Crass – known for releases such as “Nagasaki Nightmare” and “Penis Envy” – undertook a variety of anti-establishment protests during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
None were more successfully subversive as when, in 1982, the band spliced together recordings of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan to make it sound as though they were arguing over the Falklands War and discussing the possibility of launching nuclear weapons at Germany.
Crass then posted the tape to Dutch newspapers, who swiftly dismissed it as a fake. But a few months later the US State Department got hold of a copy and loudly proclaimed it to be an example of underhand Soviet Union propaganda.
Official UK government documents, declassified for the first time today, show that Margaret Thatcher was kept updated on the incident by the Foreign Office. The papers also suggest that MI6, the CIA and the US State Department were in communication with each other regarding the tape for up to two years.
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.
…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…
The Prime Minister even sought advice from the foreign secretary and home secretary as to whether she should discuss the tape in an interview on the BBC’s Panorama.
Neither our friends nor CIA considered this very likely, but further analysis would have required a disproportionate commitment of resources which even CIA felt unable to contemplate.
Excerpts from the faked Thatcher and Reagan recording can be heard in the background of this later Crass release. It says something about Cold War paranoia that the security services thought this could be part of a Soviet smear campaign.
Eventually, in 1984, The Observer outed Crass as the group behind the tape, prompting a police visit to the group’s headquarters in rural Essex.
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.