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Techniques of covert propaganda: the British approach in the mid-1960s

Cormac, Rory

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Authors

RORY CORMAC RORY.CORMAC@NOTTINGHAM.AC.UK
Professor of International Relations



Abstract

In early 2019, the British government declassified a tranche of Information Research Department files. Among them is a candid and concise overview of British thinking about covert propaganda, complete with a list of examples of British forgery operations. This short piece transcribes the briefing note and provides an introduction. The document sheds new light on UK covert action, but also talks to ongoing scholarly debates in Intelligence Studies and International Relations more broadly. In early 2019, the British government declassified a tranche of Information Research Department (IRD) files. Among them is a candid and concise overview of British thinking about covert propaganda, complete with a list of examples of British forgery operations. 1 It sheds new light on UK covert action, but also talks to ongoing scholarly debates in Intelligence Studies and International Relations more broadly. The IRD was created inside the Foreign Office in early 1948 to counter Soviet propaganda. Established under terms of the so-called Secret Vote, it expanded quickly and confidentially served a range of 'clients' from friendly governments and trade-union leaders, to Radio Free Europe and counter-subversion partners in the Middle East. Throughout much of its existence, and especially during its first two decades, the IRD focused on international communism. After the Suez Canal crisis in 1956, it gained a mandate to counter Arab nationalism, and, by the 1960s its activities extended to other hostile targets, including President Sukarno's Indonesian regime. David Owen, the Labour Foreign Secretary, closed the IRD down in 1977. 2 The IRD engaged in unattributable propaganda. Generally speaking, it distributed material, often based on sanitised intelligence, into foreign media outlets through trusted contacts. The recently declassified files (FCO 168) cover policy and operational detail. In doing so, they provide a more holistic understanding of IRD and British propaganda; the existing files, FO 1110 and FCO 95, declassified in the 1990s and 2000s respectively, were generally less sensitive. The new documents make it clear that IRD was doing more than grey, or unattributable, propaganda: it also had 'capacity for special political action in the Information field.' 3 Special political action involved bribery, propaganda, covert political funding, and, ultimately, orchestrating coups. 4 It is usually associated with the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, or MI6) which had an SPA section from the early-to mid-1950s 1 Accepted 15 July 2019 2 Thanks to Paul McGarr for reading an earlier draft of this. Any errors remain my own.

Citation

Cormac, R. (2019). Techniques of covert propaganda: the British approach in the mid-1960s. Intelligence and National Security, 34(7), 1064-1069. https://doi.org/10.1080/02684527.2019.1645434

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 15, 2019
Online Publication Date Jul 29, 2019
Publication Date Nov 10, 2019
Deposit Date Jul 18, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jan 30, 2021
Journal Intelligence and National Security
Print ISSN 0268-4527
Electronic ISSN 1743-9019
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 34
Issue 7
Pages 1064-1069
DOI https://doi.org/10.1080/02684527.2019.1645434
Keywords Propaganda; Covert Action; MI6
Public URL https://nottingham-repository.worktribe.com/output/2319503
Publisher URL https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02684527.2019.1645434
Additional Information This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Intelligence and National Security on 29/07/2019, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/02684527.2019.1645434.
Contract Date Jul 18, 2019

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