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True Spies Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Secret State: Timeline
A chronology of key events:


Post-World War Two - MI5 given two key tasks; to prevent Communist subversion in the UK and counter the threat of foreign espionage by the KGB.

1948 - Attlee Declaration. The government formally introduces security vetting aimed at excluding both Communists and Fascists from positions where they might damage national security. During a purge of civil servants 167 people are removed from sensitive posts.

British Labour Party leader from 1935 to 1955
Clement Atlee was Prime Minister between July 1945 and October 1951

Vetting continues over next decades, even within the BBC who recruit a Special Assistant to the Director of Personnel to vet names of successful job applicants whether graduate trainees, film editors, journalists, arts producers or drama directors.

Early 1950s - MI5 staff increased to about 850.

1951 - Donald Maclean of the Foreign office and Guy Burgess, a former MI5 officer, defect to the Soviet Union. MI5's role in vetting is stepped up.

1952 - Maxwell-Fyffe (Home Secretary) Directive, setting out MI5's relationship with Government.

1963 - Kim Philby of MI6 defects to the USSR.

1963 - Profumo Affair. Lord Denning's Report reveals publicly for first time details of MI5's role and responsibilities. He claims "members of the Security Service are, in the eyes of the law, ordinary citizens with no powers greater than anyone else.'

1964 - Anthony Blunt caught but not publicly unmasked until 1979. Sir Douglas-Home, UK Prime Minister at time, was not told that Blunt had confessed to being an agent in return for immunity from prosecution.

1964 - Police Act introduces regional Special Branches. By 1975 every provincial force has its own full-time Special Branch.

1966 - Seamen's Strike. Secret buggings were basis for Wilson's speech about a 'tightly knit group of politically motivated men'.

Anti Vietnam War demonstration in Grosvenor Square, London 1968
Civil unrest led to the formation of the SDS

1968 - Grosvenor Square anti-Vietnam War demonstrations leads to formation on 27 October of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) within Metropolitan Police Special Branch - colloquially known as the "Hairies" because of their appearance. They adopt new identities, live undercover and infiltrate extremist groups.

1969 - Investiture of Prince Charles in Caernarvon preceded by bombing campaign. Several members of Free Wales Army subsequently convicted.

1970 - Stop the Tour campaign. A young Peter Hain leads anti-South Africa protests during a rugby tour of the UK, as result of which the Cricket tour is cancelled.

Early 1970s- industrial unrest provokes MI5 into reviewing targets.

1970 - Dockers Strike

1972 - Miners Strike. Arthur Scargill leads secondary picketing at Saltley Gate and rises to prominence.

1974 - Second miners strike helps bring down Heath government - "Who rules the country?" election.

Within a few weeks of the 1972 miners' strike MI5 shifts emphasis to "domestic subversion", particularly the "far and wide left". MI5's F branch acts as an anti-subversion section and rapidly expands.

MI5 had leader of Labour Party, Harold Wilson, under surveillance in run up to 1974 election. MI5 had a file on Wilson with codename 'Henry Worthington'.

1974 - Wilson elected Prime Minister, twice.

Though officially denied by MI5, the author of "Spycatcher" Peter Wright claims he and "a few malcontents" within MI5 conspired against Wilson.

Harold Wilson, Labour's longest serving Prime Minister
MI5 had Harold Wilson under surveillance

1974-6 - In his second term as Prime Minister burglaries are carried out against Harold Wilson and his senior staff by MI5.

1975 - Bugging device found by workmen at Communist Party HQ.

1975 - Labour Government devises first definition of 'subversive' - persons 'threatening the safety or well-being of the state', and 'intending to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means.'

1976 - Harold Wilson resigns.

1976-8 - Grunwick industrial dispute is led by Jack Dromey campaigning for union recognition. Scargill and other unions carry out secondary picketing.

1978-9 - Rise of National Front and of Anti-Nazi League demonstrations.

Spring 1979 - Southall demonstration and death of Blair Peach.

1979 - Derek 'Red Robbo' Robinson is sacked from British Leyland's Longbridge car plant after leading industrial disputes there throughout the 1970s.

1981 - Inner city riots across Britain including Brixton and Toxteth.

1981 - CND supporter Madeline Haigh is visited by undercover West Midlands Special Branch officers after a local newspaper published her letter protesting about the cancellation of a peace march.

West Midlands Police Chief Constable Sir Philip Knights defends the Madeline Haigh case by saying it "fell within the terms of reference of the Special Branch.

September 1983 - Michael Bettaney is exposed as an MI5 traitor who gave secrets to Soviet Union. He is later convicted of 10 offences under the old Official Secrets Act and sentenced to 23 years imprisonment.

1983 - Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine set up DS 19, within the MOD secretariat to combat CND propaganda.

1984 - Ban on Trade Unions at GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters).

Arthur Scargill and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) challenge Mrs Thatcher in miners' strike.

1984-5 - Stella Rimington, as Assistant Director of MI5's F Branch, covers the miners' strike for MI5.

Arthur Scargill
Scargill led the miners in the 1984-5 strike

18 June 1984 - climax of police/miner clashes at Orgreave (British Steel coking plant near Sheffield). Arthur Scargill arrested.

David Hart, property developer, libertarian and old Etonian advises Mrs Thatcher during the strike. Hart helps to set up the National Working Miners' Committee to encourage the back-to-work movement.

25 October 1984 - High Court orders sequestration of NUM's assets.

28 October 1984 - Sunday Times story about NUM Chief Executive Roger Windsor's fund-raising meeting with Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi. There are subsequent allegations that Windsor was an MI5 'mole' within the NUM, which are denied by both Windsor and MI5.

Roger Windsor has since won libel damages in relation to this allegation.

Dec 1984 - New Home Office guidelines defined subversive groups as "those which threaten the safety or well being of the State, and which are intended to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means".

8 March 1985 - Former MI5 Officer Cathy Massiter expresses disquiet about MI5's over zealous definition of term "subversive" in Channel 4's 20/20 Vision programme "MI5's Official Secrets".

Ms Massiter reveals the National Council for Civil Liberties and CND are classified as 'subversive'.

She claims MI5's definition of subversion was being distorted and widened, saying: "We were violating our own rules. It seemed to be getting out of control."

April 1985 - In a written answer to the House of Commons, Mrs Thatcher defines subversives as:

"An individual a member of a subversive group...whose aims are to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent, or has recently been, sympathetic to or associated with members or sympathisers of such organisations or groups, in such a way as to raise reasonable doubts about his susceptible to pressure from such organisations or groups".

1985 - Interception of Communications Act. The UK Home Secretary must now sign warrants for phone taps and a commissioner (a judge) has to report on tapping every year.

1985 - BBC management acknowledges for the first time it vetted staff via MI5.

1986 - Metropolitan Police Special Branch sets up the Animal Rights National Index (ARNI) to collate intelligence gathered by spies on animal liberation groups.

Peter Wright wrote 'Spycatcher'
Peter Wright's book caused controversy

November 1986 - British Government tries, and fails, to get Peter Wright's book "Spycatcher" banned in an Australian court as publishers sought to get around the UK injunction.

May 1987 - Following the Spycatcher Affair Mrs Thatcher tells the House of Commons she has asked MI5 Director General Sir Anthony Duff to investigate the books allegations. Despite the 'Worthington file', she said there was no evidence of any plot or conspiracy against Wilson.

November 1987 - Sir Philip Woodfield is appointed to the new post of MI5 Staff Counsellor to consider staff complaints and grievances which fall outside the remit of personnel.

18 December 1989 - Security Service Act puts MI5 on a statutory basis for the first time. The new Security Service Tribunal is established to review warrants and investigate complaints from the public. It is chaired by Lord Justice Sir Murray Stuart-Smith. Between 1989 and 1997 275 complaints are made but none are upheld.

1989 - The Official Secrets Act is revised so removing the public interest defence for 'whistle-blowers' like Cathy Massiter who speak out against MI5.

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