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Psychological Operations (Northern Ireland)

Volume 135: debated on Monday 20 June 1988

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Dorrell]

11.21 pm

I have sought to raise this matter on the Adjournment because, quite frankly, it has become impossible to gain through questioning the Government on the Order Paper any detailed answers to the points that I wish to raise.

I shall deal with the questions and answers which have been exchanged between myself and the Government during the past few months and which clearly demonstrate a complete evasion by the Government on the nature of the psychological operations and the warfare in Northern Ireland.

On 27 October 1976, The Irish Times quoted an internal Army document, "An Introduction to Psychological Operations", that set out the nature and scope of such activities. Those activities were confirmed at that time—following a question tabled by the late Tom Litterick—by the then Under-Secretary of State in the Labour Government. The reply was clear:
"The syllabus consists of the study and analysis of propaganda techniques and their countermeasures; elementary psychology and community relations."—[Official Report, 4 November 1976; Vol. 918, c. 693–94.]
Yet when I asked the current Secretary of State for Defence to publish the syllabus of courses in psychological warfare operations in the United Kingdom from 1972 to date, the answer was simply "No". If the syllabus could be published in 1976, why not now? Is it that the Government have something to hide of which the then Labour Government were not aware?

On 7 March, answering my question on the number of armed forces and Civil Service personnel trained in psychological warfare from 1972 to 1987, the Under-Secretary of State told the House that information was not available prior to 1983. That was not the case. The numbers involved for the years 1973–74 and 1974–75—a total of more than 200 individualsߞwere made available in a written reply in Hansard on 4 November 1976. Once again, it was strange that the information available to the Government could not even stretch to checking previous editions of Hansard.

Following a further written question by myself, the information appears for the period 1973 to 1976, but the Under-Secretary of State now states that the figures for 1976 to 1982 are no longer available. How convenient, how amazingߞjust the figures that they do not want us to have.

That policy of disinformation towards the House continued when I asked the Secretary of State for Defence
"Where courses have been held on psychological warfare and psychological operations in which his Department was involved in each year from 1972 to the current date, in the United Kingdom and the United States of America."
Following a delay through a holding reply, the Under-Secretary's answer fell into two parts: first, information for the United Kingdom was made available only up to 1982. As to post-1982, the reply stated:
"Since 1982 responsibility for the courses has transferred to MOD central staff."
That avoided answering the question. Why are the Government so keen not to reveal the location? Is it because it would mean admitting that the current location for such courses is the joint intelligence centre, where the Army co-ordinates all intelligence operations, including the covert activities of MI5 and MI6, or is it because they would also be admitting to Parliament that psychological operations are an integral part of the state's secret intelligence function?

It is not surprising, therefore, that when the Secretary of State was later asked what his policy has been since 1982 towards holding courses on psychological warfare and psychological operations at the joint intelligence centre, his answer was simply to refer to the reply given on 6 May.

The second issue raised concerned courses in the United States of America. The Minister replied:
"With regard to courses in the USA, I have nothing to add to the answer I gave on 7 March."—[Official Report, 6 May 1988; Vol. 132, c. 622.]
Yet the question on 7 March was:
"how many members of the armed forces and civil servants from his Department were engaged in psychological warfare in Northern Ireland each year from 1972 to 1987."—[Official Report,7 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 59.]
I was asking about the location of training in the USA, not about the numbers involved. Why was a reply provided for the United Kingdom but not for the USA when it had previously been provided by the then Labour Under-Secretary in Hansard in 1976? The answer may lie in the fact that the Government do not want to admit that courses are currently being provided at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where psychological operations training is heavily influenced by experiences in Vietnam and specially oriented towards catering for special forces such as the SAS. They involve instruction on kidnapping, explosive booby-trapping and assassination techniques. They were put into operation during the USA assassination campaign called Operation Phoenix in the Vietnam war. It is no wonder, therefore, that the Minister refused to provide a straight answer as well as refusing to comment on the details of course content, especially those provided in the USA.

According to one study, "Britain's Military Strategy in Ireland" by Roger Faligot, in October 1972 Keith Belbin, from the publicity agency Colman, Prentice and Varley, then handling the election account of the Tory party, was present. Also present was Alan Protheroe, a major in army intelligence, who later became assistant director-general of the BBC and is currently working for the Ministry of Defence. In 1979, BBC news editor and Radio 3 controller Ian McIntyre was present.

I asked on 6 May how many employees of the BBC attended psychological operation courses, only to be told by the same Minister:
"The present courses arc only open to students from Ministry of Defence and NATO military and civilian staffs." —[Official Report, 6 May 1988, Vol.132, c. 622.]
He thus avoided the question by answering one that I had not asked. Perhaps we can speculate that as the security services were intent on destabilising the legitmately elected Government during the 1970s, the BBC management could prove a useful ally.

On 14 June I asked the Secretary of State for Defence
"what are the precise details and responsibilities of the Army information services in Northern Ireland?"
The ever-ubiquitous Under-Secretary evaded an honest reply by saying:
"The role …is to represent the Army (including the UDR, TA and Cadets) in Northern Ireland in all matters relating to publicity and the media.—[Official Report, 14 June 1988; Vol. 135, c. 121–22.]
That employs a total of more than 40 press officers. What his reply failed to confirm when considering psychological operations in Ireland was the covert role played by the Army information policy department, set up in September 1971, later to become a separate, militarily-staffed information unit within the Army information services. The Government refuse to confirm the unit's existence. It has functioned under different names. From 1970 to 1971 it was the information liaison unit; from 1971 to 1975 it was the information policy unit; in 1975 it became the information planning unit. According to Mr. Peter Broderick, employed as chief information officer at Army headquarters Northern Ireland from 1973 to 1974, his brief was to
"use psychological means to assist operations strategically and tactically."
Mr. Colin Wallace, a senior information officer at that time, was a key figure in the operation of the unit. According to a statement by the IPCS in October 1975, in addition to ordinary public relations duties Wallace was required to engage in secret black propaganda disinformation activities as part of his official duties. That, of course, required a secret job description on the basis of psychological operations. To comply with Civil Service regulations, a false job cover description was put out by the Ministry of Defence. That has been repeatedly denied by the Government.

The IPCS stated that Wallace's responsibilities included the
"unattributable briefing of journalists which included the revelation of 'privileged and sensitive information' …
operations to discredit individuals and cause dissension within organisation …
operations designed to result in a 'favourable press' for the Department and the Government, by countering hostile propaganda."
Thus Wallace claims that he was unlawfully employed by the MOD Army information services and used by the intelligence services to disseminate information and disinformation designed to discredit key political personalities, particularly during the 1974 general election —a topic dealt with in Mr. Peter Wright's book.

The growth of psychological warfare dates back to the publication of "Low Intensity Operations" by Frank Kitson. Indeed, prior to that the Army published "Land Operations—Counter Revolutionary Operations" endorsing and committing the Army to the use of those methods.

On 28 March I asked the Secretary of State for Defence about the use of forged CIA documents by the armed forces in Northern Ireland from 1971 to that date. The Minister replied:
"I am unaware of any evidence that such documents have been used at any time by the armed forces in Northern Ireland."—[Official Report, 28 March 1988; Vol 130, c. 362.]
Following a holding answer, he replied on 6 May to a question concerning the policy of the Ministry of Defence to the forging of documents by Army printing presses in Northern Ireland in connection with covert operations:
"It is not the practice to comment on operational mattters." —[Official Report, 6 May 1988; Vol 132, c. 620.]
Once again, it was not a denial, which is wise given the mounting evidence to the contrary.

I have a photostat of the CIA forged document of authority that Colin Wallace sent to the Prime Minister asking her to investigate how he came to be in possession of such an item. I am not at all surprised that the Minister does not wish to deny its existence.

A current assistant chief public relations officer at the Ministry of Defence, Mr. Chris Whitehead, also carried a false CIA card. Members of the Army information service masqueraded as members of a paramilitary group with captured terrorist weapons and explosives at Belfast airport in 1974. I shall be interested to know whether the Minister can give a categorical denial of that.

The leaking of the plans formulated by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), to set up a special community police force to try to bridge the gap between the communities was leaked in order to wreck those plans. That was admitted by my right hon. Friend in March 1987 on Ulster Television. The leak was conducted by the Army information servicesߞsupposedly at that time loyal servants of the Government, who would not be expected to leak information to derail their policies.

In addition, in his book "A Personal View", the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland admits to the existence of
"Freelance attempts by the Army information people to use black propaganda."
Clockwork Orange, the plan to discredit politicians and the legitimately elected Government, formulated and activated by the unit working within the Army information services in Northern Ireland, reached its climax in the mid-1970s. In reply to a question about the nature of Clockwork Orange, I was fobbed off by the Minister, who referred to a previous answer stating that all allegations made by Mr. Wallace had been carefully investigated. This was in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), and appeared in Hansard on 20 July and did not state the precise nature of those investigations. Subsequent questions about this matter have repeatedly failed to elicit the information—particularly information as to who initiated such a project. I hope that the Government will state clearly how many investigations were conducted, by whom, who was interviewed, what the investigations cost, to whom they were reported and who has seen them apart from the Ministers concerned.

Major General Sir Peter Leng, a former commander of land forces in Northern Ireland in 1973–74 when his unit was active, admitted the existence of Clockwork Orange in an article in The Listener, entitled "A Wilderness of Mirrors", on 6 August 1987. I shall be interested to hear whether the Government formally deny that such a project ever took place.

When on 6 May I asked what percentage of officers commanding the information policy unit, the information liaison unit and the information planning unit in Northern Ireland underwent training at home or abroad in psychological warfare, after a delay the Minister, referring to a previous answer, said:
"It is not the policy to comment on operational matters." —[Official Report, 7 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 59.]
That was inconsistent as details had previously been given about the individuals who had been "trained". Such details were given by the Prime Minister in Hansard on 7 March 1988. Furthermore, the question was not about operational details. Once again the Government were failing to answer the question by answering another question. As there is dual involvement of the Ministry of Defence and the Northern Ireland Office, it has been difficult to ascertain the exact nature of the relationship, although the Prime Minister stated that the Secretary of State for Defence was ultimately responsible.

That is interesting, given that a question to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland took nearly a month to answer concerning his Department's policy towards Psyops from 1972 was not directly and automatically referred to the Ministry of Defence. The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office replied:
"It is not the general practice to comment on detailed matters of security policy."—[Official Report, 23 May 1988; Vol. 134, c. 36.]
There is a need to explain the link between the psychological operations, Lisburn army information services and the small covert unit working within it. Those links have continually been denied. Does the Secretary of State for Defence retain ultimate responsibility, or does it go higher? My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South was asked on Ulster Television in March 1987 whether he knew of a Psyops unit in Army HQ. He stated that he did not know of its existence until late 1974, and then took steps to disband it.

It is important to know that the Information Research Department, a sinister body set up by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and later disbanded by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), was formed to monitor "Left-wing" activities and was involved in information policy in the 1970s. It should also be noted that the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office stated on 6 May 1987 that allegations made by Mr. Wallace were indeed matters for the defence Ministers. The Minister assured the House that
"these allegations have been fully and carefully investigated and that there is not a shred of evidence to substantiate any of them. I am satisfied."—[Official Report, 6 May 1987; Vol. 115, c. 808]
In addition, the Prime Minister, when asked about
"false job descriptions, psychological warfare and propaganda",
following information received from the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, stated that all the allegations had been
"fully and carefully investigated and no evidence had been found to substantiate any of them,"—[Official Report, 26 April 1988; Vol. 132, c. 96.]
Furthermore, on 6 May 1988 the Secretary of State for Defence was asked if he would make a statement as to which officials in charge of Army information services had been interviewed by any inquiries into psychological operations. It is important to remember that, according to the Prime Minister, Psyops falls under his responsibility. He replied that he does not comment on specific individuals. When he was asked on 14 June 1988 how many individuals were interviewed, the same evasion was provided:
"We have been assured repeatedly that full investigations have been undertaken, but no information has been forthcoming as to their nature and scope."
Even more amazing, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, when asked whether Wallace was ever interviewed concerning Psyops, political disinformation or alleged use of forged documentation, replied:
"Not as far as I am aware."
In fact, none of Mr. Wallace's former colleagues has ever been interviewed by MOD or NIO about these allegations. In particular, this includes the key accuser Colin Wallace.

If that is what passes for full and careful investigation by the Government, we are in a sorry state. Should we be surprised by the answers provided? Obviously not, given the political embarrassment that would inevitably result —particularly as they dovetail with what Peter Wright has been saying in his book. I also note that Mr. Wright has made it clear on television in the last few weeks that there are 10 major secrets that he did not reveal because they would be so damaging. I have not the slightest doubt that the almost complete absence in the book of any mention of what has been going on in Ireland reflects his desire to save the Government from much more devastating embarrassing revelations than could ever have been the case from anything else that he has written.

We shall not have a safe and secure democracy in this country until we can be satisfied that an elected Government are not undermined by their own security services, and that those services do not operate as cowboys pursuing their own plans and strategies irrespective of loyalty to the elected Government of the day.

11.39 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces
(Mr. Roger Freeman)

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) has spoken for 19 minutes. I am sure that he realises that he has somewhat limited my opportunity to respond. I shall certainly study the Hansard record of what he has said tonight and, as I am unable to cover the ground that I had originally intended, I shall then respond to any points that require a detailed reply.

The hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of so-called psychological warfare operations in Northern Ireland—based in part, I believe, on a number of allegations made to him about events that are alleged to have taken place in the Province more than a decade ago. I know from their presence tonight that several other hon. Members have interested themselves in this general issue, and, indeed, in the specific cases lying behind the hon. Gentleman's allegations.

It has been the general practice of successive Governments not to comment on detailed matters of security policy. I need hardly stress the importance of adhering to that practice where operations in Northern Ireland are concerned, and I have no intention of departing from it this evening. The Government are committed to pursue their efforts to restore peace and order in Northern Ireland, and, in keeping with the security policy that has been followed by successive Governments, are determined to fight terrorism, with all appropriate resources, under the rule of law.

The hon. Gentleman has made several allegations about so-called psychological warfare operations and alleged criminal activities committed by the security forces in Northern Ireland. These allegations appear to stem from two individuals, Mr. Colin Wallace and a former Army officer, Captain Fred Holroyd, who both left Northern Ireland over a decade ago.

The position rests as I described it in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) on 3 March 1987, at column 577. The various allegations made by Captain Holroyd and Mr. Colin Wallace over many years about the conduct of the security forces in Northern Ireland have been fully and carefully investigated since they brought them to the attention of the authorities some years after they left the Province in 1975. No evidence has been discovered, as a result of those investigations, to substantiate any of their allegations. If the hon. Member for Brent, East believes that he has new evidence of illegal activities by the security forces—and nothing that I have heard tonight suggests that—he should bring it to the attention of the proper authorities, as I have made clear to him before.

Who has done the careful investigation of Colin Wallace?

I regret that, in the time available to me, it is not possible to deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for Brent, East, or the points that he may have cared to raise, if this were anything but an Adjournment debate, about the allegations of Mr. Colin Wallace. I shall write to the hon. Member for Brent, East tomorrow and put in the Library a copy of my letter, with fuller remarks about the allegations raised by Mr. Colin Wallace and Captain Fred Holroyd.

The hon. Member for Brent, East raised a plethora of points about parliamentary answers that I and other Ministes have given. If he is not satisfied with the answers that he has received, I invite him to table further questions, and I shall do my duty and answer them promptly.

11.43 pm

In the time available I shall add to the powerful case that was deployed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). Like several of my colleagues, I have seen Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd. It would be presumptuous and impertinent to pretend that I can come to any final judgment on extremely complex intelligence matters. I can only say that, starting from a position of sceptism, by the end of the third hour I was convinced that there was a formidable case to be answered relating to Colin Wallace. I am extremely sceptical about whether any real effort has been made to carry out a careful, thorough and detailed investigation. I should have thought that the Minister's answer would contain some details of the nature of the investigation. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend and to the Minister's reply. My hon. Friend has put the more heavyweight argument tonight. The matter cannot be left as it is.

11.44 pm

It is now 14 months since I led a long debate on this matter and raised all the issues in some detail. I shall ask the Minister a question that I know he will not answer from the Dispatch Box, but he might reflect upon it. It is a simple question. Does he know the truth? Does he know what exactly happened? If he does not know the truth, does he think that it is right that he should stand at the Dispatch. Box tonight and reply to the debate?

Many Conservative Members will be disgusted by what the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) has said tonight. It is open to any hon. Member to challenge the workings and actions of the Government. It is often the case that the hon. Gentleman seeks to obtain information which must be calculated at least to undermine the efforts of the Government in pursuing a difficult and dangerous counter-insurgency war in Northern Ireland, for that is what it is. The hon. Gentleman, amusing and personable though he is and having friends on both sides of the House, in raising this debate must give cause for concern about his motives: whether to obtain information that the security forces have not been acting within the law, or to undermine the efforts of the security forces—our constituents' sons, daughters and fathers—who are fighting a war against a vicious, brutal, nasty and inhuman enemy who is constantly destroying the lives of Innocent people.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman and others, in holding themselves up as the great champions of democracy and in seeking to take on the might of Government to expose Government wrongdoing, will bear in mind that as hon. Members we enjoy privileges and bear an enormous responsibility to ensure that we do not undermine the work of our security services in trying to defend the democracy that we profess to uphold and which is more seriously under threat in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is a most curious Adjournment debate. The Minister complained that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) had taken 19 minutes, so he had only a short time in which to answer. Then, lo and behold, the Minister sits down, leaving plenty of time to others. He cannot have it both ways. Was there ever any intention to answer the debate? The Minister has time to answer that question.

That is a question that the Chair cannot answer. It is not my responsibility.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at thirteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.