The BBC finally admits that MI5 secretly vetted its employees, an open secret for generations

Boing Boing– April 23, 2018

My wife — whose father is a TV director who’d worked for the BBC — learned as a little girl that the British spy agency MI5 secretly vetted people who applied for work at the BBC and denoted possible subversives by putting a doodle of a Christmas tree on their personnel files; people who were thus blacklisted were discriminated against within the Beeb.

This practice — which continued into the 1990s — has been an open secret for generations, but the BBC has always officially denied it.

Now, the BBC has allowed Paul Reynolds, one of its reporters, to look at its “vetting files” and publish his findings. He found that long after MI5 lost interest in spying on BBC workers, the BBC was still enthusiastic about the practice, with senior managers fighting against scaling back the practice. The BBC also lied to the press, the public, and Parliament about the process. Potential hires were blackballed for belonging to “radical” organisations, but could also be denied employment just for being associated with members of the Communist Party — for example, for belonging to organisations whose members included CP members.

If MI5 found something against a candidate, it made one of three “assessments” in a kind of league table:

* Category “A” stated: “The Security Service advises that the candidate should not be employed in a post offering direct opportunity to influence broadcast material for a subversive purpose.”

* Category “B” was less restrictive. The Security Service “advised” against employment “unless it is decided that other considerations are overriding”.

* Category “C” stated that the information against a candidate should not “necessarily debar” them but the BBC “may prefer to make other arrangements” if the post offered “exceptional opportunity” for subversive activity.

The BBC procedure was in principle never to employ someone in Category “A”, though a few did get through the net. This contradicted its public position that the BBC controlled all appointments. In theory, it did. In practice, it gave that choice to MI5 in Category “A” cases.

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