Smearing Livingstone: The latest episode from neocon TV

There’s a huge amount of knocking copy about Ken Livingstone in the press at the moment, ahead of Martin Bright’s Dispatches documentary on Channel Four tonight.

Bright writes:

I was delighted when Livingstone became Mayor of London in 2000 against
the full might of the Labour spin machine. I believe he has been a
courageous politician whose once-derided "loony left" ideas about the
promotion of the rights of minorities are now so mainstream that they
are even official Conservative policy. Livingstone has been right about
many things, but I believe his behaviour is symptomatic of a man who
has grown too comfortable with power. (New Statesman)

Perhaps it’s not Livingstone who’s changed since 2000, but Bright who has fallen in with Dean Godson’s neoconservative crowd at Policy Exchange.

As I have documented ad nauseam previously, Godson has a family background in cold war covert action methods whose use he advocates today:

During the Cold War, organisations such as the Information Research
Department of the Foreign Office would assert the superiority of the
West over its totalitarian rivals. And magazines such as Encounter
did hand-to-hand combat with Soviet fellow travellers. For any kind of
truly moderate Islam to flourish, we need first to recapture our own
self-confidence. At the moment, the extremists largely have the field
to themselves. (Times)

Interestingly, this ‘hand-to-hand combat’ that these circles engaged in included a number of documentaries that appeared on British television.

The first instance took place in the mid-1950s, when Joe Godson, Dean’s father, was US Labour attaché in London, in which capacity he helped Hugh Gaitskell plan the expulsion of Aneurin Bevan from the Labour Party.

Intelligence historian Richard Aldrich records that during this period, the CIA and MI5 were particularly concerned about the communist infiltration of the unions, and especially the Electrician’s Trade Union (ETU) which was represented at GCHQ. A television documentary by Labour MP and journalist Woodrow Wyatt helped to turn the tide.

The battle was a prolonged one with some communist officials only removed in 1963. In 1965 communists were banned from holding office in the ETU. The moderate Frank Chapple went on to occupy the post of General Secretary until 1984. Wyatt presented himself as an interested independent who had happened on the story of communist penetration of the unions by accident. In fact he had long-standing associations with IRD and formed the lead element in an organised attack. He was an obvious candidate for this role as he had links to IRD as a shareholder in the Arab News Agency and a book of his had been published by Leslie Sheridan though a front company. (The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence, p.547)

In 1976, a similar documentary was initiated by Lord Chalfont. One target was the Institute of Worker’s Control (IWC), an organisation whose leading light was Ken Coates, an ex-communist and ally of Tony Benn. The IWC’s publishers’ were offered £2,000 to film them at work, a huge sum which led Benn to suspect intelligence involvement.

The anti-subversive lobby’s Brian Crozier was among those who appeared in Chalfont’s television psy-war programme, It Must Not Happen Here. Broadcast in January 1976, it ‘purported to show that the Communist Manifesto was being implemented bit by bit in Britain. Bert Ramelson, Stuart Holland, Ken Gill and others were named and Frank Chapple, Reg Prentice, Lord Hailsham, Brian Crozier of the Institute for the Study of Conflict, Woodrow Wyatt and Chalfont himself all spoke in support of this view.’ (Smear, Wilson and the Secret State, p.281)

Dean Godson himself made a direct connection with this history last year, in a piece which attacked Ken Livingstone among others for engaging with Islamist groups:

The late Frank Chapple, the long-time leader of the electricians’ union, was
wonderfully dismissive of such noisy groupuscules. “ ’Ere, boy, know what
these Trots are like?” he would ask rhetorically of the Militant Tendency.
“They’re like the Red Indians surroundin’ the ’omestead in those early
cowboy films. The camera flits from one window to the next and it looks like
there’s ’undreds of ’em. In fact it’s the same three geezers runnin’ round.” (Times)

This anecdote no doubt reflects the fact that Chapple was a vice-chairman of the Trade Union Committee for Transatlantic Understanding, founded by Joe Godson.

Perhaps the best clue to the nature of all this activity comes from Dean Godson’s older brother. In his book Dirty Tricks or Trump Cards, Iran-Contra veteran Roy Godson provides a detailed methodology of covert action – "the practice of trying to influence events, decisions, and opinions covertly in other states with a measure of plausible deniability."

Godson’s methods may shed some light on the situation in which Martin Bright found himself in the wake of his Policy Exchange pamphlet, When Progressives Treat with Reactionaries.

I am being feted by the right. As the political editor of the New
Statesman and usually written off by conservative thinkers as a
dangerous, pinko liberal, this is a novel and rather awkward position
in which to find myself. (Observer)

Bright went on to note the support he had received from neoconservative David Frum, and from Telegraph/Spectator writers Charles Moore and Frank Johnson.

I realise that their reaction does not come without an agenda. There is
no doubt that it has fed into the perception in some circles on the
left, encouraged by the MCB, that I am part of some Islamophobic
campaign to ‘divide and rule’ Britain’s Muslims.

In fact, Bright’s reception on the right fits remarkably well with the methods recommended by Roy Godson:

Some Western officials will oppose aid to groups and organisations they do not control, and to those who are not recruited agents. Some Western conservatives will oppose aid to labor and socialist groups, while more liberal politicians and their staffs oppose aid to conservative intellectual, media and business groups. These are political obstacles that potential sponsors will have to overcome if they are looking for geostrategic advantages. The antidote to bias is knowledge of the politics of client organizations and skill in managing relationships with them – still primary requirements for covert influence in support of policy objectives. (Dirty Tricks or Trump Cards, p.151)

Godson stresses that the "essential principle of covert action" is that it "must be part of a well co-ordinated policy. Ends should be thought through, and the means to achieve those ends reasonably calculated."

To those who know the history of the Information Research Department and Encounter Magazine, Dean Godson’s allusions are a clear call for just such a co-ordinated campaign of covert action to shape Britain’s engagement with Islam in a direction acceptable to neoconservatives.

There is long list of institutions and individuals who could be forgiven for feeling they have been targeted:

The Foreign Office

Ex-MI6 officer Alistair Crooke and Conflicts Forum

Ken Livingstone

George Galloway            

Muslim Council of Britain

British mosques

The politics of Muslim organisations are clearly a matter for legitimate debate, and this campaign is not exactly well hidden, so why worry about covert action?

For one thing there are issues like the provenance of the mysterious documents behind The Telegraph’s libel of George Galloway, and the controversy over Policy Exchange’s questionable receipts for extremist literature.

These details are even more troubling when considered in the light of what Roy Godson has to say about the role of disinformation in covert action:

To discredit an adversary the disinformer intentionally disseminates falsehoods, say through forgery or rumor, going to great trouble to hide his involvement in creating and/or releasing the information. He may disseminate true information – for instance, genuine documents stolen from a government that incriminates an individual or group – while seeking to hide his role in disseminating it. This can be done by sending the information anonymously to a foreign newspaper, or using a secretly controlled journalist to write about it. The black propagandist, unlike the gray, takes extreme care to cover his tracks, making it difficult for any foreign intelligence service to identify him with a particular project. (Dirty Tricks or Trump Cards, p.154)

Against this background, the current orchestrated wave of attacks on Livingstone has to be greeted with scepticism. There is indeed an agenda here, and it’s not about bendy buses.






2 responses to “Smearing Livingstone: The latest episode from neocon TV”

  1.  avatar

    Thanks Tom an illuminating piece!!

  2. Robin Ramsay avatar
    Robin Ramsay

    I wasn’t particularly seeking to post this, merely to say “Amen”. And, maybe, also, to point out that the campaign against Ken seems to be coming partly from the Israeli lobby in Britain.

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