05 November 2006

Report by Dr Jan Pashley Rockett on Michael John Smith

Dr Rockett was asked to comment on the security issues involved in my case, and the effect of involvement in political and protest activity on vetting for jobs that involved government projects.

In the case of Regina vs Michael John Smith
At the Central Criminal Court
Evidence of Dr J P Rockett

My name is Jan Pashley Rockett. I hold an honours degree in Humanities and Technology from the University of Loughborough and a doctorate awarded by the University of Bradford following a thesis on internal security and human rights in the United Kingdom. I specialise in research into matters of state security, and have acted as a consultant in this field to the written and broadcast media. I am an occasional lecturer in International Affairs at Bradford University, and am currently employed as a Senior Emergency Planner by South Yorkshire Fire and Civil Defence Authority.

Security Vetting in the 1970s.

1. Introduction
1.1 Whilst both business organisations and government departments have in the main always carried out some form of employee or prospective employee screening, the practice of “vetting” for security purposes in organisations which carry out sensitive operations for the State was formally introduced between 1948 and 1952. In the former year, Clement Attlee introduced the “purge procedure” aimed at removing communists and fascists from sensitive posts. Two years later, following the conviction of Klaus Fuchs on charges of passing atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union, the practice of positive vetting (see below) was decided on; it was introduced in 1952. [The Times, 16 April 1984.]

1.2. Screening or vetting for employment purposes may take one of three forms:
(a) questionnaire and/or in-house interview; or
(b) “negative vetting” in which a candidate or employee’s personal details and employment history are compared against lists already held by a third-party agency: or
(c) “positive vetting” in which active inquiries into a subject’s background are carried out.

1.3. Vetting may be carried out by any of three types of organisation.
(a) a commercial organisation which carries indexes of personal information; and
(b) a private investigation or detective agency; and
(c) in the public domain the police and/or security service.

1.4. In practice, an employee of organisation carrying out work for the government is likely to be vetted according to his or her access to sensitive information. Those with access to, for example, defence secrets, are likely to be subject to all the procedures mentioned in 1.2 above, and the organisation will generally make use of 1.3(a) and (c). The direct use of private investigation agencies is more appropriate and more generally used in cases where employees will handle non-governmental but nevertheless commercially sensitive material.

1.5. The determinants for screening employees have varied through the century. The concept of the official secret was first required; this first reached legislative form in the Official Secrets Act of 1889. Organisations to investigate or keep records of the private lives of relevant individuals were next needed. Their formation commenced around the turn of the century with the police Special Irish (later, Special) Branch in 1883 and the fledgling Security Service in 1906. Private organisations followed, the most immediately relevant of which was perhaps the Economic League in 1919. [The organisation was originally entitled “National Propaganda”, changing its name shortly after formation to “Economic Study Groups”, five years later to the “Central Council of the Economic Leagues”. (Economic League: Fifth Annual Review and Fifty Fighting Years (1969)). The League was incorporated as a limited company in December 1950.] The aims of this organisation, as stated in its twelfth Annual Report (1932) were:

• to discourage political interference in industry;
• to refute unsound economic doctrines based on sentiment and false assertions;
• to oppose all subversive elements which attempt, by stirring up strikes and disaffection, to interrupt the smooth working of the industrial machine;
• to counter attempts to damage our national security ...

Interestingly, its aims according to its Companies registration in 1950 were:

to promote and study economics and other industrial and social subjects affecting the interests of the community.

Its main function however was and continued to be the furnishing of details on individuals and organisations which it or its commercial subscribers considered to be subversive - notably those involved in left-wing activities.

2. State Security Vetting in the Defence Industry
2.1. It is normal practice that private companies which have access to classified information - notably defence contractors - are of particular interest to the Security Service:

Each firm is provided with a manual which gives guidance on security procedures. Their own security officers ... are encouraged to take part in special training courses run by MI5 officers from C Branch. ... Defence firms are keen to cooperate with MI5, as failure to carry out these security obligations gives the [Ministry of Defence] the right to terminate the contract. [Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor: Blacklist: The Inside Story of Political Vetting: Hogarth, 1988: p.66]

In fact no Company carrying out secret or otherwise classified work on behalf of the State would be awarded a contract without its participation in vetting and other security systems operated by the Security Service. The names of all prospective employees who may have access to or sight of classified material are passed to the Security Service for checking against information held in the Registry, and no appointment will or should be made until the relevant checks have been carried out. Whether these involve negative or positive vetting will depend partly on the sensitivity of the information available to the applicant and partly on his or her known background.

2.2. Grounds for exclusion from sensitive posts would initially have been connected entirely with the political activity of the applicant, in particular with any communist activity or sympathies. This was amended following the 1956 Privy Council Report on the defection of Burgess and Maclean. The report recommended, inter alia, that such character defects as “drunkenness, addiction to drugs, homosexuality or any loose living” should be grounds for refusal of or dismissal from employment. [Report of the Conference of Privy Councillors: Cmnd 9715, 1956: para. 16.]

3. Private Information Companies Operating in the 1970s
3.1. By far the largest and most well-known information agency acting in this area in the 1970s was the Economic League Ltd., referred to above. Its stated aim in the middle of that decade was:

exposing the experiences, the intentions and strategy of subversive organisations and providing positive education to combat misrepresentation by industrial agitators. [Tony Bunyan: The History and Practice of the Political Police in Britain: Quartet, 1977: p.248.]

The Company came to particular public attention in 1973 when, in the course of an industrial dispute at Southampton, it was discovered that the employer was one of many able to obtain information on individual workers from the League’s files.

3.2. In the mid-1970s, the Economic League had an annual income of approximately half a million pounds and had, at 1980, 123 full-time employees. [Cieran O’Maolain: The Radical Right: A World Directory: Longman/Keesings, 1987. p.302.] It was, at 1987, said to hold records on a quarter of a million individuals. [The Guardian, 19 March 1987.]

3.3. There were several other private organisations active in the same field at or around the early 1970s, indicating the general fear particularly of left-wing sympathisers and trades union activists. These included Control Risks, the British Union of Industrialists (BUI), Common Cause, Industrial Research and Information Services (IRIS) and, to an extent, Aims of Industry. Control Risks, which operates as an information provider both in labour relations and more general security matters, was formed in 1973. BUI apparently received income of £249,000 in 1973 for “its support of capitalism and its work investigating ‘front’ organisations and groups.” [Bunyan: op cit: p.250] Following the passing of the Companies Act 1967, BUI dissolved as a limited company but continued to operate. Its aims as stated in the Companies Register had been similar to those of the League:

the promotion, preservation and protection so far as legally practicable of the principle of free enterprise in trade and industry.

Common Cause, again with similar aims, offered an employee screening service to companies and was said to have a particular interest in members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). [The Digger, 11 March 1988.] IRIS, which had been seen to be particularly active around the time of the 1966 seamen’s strike, printed throughout the 1970s a regular briefing to industry listing the names of alleged “militants” and “subversives”. [Bunyan, op cit: p.249]

4. The Targets
4.1. Although the various organisations have claimed and no doubt would claim that their targets are members of both the left and the right extremes of politics, statements made by employees and directors, as well as the composition of the various boards of directors, tend to indicate that concentration of effort is and was on the left of the political spectrum. The founders of the Economic League were a former chairman of the Naval Intelligence Department and a group of industrialists concerned about the activities of organised labour. A former assistant director of the League has been quoted as saying:

Subversive parties vary. I mean the Communist Party is the one we all used to fear ... The Workers’ Revolutionary Party is the one we worry about now. [Mark Hollingsworth and Charles Tremayne: The Economic League: The Silent McCarthyism: National Council for Civil Liberties, 1989: p. 107.]

The Security Service was in the 1970s bound by the Maxwell-Fyfe Directive. [Published in Lord Denning’s Report, HMSO Cmnd 2152, 1963: p.180.] This, at least in theory, limited the actions and legitimate interests of the Service:

2 The Security Service ... task is the Defence of the Realm as a whole, from external and internal dangers arising from attempts at espionage and sabotage, or from actions of persons and organisations ... which may be judged to be subversive of the State.

3 It is essential that the Security Service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias or influence ...

4.2. This is not necessarily how the Service has generally been seen. Cavendish notes that

The qualifications for intelligence have sometimes been rarefied. Before the war a “gentleman”, in the sense of being suitable for trustworthy but secretive service to the Crown, would certainly have had to have had a respectable pedigree, public school education, and probably to have been an officer in one of the Services. [Anthony Cavendish: Inside Intelligence: Collins, 1990: p. 1.]

Although the requirements may have changed somewhat, the Security Service is still perceived in many quarters as a right-wing organisation. Former Prime Minister Edward Heath is quoted as saying of his period in office (1970-74):

I also met people in the security services who talked the most ridiculous nonsense and whose whole philosophy was ridiculous nonsense. If some of them were on a tube and saw someone reading the Daily Mirror, they would say ‘Get after him, that is dangerous. We must find out where he bought it’. [Bernard Porter: Plots and Paranoia: Unwin Hyman, 1989: pp.213-4]

5. The Information Collected
5.1. In the absence of an individual’s right to inspect his or her files, there has been some speculation as to the accuracy of information held on-file in both the state and the private sector. In 1988, the Director of the North-West division of the Economic League, claimed that:

many of the records of individuals are more fiction than fact

that no attempt was made to check the accuracy, and that an individual described by a single company as a “troublemaker” would be blacklisted. [The Guardian, 9 September 1988.] Similar allegations are and have been made concerning official information, and these were to an extent borne out by the “weeding” of the Devon and Cornwall police Special Branch files:

I found that the officers, often with the best of intentions, had made records of things about people which I thought were totally unnecessary ... A high proportion of the records were either out of date, useless, or of the kind that one would not want to keep, because they were not serious, they had nothing to do with crime. [Evidence of J C Alderson: Fourth Report of The Home Affairs Committee, 1984-85: Special Branch: HMSO 1985: para. 181.]

A former chief constable of the York, North and East Riding police forces stated in a television interview that he would consider as subversive:

any one who shows affinity towards communism, that’s common sense, the IRA, the PLO, and I would say anyone who’s decrying marriage, family life, trying to break that up, pushing drugs, homosexuality, indiscipline in schools, weak penalties for antisocial crimes ... a whole gamut of things like that could be pecking away at the foundations of society and weakening it. [Broadcast on Facing South: TVS: 24 October 1986.]

Two points arise:

(a) the information kept by State and private agencies on personal files may be irrelevant or inaccurate:

(b) definitions of subversive activity may be so variable that they confuse the ordinary member of the public.

6. The Users of Personal Information Services
6.1. Many large industries and other commercial concerns subscribe and subscribed to the services provided by the information suppliers. Chief amongst these tend to be financial and defence organisations. In 1987 for example, the top subscribers to the Economic League were noted as National Westminster, Barclays and Lloyds Banks, Hawker Siddeley and Guest Keen Nettlefold (GKN). [Labour Research Vol 76 No 10, January 1987.] In 1988 it was claimed that the League had 2,000 commercial subscribers. [The Guardian, 9 September 1988.] It was noted that many companies prefer to direct their payments as “legal fees” through independent solicitors so avoiding mention of the Economic League in company accounts.

7. Liaison Between Private and State Information Collection Agencies
7.1. There has been much speculation as to the extent of sharing of information between the private collectors and the State organisations (the Security Service and the police Special Branch). A police investigation into the Economic League followed a 1987 television programme which carried statements claiming that the organisation “traded information with the police”. [The Guardian, 19 March 1987.] Although this investigation appears to have had a negative outcome, similar quotations have appeared elsewhere, as this from Mr Alan Harvey, Assistant Director, North-East Region from 1977 to 1987:

You may find a lot of analogy between us and the police, in that we give all our information to the police. In return, they’re not unfriendly back ...
We also have the police on the cutting service as well. We do a press cutting service from subversive newspapers. The police are automatically on the press cutting service and the Special Branch so they know in parallel with us what is going on.
[Hollingsworth and Tremayne: op cit., p. 105.]

My own analysis would be that the provision of information tends to be unidirectional from the private agencies but that, as often appears to happen in small private investigation agencies, information may be passed from the police and security service to the private organisations on an informal or “need to know” basis.

7.2. On a more formal basis, there exists or existed until recently an organisation based in The Hague which collects and disseminates information on communist and leftwing organisations and their membership on a European or international basis. This organisation, INTERDOC, appears to have been set up in 1963 and its members include or included the United Kingdom’s Common Cause and Economic League. The controlling board of this organisation is said to have included both directors of its member companies and senior officers or former officers of the security and intelligence services. [The Digger, 11 March 1988: research information passed to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament dated November 1985: Lobster No 19, May 1990.] It would appear that INTERDOC acts or acted as an information sharing source between different organisations, including both State and private sector bodies.

8. Perceptions of Information Collection
8.1. I first became interested in this area when, as a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the early 1980s, I encountered a deal of fear amongst members and prospective members as to the effects of joining an organisation which some apparently considered “subversive”. This was one of the factors that led to my decision to research the effects of internal security procedures on human rights in the United Kingdom and to the eventual presentation of a doctoral thesis. [J P Rockett: Internal Security in a Democratic State: Ph.D. Thesis, University of Bradford, 1991.] As a part of this work, I undertook a survey in 1987 of perceptions of surveillance amongst a section of the CND membership. It was clear from this survey, and from discussions with fellow members, that State surveillance was considered to be taking place on the movement as a whole and on particular individualswithin it:

the Detective Constable revealed that he had on file details about my CND involvement and personal life ... wholly irrelevant to the case he was investigating


Police traffic computer has information on me which is of no relevance to traffic offences! Height, colour, appearance, etc.

There was a degree of resignation to this surveillance:

In a way the authorities have won because we have given up complaining. We are now so used to having tapped phones, intercepted mail, to being beaten up on demos, to arrest etc. that we no longer complain except in very extreme cases. Perhaps we should.


I am not interested in intensifying dramatisations of the incidents in which I have been involved. [Quotes taken from replies to survey and published in ibid, pp. 419-422.]

It was clear from my own research that the surveillance of “left-wing” organisations was publicly known and that:

(a) some people within the organisation were concerned that their future careers might be affected by their participation in the campaign:

(b) some prospective members were deterred from joining for the same reason.

There was, however, generally a belief that “low profile” membership - that is, membership only of a branch and not of the national campaign, or inactive simple membership of the organisation, might not draw the attention of the Security Services, the Special Branches or the private information gatherers.

8.2. The situation within communist and other left-wing organisations in the 1970s exactly parallelled this situation. Indeed, Massiter testified that CND came under Security Service scrutiny from “the later 1960’s to the mid-1970’s” precisely because “known members of the Communist Party had a large measure of control”. [Affidavit of Catherine Ann Massiter dated 12 July 1985: Queen’s Bench. Application for Judicial Review by Joan Mary Ruddock, John Idris Cox and David Bruce Kent in the Matter of a Warrant Signed by the Secretary of State for the Home Department on or about August 1983.] Porter notes that by the 1950s “Most communists knew, or had a pretty good idea, that they were being watched”. [Bernard Porter: op cit: p. 192.] Bunyan cites amongst late 1950s cases:

... a qualified teacher was refused employment by Renfrewshire County Council because her husband was a communist, and a woman cashier was dismissed from a club for civil servants in Cheltenham because her husband belonged to the Young Communist League. [Bunyan: op cit, pp. 166-167.]

Again, in the words of the former Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall:

I think the difficulty is the interested citizen does not know what the state considers to be subversive. [Home Affairs Committee: op cit, para. 182]

There is a continuum of recognition of surveillance throughout the last 40 or so years, in which the hope of many who have engaged in protest or political activity may hope, on reflection, that their personal activities have passed unnoticed.

9. Conclusion
9.1. Members of left-wing organisations, and in particular of the Communist and related parties, were under close observation in the 1970s, both by the public and private sector security and information-collecting agencies. They were not generally unaware of this fact, although they and the public in general would have been uncertain as to the extent of surveillance and information collection.

This statement consisting of nine pages represents the facts to the best of my knowledge and belief.

Signed: Jan P. Rockett

Date: 27 September, 1993


  1. Anonymous11:00 PM

    Good but not good enough....one should have been told about +ve vetting and -ve vetting and who gets chosen for each process and why....your case never required secret or top secret clearance hence you were only ever subjected to the very briefest of vetting processes....can you tell me which one?
    Tony (Vegeteric)

  2. I had a very basic level of vetting at GEC Hirst Research Centre, because I was only dealing with the lowest level of classified documents. This is why my case makes no sense that I was accused of handling "secrets", as I had no access to any material that could have been called a "secret". You can see from the documentation referred to at my trial that the highest level of document mentioned was labelled "restricted", which is just a little bit above "unclassified", and so such information is unlikely to interest any intelligence service, as it can hardly be thought of as being sensitive.