Email this review


A formerly top-secret story of British efforts, supported by the CIA, to oppose totalitarianism during WWII and the creeping tide of communism afterwards. British journalist Lashmar wrote a 1978 article about the little-known “Information Research Department” (IRD), a seemingly innocuous unit of the British Foreign Office that was also the subject of co-author Oliver’s masters thesis. Joining forces to investigate the IRD’s shadowy history, the authors begin with the brilliantly successful British propaganda campaign that spread Allied-favorable information and disinformation by radio transmitters, airborne leaflets, newspapers, and other media throughout Axis-occupied Europe and Asia. The IRD transformed the 1939 defeat and near-disaster at Dunkirk into perception of a “victory” and Britain’s “finest hour.” It worked with resistance forces, playing a role in the 1942 assassination of SS “hangman” Reinhard Heydrich and in the 1943 Warsaw uprising. It aided the Malaysian and Burmese struggle against Japan. The IRD had a hefty assist from its American cousins, the authors find, claiming that the CIA funded anticommunist British politicians and trade unionists who helped to defeat leftist activists at home and abroad. British IRD agents helped to overthrow Sukarno’s regime in Indonesia, an area rich in oil, rubber, and tin, that was threatened by a communist party reputed to have more than ten million members. As a result, the pro-Western Suharto came to power in 1966, and some 700,000 suspected communists were killed. The Marshall Plan, backed by a British and CIA partnership, countered relentless Soviet propaganda during the Cold War and met crises in Greece, Cyprus, Kenya, Chile, the Middle East, and Hungary. The IRD did such a good job feeding material to the media, say Lashmar and Oliver, that it’s often hard to tell who were journalists and who were propagandists—many were both. Wars are not entirely won on battlefields, this fascinating account reminds us as it unearths the intrigues that often lurk beneath the surface narratives of history.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-7509-1668-0
Page count: 256pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999