Carlo Graziani July 21, 2010 1:28 PM

Richard Aldrich is also the author of a first-rate book on Western Intelligence operations during the Cold War: “The Hidden Hand: Britain, America, and Cold War Secret Intelligence”. He’s very, very good at unearthing information not found in the limited (and frequently deliberately distorting) document releases from secret intelligence archives, a talent he’s apparently put to use with the new book.

Thanks for the heads-up. I’ll order this one.

Imperfect Citizen July 21, 2010 1:48 PM

Looks like a great read. I find it helpful as it shows me what is going on around me in the domestic spying biz. Sadly, I see it from the target’s perspective. Its a bummer being a false positive.

Paranoid Citizen July 22, 2010 3:17 AM

Looks like a great read. I find it helpful as it shows me what is going on around me in the domestic spying biz. Sadly, I see it from the target’s perspective. Its a bummer being a false positive.

Clive Robinson July 22, 2010 3:30 AM

Hmm we appear to have an “echo citizan” going from just imperfect to paranoid in the process 😉

As for the book the author has a reasonable pedigree and it’s on my list of “summer beach books”.

It will be interesting to see what he makes of the Thatcher era with Pounden (Diplomatic Wirless Service) Hanslope Park (The Service) and Cheltanham (GCHQ) and their little competative spats.

Especialy when Thatcher sacke GCHQ staff who would not sign up to her ludicrous labour reforms (It was about the same time Ronnie “starwars” Ray’Gun tried the same thing with US air traffic controlers, and his wife was fighting to get “drugs out” of the workforce, which was obviously a great success as productivity in those areas nose dived and has not yet recovered).

Peter E Retep July 22, 2010 3:35 PM

@ Clive,

Isn’t it better for a security commentatator’s authority
to either give details to flesh out particulars,
or at least references to find them,
particularily when making a remark unsympathetic to the person(s) mentioned?

Was a signed loyalty oath to essentiially a party policy or platform
required at that time in the UK’s security apparatus?

For many years MI services were known for deploying
“like to engage like”,
in terms of perspective,
differing only in the priority of allegiances.

Did the Thatcher regime change that?
Or was it particular to SigInt?
If so, how was this semantically achieved?

(Curious minds want to know.)

Clive Robinson July 23, 2010 6:52 AM

@ Peter E Retep,


Where to begin with the then UK Prime Minister Margret Thatcher (later Baroness).

Just from memory,

One of her greatest strengths was also her greatest weakness which gave rise to her “the lady is not for turning” comment. She would get an idea in her head and just would not let it go no matter what contry evidence was given. I think the only time she did a magor U-turn was with the “poll tax” which when introduced gave way to very nasty riots in London (you can google for “poll tax riots”).

She also had the idea that “Labour Unions” where deystroying the country so she went to war (quite literally) with them. The one most people in the UK remember was her determination to break the Miners Union then led by Arthur Scargill (google Miners Strike with Thatcher or Scargill).

The result of this was she destroyed an entire energy industry in the UK and left the UK a hostage to foreign nations to supply the raw materials for electricity generation and major industries such as iron, steel, ship making and most heavy construction projects.

Her simple idea as voiced by “Willy Whitelaw” was to replace the real “value added” manufacturing industry that she had “nailed the lid on” with that of the negative / faux value generating “service industries”.

Her hate for Unions was also dropped on the various railway unions, where she set in place a policy to break the railways up and transfer freight movment to the road system that cannot support it and the consequent lasting environmental and social damage. Oh and the most expensive and comparitvly least reliable railway network in Europe and possibly the world.

Back at the start of the Thatcher era GCHQ like most areas of the UK civil service was Unionised. By and large the union concerned was very moderate and for the times progressive (it was the only union I was happy to be in as it almost behaved like a works social club) getting considerable benifit for it’s members outside of labour related activities.

For some reason Mrs Thatcher decided that for National Security reasons those working in the Intel areas such as GCHQ could nolonger be unionised. Many people tried to warn her against the idea but she went ahead with it, the only concesion was a one off payment of a sum that many considered insufficient to cover even a couple of years of union membership benifts of people who where not by any reasonable estimate overpayed for the work they did.

The result was many refused and had their employment terminated with little or no hope of re-employment. The damage this did was great and caused significant problems for many years in the Intel area.

There was at this time a very close relationship between PM Thatcher and then POTUS Ronald Regan who was later to be called “Ronny Ray Gun” in the UK over the hopless StarWars policy, and was ruthlessly parrieded by UK satirical magazines and TV programs one of which was “Spitting Image” that had a long running skit called “The Presidents Brain is Missing” where a walnut sized presedents brain was seen escaping out of his ear and traveling the world jumping into other world politicians heads to account for their strange gaffs. They even did a “love song” with Ronnie and Maggie seranading each other (google Spitting Image). Another show “Not the nine o’clock news” did several skits around POTUS including a “Western Style Campfire Sing along” with a song called “I believe” which had the immortal lines “I believe that pigs and even DC10’s can fly, But I can’t believe that Ronald Ragen is President”.

I’m not sure which “de-unionisation” drive came first the GCHQ or US Air traffic controlers but they both arose from similar mentality from the respected political leaders.

Maggie was parranoid about secrecy for the Intel community as evidenced by several court cases based on supposed infringments of DORA (defense of the realm act) and OSA (Official Secrets Act’s). One of which was “Spy Catcher” another was soldiers working on Cyprus under BRUSA manning US Spying bases/equipment. Oh and a series of raids on journalists offices and homes looking for information on a compleate disaster of a UK “spy satellite”. One notable case against a journalist colapsed when the evidence against them was shown to all be in the public domain. The classic last stand was when the journalist was accused of making public GCHQ’s address, the deffence simply held up a job advert placed in Wirless World Magazine by GCHQ that not only gave the address but a picture of the place as well…

Added to this was the “coldwar bunker” mentality Maggie had. Vast amounts of money where wasted on governmental “bomb shelters” (google “box tunnel” and “secret bases”) most of which where documented by the likes of Radio Jackie’s Nick Catford and people now try and find via Google Earth.

This carried forward less visably into the Intel area. You had the likes of the Diplomatic Wireless Service (based at Pounden) providing communications for the likes of the F&CO diplomatic missions and the attendent “Officers” of “the Service” (MI6/MI8) they had deep tie ins with various millitary units and the BBC (google aspidistra). DWS was deliberatly kept seperate from the wireless services supplied to “agents” and their ilk run out of Hanslope Park. Taken from the likes of MI6 and the SLU’s of Ultra and the code breakers at Bletchly was the core that founded GCHQ at Cheltenham.

These various services compeated against each other since inception, but under PM Thatcher they all expanded greatly. After Thatcher the cut backs started the cold war ended and the various services had to cut each others throats for rapidly diminishing resources which became even more scarce as time went on. Especialy as terrorism came to the fore and the domestic Intel organisations (MI5 etc) expanded and police forces started developing their own Intel organisations.

One casualty of the cut back and reassignment of resources was the DWS which became amalgamated into Hanslope park due to the then diminishing need for HF longhaul links that had been replaced by satellites (although HF is comming back now space assets are becoming very much more obviously vulnerable to hostile nations and even well equipped NGO’s legal or otherwise).

Some of these rivalries were simple name calling such as calling the head of “The Service” (known as “C” and having a knighthood entitlement) as “Circe” (“Sir-C” a Greek deity / witch). Or the head of the Metrapolitan Police Force (also has knightood entitlement) as “cement” (“Sir-Met” a play on “Plod” and “concrete overshoes”).

Through to down right knife in the back warfare and “setting up” other departments. The then head of one agency Stella Rimington decided to the absolute horror of the other services to “go public” and use “publicity” to strengthan her hand. And the current “Head of the Service” got his position by going one better by getting heavily involved with the “No.10 clique” that came up with the “dodgy dossier” with it’s (even at the time) clearly compleatly bogus claims about Iraq capabilities and supposed WMD.

These latter events are fairly well documented up on the Internet via the web sites of various UK newspapers such as the “Gardian” “Telegraph” and untill just recently the Times etc (Rupert Murdoch has just put up pay walls on his newspapers which is an excercise in futility that will drive people away).

Earlier events however are not well doccumented and only some official records escape under the “thirty year rule”, so apart from books I’ve given details of before on this blog it’s difficult to give refrences.

Alisdair September 12, 2010 9:58 PM

You can hear Richard Aldrich discussing the book here (32 m) .

After an interesting discussion, at the end you will hear him admitting to a research error regarding the story on p 487 about the “Anti-Christ Doom Squad” being responsible for the disruption of power distribution in Auckland New Zealand and Queensland Australia in 1994.

If you follow the chapter end note to the original of the document cited (available on the net) you see it is a fictitious example used to try and persuade the Australian Government to take action to protect that nation’s infrastructure from the rising tide of threats to technology dependent systems.

The fiction also caught the Sydney Morning Herald a year later and the Daily Mail more recently as they mentioned the story in their recent item on the murder of the MI6/GCHQ analyst in London last month.

Just shows how careful you have to be to get accurate information in a field where there is already a surplus of hysteria and mis/dis-information from the silver bullet salesmen and the “technical” Press.

RabbitintheHeadlights October 24, 2010 2:56 PM

I’ve met someone who works for GCHQ and he seems to have difficulty with the truth even in minor, domestic type ways, Can anyone tell me whether he’s allowed to leave his job, under what conditions, notice period, what the fall out might be? It seems to me that he’s a slave and I wondered whether he has any chance of escape. I’d be grateful for any info.

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