Is the UK’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament a US Government Surveillance Target?

According to a recent document obtained by the Cato Institute, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation suggests that the State Department, and possibly the FBI, maintain an interest in the United Kingdom-based Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

As part of a multi-year freedom of information campaign designed to uncover potentially questionable – or even unlawful – domestic surveillance against politically active civil society organizations, Cato included the CND, a group opposing nuclear proliferation, in a request dealing with anti-war or anti-nuclear groups.

In late May of this year, the FBI responded, noting that multiple FBI files allegedly mentioning CND had been transferred to the National Archives – indicating to they were likely well over 25 years old and probably related to the nuclear freeze campaign era. However, the Bureau also referred 15 pages to the State Department for further review.

In the field of nuclear nonproliferation and the antinuclear movement generally, there have been multiple prior episodes of US government surveillance targeting political activists and groups domestically. During the “nuclear freeze campaign” era of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Livermore Action Group was targeted by multiple federal agencies for monitoring of their meetings and protest activities.

And as the Cato Institute discovered via a recent FOIA request, as late as March 1983, the FBI’s New York field office was receiving information from an informant about the speaking engagements of nuclear freeze campaign organizer and leader Caroline Forsberg.

During that same period in the United Kingdom, London police and MI-5 (Britain’s domestic intelligence service) infiltrated several antinuclear groups, most infamously the CND.

Formed in 1958, the CND was the most successful of UK-based antinuclear organizations in mobilizing the UK public in opposition to the expansion of Britain’s nuclear arsenal, the deployment of American nuclear weapons to the UK and Europe, and other nuclear nonproliferation-related issues. The spying efforts of the London police and MI-5 against CND were exposed only decades after the fact.

Of particular note was the FBI’s invocation of a law allowing the withholding of information pursuant to another statute besides FOIA. In this case, the “other statute" deals with the authority of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to bar disclosure of records on the claim that doing so could compromise “sources and methods.”

The FBI also invoked another exemption to FOIA which concerns "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes the release of which would disclose techniques and procedures or guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions,” per the Department of Justice’s denial of Cato’s appeal of the withholdings.

The combination of the FBI’s referral of the 15 pages to the State Department, along with the invocation of the Intelligence Director “sources and methods” withholding statute, suggests the material in question is much more recent in origin.

Whether it involves diplomatic reporting from the American embassy in London on CND or some type of assessment of the group by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research is at present unknown. Also unknown at the moment is whether the FBI’s "techniques and procedures" invocation is meant to cover information from UK-based police sources or information derived by the FBI on its own.

After being made aware of Cato’s discovery, Pádraig McCarrick, CDN spokesperson, declined to comment for this piece.

The cloak-and-dagger US government interest in a peaceful, law abiding British public policy organization – including potential intelligence collection targeting the group – is beyond outrageous.

Yet it is also symptomatic of the kind of mentality that has clearly dominated the US and UK approach to antinuclear groups for over six decades. Lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic ought to be investigating whether US and UK intelligence services continue to target groups that are simply trying to end the threat of nuclear war.

Former CIA analyst and ex-House senior policy advisor Patrick Eddington is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.