UK Punk Band Almost Caused A Cold War Incident

Written by Greg Moskovitch on 6th January, 2014

UK Punk Band Almost Caused A Cold War Incident

Recently declassified UK government documents have shed light on a previously unknown piece of Cold War history that not only involved Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, US President Ronald Reagan, MI6, and the US State Department, but a recording by anarchist punk band, Crass.

As BuzzFeed reports, the documents show how official bodies kept tabs on a recording made by the punk outfit, in which they spliced together recordings of Reagan and Thathcer to make it sound as though they were arguing over the Falklands and the possibility of nuclear war with Germany.

“[Bass player Pete Wright] just vanished upstairs one day with a load of little cassette tapes and – with a razor blade and sellotape – was slicing together stuff that he’d recorded off a black and white portable TV that we couldn’t tune in properly,” former Crass singer Steve Ignorant told BuzzFeed.

As the documents show, a Foreign Office official sent the first correspondence regarding the guerrilla recording, writing to Thatcher in 1983 to warn the Iron Lady that the recording could be part of an Argentinian or Soviet intelligence program designed to discredit her, saying:

“The embassy in Hague recently passed to London a tape recording of a purported telephone conversation between the Prime Minister and President Reagan during the Falklands crisis.

“This looks like a rather clumsy operation. We have no evidence so far about who is responsible. SIS [also known as MI6] doubt whether this is a Soviet operation.

“It is possible that one of the Argentine intelligence services might have been behind it; or alternatively it might be the work of left-wing groups in this country.”

The Sunday Times caught wind of the tape via a US State Department briefing, running a piece titled “How the KGB fools the West’s press” and blaming Russian security services. They quoted a State Department official who said “the use of forgeries…points unmistakably to the Russians.”

Declassified cables show the PM herself was concerned about Crass’ bedroom recording, seeking advice from the foreign and home secretaries as to whether she should address the tape during an appearance on BBC’s Panorama, as an example of the “scurrilous” tactics of the UK’s enemies.

The Observer finally outed Crass as the minds behind the “forgery” in 1984, resulting in police visiting the group’s headquarters in rural Essex. Despite the revelation, correspondence continued, with the Prime Minister receiving further updates about the tape and its rather harmless origin.

The band originally sent the tape to Dutch newspapers, who quickly recognised it as a forgery. “I’m quite stunned [the recording] went that far,” Steve Ignorant said. “It makes me a bit worried about governments because if they could be fooled by something so ridiculous…”

Listen: Crass – Thatchergate Tape


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