Political intrigue [updated February 2008]
The Sadiq Khan bugging
The plot against Harold Wilson – 1970s
Harold Wilson was elected Prime Minister to head the first Labour government in years. There was deep-seated ideological and class-based animosity towards Labour. MI5 had Harold Wilson under surveillance in the run up to 1974 election – his file was codenamed 'Henry Worthington'. In his second term as Prime Minister (1974-76) burglaries were carried out against Harold Wilson and his senior staff by MI5. Wilson sensed something was amiss and alleged that there was a plot to undermine his government. He even suspected that No. 10 was bugged. Discounted at the time, these statements have subsequently been substantiated.
In a Panorama interview broadcast on 13 October 1988, former MI5 officer Peter Wright and author of the famous Spycatcher, said that “eight or nine” MI5 officers were involved. Their intention was to confront the Prime Minister with his MI5 file and tell him “that we wanted him to resign. That there would be no publicity if he just quietly went”. There is also the evidence of Colin Wallace, a former civilian intelligence officer, who disclosed that in the early 1970s the MI5 forged a variety of “Labour Party” leaflets hinting to the Ulster public that Wilson and his cabinet were soft on terrorism and sympathetic towards communism. One pamphlet with the headline “The Labour Movement” and the sub-heading “Imperialism-Crisis-Revolution” stated that it was “published by Denis Healey, Tony Benn and Stan Orme” – all then ministers in Wilson’s government. Another leaflet showed an arm clutching a Kalashnikov rifle against the Ulster red hand and a communist star, was produced when Wallace was working inside a covert psychological operations unit in Northern Ireland.
Wallace also alleged that based in Northern Ireland were in league with a right-wing plan to discredit and embarrass the Wilson government during the Ulster Workers’ Council strike of 1974. He later discovered that this was part of an MI5 strategy to unhinge the newly-elected Wilson government. Peter Wright testified that there were some in the MI5 who regarded Harold Wilson as “a citizen not above suspicion”. What evidence existed to incriminate Wilson was never made public – however the allegation that MI5 could engage in a destabilization campaign against an elected British Prime Minister remains today a serious matter.
(Sources: The Guardian 26 June 1985; The Sunday Times 22 March 1987)
The Independent, 28 April 1987, Peter Jenkins, ‘Skeletons in a crowded cupboard’. In this article Jenkins also adds, “There is another aspect to this murky business. During the last days of Wilson’s premiership there was a growing concern about the state of affairs at Number 10 within the Labour Government itself. At that time I was told on what I considered to be excellent authority that on becoming Prime Minister Mr Callaghan (as he then was) received an official request from the intelligence services to authorize investigations into possible connections between Wilson’s Number 10 and the Israeli intelligence services”.
The rule that MI6 should not ‘run’ MPs was waived by John Major during his tenure as prime minister, according to whistle blower MI6 agent Richard Tomlinson (The Guardian, 21 January 2001). Tomlinson met Harold Elletson, then Conservative MP for Blackpool South “and a long-term MI6 contact”. Elletson, says Tomlinson, was an upright figure who was concerned about John Kennedy, a Tory party candidate and British citizen from a Serb family who changed his name from Gvozdenovic. “Kennedy was a strong supporter of the Bosnian Serbs under the indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic and was a channel through which Serbian money was being offered to Conservative funds”.
MI5 also ran an agent to monitor the activities of Dave Nellist, the Labour MP and supporter of the far left Militant group in the 1980s. It asked the West Midlands police special branch to find an agent to infiltrate the Labour party in Coventry and cultivate Mr Nellist, then MP for the city's south east constituency. Asked whether he was surprised MI5 put a spy on to him, Mr Nellist observed: "On a personal basis it does surprise me. What was the state doing in investigating, if it was me, an elected MP who had the support of thousands of people in the area to go off and do a job down in London?"
British Muslim MP for Tooting, Sadiq Khan was bugged during his meetings with constituency member Baber Ahmed - under detention and fighting an extradition request from the US. Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad had eavesdropped on conversations between Khan and Ahmad at Woodhill prison, Milton Keynes, in 2005 and 2006 using a microphone hidden in a table. The shadow Conservative home secretary, David Davis, claimed that he had written a letter to Gordon Brown in December claiming there may have been a breach of the long-standing convention that MPs should not be bugged, to which he did not receive a reply. The bugging is likely to have occurred during the tenure of PM Tony Blair.
Following an enquiry by the chief surveillance commissioner, Sir Christopher Rose, responsibility for the act was apportioned to the then Met Police Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman. The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith responded to the Rose reportg by stating that there would be a further review of the law and guidelines covering bugging and that a ban should be placed on bugging discussions between MPs and their constituents. Sadiq Khan was circumspect:"I am very pleased that the home secretary and Sir Christopher's report have reiterated that constituents must be allowed confidentiality with their MP. This applies even when he or she is in prison."