Paddy Ashdown warned Thatcher about CIA’s activities

Paddy AshdownEach New Year brings the unveiling of Government files from 30 years ago. This year’s revelations include some highly topical references to CIA approaches to British citizens.

In 1984 Margaret Thatcher ruled. Paddy Ashdown was one of 23  SDP/Liberal Alliance MPs – he did not become Leader of the Liberal Democrats until the merger of the Social Democrat and the Liberal parties in 1988. Before he entered Parliament he had been an MI6 officer, so he was well placed to observe the CIA’s activities.

According to today’s Guardian, this is what he he was concerned about when he wrote to Prime Minister Thatcher in November 1984:

Ashdown was worried about clandestine approaches made by US agents to British computer firms in this country and abroad to prevent eastern bloc countries obtaining western computer secrets by stealth.

“My subsequent investigations have led me to conclude that the CIA got the information on the UK companies in the course of an operation which, it seems, is still continuing,” he told Thatcher.

She replied:

There is no evidence of improper activity by the CIA or that the law has been broken. As you are aware, there is close co-operation between the British and American authorities on the enforcement of multilateraly agreed exports controls, which is in the national interest.

In spite of that denial, the Foreign Office asked MI5 to investigate Ashdown’s complaint, and they concluded:

The security service have told us that there was a small number of isolated cases in 1983 when the CIA approached British individuals with a view to seeking information about cases in which hostile intelligence services were involved in attempts to acquire illegally western technology, without adequate consultation in advance with the British authorities.

These cases were brought to the attention of the CIA (and FBI) and the security service are satisfied that such cases are not recurring. They emphasise, however, that such incidents are not relevant to the allegations being made by Mr Ashdown which relate to pressure being put on British companies to divulge information about their trading activities.

Will we ever know the truth?

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • David Evans 3rd Jan '14 - 7:01pm

    Of course we know the truth. The problem is those in authority will deny it for as long as it is convenient for them to deny it.

  • Paul Reynolds 4th Jan '14 - 9:38am

    Indeed. I am reminded that it was the first time I came across Paddy. I was working on a project which was to do with the misapplication of COCOM regulations (which restricted military and scientific exports to the Soviet bloc and COMECON countries). European companies, especially in IT and telecoms, thought that the US was misusing the regulations in such a way as to give advantage to competing US IT firms. If I recall correctly Paddy took the brave step of publicly objecting to something that had previously only been discussed being diplomatic doors.

  • Simon Banks 4th Jan '14 - 4:29pm

    I hadn’t realised Paddy had been an MI6 officer. It underlines suspicions I had all along about how well informed he was, and from where, when he queried David Cameron’s appointment of Coulson.

  • peter tyzack 4th Jan '14 - 8:17pm

    Paddy, the best Prime Minister we never had…

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