The Changing Cold War Definition of Espionage
Written by: (Contributed) on 30 January 2022
A 'spy scandal' on the eve of the AUKMIN high-level talks in Canberra, has revealed all the hallmarks of a Cold War drama played-out against a backcloth of rising US-led diplomatic tensions with China.
A number of interesting points have emerged, which give cause for serious concerns: reference to official government and military documents from the previous Cold War, moreover, show distinct similarities with recent developments and the present one, particularly in Australia.
In mid-January an official British government media release announced their intelligence service, MI5, had warned parliamentarians about a certain Christine Lee, who was regarded as 'suspected Chinese spy … active in Westminster … working with a member of parliament, obviously to subvert the processes here'. (1) Seemingly secret correspondence to the Speaker of the House of Commons, had been leaked to the press. Lee, it was noted, was from Hong Kong ethnic origins, although grew up in Northern Ireland. She was noted as being a successful business-woman who had made large financial donations to various political parties, including the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats. (2)
Extensive media coverage in UK tabloids contained numerous photos of Lee in the presence of high-ranking government officials including Theresa May, former Prime Minister. None, however, contained any in the presence of Boris Johnson, present PM, who is fighting to clear his name following allegations of impropriety and reference to a seven-hour drinking session with numerous colleagues and staffers on the eve of the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh when such gatherings were banned under pandemic regulations. Johnson has continued to deny any wrongdoing and referred to the seven hours concerned as 'work related'. It has, nevertheless, been noted 'some of those present were said to have used and also broken a slide belonging to Mr Johnson's son, Wilfred', and carried on drinking until at least 1 am. (3) No wonder such people cling onto the trappings of parliamentary office which include ready access to security personnel.
It was, furthermore, noted that while Lee had been under surveillance for sometime, she had not been arrested and was not under threat of 'being expelled'. (4) In fact, it was stated by the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, that she had 'already made it clear that Ms. Lee's actions were under the criminal threshold', indicating no laws had been broken. (5) The British Official Secrets Act has provided a clear and concise definition of espionage. The question of deportation, likewise, has carried a hollow ring; Lee is a British citizen. One can but question where she might be considered for deportation.
Why Lee has been treated with such contempt would appear to have followed her involvement with a number of British-based organisations dealing with China. Her Birmingham-based law firm has also conducted work on behalf of the Chinese Embassy in London. (6) Action was only taken by MI5, however, after Lee travelled to China to attend the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party using her real name, Li Zhenju. (7) No comment was provided about her previous role with involvement with the all-party parliamentary group, Chinese in Britain, and representing other organisations at the highest level of China's political system.
Such moves carry all the hallmarks of Cold War paranoia: while a senior Conservative Party politician referred to the Lee case as 'just the tip of an ice-burg', no further evidence was provided to substantiate the allegation and everything Lee was accused of had been conducted quite openly. (8) Espionage, by its very nature, is invariably conducted on the clandestine basis to avoid detection and for the maintenance of secret networks of agents. The developments, therefore, indicate a changing definition of the term espionage, to serve the narrow-minded paranoid interests of those welding class and state power in Britain and elsewhere, within US-led coalitions and alliances, including Australia, through the Commonwealth and the recent military alliance.
And then there is the question of who was actually responsible for the surveillance of Lee and subsequent leaking of the confidential memo correspondence. MI5, by its very nature, has always remained reluctant to publicise recruitment patterns although from the type of official spokes-people they rely upon would appear to recruit personnel from the higher echelons of British society. Recent studies of British cricket teams has, perhaps, provided an appropriate insight into such matters: white men, from elite private schools, are 34 times more likely to become professional cricketers than state-educated Asians, and it has been noted racism exists 'at every level of the game'. (9) The intelligence services are unlikely to be much different. (10)
Reference to government and military documents from the previous Cold War have provided a useful benchmark to measure the extent of the present Cold War and how it affected whole societies during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1963 an official Australian army publication, for example, drew attention to what they regarded as 'the unseen foe' in an official briefing about the Communist Party. (11) It drew attention to the military role in civil society to identify what were regarded as fellow travellers and secret supporters which existed in an ice-burg type political organisation where only one-ninth were open members and referred to as 'soap-boxers'. The remaining eight-ninths were regarded as dangerous for their ability to conduct espionage, sabotage and subversion without detection. The latter was also sub-divided into five further categories: infiltration, propaganda, use of front-organisations, creation of fractions, and blackmail, intimidation and terrorism. Legal organisations including trade-unions, peace organisations and cultural groups were all regarded as disloyal to those wielding class and state power. (12)
Other, similar publications, likewise, also provide a morbid vision of Australia where 'the agents of international Communist conspiracy … and their front organisations … aim … to seize control'. (13) It is also important to note in military publications from the previous Cold War there was a blurred and seemingly indifferent approach to counter-insurgency operations off-shore in Asia and civil operations inside Australia. One, for example, noted four areas of civil society targeted for control by the military: government functions and public health, economic functions, public functions and special functions including dealing with displaced people. (14) The issue of the previous Cold War was dealt with in a terse fashion, on the basis of a progression to limited war and general war preparations. (15)
Stabilisation programs, in civil society, included reference to the military working in close contact with local authorities to establish 'an effective intelligence organisation … to … destroy the enemy forces'. (16) Contingency planning for the military to seize control of Region One, the north-east area of England, likewise, emerged during the late 1970s. It provided a chilling picture of a post coup-type environment devoid of any civil liberties with an emergency broadcasting system for government censored information covering the whole country, while regional decision-makers and the military hid in bunkers. (17)
In 1980 an official intelligence document surfaced in London about James Hogg, who was a trade-union shop steward at Carnation Foods in Dumfries, Scotland. It had been addressed to the headquarters of MI5 in Westminster. The report, from a Detective Hunter, identified Hogg by his National Insurance number, and needless to state, relied 'solely on hearsay information from inside the factory … including that … it is thought by management … and … this situation will be monitored and any further development will be reported in due course'. (18) It was noted information in the report about political affiliations was totally incorrect and based upon associations outside the workplace.
With the onset of the present Cold War we appear to be re-living our past; those in control of class and state power are not only identifying dissidents and those conducting espionage, but those who 'may' possess the ability to become dissidents or subversives at some future time. The profiling is, at best, highly questionable. Under similar circumstances, for example, anyone conducting trade-union and solidarity work could be labelled a threat to the existing order by a faceless wonder inside the corridors of power relying upon information from spurious sources, with all which that entails.
These are dangerous precedents: recent developments in Britain reveal just how those in control respond to challenge; and how their intelligence services can be relied upon to do their dirty work by 'leaking' information to public sources to achieve questionable objectives. In these troubled times of the present Cold War:
We need an independent foreign policy!
1. MI5 outs China spy mixing with M.P.s, The Weekend Australian, 15-16 January 2022.
2. Pictured, The Daily Mail (U.K.), 21 January 2022.
3. Boris beefs up team to save job, Australian, 24 January 2022; and, UK police to probe,
The New Daily, 26 January 2022.
4. Daily Mail, op.cit., 21 January 2022.
5. Chinese spy Christine Lee, Sky News, 14 January 2022.
6. Weekend Australian, op.cit., 15-16 January 2022.
8. Daily Mail, op.cit., 21 January 2022.
9. White British cricketers, The Guardian (U.K.), 21 November 2021; and, The class ceiling, The Guardian (U.K.), 8 October 2020.
10. See: The Human Factor, Graham Greene, (London, 1978), which has provided a fascinating insight into the everyday life of the British intelligence services as they plod around the corridors of power.
11. The Unseen Foe, Captain J. J. Donohue, Australian Intelligence Corps, Australian Army Journal, March 1963, Albert Park Barracks, Melbourne, pp. 24-33.
13. Communism versus Australia, Warrant Officer J. P. Shaddick, Royal Australian Infantry, Australian Army Journal, July 1963, Albert Park Barracks, Melbourne, pp. 31-38.
14. Civil Affairs, Section 17, The Division in Battle, Organisation and Tactics, No. 1, Military Board, Army Headquarters, Canberra, 1 June 1966, pp. 50-51.
15. Ibid., page 71.
16. Counter Insurgency Operations, Section 15, Infantry Training, The Platoon, Vol. 4, Army Headquarters, Canberra, ACT., 1 May 1967, pp. 144-149.
17. Region One, and Supplement, Martin Spence, (Newcastle, UK, May 1978 and April 1979), pp. 1-33, and, 1-25.
18. MI5 spy on unionist, State Research, (London, 1980), Bulletin No. 20, page 11.
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