Duncan Campbell

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Person.png Duncan Campbell   Facebook History Commons WebsiteRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(journalist, author)
Duncan Campbell.jpg
At RAF Menwith Hill, eavesdropping base
Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom
Exposed • ECHELON
Celebrated investigative journalist.

Employment.png Associate editor

In office
1988 - 1991
EmployerNew Statesman

Employment.png Staff writer

In office
1978 - 1991
EmployerNew Statesman

Duncan Campbell is a British freelance investigative journalist, author and television producer, who revealed GCHQ and the ECHELON program in the course of his work.


Since 1975 he has specialised in the subjects of intelligence and security services, defence, policing, civil liberties and, latterly, computer forensics. From 1978-91, he was a staff writer at the New Statesman and associate editor (Investigations) from 1988-91.

In 1977-78, Duncan Campbell was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act in the ABC Trial and made the series Secret Society for the BBC in 1987. Before the programme ran, however, the BBC became nervous about the nature of its content and approached the Thatcher government for advice. Their reaction was to raid the BBC’s Scottish headquarters and then Campbell’s home. Special Branch seized the film in what became known as the Zircon affair.[1]


Duncan Campbell has exposed state snooping for nearly 40 years. In 1976, he revealed for the first time the existence of GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) in a piece for Time Out magazine called, "The Eavesdroppers". This led to his arrest in February 1977 with Crispin Aubrey and John Berry, and their being charged under Sections 1 and 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 (Berry was charged with "communicating classified information to unauthorised persons", and Campbell and Aubrey with "unauthorised receipt of classified information").[2]

ABC Trial

Duncan Campbell, Crispin Aubrey and John Berry convicted at the ABC Trial

On 5 September 1978, the resulting ABC Trial opened at the Old Bailey in front of Mr Justice Willis but was stopped two weeks later after the jury foreman was exposed as a former SAS officer. Three weeks after the second trial opened in front of Mr Justice Mars-Jones on 3 October 1978, all Section 1 charges were dropped. On 17 November 1978, Crispin Aubrey, John Berry and Duncan Campbell were found guilty and received non-custodial sentences. The ABC Trial was described by defence witness Ewen Carmichael as "a farcical romp of political stupidity, as prosecution witnesses, testifying anonymously under letters of the alphabet – in particular witness B, Colonel Hugh Johnstone, head of Signals Intelligence – were identified to the public outside the courts, and later by NUJ members at their annual conference." To Crispin Aubrey, the prosecution's attempts at secrecy were "the security services trying to cloak their witnesses in anonymous letters and make the whole affair appear more sinister."

In 1989, Section 2 was amended to make it an offence to divulge information only in relation to six specific categories.


In 1988, Duncan Campbell revealed the existence of the Echelon surveillance program.[3]

New Statesman

After the trial, Duncan Campbell joined the New Statesman magazine. During his 15 years, he investigated Britain’s secret phone-tapping centres, corruption in GCHQ, secret war time plans to suspend civil liberties, and the top secret global surveillance programme, Echelon. Recently, he has produced reports based on the Snowden files for the Independent, including how the British Embassy in Berlin was being used as a covert listening station.


In 2013, Campbell spoke at an event called Brighton CryptoFestival that aimed to raise awareness about government mass surveillance and the availability of countermeasures.[4]


In November 2017, marking the 40th anniversary of the arrests of the ABC three, John Berry and Duncan Campbell took part in a panel discussion with Statewatch Director Tony Bunyan and Sarah Kavanagh, NUJ Senior Campaigns and communications officer, looking at the events from those involved in 1977 and considering its legacy today. It was organised by Aubrey’s family as part of the Crispin Aubrey Legacy Fund set up to support aspiring journalists and in conjunction with the University of West of England’s Film and Journalism Department and Bristol Festival of Ideas.[5]


In January 2018, Campbell published an article in The Guardian entitled Why the secret handshake between police and Freemasons should worry us, arguing that "membership of both bodies is incompatible with public service".[6]


Documents by Duncan Campbell

TitleDocument typePublication dateSubject(s)Description
Document:GCHQ and Me: My Life Unmasking British EavesdroppersArticle3 August 2015GCHQ
Edward Snowden
Robert Hannigan
ABC Trial
Transparency International
Menwith Hill
Reiner Braun
No one at the May 2015 conference on intelligence, security and privacy argued against greater openness. Thanks to Edward Snowden and those who courageously came before, the need for public accountability and review has become unassailable.
Document:Memo To Prime Minister - Your Merchants of Death Are Cooking The Booksarticle17 October 1980Arms deal
Margaret Thatcher
Millbank Technical Services
Document:Why the secret handshake between police and Freemasons should worry usArticle2 January 2018Metropolitan Police
Brian Paddick
Successive Met Commissioners have tried to end the society’s influence. It is as clear as ever that membership of both bodies is incompatible with public service.
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