Many readers will remember that MI5 held files on MPs and members of the public (‘60s-80s), opening correspondence and tapping phones – in some cases without going through the correct channels.
A book called – ironically? - The Defence of the Realm, by Christopher Andrew, covers this subject, referring to MI5’s description of Bruce Kent, one-time CND chairman, as a “possible anarchist”. He records that Labour party leaders passed MI5 a list of MPs they suspected of being influenced by Moscow, so the Security Service could check up on them. Two Quaker groups told the writer that they routinely received opened parcels.
Andrew’s book also refers to the surveillance of (now MP) Joan Ruddock, later chair of CND, because she met Mikhail Bogdanov, who – unknown to her – was a KGB agent, the surveillance of Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, and former cabinet colleague Patricia Hewitt, when they were officers of the National Council of Civil Liberties.
MI5 also opened a permanent file on the Greenham Common women’s peace camp on the grounds that it was “subject to penetration by subversive groups”. The writer, who visited Greenham once, placing a photo of her baby son on the fence (left) and went on several CND marches, found her foreign mail and any packages were opened and the phone was tapped. An extension upstairs would ring about ten times before the main phone downstairs.
A complaint to the postman about their opened and unsealed post was met with dismay, “They should have sealed them up” but also understanding: “Ah yes, I know what that will be. Just leave it to me and you’ll have no more trouble. And that was correct, the phones worked properly from that day and no more correspondence was damaged . . . until this year.
Round 2 – the new targets, the old tactics?
Andrew continues: “MI5 virtually gave up these activities in the mid-1980s, after the miners’ strike, to concentrate first on Northern Ireland and, later, on countering Islamist-inspired terrorism”.
However, once more the writer’s airletters from Mumbai are being opened – but this time at least correctly placed in a plastic envelope with an apology.
They were slit open into jigsaw pieces ad several lines cut through making it either difficult or impossible to understand part of the family news contained therein.
We also read in March that the GMB union discovered that a blacklist, kept by the Consulting Association, used by employers to flag up workers involved in union or political activity or whistleblowers who raised health and safety issues, also included about 240 environmental activists.
This time the postman who was consulted said that he was unable to put matters right – but gave the correct address after some prompting.
A complaint will be made to Royal Mail. Other readers who are facing this problem could do this – with a copy to their MP.