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Chapter Seven DIPLOMATIC ENDGAME To the extent that the Argentine plan depended on catching London by surprise it almost succeeded. As late as the morning of 31 March the Current Intelligence Group in Whitehall dealing with Latin America was still reporting that there was 'no intelligence suggesting that the Argentine Junta had taken the decision to invade the Falkland Islands', though it noted correctly that it now had the wherewithal to do so by 2 April. That afternoon, however, information was received in the Ministry of Defence which convinced the Government that an invasion was imminent. This was the day when, as the Prime Minister explained to Parliament, she received the 'first information' that an invasion was under way.1 This was five days after the decision to invade had been taken. Why Was Britain Caught by Surprise? What were the capabilities of British intelligence with regard to the South Adantic at the start of 1982? The Foreign Office had the pre-eminent role in the assessment process. It provided not only an important input but also the key personnel in charge of running the Joint Intelligence system.* The * The assessments prepared by theJoint Intelligence Organization, based in the Cabinet Office, were considered by the Joint Intelligence Committee, chaired by a Deputy Under Secretary of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Chairman of 84 Diplomatic Endgame highest-priority targets for British intelligence collection are the countries of the Warsaw Pact. These are followed by countries with the power to inflict damage on Britain; and then countries in which Britain has substantial interests. Because ofthe Falklands, Argentina was in the second of these categories - as the Franks Report puts it 'a priority for intelligence collection but in a low category'.2 In Latin America only Guatemala (because of Belize) was also in this category. However, successive reviews had led to cutbacks. There had been two Secret Intelligence Service offices in Latin America - one for the Portuguese-speaking territories, the other for the Spanish-speaking - but the two had now been consolidated into one, run by Mark Heathcote, located in Buenos Aires. His office was 'massively overworked '.3 Meanwhile the British Defence Attaches were encouraged as much to sell arms as to collect information.4 In October 1981, when the negotiations with Argentina were at a sensitive stage, the Joint Intelligence Committee had asked for more effort to be devoted to the collection of intelligence on Argentine intentions and plans but it had not allocated extra resources to this effort. One of the consequences of the lack of resources was that there was an increased reliance on signals intelligence (SIGINT) and a falling away of high-quality human intelligence (HUMINT). There was less money with which to acquire agents.5 There was little capacity for monitoring military movements within Argentina. Argentina is a long country with many key ports and air bases well away from the capital. The Defence Attache's section in Buenos Aires 'had neither the remit nor the capacity to obtain detailed information ' on what was going on in and around these bases and ports. Not having engaged in a study of normal military activity in the past, this section was in no position to identify with confidence an abnormal level of activity. As a result, much of the reporting from Buenos Aires, as that from the Argentine Embassy in London, was based on the local press.6 the Committee before the invasion was Sir Antony Acland, who moved on to be Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Patrick Wright then took over the chairmanship. The head of the Joint Intelligence Organization's Assessment Staff was Robin O'Neill, also of the FCO. The Current Intelligence Group on Latin America was chaired by Brigadier Adam Gurdon. 85 Crisis There could well have been some communications intelligence available throughout this period, allowing ships to be located when they used their radio communications. There would also have been some SIGINT. Throughout the conflict, material on the Argentine Navy was received from HMNZS Irrangu Station near Warren, New Zealand. There was a thirty-man SIGNIT base run by GCHQ* on Ascension Island and one run by the US at Galeta Island off Panama. These latter two listening posts were critical during the crisis. The Ascension Island facility would seem the most suited to the task.7 Endurance was also listening to some Argentine communications. Although two American satellites passed over key army, air and naval bases during...


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