegations of phone interference caused a row. In the Commons last December, Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Gerald Kaufman, pursued Leon Brittan for answers.

Mr Brittan, like all previous Home Secretaries, wouldn't confirm or deny that a specific target had been tapped. But he did say this:

“There is no doubt that lawful campaigning to change the mind of the Government about nuclear disarmament whether unilateral or otherwise is an entirely legitimate activity which does not fall within the strict criteria of the 1980 white paper.”

In fact, Leon Brittan did authorise MI5 to tap the home telephone of a leading CND official in august 1983, two months after the general election.

Cathy Massiter says the possibility of tapping a communist CND official's phone was first discussed at MI5 the previous April.

“We were prepared to go along with the tap before the general election. But it was deferred because of the election as it was felt that it it was too sensitive a matter to go ahead with at the time. In fact, it actually went on, I think, in August 1983.”

Q. Why should they feel it was sensitive, if it was important for MI5 to tap someone's phone surely it should not be a consideration that the general election's coming up.

A. “Well, it was, as I have said, a very sensitive party political issue in a general election and if it ever did come out that a tap had been on at that time, the motivation for the tap might have been questioned.”

Cathy Massiter did question the need for a tap but she lost the internal argument. So who did she choose?

“John Cox, the vice president of CND. He was the obvious candidate. He lived in Wales and therefore there would need to be a fair amount of telephone communication between him and CND headquarters. Cox was already well known as a member of the Communist Party. He'd been involved in CND practically since its inception.

Q. So what additional information on John Cox and his activities did MI5 get from their tap?

A. “Not a lot really that we didn't already know, a bit more detail perhaps.”

Q. He would be routinely in contact with Bruce Kent, Joan Ruddock and CND?

A. “There was quite frequent contact yes.”

Q. So to some extent you had no need to tap their telephones?

A. “Not really, no one was getting information about their attitudes on quite a wide range of topics that were concerning CND at the time.

“I've never been a member of CND. I'm not currently a member. I have a lot of sympathy with CND. I don't know that I fully accept their arguments for total unilateral disarmament by the United Kingdom but I do think the issues that they raise are very important.”

Cathy Massiter left MI5 about a year ago. She's talked publically about those aspects of MI5's activities against alleged subversives which she feels breached the Maxwell Fyfe directive - not its work against terrorism and espionage which she fully supports. However, she's still covered by the Official Secrets Act so why has she spoken out?

“Because I became very concerned during my years studying CND with this question of the definition of what is the legitimate area of study of the Security Service particularly in respect of subversion because I think it ought to be more clearly defined.

“There ought to be clearer guidelines and I think the only way of achieving this is to get a degree of opening up of the Security Service and some kind of Parliamentary accountability in the end, for it.”

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