British journalists worked for MI6 during the Cold War: investigation

George Blake
Numerous notable journalists working for some of Britain’s most prestigious publications routinely collaborated with British intelligence during the Cold War, according to a BBC investigation. In 1968, Soviet newspaper Izvestia published the contents of an alleged British government memorandum entitled “Liaison Between the BBC and SIS”. SIS, which stands for Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6, is Britain’s foremost external intelligence agency. The paper, which was the official organ of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, claimed that the foreign correspondents of most leading British newspapers secretly collaborated with the British intelligence community. It also alleged that the BBC’s world radio service had agreed with MI6 to broadcast preselected sentences or songs at prearranged times. These signals were used by British intelligence officers to demonstrate to foreign recruits in the Eastern Bloc that they were operating on behalf of the UK. At the time, the BBC virulently rejected the Izvestia’s claims, calling them “black propaganda” aimed at distracting world opinion from the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops, which had taken place some months earlier. But an investigation aired this week by the BBC Radio 4’s investigative Document program suggests that the memo published by the Soviet newspaper was probably genuine. The program says it discovered a memorandum in the BBC’s archives, which laments the embarrassment caused to MI6 by the Soviet claims. The memorandum, dated April 24, 1969, describes MI6 as “our friends”. The BBC program, which is available to listen to here, discusses the Soviets’ claims that several notable British journalists were MI6 agents. They include Edward Crankshaw and David Astor of The Observer, Lord Hartwell and Roy Pawley of The Daily Telegraph, Lord Arran of The Daily Mail, Henry Brandon of The Sunday Times, and even Mark Arnold-Foster of the left-leaning Guardian newspaper. Leading veteran security and intelligence correspondent Phillip Knightley told Document that he would not be surprised if Izvestia’s claims turned out to be true. Another expert, Stephen Dorril, who has authored extensively on the history of MI6, told the program that he believed the memorandum was probably given to the Soviets by George Blake, an MI6 officer who spied for the USSR. Blake was later convicted to 42 years in prison, but managed to escape to Moscow in 1966, where he still lives today.

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