1. Official documents released today reveal that a spoof recording made by anarchist punk band Crass resulted in MI6 informing Margaret Thatcher that they may have uncovered a new form of Soviet propaganda campaign.
Crass – known for releases such as “Nagasaki Nightmare” and “Penis Envy” – undertook a variety of anti-establishment protests during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
None were more successfully subversive as when, in 1982, the band spliced together recordings of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan to make it sound as though they were arguing over the Falklands War and discussing the possibility of launching nuclear weapons at Germany.
Crass then posted the tape to Dutch newspapers, who swiftly dismissed it as a fake. But a few months later the US State Department got hold of a copy and loudly proclaimed it to be an example of underhand Soviet Union propaganda.
Official UK government documents, declassified for the first time today, show that Margaret Thatcher was kept updated on the incident by the Foreign Office. The papers also suggest that MI6, the CIA and the US State Department were in communication with each other regarding the tape for up to two years.
2. A Foreign Office official first wrote to Thatcher in 1983, warning the Prime Minister that the recording could be an Argentinian or Soviet intelligence operation designed to discredit her, according to one of the newly-released letters.
The embassy in Hague recently passed to London a tape recording of a purported telephone conversation between the Prime Minister and President Reagan during the Falklands crisis.
This looks like a rather clumsy operation. We have no evidence so far about who is responsible. SIS [also known as MI6] doubt whether this is a Soviet operation. It is possible that one of the Argentine intelligence services might have been behind it; or alternatively it might be the work of left-wing groups in this country.
4. Then The Sunday Times ran a piece entitled “How the KGB fools the West’s press” based on a US State Department briefing about the tape. It blamed the Russian security services for the forgery.
…journalists across the world have fallen for an increasing flow of such stories based on “authoritative” cables, memo and tapes. The State Department in Washington says they are all products of an increasingly sophisicated Russian campaign.
“They have accelerated their efforts and they have fine-tuned them,” claims Larry Semakis, deputy director of a State Department team that monitors what the Russians call “active measures.” He admits that “no one can specifically prove in a court of law that Soviet hand was on this or that item.” But he says there is a pattern in the use of forgeries which points unmistakably to the Russians.
The State Department believes that “active measures” are the responsibility of the KGB’s first directorate; that some forgeries go as high as the ruling Politburo for approval…
6. The newly-released letters reveal that Thatcher herself was concerned by the recording that Crass had made in their bedroom.
The Prime Minister even sought advice from the foreign secretary and home secretary as to whether she should discuss the tape in an interview on the BBC’s Panorama.
8. Futher news coverage of the tape led the Foreign Office to send Thatcher another letter in 1984 regarding continued suggestions that this was a piece of Soviet “disinformation”.
Neither our friends nor CIA considered this very likely, but further analysis would have required a disproportionate commitment of resources which even CIA felt unable to contemplate.
9. All of this is quite amazing because the original recording is not very convincing.
Excerpts from the faked Thatcher and Reagan recording can be heard in the background of this later Crass release. It says something about Cold War paranoia that the security services thought this could be part of a Soviet smear campaign.
Eventually, in 1984, The Observer outed Crass as the group behind the tape, prompting a police visit to the group’s headquarters in rural Essex.
10. Still, the correspondence went on and the Prime Minister continued to be updated on the tape. The foreign secretary and home secretary were consulted once again and this letter was sent to Downing Street.
11. BuzzFeed phoned former Crass singer Steve Ignorant – now a volunteer lifeboatman in Norfolk – to tell him that the 1982 spoof tape had been discussed at high levels of government in both Washington DC and London.
12. This is what he said:
It makes me a bit worried about governments because if they could be fooled by something so ridiculous… well, someone told us that there was an MI5 dossier on us but we didn’t take it that seriously.
I’m quite stunned [the recording] went that far.
[Bass player Pete Wright] just vanished upstairs one day with a load of little cassette tapes and – with a razor blade and sellotape – was slicing together stuff that he’d recorded off a black and white portable TV that we couldn’t tune in properly.
Just as a joke he had it sent to Europe and sent back to various newspapers from Belgium. We didn’t think for a second people would take it seriously. But obviously people did.