'LACK OF INTEREST BY MI5 IN AGENTS OF INFLUENCE'
The Times – 27 December 1994
In the furore over the Richard Gott affair (letters, December 13, 16, 20), insufficient attention has been paid to one significant feature – the inability or unwillingness of the Security Service, MI5, to counter the activities of agents of influence.
The Times has done more than most to highlight the difference between two wholly distinct types of KGB agent: the intelligence (or espionage) agent, and the agent of influence. The former were spies passing Western secrets to Moscow, whilst the latter were propagandists feeding Moscow disinformation to the West.
Both forms of activity are subversive but, since they are not spies, KGB agents of influence like Gott cannot be prosecuted in peacetime. It is precisely because the only sanction against them is exposure to the contempt of their fellow citizens, that their identities should no longer be concealed.
According to MI5 "sources", however (report, December 10), the intelligence services do not wish to be seen to be "engaged in a witch hunt against former Soviet 'agents of influence' and would only take action where such treacherous behaviour had broken the law". Since it is not illegal to conspire in peacetime with hostile intelligence agencies to feed Western media with disinformation, this means that MI5 has a policy of doing nothing at all to punish or deter agents of influence.
The exposure of KGB agents of influence involved in the British anti-nuclear movement would have had as dramatic an impact in the 1960s and 1980s as the exposure of Mussolini's funding of Mosley's Fascists in the 1930s. In both cases MI5, as usual, kept what it knew to itself. That is partly why, in 1981, we felt it necessary to set up a campaigning group, funded by individuals and institutes in friendly NATO countries, in order to counter subversive propagandists in peacetime.
Those of us who actually traced and publicised direct links between Soviet-inspired "peace" campaigns and their Western mouthpieces were denounced as "witch-hunters", no matter how accurate our evidence.
For example, in May 1984 the then editor of the Observer described our detailed exposure of the links between the Soviet-controlled World Peace Council (WPC) and a group called "Generals for Peace", as "an attempt to smear the names of a number of distinguished former NATO officers".
The Press Council – on which sat a British member of the World Peace Council – refused even to consider our complaint against the Observer, giving no word of explanation for its decision.
It was not until ten years later, when the danger had passed, that "Generals for Peace" was finally revealed as having been organised by the Stasi, under the direction of the KGB.
Is the situation any better now? We doubt it. The Security Service still compares the deserved exposure of hostile agents of influence, or even misguided extremists, with a hunt for mythical "witches". Last week the press dramatically reported how the new Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee will be holding its oversight meetings in a "secure cell" which will be regularly swept for bugs.
Yet, on that committee sits an actively left-wing Member of Parliament, Mr Allan Rogers, who has applauded the activities of the WPC and of a similar North Korean propaganda front; who called the hardline Communist coup leaders "patriots of Grenada" after their conviction for murdering their predecessors; who mourned the death of the Spanish civil war Stalinist, "La Pasionaria"; who described NATO cruise missile bases in Britain as being "under United States occupation"; and who backed Marxist regimes in Angola and Nicaragua while praising the "fortitude and resolve" of the Wapping pickets.
None of this makes Mr Rogers a spy, or even an agent of influence. It simply serves to illustrate why agents of influence and fellow-travelling propagandists need fear as little opposition from the Security Service in the future as they have done in the past.
TONY KERPEL MBE
EDWARD LEIGH MP
Dr JULIAN LEWIS
Policy Research Associates