Wednesday, 22 November 2017

"The codeword for this operation is MOONSHINE"

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.

Acknowledgement: I continue to be happy to express my gratitude to professional researcher Lee Richards for making available a number of declassified files from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Cabinet Office relating to British information and psychological operations in the Falklands War, including MOONSHINE, the codename for Radio Atlantico del Sur. Material from these files forms the basis for this blog post.

"SPG 020" and "Paper No 6"

On 28 April 1982, the colonel in charge of the Ministry of Defence's Special Projects Group (SPG) circulated within government a document called "Annex A to SPG 020" (or SPG 020 for short as I call it). 

SPG 020 set out the plan to set up a shortwave station, Radio Atlantico del Sur, to broadcast to Argentine forces in the Falklands. A revised version of SPG 020 was circulated the following day.

SPG 020 ran into immediate opposition from the Foreign Office. In an attempt to answer the FCO's objections to the proposed radio station, the SPG issued a further revised document on 3 May.

This document  "Special Projects Group - Paper No 6"  also added to the plans given in SPG 020, notably on the financial costs of using a requisitioned transmitter at the BBC's Ascension Island relay station, and the implications for the BBC's own services of losing the use of one of the four Ascension transmitters at certain times of day.

I have transcribed the text of "Paper No 6" below. Copies of the original document can be found in the National Archives in MoD file DEFE 25/502 and FCO file 26/2449.

[Explanations that I have inserted into the text below are in italics and between square brackets.]


COS(Misc) 192/742/1




1. SPG has been given direction from Ministerial level to find every suitable means of supporting OP CORPORATE [the overall codename for British military operations against Argentina] through the media. This paper proposes a method of broadcasting to the South Atlantic by a means which will be separate from BBC broadcasting. We know that the Junta is increasingly seeking to suppress the truth. Now the TEZ [Total Exclusion Zone the British sea and air blockade of the Falklands] is established the garrison will receive no newspapers. Thus we believe that broadcasts carrying factual reports will be useful in bringing home to the garrison the truth about their predicament.

2. The proposed radio station could also be used to pass information and, perhaps, instructions prior to an assault, to the Islanders. We know that both the Argentine and Island populations commonly posses short wave transmitters [sic] and listen on this wave. The debrief of a Falklands woman policeman indicates that soldiers of the garrison have transistors and listen to them.


3. This paper seeks agreement in principle, and financial authority, for the setting up of a radio station to broadcast to the South Atlantic. The codeword for this operation is MOONSHINE.


4. The BBC Spanish language service is a Radio 4 equivalent servicing a wide Latin American audience. Our station would be a commercial radio equivalent appealing to a lower social level, in particular soldiers of the garrison, their families and those concerned with mainland based facilities. It will broadcast light music interspersed with news and world opinion taken from other radio and press coverage.

5. The radio station would use a BBC transmitter in Ascension and the studios of Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC) Kings Buildings London. [The SSVC was, and is, the parent organisation of the British Forces Broadcasting Service, BFBS.] Broadcasting could start almost at once.


6. We have identified a freelance consultant [Neil ffrench-Blake] with wide experience of BBC and commercial radio who has assisted with our feasibility study and who is willing to act as Station Manager. He will need 2 civilian assistants. [SPG 020 said the two civilians in addition to ffrench-Blake would be a Spanish-speaking copy taster  "BBC is seeking a suitable man from the Monitoring Service"; and an engineer  "we have an ex-Sergeant RAF radar engineer in mind. He is well known to Mr ffrench-Blake".] We have found 3 serving officers [in the British armed forces] of Argentine background, and a further 2 officers who are satisfactory Spanish speakers. They have been tested by an Argentine linguist who assures us that between them they are well qualified to fill the editor and announcer posts. (Annex A).
[Annex A was an organisation chart for the team, showing three civilian staff  the station manager, the copy taster and the engineer  and nine military personnel, along with one SSVC engineer.]

7. The senior serving officer of the team will be Sqn Ldr [Squadron Leader] G. [see footnote 1] of Psy Ops [Psychological Operations] Section, JW [Joint Warfare] Wing NDC [National Defence College] currently a member of SPG. He will be responsible for ensuring that the station conforms to MOD policy. In addition to the announcers, Int [Intelligence] Corps can provide useful additional staff for processing English language material.


8. Transmitters. There are suitable transmitters, owned by BBC (but bought with FCO funds), in Ascension [known formally as the BBC Atlantic Relay Station]. The penalty involved in using one [of the four transmitters in Ascension] for the proposed station for certain hours of the morning and evening (local time) are given at Annex B. In brief no programme would be lost, but power would curtailed on one of the English language frequencies to the area. In the morning period the Voice of America (VOA) [in Portuguese] to Brazil would lose one of two frequencies loaned by BBC Ascension. 
[In the end, the timing of RAdS's morning broadcasts was set at 0830-0930 GMT and so the VOA broadcast to Brazil, at 1000-1100 GMT, was unaffected.]

9. Frequencies. Because the radio station must be kept entirely separate from the BBC we must not use British frequencies. We are advised by the BBC, however, that frequency poaching is common and that BBC can probably identify for us a frequency meeting the following criteria:
 a. Optimum reception in the target area.
 b. Allocated to a minor third-world country (Argentina?) whose protests may be safely disregarded.
 c. As close as possible to an existing Argentine service.
[In the end, Radio Atlantico del Sur used 9710 kHz for its evening broadcast and 9700 kHz for the morning one. Both were close to 9690 kHz, which was used during the 1982 war by various stations in Argentina.]

10. Studios. Studio facilities can easily be made available in Kings Buildings close to the SSVC whose studios can be used outside working hours without interference with normal work. This will be adequate at least in the early stages. If and when we start morning broadcasts we are confident that a satisfactory arrangement can be made.
[See my post The Secret is Revealed: Radio Atlantico del Sur's studio.]

11. Programme Content. We envisage broadcasting for up to 5 hours daily 0530-0730 and 2000-2300 local [equivalent to 0830-1030 and 2300-0200 GMT; the proposed times of the morning broadcast were subject to discussion and revision, and when they eventually began on 28 May they were at 0530-0630 local time, 0830-0930 GMT]. The first objective will be to gain and hold the attention of the target audience. This should be achieved by the use of popular and familiar music combined with a relaxed and informal style of presentation. The news output will be politically and militarily uncontentious. Opinion will be limited to attributed reports from other agencies. Material will be drawn from the following sources:
 a. Ethnic music.
 b. Telex news services.
 c. Extracts from the Argentine press, transmitted on a daily basis by the British Embassy in MONTEVIDEO [Uruguay]. This may well entail an increase in FCO staff in the Embassy, but such a service will have an important intelligence spin-off. The matter is being raised with the FCO informally. [In his memoirs, RAdS's civilian manager, Neil ffrench-Blake, said the FCO withheld cooperation from him, including refusing to provide him with copies of Argentine newspapers. Instead, he had to use a private courier service from South America.]
d. FCO extracts of world-wide press coverage.
e. Intelligence debriefs of evacuees from the Falkland Islands.
f. BBC internal news services.
g. BBC Monitoring Service reports.
h. Major US and European newspapers.
i. Dedicated telex to BBC news room.


12. We propose that the station should call itself RADIO ATLANTICO DEL SUR (Radio South Atlantic) [see footnote 2]. We would seek for as long as possible to avoid any confirmation that it is British sponsored. In particular we will seek to keep secret the location of the studio. We propose that the broadcasting team in Kings Buildings calls itself the Media Assessment Team (MAT). Within MOD the operation will be referred to as 'MOONSHINE'. Some unvetted civilians will have to be employed. We believe that the only practical step will be to ask them sign the OSA [Official Secrets Act]. Their knowledge of classified matters will be limited to knowledge of the station itself. BBC staff in Ascension will be aware of what is going on.

13. Once it becomes well known that the broadcasts emanate from Ascension we might well be forced to admit that it is a government sponsored operation in order to protect the BBC. But the aim of the service is defensible. Particularly in that it could result in a saving of lives.


14. At this stage it is very difficult to quantify costs. We envisage an initial capital outlay of £1,500 for installation of lines, initial telex costs, records, Spanish language books, directories, etc. We are advised that it will be impractical for the broadcasts to be other than live so civil staff will need hotel accommodation in London. These costs are likely to be:
Station Manager  £450 + VAT (for 70 hrs) per week (as paid previously by FCO) [presumably this is what ffrench-Blake was paid in his previous secret work for the government]
Copy Taster – £300 (reimburse employer) per week
Engineer – £300 (reimburse employer) per week
Overnight allowances  1 @ £47.55 per night
(FCO rates) 2 @ £31.55 per night
[When the armed forces' chiefs of staff considered this paper on 4 May they said: "The overnight allowances at paragraph 14 should be examined and a more modest proposal inserted."]

TOTAL £1,900 approximately per week

15. Transmission costs. The cost of running transmitters in Ascension is £500 per hour. The only period when we might run the transmitter, that is not now running at FCO expense, is 0930-1030Z [GMT] (cost £3,500 per week). If we were to broadcast for 5 hrs per day Cable and Wireless charges for transmission to Ascension would be £1,250 per day or £8,750 per week. [The proposed Cable and Wireless feed, which would have been by satellite to the C&W station on Ascension, was not used. Instead, RAdS's signal was fed to Ascension via BT's Rugby Radio Station, as explained in my post The Incident at Crowsley Park on the Night of 20-21 May 1982.] On this basis extra transmission costs amount to £12,250 per week. A saving of £5,250 per week could be made if we did not broadcast between 0930 and 1030Z (VOA times). [As noted in Paragraph 8 above, in the end RAdS's morning broadcasts did not clash with the VOA broadcast to Brazil.]

16. Total Costs. Telex service costs [for receiving teleprinted feeds from news agencies] are not known. An allowance of £1,500 per week for expenses such as this seems realistic. Thus total extra costs per week are estimated at:
For 3 hrs evening + 2 hrs morning £15,750
For 3 hrs evening + 1 hr morning £10,500

[After the war, the total cost of the four weeks of broadcasting by Radio Atlantico del Sur was said by the MoD to have been about £40,000 (equivalent to around £140,000 in 2017 prices), in line with the above estimate for broadcasts of three hours in the evening and one hour in the morning. These were "extra costs", not including the salaries of the armed forces' personnel who worked on the station (as they would have been paid in any case) or the cost of running the Ascension Island transmitter (as it would already have been on the air at government expense if it had not been requisitioned).]


17. This paper has been refined since we obtained an FCO view at official level. We now know more about the effects on BBC broadcasts. Our main counters to FCO reservations are:
 a. As proposed we believe that the BBC would be adequately distanced from MOONSHINE. Thus BBC credibility and reputation would not be damaged. We suggest that the pirating of a frequency is justifiable in the present circumstances.
 b. We believe that the station will provide a fully professional commercial-type service.
 c. We believe that there is a good chance that Argentine soldiers and civilians are likely to sample the short wave frequency and tune to our topical and entertaining service. The Argentines may even advertise it through denunciation.
 d. We consider that, even if branded by the Argentines as propaganda, such a service is most unlikely to be "counter-productive". We see it is as a comparatively low cost operation carrying negligible risk to the BBC, which could, in view of the Argentine temperament and the predicament of the garrison, contribute to the success of HMG [Her Majesty's Government] policy.


18. We recommend that authority be given:
 a. To requisition from the BBC a suitable transmitter for use during hours of broadcasting.
 b. To set up a radio station and start broadcasting on the lines set out above, for up to 5 hours per day. [When the armed forces' chiefs of staff considered this paper on 4 May they said this sentence should read: "... for not less than 3 and up to 5 hours per day".]
c. For expenditure as detailed in Paragraphs 14 and 16 above, as part of MOD Operation CORPORATE costs.

A. Organisation of Media Assessment Team (MAT). [Staffing of the team see Paragraph 6 above.]
B. Feasible Hours of Broadcasting. [This looked at the implications for BBC and VOA services of requisitioning one of the Ascension transmitters at specific times of the day. I will examine this subject in a future blog post.]


SPG Paper No 6 was circulated within government on 3 May 1982. The armed forces' chiefs of staff considered it the following day and gave their approval to Project MOONSHINE, subject to the provisos about overnight allowances and broadcasting hours noted above in Paragraphs 14 and 18.

The paper did not meet with the same success at the FCO. Despite the attempts in Paragraph 17 to answer the Foreign Office's reservations, they remained unconvinced and lobbied against the MoD's plan to set up such a radio station.

Arguments continued back and forth across Whitehall, and it became clear that the matter could only be resolved by taking it to the War Cabinet for a final decision. See my post "The War Cabinet is invited to agree".

The War Cabinet gave its approval to Project MOONSHINE on 18 May and Radio Atlantico del Sur began broadcasting the following day.


[1] For readers outside Britain and the Commonwealth, a squadron leader is an air force rank equivalent to an army major. Sqn Ldr G. is named in the document but I have chosen not to name in this blog anyone intimately associated with RAdS unless their identity is already published.

[2] Someone in the Special Projects Group, or at least their typist, had a problem for a while with the Spanish word "sur" (south). In the document "SPG 020" (28 April 1982), the name of the proposed station is given as RADIO ATLANTICO DEL SUD (sic). In "SPG 020 (Revised)" (29 April), SUD was changed to "SU" and it remained as such in the SPG's "Paper No 6" transcribed above. When transcribing I corrected that and a couple of other spelling mistakes in the original document ("eminate", "comparitively"). 

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

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