COLLABORATION between MI5 and the Gestapo was crucial to surveillance of Communist Party members in Britain including historian Eric Hobsbawm, an explosive new analysis reveals.
Historians yesterday blasted British governments for double standards as they attacked Eastern bloc states over surveillance while using similar tactics on an industrial scale.
The first sections of Mr Hobsbawm’s MI5 file were opened to public access at the National Archives last autumn, and reveal that British security services first took an interest after he corresponded with journalist and International Brigades member Hans Kahle.
Investigating the late Mr Hobsbawm’s file for the London Review of Books, historian Frances Stonor Saunders concludes it is “likely” some of Mr Kahle’s file “came from MI5’s liaison with the Gestapo” as it included “close knowledge” on his activity in the German Communist Party.
Ms Stonor Saunders argues that a “crucial liaison” was established between MI5 deputy counter-espionage chief Guy Liddell and Rudolf Diels, head of nazi spying bureau Abteilung 1A, which soon became the Gestapo, in 1933.
“MI5’s prewar liaison with Hitler’s political police was built on the promise of reciprocity, so it is reasonable to fear that there was two-way traffic in blacklists between Berlin and London,” she wrote in an article to be published next month.
“How long this arrangement lasted is a matter of speculation.
“What is known is that both MI5 and MI6 had information that must have come from a German source concerning the political activities of the left-wing refugees who sought sanctuary in Britain from 1933 onwards.
“If they didn’t already have a personal file, most of them acquired one within days of arriving at a British port.”
In the months immediately following the end of the war in 1945, “fresh traces on suspected communists were being received daily from British intelligence outposts in the defeated territories of the Third Reich,” Ms Stonor Saunders notes.
There is no evidence that Mr Hobsbawm’s own file included direct imports from Germany, but it is possible that files handed over included information on the Sozialistischer Schuelerbund, the communist-affiliated organisation of school students of which Hobsbawm was a member.
Communist Party of Britain history group convenor Graham Stevenson said the confirmation came as “no surprise.
“Anyone reading the Daily Worker in the 1930s would see it was going to efforts every day to highlight how Britain was working with Germany to undermine the Soviet Union,” he told the Star.
Mr Stevenson said the same criticisms made of socialist governments in Eastern Europe could be made of the Britain’s surveillance tactics.
“You see the hypocrisy, the comparison with the Stasi, when you see the level of intrusion in these files.”
It come days after it was revealed the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch hold files on 10 serving Labour MPs.
Labour MP Mike Gapes labelled Special Branch “the Stasi’s British equivalent” in a debate about their surveillance in Parliament on Thursday.