How A Punk Band Fooled MI6, Scared Margaret Thatcher And Almost Caused A Diplomatic Incident
Previously classified documents reveal how a spoof punk recording baffled the UK and US security services during the early 1980s. Do they owe us a living?
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.
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.
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...
The newly-released letters reveal that Thatcher herself was concerned by the recording that Crass had made in their bedroom.
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.
All of this is quite amazing because the original recording is not very convincing.
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.
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.
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.