Thatcher silent on claim she spied on ministers


The former British prime minister Baroness Thatcher remained silent yesterday about claims that she employed a global surveillance network to spy on two of her cabinet ministers in 1983 because they disagreed with her on certain matters of government policy, Rachel Donnelly reports.

Downing Street said it would draw Baroness Thatcher's attention to the allegations, made by the former Canadian secret agent Mr Mike Frost "so she can judge whether they merit a response", a spokesman said.

The allegations were made during an interview with the US television programme 60 Minutes, in which Mr Frost said Lady Thatcher singled out the two unnamed ministers because they did not fully agree with her policies. He claimed the arrangement to spy on the two ministers was channelled through the international intelligence network Echelon, of which Britain, Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand are members.

Earlier this week the British government denied claims contained in a report to the European Parliament by the Guardian journalist Duncan Campbell that it had used Echelon for industrial spying in Europe to help US companies win important contracts ahead of European rivals.

Once the approach had been made, Mr Frost, who worked for Canadian intelligence between 1972 and 1992, said a colleague travelled to London "and did intercept traffic from those two ministers" which included monitoring their telephone conversations.

While Lady Thatcher's office refused to comment on the claims, speculation centred on four possible candidates as the target of her suspicion. Party colleagues that were known as Conservative "wets" because they never fully endorsed her policies included the former foreign secretary Mr Francis Pym. He incurred her displeasure during the general election of 1983 when he said landslide victories did not usually produce good governments. He was sacked shortly after she returned to office.

Another candidate is the former Northern Ireland secretary Mr James Prior, who was seen as the leader of Lady Thatcher's critics within the party.

Other possible targets include Mr John Biffen, a former leader of the House of Commons, and the former Welsh secretary Mr Peter Walker. He disagreed with Lady Thatcher during the miners' strike in 1984-85.