Colin Wallace, a former psychological warfare officer for the British Army and British intelligence services, has taken a Court action against his former employer the British Ministry of Defence. Wallace’s job included briefing journalists and being a “source” that would feed them, in the words of the Belfast Telegraph, “stories both true and fabricated.” This did not just restrict itself to Republican groups but also to politicians in Britain’s own government: “This was not what I had signed up for,” said Mr Wallace. “I had no difficulty in disseminating disinformation about paramilitary organisations who were killing people, but to do so about politicians was entirely different. It was subverting democracy.”
It may seem hard to fathom that the intelligence services would try to undermine their own governments, yet that is seemingly what has happened in to our nearest neighbour, not once but twice in recent history. Clockwork Orange was a purported plot by sections of Mi5 to drive the incumbent Labour party from government in the 1970s which ultimately took down Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister at the time.
Peter Wright, a former Mi5 intelligence officer offers an overview of what transpired: “Feelings had run high inside MI5 during 1968. There had been an effort to try to stir up trouble for Wilson then, largely because the Daily Mirror tycoon, Cecil King, who was a longtime agent of ours, made it clear that he would publish anything MI5 might care to leak in his direction. It was all part of Cecil King’s “coup,” which he was convinced would bring down the Labour Government and replace it with a coalition led by Lord Mountbatten.
But the approach in 1974 was altogether more serious. The plan was simple. In the run-up to the election which, given the level of instability in Parliament, must be due within a matter of months, MI5 would arrange for selective details of the intelligence about leading Labour Party figures, but especially Wilson, to be leaked to sympathetic pressmen. Using our contacts in the press and among union officials, word of the material contained in MI5 files and the fact that Wilson was considered a security risk would be passed around.
Soundings in the office had already been taken, and up to thirty officers had given their approval to the scheme. Facsimile copies of some files were to be made and distributed to overseas newspapers, and the matter was to be raised in Parliament for maximum effect. It was a carbon copy of the Zinoviev letter, which had done so much to destroy the first Ramsay MacDonald Government in 1924.”
What must be understood is not simply that the intelligence agencies act in a manner both deceptive and underhanded (which is the name of the game for intelligence agencies), but that their stooges in the media were usually willing participants.
These participants are themselves partisan actors with autonomy and have occasionally taken political witch-hunting unto themselves.
Roger Scruton was one of the most prominent names in recent history to suffer the fate of an overzealous, politically-motivated media. In 2019 Scruton lost a job and suffered serious detriment to his credibility following the malicious editing of an interview he gave to the New Statesman magazine. The magazine was forced to row back and offer an apology to the late Scruton, and so too did the Minister for Housing, James Brokenshire.
Not all mistakes have malicious intent, however.
For example, the Sunday World recently ran an article mistakenly stating that Gerry McGeough claimed membership of Síol na hÉireann. Mr. McGeough confirmed to the Burkean that he is not affiliated with any groups outside of local pro-life organisations and believes that reporters mistook what he was saying.
An IPSOS MRBI poll in March 2021 found that only 45% of Irish people trust journalists – which may be indicative not of them believing journalists to be malicious actors, but (more likely in my view) to think that they’re simply incompetent. A study in Britain found that journalists’ brains operated below average due to self-medication and unhealthy lifestyle and consumption choices.
One must be careful not to be accused of spreading disinformation or to distrust the media out of hand, there are times when the media does uncover and report and seek to find the truth, such as Zapponegate.
But it is important to keep in mind that what can be reported is subject to interpretation, or misinterpretation, by the author – deliberate or accidental as the case may be.
As such it is always necessary to verify what it is that you’re reading and not merely to take it at face value.