Saturday, August 11, 2018

Rory Cormac's "Disrupt and Deny"

Rory Cormac is an Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Nottingham. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a leading expert among a new generation of intelligence historians, he specialises in British covert operations and the secret pursuit of foreign policy. He has published widely on intelligence and security issues and regularly appears on radio and television. He is the co-author of The Black Door: Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers and featured on Channel 4's Spying on the Royals.

Cormac applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces, and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy, and reported the following:
It’s early 1953 and Operation Boot, the covert action to overthrow the Iranian Prime Minister, is dead.

Britain had been waging subversion and political action to undermine Prime Minister Mossadeq and lay the foundations for a coup as early as the autumn of 1951. The Foreign Office simply could not tolerate his nationalisation of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, a vital source of income for a British government still suffering the disastrous economic legacy of the Second World War.

Page 99 of Disrupt and Deny details how, after 18 months of planning, bribing and planting propaganda in the press, British officials entered one of their periodic episodes of cold feet and called the whole thing off.

Taking the page in isolation is both characteristic of the wider book and misleading. The wavering outlined on this page is temporary, albeit reflective of broader Foreign Office caution about using covert action. Time and again, military and intelligence officers expressed deep frustration at what they saw as Foreign Office wetness. Yet, the page is misleading in so far as the chapter from which it is taken actually reveals the integral British role in the eventual overthrow. It tells the story of how Britain made the running on the operation, lobbied the United States to join them, and, despite some division in London, provided support for the chaotic coup. The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was thrilled.

Operation Boot is a central episode in the broader history of Britain’s unacknowledged interference in the affairs of others, known as covert action.

First, the perceived success inspired a wave of planning for similar operations across the Middle East.

Second, the episode reveals the stark differences between covert action in this region and that undertaken against the Soviets in Europe (the topic of earlier chapters). Here, MI6 used small scale – if devious – disruptive operations, designed to chip away and gradually undermine Soviet authority. By stark contrast, operations targeting nationalism in the Middle East were free to be far more ambitious and dangerous.

From 1945, successive prime ministers turned to spies and special forces to mask decline and influence the fate of nations in a deniable manner. It is still happening today. The 1953 coup in Iran was just one example.
Learn more about Disrupt and Deny at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue