Thanks to the latest technology and some clandestine chicanery, Britain’s secret eavesdropping agency GCHQ is renowned for its ability to listen to the conversations of the leaders of Britain’s enemies and, occasionally, its friends.
Less known is the shadowy Government Communications Headquarters’ unblemished record in gaining information on the average duration of a Soviet tyre and plans for celebrating Stalin’s 70th birthday.
Thousands of pages of intelligence intercepts from the early days of the Cold War were made public yesterday, showing how British intelligence not only tapped into communications from deep inside the Kremlin but also built up a vast bank of data dealing with the minutiae of life in the Soviet Union as Britain’s wartime ally rapidly became the “Red Menace”.
The documents, released by the National Archives in Kew, west London, reveal how Britain struck a top-secret deal with the United States in 1946 to formalise the sharing of secret intelligence between the two countries which had developed during World War II. It helped cement the “special relationship”
The result was a wholesale effort by the Government Communications Headquarters, which moved to Cheltenham in 1951, to tap phone lines, bug offices and electronically eavesdrop on conversations to plug a gap in Britain’s understanding of life behind the Iron Curtain.
From a ban on “pseudo and inartistic” folk songs in the furthest eastern provinces of Russia to an exhortation by Moscow to resolve a vodka shortage in Dagestan, a comprehensive trawl of conversations across Soviet government was laid before British and American intelligence chiefs to try to gauge the stresses and strains in Russian society.
Dr Ed Hampshire, the head of specialist records at the National Archives, said: “This material was provided to the heads of intelligence to build up military, political, economic and social intelligence.More