How the UK military and intelligence establishment is working to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister
Officials in the UK military and intelligence establishment have been sources for at least 34 major national media stories that cast Jeremy Corbyn as a danger to British security, new research shows.
The stories — which quote former or current members of the army, navy and special forces, as well as MI5, MI6 and an ex-senior civil servant — have averaged one every six weeks since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party in September 2015. There have, however, been significant spikes in frequency during the 2017 and 2019 general election campaigns.
There is a strong suggestion that, for some stories, intelligence officials have themselves provided secret documents to journalists as part of what appears to be a campaign.
Every story has been picked up across national print media, often setting the news agenda and chiming with statements from Conservative government ministers. Nearly every story appeared in four papers — The Daily Telegraph, The Times, the Daily Mail, or The Sun.
Our research also found 440 articles in the UK press since September 2015 specifically mentioning Corbyn as a “threat to national security”.
The intelligence services and the military are supposed to abide by the “constitutional principle” of non-involvement in political affairs. But the numerous instances of serving national security officials briefing against Corbyn in the media raises questions about whether this principle has been upheld.
Corbyn becomes Labour leader
One week after Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader, the Sunday Times carried a story quoting a “senior serving general” who warned that the armed forces would take “direct action” to stop a Corbyn government. The general added: “There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny.”
The Times story also quoted an unnamed “senior intelligence source” saying the security services would refuse to let Corbyn see information on live operations because of “his sympathy towards some terrorists”.
The paper then reported on “a dossier passed to the Sunday Times” alleging that Corbyn voted against 13 counter-terrorism bills since the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 1984 made it illegal to support the IRA, the republican terrorist group in Northern Ireland. It was not mentioned who passed this dossier to the Times.
The same article also quoted the Labour peer and former navy First Sea Lord, Lord West of Spithead saying he might resign the party whip if Corbyn was not strong enough on defence. “I will have to wait and see what Labour’s defence policies are,” he said.
The former head of MI6 Sir John Scarlett joined the board of The Times newspaper in December 2010, the year after he left his position as chief of the Secret Intelligence Service. Corbyn personally led the campaign in parliament in 2004 to block Scarlett’s appointment as head of MI6 because of his links to the “dodgy dossier” which was used by Tony Blair to push for war in Iraq.
The serving military’s focus on Corbyn continued just over a month after the Times article when General Sir Nicholas Houghton, then chief of the defence staff, said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Corbyn’s intention never to use nuclear weapons “undermines the credibility” of the “deterrent”.
A flurry of stories leaked to the media by the military and intelligence agencies was published soon after the snap general election was called by then prime minister Theresa May on 18 April 2017.
Within a week, The Daily Telegraph carried a story built around the testimony of “ex-military chiefs” titled “Jeremy Corbyn condemned by military chiefs and own Labour MPs over defence policy shambles”. Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, formerly the UK’s chief of defence staff, told the paper: “Jeremy Corbyn… has demonstrated why he should not be trusted with the ultimate responsibility of government — that of the nation’s defence and security.” While in position, Lord Richards was a major force behind the Ministry of Defence’s “secret cyber-war programme” run out of MOD Corsham in Wiltshire, which includes “online propaganda”.
Lord West, the former admiral who had spoken to The Times in 2015, added that Corbyn risked alienating the armed forces. He said: “[Corbyn] makes the average member of the armed forces think ‘Is this guy supporting us or not?’ ”
On 20 May 2017, a little over two weeks before the election, The Daily Telegraph was fed another story, this time from the intelligence agencies. It stated that “MI5 opened a file on Jeremy Corbyn amid concerns over his links to the IRA”. Forming part of a Telegraph investigation claiming to reveal “Mr Corbyn’s full links to the IRA”, the story was sourced to an individual “close to” the MI5 investigation who said “a file had been opened on him by the early nineties”. The Metropolitan Police special branch was also said to be monitoring Corbyn in the same period.
These stories were used by the Conservative government to deem Corbyn a “threat” to the UK’s national security, which was to become one of the government’s major attack lines in the 2017 election campaign. For example, a week after the Telegraph “exclusive”, in late May 2017, the Press Association reported: “Tories target Jeremy Corbyn’s security record as polls suggest Labour advance.”
Then on the eve of the general election, the former head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove obliged the Conservative strategy as The Daily Telegraph published an article from him under the headline: “Jeremy Corbyn is a danger to this nation. At MI6, which I once led, he wouldn’t clear the security vetting.”
Corbyn’s better-than-expected results in the 2017 general election led to a significant rise in the number of media interventions from active and retired military and intelligence personnel. Rightwing papers began to claim that intelligence archives in former Eastern-bloc countries held incriminating files on Corbyn’s alleged treachery.
On 1 October 2017, The Sun alleged that Corbyn had previous connections to East Germany’s notorious secret police, the Stasi. It reported that a “Stasi file on the Labour leader that could make him vulnerable to blackmail is being kept secret”. It added: “Secret papers passed to The Sun… show he is linked to Labour Party associates and groups who were allies of the Stasi’s spies.” The paper did not say where or how it had obtained these documents.
Two weeks later, Lord Richard Dannatt, the former head of the army, told LBC that Corbyn had a “bad track record” on national security.
That same month, as Corbyn was enjoying a bounce in popularity, Stella Rimington, who ran MI5 between 1992-96, said that some people the agency had spied on in the past were now involved in Momentum, a pro-Corbyn grassroots movement. “I now see in Momentum some of the people we were looking at in the Trotskyite organisations in the 1980s,” she said. “They are now grown up and advising our would-be prime minister, Mr Corbyn, as to how to prepare for power. It is an ironic turn of events.”
A few months later, in February 2018, The Sun published an exclusive — titled “Corbyn and the Commie Spy” — which claimed that “Jeremy Corbyn met a communist spy during the cold war and ‘briefed’ evil regime of clampdown by British intelligence”. Corbyn was said to have his own Czech intelligence code-name — COB — and “was allegedly put on a list of Czechoslovakian state security team’s agents and sources”. The revelation was said to have come from “secret files obtained by The Sun”, but the paper did not state how it obtained them or from whom.
A week later, Richard Dearlove — who is fluent in Czech and served in the country for MI6 — authored another article in The Daily Telegraph on the subject of the Czech allegations, titled “Take it from a former spy: the accusations against Jeremy Corbyn should be taken very seriously”.
Also in February, the rightwing blog Guido Fawkes repeated the claim that the East German Stasi held a file on Corbyn. The story was widely picked up by the British press, but this time Germany’s Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records issued an official rebuttal, effectively killing the story.
Facts of life
Later, in September 2018, two anonymous senior government sources told The Sunday Times that Corbyn had been “summoned” for a “ ‘facts of life’ talk on terror” by MI5 chief Andrew Parker. MI5 was likely involved in the leak as the article noted what the agency’s boss wanted to brief Corbyn on. The reporters also based the story on a “security source” who “acknowledged that some of the Labour leader’s public statements on terrorism have been ‘troubling’ to the security services”.
Two weeks later, the Daily Mail published an “exclusive” based on sources and documents obtained from Ukrainian intelligence that alleged that “Jeremy Corbyn’s most influential House of Commons adviser has been barred from entering Ukraine on the grounds that he is a national security threat”. The article concerned Andrew Murray, who had worked in Corbyn’s office for a year but had still not received a security pass to enter the UK parliament. The Mail also reported, based on what it called “a senior parliamentary source”, that Murray’s application had encountered “vetting problems”.
Intelligence agencies are known to use “cutouts” such as a “parliamentary source” or “Whitehall official” to get information into the media. Murray later inferred that the security services had leaked the story to the Mail. “Call me sceptical if you must, but I do not see journalistic enterprise behind the Mail’s sudden capacity to tease obscure information out of the [Ukrainian security service],” he wrote in the New Statesman.
A week after this Mail story appeared, The Daily Telegraph published an article titled “Jeremy Corbyn would be a problem for security, says historian to MI5”. This was an exclusive interview with Professor Christopher Andrew, a Cambridge academic who was appointed by MI5 to be its official historian in 2002 and has “virtually unrestricted access” to the security service’s archives. He was asked whether he thought MI5 and MI6 would be reluctant to tell prime minister Corbyn everything he ought to know. “One question is how far Corbyn would wish to be informed,” Andrew replied. “It doesn’t seem a subject that engages his attention. There are some people in the shadow cabinet who have called for the closing down of MI5.”
In November 2018, The Daily Telegraph again “learnt” from an unspecified source that Corbyn had “recently met” with Alex Younger, the head of MI6, during which “the importance of the agency’s work and the severity of the threats facing Britain were made clear to him.” The imputation was again that Corbyn was naive to the threats facing the UK. It was likely that MI6 was involved in the leak as a “Whitehall official” divulged “the feeling” within the agency “that the time had come for Mr Corbyn to become acquainted with the workings of the intelligence establishment.”
Those around Corbyn have also been the subject of articles, particularly his communications director Seumas Milne, a former Guardian journalist who was critical of the security services while at the paper. On 23 February 2019, the Daily Mail published “investigations” into Milne, claiming to reveal “startling new evidence of long-standing links between Jeremy Corbyn’s closest adviser and Middle Eastern terrorist groups, together with an outspoken defence of Russian interests dating back decades”. The dossier of evidence included details of a university vacation in 1977.
Former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove was interviewed by the Mail for the story and said: “Anyone with his sort of background could not be let anywhere near classified information. It would be out of the question. I am alarmed enough by Corbyn’s past associations, but Milne’s put him beyond the pale. That means Corbyn could not make the judgments and decisions a PM has to make unless he stopped consulting him.”
A few months later, in July 2019, another former head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, also criticised Corbyn, telling the BBC the Labour leader did “not have the standing that we have become used to in our top leadership”.
Britain back to the polls
The announcement of an election on 28 October 2019 has prompted at least 13 new stories from security services and military-linked individuals serving to undermine the Labour leader.
On November 6, The Times published a series of stories sourced to military and intelligence personnel. One was titled “Security services fear Corbyn would torpedo Trident” and claimed “senior figures in the military are concerned that if he gets to No 10 he would write memos insisting that the missiles should never be fired”. Lord West again told the paper that Corbyn has put Britain in an “extraordinary and dangerous position”, adding, “He doesn’t understand what deterrence means”.
It further noted that MI5 and MI6 had “serious concerns that intelligence would dry up under a Corbyn premiership, making the country more vulnerable”. Intelligence sharing in the “Five Eyes” alliance that includes the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand would be put at risk, a “senior figure” told The Times.
The second story began in a similar vein: “The intelligence services… fear that national security would be put at risk if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister, The Times has been told.” It quoted a “former permanent secretary” — the top civil servant in a government department — who was said to have “close links to the intelligence services”. This intelligence-linked source told the paper that if Corbyn won the election, “it would have a chilling effect. That would put us at greater risk”.
Three days later, with the election campaign in full swing, another “exclusive” appeared based on material supposedly found in the Czech state security archives. This time it was the Daily Mail that had apparently sent a Czech-speaking reporter to the country for a UK election story. The article was titled, “Revealed: Top Corbyn aide held four meetings with Czech spy in the 1980s and was viewed as a “friend of the Soviet Embassy’ and an ‘enemy’ of US”.
The allegations again concerned Corbyn adviser Andrew Murray who was alleged to have met a Czech agent in the 1980s, similar to the accusation levelled against Corbyn by The Sun the previous year.
Two days later, on November 11, the Daily Mail published more concerns by ex-navy chief Lord West in a column titled, “It pains me to say it, but we cannot entrust our nation’s defence to Jeremy Corbyn”.
Then on November 16, home secretary Priti Patel joined the chorus, warning of the risk to national security if Labour formed the next government. The minister, echoing the intelligence and military officials over the past four years, told The Sun: “Just the thought of [Jeremy Corbyn and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott] in charge of our national security makes me feel ill. They have sided with and defended some of the most appalling individuals and terrorist groups.” She added: “In any other circumstances, I am not sure [they] would even get security clearance. Their backgrounds alone would be enough to set alarm bells ringing.”
A week later, with the election less than three weeks away, Richard Dearlove made another intervention in the Daily Mail. The article was titled, “Jeremy Corbyn is a danger to national security who is unfit to become Prime Minister, warns former MI6 chief”. The former spy warned the British public: “Do not even think of taking the risk of handing this politician the keys to No 10.” It led the news agenda in the subsequent days.
Three days later, on November 26, The Daily Telegraph published another “exclusive” stating that “Israel may halt its intelligence co-operation with the UK if Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister and carries out his pledge to impose an arms embargo on Israel”.
The article, based on an interview with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also contained an interview with a former MI6 officer who said that a Corbyn premiership “would likely see the intelligence relationship between Britain and Israel ‘put on hold’ for the duration of his time in office”. The Telegraph then reiterated the threat posed by prime minister Corbyn by noting that “a tip from [Israeli intelligence agency] Mossad led UK police to a house in northwest London in 2015 where Hizbollah-linked operatives were stockpiling tonnes of explosive materials”.
In mid-November, The Daily Telegraph reporter Con Coughlin had written a column titled “Corbyn as prime minister would put Britain’s national security at risk” in which he claimed “a Corbyn government would have disastrous consequences for Britain’s ability to defend itself.” Two weeks later, on 29 November, he was awarded a scoop — titled, “SAS ‘could lose Brunei training base’ if Corbyn becomes prime minister” — by “insiders at the Ministry of Defence”. One “senior defence source” told him: “Losing our base in Brunei would represent a significant setback for the army.”
On 1 December 2019, less than two weeks before the election, The Times ran another warning, this time from former military commanders, under the title “Jeremy Corbyn ‘will wreck armed forces’ ”. Five prominent military commanders warned in a statement issued to the paper that Jeremy Corbyn is “dangerous” for national security and “has been a friend of our country’s enemies: whether it is Hamas or the IRA”.
The signatories included Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley, who was deputy commander of the international security force in Afghanistan; Major-General Tim Cross, the commander of British troops in Iraq; Major-General Julian Thompson, who led British land forces in the Falklands; Rear-Admiral Roger Lane-Nott, who led British naval forces during the latter stages of the Gulf War; and, Colonel Richard Kemp, a commander of 300 British troops in Afghanistan, who had also worked for the joint intelligence committee.
The UK’s general election takes place on 12 December. DM
Matt Kennard is head of investigations at Declassified UK. He tweets at @DCKennard.
Corbyn hit by mutiny on airstrikes (Times, 20 September 2015)
Exclusive: MI5 opened file on Jeremy Corbyn amid concerns over his IRA links (Daily Telegraph, 19 May 2017)
Jeremy Corbyn condemned by military chiefs and own Labour MPs over defence policy shambles (Daily Telegraph, 24 April 2017)
Jeremy Corbyn is a danger to this nation. At MI6, which I once led, he wouldn’t clear the security vetting (Daily Telegraph, 7 June 2017)
MI5 head Andrew Parker summons Jeremy Corbyn for ‘facts of life’ talk on terror (Times, 2 September 2018)
UK Under Corbyn Would Be A Nuclear Disarmed Country, Warns Ex-Army Head (LBC, 13 October 2017)
We spied on Trotskyists who are now close to Corbyn — ex-MI5 head (PoliticsHome, 14 October 2017)
Labour MPs ‘were paid £10,000 to meet spies’ (Daily Mail, 18 February 2018)
Stasi File Reveals Corbyn’s Peace Group Was Infiltrated By East German Spies (Guido Fawkes, 21 February 2018)
Take it from a former spy: the accusations against Jeremy Corbyn should be taken very seriously (Daily Telegraph, 23 February 2018)
Corbyn’s ex-Communist top adviser is banned from entering the Ukraine for three years after intelligence officials brand him a national security risk ‘over links to Putin’ (Daily Mail, 15 September 2018)
Jeremy Corbyn would be a problem for security, says historian to MI5 (Daily Telegraph, 22 September 2018)
Jeremy Corbyn meets head of MI6 for first time amid snap election fears (Daily Telegraph, 9 November 2018)
‘Threat to national security’ Ex-SAS veteran delivers DAMNING assessment of Jeremy Corbyn (Daily Express, 24 November 2018)
Is the man MPs call ‘Corbyn’s brain’ the REAL reason Labour is drowning in the poison of anti-Semitism? Seumus Milne, the spin doctor who promoted Palestinian terror, parrots Putin and called IRA bombers ‘daring’ (Daily Mail, 23 February 2019)
Former MI6 head: UK in ‘political nervous breakdown’ (BBC, 6 July 2019)
Security services fear Corbyn would torpedo Trident (Times, 6 November 2019)
Ex Labour ministers fear Corbyn is threat to national security (Times, 6 November 2019)
Defence Chief’s stern message to Jeremy Corbyn ‘NATO very important for national security’ (Sky News, 10 November 2019)
It pains me to say it, but we cannot entrust our nation’s defence to Jeremy Corbyn: Labour peer and ex First Sea Lord Admiral LORD WEST gives his devastating verdict on party leader (Daily Mail, 12 November 2019)
‘Why would Russia target Labour who want to break up Nato and axe Trident?’: Defence Minister Ben Wallace says Jeremy Corbyn is trying to ‘distract from his dire campaign’ by alleging Kremlin cyber attack (Daily Mail, 12 November 2019)
Labour’s ‘visceral hatred’ of the Special Relationship: Jeremy Corbyn’s closest aide Seumas Milne demanded US soldiers be KICKED OUT of Britain because UK shouldn’t support America’s ‘declining empire’ (Daily Mail, 22 November 2019)
Don’t even think of handing Jeremy Corbyn the keys to Number 10, says ex-MI6 chief SIR RICHARD DEARLOVE who claims Labour leader’s radical past portrays the truth about him (Daily Mail, 23 November 2019)
Jeremy Corbyn condemned by Labour peer on defence: ‘He sides with terrorists!’ (Daily Express, 27 November 2019)
World War 3: British admiral warns of conflict as Putin ‘only understands hard power’ (Daily Express, 28 November 2019)
SAS ‘could lose Brunei training base’ if Corbyn becomes prime minister (Daily Telegraph, 29 November)