Overseas Information Department

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Group.png Overseas Information DepartmentRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Parent organizationUK/FCDO, UK/FCO

The successor department of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to the Information Research Department (which was shut down in 1978 by the then Foreign secretary David Owen). It was subsequently turned into the Information Department in the 1980s.

A propagandist recalls

According to Aubrey Essex of the IRD:

In my 20 years' experience in the Information Research Department (later the Overseas Information Department) of the Foreign Office, I don't believe I ever saw a spy pass a glass door (report, "Fay Weldon reveals role in Cold War against Poland", November 30). Certainly no one ever told me not to look. Nor would I have expected anyone in his right mind to announce the imminent passage of spies: the temptation to peek would have been overwhelming. It would all be a bit of a hoot, but for the caption to the picture - "Weldon: went from writing fiction to writing fiction". IRD, with many talented academics, specialists, researchers and journalists, could not have existed if the accuracy of its material had been in doubt. - Yours etc, Aubrey Essex, 25 South Parade, Cleveleys, Lancashire FY5 3NP. aubex@aol.com [1]

Soviet denunciations

Acting directly on the instructions of the Foreign Office, the BBC widely carries out radio interception operations. As the latest issue of the magazine 'New Statesman' reports, the BBC's main target is the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries of Europe. In order to listen to their radio broadcasts, the Corporation uses special centres, situated in Britain, and also the British Embassy in Vienna. There are similar radio interception posts in other regions also - for instance, in Accra and Abidjan. "The British Foreign Office and the Secret Intellingence Service are the BBC's main customers", the magazine stresses.
The BBC's radio-spies are wholly maintained by the Foreign Office, which allocates £4,400,000 for these purposes. The information received by the Corporation goes to the Overseas Information Department, which, according to the magazine, deals with the organization of secret propaganda campaigns. It may be recalled that in 1976 this department replaced the Foreign Office's Information Research Department, which, as its founders admitted, was an "anti-Soviet propaganda organ".
The article also contains direct indications of BBC links with the American "knights of the cloak and dagger". "Under an agreement concluded between the BBC and the CIA in 1948", the article says, "the two organizations intercept the majority of the most important broadcasts in the world. Both the BBC and the CIA have a network of foreign stations for gathering information."[2]

But the point is, this Information Research Department did not die a natural death in the spring of 1977. It only changed its signboard and became the Foreign Information Department whose first director was Ray Whitney, the last head of the Information Research Department.
An employee of the public body State Research who made a detailed study of the activities of the Information Research Department, suggests that perhaps some changes have taken place since the spring of 1977, but they are of a highly cosmetic nature. The objective of black propaganda, as it's called, has remained. Indeed when the Information Research Department was closed down in the spring of 1977 it's successor, the Foreign Information Department, proclaimed an open door policy and declared its supplementary bulletins available to all. Actually they are available only to those who know of their existence and who have a pass to enter the massive building on King Charles Street in London. The same employee of State Research says that he is ready to bet that the people who get the bulletins now are the very people who got them before. In this way, except for the formal change of name, nothing has changed in the Department. As before, the Foreign Office kitchen cooks up very regular supplementary summaries which are read exclusively by the former clients of the Information Research Department. Even the format of the supplementary summaries has not changed. And as to their substance: titbits about Moscow's children being evacuated, about plain clothes agents flooding the city streets appeared long before the first Fleet Street journalist left for Moscow to cover the Olympic Games.
One may ask, where does this so-called authentic information come from? From the Foreign Office, of course. During May and June of 1980, the Foreign Information Department compiled, duplicated and distributed among so-called interested parties a whole series of special bulletins dealing exclusively with the Olympic Games in Moscow. These supplementary summaries of the Foreign Office's Foreign Information Department appeared in some form or other on the pages of practically every leading publication in Britain, and of course the source of this information was not indicated but the articles were signed by staff correspondents. If only by staff correspondents| Even the Prime Minister herself in one of her speeches, which the mass media reported in detail almost word for word, repeated the thesis of the Foreign Information Department on the Olympic Games in Moscow. (?However it) should be mentioned that the Department's product bears the inscription Not to be considered as expressing the policy of the Government of Her Majesty.
When one studies the black propaganda editions of the Foreign Office for 1980, one sees that two themes stand out: the Olympic Games in Moscow and the events in Afghanistan. It's useless to dwell on the terminology used by the Foreign Office with regard to the Soviet Union, but it is interesting to find out about the sources of these information summaries. Very often vague allusions are made to diplomatic circles. Here one cannot but recollect an article published last summer in the 'Sunday Times' by Philip Jacobson, who had visited Agahanistan and was returning home via Delhi. At the Delhi airport he was met by a Western diplomat who questioned him in detail about Afghanistan and complained about the lack of reliable information about that country. After that the diplomat told other Western journalists in confidence - journalists that had never been to Afghanistan - his own concoctions about the situation in that country. The role of such a diplomat is being played by the Foreign Information Department of the Foreign Office in its supplementary summaries orientated on British journalists who have never been even to the bordering States, let alone Afghanistan itself.
Here one could have stopped. But one thing has to be cleared up. The British journalist Charles Pincher [as broadcast], who admits having for 35 years engaged in ferreting out Whitehall secrets, writes that the activities of the Information Research Department of the British Foreign Office had been largely financed by the American Central Intelligence Agency. If one takes into account that the present Foreign Information Department differs from the Information Research Department only in name then the legitimate question arises: have not the close financial, and not only financial, links with the CIA remained which foots the bill for Whitehall's black propaganda campaign?[3]

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  1. The Times (London) December 7, 1998, Monday Spies' tales SECTION: Features
  2. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts July 5, 1980, Saturday The BBC's Monitoring Operations: "Espionage Activity" SOURCE: Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union in Russian for abroad 2122 gmt 3 Jul 80; Text of dispatch from London by Vitaliy Chukseyev SECTION: Part 1 The USSR; A. International Affairs; 1. General and Western Affairs; SU/6463/A1/1;
  3. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts February 23, 1981, Monday Black Propaganda by the Overseas Information Department SOURCE: Moscow in English for Gt Britain and Ireland 2000 gmt 20 Feb 81 Text of unattributed commentary, with introduction SECTION: Part 1 The USSR; A. INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS; 1. GENERAL AND WESTERN AFFAIRS; SU/6656/A1/2;