The Mitrokhin Playbook – How Cold War smears failed in Italy

Cross-posted from Patreon.

In a couple of posts last week I noted that the Conservative campaign to link Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to Eastern bloc espionage had long-standing precedents in British politics. Tonight, however, we have entered a phase more reminiscent of events on the continent. The Telegraph reports:

Government ministers questioned the Labour leader’s “patriotism” in agreeing to meet Czech agent Jan Sarkocy during the Cold War.

The Telegraph can reveal that MPs intend to call Mr Sarkocy to give evidence in Parliament about his meetings with several Labour politicians, as part of an inquiry into the influence of foreign powers on British democracy.

This looks very similar to the Mitrokhin Commission set up in Italy in 2002, supposedly to investigate the Italian implications of the testimony of a KGB defector to Britain, Vasily Mitrokhin.

In the UK, the intelligence services engaged historian Christopher Andrew to edit Mitrokhin's material for publication. The resulting book was serialised in the Times

This process was subsequently the subject of an inquiry by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, which criticised poor briefing of ministers, particularly after the election of a Labour government in 1997.

In Italy, the whole process was a clearly partisan operation from start to finish. The FT reported in 2006:

Politicians in Mr Prodi’s centre-left coalition suspect that one purpose of the Mitrokhin commission, which was set up under Mr Berlusconi, was to plant material to discredit the centre-left, especially ahead of the April election. Mr Berlusconi’s party has ridiculed the idea of a smear campaign. 

Prodi was himself accused of being a KGB agent by Mario Scaramella, a security consultant mixed up in the Niger Uranium episode in the run-up to the Iraq War, and later in the Litvinenko Affair. 

One British politician who took up the allegations against Prodi was MEP Gerard Batten, recently elected leader of UKIP. EU Reporter noted of Batten's 2006 speech to the European Parliament on the subject: 

These new allegations could not be worse timed for Prodi who is currently the frontrunner in the Italian election. 

In the event, the allegations was never substantiated, and failed to prevent Prodi becoming Prime Minister. That Conservatives are now resorting to the same methods says something about prevailing trends on the British right, and perhaps about the possibility of an early election.




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