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Advisory Group on Security and Intelligence Records

Minutes of a Meeting held in the Map Room, Ministry of Defence, Corsham on Wednesday 10 September 2008 at 11.00am


Tessa thanked the Ministry of Defence for hosting the meeting. Apologies had been received from Carol Tullo, Michael Brennan and the representatives from GCHQ and Security Service.

1. Publicising the Group

The Secretary reported that since the last meeting there had been a small increase in the number of visits to the Group’s website (to 7 visits each day). There was now a link from the webpage to the TNA’s on line research guide on security and intelligence records and a reciprocal link from the TNA website would be established by the end of the month.

2. Feedback from requests sent to Advisory Group

A small number of enquiries had been sent to the Group’s email address since the meeting in April, one of which had already been sent to the Security Service who had responded. In discussion it was recognised there was a risk that such enquiries could result in the duplication of work already carried out and there might be an unrealistic expectation the Advisory Group would overturn decisions already reached by individual departments and agencies about the release of their records. It was agreed the Secretary should first establish if enquiries had already been referred to relevant departments or agencies before forwarding them to other members of the Group for advice.

In response to a question about WWII intelligence activities in the Iberian Peninsula the enquirer had been referred to a pamphlet `From Bletchley, With Love’ publication by Mavis Batey which had been produced as an accompaniment to the exhibition at Bletchley Park about Ian Fleming (author of the James Bond novels) who had acted as liaison officer between Naval Intelligence and Bletchley Park throughout the war. In addition, the GCHQ Historian has made a number of discretionary releases. These took the form of copies of relevant pages of the Retained volumes of the wartime 'Secret Service SIGINT'. These copies were sent directly to the enquirer.

It had not been possible to help with the other enquiries other than to point to some possibly relevant records already open at The National Archives.

3. Review of the 30 year rule

The Group discussed the implications of any changes to the Public Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act that might arise from the Dacre Report of the Review of the 30 year rule which was expected to report this Autumn.

4. Future Releases of Security and Intelligence Records

FCO were continuing to supplement the SOE holdings at the TNA with formerly withheld records and are reviewing for future release the next tranche of PUSD records covering the period 1939-45. MOD were currently examining material that included Home Guard and Home Defence planning records previously unavailable because they had been inadvertently combined with a large collation of Home Guard attestation papers. A small amount of paper relating to the internal history of GCHQ had recently been found and would be reviewed. The Security Service was continuing with its programme of review. The next releases would take place in March 2009. The Cabinet Secretary Notebook covering the 1956 Suez Crisis was to be released on 1 October.

It was felt that records relating to Northern Ireland were of increasing importance to students and that the Northern Ireland Office should be asked to join the Group.

5. Meeting with post graduate students of Queen Mary College and Corpus Christi

The meeting with students fixed for July had been rearranged to take place on Friday 5 December at 2.00pm in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A lunch would be provided beforehand at 1.00pm for those attending. The intended audience for the meeting was post graduate students who were working with security and intelligence related records. Students would be encouraged to send in advance to the Secretary details of records that would assist with their researches as well as those records already released that they have found to be useful. A list of the names of those attending should also be sent to the Secretary who would forward the lists to the FCO.

6. Future of the Group

The recently published `British Intelligence’ by Stephen Twigge, Edward Hampshire and Graham Macklin had been written using released documents and now provided a useful primer for students starting out in the study of security and intelligence history. Professor Andrew suggested post graduate students might be asked to produce short items based upon newly released documents and that these might be published on the Group’s website. It was agreed that the proposal should be discussed with students at the meeting in December.

Tessa said that although she was to continue working on the current Official History programme she was to due to retire in the near future. Tessa’s contribution had been hugely important to the Group and it was agreed the Group would be glad if it was possible for her to continue to Chair the Group.

Cabinet Office
September 2008