Saturday, 28 October 2017

The Declassified Files – A First Look

Disclaimer: I was employed by the BBC at the time of the 1982 war, and continue to be so. However, this is an entirely personal blog post, reflecting only my views.

Secret and not-so-secret

Radio Atlantico del Sur was not a "clandestine" station in any sensible use of that term, which is often over-employed in connection with political- or military-motivated broadcasting.

Its launch on the evening of 19 May 1982 was preceded that morning by an announcement to the press by the Ministry of Defence that the MoD would be running the station and be responsible for its content, that it would use a requisitioned shortwave transmitter at the BBC Atlantic Relay Station on Ascension Island, and that the Defence Secretary would be accountable to parliament for its operation. The time and frequency of transmissions was given.

The launch was prominently covered in the following day's British press.

So, definitely not "clandestine", though a number of details of RAdS's operations were kept secret, including the identities of its staff and the location of its studio. This is hardly surprising as its sole purpose was to broadcast to forces with whom Britain was in military conflict.

But it's been been surprising that RAdS has kept its secrets for so long.

After the war

Neil ffrench-Blake's identity as Radio Atlantico del Sur's civilian manager emerged in the 1980s, though apparently without attracting any attention beyond that of specialist radio historians and enthusiasts. (The earliest mention of ffrench-Blake's involvement that I've been able to find is in a November 1988 programme on Radiofax, which targeted such enthusiasts.)

More information about RAdS was given in 2005 with publication of Volume 2 of The Official History of the Falklands Campaign by Lawrence Freedman. This used material in still-classified files to give an outline of the efforts to set up the station and the opposition these faced within the British government. It also disclosed that the official codename for the project was MOONSHINE.

But the Official History covered Radio Atlantico del Sur all too briefly. It said almost nothing about the content of the broadcasts and named no-one on RAdS's staff.

More recent years

The last two years have seen many more details emerge about Radio Atlantico del Sur, most obviously with the publication in 2015 of Neil ffrench-Blake's fascinating memoirs.

In that time, previously classified files have also become available to the public in the National Archives, and we are indebted to Lee Richards for finding them and transcribing some of the key documents they contain to be posted on his website. Documents on which Lee has performed this valuable service include:

Report on Psy Ops in OP CORPORATE – This is a key official document, written shortly after the 1982 war as an overall retrospective. (Operation CORPORATE was the MoD codename for the entire South Atlantic Campaign.) It is contained in MoD file DEFE 24/2254, released in June 2017, and was published on in July 2017.

Radio Atlantico del Sur - Programming - Interim Assessment – This is also a key document for RAdS researchers. It was written by ffrench-Blake in early May 1982, before the start of RAdS's broadcasts, and contained his suggestions for the station's objectives and methods. It is contained in FCO file 26/2449 and was published on in July 2016.

Summary of Programme No. 1, 19 May 1982 – Contained in MoD file DEFE 24/2254 and published on in July 2017. 

Summary of Programme No. 2, 20 May 1982 – Contained in FCO file 26/2449 and published on in November 2015.

Summary of Programme Nos. 39/40, 11/12 June 1982 – Contained in MoD file DEFE 25/502 and published on in September 2017.

Summary of Programme Nos. 41/42, 12/13 June 1982 – Contained in MoD file DEFE 25/502 and published on in September 2017.

The most recent files

Further files were declassified and released in September 2017. I am extremely grateful to Lee Richards for passing their contents to me to use in research for this blog. The files in question are:

MoD file DEFE 69/1006 (10 pages)
MoD file DEFE 69/1026 (43 pages)
MoD file DEFE 25/502 (137 pages)
Foreign Office file FCO 26/2449 (141 pages)
Cabinet Office file CAB 164/1611 (322 pages)

What have I found so far?

The files contain a wealth of information and it will take me some time – I'm estimating a few months – to fully understand all the material and exploit it appropriately in this blog. I've already spotted enough for several posts.

For example, I've found Bernard Ingham's infamous letter of 10 May 1982 denouncing plans for Project MOONSHINE, allowing me to update what I wrote about the letter in my blog post The Wrong Sort of Spanish?

I've been able to confirm ffrench-Blake's authorship of the key "Interim Assessment" document described above. In his memoirs, ff-B quoted from this document and said explicitly that he wrote it. I must confess that I had wondered if that was really the case. Perhaps, I thought, it had been written instead as an instruction to ff-B by the military officers who ran the Special Projects Group (SPG) which devised and oversaw Project MOONSHINE.

There is at least one version of the "Interim Assessment" in the files, and one of them – marked as a Draft for discussion – is described as being by the "Project Manager", surely a reference to ffrench-Blake. An introductory note explains: "It assesses subjectively his current thinking about the potential of the operation as a whole, with particular reference to programming opportunities and objectives." 

This draft version of the "Interim Assessment" is dated 10 May and is in MoD file DEFE 25/502. It is interesting to see that its wording differs very slightly from a later version found in FCO file 26/2449 (which is the version on This later version was among papers submitted on 12 May to the War Cabinet when authorisation was being sought to proceed with Project MOONSHINE. 

I've also learnt from the files the names of the three key officers who ran the SPG.

On this point, I should say that I have decided not to name anyone directly connected with the station unless I can see that they've put their own names in the public domain, acknowledging that they worked with RAdS.

I'm hoping that by doing so I might gain the confidence of any staff still alive who might wish to contact me with their memories, with the assurance that I will respect their desire for anonymity.

SPG 020

One document I was very excited to find is "Annex A to SPG 020" dated 28 April 1982. I had been aware for some time of the existence of this document but this was my first chance to read it. 

SPG 020, which went through at least one revision, crops up several times in the MOD and FCO files as it was circulated around government. 

"Annex A to SPG 020" is quite simply the Special Projects Group's five-page proposal to start Project MOONSHINE. It has two appendices: Neil ffrench-Blake's CV and an organisational chart for RAdS's staff.

The studio location 

SPG 020 sets out many interesting details. It also resolves one of the enduring mysteries about Radio Atlantico del Sur – the location of its studios. 

I might well make that the subject of my next post on this blog.

© 2017. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.

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