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Spies for Peace

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Spies for Peace was a group made up of anti-war activists, anarchists and socialists, associated with CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) and the Committee of 100. The group wanted to challenge government weapons policies and what it considered to be a military state, and to do using more than just the usual passive protest methods such as a mass march or sit-down, as favoured by CND. Instead, the group advocated infiltration and exposure, and sought to break into government and military facilities to acquire secret information.

Its most notable success came in 1963, just before Easter, with it publicised government plans for nuclear war, which had been obtained during a break-in at a secret government bunker in Reading, just off the A4 at Warren Row, where group members copied and photographed whatever documents they could find. The location was that of RSG-6, a Regional Seat of Government, and one of 14 similar RSGs around the country which were to be occupied by officials in the event of nuclear war. Each RSG was a planned miniature government, and included representatives from all central government departments. It was intended to run a region in the period immediately following a nuclear attack, maintain law and order, communicate with the surviving population, and control remaining resources. Prior to the break-in, the public was generally unaware that the government had accepted the possibility of thermonuclear war, or that extensive plans had been drawn up and put in place.

In an article published in the New Statesman on May 20, 2002, Natasha Walter, daughter of Nicolas Walter, revealed that the RSG-6 raid actually took place in two separate visits. In the first, the group made its way to the location, guided by leaked stories of a secret underground government bunker in the area. The facility appears to have been unguarded and unlocked, and they made their way inside, grabbed what they could, and left quickly. A second visit followed soon after (not necessarily by the same "Spies"), during which they remained inside the bunker for several hours, and left with more photographs and a suitcase full of copied documents. These finds would provide the information which would reveal the governments secret plans for the country in the event of a thermonuclear war:

The group typed and duplicated 3,000 leaflets explaining what they had found. Secrecy was paramount. "I was terribly panicky," one ex-spy told me. He paused. "But that was also because I was smoking so much cannabis."

They stuffed envelopes in the night, posted them from all over London, burnt all their own documents, posted the original photographs anonymously to sympathisers, and threw the typewriter they had used into a river. "We wore gloves the whole time," another ex-spy said. "Luckily, it was still so cold, no one wondered about me going into the post office and picking up all these stamps, wearing my gloves."
- The NS Essay: How my father spied for peace. Natasha Walter.[1]

In March 2010, Mike Lesser revealed his connection to the group, and the part he played in the break-in at RSG-6.

Although he took part in the first visit, he admits he lost his nerve, and did not take part in the second, being replaced by another group member. Even so, he fled the country, having left his fingerprints at RSG-6, and been previously imprisoned for work he had done for the Committee of 100:

Lesser’s involvement began as a 16-year-old after he was asked to leave Charterhouse, the independent school, and fell in with the Committee of 100, a group campaigning for unilateral nuclear disarmament. Its members included Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, John Osborne, the playwright, and Robert Bolt, who wrote such films as Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago.

On February 16, 1963, Lesser and three of his fellow spies for peace acted on a tip-off that a workman was claiming to have installed equipment in a bunker close to Warren Row, just outside Reading. The codename for the site was RSG-6 — Regional Seat of Government 6.

...

“Between the first and second raids I began to think long and hard about what we had done,” he said. “I went to the guy in charge and said to him, ‘I have lost my nerve and am in a complete panic. I don’t want to let anyone down so I think I should pull out’.”

...

By this stage Lesser had fled Britain: “I ended up lying low for about six months. The police raided the homes of several in the campaign, including my own. I was conscious that my fingerprints were on the door that directly led to the bunker. I had been imprisoned before because of my work for the Committee of 100 and I knew my prints were on file. That feeling haunted me for years.”
- Nuclear bunker spy comes out of hiding.[2]

Danger! Official Secret RSG-6

Danger! Official Secret RSG-6 was the name given to the leaflet in which the Spies for Peace published the information they had obtained during their raid of RSG-6. In it, they revealed the locations of all 14 RSGs.

More than 4,000 copies of the leaflet were eventually produced and posted to the national press, politicians, celebrities, and peace movement activists around the country, in the hope that some would act on the contents. Within days of the leaflets being posted, protesters were demonstrating at the site of RSG-6, and the Spies for Peace featured on the front pages of many newspapers. The police tried to prevent further distribution of the leaflets, but they were already too widely spread. The government tried to suppress further publication of the revelations by issuing an official D-Notice (defence notice - replaced by the DA-Notices System in 1993)[3] to prevent the press from publishing anything further in the interests of national security, but it was too late. The first mass mailing of the leaflet had ensured that the information it contained had seen by many people in positions of power and influence at the same time as government, and it could not be suppressed.

More copies were distributed at CND's Easter march from Aldermaston, and the 1963 Aldermaston issue of the CND bulletin Sanity included the Spies for Peace revelations on its back page. As a result, hundreds, possibly thousands of demonstrators left the Aldermaston march and made their way tor RSG-6 where they set up a picket. Further protests took place at the RSGs in Cambridge and Edinburgh, Barnton Quarry.

The matter was debated in Parliament, and by the end of 1963 an official report on civil defence gave information about the RSGs and the complicated regional civil defence system to the public for the first time. As the effects of nuclear war came to be better understood, it also became apparent to the planners that the system and its RSGs would not be effective, and with their secrecy lost, the were eventually abandoned.

Following publication of the leaflet, a number of police raids were carried out and several people were arrested, although the original Spies for Peace were never identified or caught, and have stayed silent since, to avoid any later action being taken against them.

Inside the leaflet

Most of the leaflet was about RSG-6, which the group described in detail, listing all the personnel who would have staffed the bunker. It went on to list all the RSGs, together with their telephone numbers.

It described emergency planning exercises during which RSG-6 had been activated, including FALLEX-62, a NATO exercise carried out in September 1962. Possibly hinting at the source of its information, the group claimed that FALLEX-62 had "convinced at least one occupant of one RSG at least that the deterrent is quite futile". The group further asserted that the exercise demonstrated the incapacity of public services to cope with the consequences of nuclear attack ,and that the RSG system would not work, saying that it "proved once and for all the truth of the 1957 Defence White Paper that there is no defence against nuclear war."

To emphasise the point, the leaflet included a claim that at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, only one month after FALLEX-62, RSG-6 was not activated.

The leaflet contained a number of statements, saying that "RSG-6 is not a centre for civil defence. It is a centre for military government", and that it was "about a small group of people who have accepted thermonuclear war as a probability, and are consciously and carefully planning for it. ... They are quietly waiting for the day the bomb drops, for that will be the day they take over."

The group objected strongly to the fact that the RSG network had not been publicly debated, that its staff were unelected, and that they would have military powers.

References

1 The NS Essay: How my father spied for peace. Natasha Walter. New Statesman. May 20, 2002

2 Nuclear bunker spy comes out of hiding - Times Online. March 21, 2010. Retrieved March 22, 2010

3 DA-Notices System

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