Friday, 6 March 2015

RIP Stephen Crouch. Top source, fine man.


Stephen Crouch

Crouch was likened to a character out of a John le Carré novel

  • Stephen Crouch
    Crouch was likened to a character out of a John le Carré novel
Enigmatic lobbyist whose suspected links with the security services were, unusually, forcefully denied by the Foreign Office
In April 1991, with the dust settling on the first Gulf War and a series of bloody uprisings raging in northern and southern Iraq, Stephen Crouch was camped out in the Turkish town of Cizre
The bleak outpost, perched precariously on the border with both Syria and Iraq, and surrounded on three sides by the River Tigris, was a forward operating base for British and American military observers watching which way the wind would blow for Saddam Hussein. While most of the foreigners who arrived in the Kurdish town that spring had a predefined role in the unfolding drama, no one quite knew why Crouch was there.
He attended press conferences, even asking questions, but he was not a journalist. He wore camouflage, but, with his rolling gait and loud, easy laugh, he was not a military man. Some got the impression that he was a spy, but, while there was much speculation that he was on the payroll of MI6, the CIA or some private military contractor, it was never really clear who he was working for — if anybody.
When later Crouch was named as a mysterious “defence lobbyist” in the fall out surrounding the resignation of the Conservative defence secretary Dr Liam Fox in 2011, the questions arose again, who was he and who was paying him? Seemingly cut from the pages of an Evelyn Waugh novel, his persona was one of the upper crust, slightly out of place, Englishman abroad. A larger than life character, the twinkle in his eye, ready smile, booming voice and studied bumbling manner, won over many of those he met, including his many contacts in Iraq, Libya and Syria, who seemingly forgave his self-taught and rather atrocious Arabic, which was spoken loudly with an English public school accent.
Following his death, one key contact, a former Lebanese intelligence officer, described him as “the top diplomat and negotiator of complex issues . . . he understood the Middle East better than any desk officer and knew what needed to be done by heart.” He added: “There are many novels [by] John le Carré, behind the scenes; he was the real thing.”
Crouch had many friends and even more acquaintances, and could pick up the phone to senior figures in the State Department and Foreign Office, later opening a Middle East consultancy alongside a former MI6 officer and a former British ambassador to Iraq.
The illegitimate son of Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair, a forger behind the Priory of Sion hoax through which he claimed to be the heir to the French crown, young Crouch and his mother and stepfather emigrated to New Zealand where he spent many of his early years “running wild” on a sheep farm; he was brought home to England at the age of 15 and sent to Malvern School. When the school failed to tame him he was expelled, spending several years wandering around Turkey and developing his love of the Muslim world.
By 1991, he had been in the thick of the fighting in northern Iraq, with photographs showing him carrying a machinegun surrounded by heavily armed Kurdish fighters and blond-haired “special forces” troops. Pictures also show him taking notes from Jalal Talabani, one of the Kurdish independence leaders who became president of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
At about this time, the Foreign Office took the unusual step of denying that Crouch had anything to do with them or the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6.
Working as British co-ordinator for the Kurdish Reconstruction Office, badgering the West for help, Crouch was dubbed, with affection by some, as “Lawrence of Kurdistan”. But, having fallen out with the new Kurdish leadership, his friends in Whitehall were quick to abandon him and he was forced to deny he had “passed himself off” as a British official. Back in Britain, Crouch played some unspecified role in Northern Ireland, later hinting that he had some deniable part in the early negotiations with the IRA that led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Certainly, from time to time, several, slightly unsavoury characters who played a covert role in the Troubles would make an appearance at Crouch’s south London flat. There he would entertain them with copious bottles of red wine, while probing them for information, surrounded by artefacts from his travels, including countless Persian carpets and a silver revolver of dubious origin that took pride of place on the mantelpiece.
At about the same time, he began working with the government of Kuwait, attempting to locate treasures and antiquities looted from the country during the first Gulf War. Dick Ellis, former head of the Scotland Yard art and antiquities squad, said Crouch came to him with information on a Lebanese and Jordanian network involved in marketing looted Kuwaiti cultural objects. As a result, police raided an apartment at the Dorchester Hotel and recovered objects worth more than £1 million, including a royal prayer mat. For Ellis, it was the start of a long and successful association.
Crouch also ran the Iraqi British Interest Group (IBI), a lobbying group that ran foul of the Iraqi National Congress, which was seen as Iraq’s government in exile. Suspicious of his activities, it said: “Crouch is acting as a middleman for businessmen who are trying to rehabilitate Saddam’s regime. Once you start dealing with them and pursuing contracts you are saying they are going to be around to implement those contracts so you are giving legitimacy to the regime.”
Later that year questions were asked in the House of Commons about Crouch’s role after it was disclosed that the Foreign Office’s overseas development office was funding a medical project he was running in northern Iraq.
By 2010, Crouch had branched out into mainstream politics, taking over as chairman of the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire Conservative Association, near his then home in the Welsh constituency. Again he was embroiled in controversy. Simon Hart, a former chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, successfully fought the marginal seat for the Tories. Crouch was active in the campaign, but after the election, having returned to the shadows, he faced questions about political donations that he had secured.
In the years that followed, Crouch returned to the Middle East, continuing his efforts to bring British business and expertise to Iraq, where many of his long-time friends and allies found themselves in key government posts, and established the Iraq Research Group (IRG), alongside two former UK diplomats.
When Fox found himself at the centre of a scandal over his relationship with the lobbyist Adam Werritty, who had been allowed access to the Ministry of Defence, Crouch was caught in the crossfire. After Dr Fox’s resignation, it was disclosed that IRG had reportedly donated £20,000 to Werritty’s lobbying company, and that arrangements had allegedly been made for Werritty and Crouch to meet the minister responsible for the arms trade. Crouch insisted that the meeting was unconnected with his donation.
He was married three times. His first wife was Mireille, with whom he had a daughter, Ingrid; his second wife was Princess Marie, who had Kurdish “royal” ancestry. He is survived by his third wife, Miranda, who is a successful writer, and Ingrid, who manages a shop.
Crouch was killed after he was hit by a car while out walking his dogs near his home in Midhurst, Sussex. To the end, he remained an enigma.

Stephen Crouch, lobbyist, was born on January 25, 1955. He died on February 7, 2015, aged 60

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Innocent in Guantanamo

26 February 2006
The Mail on Sunday

AN alleged Al Qaeda ' general' held at the Guantanamo Bay terror suspect camp was working as a chef in London when America says he was training to be an assassin in Afghanistan, it is claimed.
Cooked up charges?  Chef or "The General", Ahmed Errachidi 
Evidence obtained by The Mail on Sunday casts serious doubt on US allegations that Ahmed Errachidi was fighting alongside Osama Bin Laden in the months before the September 11 attacks.
The revelation comes as international pressure mounts on President Bush to close the camp in Cuba after a highly critical UN report about its treatment of prisoners.
Errachidi, a 38-year-old Moroccan who has worked in London restaurants for 18 years and whose fish dishes have been described by one food critic as 'the best I have ever tasted', has been held in Guantanamo for four years - much of that time in solitary confinement - after being arrested in Pakistan.
He has told his lawyers that he was accused of being an Al Qaeda fighter after an unnamed intelligence source said he had attended terrorist courses at the Al Farouq camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan, where four of the 9/11 hijackers are alleged to have been trained.
He is accused of receiving specialist training at the camp in July 2001 in weapons handling, war tactics and bombmaking. However, documents obtained independently by this newspaper show that at the time Errachidi was working as a chef at the five-star Westbury Hotel in Mayfair.
Shown a photograph of the imprisoned man by the The Mail on Sunday, fellow chef Fabrice Guillon said: 'I remember him. We definitely worked together two or three times while I was at the Westbury Hotel in July 2001. I feel it is important that I speak out. If he is innocent, then he shouldn't be being held where he is.'
Last night Errachidi's lawyer, human rights specialist Clive Stafford Smith, claimed he had other evidence including bank records to suggest his client was in Britain at the time.
Mr Stafford Smith is now demanding Errachidi's immediate release. He said: 'Fortunately we can prove that whoever said he was at the Al Farouq training camp is a liar.'
Mr Stafford Smith's new evidence raises doubts over other US allegations against Errachidi.
He has been accused of regularly attending the jailed cleric Abu Hamza's Finsbury Park Mosque in London alongside other alleged terrorists including shoe bomber Richard Reid.
It is also claimed he was a member of an Al Qaeda-linked Moroccan terror group that allegedly carried out reconnaissance missions in New York before 9/11.
On September 18, 2001, a week after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Errachidi left London to visit his wife and children in Morocco.
He says he intended to fly on to Pakistan to try to set up a business venture to raise money for a heart operation for his one-year-old son Imran.
Errachidi insists that he abandoned the idea when he heard on the news that America was bombing Afghanistan and went there instead, intending to help women and children caught up in the fighting.
But he claims after less than a month in the country it had become too dangerous and he decided to leave. Errachidi says he then headed for Pakistan, where he was detained by the police. After several weeks in jail he claims he was taken to Islamabad and turned over to the Americans.
They took him to the American prison camp at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, where, according to his lawyer, a sign on the door of the interrogation room said 'Janaham' - meaning 'Hell' in Arabic.
Mr Stafford Smith noted: 'Mr Errachidi spent the next 26 days being tortured and interrogated in Hell.'
After his transfer to Guantanamo Bay it is claimed the American interrogators took a special interest in Errachidi.
According to a lawyer's submission to American authorities: 'Mr Errachidi was dubbed "The General" by US forces. The idea he played any role in terrorism, let alone with the rank of "The General", is absurd. He received the "rank" because he would stand up for other prisoners who were being abused.'
During his four years at Guantanamo Errachidi has spent almost half of it in solitary confinement, longer than any other prisoner there.
Last night Whitehall security sources urged 'caution' in connection with the case.

9 April 2006

AN alleged Al Qaeda terrorist held at Guantanamo Bay - who says he was working as a London chef when the CIA claim he was training to be an assassin - has gone on hunger strike.
Ahmed Errachidi is starving himself in protest at his treatment at the US detention camp and the refusal of the British Government to intervene on his behalf.
Errachidi, a 38-year-old Moroccan who has worked in London for 18 years, has been accused of being an Al Qaeda fighter who had attended terrorist courses at the Al Farouq camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. However, employment records show that at the time, Errachidi was working as a chefin the Westbury Hotel in London's Mayfair.
A UK resident rather than a passport holder, Errachidi is one of several Guantanamo prisoners whom the Foreign Office refuses to help.
Last week his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, handed The Mail on Sunday a statement from Mr Errachidi - which has been declassified by US authorities and which we reproduce in part below - explaining why he has gone on hunger strike.
'I AM a British resident. I have lived in London for about 18 years. I have gone on hunger strike [as of March 9, 2006]. Four years ago almost to the day, the British came to see me in Bagram and promised they would investigate my situation and I would be free in weeks. I co-operated with them fully.
Now, four years later, I am being tortured in Guantanamo. The Americans say I was in Afghanistan in July 2001 - when I was cooking eggs at the Westbury Hotel!
Enough is enough. I have the right to protest, peacefully. I am not harming them [the Americans]. I must be allowed to demonstrate peacefully. I do not want to die; I want to live, and I am not living here.
I hope to break the record for not eating the longest. I will not die, I will only strike until I can no longer stand under my own strength. But I will do it for 40, 50, 60, perhaps 70 days.
I am only five days with no food today. I forbid the US military from forced 'torture feeding' on me. I urge them to leave me alone until I can no longer stand. It is a matter of dignity. I know what their plan for me will be. They will try to torture-feed me. What they do is as follows: It began yesterday [March 8, 2006], when they started to punish me for striking. They forced me into the torture chair. The chair is black and looks a bit like an electric chair. There are straps all over and I was shackled.
The officer came in and read me the 'rules' saying I was guilty of inciting a hunger strike. 'You are being punished for this.' Then two soldiers held my neck while they cut my beard and shaved my head.
I am not told I will be in the Oscar Block for punishment. I am allowed a blanket from 10pm to 4.30am only. Otherwise I have only the clothes (orange, of course) I stand up in and an Isomat. It is freezing cold but when I asked a guard to turn the temperature up, he said: 'Don't come to Oscar'.
I have no soap and now only 30 sheets of TP [toilet paper] a day. They use degradation to try to break me. Yesterday I ran out of TP and asked for more. The soldier said: 'Don't come to Oscar.'
I have a yeast infection and yesterday the medical corpsman refused to give me my medication cream because I no longer had a piece of TP for him to put it on.
They still use the noise machines, too.
I know what is coming next. When the military broke some of the strikers, I was in Romeo and they brought four of them out, and I saw the horror in their eyes. They each had bruises on their noses.
They described what had happened. The tube the military used was hard and not as flexible as before. These were used for a kind of internal torture - they bruise and hurt your sensitive inner organs. Before, they left the tube in. Now, they take it in and out every meal.
They had been put in a chair, strapped much as I was yesterday, also with a head strap. Rather than two cans of Ensure [a food supplement], now it is five cans, plus three bottles of water in the bag. And they force it in over as little as 20 minutes.
All of this is done in Oscar, where I am now, in extreme cold. Sometimes there is a coil in your stomach, as they put too much of the tube in. Then a final bottle of water is used to flush the tube out. Then they give a pink medicine in the bag - some kind of laxative as dessert - and leave you in the chair for a minimum of two more hours, occasionally up to five. If the prisoner throws up, he gets the same treatment again but if you have been on strike for weeks, your stomach has shrunk.
As the prisoner sits, strapped in the torture chair, the guard takes the bag and tugs it out, sometimes humming to himself. The prisoner invariably screams, and there is blood on the tube. In response, the guard growls, 'Eat! Eat!' The prisoners invariably soil their pants. There is no change of pants - we must wash them ourselves. They use nappies, but to protect the chair only. When the prisoner vomits, the next time they use a gag on his mouth.
I spoke to the colonel about all this, and I said: 'Obviously, to do this you must have authority from higher up.' He replied: 'Yes, high, high up.'
With prisoners, the nose torture begins after 18 to 40 days. I expect they will torture-feed me after about 30 days - maybe April 3, 2006. They call this 'Chair Time'. That is when my real Chair Time will begin.
Inhuman, cruel, torture - all these words apply. Nobody, no matter how savage, has come up with torture-feeding before. I am a chef, and my profession has been to give pleasure through food. There is a sick irony that food is being used as torture against me now.
Will the US military, and the world, allow me to protest peacefully, or will I be subjected to torturefeeding? All I ask is for justice - this is a hunger strike to protect life, a struggle for the Truth.
249 words
8 April 2007

AN ALLEGED terrorist held at Guantanamo Bay has been cleared after evidence showed he was a chef at a London hotel when the CIA claimed he was training to be an Al Qaeda assassin.
US intelligence officials dubbed Ahmed Errachidi 'The General' and said he fought alongside Osama Bin Laden in the months before the September 11 attacks.
But an American military judge cleared Mr Errachidi after he examined the evidence, which was unearthed by The Mail on Sunday.
Despite the finding, his application to return home to Britain - where he had worked for nearly 20 years - has been refused and he remains a prisoner at the US military base. The Foreign Office will not help him because he is a British resident, not a citizen, and does not have a UK passport.
Mr Errachidi, a 39-year-old Moroccan, had worked in London restaurants for 18 years.
Employment records, obtained by this newspaper, showed that in July 2001 - when he was alleged to have been at the al-Farooq terrorist training camp in Afghanistan - he was working at the Westbury Hotel in Mayfair
Mr Errachidi has been held in Guantanamo Bay for five years, much of that time in solitary confinement.
Last night his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith of human-rights group Reprieve, called on the British Government to allow his client home. He said: 'Despite the finding, Ahmed is still locked up in an isolation cell.'

Radical past. From the archives

Frighteningly radical, set on violence what MI5 said about Labour boss's old comrades; Secret security service files reveal militant past of new General Secretary
First published 2 September 2001 The Mail on Sunday
THE NEW General Secretary of the Labour Party was named by the security services as a Communist firebrand and actively supported a series of student riots, The Mail on Sunday has learned.
Secret documents reveal how David Triesman now a respected trade union negotiator and a millionaire through inherited investment and property businesses was regarded as a leading figure in a 'potentially revolutionary movement' at the height of the Cold War.
The young activist advocated violence as a legitimate tactic for protesters, preached social upheaval and said there was no ideological difference between the Labour and Conservative
parties. Yet tomorrow, he will take up a key role in Tony Blair's New Labour, with special responsibility for the party's grassroots and conferences.
His domestic arrangements have also changed since his student days. Mr Triesman lives alone in a four-storey, Pounds 750,000 house bought ten years ago by a Liechtenstein trust run by a man who managed the secretive offshore investments of disgraced tycoon Robert Maxwell.
The radical past of David Maxim Triesman, now 57, is disclosed in security service reports which were prepared for the Cabinet and have been obtained by The Mail on Sunday.
They were commissioned in 1968, as students fought with the police outside the US Embassy in London and at university campuses across Britain.
The security services were asked to identify ringleaders and investigate whether the riots were 'organised, directed or financed' by 'international Communism'. Mr Triesman was identified as being part of a 'revolutionary element . . . associated with the Radical Student Alliance' (RSA).
He was one of the leaders of the RSA and helped lead protests against the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons. He also led demonstrations at Essex University, where he was a student.
The report says: 'Leading members of the RSA have been concerned in the organisation of most of the recent protest demonstrations at British universities, notably David Adelstein at the LSE and David Triesman at Essex.' During the height of the trouble, Mr Triesman said: 'We are going to demonstrate . . . we cannot preclude, sometimes, the possibility of violence.
'To say that one is opposed to violence is as absurd as to say that one is opposed to sleep.' The Government report quotes German revolutionaries as saying that the RSA were 'frighteningly radical, badly lacking in theory, but dead set on violence . . . the militants look for revolution as an aim in itself'.
The security services identified a number of links between the RSA and radical groups behind student riots across Europe. The report viewed the RSA as 'dangerous' and 'a serious Communist threat to the Government'.
The then head of the National Union of Students, Geoffrey Martin, later the most senior European Union official in Britain, claimed to have evidence that the protests were funded by a Communist group based in Prague. Mr Triesman called the charge 'scandalously misleading'.
As a radical student leader, David Triesman had no time for mainstream political parties. He wrote: 'In this country, we are faced with two immense, all-but-identical monoliths. They are different in name, but not in nature the Labour and the Conservative parties. Both come as attractively packaged as the admen can though the Labour Party, Mr Triesman said the trust was set up by his father. He added: 'I have lived there [in the house] for ten years and have at no time had any contact with Mr Frick.' Mr Triesman is involved in several companies started by his father, advertising manager and wartime aircraft inspector Michael, who died in 1991, and his mother Rita, who died in 1986.
These firms include an investment company, Maypar and Co, which generated more than Pounds 100,000 profits last year, and a property firm, Mortgage Credits Limited, which owns two factories in Finsbury Park, North London, where similar premises are being turned into luxury flats selling for a total of Pounds 4 million.
Yesterday, Mr Triesman said he had resigned as a director of the firms last month, but company records suggest he and his sister, theatre director Susan, still own the businesses.
After leaving university, Mr Triesman continued, for a time, as an outspoken radical. He was on the editorial board of a short-lived Leftwing newspaper, 7 Days, and worked at the Institute of Psychiatry's Addiction Research Unit as well as teaching Marxist sociology at London University.
It is as a trade union official that his views appear to have mellowed.
He became deputy general secretary of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) in 1984, and general secretary of the Association of University Teachers in 1993.
Unexpectedly, considering his past, he earned a reputation as one of the most moderate of the modern union officials.
A surprise choice as General Secretary of the Labour Party, he was recruited by his close friend, party chairman Charles Clarke, and will arrive at Labour's Millbank headquarters with the task of helping the party get its finances in order after the expense of a second victorious election campaign.
His Labour Party biography says that he was a youth footballer for Tottenham Hotspur. However, the club's official archivist can find no trace of Mr Triesman in its records.
Last night, Mr Triesman said he was unaware of the existence of the Government files on him. He said: 'I have never seen any files and am not aware what they contain.'

Spies? Princess Margaret's butler and top author Derek Tangye.

THE KGB'S SPY AT THE PALACE Soviet intelligence files reveal the extraordinary story of how Princess Margaret's butler and top author Derek Tangye sold secrets to Moscow
published 20 February 2000
Mail on Sunday

THE Soviet Union spied on the British Royal Family during the height of the Cold War and even succeeded in getting an agent employed as Princess Margaret's butler, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Today we unmask Thomas Cronin -code-name Rab -as the key agent in an audacious plan that led to the Royals' most intimate secrets being sent to spymasters in Russia.
Highly classified files in Moscow reveal how Cronin, who also served a five-year stint as butler to the American Ambassador, was just one of a number of Soviet spies given the mission of infiltrating London high society.
The archives name other agents, too, including bestselling author Derek Tangye and his wife Jean.

Spy? Author Derek Tangye

The revelation of their activities will astonish Establishment figures who remember the couple as one of the most glamorous of the London social set.
According to the records, the agents bugged the Queen's apartments in Buckingham Palace -as well as other Royal residences and some of the grandest private addresses in the capital. Maps of state rooms, privileged documents and society gossip were all chan-nelled back to Moscow.
The Soviets were particularly interested in intimate details of the private lives of the Royals, senior politicians and diplomats.
The aim was to use the information for blackmail purposes, or to leak it to subvert the British Establishment.
These sensational stories of political and sexual intrigue still reside in the Moscow files.
Operation Dom, which means
house in Russian, can be revealed today after our three months of investigations in London, Moscow and Washington gained unprecedented access to senior Soviet intelligence sources. Our reporters secretly met highly-decorated intelligence veterans in parks, hotels and a bathhouse.
The officials revealed how Dom was launched in the late Fifties before the Profumo Affair which saw the British War Minister caught in a 'honeytrap' with a prostitute linked to a Soviet agent.
At the time the operation was deemed so important that it involved the KGB and the rival GRU Soviet intelligence agencies working together -an almost unprecedented move.
At the centre of the plot was Cronin the butler. His codename, Rab, means slave in Russian.
From about 1955 until the early Sixties he sent a stream of enormously damaging material to his Moscow paymasters, first from inside the American Embassy in London and later from Kensington Palace.
A photograph taken in 1959 and published around the world reveals just how much access the spy enjoyed. Seated at a table in the sumptuous ballroom of Winfield House, then the US Embassy in London, are some of the most powerful men in the West.
On the left of the then US Ambassador, John Hay Whitney, is British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and on his right Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Montgomery.
Across the table sits President Eisenhower -and behind him is the embassy butler and Soviet spy, Thomas Cronin.
Standing ramrod straight, resplendent in starched collar, sharply creased trousers and immaculate top coat and tails, with a row of campaign medals proudly displayed across his chest, he seems every inch the perfect English butler.
It was the ideal cover. A senior GRU officer, who confirmed Cronin's identity to The Mail on Sunday, said: 'Rab was a highly valuable agent for the GRU.
'In the American Embassy he worked closely with the ambassador and other senior diplomats. He had access to documents, letters, including the ambassador's personal letters, and conversation and gossip.
Some of the most valuable material related to American/Western intentions in Germany, which in many ways was the big issue of the day dividing the USSR and USA.' He added that Rab was 'very difficult to handle'. At times he was 'scared' and at others 'confused'.
His mood swings were tolerated because of the level of information he supplied.
Yesterday a senior member of the US staff at the time said Cronin was very well known as a character within the embassy.
He said: 'Cronin was so pompous that he was a joke. Despite the fact that he was insufferable, many people saw him as a caricature from the Jeeves books and sort of liked him.' The revelations came as a total surprise, he said. But if Cronin was a spy, he would have been of immense value to the Soviets.
Cronin worked for Ambassador Whitney until 1960. When the American was due to be posted elsewhere, Cronin talked his way into a job at Kensington Palace to work for newlyweds Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones, now Lord Snowdon.
He lasted just 25 days at Kensing-ton Palace. In what was a minor scandal of the day he fell out with Armstrong-Jones and left the Royal household on the same day he was asked to sign the Official Secrets Act. The following year he sold a series of articles to national newspapers in which he claimed that he had quit because of the way the palace was run.
The final straw, he said, was when Anthony Armstrong-Jones complained he had entered a drawing room without knocking. On another occasion he snapped his fingers to attract the servant's attention.
It was never established whether Cronin's explanations were accurate.
Initial stories about the affair suggested he had been fired and it is even possible that he failed the vetting procedures that all palace staff have to go through.
Within weeks he moved to America, working first at a Florida country club and later at several homes in New York and Canada.
However, the GRU source claims Cronin continued to send information back to Moscow -much of it derived from his former colleagues at the American embassy and the Royal household.
But by early 1962 he had broken off all contact with the Russians. It is unclear exactly what happened but he seems to have lost faith in his GRU handler -an 'illegal', or Soviet
and Presiden t Nixon in London spy operating in London but not under official cover.
The GRU source revealed: 'There was some kind of misunderstanding between the two. Something went wrong with their relationship.
Rab effectively said to his controller: "You can't use me any more".' The vicious inquest that followed at the GRU headquarters in Moscow was an indication of the esteem in which Rab was held.
Vice Admiral Leonid Bek-renev, head of the GRU's 1st directorate which ran all so-called 'illegal' operations, was removed from his post in 1962 and 'demoted' to naval attach in Washington.
The then head of the GRU, Ivan Serov, was angry with Bekrenev over Rab's loss as an active source. He complained that basic mistakes were made and highlighted particularly the matter of Rab's somewhat flippant codename, which has a clear meaning in Russian and, in English, was a joke based on the name of the prominent Tory politician Rab Butler. Serov saw this as 'not serious and not safe'.
Cronin died in 1985 aged 70 having returned to Britain with his wife Lillian in the early Seventies to live in Northampton.
Lillian died last November and yesterday her son from an earlier marriage, Peter Groom, said he was amazed that his stepfather was named in the Soviet files, although he knew he had been a spy.
He said: 'He never really spoke about it. But once he did tell us that he worked for the British. He definitely said he had worked for British intelligence.
He worked at the American and Chinese embassies and kept the British security services informed. He said that, but nothing more.
'We are very loyal to Britain our family is British through and through.
He would not have been disloyal.' The view that Cronin also worked for the British is backed up by our GRU source who claimed he may have been a double agent, which would explain why he was often nervous and feared exposure.
The Soviet archive also details the activities of an agent codenamed Para.
Para, which means 'couple' in Russian, was not one spy but two: journalist and author Derek Tangye, later to write the best-selling autobiographical Minack Chronicles, and his wife Jean Nicol, who had been Press officer at the Savoy Hotel in London.
The Tangyes were a key source of information on the royals and both secretly worked for MI5 after the War until the early Fifties.
However, according to the Moscow files, they were also passing similar potentially highly damaging information to the Soviets.
With their prominence in society circles, connections with MI5 and their professional roles as journalist and public relations officer, their cover was also perfect.
Their access to intelligence on the Royals and other prominent high society names was unique and incredibly valuable in Operation Dom.
The Mail on Sunday has learned that Tangye and his wife were the source of royal letters, diaries and documents which found their way into the hands of the KGB and GRU.
Jean's job at the Savoy had given her incredible access to the countless famous and influential people passing through the hotel during the time she worked there. Perhaps significantly, she was involved in arranging meetings of the Friday Club, to which Prince Philip belonged before he married the Queen.
Details of these meetings and the antics of the Duke of Edinburgh's other bachelor friends at the Thursday Club, which met at Wheeler's Restaurant in Old Compton Street, Soho, found their way back to Moscow. But in 1949, to the total astonishment of friends and colleagues, including stars Danny Kaye, Noel Coward, Tyrone Power and Bing Crosby, the Tangyes suddenly abandoned their life as one of London's most glamorous couples and moved to a broken-down cottage in Cornwall.
The revelation that they were spying for the Soviets suggests they may have been living in fear of exposure and quit London before their treachery was discovered.
According to the secret Soviet file, they continued spying long after their self-imposed 'retirement', maintaining many valuable connections vital for Moscow but keeping out of the way of MI5 spycatchers.
Once in Cornwall the couple sent the Russians details of their influential guests. The files reveal insights into Labour deputy premier George Brown, who retreated to the couple's Cornish hideaway on several holidays.
Incredible as it may seem against this backdrop, one of Tangye's last acts at MI5 was to alert members of the most infamous Soviet spy ring that the game was up.
He once revealed that, as part of his job with the security service, 'I wrote a memo to Anthony Blunt warning him that Guy Burgess might be unreliable.' Soon after, Burgess fled Britain, defecting to Russia and sending the security services into turmoil.
Weeks later, Tangye and his wife left London.
Until now the Tangyes' secret treachery has remained hidden -not even guessed at by those closest to them. Derek Tangye died in October 1996. His wife had died ten years earlier.
It is only now that the damage done by Rab and Para can be assessed. None of those involved in Operation Dom has ever been brought to justice.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the affair is that the file is still ranked with the most secret of the Cold War years. It could be that the newly 'open' Russia is just too embarrassed to allow this secret history to be exposed.
But it could also be that the Operation Dom file was never closed.
Perhaps today there are other butlers, writers and top hotel workers in the pay of modern day Russian 'illegals', waging a new war on the West in which information is still the key to power and influence.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Race to save Britain's oak trees

Race to save Britain's oak trees from mystery disease that's 'bleeding them to death'... and the colourful beetle that could be to blame

  • Thousands of oaks have already been affected by a mysterious disease
  • It can kill the ancient trees within four years
  • Government has ordered a huge survey across Britain to track the threat

Mail on Sunday
Under threat: A classical country scene with a large Oak in the Lake District National Park near Hawkshead
Under threat: A classical country scene with a large Oak in the Lake District National Park near Hawkshead
The Government is spending £1.1 million on an emergency project to save ancient English oaks from a mysterious disease that is causing the trees to ‘bleed to death’.
Thousands across the UK have already been infected, with the disease so serious that oaks are being felled and their bark stripped and burnt to prevent it spreading.
One theory is that a beetle may be responsible for the threat to the historic trees.
Researchers are now involved in a race against time to develop a way to stop the disease that, once it takes hold, kills the oaks within four years.
The Government has ordered a huge survey of trees across Britain to try to understand and track the new threat. Many of Britain’s ash trees are already doomed by the rapid spread of a fungal infection.
Scientists are also trying to isolate and identify a bacteria found on the dying oaks that was previously unknown and might be behind the infection.
The three-year project is an effort to stem the spread of  so-called ‘acute oak decline’,  or AOD, which is identified  by dark weeping patches on  stems of older trees. Oaks more than 50 years old are at the greatest threat.
Researchers believe the disease may be linked to the oak jewel beetle because the diseased trees’ bark is often pitted with the insects’ distinctive  D-shaped exit holes.
The beetle’s larvae have also been found in or near the ‘bleeding’ patches on the trunk of dying trees. It is not known  if beetles are attracted to the scent of the infected trees or if they are carriers of the disease that is killing them.
Attack: The oak jewel beetle that feeds on oak timber
Attack: The oak jewel beetle that feeds on oak timber

Using advanced sequencing technology, scientists will  analyse the DNA of bacteria,  fungus and insects found on healthy and infected trees to isolate the cause.
The Forestry Commission and bioscience experts at Bangor and Cambridge Universities are leading the project, which will take samples from up to 200 woodlands.
Estates belonging to the National Trust are among the hardest hit. At Blickling Hall in Norfolk, the majority of the oaks within its 950 acres of historic parkland are suffering from the disease. Ancient trees at Attingham Park in Shropshire are also affected.
According to a Forestry Commission document, estate workers should ‘strip the outer bark and sapwood of heavily infected and dying or dead trees after felling and burn on site’.
‘Rapid destruction of stripped bark is recommended to prevent the possibility the disease spreading,’ it adds.
Mysterious disease: Thousands of oaks have already been affected, which kills them within four years
Mysterious disease: Thousands of oaks have already been affected, which kills them within four years

Dr James McDonald, from Bangor University, is carrying out DNA research using forensic science techniques pioneered in medical research to try to identify the bacteria.
He said: ‘It is affecting older trees, some hundreds of years old, and whatever is behind it  is causing the decline of something that has been here for so long, is much loved, and is difficult, if not impossible,  to replace.
‘It is a very complicated issue. It could involve new bacteria that have been isolated from the lesions on the stems or the oak jewel beetle. We are looking at their involvement but both could be passive bystanders in the process. We don’t know.’
Dr John Morgan, head of the Forestry Commission’s Plant Health Service, said: ‘We are determined to do everything possible to protect our trees. AOD is a complex condition and this new funding will enable us to better understand it, and the number and distribution of trees affected.’

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Archbishop of Canterbury attacks payday loan industry

The Archbishop of Canterbury attacks payday loan industry

June 20th, 2013 | by  | Published by Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Archbishop: Ban "usury" lenders from our high streets

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for the Government to ban ‘legal usury on our high streets’ in a strongly worded attack on the payday loan industry.
Speaking in a parliamentary debate on the high-cost loan companies, some charging customers more than 4,000%, the Archbishop said the Government should introduce a cap on the rates the firms can charge.
He also dismissed Government claims that a cap would restrict competition and force people to turn to loan sharks.
‘The payday lending industry has grown at a vast speed’ he said, and was now ‘a situation too big to ignore’.
The debate follows a Bureau investigation that revealed the huge growth in the industry over the past three years. The research showed that the 12 biggest high-cost lending companies made almost £1bn in revenues in the last year, with some tripling their turnover.
The Archbishop told the House of Lords payday lenders assured people with ‘impressively slick marketing campaigns and targeted advertisements that the process of taking out a loan is quick, simple and safe.
‘But once you have taken out the loan it is difficult to get out of the cycle, with the rates offered, simply paying off the interest becomes a struggle.’
Calling for a cap on the lenders interest rates, he said: ‘A cap doesn’t mean 25% or 30%.
‘Caps are needed at a sensible level that does not choke off supply and send people into the hands of loans sharks. But on the other hand caps are there to prevent usurious lending.’
Legal usury
Responding to arguments that caps should not be brought in ‘at any price’, he added: ‘The trouble is they are at any price, typically over 2,500% on an annual basis. We do need to look at reasonable limits that cut out legal usury from our high streets.’

Former media boss Lord Hollick, the Labour peer, accused the major high street banks, including taxpayer-owned Royal Bank of Scotland, of funding the payday lending industry instead of providing more reasonable loans to consumers.
And he pointed to the increasing ownership of payday firms by US businesses despite restrictions of high cost loans in the US and of the involvement of Conservative donor Henry Angest with high cost lender Everyday Loans.
Citing the Bureau’s report he pointed to high increases in turnover and profits experienced by some high-cost lenders.
He added: ‘Harsh economic circumstances may be the driver of demand, but the secret of the high profit is the mix of simple and instant loan availability, lax regulation, the absence of competition and, of course, eye watering interest rates.’
He added: ’The lenders business model is to recruit borrowers and then to increase the number of loans, thereby maximising the yield per customer, and so begins the awful debt cycle which traps the many payday borrowers.
‘For the lenders the high debt experience, estimated at more than 25%, is more than compensated for by the stratospheric interest rates.’
A U-turn
Shadow Business Minister Lord Mitchell accused the Government of a U-turn on earlier plans to clamp down on payday lenders and cap the interest rates they are allowed to charge.
He said the ‘government’s heart had gone out of the matter and they were retracting their position.
‘The government no longer seems to care,’ he added.
He demanded that the Government ‘state unequivocally that usury rates are morally wrong and should be made illegal.’
But Business Minister Viscount Younger, responding for the Government, ruled out any immediate cap on the interest rates of payday lenders.
He said consumers had to take personal responsibility for their own finances. ‘Payday loans are a new phenomena, they should only be used for a short-term fix and never for long-term debt problems. A way for managing a short-term cash flow problem,’ he said.
He added: ‘Spiralling cost of credit is not the main crux of the problem. Problems arise when people take out this kind of short-term, high-cost loan when it is not suitable for them. When they cannot afford to repay.’
He said that lenders did not always carry out adequate assessments of potential borrowers ability to afford the loan.
And that, in this respect, ‘the payday market is not functioning in the interests of consumers.’
He added: ‘The government is therefore deeply concerned about the scale of consumer detriment identified, the speed and ease at which loans can be accessed, the frequency with which loans are rolled over and the grave financial and social problems arising from defaults and the calling-in of such repayments.’
He said the Government and regulators were taking tough enforcement action against unscrupulous lenders. And that the new regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, which begins work in April next year, would have tough new powers ‘including imposing unlimited fines on firms and… a more stringent bar for market entry’.