Chikara Hashimoto. Intelligence & National Security. Volume 27, Issue 6. December 2012.
Using newly released and previously unexploited records, this article explores the existence of Anglo-Arab secret liaison and cooperation in instituting anti-communist measures in the early Cold War. It shows that owing to their concern about a war against the Soviet Union, the placing of a British security/police adviser in specific countries was the preferred method by Britain for checking and combatting communism in the Middle East. It argues that the development of the ‘anti-communist triangle’ (the security liaison between Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan) was largely influenced by British concern about the expansion of communist influence. Moreover, the expansion of British influence in the region also converged with the demands from Middle Eastern countries for a British expert in anti-communist measures. The article implies the importance of the role of secret liaison in historical enquiries.
In recent years, the ‘War on Terror’ has raised the public profile of British intelligence liaison with foreign governments, and documentary evidence of such dealings has also been found in Tripoli as a result of the recent turmoil in Libya. This is not a new phenomenon, however. Sir Stephen Lander, former Director-General of the Security Service, known as MI5, reminds us that the British Intelligence Services had maintained a relationship with their Middle Eastern counterparts long before the ‘War on Terror’. A former Israeli intelligence officer also testified over three decades ago that the British Intelligence Services had been instrumental in developing the Arab security services. Nevertheless, the subject of Anglo-Arab intelligence liaison, especially after the Second World War, has not been explored or studied in any great depth. Meanwhile, it has been shown elsewhere that, as communist parties were largely prohibited in the Middle East, the communist movement and influence in the region was less prominent throughout the Cold War. It is, however, noteworthy that this was perhaps helped by the undemocratic characteristics of most Middle Eastern regimes, chiefly supported by strong domestic security forces which were central to the existence of these regimes. The role of the local police/security services in combatting communism in these countries has mostly escaped examination, at least during the period concerned in this study.
The British preoccupation with keeping the Middle East under British influence in the early Cold War has long been well known. The culmination of the effort to maintain British influence in the region can be seen in the Suez debacle of 1956. The British presence and effort to maintain its own influence in the Middle East has often been portrayed as part of Britain’s ‘informal’ empire. Nevertheless, there is a ‘missing dimension’ in the literature, which is the lack of discussion about the existence of an intimate Anglo-Arab intelligence relationship in fighting against communist parties in the region during the period.
Using newly released and previously unexploited records, this article will prove the existence of an Anglo-Arab (Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan) security liaison from 1949 to 1958. It will show that Britain was instrumental in developing the Lebanese, Iraqi and Jordanian security services as an anti-communist measure, and how the need to counter communist subversion in the possible event of war against the Soviet Union was shaped by competition with France and the United States. By looking at the ‘missing dimension’, it will argue that these measures were not, however, just in the British interest, but actually also based on similar requests from Middle Eastern governments. Thus, the continuation of Britain’s ‘informal empire’ was also influenced by invitation of Middle Eastern governments secretly seeking British assistance to fight against communist activities in their countries. It will conclude with functional and contextual observations on the role of intelligence liaison in the Middle East.
Official Committee on Communism and Anti-Communist Measures in the Middle East
A distinctive characteristic of the communist movement in the Middle East was that by the late 1940s communism was illegal in most Middle Eastern countries. Communist parties had not then gained popular support in the region. However, the communist movement was by no means non-existent: as their activities were prohibited, the members of the communist parties, and their sympathizers, went underground. According to the first post-war comprehensive survey conducted by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), these underground communist movements sought to exploit nationalist elements for ‘opposition to the interests of “Anglo-American Imperialism”‘. This was why the British government was concerned about communist activities in the region, despite these activities being prohibited by local authorities. By the late 1940s, the post-war strategic planners, the British Chiefs of Staff, were beginning to envisage a potential war against the Soviet Union, and these local communist parties and their sympathizers were inevitably regarded as ‘potential fifth columnists’, whose activities might threaten an allied war effort in the event of war against the Soviet Union. The defence of the Middle East was in fact regarded one of the foundations of post-war British strategy, owing to its geostrategic location for communicating with the Commonwealth and colonial countries. Its natural resources, necessary for fighting wars, were clearly of vast importance, too. Thus the integrity of the region was thought essential to this strategy by the Chiefs of Staff. It was also wholeheartedly endorsed by the Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, and the Permanent Under-Secretary to Bevin, Sir William Strang. The problem with the communist movements in the region, from the British point of view, was that, because they operated underground, it was difficult to obtain a clear picture of the extent of the communist influence. More importantly, the local security services were considered ill-prepared for war, especially, in terms of their anti-communist security measures.
Records declassified since 2010 reveal that a highly secret cabinet committee, the Official Committee on Communism (Overseas), was the engine for facilitating security liaison with Middle Eastern countries. This hitherto unexplored committee deserves a brief note. The Official Committee on Communism (Overseas), alias the AC (O), was established in December 1949 at the suggestion of Ernest Bevin in response to pressure from the Chiefs of Staff for the coordination and initiation of ‘any measures’ which ‘appeared desirable in the conduct of the Cold War’. ‘Any measures’ included propaganda by the Information Research Department (IRD) and clandestine paramilitary operations by Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6. The committee was chaired by a senior official from the Permanent Under-Secretary’s Department of the Foreign Office, and the permanent members included Chairman of the JIC, the Chief of MI6, and the representatives of the Ministry of Defence and of the Chiefs of Staff. The existence of the committee was kept secret, and knowledge of its activities was confined to British officials on a ‘need to know’ basis. Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office, later warned all his departments as to the secrecy of the committee, so much as that even the name of the committee ‘should never be mentioned to posts abroad, and quotations from its minutes or papers should only be made after consultation with the OPS [Overseas Planning Section, sub-committee of the Official Committee on Communism (Overseas)]’ and that it should be referred to as the ‘ACO’ Committee. The activities of the committee were supervised by the Ministerial Committee on Communism, alias AC (M).
The minutes of the meetings of the Official Committee on Communism (Overseas), found in the National Archives, were heavily ‘weeded’ in the declassification process. However, the indices of the minutes clearly suggest that the Official Committee on Communism (Overseas) attached special importance to the Middle East as a pillar of the British post-war strategy. Michael Wright, Assistant Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office, the chief expert on Middle Eastern affairs, was invited to the committee meeting to express his opinion and pronounced that the danger of the spread of communist influence in the Middle East was ‘very real’. More importantly, the Official Committee on Communism (Overseas) considered the training of foreign police officers an essential element of anti-communist measures throughout the world. The motivation behind offering foreign police training in anti-communist measures stemmed not only from British experience in the colonial territories such as the Malayan Emergency, but also from concerns about the communist seizure of Eastern Europe following the war. Sir Gladwyn Jebb of the Foreign Office, the chairman of the Official Committee on Communism (Overseas), commented that:
in countries which have been communized since the war the role of the police force has invariably been decisive, and it has been represented that it would help to prevent Communist infiltration of police forces in countries outside the Orbit if it were possible to offer increased facilities for the training of foreign policemen in this country.
The minutes of the meeting on 19 May 1950 distinguish between two branches of foreign police training: training in ordinary police methods to create ‘good will’ for Britain on the one hand, and in anti-communist ‘police’ work on the other. Concerning the latter, Sir Stewart Menzies, Chief of MI6, and Captain Guy Liddell, Deputy Director-General of MI5, a non-permanent observing member, both agreed that the training of foreign police officers held a ‘definite advantage’ in the fight against the spread of communism. The Official Committee on Communism (Overseas) tasked the representatives of MI6, as well as the Foreign Office, to ‘stimulate foreign governments’ to ask Britain for ‘assistance in training their police in anti-Communist measures’.
During the Second World War, Britain had assumed control of wartime security measures in most Middle Eastern countries, including censorship, port and travel control, and the internment of any suspects; during this time, local security forces acted as though they were a part of the British security services and remained loyal to Britain. The problem in the post-war period was that the organization of these security measures fell into the hands of the Middle Eastern governments. In addition, from the British point of view, these governments were not aware of the ‘insidious nature of methods used by Communists’ outside the region. The administrative measures taken to check the spread of communist infiltration even by the most diligent security forces in the region, such as those of the Egyptians and Iraqis, were also considered ‘not particularly well-conceived or effective’ as they tended to ‘make arrests too soon, thus losing valuable intelligence’. The Official Committee on Communism (Overseas) felt that giving British advice on a number of the administrative and legislative anti-communist measures to Middle Eastern governments would be desirable to check the spread of communism in these countries. In addition, the encouragement of regional security liaison between Middle Eastern governments, excluding Israel, to exchange information on the communist menace was considered essential to block the infiltration of Soviet influence in the region, especially after 1948. This was the British foreign policy for the region at the time. It was managed and implemented through the regional headquarters of MI5, namely Security Intelligence Middle East (SIME), which was considered the security authority in the region.
In addition to encouraging Middle Eastern governments to adopt administrative and legislative measures, Britain pursued a policy of introducing British police advisers to these governments. This had two objectives. The first objective was to try to control the spread of communism. The second was to obtain information on communist movements in the region. Chairman of the JIC, Sir Patrick Reilly, recorded:
Apart from the obvious value of this to our general anti-communist effort, any such strengthening of links with foreign police authorities can be of great advantage both to MI6 and the Security Service, by paving the way to the exchange of information and operational liaison.
By 1951, the posting of security advisers to local governments had become the preferred method for both advising local authorities on more effective administrative and legislative measures against the communist problem in these countries. It also functioned for checking the spread of communism in the region through liaison with the local police of ‘strategically important countries’.
Lebanese Sûreté Générale and Ousting the French Influence
Lebanon is normally regarded in the sphere of French influence owing to its colonial legacy, but was in fact one of the ‘strategically important countries’ for Britain. In post-war Lebanon the maintenance of internal security was inherited from the French Mandate, in which the Sûreté Générale, the Lebanese Security Service, was responsible for internal security, including counter-espionage and counter-subversion. Although the Sûreté Générale had already been dealing with communism in the country, it was still insufficient in British eyes due to the complexity of the Lebanese security apparatus, which hampered effective security work. One such ‘petty annoyance’ which Emir Farid Chehab, the Chef de Sûreté (Head of the Sûreté Générale) (1948-58), complained about to Major David Beaumont-Nesbitt, Assistant Military Attaché at the British Embassy in Beirut, was that his official telephone line in the Sûreté was ‘tapped by agents of the President’s brother’. Major Beaumont-Nesbitt was in fact serving as the representative of MI5 in Lebanon/Syria, seconded from the Army on a temporary basis. He reported to MI5 headquarters on the status of the Lebanese security apparatus that ‘the mechanics of this preposterous operation, if true, are, as one may imagine, highly complex and there are the usual wheels within wheels, the agents concerned being simultaneously employed by various organisations’.
There were compelling reasons for the need for anti-communist measures in Lebanon from the British point of view. It was recognized that Lebanon housed the highest number of communist party members (12,000) and sympathizers (50,000) in the Middle East. The Lebanese Communist Party (LCP) was also believed to have been cooperating very closely with the Syrian Communist Party (SCP) under a Joint Higher Committee. The strength of the SCP was estimated at around 2000 to 2500 members. A JIC report stated that the LCP also ‘kept in close touch with the Soviet Legation’, through which it was believed that the Soviets maintained close ties with regional communist parties. When Michael Wright of the Foreign Office was invited to a meeting of the Official Committee on Communism (Overseas) to express his opinion on communist influence in the Middle East, he insisted on the need to ‘stimulate’ the Lebanese government to take necessary action as they were showing ‘very little vigour in tackling this problem’.
It is noteworthy that, by the time the anti-communist measures in Lebanon were discussed at the Official Committee on Communism (Overseas) in London, there had been a move by the Lebanese concerning the communist influence in the country. The Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hamid Franjieh, had already approached Sir William Houstoun-Boswall, the British Minister in Beirut, to ask for a British expert on anti-communist measures. Houstoun-Boswall then reported the Lebanese request to London with great secrecy as ‘nobody including the chief of secret police knows anything of this move which it is desired to keep secret and quite unofficial’. The reason for the secrecy was not only due to the sensitivity of the subject, but also to the presence of a French security adviser to the Lebanese government in Beirut. As shown in a recent study on the British-French rivalry in Lebanon, countering French influence in post-war Lebanon had already been a concern of the British before the end of the war. The Lebanese approach thus presented the British with a unique opportunity to establish influence in the French sphere by placing a British senior police officer in the heart of the Lebanese government. It would allow the British officer to access to the Lebanese Prime Minister and give personal advice on anti-communist measures. L.G. Thirkell, a senior official of the Eastern Department of the Foreign Office, in charge of Syrian/Lebanese affairs, noted that appointing such an expert without informing the French ‘would arouse the worst suspicions’, but it was decided not to tell them as notification would ‘invite serious criticism and such an appointment would presumably have to be kept secret or have some form of cover’.
A meeting was soon held in the Foreign Office, and it was decided that ‘the best man’ for the assignment, Graham Mitchell of MI5, was to be sent to keep the Lebanese government on track. This recommendation was most likely made by Sir Dick White, then Director of B Division (counter-espionage) of MI5, later Director-General of MI5 and Chief of MI6. Mitchell’s mission was to secure a position in Lebanon, which was deemed strategically important to long-term British interests—his failure to do so might cause the Lebanese government ‘to approach another Power instead, such as the Americans or even the French’. Mitchell’s visit in May 1949 was an appreciable success. During the visit, he convinced the Lebanese Prime Minister, Riad el-Solh, that the communist movement was a ‘formidable enemy’, able to act as ‘a fifth column in the event of war with Russia’, and managed to obtain an oral promise to appoint a British adviser to the Head of the Sûreté Générale, Farid Chehab. This appointment was in fact an objective of his visit to boost intelligence collection on the communist movement in the region. Mitchell wrote in his report that:
[r]epeated reports from various sources have emphasised that from the Russian Legation in Beirut there springs a multitude of espionage and other subversive activities … British control, direct or indirect, of a local Security Service [Sûreté Générale] working on efficient lines would therefore hold out a promise of producing material of considerable intelligence value.
Mitchell noted later in his report that it was essential to meet with Farid Chehab, with the permission of Riad el-Solh, to discuss the subject as Farid Chehab was ‘thoroughly friendly to British interests and ready to co-operate’. Farid Chehab was above all ‘a close contact of our MI5 representative in Beirut’.
Farid Chehab, still remembered as ‘Bay al Amn al Aam (Father of the Sûreté Générale)’ in Lebanon, retained the post of Chef de Sûreté until September 1958. He served his country diligently, but also shared the British vision of what his country needed to do against communist influence. Most of all, Farid Chehab was an anti-communist, believing that communism was a real threat that was detrimental to the values and traditions of the Middle East. He once noted to a Middle East correspondence of TIME, Keith Wheelock, in 1954 that:
If it comes to war, the Middle East will fall to the Communists inevitably. Just as inevitably you’ll have to take it back. The West could not abide Russia controlling the Middle East. It’ll be a lot easier to take it back if the people are on your side. If they’re not on your side it will be almost impossible to take it back.
Moreover, as Mitchell rightly noted earlier, Farid Chehab was clearly pro-British, as opposed to being pro-American—he regarded the Americans as being ‘temperamentally incapable of understanding the complexities of the Levant’. Farid Chehab had an intimate relationship with the British: after his imprisonment by the Vichy French, he had, though indirectly, cooperated with Sir Colonel Patrick Coghill, the head of the British Security Mission in Lebanon in the post-war independence from the French rule; in August 1947, he attended a three-month training course, including counter-espionage, at Scotland Yard’s Superior Police Training College. Once he was back from Britain, he was appointed Head of the Sûreté Générale.
Written recommendations were left by Mitchell with Riad el-Solh for combating communism suggesting that Farid Chehab be given a ‘free hand’ for internal security, allowing him to have a technical liaison with the Minister of Posts and Telegram with the ‘object of putting at the disposal of the Sûreté means for the interception of communications of suspects’. It also stated to set up effective control of frontiers and of ‘Russian and satellite aliens’ by ensuring that ‘no alien enters or resides in the Lebanon’ without the knowledge of the government. These were deliberately written in French to conceal ‘its face evidence of British origin’. In his report Mitchell recommended that the Foreign Office respond quickly should the Lebanese formally request an adviser, and to make the necessary appointment while ‘the iron is hot’. If not, Mitchell wrote that an alternative possibility was to insert a ‘technical officer at a lower level’ into the Sûreté to ‘be elevated gradually by Farid [Chehab] as opportunity offers’. Soon after Mitchell’s visit, administrative developments indeed emerged: Farid Chehab acquired a new building for the Sûreté Générale and strictly compartmentalized sections were established for organizational efficacy. In addition, on 2 September 1950, Riad el-Solh issued a new secret decree for the formation of a special Anti-Communist Bureau, to be also headed by Farid Chehab as the Chef de Sûreté. Shortly after its establishment, Farid Chehab was once again in Britain, but this time was particularly for training in anti-communist measures.
After initial hesitation by the Lebanese President, Bechara El Khoury, who had favoured a French connection, a formal request for an adviser from the Lebanese government eventually reached the Foreign Office via the British Embassy in Beirut. Security Adviser J.M. Kyles, the former Commissioner of Police in Sudan, with some 20 years of experience in Palestine, was appointed Security Adviser in May 1950. A letter sent by George Clutton, Head of the African Department of the Foreign Office, to Khartoum in September 1949, while finding a suitable candidate for the post, reiterates the advantage of placing a British security adviser in Beirut:
Lebanon is, as you probably know, the chief centre of communism in the Middle East; and such an appointment would have the double advantage of putting the Lebanese security services into some sort of shape to deal with the local Communist menace and of providing us with first-hand information about communist activities in the Middle East straight from source.
J.M. Kyles was also tasked by the Official Committee on Communism (Overseas) to ‘stimulate’ the Lebanese government ‘to repress’ the communist menace. About four months after the appointment of Kyles, the special Anti-Communist Bureau was secretly established by Riad el-Solh. Following its formation, Sir William Houstoun-Boswall, the British Minister in Beirut, despatched a letter to Ernest Bevin:
Mr Kyles, the Police Adviser whose task, as you can well imagine, is not an easy one here, has been trying to influence the authorities to work along more systematic lines. The trouble is, as you will not be surprised to hear, that Mr Kyles’ advice is very rarely sought and when given is not acted upon … But now they have at least begun—if only dimly—to appreciate the very real danger presented by Communism. And I do not propose to allow them again to relapse into their pipe dream that Communism must be dead just because it is outlawed.
Thus the security adviser was limited in the implementation of legislative measures as the final decision was always in the hands of the Lebanese government. In addition, the assassination of Riad el-Solh in July 1951 caused the implementation of these anti-communist measures to become more strained. It also caused the termination of Kyles’ advisory post. As it will be shown later, however, the closer connection made through the appointment of the security adviser to Farid Chehab was important in supporting British anti-communist measures in the region.
Iraqi Connection and Concerns with the American Influence
In Lebanon, Britain ousted French influence by planting a security liaison officer in Beirut. In Iraq, their aim was to prevent the growth of American influence, whose participation in strengthening the Iraqi Police in anti-communist measures troubled Whitehall. The CIA-MI6 joint operation in support of the Iranian Coup of August 1953 has been an example of the Anglo-American special intelligence relationship in the region at the time. However, Britain was less receptive, at least in early October 1953, to the idea of cooperation in the field of security-building in Iraq, which was essentially regarded a British province. This was mainly due to the existence of an intimate Anglo-Iraqi cooperation on security matters. The foundation of this was the close connection between MI5 and its Iraq’s counterpart, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Iraqi Police. The Iraqi CID, with more executive power than its British counterpart, had been established in 1947 by the British security delegation in Iraq, headed by J.F. Wilkins, who had been in Baghdad for more than 20 years. This connection was strongly backed by the regional foreign and defence policies of the early 1950s, when the focus of British strategy shifted from Egypt to Iraq.
Given the intimate Anglo-Iraqi security connection, it is no surprise that Iraq was not on the Official Committee on Communism (Overseas)’s priority list of countries in need of anti-communist measures in the early 1950s. By then, the Iraqi government had managed to suppress the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), and according to JIC estimates, there were approximately 2000 active ICP members in 1950. Since the outlawing of the ICP in January 1947, for instance, ICP members had been severely suppressed, and its most influential leaders had all been imprisoned or executed. In September 1949, the head of the sixth Central Committee of the ICP was also arrested together with some 100 other suspects. As a result, the Foreign Office believed the anti-communist measures in Iraq were satisfactory and the Iraqi CID was regarded as the ‘most efficient’ anti-communist force in the region. Moreover, relations between the Iraqi CID and the representative of MI5 were noted to be ‘probably closer than anywhere else in the Middle East’. Sir Henry Mack, the British Ambassador in Baghdad, content with the measures adopted by the Iraqi authority against the communist menace, once wrote to Ernest Bevin that:
In my opinion these laws and administrative measures have proved an effective check on communist activity and influence in Iraq … The Iraqi Criminal Investigation Department, which owes much to the tradition established by British officers who served in it up till 1947, is by Middle Eastern standards a fairly efficient organization. Doubtless it could be improved if British officers were reintroduced, but the political difficulties in the way of this are very great, and mover to find a suitable man would not be easy. Even if these difficulties were overcome there would be a risk of prejudicing the present close relation between the Criminal Investigation Department and the representative of the [Security Service].
This situation and British attitude to the cooperative Iraqi CID, would, nevertheless, change in 1953, with the growing communist influence and, more importantly, American interest in Iraqi affairs.
Despite the ICP’s low membership, underground communist activities persisted in Iraq, and in October 1953 the British Embassy in Baghdad was approached by the Iraqi Minister of the Interior, Said Qazzaz, who asked for experts to reorganize the Iraqi police and CID. Whitehall was alarmed to learn that Said Qazzaz was also prepared to engage the Americans, who were able to provide support free of charge through the Truman administration’s Point Four Program, providing financial aid for development. Sir John Troutbeck, British Ambassador in Baghdad, warned the Foreign Office that this was not only ‘the thin edge of the wedge of American penetration in what has been our province’, but would also lead to the dislocation of the Iraqi CID and police, with ‘results potentially disastrous to the security of the whole country’. The Iraqi move was also flagged by Roger Lees, MI5’s representative in Baghdad, serving in the guise of the Assistant Air Attaché to the British Embassy in Baghdad, who commented that it would be ‘a great pity if the reorganisation of the Iraqi police were to fall into the hands of the Americans’. Indeed, the intimate relationship between the representative of MI5 and the Iraqi CID provided an important first-hand source on communist underground activities in Iraq, as confirmed by Sir Hugh Stephenson, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee in Middle East (JIC/ME), who stated that ‘from an intelligence point of view and in our concern with Communism, we are largely dependent in Iraq on our CID liaison’.
The British not only had to provide the advisers free of charge if they were to compete with the Americans, but they also had to avoid financial and political complications in the Iraqi Parliament. Anti-British sentiment in Iraqi politics added to a growing concern that the Iraqis were leaning towards the Americans. While waiting for a formal request from the Iraqi government backed by the Iraqi Cabinet, there was a clear increase in British concern over American influence in Iraq. In his telegram, Sir John Troutbeck commented from Baghdad that:
An American might well come as a temporary visitor … under the cover of ‘Security Adviser to the American Embassy’ or something similar rather than as an employee of the Iraq Government … The most effective way therefore of preventing the appointment of an American is for us to evince a more active desire to help the Iraqi Minister of the Interior on the issue … Otherwise, an American adviser—or at least a temporary adviser—may be here before we know it. There are various signs that the Americans are prepared to move rapidly to redeem their diminished prestige here at our expense.
As Iraq was regarded as being under the sphere of British influence, the Foreign Office decided without hesitation to forestall American influence and requested funds from the Treasury for a security adviser. Thus, a British adviser was sent to Iraq free of charge.
The necessity of the intimate collaboration between the representative of MI5, also known as the Defence Security Officer (DSO), in Baghdad and the Iraqi CID can be seen in the requirement for ‘war planning’, which originated in late 1950. British air bases in Iraq were the keystone of British defence policy, from which the Chiefs of Staff envisaged that they could launch an air assault on the heart of the Soviet Union. Therefore, the maintenance of these bases was regarded as vital for fighting the Cold War. Under instruction by the British Defence Co-ordination Committee in the Middle East (BDCC/ME), via the Air Officer Commanding Iraq Command, the DSO Baghdad shared all necessary intelligence with the Iraqi CID for ‘the preparation of lists of security suspects to be arrested on the outbreak of war’. The DSO Baghdad supplied the Iraqi CID with an arrest list which included all known members of the Iraqi ICP; other known communists in Iraq; contacts of the Russian Legation, Baghdad; enemy and satellites nationals; and nationalists, leftists, religious leaders and others likely to engage in subversive activities.
The security measures in place in the event of war in Iraq extended beyond mere intelligence liaison. As these security measures required Iraqi cooperation, in March 1952 Sir John Troutbeck approached the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Said, regarding the security plans for war. Agreeing to the suggestion in principle, Nuri al-Said preferred using the police as opposed to the armed forces to ‘concoct the planning on the Iraqi side’, mainly due to volatile Iraqi sentiments towards the West, particularly Britain. Nuri al-Said worried that the disclosure of war planning would cause ‘a serious political storm’ in which his government would be accused of ‘dragging the country into war on the side of the Western Powers’. He decided to delegate the task to Alwan Hussain, known as Alwan Pasha, Director-General of Police, who would later hand the task over to Bahjat Beg Attiyah, the Director of the CID. On the British side, Sir John Troutbeck nominated Roger Lees of MI5, DSO Baghdad (1951-53), to be the British counterpart for security planning in the event of war in Iraq. The security planning between the DSO Baghdad and the Iraqi CID was carried out in ‘great secrecy’, continuing even after the resignation of Nuri al-Said in July 1952 without the knowledge of subsequent Iraqi Prime Ministers, Ministers of the Interior or Ministers of Defence. As part of these security measures for the event of war, Bahjat Beg Attiyah was trained by MI5 in ‘protective security matters’ during a visit to London in June 1952. Moreover, in the event of war, the Iraqis agreed to allow a small group of British interrogators to operate at the detention camp where all the suspects on the combined arrest lists would be detained, and, more importantly, they agreed to the provision of British representatives to the central censorship headquarters, controlling postal and telecommunication censorship throughout Iraq. When the report reached Sir Hugh Stephenson, Chairman of JIC/ME, he was ‘extremely gratified’ to learn of such substantial progress despite the ‘difficulties inherent in the unstable political state in the country’. It was in this context that Britain was reluctant to allow the Americans to appoint their own security advisers to the Iraqi police and CID.
After a series of interviews with candidates for the post of Police/Security Adviser, conducted by the Foreign Office, the post was filled by Duncan MacIntosh, the retiring Commissioner of Police in Hong Kong (1946-52). The Colonial Office recommended him to the Foreign Office as a ‘first-class all-rounder’, who could thus manage the reorganization of not only the Iraqi police but also the CID. Although his appointment was delayed due to the dissolution of the Iraqi Parliament and general elections in Iraq, MacIntosh finally arrived as Security/Police Adviser in Baghdad in October 1954 after the thirteenth government was formed under the premiership of Nuri el-Said. Said Qazzaz remained as the Minister of the Interior and was still ‘eager for MacIntosh’s cooperation in his campaign against the Communists’. Sir Robin Hooper, Counsellor of the British Embassy in Baghdad, observed two months after his appointment that MacIntosh was liked by the Iraqis and was making progress in the Iraqi police and the CID:
his advice is being sought and readily taken. He has made far-reaching recommendations for the re-organisation of the C.I.D. and the uniformed branches of the Police Force, including … the creation of a Special Branch and integrated reporting of political and subversive activities between the various districts … [and] there is a marked desire among junior officers of the Police Force to better themselves now that they see that the Government is taking steps to reform and improve the Police Force, which has for so many years remained virtually stagnant.
The Anglo-Iraqi security cooperation was closely maintained, and MacIntosh retained his post for about three years. They lasted until the Iraqi revolution in July 1958.
Arab Legion and Anti-Communist Triangle
The Jordanian case was unique in the region as the Arab Legion, the chief external/internal security force of the country, was commanded by a British officer, Sir John Bagot Glubb, until March 1956. British personnel were involved in training the Arab Legion, and the development of Jordanian military intelligence has been studied elsewhere.A less well known fact is, however, the British involvement in developing Jordanian civilian political intelligence, especially anti-communist and counter-subversion measures. There was in fact the far from negligible regional security contribution made by Colonel Sir Patrick Coghill, the Director-General of Intelligence of the Arab Legion, who was responsible for internal security in Jordan and foreign liaison.
As in most other Middle Eastern countries, the Communist Party was prohibited in Jordan. Communist activities were almost non-existent in comparison to Lebanon or Iraq: according to a JIC estimate in 1950, members of the Communist Party in Jordan numbered less than 50. While the Official Committee on Communism (Overseas) rightly considered the communist problem in Jordan far less significant than elsewhere, this assessment differed from the perception of the Jordanian government, which since late 1950 had constantly requested the ‘special training’ of Jordanian police officers in anti-communist measures in Britain, and any information on communist activities known to Britain. These requests were mainly due to the Jordanian government’s lack of experience and knowledge of communism, and the assumption that subversive activities against the Hashimite dynasty of King Hussein of Jordan would be associated with communist activities. Additionally, the Jordanian government persistently requested a British adviser in anti-communist measures and help with the reorganization of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Arab Legion.
At Jordan’s request, the aforementioned Colonel Sir Patrick Coghill, the wartime head of the British Security Mission in Lebanon (1941-45), was appointed as security/police adviser to Jordan in April 1952, with the formal title of Director-General of Intelligence of the Arab Legion (1952-56). Colonel Coghill’s career has not been thoroughly documented, and this is particularly true of his anti-communist/anti-subversive work in Jordan. Owing to the nature of his work, perhaps, he has received inadequate attention from historians, but his role as the Director-General of Intelligence was far from negligible. Jordan had no diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union or other Eastern bloc countries, and technically these nationals were not allowed to enter the country. Colonel Coghill was then responsible for internal security against subversive activities in the country. Despite communist activities being nearly non-existent in Jordan, subversive activities included not only those associated with communists, but also those by the Egyptians and Saudis, who were seen by Colonel Coghill as ‘the worst’ subversive activity in the country. In addition, Major-General James Lunt, the Second-in-Command of the Arab Legion, recalled that the Free Officers Movement within the Arab Legion was kept under ‘a close watch’ by Colonel Coghill. These activities, perceived as subversive, were indeed in part instigated by Soviet and Egyptian propaganda, particularly its call to arms against ‘imperial powers’, and they presented a potential danger to be exploited by local communists. During Coghill’s tenure, the Jordanian Police was reorganized and a selected number of Jordanian police officers were sent to Britain for training in anti-communist/anti-subversive measures.
More importantly, Colonel Coghill’s work with his Arab counterparts was one of most important factors in developing a regional security liaison for Britain. While archival evidence on this aspect remains tentative, his private papers testify that Colonel Coghill collaborated closely with Farid Chehab, Head of the Sûreté Générale, and Bahjat Beg Attiyah, the Director of the Iraqi CID, by exchanging information on anti-communist/anti-subversive matters in the region. Based on his personal relationship, firstly with Farid Chehab, and later with Bahjat Attiyah, the security liaison between Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan became gradually institutionalized and became known in Coghill’s own words as the ‘Anti-Communist Triangle’. This security liaison involved not only intelligence-sharing on security matters in Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, but also intelligence-sharing on other subversive activities, most of which were instigated by Egypt and Syria. It included a ‘specially strict’ surveillance request on the leading figure of anti-British activities in the region, Haji Amin al-Husseini, the ex-Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, whom Colonel Coghill called ‘the most evil power in Palestine Arab Nationalism’. As the Director-General of Intelligence of the Arab Legion, Coghill’s role in anti-communist work was appreciated not only by the Jordanians but also the Iraqis too. Before Duncan MacIntosh took up the post of Security/Police Adviser in Baghdad, Said Qazzaz, the Iraqi Minister for Interior, insisted that MacIntosh ‘should break his outward journey at Amman to discuss his work with Coghill’. It was no exaggeration when Colonel Coghill described the presence of the Arab Legion in his report to the War Office as ‘one of the principal key-stones’ in providing stability to Middle Eastern security as a whole.
One of the most important contributions by the Jordan-Lebanon-Iraq anti-communist triangle was perhaps their stimulation of the coordination of anti-communist measures with neighbouring Arab states by establishing closer liaison between the Arab security services. One aspect of this regional initiative came to the fore in 1954 as the foundation for a covert cooperation effort in ‘the fight against Communism and Zionism’ under the Arab League, with participants from Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and other countries. Behind this regional collaboration, the Official Committee on Communism (Overseas) acted as a facilitator and their purpose was indeed to enhance the anti-communist measures of Middle Eastern governments by ‘means of improving liaison and the exchange of information’ between the relevant governments. Britain’s most reliable allies, the Lebanese Sûreté Générale and the Iraqi CID, were chosen to take the initiative. A senior official at the Foreign Office noted that Farid Chehab appreciated ‘the need for and the value of liaison between themselves and their counterparts in other Arab States’ and that the Lebanese initiative ‘would be less likely to arouse suspicion’ than if it came from any other Arab state. This regional collaboration under the Arab League was particularly efficient in combatting communist, and also ‘anarchist’, activities inside their territories. The united anti-communist campaign led to the discovery of several underground communist cells in the region.
The culmination of the Jordan-Lebanon-Iraq ‘anti-communist triangle’ activity was a multilateral discussion held in Baghdad in January 1956, when Colonel Coghill, Farid Chehab and Bahjat Attiyah met with Heads of the Turkish and Iranian Security Services, and discussed and exchanged intelligence on subversive activities in the region. Before this highly secretive meeting, a preliminary conference outlining their sensitive discussion had been carefully conducted by Colonel Coghill, Farid Chehab and Bahjat Attiyah. In his diary, Colonel Coghill noted that the reason for this carefully-planned arrangement was in order to gain ‘mutual confidence in one’s opposite number’ by showing a united front against subversive activities in the region, which was ‘the only way of making this sort of liaison work’. The week-long discussion seems to have been successful. Despite the fact that Lebanon and Jordan did not join the Baghdad Pact, mainly due to the sensitivity of their regional and domestic politics, the outcome of this high powered discussion was the foundation of secret anti-communist cooperation under the Baghdad Pact. Under the Baghdad Pact, a Liaison Committee was formed as a committee of the security services of the signed countries, including the United States as an ‘observer’. At the first meeting of the Liaison Committee in April 1956, a copy of ‘the convention’, outlining the cooperation in anti-communist measures, signed by the members (the Jordanian, Lebanese, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish security services) of the so-called ‘Club’ at their meeting on 14 January 1956 was submitted by the Turkish delegate. It was later, nevertheless, withdrawn in favour of one submitted by the British government.
Colonel Coghill stepped down as the Director-General of Intelligence of the Arab Legion following the dismissal of Sir John Bagot Glubb in 1956. This appears to have been a set back the security liaison relationship. Nevertheless, his personal and confidential connection with Farid Chehab continued even after his return to Britain. A personal letter from Farid Chehab to him, for instance, containing detailed information on the internal situation in Lebanon as well as the regional situation during the Lebanon crisis in 1958, was passed onto the Foreign Office. It was treated as ‘very top secret’, noting that if this was known to the Lebanese, ‘he [Farid Chehab] would probably be killed’. In addition, although it is difficult to ascertain what kind of intelligence and how much of it was shared, evidence of the strong connection of both Farid Chehab and of Bahjat Attiyah with either MI5 or MI6 is very clear. In addition to their anti-communist training in Britain and their close contact with the representatives of MI5 in Beirut or Baghdad, for example, a biography of Sir Dick White attests that ‘the local security service’ in Beirut was an ‘essential ally’ for MI6. Sir Maurice Oldfield, future ‘C’, also maintained a close friendship with Farid Chehab. Beirut, in neutral Lebanon, even hosted the regional centre of MI6. Brigadier William Magan, Head of SIME (1947-51) and later Director of MI5, stated in his autobiography that Bahjat Attiyah had remained his ‘close friend’, and even Attiyah visited Magan’s house in Britain several times before the events of 1958, when the Nuri el-Said government was overthrown by the ‘Free Officers’ coup, led by General Abd al-Karim Qasim.
The Year of 1958: End of British Security Liaison?
The year of 1958 has been the subject of scholarly attention as the year in which a series of crises in the Middle East formed the turning point for British Middle Eastern policy. It was also certainly a setback for British security liaison in the region. As a result of the Iraqi revolution, Duncan MacIntosh’s career as Security/Police Adviser in Baghdad came to an abrupt end in July 1958. Indeed, the prominent pro-British figures at the centre of the security liaison, such as Bahjat Beg Attiyah, then Director-General of Security, and Said Qazzaz, the Minister of the Interior, were accused of being ‘criminal traitors’ and were the first civilians to be executed under the new Iraqi regime. This signalled the end of the intimate Anglo-Iraqi relationship. Moreover, the Lebanese Crisis in the same year led to the resignation of Farid Chehab from his post as Head of the Sûreté Générale. After 1958, when General Fouad Chehab, a former Commander of the Army, became the Lebanese President, the Army, instead of the Sûreté Générale, assumed the main responsibility for internal security in Lebanon.
Despite a change in the form of security liaison, however, a certain continuity remained in the British security liaison with the Middle East. Following the foundation laid by the Jordan-Lebanon-Iraq ‘anti-communist triangle’, the multilateral security liaison remained as the Liaison Committee of the Baghdad Pact, later renamed the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO). The British delegation was led by MI5, and their regular biannual meetings for the exchange of information on communist activities with their American, Turkish, Pakistani, and Iranian counterparts continued until the dissolution of CENTO in 1979.
One of the examples of this cooperation is that, as a part of the security arrangement of the pact, the Iranian intelligence and security service, known as SAVAK, was established in October 1956, on the joint advice of the British Intelligence Services, the CIA, and the Israeli Intelligence Service, MOSSAD, to enhance the internal security of Iran. MI5 was clearly instrumental in establishing and maintaining SAVAK. The aforementioned Roger Lees of MI5, formally DSO in Baghdad, was despatched from London to ‘advise’ the Head of SAVAK on security matters and also to ‘train’ Iranian security officers in Tehran. In addition, Iranian female staff working at the Registry of SAVAK were trained in London in protective security. Although detailed evaluation of this connection is beyond the scope this study, it clearly indicates the continuity of the earlier security liaison in the region under the Baghdad Pact and CENTO.
Moreover, although Colonel Coghill was dismissed in 1956 by King Hussein due to regional and domestic pressures, the Jordanian government still wanted a British security/police adviser. Duncan MacIntosh, the former Security/Police Adviser in Baghdad, soon returned to the Middle East after his escape from the Iraqi coup of July 1958, and was appointed as Police Adviser (1958-62) in Jordan in October 1958. During his four-year tenure in Amman, MacIntosh managed to reorganize the Jordanian Police and laid the foundations for the Jordanian Police and the Security Service, including sections dealing with communists and liaising with foreign services. The latter was later named ‘the General Intelligence Department [Dairat al-Mukhabarat al-Ammah]’ in accordance with the Act 24 of 1964, which still remains today.
Anglo-Arab Security Liaison in the Early Cold War: Functional and Contextual Observations
There are some observations that can be made on both functional and contextual matters in connection with the Anglo-Arab secret liaison in the early Cold War. Firstly, in terms of functional observations, international intelligence cooperation in general takes different forms. As it has been shown, the nature of the Anglo-Arab secret liaison was not necessarily about the sharing of intelligence: technical assistance in anti-communist measures, including the training of the police force, was actually requested by Middle Eastern governments. At the time, Britain was seen by other governments as the leading expert in the field of intelligence. This was mostly due to their reputation for organizational reliability, as well as personal relationships arising from Britain’s involvement in the region for many years. The exception was Iraq: in addition to the technical assistance in anti-communist measures by the police/security adviser, there is clear evidence of intelligence sharing between the DSO in Baghdad and the Iraqi CID on specific subjects. Directed by British defence policy needs in the country, the representative of MI5 exchanged a list of ‘potential fifth columnists’ with his Iraqi counterpart, and security measures were carefully prepared between them in the possible event of war against the Soviet Union.
Placing security/police officers in the heart of Middle Eastern governments was indeed advantageous for Britain: the local security services, including police forces, were unique local assets for intelligence and security purposes, and security liaison with them would have been invaluable in at least two ways. Firstly, as communist movements in the region were illegal in these countries, intelligence collection on them was carried out by the local security services, with physical surveillance of the suspects and premises, possibly even utilizing its power to tap telephones and intercept other communications such as censorship. Security liaison with regional police meant that Britain was able to access intelligence on communist activities in the region, including police records, which would otherwise be inaccessible. Secondly, from British analysis of the communist seizure of Eastern Europe following the war, a strong security service was regarded as essential to forestall communist subversion. Thus, the training of the security services was seen as the best way of containing the spread of communism in the region. As in any intelligence cooperation, the main problem in these relationships was the volatility of the region at the time.
The second observation concerns the methodological challenge posed by historical enquiry into aspects of secret intelligence, and also the tendency of historians to overlook the importance of intelligence aspects in historical analysis. Wm. Roger Louis, a pre-eminent historian of the British Empire in the Middle East, for instance, has suggested that the excessive focus on communist fears blinded British assessments on the Iraqi situation prior to the 1958 army coup. William Magan, nevertheless, wrote in his autobiography that, even during his tenure as Head of SIME, he had been acutely aware of the existence of disaffection in the Iraqi Army, and his concern had been duly passed on Bahjat Beg Attiyah, then Director of the Iraqi CID. In fact, a JIC assessment made after the coup attests to Magan’s recollection that his concern with a probable coup by the Iraqi Army had been already reported to London, presumably either by MacIntosh or the DSO Baghdad. The real problem was thus not the British, but the Iraqi ministers, who were completely blinkered by their anti-communist concerns and ignored repeated warnings by their own chief of the Secret Police, Bahjat Attiyah.
Looking at the Anglo-Arab secret liaison as a historical enquiry provides us with an insight into the regional dimension of Cold War dynamics, and of interaction between Western powers and local governments. While it is difficult to isolate the effects of this secret liaison on British anti-communist policies from the many other factors involved, it is at least clear that the anti-communist measures conducted by Middle Eastern countries through their security services were directly or indirectly influenced by the British security/police liaison, directed by British foreign policy objectives. The incentive for British security liaison with their Middle Eastern counterparts originated from British concern with the possibility of war against the Soviet Union. William Magan recalled his time as Head of SIME:
The component countries [of the region] … lacked experience of self-government, having from time to time, during the past six centuries, at best been semi-autonomous … Those of us who had some responsibility for trying to ensure stable conditions faced no shortage of work … It was being flooded with subversion propaganda by Soviet Russia, and disaffected agents were being trained in Moscow. The Soviet was intent on destabilising the Middle East. I was heavily committed to keeping it stable.
The prevalent feeling about the early Cold War amongst British policymakers and officials was that most Middle Eastern countries lacked the experience required to deal with significant issues, such as fighting international communism. This article has attempted to show that as well as being in the British interest, this policy also dovetailed neatly with the demands of Middle Eastern governments. This was the context in which the network of British security/intelligence liaison was established. Thus, this article has argued that Britain’s ‘informal empire’ was created partly by the invitation of Middle Eastern governments who secretly sought British assistance to fight against communist activities in their countries. Of course these are still preliminary findings, but this hidden dimension of the secret liaison at least shows us not only the importance of the role of such specific liaisons, but also the nature of clandestine diplomacy in the broader sense of historical enquiries.