Sunday, May 6, 2012

#BBC #MI5 : The Christmas Tree Files

All BBC employees had a personnel file which included their basic personal details and work record. But there was also a second file. This included ‘security information' collected by Special Branch and MI5, who have always kept political surveillance on ‘subversives in the media’. If a staff member was shortlisted for a job this second file was handed to the department head, who had to sign for it. The file was a buff folder with a round red sticker, stamped with the legend SECRET and a symbol which looked like a Christmas tree. On the basis of information in this file, the Personnel Office recommended whether the person in question should be given the job or not. A former senior BBC executive recalls seeing one journalist’s security file, stamped with a Christmas tree symbol: 'For about twelve years it had recorded notes such as "has subscription to Daily Worker” or “our friends say he associates with communists and CND activists." It is fair to say that there were contemporary memos from personnel officials adding they thought this was ridiculous. But it was still on file.‘
The names of outside job applicants were submitted directly to C Branch of M5. They were then passed on to the F Branch ‘domestic subversion', whose F7 section looks at political ‘extremists', MP’s, lawyers, teachers and journalists. After consulting the registry of files, the names were fed into MI5’s computer, which contains the identities of about a million ‘subversives'.
Once MI5 had vetted an applicant their decision was given in writing to the BBC’s Personnel Office. MI5 never gave reasons for their recommendations. But, quite often, if they said a person was a ‘security risk', that was enough to blacklist him or her permanently. Members of board interviews were advised not to ask questions. And it was only when an executive or editor put pressure on the Personnel Department that MI5's decision was overruled. more