BBC used MI5 to vet pacifist staff
· Intelligence gathered to root out employees with defeatist attitudes
· Spy named as USSR's would-be assassin
Wednesday November 14, 2001
BBC officials asked for help from the intelligence services to carry out political vetting of all journalistic and engineering staff from as early as the 1930s, according to an MI5 file on relations with the corporation.
Employees with communist or fascist sympathies were initially targeted but from the onset of the second world war BBC management tried to terminate the jobs of those with "pacifist or defeatist views".
The climate of political suspicion which emerges from notes taken of many private meetings reveals that pressure for general vetting came as much from the corporation as from the security services.
"I lunched today with Mr Pym, director of staff administration at the BBC," records an MI5 officer in November 1937.
"With regard to the general question of vetting BBC personnel, Mr Pym said it would be of great assistance if we could, in addition to giving definite views [on] persons whom we considered unsuitable, let him have a private word regarding others of whom we had record but insufficient reason for giving a definite opinion."
A secret code was devised to ensure that suspects could be vetoed. "For purposes of easy reference on the telephone," the MI5 officer explained, "it was agreed that if we said that a certain person qualified for inclusion in category A it would mean we had definite views as to his unsuitability, and if category B, that we had insufficient material to say definitely that we considered the person concerned unsuitable."
The BBC's political vetting of journalists was first exposed by the Observer newspaper in the 1980s. The corporation defended the practice as being a hangover from the cold war which was later discontinued.
The latest files, covering the years from 1933-1940, released to the public record office demonstrate the longstanding liaison between the security services and BBC managers.
One of those who was most eager to develop close contacts was Colonel Alan Dawnay, controller of programmes at the BBC between 1933 and 1935.
In 1933 another MI5 officer recorded a conversation he had with Col Dawnay. "[He] gave me a very clear indication of the line the BBC were anxious to pursue to maintain a reputation for reasonable impartiality on political subjects... anything that goes outside the ballot box - such as communism or fascism - is considered subversive, if not seditious."
At another lunch, Col Dawnay and MI5 "came to the conclusion that nothing short of a general vetting would be satisfactory (leaving out personnel such as charwomen etc who could never be in any position to do anything against the interests of the BBC)."
The MI5 files contain intriguing references to one "William Farrie, whose broadcast had to be stopped" and later, during wartime, to an electrician who was "very left-wing in his views and is defeatist and unpatriotic".
Guardian correspondent kept under surveillance
Wednesday November 14, 2001
A correspondent for the Manchester Guardian who worked in Russia during the Bolshevik revolution was among those kept under close surveillance by MI5 in the inter-war years, according to documents put on display by the public record office today.
One of the largest releases of personal files - covering ministers, academics, foreign spies, communists, fascists and pacifists - shows the extent of security operations against suspected domestic "subversives".
Morgan Philips Price, the Manchester Guardian's intermittent correspondent in Petrograd, was accused by the security services of Bolshevik sympathies.
A Foreign Office telegram in 1917 alleged he was "actively associating himself with anti-English propaganda in Petrograd and he has written a violent pamphlet against English intervention [against the Bolsheviks] at Murmansk."
Others targeted included Stafford Cripps, later a trade minister, and Shapuri Saklatvala, the first communist MP to sit at Westminster.
Stalin 'picked Philby for plot to kill Franco'
Wednesday November 14, 2001
Kim Philby, the British double agent who defected to the Soviet Union, may have been chosen personally by Stalin to attempt to assassinate General Franco during the Spanish civil war, according to MI5 files released to the public record office today.
The mission, entrusted to a "young Englishman", was revealed to the security services in 1940 by a Russian general who defected to Britain to avoid the show trials of Moscow's military high command.
At the time, the MI5 officer who filed the wartime report had no idea of the identity of the man selected for the abortive plot, other than that he was said to have been a journalist. It was only when the file was updated a generation later that a security services official in London linked Philby to the plan.
Kim Philby, who was recruited by the Soviet Union in the 1930s and fled to Moscow in the 1960s, covered the Spanish civil war for the Times. In his later years in exile he dismissed reports of his role in the plan to assassinate Franco as "absurd".
The crucial document is contained in a file on Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the people's commissariat for internal affairs or NKVD, (formerly the OGPU and subsequently the KGB) in the late 1930s.
Yezhov, only 5ft tall and nicknamed the "bloodthirsty dwarf", was responsible for pushing through Stalin's purges of Red Army officers and old Bolshevik dissidents.
One of those who escaped Yezhov's reign of terror was General Walter Krivitisky, who fled to the west. He was debriefed by the intelligence services in January 1940 and his "memorandum of information" added to the file on Yezhov.
"Early in 1937 the OGPU received orders from Stalin to arrange the assassination of General Franco," the general recalled. "Hardt [an officer who was later purged] was instructed by the OGPU chief, Yezhov, to recruit an Englishman for the purpose.
"He did in fact contact and send to Spain a young Englishman, a journalist of good family, an idealist and fanatical anti-Nazi. Before the plan matured, Hardt himself was recalled to Moscow and disappeared." From the memorandum, it is unclear whether Stalin had a particular English-man, Philby, in mind for the assassination plan.
In the margins of this report, two words have been written in blue ink: "prob Philby". The ink appears to be the same as that used to record the file being taken out of the security's services internal library by an MI5 case officer in April 1968.
Philby, who began spying for the Soviet Union in the mid-1930s, was later recruited by MI6 at the outbreak of the second world war. He eventually fled Beirut in 1963, fearing that he was about to be exposed as a double agent. After reaching Moscow, he became a general in the KGB, married a Polish-Russian, Rufa, and settled down to a quiet but privileged life.
For all the files, please go to http://www.pro.gov.uk/