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Just declassified UK memo on John Hume reveals interest of PM John Major’s top civil servants in “possible press stories regarding John Hume’s private life”.

By David Burke.

Sir Robin Butler (left) sitting beside John Major at Cabinet

A memo has just been released from Britain’s National Archives. It concerns discussions at the apex of the British government about salacious rumours relating to John Hume’s private life. It was sent to Sir Robin Butler, Cabinet Secretary to John Major’s government, and also to Major’s private secretary, Sir Alex Allan.

Allan is not as well-known as Butler (although he once surfboarded to work on the Thames). He was later appointed Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). The JIC overseas the activities of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, which indicates Allan had plenty of experience in the murky world of intelligence before he became the head of the organisation which ran the whole show.

Sir Alex Allan, private secretary to John Major who later became Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Community (JIC).

The John Hume ‘private life’ memo

Major, Butler and Allan are all still alive. It will be fascinating to hear any context they can add to the memo which is reproduced in full below:

Recalling our conversation the other day about possible press stories regarding John Hume’s private life, you and Alex Allan to whom I am copying this letter may like to know of something John Hume said to me today (13 January [1997]) unprompted.

In the course of the conversation on his discussions with Adams, John Hume mentioned that on at least two occasions over recent months he had been told of stories circulating among journalists to his discredit regarding his private life, specifically in terms of his conducting an affair or affairs in London and elsewhere. He said that following the article by Bruce Anderson a few weeks ago which did not name him but clearly pointed in that way, he had spoken directly to the Political Editor of the News of the World. He had been told that stories were indeed circulating, but that the News of the World had no evidence to support them and did not intend to print anything in consequence. For his part, John Hume said that he and his wife Pat would both dismiss such stories out of hand, and if anything appeared in print he would expect to become the richer in consequence. He said that the extreme form of the stories were that the IRA were blackmailing him: he said that that was the most absurd nonsense and anyway recent disputes, very public, with Sinn Fein on electoral matters gave it the obvious lie.

Gerry Adams and John Hume.

Who is Bruce Anderson?

The late John Hume and his wife Pat.

Who is Bruce Anderson, the journalist who had so annoyed John Hume? Originally from Orkney, Anderson was apparently once a Marxist and even joined the People’s Democracy movement in Northern Ireland where he participated in civil rights activities including the march that was attacked by Loyalists at Burntollet bridge in 1969. In a bizarre twist, he later became the editor of the right-wing pro-Tory Spectator. Later again, he worked for Sir Tony O’Reilly’s UK Independent newspaper between 2003 and 2010. While at the Independent he wrote an article which would have shocked his former civil rights activist comrades in Ireland. It was entitled  “We not only have a right to use torture. We have a duty” (The Independent, 16 February 2010.) In that article he wrote that:

When our intelligence services were invited to share the harvest reaped by the Pakistanis, there appears to have been no hesitation. Nor should there have been. We needed the information. Perhaps we should have offered the Pakistanis some advice on interrogation techniques which do not involve knife-work on suspects’ genitals. It may be that we have indeed done so, in private. But Pakistan is a sovereign state and an embattled ally; a far more attractive state and a far less dubious ally than Russia was in the Second World War. We should be grateful for the Pakistanis’ efforts on our behalf.

Equally, what must Anderson’s former Marxist comrades make of his 29 December 2010 article in The Telegraph, where he propounded that:

For decades, it has been apparent that the misuse of the welfare state has created an ill-fare state. As a result, work-shyness is cascading down the generations. There are at least a million people who believe that they have a hereditary right to subsidised unemployment. Nor are they all inactive. In plenty of cases, the devil finds work for idle hands. The ill-fare state is a recruiting office for the criminal underclass.

Anderson defends MI5 and describes Patrick Finucane as ‘a senior Provo’.

Anderson has defended the activities of MI5 (attached to the Home Office) in Northern Ireland and is one of a small number of commentators who has claimed that the solicitor Patrick Finucane, who was murdered by British agents in the UDA, was ‘a senior Provo’. (See Thatcher’s Murder Machine, the British State assassination of Patrick Finucane.) Clearly, Anderson has sources inside MI5 who talk to him. This is a most curious set of affairs as MI5 normally distrusts former Marxists, especially those who were involved with an organisation as radical as NI’s Peoples Democracy. Defending MI5 dirty tricks, Anderson wrote in the Independent that:

According to Sean O’Callaghan, himself for many years a years a highly placed informer within the IRA, Pat Finucane was one of the guilty. Finucane, he claimed, was a senior Provo who used his privileges as a lawyer to liaise between the IRA and its operatives in custody. He was only innocent in the sense that no case had been proved against him in a court of law. It is also possible that the agents who may have been complicit in Finucane’s death were the same ones who intervened to foil the assassination attempt on Gerry Adams. The security services’ willingness to save Adams’ life does not suggest that they were out of control.

There were problems. Back in the late Eighties, difficulties arose with intelligence co-ordination in Ulster because too many organisations were involved. The RUC Special Branch, the mainland Special Branch, the Army, MI5 and – for a time – MI6 were all operating. This inevitably led to departmental rivalries and conflicts of modus operandi.

Policemen are trained to gather evidence of a crime so as to secure convictions in court. Intelligence officers set out to build up as complete a picture as possible of enemy groups which threaten the security of the UK, and would always oppose any premature arrests which might jeopardise more important objectives. Equally, the absence of clear lines of co-ordination and command might have encouraged individual intelligence officers to go too far.

It must have been infuriating to watch IRA murderers who were acting with impunity because of the constraints of the legal system. One can understand why some intelligence officers might have been tempted to find an extra-legal solution to the law’s inadequacies. Such temptations ought, of course, to have been resisted. Someone senior should have been scrutinising intelligence employees and asking themselves whether X or Y had now spent too long wrestling with the frustrations of Ulster and ought to be redeployed, in his own interests as well as HMG’s.

There was not enough of that, so excesses occurred. But these ought to be put into context. For almost 30 years the Provisional IRA was responsible for a campaign of terror. Thousands of innocent people were murdered; tens of thousands of lives were blighted by injury and grief. Throughout this period, the British Government, the security services, the armed forces and the police behaved with a restraint which few if any other nations could have equalled. It could easily be argued that at times the restraint was excessive. There is no argument for national self-flagellation in response to the occasional breaches of restraint. Nor is there any sound argument for further inquiries.

In the same article Anderson attacked the Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre of January 1972 and the Stevens Inquiry into State collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries thus:

As it is, the Saville Inquiry is spending hundreds of millions of pounds establishing what everyone already knows: that blunders were committed on Bloody Sunday. As for the Stevens inquiry, an internal review within the security services would have been sufficient to discover what if anything had gone wrong and what lessons should be learned for future operations. Sir John should now be invited to concentrate on his real job: providing London with a reliable police force. Security is safe with the security services, while the blame for the ills of Ulster is easy to apportion. It lies with the IRA.

Anderson, MI6 and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Sir Tony O’Reilly and Bruce Anderson

Anderson has reputedly attended meetings of the mysterious Le Cercle group.

Anderson must also have contacts inside MI6 (part of the Foreign Office) as became apparent during the run up to the invasion of Iraq while it was ruled by Saddam Hussein. At the time MI6 was pumping out black propaganda about Hussein’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. These have long since been exposed as lies manufactured by Whitehall and MI6. Anderson used The Independent to rally support for the looming war in the Middle East arguing that:

There are overwhelming reasons for destroying Saddam. The first and greatest is the man’s evil, and capacity for evil. Saddam began his career as a brutal egomaniac, and his good qualities have receded with age. For the past two decades, he has regarded Iraq solely as a vehicle for self-aggrandisement. He has inflicted unimaginable sufferings on the Iraqi people and on their neighbours – and he has always sought the means of inflicting more. From the outset, Saddam has been striving to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

The Israelis had the wisdom to abort his earliest efforts, by destroying the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. But as long as he is in a position to exploit Iraq’s industrial and financial resources, the danger persists. He already possesses chemical and biological weapons, including anthrax and botulinum. It is not easy to design a delivery system for biological weapons, but a fanatic with a suitcase, luck at border points and a lack of interest in personal survival could pose a terrible threat. Once Saddam realises that he is finished, we can expect him to strain every molecule of his malice. In the Führer-bunker, with his foes closing in, Hitler dreamt of hideous miracle weapons. Saddam may be able to use them. We in the West will be fortunate if we can intercept all his attempts at revenge.

But this is not an argument for declining to provoke him and persisting with the policy of containment. An uninvaded Saddam would be no less malignant; he would merely be more powerful. There is no guaranteed method of containing biological or nuclear weapons.

The Israelis understand this and would not hesitate to take pre-emptive action to stop Saddam deploying weapons that could destroy their country. There are obvious dangers in the West acting to destroy Saddam; it could have destabilising repercussions throughout the Arab world: How much more so, were the Israelis to use their weapons of mass destruction to destroy his.

The West has to act urgently and decisively. President Bush understands this as does Premier Blair. In a favourite phrase of a previous prime minister: there is no alternative.

Further Reading.

Like Charles Haughey, John Hume was a long-time target of MI5 and MI6 dirty trick operations. See also: Traduced (updated version): John Hume was the victim of a campaign of character assassination perpetrated by the British Secret Service, MI6, and was placed under MI5 surveillance in Dublin with the assistance of the Gardaí.