Radio pirata offshore, 40 anni dopo aleggia l’ombra della Stasi

Le radio pirata offshore che a cavallo degli anni sessanta e settanta finirono per avere un notevole impatto sul mercato radiofonico britannico potrebbero nascondere trame spionistiche


da Radio Passioni

Le radio pirata offshore che a cavallo degli anni sessanta e settanta finirono per avere un notevole impatto sul mercato radiofonico britannico e sulla sua regolamentazione potrebbero nascondere, sostiene il giornalista scozzese Paul Harris, trame spionistiche degne di una guerra fredda ma non per questo meno combattuta. Harris in realtà è uno dei pionieri di quell’epopea. Nel 1970, per esempio, svolgeva il ruolo di project manager per Capital Radio, che non aveva nulla a che vedere con l’emittente commerciale autorizzata che sarebbe stata aperta tre anni dopo (questa Capital Radio trasmetteva da un nave tedesca ancora al largo delle acque olandesi per iniziativa di un idealista canadese, Tim Thomason).

Ieri Medianetwork riportava un estratto degli articoli che Harris sta pubblicando su All Media Scotland, per anticipare un libro di memorie che verrà pubblicato nel 2009. In questo articolo Harris ricorda gli anni di Capital pirata e della sua “concorrente”, Radio Northsea International. Una offshore pirata diversa dalle altre, scrive Harris: molto più potente, in grado di trasmettere in onde medie, corte e modulazione di frequenza. Insomma, una radio assai più seria delle altre bagnarole scassate e arrugginite che stavano a galla per miracolo e usavano residuati bellici come trasmettitori. Come si spiega tutto questo? Harris rivela di aver provato a indagare infiltrandosi negli uffici di RNI, allestiti in un grande albergo del porto di Scheveningen. Tra i documenti conservati in quell’ufficio Harris riferisce di essere riuscito a copiare alcune lettere che documentavano la relazione tra RNI, una misteriosa società svizzera e un altrettanto misterioso istituto tedesco orientale. La società, che si chiamava come la nave di RNI, Mebo, doveva essere una copertura legale per un traffico di componenti di trasmettitori che transitavano dagli Stati Uniti (dove la legge proibiva la vendita di certi apparati in Est Europa) e la Germania orientale via Amsterdam. Dietro il misterioso istituto berlinese c’era insomma la temibile Stasi.
Harris racconta anche che dopo aver raccolto queste informazioni le aveva fatte pervenire ai servizi inglesi, che lo minacciavano di ritorsioni per il suo ruolo in Capital Radio (allora una violazione del celebre Marine Act in base al quale le radio offshore venivano sequestrate e i DJ arrestati). Alla fine le informazioni raccolte tra Gran Bretagna e Regno Unito diedero i loro frutti, racconta il giornalista. Nel 1971 un giornale olandese pubblicò, si disse su imbeccata della CIA, una storia che denunciava un piano, coordinato da Berlino Est, per la costruzione di un’intera flotta di navi che avrebbero poi dovuto essere attrezzate con impianti di trasmissione. Una risposta del blocco orientale all’azione di Radio Free Europe e Radio Liberty. Northsea International, sottolinea infatti Harris, trasmetteva programmi molto politicizzati ed era in aperto contrasto con il governo laburista dell’epoca.
In seguito la nave Mebo II fu addirittura minata con cariche esplosive e a essere incolpato fu un concorrente, Radio Veronica. In realtà erano stati i servizi olandesi. Nel 1974 RNI fu chiusa per ordine delle stesse autorità dell’Aia e la nave fu venduta ai libici, che per un po’ la utilizzarono per trasmettere il corano, conclude Harris. Infine, Gheddafi si stufò e ordinò a un caccia militare di affondare il bastimento nelle acque del Mediterraneo. Ma la spy story radiopiratesca non finisce qui. Dopo la pubblicazione del pezzo di All Media Scotland, su Medianetwork alcuni commenti hanno aggiunto pezzi di “storia” che forse sono solo disinformazione. Il nome della società di Zurigo Mebo saltò per esempio fuori durante il processo per il caso Lockerbie, quando si trattò di mettere i terroristi finanziati dalla Libia in relazione con l’attentato al volo PanAm nei cieli sopra la località scozzese. Mebo importava e vendeva un tipo di apparato elettronico che sarebbe stato rinvenuto tra i rottami dell’aereo. Solo parecchi anni dopo nel 2007, precisa al proposito Mike Barraclough commentando la storia di Harris, il Guardian raccontò che quelle “prove” erano state alterate e che gli interrogatori dell’ex proprietario della Mebo erano stati guidati.
Paul Harris è autore di un testo, When pirates ruled the waves, la cui sesta edizione è stata pubblicata lo scorso anno da Kennedy & Boyd.

Radio North Sea International was bigger, better and flashier than any other pirate. Aboard a Norwegian coaster converted into the radio ship Mebo II in a Hamburg shipyard, it came on the air on January 23 1970.
Painted in brilliant psychedelic colours and topped by a 50 metre high radio mast, it was, for me, a fascinating enigma from the start. Its conventional medium wave transmitter was more powerful than any other pirate radio ship, and most European national radio stations, and it also, surprisingly, broadcast on two short wave bands and on VHF. It was difficult to discern any commercial rationale behind the operation.
Controversy dogged the station. During the 1970 General Election, it mounted a campaign against the then Labour Government and was, in turn, jammed by the Post Office, a British naval radio station and the military.
By now I was writing for Disc & Music Echo in London on developments in European pirate radio and was also project manager for Capital Radio, anchored just a few miles away.
I was able to infiltrate the Mebo office operation which was located in a suite in the Grand Hotel in Scheveningen on the Dutch coast. From the window of the office we could see the three pirate ships – Caroline, Capital and RNI – impudently at anchor in a row, three miles offshore in international waters outside the jurisdiction of the Dutch authorities.
I became aware of shipments of radio transmitter parts to East Germany and discovered in the outgoing mail copies of airfreight waybills addressed to the ‘Institut fur Technische Untersuchungen’ in East Berlin’. This equipment, of US origin, was being shipped by Mebo Telecommunications (then unregistered) of Zurich to East Berlin, via Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Such technology exports were banned under Federal US law. The Institut was a wing of East German intelligence, the Stasi.
I spirited away the mail that looked interesting, steamed it open using a technique learned from The Daily Mail Annual as a schoolboy, photocopied it, popped it back in the post and laid the copies securely aside for my next trip back to the UK.
Back there, usually in Aberdeen, I would be contacted by a Special Branch officer who would set up my meetings with the man from MI6. Hardly surprisingly, I was dealt with on a ‘need to know’ basis but from the extensive questioning and discussions it became quite clear that ‘W’ was particularly interested in the East German connection and the interference by the radio ship in the general election.
This was distinctly low grade intelligence work far removed from the glamorous world of James Bond.
But in those days, it was this sort of dull footwork which formed the bedrock of most intelligence operations. I was never paid a penny for my miniscule part in winning the Cold War.
Anthony Wedgewood Benn – then Her Majesty’s Postmaster General with responsibility for broadcasting matters – had secretly sworn a warrant for my arrest under the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act 1967 for my part in setting up Capital Radio.
I was simply granted immunity from prosecution as was one of my colleagues, Scottish radio engineer aboard Capital, Ewan Macpherson, a friend from university days who had kept our discotheques running..
However, evidence soon emerged that the activities of European and American intelligence agencies had borne fruit. On July 8 1971, the Dutch newspaper, De Telegraaf, published a leaked report from the CIA.
It revealed that ten pirate radio ships, based on the Radio North Sea International operation, were under construction in the Polish port of Gdansk.
The programme was under the direction of the Institut fur Technische Untersuchungen. This was believed to be a Cold War riposte to the US-backed operations Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. It was also likely that such vessels would incorporate a SIGINT (signals intelligence) capability, which was also a feature of the North Sea operation. Publication of the report effectively compromised the whole operation and work on the ships ceased.
In May 1971, Radio North Sea International was bombed by frogmen who attached plastic explosives to the hull. Rival, Radio Veronica, was blamed and owner, Bul Verweij, went to prison. But in reality it was a botched job by the BVD (Dutch Secret Service).
Meantime my own pirate ship had been cut adrift on the night of November 5 1970 and had ended up on the beach at Noordwijk – right in front of the Grand Hotel. The crew and radio operators were rescued by the Noordwijk lifeboat. The Wijsmuller salvage company spent almost a week salvaging the ship but it turned out to be a somewhat pointless exercise: when the insurance company declined to pay up, Wijsmuller arrested the ship and it would eventually be sold for scrap, effectively flushing more than £100,000 down the drain.
Radio North Sea International was closed by Dutch government legislation in August 1974. In January 1977 it sailed from Rotterdam for Libya, where for a while, it was used by the Libyan leader, Colonel Ghadaffi, to broadcast the Koran.
One day, Ghadaffi tired of his plaything, or maybe it had no use for him any longer. A Libyan air force jet fighter strafed the Mebo II and sent it to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.
I suppose RNI remains as an indicator of what could have developed on the high seas if the development of pirate ships had remained untrammelled and unscrupulous operators and intelligence agencies had been allowed to move in.

Comment: The foundation for all of this seems to be a single Dutch newspaper article (allegedly based upon a leaked CIA report), and the personal observations of Mr. Harris which he claims were given by him to one of Britain’s spy agencies. Over the years these words of Mr. Harris have been challenged and I have not seen any additional proof offered by him to support these challenges. Nevertheless they are intriguing since it would appear that the so-called ‘British beat fleet’ of the 1960s was in an of itself a by-product of a faction of the British Establishment in conjunction with CIA interests. My most recent co-edited findings regarding this matter were documented and published in 2007 as a part of New/Old Worlds: Spaces in Transition: The World Tomorrow radio broadcasts to the United Kingdom: 1965-1967, Univers Enciclopedic, Bucharest. ISBN 978973637159-2. Mervyn Hagger

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