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Retrospective Account of the Counter Subversion Committee by Sir Leslie C Glass

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In this 1972 report Sir Leslie Glass gives a brief retrospective on the Counter Subversion Committee with discussion on its future. The Defence and Oversea Policy (Official) Ancillary Measures sub-committee, DOPO (AM), would become its lineal descendant.

Sir Leslie Charles Glass (c) National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir Leslie Charles Glass
© National Portrait Gallery, London




“Subversion” is a loose term covering both attempts to overthrow governments by illegal, covert and violent means (“hard” subversion) and to overthrow and suborn them by a variety of more open Agencies of Influence (“soft” subversion).

2. As far as HMG is concerned, although we no longer live in a bi-polar world dominated by the cold war, the main threat of subversion comes from Communist Powers. We must not overlook the danger of exploitation of extremist New Left revolutionaries by Communist Powers.

3. We need to re-assess the extent of the danger of Communist subversion. But there is no doubt that it exists. More attention should be paid to Intelligence assessments in this field.

4. The MOD in particular have always been keen to stimulate more active and better planned and coordinated counter subversion.

5. In 1962 an FCO interdepartmental Committee was set up to coordinate the “countering of hostile propaganda, subversion and penetration”, backed by a modest Counter Subversion Fund on the FCO Open Vote.

6. In 1964 this Committee was elevated to a Cabinet Committee under DOPO. The Committee was enjoined to concern itself with hostile subversion from other than Communist sources as well as from Communist sources. A number of Working Groups were set up.

7. This Committee has not fulfilled all its main objectives. In particular it has not proved possible to coordinate open with clandestine counter action, since top secret plans could not be discussed at Working Groups with fairly wide membership.

8. The Working Groups have increasingly concerned themselves with open Agencies of Influence, and since most Departments’ expenditure was limited by annual estimates, the Working Groups have been mostly concerned with modest local projects.

9. Our withdrawal from dependent territories and overseas bases has meant that there were fewer areas with which the Committee were directly concerned. We mainly have to help independent governments combat their own subversion.

10. The merging of FCO, CRO, CO and ODM has meant that the Committee has a less interdepartmental accent.

11. The Committee is not suited for laying down the overall priorities hoped for by the MOD.

12. The Working Groups have, however, stimulated and coordinated a wide view across Agencies of Influence which Departments did not often have time to think about in the course of their ordinary duties, and have proved a valuable lobby for smaller funds and projects otherwise likely to be excluded. For this purpose the Counter Subversion Fund has been very valuable.

13. In 1968 Mr Peck suggested that a new interdepartmental committee should be formed under DOPO which should absorb the policy and priority responsibilities of the Counter Subversion Committee, the Official Committee on Overseas Information and the Committee on Overseas Development Aid - in effect a “Non-Military Influence” Committee. This proposal did not meet with opposition, but never came to anything.

14. The Chiefs of Staff have now set up a Steering Group on “Indirect Military Measures” (later termed Defence Relations) - one of whose objectives is to recommend higher level interdepartmental machinery for ensuring that the “whole field of indirect measures, civil and military, is applied economically and effectively in maintaining and acquiring influence throughout the world in accordance with the priorities of HMG’s policies.”

15. The MOD have consistently pointed out that we are in a situation of world military stale-mate in which the main battle is for influence and claim that the Soviet Union coordinate all their Influence Agencies’  activities much more effectively than we do towards planned policy objectives.

16. It would be nice to have global priorities, but British foreign policy has traditionally been pragmatic and flexible. It is doubtful whether the Soviet Union has a master plan, and it is more likely that it has broad objectives within which it concentrates on effective and rapid exploitation of opportunities.

17. If it is practicable at all to lay down broad foreign policy priorities, the proper body to prepare broad guidelines would seem to be the FCO PUS’ Planning Committee, served by the FCO Planning Staff and the FCO generally.

18. FCO priorities may not always be the same as those of MOD, but closer liaison with MOD Planning Staff at ground level could help reconcile any differences. Serious differences could be referred to DOPO.

19. If we have broad priorities laid down, it would be a good thing to have a periodic study of our main heads of expenditure overseas in different broad geographical areas to see if these correspond with our priorities. Any new policy decisions must be taken in good time to influence the preparation of annual financial estimates. It would be more practicable to improve the machinery by which priorities were borne in mind in the separate departmental annual pre-estimate exercises, than to try to set up a new Priorities Committee covering globally all our Agencies of Influence overseas. In particular, a more coherent policy for military indirect measures could be achieved if priorities were considered at the time of the annual estimates in a special Pre-Estimates Working Group on Military Support Measures.

Future of the Counter Subversion Committee


a. It could be abolished, but in that case more responsibility should be laid on the Heads of geographical Departments for organising and holding regular meetings of “Country or Regional Teams” covering all Agencies of Influence.

b. The Committee could be made into a major Overseas Policy Committee on the lines suggested by Mr Peck. This would become so powerful a Committee that it could hardly avoid getting drawn into major policy priorities, which might make the concept impracticable.

c. The Committee could be kept on “to coordinate our more modest Agencies of Influence. The existence of a small Secretariat provides a stimulus and carries out routine work which would probably otherwise be lacking if this task were left to busy geographical Departments.


(Paragraphs 73-82 of the Report)

21. The Committee should be continued, but “hard” subversion should be dealt with separately and the Committee should be renamed the Overseas Policy Support Measures Committee.

22. The membership should be somewhat changed (paragraph 76); the Secretariat should be reduced (paragraph 79); the geographical Working Groups should be supplemented by certain new functional Working Groups, including one on “Military Support Measures”.

23. The contingency element of the Counter Subversion Fund should be doubled to £50,000 a year. The whole question of providing extra funds to meet new emergency “subversive” situations not foreseen in Departmental annual estimates, should be looked at again.

24. Whitehall Departments and overseas posts should be given new directives on their responsibilities for the field of Counter Subversion and Agencies of Influence.




This paper discusses the future of the above Committee under the following heads:

A. Nature and scale of the threat of hostile subversion.

B. The adequacy of existing machinery for dealing with it.

C. Recommendations.



A. What is “Subversion

“Subversion” is a word used so loosely that it often causes confusion. In totalitarian countries even mild criticism of the Government is regarded as “subversion” and drastically punished. But the classic Western definition of “subversion” is “the attempt to overthrow a constitutional government or an established system or order by illegal and non-constitutional means, including violence (i.e., terrorism and revolution).”

2. Such an attempt might be entirely an indigenous movement, but in many cases is aided by an outside Power by such means as inflammatory propaganda (e.g., through foreign language broadcasts across frontiers), training and arming of insurgents, infiltration of agents, etc.

3. Subversion and insurgency are often the weapons of groups that deeply want change, and change in a hurry, motivated by “social discontent, racial ferment or nationalist fervour.” With more literacy, more broadcasting, more “crisis of expectation”, there is discontent everywhere and change - often violent change - is in the air. It can be argued that in certain cases subversion, escalating to violent revolution, is a form of redress used by down-trodden people against their oppressors, and that there may be cases of subversion which are morally justifiable and historically inevitable.

4. In terms of British foreign policy:

a. in the interests of world stability, violence and revolution, if avoidable, are better avoided, since their consequences are incalculable;

b. for practical purposes the main criterion by which subversion must be judged, must be the hard-headed assessment of whether the new government or form of society likely to emerge, will be hostile to British interests in the broadest sense.

5. HMG has a particular interest in seeing that our enemies do not interfere in and promote the subversion of friendly and neutral governments. We can live with independent neutral or non-aligned governments who genuinely retain their independence. The danger lies in the taking over of a country by a government committed to active hostility to Great Britain and the West and under the influence e.g., of Communist Powers. If enough of the world gets so committed, this may affect the balance of power and endanger Western security; the West cannot afford to abandon the Third World to China and the Soviet Union.

6. While it may be necessary from time to time to deploy resources to meet subversive threats from non-Communist countries such as the UAR and Indonesia, and while we must not under-estimate the New Left, urban guerrillas and revolutionary anarchism, the main continuing subversive threat to the balance of power is from Communist countries, whether from Moscow, Havana, Peking or Vietnam.

7. We no longer live in a bi-polar world dominated by ideological confrontation, and crusading anti-Communism is out of date. But the Soviet Union, for example, uses every opportunity it can to expand its sphere of influence wherever possible without serious risk. Expansion of influence is often done by the traditional methods of a super power - increase of the power and extension of the range of its Navy, politically directed aid, both military and economic, active diplomacy, etc. Often the expansion follows logically by a new super power sliding naturally into the vacuum caused by Western withdrawal. But from time to time the expansion of influence is effected or helped by clandestine subversion and orchestration of minor methods of expanding influence, Tass, Lumumba University (there were 6,000 African students in the Soviet Union in 1968/69), Moscow radio and the Soviet Foreign Language Publishing House may work better than armed force.

8. The term “subversion” is now often used to cover a whole range of methods of widening the Communist Powers’ sphere of influence which are on the surface legal and open as well as those which are illegal and covert. In this sense “counter subversion” is often difficult to distinguish from the problems of international rivalry with which our foreign policy is normally and daily concerned.

9. Important subversive weapons are:

a. the more covert forms of subversion in the classic sense (“hard” subversion) e.g., subversive use of local Communist Parties, the infiltration for subversive purposes of Communist agents into national and international organisations, government departments, armed services, political parties, trade unions, etc., the exploitation of Front organisations, the bribery and blackmailing of important individuals, the exploitation of local grievances and the organising of disorder and violence, ranging from the training of professional agitators and campaigns to demoralise and weaken all forces of law and order, to the training of terrorists and saboteurs, urban guerrilla warfare and insurgency;

b. more open “Agencies of Influence” (“soft” subversion) e.g., open broadcasting into other people’s territories, open dissemination of attributable printed material, cultural work, certain lesser forms of aid, trade fairs and selective trade deals, the granting of scholarships and special training to foreign nationals in Communist countries, provision of advisers and experts of all sorts, the selection and cultivation of individual personalities and groups by subsidised friendship societies, subsidised visits, etc.

10. To cover this wider concept of subversion, the Cabinet Office in 1964 laid down the following definition of subversion for the purpose of the Counter Subversion Committee: “activities other than major political, economic and military measures, intended to weaken or destroy pro-Western strength in any country with the object of gaining the support of that country for the policies of Communist or other hostile powers and eventually bringing it under their control.”

The Scale of Anti-Western Subversion

11. The danger of subversion exists in:

a. the UK itself;

b. dependent territories of the UK;

c. independent countries of the world:

i. developed countries;

ii. developing countries, i.e., the Third World.

12. The objectives of Communist subversion are not merely to outflank the alliances of the West and to destroy Western influence amongst the developing nations, but to damage the West itself by confusing public opinion, lowering its morale and weakening its will to resist. Subversion in the UK is a separate subject to be treated on its own, but there should be increasing scope for cooperating, e.g., with other countries of the EEC to combat possible subversive assaults by the Soviet Union and to cooperate in dealing with the emergence of “New Left” revolutionary groups.

13. But the Counter Subversion Committee has so far been concerned almost entirely with dependent territories, of which there are now only a few small ones left, and with the Third World.

14. We need agreement at a high level in HMG on the scale of the problem. Is there a real danger, as President Kennedy said, of the West being “nibbled to death under conditions of nuclear stale-mate” and is this nibbling to some extent being done by methods of “subversion” which it would be practicable to try and combat?

15. The basic assessment required is long term assessment of the attitude of the Soviet Union and China towards the West. What are the chances of a genuine détente? Is the “cold war” really over or has it merely changed in nature and intensity? High level decision is needed on the Western attitude to e.g., Soviet expansion. Do we try and check it all along the line, or do we acquiesce in a certain expansion of Soviet influence, partly because it cannot be stopped and partly because it may be a good thing if the Soviet Union assumes the responsibilities, as well as the “perks”, of being a super power? It would be useful if the basic current Steering papers on such subjects could be identified for the members of the Counter Subversion Committee.

16. The fact of the expansion of Soviet and Chinese influence e.g., in the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent and Africa, is undeniable. The question is how much of it has been achieved by methods of subversion. The effectiveness of Communist clandestine subversion should perhaps not be exaggerated, since there does not seem to be any government now in the world which has been put there by such methods. But from time to time the expansion of Communist influence is undoubtedly effected or helped by clandestine subversion, and by orchestration of minor “Agencies of Influence”. There is, therefore, a case for more specific and regular threat assessments, geographical or functional, of the effectiveness of Communist Agencies of Influence.

17. The greatest responsibility for identifying and analysing the nature and threat of hostile “subversion” overseas (and indeed for proposing counter measures) lies with our posts overseas and they could, with advantage, be reminded of this aspect of their duties and advised on how to report.

18. In Whitehall the Assessments Staff has accepted that it should be concerned with assessments in this field. In spite of its drastic reduction by 50% this year, IRD is traditionally equipped to assist in a number of such assessments. Relations between the Counter Subversion Committee and JIC(A) and Assessments Staff are close.

19. The type of special global functional assessments which seem desirable are:

a. the methods and scale of clandestine operations other than Intelligence gathering carried out by Soviet and Chinese Intelligence Agencies overseas and the extent of the danger these represent to our interests;

b. a similar report on Communist propaganda, cultural and educational activities and Front organisations (this is in fact prepared annually by IRD);

c. a report on the methods and success of Soviet and Chinese overseas aid, both capital and technical;

d. a report on Communist military “indirect measures”, their policy objectives and success;

e. a report on Communist activities in trade unions overseas.

B. Adequacy of Current Machinery for Counter Subversion

20. Combatting Soviet and Chinese expansion is only one part of our overall foreign policy and much of the FCO is concerned with other important aspects. Much of our overseas Information effort, for example, is concerned with the “soft” projection of Britain to the world generally. The Department of Trade and Industry is concerned to trade wherever possible. The ODA regard rivalry with Communist aid as of minimal importance compared with the other criteria by which they distribute aid. Certain Departments and Agencies are, however, particularly concerned with the checking of Communist expansion. For the Ministry of Defence, with the bulk of its forces in NATO and most of its plans geared to checking the Warsaw Pact forces, the Soviet Union and its allies (with the possible exception of China) are the only dangerous major foreign enemies in sight to the security of this realm. Because of our reduced power, and military withdrawal from overseas territories and bases, there is not much the MOD can directly do to check the expansion of Soviet influence in many Third World regions. But they view with alarm the prospect of such expansion leading to increased strategic facilities for Soviet forces, in the form of rights to use airfields and ports, etc. The MOD have consequently always taken a lead in Whitehall in trying to stimulate more active and better planned and coordinated counter subversion. Now we have few dependent territories, the MOD are unlikely to be directly involved in large counter insurgency operations of the sort we carried out in Malaysia or even Cyprus. In a number of ways they can and do assist certain dependent governments to deal with counter insurgency problems. Our friends and the security services overseas are also directly concerned with gathering intelligence about Communist activities. And by liaison with security and intelligence services of friendly and neutral governments and giving them not only advice on the organisation of their national services in this field, but passing confidential information about Communist activities, our friends and the security service play a major counter subversive role. The Information Research Department of the FCO was specially set up to combat Communist propaganda including ideological propaganda and the exposure throughout the world of Communist methods, tactics and objectives. In the present era when the cold war is regarded as old hat, IRD has had its staff cut by half, and has been given a number of other useful tasks, but its original role remains important. The coming move of the Department into one of the main buildings of the Foreign Office, after years of being ‘out-housed’, should greatly increase the degree to which it is properly used by the political departments of the FCO.

Counter Subversion Committee

21. In 1962 there was a keen perception at a high level in HMG of the then dangers of Russian “cold war” tactics. Consequently substantial extra money was made available for IRD to combat Communist ideology, to provide the answers to Communist propaganda and to expose Communist subversion; the experiment was launched of IRD’s specialist “field officers”; and the Foreign Office set up a small interdepartmental committee called the Counter Subversion Committee for which it provided a Foreign Office Chairman. The Terns of Reference were:

“in the light of such priorities as are required by Departmental policies, to initiate and coordinate plans for projects in territories overseas, designed to counter hostile propaganda, subversion and penetration; to allocate the responsibility for their execution and to review the progress and effectiveness of the consequent operations.”

In a letter from the PUS introducing this Committee to posts on 22 February 1962, the PUS wrote:

“we have been considering how to improve our efforts to combat Communist Bloc operations in such fields as under-cover activities of local Communist parties, infiltration into Government Departments and into trade union and student organisations and to provide a counter to the swift and flexible use by Governments of the Soviet Bloc and China of opportunities offered by international organisations, sponsored visits to the Bloc of influential foreigners and vice versa, the provision of technical aid and training, the provision of scholarships, etc.”

22. The Committee was to be concerned not only with counter measures paid for from the Secret Vote, but with the most effective use for cold war purposes of e.g. propaganda, cultural and technical aid activities provided for in the normal Open Vote estimates.

23. The Committee was particularly charged with trying to find ways and means of exploiting sudden opportunities or meeting sudden emergencies, provision for which had not been made in the annual estimates or which did not fit obviously under any normal head in the estimates. For this purpose a modest Counter Subversion Fund, on the Foreign Office Open Vote, was made available to the Committee. But basically the Committee had to rely on lobbying departments and agencies to use their ordinary funds provided in the annual estimates.

24. In order to assess the extent of local subversive threats, posts were asked if they had adequate staff, to prepare an answer to an Intelligence Questionnaire, covering the whole range of possible hostile subversion methods. Posts with insufficient resources to reply to this Questionnaire, were asked to use it as a list of “indicators” which they might use to stop the emergence of threats.

25. Posts were also asked, unless they were too small to make this practicable, to set up a small group “to keep under regular review, assessment of the relative dangers to our interests in their particular territories of Communist and Communist-sponsored activities in the field covered by the Intelligence Questionnaire and to formulate and submit proposals for counter measures, both covert and overt.”

26. On 1 January 1964, this Committee (largely on MOD’s initiative) was elevated to a Cabinet Committee and the new Terms of Reference were:

“to keep under review threats and potential threats by “subversion” (as defined in paragraph 10 above) to British interests overseas and, where necessary, to recommend and coordinate action to combat such threats.”

27. The composition of the Committee was a Foreign Office Deputy Under-Secretary as Chairman and a Foreign Office Deputy Chairman, also representing IRD. Other Foreign Office members were from IRD, ERD and PUSD, and there were two representatives each from the CRO, CO, MOD, our friends and the Security Service, with a representative of the Department of Technical Cooperation invited when necessary. The Committee was to report, when necessary, to the Defence and Oversea Policy (Official) Committee and carry out tasks given to it by that Committee.

28. In further correspondence it was made clear that the Committee should concern itself as well with hostile subversion from other than Communist sources (e.g., from Indonesia and the UAR).

29. A large number of Working Groups were set up, both on a geographical and functional basis, and a certain number of overseas posts set up counter subversion groups and replied to the Questionnaire. In many cases the replies to the Questionnaire were collected and coordinated by IRD field Officers.

30. From early days the Ministry of Defence had pressed that the Counter Subversion Committee should have not merely a full-time Secretariat, but a full-time Planning Staff of some size to help lay down priorities and produce a coordinated plan for fighting the cold war. This was not accepted owing to the impracticability of having a Planning Staff covering the activities of so many independent Ministries but in 1965 it was agreed that there should be another Secretary authorised, primarily to cover the large range of Commonwealth territories. These two Secretaries were supported by a P.A. a steno typist and an archivist. The rare main meetings of the Committee were also serviced by a Joint Secretary from the Cabinet Office.

Experience since 1964

31. The Committee, while it has had some successes (which have included its general educational value in Whitehall) has never fully fulfilled its original objectives, and it has had to limit itself to a modest range of action.

32. The main limitations have been the following:-

a. The Committee was not equipped to provide the global priorities for which the Ministry of Defence in particular has pressed constantly and unsuccessfully.

b. The possibility of the Committee coordinating open with clandestine counter action rapidly foundered. On the “need to know” basis, it was plainly undesirable that our friends should discuss top secret plans with a number of other members of the Working Groups who were not strictly concerned. Consequently to those to whom “subversion” means clandestine and illegal action, the title “Counter Subversion Committee” for the Committee as at present operating, is misleading.

c. In practice the Working Groups increasingly concerned themselves with the open Agencies of Influence at our disposal, e.g., Information operations including cultural activities, technical aid, security liaison, assistance to police forces and special branch military training, military community relations projects, visits, etc.

d. Since most Departments’ expenditure was pretty strictly limited by the annual estimates, there was not in any case much scope in the course of the year, for major switches of funds, whatever Working Groups might recommend (except of course in the case of emergencies of over-riding importance such as the Malaysian-Indonesian confrontation, Aden and Northern Ireland). So the Working Groups were not able to sponsor any big new projects and were mostly concerned with the modest local projects.

e. Posts abroad were erratic in reporting on this subject and the gradual eradication of IRD field officers reduced the number of detailed replies.

f. Some FCO Departments have been unenthusiastic and have sometimes felt that the Groups covered ground already being dealt with by the normal machinery of Departments. In some emergencies such as Malta and Northern Ireland, Whitehall produced Action Groups which aimed to cover all aspects of the emergency and made Counter Subversion Working Groups for these areas redundant.

g. Our withdrawal from dependent territories and overseas bases has meant that there were much fewer areas with which the Committee was directly concerned.

h. The combining under the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the FCO, CRO, CO and ODA has meant that the Ministry of Defence is now the only non-FCO Ministerial Department on the Committee.

33. On the other hand:

i. the Committee has proved useful particularly for the Information Research Department which is our major agency in combatting Communist propaganda, and exposing Communist ideology and subversive methods; and the Committee has used IRD a great deal.

ii. Some FCO geographical departments have indicated that Counter Subversion Working Groups are useful stimulating and coordinating Groups, which encourage a wide view across Agencies of Influence which Departments do not often have time to think about in the course of their ordinary duties. These Groups have from time to time proved a valuable lobby for smaller funds and projects otherwise likely to be excluded.

iii. The FCO Police and Labour Advisers have from time to time found the forum of Working Groups useful and the MOD in particular have profited from looking at the broad picture in company with the other Departments and Agencies involved.

iv. Relations with the JIC and Assessments Staff are good.

v. The small Open Vote Counter Subversion Fund administered by the Committee’s Secretariat, has proved invaluable to meet small and important projects not covered by existing heads or provided for in the annual estimates.

Previous Efforts to reconstruct the Committee

34. In September 1968 Mr J H Peck, Deputy Chairman of the Counter Subversion Committee, minuted higher to the effect that he found it difficult to separate our Counter Subversion interests and priorities from our general foreign policy interests and policies and planning. On priorities he noted that Planning Staff were undertaking a global exercise (this culminated in the Planning Staff “British Interests Review” 1970). On counter measures he called attention to a Steering Committee paper - SC (68) 6 - circulated by the Planning Staff on 14 August 1968 entitled “Non-Military Means of Influence in the Persian Gulf, South East Asia and Australasia” (i.e., those areas outside Europe from which we had decided to withdraw our forces.) This arose from a memorandum on Foreign Policy circulated by the Secretary of State early in 1968 to his colleagues and endorsed by them. Planning Staff’s covering note foresaw that modest additional expenditure on extending our non-military means of influence in areas from which we were withdrawing militarily could bring in substantial dividends. An inter-departmental Working Party subsequently suggested specific projects for submission to Ministers. In fact this elaborate exercise ran into the sands of financial stringency which caused a reduction in the total “overseas responsibilities” vote in 1968/69, and no money was available for such “new” projects, particularly since they were mostly long term and it was difficult to prove “cost effectiveness”. This depressing exercise, of exactly the sort with which the Counter Subversion Committee is concerned, showed that it is little use going through elaborate planning unless money can be made available.

35. Since the means of influence considered in the above exercises included Cultural and Information work and Technical Assistance, including military and police help, this exercise overlapped the work of the Counter Subversion Committee Working Groups. Mr Peck accordingly proposed that:

a. a new interdepartmental committee should be formed under DOPC (O) which should absorb the policy and priority responsibilities of the Counter Subversion Committee, the Official Committee on Overseas Information and the DVO Committee (on Overseas Development Aid);

b. global priorities, in terms of national interests, should be left to the Planning Staff;

c. possibly through the new machinery, all the Departments in charge of Agencies of Influence, including the ODM, should undertake a pre-estimates planning exercise on the basis of such priorities;

d. the new Committee should put in recommendations for extra expenditure on non-military means of influence.

36. Further discussion of the proposal at a high level produced general agreement that the Cabinet structure of committees on overseas policy could, with advantage, be streamlined; that at that stage, it was too delicate an issue to try and force ODM under a general foreign policy directive as an Agency of Influence; that there was no objection to the merger of a Counter Subversion Committee and the Official Committee on Information; but that it was worth carrying this a stage further and considering whether, through the merger, a new “Non-Military Influence Committee” should be set up. In fact this proposal fizzled out, not so much because of any arguments against it, but because of lack of enthusiasm for change.

Indirect Military Measures

37. The Ministry of Defence, for its part, while strongly in favour of greater use of Agencies of Influence, continued to press for global priorities. The MOD saw, e.g., the provision of certain types of military training, military advisers, arms sales, development of airfields and port facilities, visits by naval forces, etc., as requiring coordination on the basis of the same priorities with e.g., the provision of police advisers, security and Intelligence liaison, fishing and whaling fleet activities and the conclusion of Fishery Agreements, etc. MOD produced a paper - COS 29/71 - called “Influence by Indirect Military Measures” dated 13 April 1971. The Chiefs of Staff subsequently set up a Steering Group on “Indirect Military Measures” (later termed “Defence Relations”) one of whose tasks was to be “to formulate MOD views as to the form of higher level interdepartmental machinery which is needed from which the MOD can receive political guidance and through which coordination with other Departments will be achieved so as best to ensure that the whole field of indirect measures, civil or military, is applied economically and effectively in maintaining and acquiring influence throughout the world in accordance with the priorities of HMG’s policy”. The paper noted that the Counter Subversion Committee, through its Working Groups, operated effectively within its limited terms of reference, hut that it did not cover the whole field of indirect measures, and had virtually no powers of direction.

38. The Ministry of Defence are right in pointing out the value of “Defence Relations” (which relatively cost little and often have a profitable defence sales spin-off), in establishing our influence overseas. Many Governments throughout the world are military, and influence with them can often be greatly helped by use of Service channels and provision of military aid. The MOD claim that the USSR is adept at coordinating indirect military measures for policy aims and points to their success in the Horn of Africa, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and in Iraq and the Arab world generally.

39. It may be we should re-examine the resources at present available for defence relations, consider whether we should spend more on them and re-examine the relevant organisation within the MOD, which was not established or funded to deal with increased responsibilities for defence relations (the MOD’S internal Defence Relations Working Group is doing just this).

40. We should also, giving the changing pattern of our interests, and pressures on our manpower and money, examine the coordination of requests on the MOD from the FCO in the field of defence relations.

41. Nevertheless, while the MOD have justifiably a special interest in seeing that Communist expansion of any sort is checked, it has to be borne in mind that “defence relations” are a comparatively minor part of HMG’s Agencies of Influence, and that most of these come on civil estimates and within the responsibility of other Departments than the MOD.

Priorities and Policy Coordination

42. The Ministry of Defence have consistently made the following points:

a. we are in a situation of world military stale-mate in which the main battle is for influence;

b. our enemies, e.g., the Soviet Union, seem to coordinate all their Influence Agencies’ activities towards planned policy objectives;

c. we ought to do the same.

43. Planned policy objectives involve priorities and one suggestion has been made that there should be set up a new interdepartmental Cabinet Priorities Committee, subordinate to DOPO, and above the Counter Subversion Committee, which should assess priorities for areas and countries for British assistance of all kinds (e.g., covering all our Agencies of Influence) to discover whether there are gaps in our coverage and to propose suitable ways in which they might be filled.

44. But priorities for “Agencies of Influence” would be difficult to distinguish from, and would in any case be greatly affected by, our overall foreign policy priorities for which the Committee would have to look higher still. And it is essential to bear in mind that British foreign policy overall is concerned with many other things than combatting Soviet or Chinese expansion.

45. There are of course obvious limits to the laying down of foreign policy priorities and the devising of a coordinated foreign policy. British foreign policy has traditionally been pragmatic and flexible. The premises on which our policy is based sometimes change overnight, e.g., by coups d’état, discovery of oil or other important mineral resources, etc. In the field of foreign policy it would be fatal to become too “schematic” or computer minded. It is doubtful indeed whether the Soviet Union has a master plan of coordinated foreign policy. More likely the USSR has broad objectives, and within these concentrates on effective and rapid exploitation of opportunities as they present themselves, e.g., in Bangladesh or Iraq. Furthermore, except in wartime, it is difficult for us to orchestrate all our foreign relations towards specific foreign policy objectives. The Communist Powers, for example, use aid and trade (in particular bulk purchases of primary products) for political objectives. We have in the past been inclined to regard aid on altruistic long term principles, and we trade wherever we can, more or less regardless of politics.

46. If in spite of these serious reservations, an attempt is to be made at least to try and lay down broad foreign policy priorities, whose responsibility is it to attempt this? It is the primary responsibility of the FCO to formulate our foreign policy priorities. Our overall overseas policy has to be decided by Ministers in DOPC (M) or in full Cabinet in the light of FCO submissions. So the proper body to prepare broad guidelines would seem to be the FCO PUS’ Planning Committee, served by the FCO Planning Staff, and by all relevant FCO Departments. It is the FCO as a whole which acts as the Whitehall Secretariat for planning, coordinating and organising the execution of our Foreign Policy across the board.

47. If a Steering paper is to be produced and annually revised, the role of the FCO Planning Staff seems clear. The charter of the Planning Staff laid down in November 1968 says: “the aim of planning in the FCO is broadly to assess British interests and priorities.” The object of having Planners is described as providing staff who have time to think ahead and to maintain an “overall view of objectives”, and the charter makes special reference to “the need to evolve priorities for the deployment of limited resources.” Planning Staff have already made an important start in the direction of broad guidance on priorities by their paper: “Priorities for British Interests Overseas Country by Country”. But when deciding priorities for UK assistance to countries, there are many considerations to be borne in mind other than the size of our interests, e.g., extent of hostile threats to our influence in the area and the extent of opportunity for action by us.

48. And if we have broad priorities, the only way of checking whether our resources are being used in accordance with priorities, is to have a periodic study of our main heads of expenditure overseas in different broad geographical areas to see if these correspond with our priorities.

49. The Head of Planning Staff has commented that FCO priorities may not always be the same as MOD, but it is at least Planning Staff’s task to do the ground work on FCO priorities and the more these can be reconciled with the MOD on ground level, the better. This would seem to imply close liaison with MOD Planning Staff either by the attachment of an MOD Planning Liaison Officer to the FCO Planning Staff, or by regular circulation of FCO papers to the MOD Planners.

50. If any serious differences arose between MOD and FCO on priorities, these could be referred to the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee (Official or Ministerial) the title of which speaks for itself. There would be something to be said for an annual meeting of the PUS Steering Committee followed by an annual meeting of DOPC (O) or of the DOPC (M).

51. The Head of Planning Staff has also commented that the present resources of Planning Staff could not cope with a periodic review of overseas expenditure. But if we are to check whether our expenditure is following our priorities, it would seem that someone would have to do it.

52. Mr Cable has also made the valid point that threats to British interests are very various and sometimes come from our friends (e.g., the American import surcharge). It might, therefore, be better, he suggests, instead of producing centrally one comprehensive and cumbrous list, for each Department or Agency to produce its own assessment of threats within its particular sphere. This is true enough and the priority paper for general guidance could only be on very broad lines.

53. Given broad direction, the question remains of priorities within each of our major Agencies of Influence and their coordination. The nub of the matter is that active implementation of policy depends almost entirely on the financial resources available and the bulk of our overseas expenditure is fixed annually. Any policy decisions must, therefore, be taken in good time to influence the preparation of annual financial estimates. In practice the Information Departments, FCO Establishment Departments, ODA, etc., all work out their own priorities under such general guidance as they can get from the FCO early each year. The Information Departments and the ODA have annual pre-estimates committee meetings for this purpose. It would seem more practicable to improve the machinery by which our overall foreign policy objectives and priorities (and any special considerations such as Counter Subversion considerations) are fairly borne in mind in these separate Departmental annual exercises, than to try to set up a new Priorities Committee, covering globally all our Agencies of Influence overseas. Such a Committee would have a most unwieldy task and a great deal of staff work to prepare the basic papers for it would be needed.

54. Apart from its constant call for a more coordinated foreign policy, particularly in the fields of counter subversion in its broad sense, the MOD is specifically concerned with getting global priorities and guidance for the deployment of its resources under the heading of “Defence Relations” or “Overseas Military Support Measures”. This “Agency of Influence” is useful, but comparatively minor, since it covers mainly manpower for training overseas and places for overseas trainees in the UK. The scope of the term perhaps needs to be precisely defined.

55. The Defence Department of the FCO is the liaison Department responsible for providing political guidance to the MOD. The difficulty arises when defence considerations and wider political considerations are not the same. If some special piece of machinery is needed other than interdepartmental discussion on such matters, and if MOD feel happier with a Cabinet structure, a functional Working Croup of the main Counter Subversion Committee (perhaps to be named the “Agencies of Influence Committee” or the “Overseas Policy Support Measures Committee”) on the lines of the PSYOPS Working Group and called the Military Support Measures Working Group, would perhaps meet MOD’s case. This Group could be chaired by FCO AUS (Defence), Differences in this field which hardly seem big enough to go up to DOPO, could be remitted to the main Committee. The main Committee could deal with specific operations and would only be likely to refer higher to DOPO if it recommended that there was serious need for raising the ceiling and spending more money overall on military support measures in order to preserve our influence overseas.

56. On the assumption that although some money may be available for switches in the middle of the year, the funds for Defence Relations and places in military academies are fixed at the time of the annual estimates, perhaps an annual exercise could be undertaken by which:

a. the MOD passes to FCO a statement of its financial and personnel availabilities in the field of Defence Relations;

b. FCO Defence Department ask FCO geographical departments to consult posts and to put in bids for regional priorities;

c. FCO AUS (Defence) calls an annual meeting of the Working Group suggested above to try to allot priorities between regions and consider the level of proposed expenditure.

57. Minor changes of emphasis in this field and coordination with other activities could be achieved by the MOD’s membership of the geographical Working Groups under the main Committee.

Future of the Counter Subversion Committee

58. There are three possibilities for the future of the present Counter Subversion Committee:

a. that it should be abolished altogether;

b. that its functions should be greatly increased;

c. that it should continue somewhat on the present lines, with certain improvements and modifications.

59. The first possibility is the complete abolition of the Counter Subversion Committee, its Working Groups and its Secretariat on the ground that its results are hardly worth the time and trouble involved. Paragraph 3.2 above gives some of the difficulties the Committee has met with in practice.

60. There is a case for abolition, but if it were so decided, clearer responsibilities would have to be laid upon all Departments concerned:

a. Posts would have to be given new instructions on regular reporting on local subversive threats (perhaps the Country Assessments sheets could in future be expanded by a couple of lines to cover threats to our influence by expansion of hostile influence).

b. Heads of geographical Departments should be given strict instructions to hold a quarterly “Country or Regional Team” meeting of all the Agencies of Influence (including of course representatives of the MOD) operating in their area, to discuss both the general picture and to consider special projects. The “Country or Regional Team” meetings could also be called ad hoc in the case of any special emergency.

c. The meetings could be chaired by the supervising FCO Assistant Under-Secretary of the geographical Department of the FCO involved and a Secretary provided by that Department.

d. Now that IRD will be in one of the main FCO buildings for the first time, the IRD Regional Officers could be used by the main geographical Departments as advisers in certain Counter Subversion fields.

e. The Counter Subversion Fund, which has proved invaluable, should be doubled in size. On abolition of the Committee and Secretariat, the Fund should be handed over to IRD for operation; it would require half a body of at least 7.A grade to operate it properly.

f. Since as a matter of administrative convenience, the Counter Subversion Committee Secretariat also handles all in and out traffic of JIC papers for IRD, abolition of the Secretariat would also mean an extra commitment for IRD staff to take on.

g. The need for overall priorities and coordination of our Agencies of Influence could be met as suggested in paragraphs 42 ff above.

61. The above would be a tidy solution since it would retain the clear chain of command with the post and the FCO geographical desks maintaining their primary responsibility for policy and coordination of our overseas relations.

62. The second possibility is that the Committee should be made into a major overseas policy committee on the lines suggested by Mr Peck in 1968 (see paragraph 35). The Committee should be re-named the “Overseas Policy Support Measures Committee” and should be combined with the Official Committee on Overseas Information and the Committee on Overseas Development Aid. It should also cover indirect military means of influence (Defence Relations). Its membership should be increased to include representatives of the DTI and Treasury and it might have to cover overseas diplomatic representation also.

63. The main task of the Committee should be to examine in the light of broad priorities, approved by DOPO, the estimates for the next year, both in total and in relative proportion by geographical areas, of all our overseas Agencies of Influence. It could make recommendations to Ministers on whether expenditure under any of these heads should be varied or increased.

64. This would, in many respects, constitute the sort of counter measures and priorities committee envisaged by the MOD, parallel to the JIC and served by its own Secretariat.

65. This would be a very powerful piece of machinery. It would find itself covering the whole range of our overseas “Influence” expenditure. The Committee could hardly confine itself to considering this expenditure purely in the light of the threat of hostile expansion. It would in fact cover so much of our overseas policy, that it could hardly avoid getting drawn into major policy priorities. (The ODA will need some persuading to accept that Aid is an Agency of Influence).

66. The responsibilities of the FCO for formulating our foreign policy priorities would be affected, so that very high level consideration within the FCO would be required before such a Committee could be set up as a Cabinet Committee outside the FCO. It would, need a great deal of preparatory work done for it by Whitehall Departments. This broad review of expenditure, if essential, could better be done by FCO Planning Staff for submission to PUS’ Steering Committee and thence to DOPC, rather than by having another high level interdepartmental Cabinet Committee subordinate to DOPC.

67. Priorities within main departmental heads could best be dealt with by ensuring that broad foreign policy priorities (including counter subversive considerations) should be fully borne in mind by Departments when they are doing their annual estimates exercises.

68. The third possibility (which on balance and subject to other views would seem to be the most reasonable proposition) would be the retention of the present Counter Subversion Committee.

69. One reason for keeping it on is that there is once again (this is a cyclical matter) considerable interest amongst Ministers and MPs on the whole question of subversion and the spread of Communist influence overseas, and this seems the wrong ideological moment to abolish a piece of potentially useful machinery.

70. While the pursuing of projects under all the different Agencies of Influence could be done departmentally, it is generally agreed that both posts and desks are usually pre-occupied with their day-to-day crises. Consequently they need some stimulus to accept that proper use of even our more modest Agencies of Influence could bring important returns, to think broadly from time to time across the whole field of these Agencies and to coordinate them on special objectives or in special areas. Experience has also shown that better cooperation can be obtained, e.g., from the ODA, the Labour Adviser, the Police Adviser and the MOD, if there are regular Working Groups at which the Head of the political department describes the problems of the area and our political objectives and there is general discussion of what could be done to achieve our ends. The Heads of geographical Departments regularly change and continuity is lost; some Heads of Departments have little interest in Agencies of Influence. The Departments are too busy to service “Country Team” meetings and prepare documentation. If there were no Counter Subversion Committee Secretariat, it would be likely that in fact “Country Team” meetings or “Working Group” meetings would not be held. There is, therefore, value in the existence of a small Secretariat able to provide a stimulus and do the routine work. There is also value in the Secretariat being in close touch with JIC (A) and Assessments Staff, watching for the emergence of situations which might require a Working Group and providing the stimulus for such a Group to meet.

71. When the Committee was first set up as an interdepartmental Cabinet Committee, it reconciled the views of several different Departments. Most of these Departments, e.g., the CRO, the CO and the ODM, are now under the aegis of the combined FCO. The DTI, which operates on quite different criteria, is not a suitable member of the Committee. So the only outside Department is the MOD, whose own budget is only marginally affected by the work of the Committee. For this reason and since the Committee has in the past functioned mainly as an operational Committee, which hardly ever recommended upwards to Ministers, there is a case for the Committee reverting to being an FCO Committee. Possibly, however, in order that their representations on the need to counter Communist expansion should be given full weight, the MOD would prefer the Committee to remain an interdepartmental Cabinet Committee under DOPO.

C. Recommendations

72. The Defence and Oversea Policy Committee should be invited to endorse the principle that “as our direct military presence overseas is reduced, the case for stepping up modest expenditure on measures of influence is increasing, particularly in view of the creeping expansion of Russia’s military presence and influence.”

73. The Committee on countering Overseas subversion should be continued. Unless the MOD feel strongly on the Committee remaining a Cabinet Committee, consideration should be given to the Committee reverting to being an FCO Committee.

74. The fact that it does not deal with “hard” subversion but rather with more open Agencies of Influence, should be recognised and the Committee should be re-named the “Overseas Policy Support Measures Committee.”

75. A Working Group on the countering of “hard” subversion should be set up outside the Committee. Recommendations on this subject have been submitted to Sir Stewart Crawford in a separate Top Secret memorandum.

76. The Committee should continue to be chaired by the Deputy FCO Under-Secretary (Defence and Intelligence). Since the responsibilities of the CRO and the CO and the ODM have now devolved on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the membership should be slightly changed and it should now be:-

Chairman      FCO (Deputy Under-Secretary - Defence and Intelligence)

Deputy Chairman      FCO (Asst. Under-Secretary - Culture and Information)

2 representatives from MOD

FCO Asst. Under-Secretary (Export Promotion Financial Policy and Aid)

1 representative from ODA (Technical Assistance)

1 representative from PUSD

1 representative of our friends

FCO. Asst. Under-Secretary (Defence)

77. Representatives of FCO geographical Departments, Information and Cultural Departments, the FCO Labour Adviser and Police Adviser and representatives of the Security Service could be coopted to Committee meetings if the need arose.

78. The existing geographical regional Working Groups should be supplemented by functional Working Groups on:

i. Military Support Measures (chaired by FCO AUS - Defence);

ii. Information and Cultural Relations;

iii. Military Psychological Operations (chaired by FCO AUS - Information)

iv. Labour Relations, [and], v. Technical Assistance  (chaired by FCO AUS - Aid)

79. The Committee Secretariat should be reduced to:

One First Secretary

One Asst. Grade 7 (who would have the main responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the Counter Subversion Fund)

One P.A.

One Typist

80. The contingency element of the Counter Subversion Fund should be doubled in size to £50,000 a year.

81. The whole question of the switching of funds or the demands for new funds to meet new situations in the field of overseas Agencies of Influence, should be looked at separately to see if the mechanism for the submission of supplementary estimates to meet unforeseen emergencies should be revised. Consideration should be given to deliberately providing ODA technical assistance with a regular contingency element.

82. Whitehall Departments and overseas posts should be given new directives on their responsibilities in the field of counter subversion and Agencies of Influence.

 L C Glass,
Joint Secretary,
Counter Subversion Committee

3 May 1972



[Source: TNA CAB 164/1161, transcribed by]



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