Security services (UK)

New policy paper at History & Policy: Brexit and the history of policing the Irish border

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This is just a quick note to let you all know that History and Policy have just published a policy paper by me on the history of policing the Irish border and the possible impact of Brexit upon how this border operates. It is based on this earlier blog post.

The border/national security nexus: Detecting Middle Eastern & North African ‘terrorists’ at the UK border in the 1970s-80s

In May 1980, two terrorist incidents involving Iran and Iranians led to a major overhaul of the UK’s border control system for counter-terrorism purposes, ordered by Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington. The below post is how the UK border control system was increasingly used to identify and monitor potential ‘terrorists’ from the Middle East and North Africa from the early 1970s to the early 1980s. It is based on an article that is currently under review, so any comments are welcome (as usual). 

The Iranian Embassy Siege on May 1980, which caused Lord Carrington to enquire about tighter border controls to prevent further terrorist acts in the UK.

The Iranian Embassy Siege on May 1980, which caused Lord Carrington to enquire about tighter border controls to prevent further terrorist acts in the UK.

The intersection between national security/counter-terrorism efforts and the agenda of the immigration/border control system is not just a recent phenomenon, with the national-border security nexus having a well-established historical precedent. In the 1970s and early 1980s, when the threat of international terrorism was at its peak, the immigration/border control system was viewed as a frontline defence against terrorist activities occurring in the UK. The immigration control system was used to prevent ‘potential terrorists’ from entering the country, as well as detecting and monitoring people from certain national/ethnic groups who were thought to be ‘potential terrorists’. Similar to the situation in the contemporary era, the external terrorist threat was believed to come from the Middle East and North Africa. It is the purpose of this paper to show how this anxiety over Middle Eastern/Arab terrorism informed border control practices that profiled certain national/ethnic groups.

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.

Visa restrictions on Iraqis and Libyans

For the control of non-European migration, the interview at the potential migrant’s place of origin was a fundamental part of the border control process and one of the most significant tasks under taken by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office within the border control system. Not all visitors to the UK had to obtain visas or entry clearances before travelling and fewer of these visitors had to go through the process for a formal interview with FCO staff to obtain said visa or entry clearance, but the FCO and Home Office both felt that it was necessary to conduct widespread interviews with potential visitors from the Middle East and North Africa on the grounds that this was a necessary counter-terrorist measure.

The first time that security checks at the visa application stage were placed upon Middle Eastern or North African national groups for counter-terrorist purposes was in 1972 after the attempted assassination of the former Iraqi Prime Minister, General Abdul Razzaq Al-Naif. After this assassination attempt, a decision was agreed upon by the FCO that ‘all Iraqi visa applications accompanied by photographs should be referred to London for security checking’, with the purpose being ‘to identify and refuse visas to known members of the Iraqi intelligence service who have sought and still seek to enter the United Kingdom’.[1]

By the end of the 1970s, the number of national groups that were subjected to mandatory security checks and interviewing had grown. Similar to the action taken against Iraqi nationals after the attempted assassination of Al-Naif in 1972, in the aftermath of the assassination of Mohammed M. Ramadan, a Libyan Gadaffi oppositionist and BBC employee, in April 1980, the UK government implemented security checks, including substantial interviews, for all Libyan nationals applying to enter the UK. A report prepared by the British Embassy in Tripoli stated that the new process, implemented in July 1980, required ‘full documentation for, and thorough interviews of, almost all Libyan applicants for visas’, with the main exception being wives and children.[2]

The reasoning behind these strict instructions was summarised in an FCO telegram, which argued that ‘[f]urther serious incidents here [the United Kingdom] involving Libyans would be intolerable breaches of law and order, damage Anglo-Libyan relations and endanger both the British community in Libya and our commercial interests’, and therefore, ‘[t]ighter precautions against entry of potential terrorists’ were ‘essential’.[3] The FCO emphasised that tighter precautions could ‘only be achieved by personal interview in each case… by a UK-based officer to enable him to be satisfied beyond any doubt as to the genuineness and purpose of the visit.’[4] It was hoped that this process would ‘help to deter, or failing that, to identify and weed out… potential terrorists’ and ‘complicate Libya’s task if… she is determined to try to send terrorists to the UK’, as well as ‘help to reduce the total number of Libyan applicants for visas’.[5]

Broadening the process

In mid-1980, Lord Carrington requested, upon the urging of the Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw, that the FCO explore measures using the border control system to prevent Middle Eastern and North African terrorism in the UK and the possibility of expanding the widespread interviewing and security checks to a greater number of countries known to be involved in terrorist activities. The catalyst for this request was the siege at the Iranian Embassy by dissident Iranians (who entered the UK on false Iraqi passports) and explosion at the Queens Garden Hotel in Bayswater (near the Iranian Embassy) which killed one Iranian, both occurring in May 1980. The request by the Foreign Secretary asked the following questions:

in 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?[6]

Although some reservations about effectiveness were raised by FCO staff, it was impressed upon those working in the British Embassies that the visa application process was the frontline in the fight against Middle Eastern and North African terrorism. In a draft document, it stated that this process was ‘one line in the defence against undesirables [with an emphasis on Middle Eastern terrorists] entering the UK and pseudo-visitors whose real intention is to settle in Britain’ and while it was recognised that it was not ‘an entirely water-tight system’, it was ‘nevertheless… a deterrent’.[7]

The FCO believed that the interviews at the embassies acted as a deterrent and ‘make it more difficult for terrorists to switch identities’ and maintained that ‘[w]ithout an interview system posts cannot… make the best use of the intelligence available nor can they provide feedback and early warning of doubtful cases the security services need.’[8] Another advantage of the visa system and the interview process, a secret report expressed, was that it allowed time for checks to be made, ‘for refusal to be made in doubtful cases with less aggravation and protests than when the visitor has already travelled’ and ‘for detailed interviews to be conducted wherever appropriate without the pressure of time which arises at a port where the choice is admission or detention.’[9]

In order for this interview process to be effective, the FCO required embassy staff to be hyper-vigilant in their efforts to detect and ‘weed out’ potential terrorists and as with detecting ‘bogus’ migrants, visa-issuing officers were to be sceptical of all applicants and required a significant level of proof to be consider an applicant to be ‘genuine’. A background paper highlighted the fact that ‘[t]errorist organisations make use of false travel documentation, either forged passports or genuine passports in false names and nationality’ and noted that it was ‘only occasionally that operational terrorists travel in their own name.’[10] The FCO argued that the interviews were a necessity, stating that the interviews were:

an essential part of the process of establishing an applicant’s bona fides and of attempting to identify members or supporters of terrorists organisations by questions concerning the applicant’s reasons for visiting the UK and about their background.[11]

Although nearly all applicants of certain Middle Eastern and North African nationalities were to be interviewed by visa officers, with corresponding security checks, some applicants were to be more closely interrogated. Those to be more closely interrogated were to be selected on the basis of whether they fit the ‘terrorist profile’ drawn up by the security services. Like other ‘offender’ profiles circulated by the immigration control system, this profile of the potential terrorist was broadly defined and was likely to cause many innocent people to be scrutinised and interrogated on the grounds that they fit this very generalised profile. A note circulated within the FCO stated the ‘chances of recognising efficient terrorists when they apply for a visa are evidently limited’, but asked all visa officers to ‘study carefully’ the profile that had been created and use it in their interrogation of visa applicants.[12] The profile of the potential Middle Eastern and North African terrorist, in its entirety, was outlined as follows:

Of either sex, between 18 and 35 (often looking older than the age claimed, if this is in the lower half of that age bracket). Travelling most frequently in pairs but occasionally singly or in a small group, sometimes using travel documents from the same batch. Fit appearance (even if applying for a visa for medical treatment), often giving an impression of mental toughness; not easily discomposed, even in circumstances which might make others irritated or impatient. Unlikely to be official visitors: more likely to apply as students or businessmen (or for medical treatment) but may (a) display vagueness over courses proposed, appointments with firms etc, and (b) appear to lack elementary knowledge of a professed speciality. Some terrorists have in the past sought to avoid interview eg by making visa applications through agents or by post – this tendency may grow. Posts should be cautious in presuming that particular categories can be exempt from interview and careful scrutiny of each application will in any case be needed to determine whether there are factors which suggest that an interview should nevertheless be insisted upon in any individual case.[13]

Detecting terrorists at the ports of entry

The other point in the border control system where Immigration Officers were able to ‘detect’ and prevent the entry of potential terrorist were at the ports of entry into the UK. In the 1970s, the major ports of entry into the UK were Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester airports, as well as the ferry ports on the South and Western coasts where boats from mainland Europe and Ireland respectively docked. Immigration Officers (as well as Special Branch officers) were expected to use the terrorist profile created by the security services to detect potential terrorists from the Middle East and North Africa and scrutinise their reasons for entry from the UK. Interviews at the port of entry were seen as another line of defence after the visa interviews at embassies, but at these entry ports, Immigration Officers were under much more pressure to quickly assess whether a visitor was ‘genuine’ and thus more likely to rely on stereotypes and racial profiling than embassy visa officers. The FCO encouraged that decisions regarding interrogating and refusing entry to potential terrorists ‘be taken at the visa stage’, but did recognised that ‘nationals from sensitive countries are questioned at port and on occasions refused admission.’[14]

One of the ideas that the FCO, Home Office and the security services considered in trying to identify ‘bogus’ visitors from the Middle East and North Africa (possibly including potential terrorists) was to require that nationals visiting from these regions to hand over a specially designated landing card with additional photograph, which could be compared with the information and photograph provided when the visitor applied for the visa originally. This idea of a landing card with additional photo to be kept by the Immigration Officer on arrival into the UK was referred to in several FCO documents with several people being enthusiastic or supportive of a photograph being kept for reference by the authorities. A report from late 1980 outlined that there were three main benefits of this. Firstly, it was argued that this would ‘make it more difficult for passports to be used by someone other than the applicant’. Secondly, it was proposed that it would be beneficial for the security service and the police to have a photograph of the person ‘who actually entered the UK’ and that ‘a failure to match would in itself be grounds for investigating the individual’. Thirdly, it was noted that the photograph could be used by the authorities to ‘identify and investigate an individual, for instance, after a terrorist incident.’[15] In the end, it was decided that an additional form and photograph were to be required from certain applicants. A FCO circulated note from December 1980 explained:

This will make it marginally more difficult for a visa’ed passport to be used by someone other than the applicant to enter the UK. But the main purpose is to give those concerned here a photograph of the person who actually enters the UK (the form and photo will be collected at the port of entry). This can subsequently be checked against the photograph attached to the normal visa application and would be used to help trace an individual in the UK after a terrorist incident.[16]

The same circular outlined that this was an additional requirement for visa applicants from Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Jordan (except holders of Diplomatic Passports), Lebanon, Libya, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, the Yemeni Arab Republic, Syria and ‘Palestinians travelling on a stateless person’s document issued by any third country.’[17] The circular also warned embassy staff that they ‘should not be drawn by enquiries as to the purpose of the new form’ and ‘say simply it is a requirement imposed by the British immigration authorities.’[18]

Conclusion

Many scholars have recognised that Muslims entering the UK, as well as the Muslim communities inside country, have been regarded as a ‘suspect community’ over the last decade. This has a much longer history, particularly through the screening and interrogation of Muslim visitors to the UK from the Middle East and North Africa. After small-scale terrorist incidents in the UK (such as assassinations) occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, the UK government, advised by the security service and implemented by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office, chose to place restrictions on all visitors from certain Middle Eastern and North African countries. Although there was little evidence of this process having an effect on catching suspected terrorists trying to enter the UK, blanket restrictions that placed all visitors from places such as Iraq, Iran and Libya under suspicion were utilised as a frontline defence against Middle Eastern terrorism occurring in Britain. These compulsory and wide-ranging security checks were first implemented against Iraqis in 1972, then against Libyans and Iranians in 1980, and as the perceived threat of ‘international terrorism’ grew in the early 1980s, were extended to nationals of most countries in the Middle East and North Africa. By the mid-1980s, the intersection between national and border security seemed almost complete, with many of these border security measures still in place in some way today.

Lord Carrington, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1981

Lord Carrington, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1981

[1] J.H. Mallett, ‘Visas for Iraqi Business Visitors’, 3 July, 1974, FCO 8/3245, NA.

[2] British Embassy Tripoli, ‘UK Visas for Libyans’, p. 1, 29 September, 1980, FCO 93/2356, NA.

[3] Telegram from FCO to British Embassy Tripoli, no. 131, 1 July, 1980, FCO 93/2356, NA.

[4] Telegram from FCO to British Embassy Tripoli, no. 131, 1 July, 1980.

[5] British Embassy Tripoli, ‘UK Visas for Libyans’, p. 2.

[6] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, 4 July, 1980, FCO 50/685, NA.

[7] ‘Entry Clearance Policy: Requirements and Resources for the Issue of Visas and Entry Certificates – Comments to First Draft’, n.d., p. 1, FCO 50/685, NA.

[8] Letter from A. E. Stoddart to Sir J. Graham, 12 August, 1980, FCO 50/685, NA.

[9] ‘Near East, North African Terrorism in Great Britain: Possibilities for Preventive Action’, n.d., p. 3, FCO 50/685, NA.

[10] ‘Background’, n.d., FCO 50/685, NA.

[11] ‘Background’, n.d., FCO 50/685, NA.

[12]FCO Circular, ‘Entry Control: Anti-Terrorist Measures’, 29 December, 1980, FCO 50/686, NA.

[13] ‘Terrorist “Profile”’, FCO 50/686, NA.

[14] Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain [final version]’, p. 5.

[15] ‘Background’, n.d., FCO 50/685, NA.

[16] FCO Circular, ‘Entry Control’.

[17] FCO Circular, ‘Entry Control’.

[18] FCO Circular, ‘Entry Control’.

Removing the barriers to deportation from the UK: Lord Carrington and counter-terrorist efforts in the early 1980s

A story has appeared in The Guardian today that the UK Appeals Court has ruled that it is legal for foreign convicted criminals to be deported without their chance to appeal from the United Kingdom. The right to appeal before deportation was originally enshrined in the Immigrants Appeals Act 1969 and was long considered a problem by the Conservatives to an effective border control system. The following post is based on my research into the UK border control system and counter-terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s and the efforts by Lord Carrington in 1980 to speed up the deportation process for those suspected on being involved in terrorist activities.

The Iranian Embassy Siege on May 1980, which caused Lord Carrington to enquire about tighter border controls to prevent further terrorist acts in the UK.

The Iranian Embassy Siege on May 1980, which caused Lord Carrington to enquire about tighter border controls to prevent further terrorist acts in the UK.

In 1980, the Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington requested, upon the urging of the Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw, that the FCO explore measures using the border control system to prevent Middle Eastern and North African terrorism in the UK and the possibility of expanding the widespread interviewing and security checks to a greater number of countries known to be involved in terrorist activities. The catalyst for this request was the siege at the Iranian Embassy by dissident Iranians (who entered the UK on false Iraqi passports) and explosion at the Queens Garden Hotel in Bayswater (near the Iranian Embassy) which killed one Iranian, both occurring in May 1980. The request by the Foreign Secretary asked the following questions:

in 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?[1]

One of the questions that arose out of this discussion of monitoring potential terrorists in the UK concerned what could be done to visitors from the Middle East and North Africa who had been granted leave, but were considered ‘undesirable’ to remain in the country. In several internal documents, FCO and Home Office staff voiced their frustration with the delays involved in deporting someone from the UK, as the Immigrants Appeals Act 1969 allowed the deportee to appeal the decision to deport them. As one report explained:

The power to deport on security grounds has been used very rarely and has proved cumbersome and difficult to operate… The Security Service have gained the impression that Ministers would be reluctant to utilize this procedure.[2]

Douglas Hurd wrote to the Minister for Immigration, Timothy Raisom that it was ‘desirable… to try to limit the extent to which foreign officials, who are found to be using this country as a base for involvement with terrorist activities, are able to exploit legal procedures to delay their deportation’.[3] Hurd warned that ‘[a]ny delay in removing them increases the risk that their government may take action harmful to UK interests or UK citizens as a way of putting pressure on HM Government’ not to deport them, and identified the ‘advisory procedure’ rule (‘whereby a person may make representations against his deportation in a case where he has no statutory right of appeal’) as a significant cause for this delay.[4] Hurd suggested to Raisom that a way around this delay was to make an amendment to the Immigration Rules that only allowed non-patrials to make representations against deportation ‘after they had been removed from this country’.[5] In an earlier draft of the same letter to Raisom, Hurd noted that changing the Immigration Rules would not ‘be too controversially received in this country’ if it was to be ‘restricted to those cases in which the deportations were ordered on grounds of national security’, but did note that any further amendments to right of appeal against deportation would require a legislative change to the Immigration Act 1971, nor could the government ‘prevent such people resorting to Habeas Corpus and the Prerogative Orders.’[6]

Another report reiterated the thinking that the public would be more willing to accept the deportation of foreign nationals and limitations put on appealing these deportations if it was emphasised that they were in the name of national security and focused on a minority national group. The report stated:

It may be that difficulties [with the deportation process] have been over-emphasised and that where intelligence suspicions concern terrorism, particularly by Arab nationals, public opinion would be less critical of the exercise of the security provisions and Ministers would readily consider exercising them. The real constraint however seems likely to remain the availability of intelligence about an individual to justify action.[7]

A similar report enthused that the authorities could deport foreign officials from countries such as Iraq, Iran and Libya (including diplomats) by declaring them persona non grata if there was a suspicion that they would be involved in terrorist activities. The report advised the government ‘could declare a person p n g if we found out that he had links with organs of state terrorism and… [it] would be a punishment to those concerned and would also have a deterrent effect.’[8] The benefit of this, the report continued, was that ‘[n]o reason need be given for declaring a person p n g so the risk of compromising our sources of information would be lessened.’[9] A letter to Hurd’s Chief Clerk from the Maritime, Aviation and Environment Department claimed that the power to declare a foreign official or diplomat persona non grata was ‘clear, straightforward and unilateral’ and was granted under Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, but warned that this might result in retaliatory actions against UK representatives in other countries.[10]

This discussion reached the top levels of the government, with Peter Carrington imploring Willie Whitelaw to ‘consider more extensive use of your existing powers under section 15(3) of the Immigration Act 1971’, and argued that the it was view of the FCI that ‘these powers could be a useful weapon against suspected terrorists as well as other undesirables’. Carrington also suggested that Whitelaw proceed with limiting the legal procedures that can delay the deportation of a foreign national, ‘once this has been ordered in the interests of national security as conducive to the public good.’[11] This was tied to Carrington’s private concerns that the ‘entry clearance system cannot be a fully effective barrier’, particularly if the sponsors of state terrorism were ‘intent on getting a terrorist into this country… or chooses to employ someone already here’.[12] A letter from the FCO to Gerald Hayden Phillips, Assistant Secretary in the Home Office, stated that Carrington was ‘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[13] and in extending the Prevention of Terrorism Act.’[14] Whitelaw’s response was that for the Immigration Act to be effective in deporting suspected terrorists without appeal, ‘the legislation would have to be in sweeping terms, giving the Home Secretary the right to deport instantly without right to appeal’ – a legislative move that he described as ‘highly controversial’.[15]

The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 only covered terrorism offences related to the political situation in Northern Ireland, and there was discussion, prompted by Carrington, into whether the Act could be extended to cover all forms of terrorism – particularly the powers of detention and exclusion. A report outlined that the advantage of the exclusion orders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act was that they ‘were quick and it obviates the necessity for going through the appeals procedure which accompanies deportation under the Immigration Act’, but warned that these orders were of ‘little practical use… unless the power under the Act to make an exclusion order from this country on the authority of the Home Secretary is extended to cover any terrorist.’[16] This, the report noted, would need legislation to amend the Act, which would be a difficult task for the government. Willie Whitelaw, in a letter to Carrington, made a similar claim, stating that amending the Act ‘would be a focus for criticism unless this was done in the context of a dramatic increase in the level of international terrorist incidents in Great Britain.’[17] Whitelaw suggested that the only change ‘which might be made overnight’ related to the ‘extension of the power to arrest and detain suspect terrorists’, but cautioned that ‘[a]ny extension of the power to exclude… would require amending legislation.’[18]

In 1983, a report by Lord Jellicoe into the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 recognised that Middle Eastern terrorism was an increasing threat to the UK, writing ‘[m]any fear that London… could become a battleground for warring Middle East terrorist factions’, and recommended extending the powers of arrest and detention at ports under the Prevention of Terrorism Act to ‘suspected international terrorists of any group, cause or nationality’.[19] The subsequent amendments in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Temporary Provisions) 1984 was the first legislative step for the UK authorities to create a generalised counter-terrorist response, rather than a focus on Irish terrorism with other forms of terrorism as a side concern.

Lord Carrington, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1981

Lord Carrington, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1981

[1] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, 4 July, 1980, FCO 50/685, NA.

[2] ‘Near East, North African Terrorism in Great Britain: Possibilities for Preventive Action’, n.d., p. 5, FCO 50/685, NA.

[3] Draft letter from Douglas Hurd to Timothy Raisom [second version], n.d., FCO 50/685, NA.

[4] Draft letter from Douglas Hurd to Timothy Raisom [second version].

[5] Draft letter from Douglas Hurd to Timothy Raisom [second version].

[6] Draft letter from Douglas Hurd to Timothy Raisom [first version], n.d., FCO 50/685, NA.

[7] ‘Near East, North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, p. 5.

[8] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, p. 6.

[9] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, p. 6.

[10] Letter from M St E Burton to Mr Adams, 20 November, 1980, p. 5, FCO 50/686, NA.

[11] Letter from the Foreign Secretary to the Home Secretary, 5 December 1980, p. 4, FCO 50/686, NA.

[12] Letter from the Foreign Secretary to the Home Secretary, 5 December 1980, p. 4.

[13] 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. See: R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Hosenball [1977] 1 W.L.R. 766; [1977] 3 All E.R. 452; Duncan Campbell, ‘Official Secrecy and British Libertarianism’, Socialist Register (1979) pp. 75-88; Duncan Campbell, ‘The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold’, The Guardian (10 January, 2007),

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/jan/10/usa.duncancampbell (accessed 17 April, 2013)

[14] Letter from M St E Burton to G.H. Phillips, 26 August, 1980, FCO 50/685, NA.

[15] Letter from Willie Whitelaw to Peter Carrington, 6 November, 1980, FCO 50/686, NA.

[16] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, p. 7.

[17] Letter from Willie Whitelaw to Peter Carrington.

[18] Letter from Willie Whitelaw to Peter Carrington.

[19] Rt. Hon. Earl Jellicoe, Review of the Operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (London: HMSO, 1983) p. 27.

Policing Communism Across the British Empire: A Transnational Study

This is a revised (yet shortened) version of the conference paper I gave last week at the XXIV Biennial Conference of the Australasian Association for European History. I am currently knocking it into shape for submission as a journal article, so any feedback, comments or questions is most welcome. If you’re interested in reading the longer version, do send me an email.

A flyer from the campaign against the dissolution of the Australian Communist Party in 1951.

A flyer from the campaign against the dissolution of the Australian Communist Party in 1951.

The period after the Second World War looked to present the international communist and anti-colonial movements with an ‘interlude of hope’ as the forces of socialism and national liberation seemed to gather pace.[i] Based on the Lenin’s theory of imperialism, communists saw the collapse of the European colonial systems in Africa, Asia and the Americas as the catalyst for worldwide socialist revolution. On the other hand, these colonial powers, primarily Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal, also viewed colonial independence as a precursor for a communist takeover and prepared heavily to prevent decolonisation and the spread of communism.

The largest empire belonged to the British and there was an orchestrated effort from late 1946 onwards to allow colonial self-government where necessary, but also intense pressure put on the British armed forces and the security services to, in the words of Calder Walton, ‘to prevent former British colonies being absorbed by the Soviet Union as satellite states.’[ii] In the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, this led to counter-insurgency measures being taken in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus (as well as support for the Royalists in the Greek Civil War), as well as ‘anti-communist’ interventions by the security services in other parts of the Middle East, Africa and South-East Asia.

While the threat of a communist takeover was more acute within the Commonwealth’s developing nations, the Dominions of Australia, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and Southern Rhodesia were seen as vital allies in the battle against communism inside the Commonwealth and bulwarks of ‘democracy’ on the periphery of the former empire, charged with maintaining order within the ever increasing post-imperial Commonwealth. Although its struggles were not as bloody as those of French, Dutch and Portuguese decolonisation, Britain did not willingly give up its rule in every former colony were part of a wider strategy developed by successive British governments that was ‘carefully calculated to allow decolonization to occur on British terms rather than those of the indigenous people’.[iii] As Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon states:

The British government developed a concerted imperial strategy designed to secure the colonies for the Commonwealth in an orderly transfer of power while maintaining British influence in the region and strengthening overall Western dominance in the Cold War world.[iv]

In a bid to counter these national liberation movements and their links to communists, the British authorities, alongside the United States, the Australian and South African governments (as well as those of Canada and New Zealand), looked to co-ordinate an anti-communist response across the British Empire. While the British authorities were able to ban many communist or workers’ parties in the British colonies, in the Dominions, where there was self-government, the British tried to build an anti-communist consensus. This was achieved through several measures:

  1. By a constant relay of information about ‘communism in the colonies’ via the Foreign Office through the various High Commissions;
  2. by the establishment of security agencies in liaison with the British and the Americans to gather and distribute intelligence on communist activists in each country;
  3. the monitoring of suspected communists inside the trade union movement, the civil/public service and other civil society organisations; and
  4. the introduction of legislation to ban the Communist Party.

Although much of this was driven by the British (as well as by the United States as the new global superpower), in some areas, the authorities in Australia and South Africa went beyond what the British government was inclined to do domestically, resulting in a process where often the periphery that drove the anti-communist policies and strategies of the metropole. Alongside this, there was also the horizontal transmission of anti-communist politics and policy transfer particularly between Australia and South Africa – two countries where anti-communism became intertwined with white supremacy and shared a common outlook as the Cold War began.

This paper proposes that anti-communism in the British Commonwealth as pursued by the ‘white’ Dominions fuelled by two overlapping sets of transnational ties. Firstly, there was a keen sense of imperial responsibility felt by the Dominions (particularly Australia) to maintain the Empire/Commonwealth and assist in the fight against communism, which threatened both domestic politics and the political situation in the colonies (such as Malaya). Secondly, there was the wider concept of the global West under the umbrella of the hegemonic dominance of the United States and an allegiance to the ‘global colour line’ promoted by the USA’s informal empire.[v] To varying degrees, Britain, South Africa and Australia co-operated with each other to combat the communist threat, but also taking inspiration from other Anglophone nations, such as the US, Canada, New Zealand and Rhodesia. This formed the basis for the intelligence network, developed during the Cold War, known as the ‘five eyes’ network between Britain, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.[vi]

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall.

The Foreign Office as co-ordinating centre for information

Beginning in the late 1930s, the Dominion Office, and then the Foreign Office, compiled a weekly report from the various High Commissions across the British Empire/Commonwealth, routinely titled ‘Communism in the Colonies’. These typically took in reports from the Dominions of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, as well as the various countries of the Indian sub-continent, India, Pakistan and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and on occasions, Ireland. Correspondence was generally directed towards the Foreign Office in London, but copies of most reports were distributed between the High Commissions in Canberra, Pretoria, Ottawa and Wellington.[vii]

The transmission of anti-communist materials went essentially three ways and this differed with the kind of report produced. Firstly, the Commonwealth Relations Office produced weekly reports on ‘Communism in the Commonwealth [or Colonies]’ that were distributed to the High Commissions in Canberra, Ottawa, Pretoria, Wellington, Dublin, Delhi, Karachi and Colombo. These were, for the most part, summaries of the communist movement in each country and the measures being taken against them. Secondly, there were in depth reports produced by the High Commission in each country, which were fairly constant, but not regular, in their production and these were sent to the Foreign Office in London. Lastly, these in depth reports were also distributed horizontally across the various Dominions, fostering links between the various countries.

The co-ordination of intelligence

Up until the late 1940s, the security and intelligence services of the Dominions were overseen by MI5 and MI6 (also known as the Secret Intelligence Service), with local Special Branches being involved in the policing and monitoring of political dissidents and extremists. Special Branches were established at federal and state/province level within most of the Dominions in the first half of the twentieth century, aided by the British security services. As the Cold War began in the late 1940s, the newly formed CIA (Central Intelligence Agency, taking over from the US Office of Strategic Services) and MI5 formed closer ties and it was felt that a more rigorous security service needed to be established in such places as Australia, Canada and New Zealand after a series of security lapses. Originally perceived as overseas sections of MI5,[viii] each country established a domestic security service modeled on the British agency.

Alongside the establishment of security services in the Dominions and the frequent reports on Communism in the Commonwealth via the Foreign Office, the Attlee government attempted to foster closer ties between the security services and the executive branches of the government with the creation of the Information Research Department (IRD) in 1948. The IRD was an inter-governmental body established to produce ‘covert anti-communist propaganda’ and although originally constituted to counter the Soviet-inspired World Peace Council, it was transformed under the Conservative government, led by Winston Churchill, in 1951 into a strategic counter-subversion body to deal with domestic and transnational communist threats.[ix] Like ASIO under Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies, the IRD’s scope for counter-subversion went beyond known Soviet operatives and CPGB members and also targeted ‘fellow travellers’ attached the trade union movement and the British Labour Party.[x] Despite this work on counter-subversion, others in the security services were not convinced of the political threat posed by communism in Britain, and instead focused on the role that communists played within the trade unions.[xi]

Purging the trade unions

After a general freeze on industrial action during the Second World War by many of the Communist Parties in the Western world, strike action involving communists rose sharply in the late 1940s as the Cold War escalated and the international communist movement shifted to the left. These episodes of industrial action in all three countries led the authorities, as well as many others, to worry about communist infiltration in the trade unions. This led to increased monitoring of the trade union leadership in all countries and numerous reports by the security services, the police and various British High Commissions being circulated on the subject. For example, a 1947 report (made public in 1952) by the Investigation Officer of the South African Police declared:

it might be mentioned straight away that they have only one policy, viz. control of all trade unions in this and other countries which must ultimately be used to establish anarchy at a given moment in order to facilitate world domination. Local and present-day strikes are primarily engineered by them in order to practise and perfect the necessary machinery for their ultimate object. In order to accomplish this, demands are invariably made on the employers for increased wages to an extent which can never be met in order that no alternative but a strike may be the issue.[xii]

With their links to the trade union movement, the ruling Labor/Labour governments in Australia and Britain both renewed their rules enforcing the proscription of members of the Communist Party from joining and encouraged those trade unions that also banned Communist Party members. Phillip Deery and Neil Redfern suggest that this revived anti-communism was influenced by Harold Laski’s pamphlet The Secret Battalion: An Examination of the Communist Attitude to the Labour Party, which was distributed widely amongst Australian Labor Party branches and to the anti-communist Industrial Groups formed inside the Australian labour movement.[xiii]

Similar to the Chifley government, Deery and Redfern argue that ‘proscribing the CPGB or banning its publications was not seriously considered’ by the Attlee government. But in all three countries, calls were made on the right wing side of politics for the banning of the Communist Party.

National Party PM of South Africa, who oversaw implementation apartheid, D.F. Malan.

National Party PM of South Africa, who oversaw implementation apartheid, D.F. Malan.

Banning the Communist Party

Of all the anti-communist measures introduced across the three countries (and the wider Anglophone world), the most transnational of these was the banning of the Communist Party (or attempts to ban it), where the governments of South Africa and Australia took inspiration and lessons from each other and other attempts to ban the Party in Canada and the United States. In a 2004 speech, Justice Michael Kirby stated:

In the United States,… the Supreme Court had held up as valid the Smith Act which was in some ways similar to the Australian anti-communist legislation. It, in turn, had borrowed elements from a South African law which subsequently became the model for “suppression of terrorism” laws in a number of British colonies.[xiv]

Shortly before his electoral victory in 1948, Opposition leader D.F. Malan cited the efforts made by Canada and Australia during the Second World War to deal with the ‘threat’ of communism, praising that ‘Canada decided to banish the Communist Party in that country and to take every necessary step to ensure Canada’s safety.’[xv] He further added:

In Australia we have the same phenomenon at the present time. I think it was announced last Saturday that two of the principal parties in Australia had announced that they wanted steps to be taken against Communism in so far as it exercised an influence from outside on Australia but also from within and that they also wanted steps to be taken to ban the Communist Party and its allied organisations. South Africa’s Government is powerless and is doing nothing in the matter…[xvi]

The Malan government and the Menzies opposition (and after December 1949, the Menzies government) did share some thoughts on how to deal with the communist ‘threat’, with the Communist Party Dissolution Bill (Cth) and the Suppression of Communism Bill both being entered into Australian and South African Parliaments respectively within months of each other in 1950. Records from the National Archives of Australia show correspondence between the High Commissions in Cape Town and Canberra in March 1950 that drafts of each country’s anti-communist legislation were confidentially shared prior to the introduction of Menzies’ bill in April 1950. A cablegram from the Australian High Commissioner in Cape Town to the Australian Minister for External Affairs states:

The Union Government has made available for your strictly confidential information, a copy of the draft bill to combat Communism, which I am sending by today’s airbag. It has yet to receive the final approval of Cabinet.

The Union Government state they would seek particulars of any Australian Government measures directed to the same object.[xvii]

In the end, the ban on the CPSA was the only one to survive (and did so until 1990), with the Communist Party Dissolution Act 1950 being ruled unconstitutional by the High Court of Australia and a subsequent referendum to change the Australian Constitution to allow such an Act narrowly failed in 1951. In the parliamentary debates on the Communist Party Dissolution Bill in Australia, veteran Labor MP Jack Holloway raised the fact that Australia was, in May 1950, leading the way in its pursuit of anti-communist legislation, stating:

No other country within the British Commonwealth of Nations would dream of passing legislation of this kind. Great Britain and Canada have refused to do so whilst South Africa is watering down its original proposals to deal with the Communist Party.[xviii]

Legislation was not introduced in Southern Rhodesia as the small communist circle inside the country worked clandestinely within the Southern Rhodesian Labour Party and as an extension of the CPSA (and after 1952, the South African Communist Party). Despite calls for the banning of the LPP, Canadian PM Louis St. Laurent rejected these proposals by the Opposition in May 1950 and the Party was allowed to continue legally until it was reconstituted as the new CPC in 1959. As The Guardian commented on during the debates over the Suppression of Communism Bill in South Africa:

Canada has learnt her lesson. Must we learn it too, in this country, only from bitter experience?[xix]

Conclusion

This paper shows that the co-ordination of anti-communism in the British Commonwealth went beyond the sharing of intelligence between the members what would become the ‘five eyes’ network in the Cold War (and post-Cold War) era. Through government agencies, the institutions of the Labor/Labour Parties and the executive branches in all three countries, Britain, Australia and South Africa drew upon each other’s policies and legal frameworks to develop a shared anti-communist response, although adapted to local political and social conditions. Between 1947 and 1951, this co-ordinated response was strongest, before divisions in the international communist movement and in the Anglophone world emerged in the late 1950s. Using the metaphor that Zhdanov promoted at the outset of the Cold War in the late 1940s, by the late 1950s, there no longer just two camps – the democratic/anti-fascist/anti-imperialist and the anti-democratic/fascist/imperialist camps – but a myriad of camps amongst the global West, the global East and the non-aligned, which complicated the Cold War. With these divisions, the anti-communist and imperial unity projected by Britain, Australia and South Africa (alongside the United States and other Anglophone nations) in the early Cold War period became more fractured and these countries were less likely to act in step with each other as they once did.

18-culture

[i] Robin Gollan, Revolutionaries and Reformists: Communism & the Australian Labour Movement 1920-1950 (Sydney: George Allen & Unwin, 1985) p. 143.

[ii] Calder Walton, Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire (London: Harper Press, 2013) p xxvi.

[iii] Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon, Imperial Endgame: Britain’s Dirty Wars and the End of Empire (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) p. 2.

[iv] Grob-Fitzgibbon, Imperial Endgame, p. 3.

[v] John Munro, ‘Imperial Anticommunism and the African American Freedom Movement in the Early Cold War’, History Workshop Journal (2015) doi:10.1093/hwj/dbu040 (accessed 21 July, 2015); Richard Seymour, ‘The Cold War, American Anticommunism and the Global “Colour Line”’, in Alexander Anievas, Nivi Manchanda & Robbie Shilliam (eds), Race and Racism in International Relations: Confronting the Global Colour Line (London: Routledge, 2015) pp. 157-159.

For further discussion of the ‘global colour line’, see: Marilyn Lake & Henry Reynolds Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the Question of Racial Equality (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008).

Both Lake and Reynolds, and Seymour have taken this notion from W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folks (1903) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/408/408-h/408-h.htm (accessed 20 July, 2015).

[vi] See: Stephen Lander, ‘International Intelligence Co-operation: An Inside Perspective’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 17/3, (2004) pp. 481-493.

[vii] See: Letter from Lord Harlech to Viscount Cranborne, 3 December, 1943, DO 35/1199, NA; Letter from Lord Harlech to Clement Attlee, 16 April, 1943, DO 35/1199, NA.

[viii] Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (London: Allen Lane, 2009) p. 371.

[ix] Thomas J. Maguire, ‘Counter-Subversion in Early Cold War Britain: The Official Committee on Communism (Home), the Information Research Department, and ‘State-Private Networks’, Intelligence and National Security, 2014, DOI: 10.1080/02684527.2014.895570, pp. 2-4.

[x] Maguire, ‘Counter-Subversion in Early Cold War Britain’, p. 12.

[xi] Andrew, The Defence of the Realm, p. 406.

[xii] Cited in, South African House of Assembly Debates, 13 June, 1952, col. 7949.

[xiii] Phillip Deery & Neil Redfern, ‘No Lasting Peace? Labor, Communism and the Cominform: Australia and Great Britain, 1945-50’, Labour History, 88 (May 2005) p. 66.

[xiv] Justice Michael Kirby, ‘Comparative Constitutionalism – An Australian Perspective’, paper presented at the University of Chicago, 23-25 January, 2004, http://ccc.uchicago.edu/docs/kirby.pdf , accessed 13 April, 2014.

[xv] South African House of Assembly Debates, 15 March, 1948, col. 3198.

[xvi] South African House of Assembly Debates, 15 March, 1948, col;.3199.

[xvii] Cablegram from Australian High Commissioner (Cape Town) to Minister for External Affairs, 3-4 March, 1950, A1838 TS201/2/26, NAA.

[xviii] Australian House of Representatives debates, 16 May, 1950, col.

[xix] The Guardian, 11 May, 1950.

We’re all off to Newcastle: The AAEH 2015 Conference

Coming around every two years, the Australasian Association of European History conference is being held in Newcastle (Australia) in July and by all accounts, it is one of the funnest conferences to attend for historians in the field (see Brett Holman’s reports from 2013 and 2011). Like many others, I will be making my way via plane, train and bus (and possibly taxi) to the grand city of northern New South Wales for four days of history, high quality research and hi-jinks. The paper I am presenting is ‘Policing communism in the British Commonwealth: The co-ordination of anti-communism between Britain, Australia and South Africa in the early Cold War‘. Here is the abstract:

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the British Commonwealth faced the twin ‘threats’ of decolonisation and communism, with many across the Commonwealth seeing decolonisation as the first step towards communist dictatorship. Recent scholarship has shown that the British attempted to ‘manage’ the decolonisation process to prevent socialist movements or national liberation movements sympathetic to the Soviet Bloc from coming to power. Therefore Britain, along with the Dominions, co-ordinated their intelligence services to combat the communist threat across the Commonwealth. This paper will explore how this co-ordination of anti-communist efforts was implemented in Britain, Australia and South Africa in the early Cold War era, which involved the violent breaking of strikes using the armed forces, the close monitoring of ‘persons of interest’ and the (attempted) banning of the Communist Party. It will seek to demonstrate that the history of anti-communism, similar to communism, has a transnational dimension that is only starting to be investigated by historians.

So if you’re attending the conference, come and say hello. And if you’re not, why not? (If you’re interested in reading the paper and not attending, send me an email and I will send something to you after the conference)

Furthermore, a number of people from the newly formed Australian Modern British History Network will be attending, so discussions may be afoot about organising something under the AMBHN banner in the not too distant future. So if you’re attending and have an interest British history or the history of the British Empire/Commonwealth, also come and say hello (and join the FB group) and maybe help get this new network off the ground!

See you at the Hunter on Hunter!

And to finish, here is some classic music from the Newcastle region:

From the newly released NA papers: Thatcher, riots and the aftermath of Scarman in the early 1980s

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 11.01.05 pm The National Archives have just released archival documents relating to the Thatcher government for 1985 and 1986, with further releases in July 2015. There have been many media reports already on many other aspects of the papers (such as the introduction of the Poll Tax in Scotland, the Anglo-Irish relationship and her love-hate relationship with Australian PM, Bob Hawke) but I thought I’d explore one of the digitised files that has been so far overlooked – a file on public disorder and the aftermath of the Scarman Report on the Brixton Riots, spanning from late 1981 to late 1985 (PREM 19/1521).

As I have written before, the 1981 riots and the inquiry by Lord Scarman signified a low point in the history of Thatcher’s first term as Prime Minister, with public support for the government and for the police greatly dropping amongst large sections of the British population. From this position, the government generally accepted the recommendations of the Scarman Report and on paper, agreed to implement most of its recommendations. The most significant reform was the introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (which came into effect in January 1986), but scholars, such as John Benyon, have since argued about the effectiveness of the government’s other initiatives.

The newly released file shows the government’s statements about the extent of their actions in line with Scarman’s recommendations. But the file also shows that the government was still sceptical of Scarman’s suggestion that unemployment, poor housing and declining access to social services were underlying reasons for the outbreak of the riots across Britain in 1981. After further unrest broke out in September 1985 in the Birmingham borough of Handsworth, newly appointed Home Secretary Douglas Hurd made a speech to the Association of Chief Police Officers stating:

Handsworth needs more jobs and housing. But riots only destroy. They create nothing except a climate in which necessary development is even more difficult. Poor housing and other social ills provide no reason for riot, arson and killing. One lady interviewer asked me whether the riots was not a cry for help by the rioters. The sound which law-abiding people at Handsworth heard on Monday night… was not a cry for help but a cry for loot.

Hartley Booth, Margaret Thatcher’s Special Adviser on Home Affairs, repeated this assertion in a report to the Prime Minister in the days after the unrest in Birmingham. Booth criticised Labour MP Claire Short for her statement that ‘unemployment caused the riot’ and said that ‘socialist-style policies’, such as ‘huge state intervention and subsidy’, had failed to quell unrest. Booth reported to Thatcher:

there is overwhelming evidence that [the unrest] was a criminal exercise, carried out by selfish, greedy and idle youths

Booth also suggested that it was outside agitators and groups from the far left that contributed to the riot. As well as proposing that people had come from places such as Wolverhampton, Sparkbrook and Manchester to take place in the riots, Booth also asserted:

The police have clear evidence, as has Special Branch, that a group from Notting Hill with Far Left connections – entitled the Tabernacle Group – were present in Birmingham this week, and were the architects of a demonstration which it was intended should be filmed by the television cameras yesterday outside the Law Courts.

This suspicion of ‘outside agitators’ were responsible for the riots was a subject that Thatcher’s advisers came back to between 1981 and 1985 (I have already written about a report drawn up by Peter Shipley for the Home Office in 1981 which suggested that ‘outside elements’ were involved in the 1981 riots here). Thatcher’s Private Secretary for Parliamentary Affairs, Tim Flesher, wrote a memo in November 1982 that a ‘Trotskyite rent-a-mob’ had attempted to disrupt a meeting of the Brixton Police Community Liaison Committee. Tony Rawsthorne, the Private Secretary for Home Secretary Leon Brittan, wrote to Flesher in July 1983 to outline the risks of public disorder that summer and included the following passage about ‘subversives’:

the assessment from the Security Service is that there is no intelligence to suggest that any black or white subversive groups or individuals are planning civil disturbances or that they are considering how they might exploit any disturbances that might otherwise arise. If disturbances were to break out, some subversive groups would be likely to move quickly to extract the maximum political advantage from them.

After the 1985 riots, Quintin Hogg, the Lord Chancellor, expressed in a letter to the Home Secretary’s staff: I hope the factual account of Handworth [sic] will either confirm or repudiate the impression I get which is that there was an element of deliberate planning there either by drug pushers or left wing anarchists.

The file also has two memos that refer to a special report on subversive groups drawn up by MI5, but there doesn’t seem to be evidence of this report in the digitised file. A memo from Thatcher’s Principal Private Secretary, Clive Whitmore, to Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robert Armstrong, dated 22 Feb, 1982 mentioned the report:

The Prime Minister was very interested to read the report by the Security Service on exploitation by subversive groups of last year’s civil disturbances which you sent me with your minute AO7560 on 19 February 1982.

I am unsure why this report seems to be missing from the digitised file. Maybe it is something worth FOI-ing in the near future.

The Prevention of Terrorism Acts and exclusion orders: 40 years since their introduction

This week it will be forty years since the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Temporary Provisions) 1974, passed quickly in the aftermath of the Birmingham pub bombings in November 1974. The POTA was a broad piece of counter-terrorism legislation and many of the controversial elements of contemporary legislation concerning counter-terrorism and national security can be traced back to this 1974 Act. Many have written about the dramatic powers of the POTA, including the extensive powers of arrest and detention, but this post will focus on exclusion orders, which were granted under the POTA and the first piece of border control legislation to inhibit travel between the UK and Ireland. Although abolished in 1999, the national/border security framework created by the POTA and its exclusion orders have informed how terrorism is “countered” at the UK border in the 21st century. Part of this post is based on a paper on monitoring potential ‘terrorists’ coming from the Middle East and North Africa in the 1970s and 1980s currently under review, which is why there are references and comparisons to this in the post. If you would like to read a draft, please get in touch.

border-control

The major terrorist threat to the UK during the 1970s was from the Provisional IRA and other Irish nationalist groups. Although most of the attacks during the 1970s occurred in Northern Ireland, Irish terrorism was always seen by the UK authorities as an internal or domestic terrorist issue. This was in contrast to the terrorist threat from the Middle East and North Africa, which was seen as an external threat, with an internal Foreign and Commonwealth Office report from 1980 stating ‘The main, continuing external threat of terrorist activity in Great Britain still comes from the Palestinian groups’.[i] As Kathryn Fisher has written, ‘International terrorism was positioned as non-domestic and non-British, an enemy from outside’.[ii] From a border security perspective, the irony of the Irish nationalist terrorist threat was that Irish citizens were free to enter and reside in Britain without restriction,[iii] while the much less immediate threat of Middle Eastern and North African terrorists entering Britain was heavily regulated.

In 1973, the Provisional IRA shifted its focus from merely targeting the British in Northern Ireland to a wider bombing campaign on the British mainland. This began with a bombing at the Old Bailey at March 1973 and continued throughout 1974 until November that year, when two Birmingham pubs were bombed, killing 21 people, and the UK government, blaming the Provisional IRA (the group has never claimed responsibility for it), hastily formed the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act gave the police and the security service wide-ranging powers of arrest and detention to counter terrorism extending from Northern Ireland. Of particular importance are the exclusion orders that could be delivered to potential terrorists under the Act to prevent people under suspicion of terrorist activity from entering Great Britain (as opposed to the United Kingdom, which included Northern Ireland). Part II of the Act gave the Secretary of State the power to exclude persons from entering mainland Britain if they were suspected of preparing terrorist acts ‘designed to influence public opinion or Government policy with respect to affairs in Northern Ireland.’[iv]However UK citizens who had been living for the last 20 years or born and ordinarily resident in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) could not be excluded. This meant that people could not travel to mainland Britain from Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland if they were suspected of taking part in Irish nationalist terrorist activities and were excluded under the new legislation.

The 1974 Act did not prevent people from entering Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland or Great Britain if suspected of being involved in acts of terrorism. The reason that Northern Ireland was not included in the legislation was because it was believed by the UK government that ‘terrorist attacks in Britain inevitably tend to be committed by people who have travelled here from Ireland, while those that take place in Northern Ireland tend to be committed by those already living there, or by those who have come over the border from the South’.[v] If a person who was not a UK citizen, they could be prevented from entering the whole of the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland), but this was only for people suspected of being involved in terrorist activities designed to impact upon the politics of Northern Ireland, which became a problem for the authorities in the late 1970s and early 1980s as they tried to formulate ways in which the border control system could prevent potential Middle Eastern and North African terrorists from entering the country.

Exclusion orders were, as Josephine Doody has argued, symbolic that ‘an explosion or death from terrorist activities in GB was intolerable or unacceptable to the House of Commons but such an explosion or death in NI was of little concern.’[vi] But Doody also points out that exclusion orders were ‘viewed in NI as a second best option’ because the powers of arrest and detention were far greater in Northern Ireland under Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973.[vii] Between 1974 and 1999 (when the legislation allowing exclusion orders was repealed), 448 people had received such orders.[viii]

In 1976, the Prevention of Terrorism Act was revised and strengthened, with exclusion orders now able to be used to prevent people travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but this was a rarely used loophole by Irish terrorists. But the 1976 Act also, for the first time, introduced (under Section 13) checkpoints at ports of entry between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, even though both regions belonged to the United Kingdom and travel between them by UK citizens was completely allowed. Because the monitoring of travellers in between Northern Ireland and Great Britain was implemented under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and not the Immigration Act 1971, immigration officers did not work at these port entry points, with the control points actually staffed by the police (often Special Branch officers). The police, in some cases, used landing and embarkation cards similar to those used under the Immigration Act for all non-UK passport holders and for many who travelled between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the line blurred between border control official and police officer. In his review of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Lord Shackleton wrote, ‘a passenger may thus be in doubt whether he is speaking to a police officer, an immigration officer or some other official’ and that ‘[h]is attempts to find out may not always meet with success’.[ix]

——————————————————————

[i] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain: Possibilities for Preventative Action [final version]’, n.d., p. 1, FCO 60/685, National Archives, London.

[ii] Kathryn Fisher, ‘From 20th Century Troubles to 21st Century International Terrorism: Identity, Securitization, and British Counterterrorism from 1968 to 2011’, unpublished PhD thesis, London School of Economics, 2012, p. 19.

[iii] There has not been much research into the policing of the UK-Irish Republic border and counter-terrorist efforts against Irish nationalists, although Henry Patterson’s recent book uncovers a lot of new material regarding this. See: Henry Patterson, Ireland’s Violent Frontier: The Border and Anglo-Irish Relations During the Troubles (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

[iv] Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974, Part II, s. (3) 1.

[v] Cited in, Josephine Doody, ‘Creating Suspect Communities: Exploring the Use of Exclusion Orders in Northern Ireland’, Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 4/1 (January 2012) p. 82.

[vi] Doody, ‘Creating Suspect Communities’, p. 83

[vii] Doody, ‘Creating Suspect Communities’, p. 83

[viii] Doody, ‘Creating Suspect Communities’, p. 80

[ix] Lord Shackleton, Review of the Operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Acts 1974 and 1976 (London: HMSO, 1978) p. 30.