This two-year old post from the Dangerous Minds archive is something we’ve noticed has been getting a lot of attention recently, so we’re moving it onto the front page again. The reason for renewed interest in this matter is that on January 2nd, the UK’s National Archive released some documents regarding Crass’s epic “Thatchergate” prank of 1982 (it had a bit of a long fuse, as you will see). They’re revealing on several accounts, not least for the level of blinkered-ness they indicate prevailed in the spy agencies back then…
There’s a lot of text here, but it’s instructive to read the news reports—there weren’t many—from the time in chronological order and see how the story was ultimately revealed. At the end of the post, I’ve added recent comments from Penny Rimbaud and Steve Ignorant.
These days we’re used to seeing public figures like Sarah Palin and Scott Walker punked, but in the early 1980s, the avenues for media hacking just did not exist the way they do now. The infamous “Thatchergate” tape—an audio collage constructed by Crass bassist Peter Wright (aka “Sybil Right” and “Pete Wrong”) of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan “talking” about nuclear weapons and the sinking of the HMS Sheffield as a deliberate attempt to escalate the conflict in the Falklands War was one of the first. The “Thatchergate” tape was an event back then, especially in the squatter/anarcho-punk crowd that I was a part of in London at the time. To hear about Crass perpetrating the hoax of Ronald Reagan getting “caught on tape” threatening to nuke Europe (he’d show Russia who was boss!) was nothing short of a blow against Moloch!
Today, there are a little more than 2000 items that come up on Google for “Thatchergate” and most have nothing to do with Crass. This story should be a lot better known, it’s one of the greatest pranks in history:
From San Francisco Chronicle, January 30, 1983.
Washington. A fake tape of a purported conversation between President Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was circulated in Europe this spring, possibly by the KGB, the State Department said yesterday.
“This type of activity fits the pattern of fabrications circulated by the Soviet KGB, although usually they involve fake documents rather than tapes,” the department said in a written response to reporter’s questions.
The department said that although the recording is of “poor quality,” a technical analysis revealed that the voices were those of Reagan and Thatcher.
But the department indicated the voices were spliced together and said they were not part of an actual conversation.
“We checked with the White House, which advised thay no such conversation took place,” the department said.
The President’s part in the recording apparently was lifted from his Nov. 22, 1982 speech on nuclear disarmament,” it said. “We are not sure where Mrs. Thatcher’s remarks came from.
The department said a copy of the tape was received by the U.S. embassy in the Netherlands a week before the British elections.
The tape dealt with the Falklands crisis and U.S. missiles in Britain, the department said.
It said, “From the drift of the tape, the evident purpose was to cause problems for Mrs. Thatcher by blaming her for the sinking of the British destroyer Sheffield and also for us by stirring trouble on the INF (Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces) issue.”
The Sheffield was sunk by Argentine forces last year during the war with Britain over the Falkland Islands.
Britain and the United Staes took part in a NATO decision to install intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe late this year as a counter to similar Soviet forces if an agreement on restriction such weapons is not reached.
The State Department said the tape-recording was sent with a covering letter from an anonymous person to Dutch journalists.
It is said an analysis by the language experts “suggests that the author was not a native speaker.”
The Reagan administration has contended for some time that the KGB has contended for some thime that the KGB has a forgery factory producing false documents to mislead target audiences.
It was also written up in The Sunday Times, on January 8, 1983
How the KGB fools the West’s press.
THE TAPE is heavy with static and puntuated with strange noises, but through it all can be heard the authentic voices of Ronald Reagan on the telephone: “If there is a conflict we shall fire missiles at our allies to see to it that the Soviet Union stays within its borders.”
At the other end of the telephone is Mrs. Thatcher. “You mean Germany?” she asks increduously.
“Mrs. Thatcher, if any country endagers our position we can decide to bomb the problem area and so remove the instability.”
If this is not hair-raising enough, we hear Mrs. Thatcher virtually admitting that she had the Belgrano sunk to end any chance of an agreement with Argentina. “Oh God!” says Reagan.
The whole conversation is fake. Both voices are real but the words spoken have been doctored, cut, rearranged and then expanded on the transcript of the tape. Every word from Reagan is extracted from his lengthy presidential address on nuclear strategy. When, for instance, he seems to swear at Mrs. Thatcher, he is in fact coming to the end of his speech and quoting a hymn: “Oh God of love, O king of peace.”
The tape surfaced in Holland just before last year’s British general election, but it never quite overcame the suspicions of Dutch journalists. They declined to publish the juicy exclusive, sent to them anonymously. But other journalists across the world have fallen for an increasing flow of such stories based on “authoritative” cables, memo and tapes. The State Department in Washington says they are all products of an increasingly sophisicated Russian campaign.
“They have accelerated their efforts and they have fine-tuned them,” claims Larry Semakis, deputy director of a State Department team that monitors what the Russians call “active measures.” He admits that “no one can specifically prove in a court of law that Soviet hand was on this or that item.” But he says there is a pattern in the use of forgeries which points unmistakably to the Russians.
The State Department believes that “active measures” are the responsibility of the KGB’s first directorate; that some forgeries go as high as the ruling Politburo for approval…
“[W]hich points unmistakably to the Russians”? I don’t think so…
Then one year later in The Observer newspaper on, Sunday, January 22, 1984, it was revealed that…
‘Soviet’ faked tape is rock group hoax
A TAPE recording, purporting to carry details of a secret telephone conversation between Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan, has been revealed as a hoax manufactured deliberately by an anarchist rock group.
The recording was taken to newspapers throughout Europe—including The Observer—but, apart from one Italian newspaper, nobody had been taken in by the hoax tape until it appeared in the Sunday Times earlier this month.
That newspaper described it as part of a KGB propaganda war. Unfortunately the tape was recorded not in Moscow but in an Essex farmhouse.
The New York correspondent of the paper reported that the State Department believed the tape was evidence of ‘an increasingly sophisticated Russian disinformation cam- paign.’
The real authors of the hoax tape, the anarchist punk rock group Crass, said that they had been ‘amused and amazed’ that the tape had been attributed to the KGB.
The recording first appeared in the offices of a number of Continental newspapers shortly before the British general election last year.
A covering note said it was a recording of a crossed line on which was heard part of the two leaders’ telephone conversation, and that the person who sent it wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
Key lines in the tape include Mr. Reagan apparently asking why the Belgrano was sunk during the Fallrlands war, when Secretary of State Haig was nearing a peace agreement. Mrs Thatcher appears to reply: ‘Argentina was the invader. Force had to be used now, punishing them as quickly as possible.’
Mr. Reagan then says: ‘Oh God, it is not right. You caused the Sheffield to have been hit. Those missiles we followed on the screen. You must have, too, and not let them know.’
Later, in a discussion on nuclear strategy, Mr. Reagan is made to say: ‘If there is a conflict we shall fire missiles at our allies to see to it that the Soviet Union stays within its borders.’
The tape was first brought to The Observer by a Belgian journalist last June. We concluded, like most of the other newspapers, that it was a fake.
The quest for the real hand behind the tape led to an isolated farmhouse in north Essex, where the eight members of the band live with their children.
Reluctantly the members of the band, who sport names like Joy Be Vivre, G Sus and Sybil Right, admitted faking the tape. They showed how they had put it together over two and a half months, using parts of TV and radio broadcasts made by the two leaders, then overdubbing with telephone noises.
‘We wanted to precipitate a debate on those subjects to damage Mrs. Thatcher’s position in the election. We also did it because of the appaling way Tam Dalyell was treated over the Belgrano debate,’ they said.
‘We believe that although the tape is a hoax, what is said in it is in effect true.’
And there was more: From The Associated Press, Sunday, January 25, 1984
And still more…
Crass ‘KGB tape’ hoax (Sounds, January 28, 1984)
CRASS have been uncovered as the perpetrators of a bogus tape of a telephone ‘conversation’ between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
The tape was originally circulated last sammer before the General Election and was claimed to be a recording of a crossed line between the two leaders. Needless to say it is not complimentary to either statesperson.
During the coarse of the ‘conversation’ Thatcher replies to Reagan’s question about the Belgrano by saying: “Argentina was the invader. Force had to be used now, punishing them as quickly as possible.”
And later in a discussion aboat nuclear strategy Reagan says: “If there is any conflict we a shall fire missiles at our allies to see to it that the Soviet Union stays with stays within its borders.”
Most newspapers recognised the tape as a fake but the Sunday Times attributed it to KGB propaganda a couple of weeks ago and last Sunday’s Observer took considerable delight in tracking the tape back to Crass’s HQ in Essex.
Invoking the spirit of one of Reagan’s predecessors, George Washington, they explained that the tape had been put together from TV and radio broadcasts overdubbed by telephone noises.
They justified their actions by saying: “We wanted to precipitate a debate on the Falklands and nuclear weapons to damage: Thatcher’s position in the election. We also did it because of the appalling way Tom Dalyell (almost the only MP to raise any awkward questions over the Falklands affair) was treated over the Belgrano debate in the House of Commons.
I recall hearing at the time that Jane Pauley did a story on this on The Today Show in the US, but can find no record of that online, sadly… To this day, the members of Crass have never been able to figure out how the tape was traced back to them.
Since it’s not ideal listening—the conceit was that it was recorded due to crossed wires, so there is a ringing phone noise throughout (a nice touch)—here’s a transcript of the “Thatchergate” tape in full:
Thatcher: Own business!
Reagan. I urge restraint. It’s absolutely essential or the area ‘be “through the roof”.
Thatcher: Look, our objectives are fundamentally different. Al Haig…
Reagan: Secretary Haig….
Thatcher:. Doesn’t seem to be able to find a solution.
Reagan: Why eliminate “Belgrano”? You directed this. The Argentinians were then going…. Secretary Haig reached an agreement.
Thatcher: Argentina was the invader! Force has been used. It’s been used now, punishing them as quickly as possible.
Reagan: Oh, God, it’s not right! You caused the “Sheffield” to have been hit. Those missiles we followed on screens. You must have too, and not let them know. What do you hope to gain?
Thatcher: What I said before -“Andrew”- ....As “cruise” go in, I want incentives at all levels….
Reagan: There’s a deal….a third more submarine ballistic missiles, and you will see that the United States forces remain deployed. The intermediate range missiles are U.S. defence. You proposed building them in Europe. Build up the economy. They don’t work, they’re social programmes…. The United Kingdom is a….er….little nation….
Thatcher: You still need those nations, and you’re given long term international markets.
Reagan: We are supported by our allies, whether they want, or not.
Thatcher: I, I don’t understand you….
Reagan: In conflict, we will launch missiles on allies for effective limitation of the Soviet Union.
Thatcher: ‘Mean over Germany?
Reagan: Mrs Thatcher, if any country of ours endangered the position, we might bomb the “problem area”, and correct the imbalance.
Thatcher: See, my….
Reagan: It will convince the Soviets to listen. We demonstrate our strength….The Soviets have little incentive to launch an attack.
Thatcher: Our British people….
Reagan: London! ....
Thatcher: I think….
Reagan: Let that be understood…
Buzzfeed queried Steve Ignorant about the prank:
It makes me a bit worried about governments because if they could be fooled by something so ridiculous… well, someone told us that there was an MI5 dossier on us but we didn’t take it that seriously.
I’m quite stunned [the recording] went that far.
[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.
Just as a joke he had it sent to Europe and sent back to various newspapers from Belgium. We didn’t think for a second people would take it seriously. But obviously people did.
In 2005, writing for Vice, Penny Rimbaud reflected on “Thatchergate:
We wanted to come up with something which might get rid of Thatcher. It was just after the Falklands charade, when she was about to get re-elected. We were told something we knew could seriously dent the Thatcher Empire. Allegedly, the Navy had allowed HMS Sheffield to be blown out of the water by not informing them that an incoming Exocet missile had been picked up on the radar. The other three boats in the grouping were informed and took defensive action. Why? Because one of the ships was the Invincible and on board was Prince Andrew. Given that the information was classified, we decided the only way to make it public was to fake a telephone conversation between Thatcher and Reagan. We edited bits and pieces from speeches made by the two of them, creating a conversation which included all the details of the Sheffield. We then sent out tapes to all the major European newspapers, but nothing happened. Thatcher was re-elected, but then, six months down the line, the US State Department announced that they were in possession of KGB tapes “produced to destroy democracy as we know it”. It soon became obvious that it was our tape they were talking about. It was frightening. A bunch of anarchist jokers sparking off a world war? Anyway, the same KGB story eventually broke in the British press and it wasn’t long before The Observer got in touch with us, asking whether we knew anything about the tapes. It was unbelievable. The whole operation had been carried out in absolute secrecy, but somehow or other they’d managed to pin it onto us. After a gruelling day of negotiations, we agreed to admit responsibility if they would print the Sheffield details in their article, which, true to their word, they did. We did our best to expose the story but even now it’s an issue which has never really been given full and proper investigation.
Most of this comes from the excellent Kill Your Pet Puppy blog.