Miranda/Greenwald: Echoes of Agee/Hosenball?

One thing that I didn’t get to mention in my piece for New Matilda on the history of the intersection between national and border security in the UK was the Agee/Hosenball controversy of the late 1970s, when Mark Hosenball, an investigative journalist and US citizen, was deported after writing about the secretive (and possibly illegal) work of GCHQ. This has obvious parallels with the pressures put on Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda today.


As I have briefly written in a forthcoming article:

Philip Agee and Mark Hosenball were two American nationals who were deported after a very lengthy process from the UK in the mid-1970s. Philip Agee was a CIA officer based in the UK, who was suspected by the US authorities (who allegedly put pressure on Merlyn Rees and James Callaghan to deport Agee) of exposing CIA activities in the Caribbean. Hosenball was a journalist who had written a piece for Time Out magazine on the UK security services. There was considerable public support for both men to remain in the country, but were eventually deported in 1977. 

When Willie Whitelaw and Peter Carrington were discussing, in 1980, ways in which the border control system could be used for counter-terrorism purposes, Carrington pushed Whitelaw to revise the Immigration Act 1971 to give the Home Secretary greater powers to deport ‘undesirable’ people. Carrington actually believed that many of the counter-terrorism measures being implemented by the border control system in 1979-80 were not effective enough (such as the mandatory visa/security checks for nearly all Middle Eastern and North African nationals) and was, according to one internal Foreign and Commonwealth Office document:

inclined to think there would be more substance in changing the immigration rules so that the Home Secretary could swiftly deport suspected terrorists without running into the Agee/Hosenball difficulties [my emphasis] and in extending the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Several other documents from the FCO files at the National Archives refer to the Agee/Hosenball case (see the Court of Appeal decision with a good outline of the case here) as highlighting the difficulties in deporting someone from the UK, even for national security reasons, as the Immigration Act 1971 still allowed appeals for those to be deported via the Immigration Appeals Act 1969. However Whitelaw replied that for suspected terrorists to be deported without any appeal, this would have required a major change to the Immigration Act approved by Parliament – a legislative move that he described as ‘highly controversial’.

The Agee/Hosenball case shows that the UK security services have used border control practices to intimidate and persecute whistleblowers and investigative journalists in the past, and are seemingly doing so again today.

See two articles by Duncan Campbell on the case here (from 1979) and here (from 2007).

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