SOLOMON HUGHES trawls through recently released secret CIA ‘intelligence’ documents which reveal how the 1980s Greenham Common peace camp terrified the US spooks
WHAT did the CIA think about the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common?
This January the CIA made thousands of formerly secret papers available via its website. Some answer this question.
In short, the CIA knew the Greenham protesters had a big effect but they also thought they were “punks and crazies” who freaked out the intelligence men. The CIA documents are generally “secret” analysis reports rather than records of actual CIA operations.
The ones we’re concerned with here cover the “new cold war” of the 1980s. In 1983 president Ronald Reagan’s US started putting cruise and Pershing nuclear missiles in Europe, aimming them at Russia.
In the documents, the CIA refers these intermediate range nuclear forces as INF, which becomes the codename for cruise and Pershing throughout the documents.
Big peace movements arose across Europe among people who didn’t want the US’s new cold war being fought on European soil. Those living in the “intermediate range” didn’t want it nuked.
As I noted in January, the US government’s spymasters didn’t like the peace movements but they did understand these movements were powerful enough to make profound changes.
In a 1984 paper, the CIA writes: “We believe that increased democratisation of defence policymaking in western European countries will be the peace movement’s lasting legacy. Western European governments can no longer make defence policy primarily on the basis of expert advice.
“They feel compelled to take account of public concern about the escalating arms race and to refute accusations from opposition and peace movement spokesmen that they are subservient to the United States. They have already been putting more emphasis on arms control and less emphasis on defence programmes than Washington would prefer.”
In the end, the arrival of reforming Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachov thawed the new cold war that had spurred the 1980s peace movement. A 1987 Gorbachov-Reagan arms treaty pulled both Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles and US cruise and Pershing rockets out of east and west Europe respectively.
The peace movements were not strong enough to force Western unilateral nuclear disarmament. But the CIA knew they were strong enough to encourage multilateral disarmament and put a little democracy in defence policy.
Along the way, the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common was one of the largest, most dynamic and direct-actiony parts of the movement. The CIA papers show that while they respected the strength of the peace movement, they couldn’t keep their normal analytical sobriety when it came to Greenham. Something about the protest got under their skin.
There are many reports like the undated but early ’80s Daily Summary of Public Postions on INF in Europe, which says that the British press are “stressing the effect of the women’s protest at Greenham Common on public opinion,” showing that nearly half of those polled said: “The women’s protest had led them to reverse their opinion on stationing cruise missiles in the UK.”
Looking back, in 1984, the CIA says: “Greenham Common, where cruise missiles are being deployed, is a major focus of peace activity. A feminist peace group not directly associated with the [Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament] has maintained a ‘peace camp’ near the base since 1981.
“The women’s determined efforts to obstruct and, at times, penetrate the base have gained substantial publicity for the movement.”
A September 1983 secret report on “radical tactics against INF deployment in Europe” shows CIA anxiety about direct action by Greenham and other activists.
The paper worries about “some antinuclear radicals” using “direct action” — including the Greenham women who “penetrated a fence and reached an SR-71 aircraft,” a “Blackbird” spy plane “which they damaged with paint” and break-ins at Upper Heyford Airbase.
The CIA worried that “these modest successes may encourage militants — especially in the women’s camp, which continues to dominate the Greenham Common scene — to try again.” The CIA worried they would reach nuclear equipment and that “an important aim of the more radical protesters will be to provoke a confrontation with US security personnel.”
The challenge of the more radical Greenham Common protesters made the US intelligence people drop their normally pragmatic, technocratic talk.
Alan W Lukens, a senior US diplomat, wrote a “confidential memo” of “reflections on the mood in Europe” for the State Department in December 1983. He toured Europe and had an “allday session” at the British Foreign Office arranged by the British intelligence liaison office with British Foreign Office “intelligence-gathering” staff like Harry Burke.
Luken’s views reflected briefings by British intelligence staff. Lukens said: “In analysing the peace movement in the UK, these officials thought it had peaked and that only a lunatic fringe would continue to demonstrate.
“Nonetheless, they admitted that even without the punks and the crazies, the UK peace movement had deep roots which no government could ignore. 'The early Greenham Common rallies, in the eyes of these officials, had discredited the peace movement. There was a lack of seriousness, a ‘rent-a-crowd’ psychology which many British citizens resented.”
Only British intelligence could think the Greenham women lacked “seriousness.” The CIA and their British friends putting Greenham in a “lunatic” category with “punks and crazies” shows that the women drove the CIA and their friends out of sober analysis and into knee-jerk prejudices.
CIA anxiety about Greenham took a very peculiar turn in a November 1986 CIA directorate of intelligence on Colonel Muammar Gadaffi. In April 1986, the US launched a bombing raid on Libya using British air bases.
The CIA papers say Gadaffi tried to break Libyan isolation after the bombing by “courting the left,” among other things, “strengthening groups such as the Greenham Common peace camp in the United Kingdom and the Greens who are putting pressure on European governments who are putting pressure on European governments to restrict or remove US military forces in Western Europe.”
Greenham Common protesters were of course among the very many who opposed US bombing raids on Libya in 1986. The attacks were a deadly and pointless piece of warmongering which led to big protests. But the idea that Gadaffi was behind Greenham Common protests — or indeed the Greens — shows the CIA reverting to its worst instincts, seeing secret enemies behind legitimate protest movements.
In a way, the CIA reports are the best reviews of the Greenham protesters. The CIA recognises the women of Greenham had a major influence but they also drive the “intelligence” people to denouncing them as “punks and crazies.”