Counter-terrorism history

Thatcher, the Brighton bombing and the British left


Like July 1981, October 1984 was a crisis point for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. The miners’ strike was now six months in and Thatcher faced possible strike action by the pit deputies’ union, Nacods, which would have increased the severity of the strike. If Nacods had initiated strike action, many believe that Thatcher would not have been able to endure the effect that it would have on the British economy. In July 1984, Thatcher had addressed a private meeting of the 1922 Committee, a pressure group within the Conservative Party, and has referred to the miners as the ‘enemy within’. From papers released by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation this month, we now know that she was going to return to this theme at the Conservatives’ 1984 Party Conference, to be held in Brighton.

However the Brighton Conference became known for a different set of events. On the morning of October 12, 1984, a bomb planted by the Provisional IRA exploded in the hotel hosting the conference. Five people, including one MP, were killed and another 31 were injured. It was revealed this week that Thatcher ripped up her original ‘enemy within’ speech and gave a defiant speech to those who remained at the conference.

In the week of the bombing, the Tories lead over Labour was 2 per cent, according to The Guardian/ICM polls, but this rose to 9 per cent the following month. The Tories experienced a fillip in the polls until February 1985 when they returned to a 2 per cent lead. But resentment towards Thatcher was still high and many were unsympathetic about the near miss.

Cabinet's response to the bombing

Cabinet’s response to the bombing: CAB 128/79/10, National Archives, p. 1.

I wondered how the British far left responded to the bombing in the midst of one of the most important strikes in contemporary British history. Thanks to the staff at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, I was able to get copies of the Morning Star and Socialist Worker from the days following the bombing.

As a way of bit of background information, the Communist Party of Great Britain, to which the Morning Star was still nominally attached at this stage, was opposed to the bombing campaign of the Provisional IRA. At the Party’s 1981 Congress, a resolution on Ireland stated:

Congress unreservedly condemns the military campaign of the Provisional IRA in Britain and Ireland. The result is not just continual violence taking the lives of hundreds more people, Irish and British, but also a deepening political polarisation within the working class in Northern Ireland…

The SWP, on the other hand, supported the Provisional IRA in their struggle against British ‘imperialism’, but did not necessarily condone their bombing campaign. A 1980 pamphlet (scanned by the Irish Left Archive) stated:

As socialists we give full support to all those who fight oppression and for the right of self-determination, whereever in the world they may be. This applies equally to the Provisionals, who are fighting a war against the oppression of a minority in Britain’s oldest colony. But this does not mean that we necessarily support the politics of the Provisionals, nor we consider them socialists, nor that we support all the tactics they use.

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The Morning Star covered the story on the front page of the newspaper the day after the bombing, complemented by a statement by the paper’s staff under the headline, ‘No to Terrorism’. The statement began with the sentence:

The Provisional IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton was a piece of reckless adventurism which should be condemned without reservation.

The statement continued with the proposal that a ‘democratic solution’ to the problems in Northern Ireland (and in Britain) would ‘need not terrorism, but mass extra-parliamentary activity combined with the struggle inside parliament.’ It followed with:

Terrorism divides the working people and makes it more difficult to establish the unity between the working people of Britain and Ireland which is needed to solve problem in Northern Ireland.

It opens the door of more and more authoritarian measures which are then applied to the left as a whole.

The statement condemned the failure of the British labour movement to effectively mobilise around the issue of Northern Ireland and concluded with this passage:

The failure to grasp this problem, and mobilise the mass movement needed, leaves the vacuum which is then filled by desperate acts of terrorism.

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The Socialist Worker in the week following the bombing (20 Oct) did not put the bombing on the front page, instead focusing on the breakdown of ACAS proceedings between the NUM and the government. Coverage of the bombing was relegated to page 2. The paper featured two articles detailing the violence of the British Army and the RUC in Northern Ireland, explaining why the Provisional IRA enjoyed popular support. And like the Morning Star, the paper carried a statement from the SWP on the bombing under the headline ‘No Way to Win’. This statement acknowledged that many socialists would not have been upset if the bombing had inflicted more casualties amongst the Conservatives, but still condemned the bombing as the incorrect way to defeat Thatcher and to remove the British from Northern Ireland. The paper said:

We think the IRA made a mistake in planting the bomb last week, because such methods are not going to inflict a real defeat on the Tories…

In fact, the result would have been very different. The establishment would have found another set of Tory politicians to represent them, and these would have used the confusion caused by the bombing to push through repressive measures aimed at anyone sympathising with the cause of Irish freedom…

Indeed it would have made it easier for the system to continue in both Britain and Ireland. In Britain it would provide a wonderful excuse for the Tories to increase their repressive powers. In Ireland, it would have encouraged the illusion that a few courageous people with guns and bombs can act as a substitute for the struggles of the mass of the people.

The SWP stated that they would not condemn the IRA in the manner of the right-wing press, but also understood that the IRA ‘cannot win by bombing campaigns’. The SWP concluded:

The only thing which can shift an employing class is the mass activity and resistance of those its exploits. No amount of individual heroics or clever military stunts can substitute for that.

I wasn’t able to find copies of Militant or Newsline from this period, but due to the wonders of the internet, I thought it would be interesting to also look at how Red Action, a small splinter group from the SWP dedicated to militant anti-fascism, reacted to the bombing, as all copies of Red Action are now online. The attitude of Red Action towards the bombing is significant because Red Action was probably the most pro-Republican leftist group in Britain at the time. As Mark Hayes has written on his chapter on Red Action in our forthcoming volume on the British far left:

Red Action supported local Irish activities and sustained practical political contact with Republican paramilitary organisations. Red Action believed that genuine revolutionary socialist groups should place Irish national liberation high on their agenda.64 According to Red Action the liberal left in Britain had, in effect, abandoned the issue of ‘Northern Ireland’ when the struggle for civil liberties was transformed into an armed insurrection. Even the Trotskyist left, which had the habit of offering ‘conditional support’ for Republicanism, was decidedly equivocal when it came to the use of armalites and semtex… Red Action, on the other hand, resolved to offer unwavering support.

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Issue 15 of Red Action from November 1984 contrasted the IRA bombing with the sinking of the Belgrano by the British (under Thatcher’s orders) during the Falklands War and argued that violence was given a moral worth depending on who perpetrated it. The paper noted that the reaction from the working class towards the bombing was quite muted and that this had changed from the anti-Irish sentiment that was prevalent during the 1970s. It was argued that this latest bombing incident was different because it ‘attacked an obvious and clearly political target’ and because the government ‘had done no favours to the British working class since it had been in office’.

Using the example of the 1981 riots, Red Action stated that the paramilitary policing tactics employed in Northern Ireland were now being used on the British mainland. The group thought that this might create a greater understanding in Britain of the Republican cause. The article finished with this:

Perhaps some of the working class are now beginning to realise that the IRA/INLA are not looney crazed terrorists – just people who realised that the only way that their voice would be heard was by their taking direct physical action against the state.

It cannot be said that the news of the Brighton bomb brought cheers of ‘up the provos’ [sic] but there were plenty of people who thought that it would hsve been better if it had been more successful.

The Brighton bomb gave Thatcher a brief respite from the pressure of the miners strike and public opinion swung behind her momentarily for the first time really ‘since the Falklands War. But many of those who were involved in the strike did not sympathise with Thatcher in the wake of the bombing, although most were critical of the strategies used by the Provisional IRA. The bombing also solidified in her mind that the ‘enemy within’ was a clear and present threat, even though if she wasn’t willing to say it on October 13, 1984 – Irish Republicans, trade unionists, communists, etc, were to be handled with the necessary toughness that the situation required. This line of thinking informed the political and criminal justice outlook of the Thatcher government until its end in November 1990.


The PFLP/RAF terrorist who evaded the UK border control system: Zohair Akache and the ‘German Autumn’

Zohair Yousif Akache before the Lufthansa hijacking

Zohair Yousif Akache before the Lufthansa hijacking

In 1980, Lord Carrington, the new Foreign Secretary under Margaret Thatcher, ordered a review of how the UK border control system was utilised in the fight against terrorism, particularly in relation to terrorists from the Middle East and North Africa. The catalyst for this review were two incidents in May 1980 – the siege at the Iranian Embassy and the killing of an Iranian dissident working for the BBC in Bayswater. Carrington asked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office:

[I]n what ways can we tighten up on the issue of visas; how can better checks be made; what categories of people should be most closely examined? Can controls at the ports in Great Britain be effectively tightened to improve screening?… What of conducive leave to enter and deportation? (FCO 50/685, NA)

I have written an article (currently under review on this topic) and outline that there were four major actions proposed and/or taken arising from this review. They were:

  1. Interviews and security checks before the issuing of visas to most Middle Eastern and North African nationals
  2. A special landing card (with photo) for these nationals to be required when arriving in the UK
  3. The requirement that these nationals report to the police if staying longer than three months
  4. The withdrawal of the ability to appeal a deportation order before being deported (only proposed – not introduced)

These strict measures seemed to be aimed at all Middle Eastern and North African visitors and as I have written in the article:

In the course of trying to achieve the UK’s counter-terrorism objectives, the actions of the border control system placed blanket restrictions on certain nationals in order to prevent a minute number of potential ‘threats’ entering the country. From a counter-terrorist and border control perspective, it seemed that the procedure was to treat all Middle Eastern and North African nationals seeking to visit the UK as potential terrorists until considered otherwise.

FCO staff were also highly critical of this blanket approach, arguing that any terrorists attempting to enter the country were likely to be trained and sophisticated enough to slip through the border control system. The British Embassy staff in Tripoli submitted a report during this review that doubted the usefulness of the measures sought by Carrington and others. The report stated:

We have no doubt that if Libya was determined to send a terrorist to the UK, through our new system, she could arrange, with relative ease, for him to be provided with convincing documentation and to be adequately briefed for our interview. (FCO 93/2356, NA)

This post is not about the findings or an overview of my article, but about one interesting bit about the files of the review in the National Archives. One of the questions raised during the review was how effective can the border control system be in detecting potential terrorists and there is an assumption that the border control system had failed during the 1970s as several terrorists from the Middle East and North Africa had come to the UK to commit terrorist acts.

One of the failings of the border control system during this period was its failure to detect Zohair Yousif Akache, a terrorist attached to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Pakestine (PFLP), who was deported in 1976, but managed to re-enter the UK in 1977 to assassinate three people and then depart from the UK before being detected. It is interesting that this bungling was not mentioned anywhere within all the correspondence generated by Lord Carrington’s review.

Akache is probably best known as the leader of the RAF/PFLP group that hijacked the Lufthansa Flight 181 in October 1977 in order to force the West German government to release the four jailed members of the RAF, including Andreas Baader. Akache had been a ‘student’ in London during the mid-1970s and according to Labour Home Secretary Merlyn Rees:

This man was not formally deported but in March 1976 was allowed instead to make a supervised departure from this country, and instructions were issued that he was not to be readmitted. The Commissioner of Police informs me that police inquiries have taken into account the possibility that he may have re-entered under a false name.

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According to The Times, he was deported after serving a six month jail term for hitting a policeman. In April 1977, Akache apparently re-entered the UK under a false name and killed three people in Hyde Park – the former Prime Minister of the Yemen Arab Republic Kadhi Abdullah al-Hagri (or Qadi Abdullan al Hijri), his wife and another Yemeni minister. According to Rees:

The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis tells me that detailed police inquiries have established that Akache, against whom warrants of arrest have been issued for the murder of three Yemen Arab Republic subjects in London on 10th April 1977, left the country that afternoon. He left through Heathrow Airport, using a Kuwaiti passport in the name of Ahmed Badir Al-Majid. Soon after the murders had been committed the police and the immigration service at Heathrow were alerted, but the descriptions of the suspect provided to the police were insufficiently detailed to enable Akache to be identified and apprehended. It was not until the following day that urgent and painstaking police inquiries provided evidence linking Akache with these crimes.

There are two files in the National Archives in Kew relating to this incident. I have yet to go through them to see whether they can contain information about Akache. There are also four other files relating to the Lufthansa hijacking. I can only assume that these files have more information on Akache and his time in the UK, although one of the files (PREM 16/1675) is closed and retained by the Cabinet Office.

Future Tory Home Secretary Leon Brittan questioned Rees in parliament after the Lufthansa hijacking over the UK’s inability to detect Akache when he was in the country in 1977. Brittan stated:

Does not the Home Secretary agree that there is likely to be continued anxiety over the case of Zohair Akache, who was deported from this country, then allowed to re-enter the country, was suspected of committing in broad daylight the murder of three prominent North Yemenis, was then able to leave the country again and is now suspected of being responsible for the hijacking which ended in Mogadishu?

Does not the Home Secretary agree that it is extraordinary that, after all this time has passed, it is still not possible for him to confirm or deny that this man Akache, who entered and left the country in those circumstances, is in fact none other than the Captain Mahmoud responsible for the Lufthansa hijacking?

Rees replied:

If I were basing my information on the newspapers, and only on them, I would be able to confirm that. But it is not my business to confirm a story when the police do not have the basic information on which I can be absolutely sure.

On the other issue, what the hon. Gentleman says is right. I see in the newspapers from time to time that I am accused of being devious about it, but there is no clever stuff behind the events. The man came into the country and went out again. He was using a false passport and so on, and I have the details. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to say it, a mistake was made, but it certainly was not by design. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to run around all the time saying that an error was made—well, I have said it now, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied.

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As Akache was killed during the Lufthansa hijacking, he was never questioned about his involvement in the assassination of al Hagri, but it has been assumed that Akache was responsible for these killings. There is nothing more in the public record (that I know of) that casts doubt on this allegation. I am wondering whether the archival records hold more relevant information.

What is surprising is that this episode, which seems to show an explicit failure of the border control system in detecting a dangerous person from entering the UK, was overlooked in discussions of how to tighten up border security with regards to the country’s counter-terrorism agenda only a few years later. One would’ve thought that Carrington could have used this incident to show that Labour was ineffective in both border and national security and that it highlighted a reason for tighter controls.

I’m still not sure what the Akache indicent tells us about the border/national security system in the UK during the 1970s, but I’m very interested in looking further at these files!



Piecing together the death of Ian Macleod: The responses in West Germany and Britain

How Macleod's death was first reported in The Times

How Macleod’s death was first reported in The Times

Early in the morning of June 25, 1972, the West German police raided a supposed ‘safehouse’ of the Red Army Fraction (RAF), also known as the Baader-Meinhof gang, in Stuttgart. There had been supposed telephone communications between the flat in question and a group of Swiss anarchists who had allegedly been in contact with Andreas Baader. During the raid, Ian Macleod (also spelt as ‘Ian Mcleod’ or Iain Macleod’) was shot in the back of the neck. Macleod, a UK citizen, was naked and unarmed when he was shot. Since then, the West German police (now obviously just the German police) have argued that Macleod had some connection to the RAF, whilst others have alleged that the police had shot an innocent man and this grave mistake by the police was covered up.

I came across the response by the British government to the shooting in some files at the National Archives whilst doing research on the UK’s counter-terrorist strategies in the 1970s and I have been interested in how the media and government in both countries reacted to the death of a foreign national in a high profile counter-terrorist manhunt. The Times first reported the death on page 1 on 26 June, 1972, largely based on accounts from officials in Stuttgart and Bonn. It reported that:

According to well-placed sources in Stuttgart tonight, Mr Macleod was suspected by the police of being at least a contact man for the gang.

However over the next few days, the newspaper was reporting that these contacts might not have existed and that the police shooting was unwarranted. On June 27, the newspaper stated:

The West German authorities have so far been unusually tight-lipped over the shooting.

The following day, the paper went further:

Lawyers and newspapers in West Germany today attacked the police for unnecessarily killing Mr Iain Macleod, a British businessman, as the official case against him began to disintegrate

Several newspapers here have underlined the impression Mr Macleod must have had when he opened the door and saw what was apparently a civilian brandishing a machine gun at him first thing on a Sunday morning. He screamed and slammed the door, whereupon the policeman fired two shots. 

While reporting that the police accepted that they acted ‘negligently’, The Times also remarked that the police’s case against Ian Macleod was ‘at best highly circumstantial’ and there nothing in the police account to reject the notion that Macleod’s actions (that caused the policeman to open fire) were:

the frightened reaction of someone awakened by noises in his home who finds a man with a machine-gun at his bedroom door at 6.30 on a Sunday morning.

The newspaper reported that the British Consulate in Bonn was liaising with the West German government and the National Archives has part of this correspondence. The only official statement I have been able to locate by the British Government was in Parliament in late July 1972:

Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he has taken or intends taking to protest to the West German Government at the shooting of Mr. Jain Macleod, a British businessman, by a West German policeman on 25th June, 1972 in Stuttgart; and whether he will demand compensation from the West German Government for Mr. Macleod’s next of kin.

Mr. Kershaw

Soon after Mr. Macleod’s death we expressed our concern to the Federal German authorities and asked for a report as soon as possible. We have been kept fully informed by the German authorities on the course of their inquiries, the latest state of which show no basis for suspicion against Mr. Macleod. But the case is still under investigation and until this has been completed, it is not possible to say what action Her Majesty’s Government intend to take.

I haven’t had a chance to look at other British media outlets from the time, but I expect that similar reporting could be found in The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. My next place to look will be The New Statesman, which hopefully covered the case.

How Der Spiegel reported on the case

How Der Spiegel reported on the case

As expected, the West German media covered the case in quite a bit of detail, although sources are not as accessible from Australia (and my German is quite limited). The current affairs weekly Der Spiegel reported that this was the sixth death by the police in the hunt for RAF members and seemed to conclude that Macleod’s death was one of mistaken identity. The same issue of the magazine contained a lengthy interview with two senior policemen in Stuttgart who were involved in the case. An English translation of the interview (thanks to Google Translate) opens with:

SPIEGEL: One of your officers has shot dead last week during the search of an apartment a recognizable defenseless man. Has the fear of the Baader-Meinhof people your police so messed up that it already is holding a naked man who starts up from sleep dangerous?

RAU: Certainly not. But we had to assume that the flat of the Baader-Meinhof people’s lives, had all experiences expected that BM group members ruthlessly shoot – and of weapons and ammunition that cause death. We also know that these people are smart and do not be surprised readily. That our officials did not count on the door so that the door is flung open suddenly and that he then fell into a deep psychologically explicable only state of emergency, of course, is extremely unfortunate.

Further in the interview, the senior police officers tried to explain the use of machine guns in the raid:

SPIEGEL: Why did you have your people equipped with machine guns! For an arrest a rather unusual armament.

RAU: In Baader-Meinhof operations we always take with machine guns.We must orient ourselves to the armament of the enemy – with 7.65 guns our government officials were always inferior in case of emergency. Incidentally, the MP of the shooter was set to single fire. He fired two shot.

SPIEGEL: Even if you wanted to grant him to have fired the first shot with excitement uncontrollably – one must not judge differently the second shot?

FREY: I think this all happened in the same psychological situation. It also went in quick succession: Päng. bang – I heard it on the hallway entrance to the apartment, I was also there. The shooter has explained to me spontaneously that he wanted to reach for the latch as the door was flung open from the inside. He saw only one head – wearing nothing of whether he was naked or – and suddenly the man had moved, as if to bend down. He had assumed that now he shoots, felt a burning sensation in the lower abdomen – “I already have one or I get ‘another’ – pulled the trigger, and as he has.

Weekly newspaper, Die Zeit, reported the following month that the Federal Prosecutor announced there was ‘no reasonable suspicion’ for Macleod and expressed concern that mere suspicion placed the police at Macleod’s residence that Sunday morning, armed with heavy weaponry and faulty intelligence: The suspicion is always a dangerous and too often an unreliable ally.”

Der Spiegel announced in July 1973 that the case had now been deliberated on by prosecutors in Stuttgart and the case against the policeman who shot Macleod had been dropped.

In 2007, two MPs from left wing party Die Linke (‘The Left’) requested information from the Bundestag (German Parliament) on the deaths of people at the hands of the police, prisons and the criminal justice system in the state’s fight against the RAF. In their request, they specifically mentioned the death of Macleod, stating that the full details of his death were still not known. The response by the Bundestag stated that 7 suspected RAF members had been killed between 1970 and 1998, with another 15 people injured.

In 2013, a former journalist from a local Stuttgart newspaper wrote that questions still needed to be answered about the case:

In July 1972, federal prosecutors closed the file McLeod. The Ninth Criminal Chamber of the Stuttgart Regional Court decided to not open a criminal trial of the gunman. The 36-year-old Detective Chief Master had acted in putative self-defense. The Labour MP Gavin strand of the Edinburgh constituency, from the Ian McLeod came, had called for an acknowledgment of the innocence of the murdered compatriot by the German authorities. He has received a diplomatic embellished with flourishes final report. The mother was offered a compensation of 135 000 marks, which she accepted a little later.

The police has been the case McLeod never worked. The newspaper did not also. My attempt to talk to the now 93-year-old Kriminaldirektor Frey about these past has failed, and the now 77-year-old gunman silent. From the former police leadership has only Günther Rathgeb (79), then head of the police, expressed at the time. He says:.. “In reality, politicians and security forces were taken by surprise, were not prepared and were sometimes completely helpless the events against a rule, barely stayed opportunity to actively and preventively to influence events almost exclusively one could only respond, had be wide awake, often take emergency decisions without guarantee of success and trust to luck. “

Where Ian McLeod is buried, I could not find out.

A German website dedicated to the history of political opposition in Germany has a page dedicated to the death of Macleod, with a lot of contemporary material from radical German groups and their responses to the death, as well as to the RAF more broadly. I enquired last year with the German State Archives about material relating to Macleod’s death. I was told that there are two closed files, which I can apply to have opened, although my success at gaining access is probably rather limited. But then again, I may apply to see them later in the year.

A radical interpretation of the events

A radical interpretation of the events

I have not mentioned what the FCO files from Kew say as I am hoping to put together a journal article on this case eventually. Anyone knows of any other potential sources should get in touch. I would also be interested in hearing from any German/German speaking historians who might be interested in working on this project with me – Google Translate can only help me so much!

Persons of Interest? View the digitised ASIO files from the NAA

The first two episodes of the SBS documentary Persons of Interest have been aired, portraying to a wide audience the level of surveillance undertaken against potential ‘subversive’ people in Australia by ASIO between the late 1940s and late 1970s.  The documentary, by Hadyn Keenan, uses a lot of recently opened ASIO files from the National Archives of Australia, many of which were opened via Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the people surveilled. Many of these files have also been digitised by the National Archives and are available for public reading. Using the new features of the NAA website, I have posted the links to a few files relating to the people discussed in Persons of Interest.

There are many files on the Milliss family that have been digitised. With all of the files I have linked to, I have only linked to volume 1, but a search through the NAA catalogue will show that there are numerous files. Firstly, there are the files of Bruce Milliss, the father of Roger and David, who was an ardent Communist Party of Australia member and then became a supporter of Mao in the breakaway CPA (Marxist-Leninist). (Click on pic for link to NAA file)

Bruce Milliss

There are also numerous digitised files on Roger and David Milliss, although the file on Suse Milliss has not been digitised.

Roger Milliss

David Milliss

There are also more than 15 files on founder of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), Ted Hill, that have been digitised, as well as one on the CPA (M-L) from 1968.

Hill file


Bob Gould was another CPA member mentioned in the documentary whose files have been digitised.

Bob Gould

There are many files on the CPA that have been digitised, but coinciding with the forthcoming episode of Persons of Interest on the Aboriginal rights movement, here is a file on the CPA’s work on Aboriginal rights.

CPA Aborigines

ASIO kept tabs on the Aboriginal rights movement, particularly those involved in the founding of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in January 1972, including activist Gary Foley.

Tent Embassy file

Gary Foley

But nearly all social movements that arose in the 1960s and 1970s were surveilled, including the anti-Vietnam War campaign and the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Moratorium file


Prominent activists from these campaigns and other movements/groups were surveilled, with massive files created by the day-to-day following of these activists. A number of these have been digitised in recent years following FOI requests. These include the Burgmann sisters, Meredith and Verity, who were involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the campaign against the Springboks in 1971, as well as Rick Kuhn, a leading member of the Australian Trotskyist group, the International Socialists (following the Cliffite IS/SWP from the UK), and CPA youth member (and future Professor) Ann Curthoys.

Meredith Burgmann

Verity Burgmann

Rick Kuhn

Ann Curthoys

These are only a few of the many digitised ASIO files that people can access through the NAA catalogue. It is worth having a search for other well-known activists. If the files has been digitised, you can view it on the NAA’s new file-viewer, SODA.

Just type in the URL: [barcode of file] /1

Now have some fun!

Detecting Libyan terrorists at the UK border in the 1980s

One of my on-going projects is how the UK authorities pursued a counter-terrorist agenda through the border control system in the 1970s and 1980s, with a particular interest in how Middle Eastern and North African visitors to the UK were heavily scrutinised for being potential ‘terrorists’. In the latest round of government papers released by the National Archives, relating to the events of 1984, there are three sizeable documents that detail the UK government’s response after the shooting death of PC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London (PREM 19/1300, PREM 19/1301 and PREM 19/1302). These documents show that the UK government sought to sever diplomatic ties with Libya after this incident and expel all Libyan Embassy staff, as well as attempt to halt nearly all Libyan nationals entering the country.

My research has uncovered (from this National Archives file) that similar measures to restrict the number of Libyans coming to the UK were undertaken in 1980 in the wake of the murder of BBC employee and Libyan oppositionist to Gaddafi, Mohammed M. Ramadan in London. Subsequent immigration policy implemented by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office required nearly all Libyan nationals to undergo a security check, including substantial face-to-face interview in Tripoli, before travelling to the UK. Those who bypassed this procedure were wives and children (and some diplomatic staff). These security checks and interviews were to ‘weed out’ or ‘deter’ potential terrorists from trying to come to the UK and it was also thought as a useful tactic for reducing the total number of Libyans coming to the country (mostly students).

However the FCO staff in Tripoli were sceptical that these checks would detect or deter any terrorists from attempting to enter the UK and that mandatory checks only placed an extra administrative burden upon FCO staff. A report from the British Embassy in Tripoli from September 1980 stated:

We have no doubt that if Libya was determined to send a terrorist to the UK, through our new system, she could arrange, with relative ease, for him to be provided with convincing documentation and to be adequately briefed for our interview.

The same report suggested that border control checks would possibly mean that the Libyan regime would try to recruit potential terrorists from the Libyan community already living in the UK or turn to freelance terrorists (such as Carlos the Jackal). However the FCO replied that MI5/MI6 felt that border control checks were necessary and despite the reservations of the Tripoli embassy, these checks would remain in place. A reply by the FCO said, ‘Security authorities maintain that the interview is an essential and effective deterrent to terrorism’.

Police on the scene after the shooting outside Libyan Embassy (April 1984)

Police on the scene after the shooting outside Libyan Embassy (April 1984)

While the number of Libyan exiles killed in the UK during the early 1980s dropped, in 1984, a policewoman was shot out front of the Libyan Embassy. As part of the response by the Thatcher Government, even tighter restrictions were placed upon Libyan nationals. As Home Secretary Leon Brittan announced in the House of Commons on May 1, 1984:

I have also considered what additional immigration measures can be taken, quickly, and within the present rules, to bring home the fact that we are not prepared to tolerate nationals of other countries bringing on to the streets of Britain violence for their own political ends. The House will already be aware of the instructions that I have given to my immigration officials in dealing with Libyans following the break in diplomatic relations. I said then that I would not hesitate to use my powers of removal or personal certification if I were satisfied that there was evidence that the presence here of any individual was against the national interest. I can inform the House that I have today signed detention orders against a further six Libyan nationals whom it is intended to deport.

As far as Libyan nationals generally are concerned, a number of further restrictions will now be introduced for any who, under the rules, might be considered for visas. Visitors will receive permissions to stay of shorter duration, adapted to the circumstances of each case; measures will be taken to ensure that those admitted observe the conditions imposed. Libyan students who come to Britain must be bona fide students, and we expect them to pursue their studies, not indulge in violence. Yet there is reason to believe that some of them have been prone to do just that. I intend, therefore, to tighten up immigration control affecting them. Any Libyan student who qualifies for admission under the rules will not normally be given permission to stay for more than one term at a time; anyone failing to meet the requirements in any respect will be refused an extension; each application or reapplication will be accompanied by stringent checks. In particular, we shall have to be fully satisfied that a 198 student is in fact properly pursuing a full-time course of study. Similar restrictive measures will apply to other categories of applicant as the rules allow.

At present, foreign nationals are normally required to register with the police on arrival only if their period of stay is more than six months. In view of the announcements I have made, however, any Libyan national seeking entry under these new restrictions will be liable to register with the police. There must be no misunderstanding by those involved of the swift and serious consequences of future misbehaviour.

Libyan nationals required to register with the police will be asked to sign a declaration recognising the consequences of their indulging in violence for political reasons, and their intention not to do so. This document will be affixed to the police registration form. This should also be a warning to the nationals of other countries. I am ready to apply similar restrictions to others who demonstrably bring into Britain their own political violence.

In setting out these measures, which will be supported by appropriate instructions to visa-issuing posts abroad, I have been concerned not to undermine our tradition as a country of safe refuge and asylum. No one from a country to which such restrictions apply who wishes peacefully to express his views in public has anything to fear. But those who abuse our hospitality with violence will cease to receive it.

The recently opened National Archives files (p. 56 of 162 from PREM 19/1301) show that the Brittan was queried on whether these strict measures would hinder anti-Gaddafi forces from operating out of the UK. He replied:

I think they are here. I think that Colonel Gaddafi will not find he is very welcome. All I can say is that it is quite remarkable how many of the people who have had to leave London to go back to Libya as a result of what we are doing have found all sorts of reasons why they would have preferred to stay in London, reasons which have been found unacceptable… and therefore, I do not think myself that whatever may be said – and a lot is always said in Libya – that they will feel anything other than that as a result of the disgraceful act of outrageous barbarity. They have received the treatment which a civilised country should mete out in that circumstance.

In 1984, as in 1980, the government spent much time debating how diplomatic staff could subject to tighter restrictions and whether this contravened the Vienna Conventions. While these restrictions had a significant impact on the majority of Libyan nationals who wished to come to the UK, it did not stop acts of terrorism being carried out in the UK by Libyans from the Gadaffi regime, as the bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie in 1988 demonstrates.

New project: Monitoring Cypriots in 1930s London

I am very pleased announce that my colleague, Dr Andrekos Varnava and I, have just been awarded a Faculty Research Grant by Flinders University to undertake a new research project, titled ‘Monitoring a ‘suspect community’ in the UK: The colonialist origins of the national/border security nexus and interwar London’s Cypriot community’. Here is the outline of the project:

The main aim of this project is to examine why and how the British authorities during the inter-war years monitored the Cypriot community in London and what impact this had on broader British immigration policy. It is our hypothesis that the Cypriot community in the UK became a focus point for the British security services, the Metropolitan Police and the Colonial Office because they were deemed to be ‘deviant’ in two ways: a) involved in criminal activities, such as gambling, robbery, prostitution, and others forms of organised crime; b) involved in subversive political activity, primarily links with the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Community Party of Cyprus. Both these ‘deviant’ characteristics not only singled-out the Cypriots for surveillance, but brought into question the migration of other Cypriots to Britain. The project will undertake an examination of National Archive documents relating to the Colonial Office, the Security Services, the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police to explore how the Cypriot community in London was characterised as ‘deviant’ and transformed into a ‘suspect community’ that needed to be closely monitored and regulated.

By looking at the ways in which the British authorities restricted and monitored the movement of Cypriots to the UK and also within the country, we seek to propose an answer to why Cypriots were singled out for immigration control 30-40 years before other British colonial subjects. We will argue that the focus upon the Cypriot community created what criminologists and security studies scholars have described as a ‘suspect community’, which creates the conditions for discriminatory practices to be inflicted upon the community, yet normalised by the authorities and wider society. 

This combines my research into the British left and UK immigration controls with Andrekos’ research on the colonial administration of Cyprus within the British Empire. The research will be predominantly based on files found at the National Archives, but will also incorporate material from the Labour History Archive and Study Centre in Manchester, the Working Class Movement Library in Salford and the TUC Archive at London Metropolitan University.

This is a very exciting new project, combining several of my research interests, but also exploring an aspect of British immigration and colonial history that I have not looked at before. Andrekos is a dedicated and prolific researcher and it will be great to work on this project with him. Andrekos will be doing the majority of the archival research in August, but I hope to get to the LHASC and WCML while I am over in June.

As usual, anyone with intersecting research interests are advised to get in touch with us!

Thatcher and the ANC as ‘terrorists’

In the many reflections on the life of Nelson Mandela, several commentators have pointed out that both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan opposed sanctions being placed upon South Africa and that these neo-liberal warriors both regarded Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) as ‘terrorists’. Some of Thatcher’s defenders have questioned this and using this secret letter written to P.W. Botha in 1985, have argued that Thatcher was in favour of releasing Mandela from prison and all she was guilty of was resisting sanctions.

Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela meeting at 10 Downing Street in 1990. Which one was the 'terrorist'?

Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela meeting at 10 Downing Street in 1990. Which one was the ‘terrorist’?

I was interested in discovering whether Thatcher did refer to Mandela or the ANC as ‘terrorists’ and have tried to piece together Thatcher’s (and the Tories’) position towards the ANC in the 1980s. The interview where Thatcher argued that the ANC was a ‘typical terrorist organisation’ took place in Vancouver in October 1987 during a press conference at a Commonwealth Summit. In response to a question about Britain giving financial assistance to the ANC, Thatcher said:

…the ANC says that they will target British companies. This shows what a typical terrorist organisation it is. I fought terrorism all my life and if more people fought it, and we were all more successful, we should not have it and I hope that everyone in this hall will think it is right to go on fighting terrorism. They will if they believe in democracy…

I will have nothing to do with any organisation that practices violence. I have never seen anyone from ANC or the PLO or the IRA and would not do so. Nor will we have any truck with any of the organisations; we never negotiate with hostage taking or anything like that. But please, I hope you will fight terrorism and violence and not in fact embrace it.

When asked about this statement the following year, Thatcher repeated the charge of the ANC indulging in ‘terrorism’ and that the ANC was a similar organisation to the PLO:

I said that the ANC had threatened our companies in South Africa; they had threatened to attack them because of the attitude which I was taking in Vancouver and that that was of a kind of terrorism which we had seen elsewhere and I do not accept violence as a means of bringing about political change…

Britain does not recognise the ANC as the sole representative of people in South Africa. We do not have contacts at Cabinet level with the ANC, other than when we happen to be in the Chair at Europe. That it is in keeping with our view with regard to the PLO and other organisation. There are other contacts at official level and sometimes at junior ministerial level.

The ANC in other words, is treated on all fours with something like the PLO.

In Hansard, there are other examples of Tory politicians calling the ANC a terrorist organisation. In 1986, Ian Lloyd stated that the radio broadcasts made by the ANC from Addis Ababa (where an exile base was located) were ‘the most vicious incitement to terrorism that anyone could wish to read’. His fellow Tory MP Lynda Chalker commended Lloyd on his comment and proclaimed:

I am well aware, as my hon. Friend must be, that wherever terrorism occurs it must be condemned, whether it comes from the ANC or terrorists in any other part of the world. Terrorism is terrorism from whomsoever it comes.

The following year, John Gardiner stated that the ANC had ‘institute[d] a reign of terror in the townships, egged on by leaders such as Winnie Mandela’. Lastly, in 1988, John Carlisle accused a Labour MP of flirting with ‘terrorist organisations such as the African National Congress’ and criticised the non-stop protest against apartheid that was being conducted in Trafalgar Square at the time. (Gavin Brown has written more about Carlisle’s speech here)

In several instances, the Thatcher Government argued that it wouldn’t deal with ‘terrorist’ organisations, but were prepared to open talks with the ANC if it renounced violence, such as this statement from 1985. However, when pushed by figures on the fringes of the right, such as Orange Order MP Andrew Hunter, Thatcher made a distinction between the ANC and the IRA (which was a proscribed organisation at the time), saying:

…the other organisations that he has mentioned [ANC and SWAPO] are not proscribed in this country. Therefore, the tradition is that anyone is free to express his political views, provided that he does so within the law. Of course, we condemn violence from whatever quarter it comes in South Africa. The only way in which progress can be made is by peaceful negotiation.

So it seems that publicly Thatcher and the rest of the Conservative Government wanted to be seen as vehemently against the ANC and likened their actions to ‘terrorism’, but were secretly pursuing talks between the ANC and Botha Government. The archival documents for 1984-1985 should be released over the next 12 months (and then 1986-1987 in 2015-16), which will hopefully give us insight into the Tory position on the ANC and their relationship with the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s.