US Covert Action in Britain today – Introduction

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Is there a US covert operation to shape British politics?

I’m not sure whether that’s a paranoid question or a banal one. The main reason to think its not the former is the extensive literature on the CIA’s interventions in European politics during the Cold War.

The CIA subsidised a wide range of political and cultural actors, but saw the non-communist left as a key constituency in the struggle with the Soviet Union. A good introduction to the British end of this phenomenon is this article by Robin Ramsay:

Joseph Godson, Kaiser’s predecessor as the US labour attaché, got so
close to Hugh Gaitskell that in the climactic struggle with the
Bevanites, Gaitskell was planning strategy with Godson, running between
Godson and the National Executive Committee. (The influence of intelligence services on the British left)

In The Times last year, Joseph Godson’s son Dean advocated a contemporary strategy modelled on that of the Cultural Cold War:

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. (The Times, 5 April 2006)

I have raised this issue before, but I think I can now move the argument on, thanks to yet another Godson, Dean’s brother Roy.

Professor Roy Godson of Georgetown University, Washington DC is a leading authority on intelligence. This expertise appears to be more than academic as he was involved in the Iran-Contra Affair.

He is the author of a very useful book which outlines the principles of exercising covert political influence. I have just acquired a copy of this volume, Dirty Tricks or Trump Cards, U.S Covert Action and Counterintelligence. Having read it, I find it very difficult to believe there isn’t an active US Government covert action programme in Britain today.

Covert action is influencing events in other parts of the world without revealing or acknowledging involvement. Covert action, used skillfully and as part of well-designed policies, could provide the United States with a decisive and winning edge in a dangerous world. (Dirty Tricks or Trump Cards, xliv)

As I’ve said there’s an extensive literature about US covert action in previous decades. What’s less clear is how US practice has adapted to the war on terror and the rise of new technologies such as the internet.

However, it may be possible to illuminate current practice by looking at contemporary British politics in the light of the elements of covert action proposed by Roy Godson. That is what I propose to do in the rest of this series of posts.

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