Watching Big Brother

Glenn Simpson reviews 'A Matter of Trust MI5 1945-1972' by Nigel West
Militant Irish Monthly Dec 1983 - Jan. 1984, Issue 117

'A Matter of Trust' is a book that should be studied in depth by labour activists. It deals in some detail with the penetration by MI5 and the KGB of the British labour movement. It is worth examining the deep penetration of MI5 into the Communist Party after the war and their more recent work inside the labour movement.

MI5 was responsible for the Zinoviev letter which was one of the factors which lost Labour the general election of 1924. The Labour Party has received much more attention from MI5 than that given to the Communist Party. However, Nigel West and MI5 are not as informative about MI5's role in the Labour Party as they are about this role in the Communist Party. Bearing this in mind, West says:
If 'B' division was the most senior, arguably the second most important was 'F' which focused its attention on the Communist Party and other allied extremist groups.


One MI5 agent, Betty Gordon, spent 10 years in the CP and became a personal friend of their leader, Harry Pollitt. Tom Driberg, later a Labour MP, was an MI5 informant (not a key agent) inside the CP. In 1954 Harry Pollitt expelled Driberg for being Agent M8. Driberg was most surprised, as he didn't even know MI5 had given him a code-name. Anthony Blunt, the KGB man inside MI5, was annoyed at the CP and Harry Pollitt for drawing attention to mole work inside MI5.

MI5 and the KGB played a game of chess with Labour activists and even MPS. Martin Furnival Jones, director of MI5 1965-72 told Harold Wilson (the Prime Minister) that an MP by he name of Own was a Czech (KGB) agent. A shocked Harold Wilson at first thought he meant Dr. David Owen, then a cabinet minister, but it turned out to be a backbencher by the name of Will Owen.

MI5 had a much more extensive network of agents inside the labour movement than the KGB. The secret of their success was never to overexpose their agents.

F branch have long established moles in most leftist organisations and are kept well informed by trade union informants. But they also know that F branch has only a reporting brief and is not authorised to conduct counter-subversive operations. In other words, MI5 will monitor extremists but they will not interfere with them. This code of practice enables the security service to recruit agents with relative ease. If the agents or their case officers habitually tried to sabotage the activities, of say a left-wing union executive, there would be few recruits for the future.

No controls

MI5 and MI6 must be exposed to the working class. In a rather smug chat to the author of A Matter of Trust, the head of MI6, Maurice Oldfield, said, 'MI6 enjoys minimal direct political control.' These bodies fear accountability to politicians like Thatcher who they regard as being too amateurish and middle class (for the old boy network.)

How could the labour movement ever expect them to act other than in the interests of big business.
Glenn Simpson

This series of articles on Northern Ireland from our archives
are available here.

The full range of articles from the Socialist Party
are available in our sitemap