Thorpe ‘The silent Listener’ – book review

The Silent Listener: British Electronic Surveillance Falklands 1982 by Major David Thorpe is a rather uninspiring work, which would hardly have found a publisher, except for a startling addition in its last chapter. After describing his work with military-electronic codes, Thorpe adds that he was commissioned to investigate the Government’s intercepted Belgrano signals, sent by the Argentine military –and that he produced a report ‘The Sinking of the Belgrano’, read by Margaret Thatcher at the time. Astonishingly, this has managed to remain totally absent from the historical record for thirty years, until now!

Thorpe was given this job in 1982, and has kept quiet about it ever, since prior to this opus. We learn that, ‘my analysis revealed that the Belgrano had been instructed to alter course and head in the direction of the RV {Rendevous-position] inside the exclusion zone.’ When torpedoed, it was ‘relocating to the RV inside the exclusion zone, East of the Falkland Islands.’ These instructions were allegedly intercepted on 29 April.

Questions arise here, which the book does not address. If these signals were intercepted and relayed back to GCHQ, why did they not get into the so-called ‘Crown Jewels’ document which the Clive Ponting trial was all about? Ponting, as an MOD civil servant, was tasked to check out this collection of highly secret and sensitive documents, so that he could advise the Minister of Defence Michael Heseltine. Ponting spoke to our 1985 Belgrano Enquiry in some detail about what it contained. He had not been allowed to see telegrams sent to and from Peru and America ‘if they existed’ before the sinking of the Belgrano, otherwise he scrutinised all of the documents. Likewise, Labour MP Ian Mikado’s small group of Labour MPs studying the matter were allowed to view the ‘Crown Jewels’ but not permitted to take any notes or make copies. He likewise commented upon them at our Enquiry, as well as writing up the matter in the 1985 ‘Foreign Affairs Committee report on ‘Events surrounding the Weekend of 1-2 May, 1982’ We are bound to conclude, that no such document existed within that ‘Crown Jewels’ portfolio.

The captain of the Belgrano Hector Bonzo has made quite a few comments on way his ship was sailing when hit away from the Exclusion zone. Messrs Gavshon and Rice (‘The Sinking of the Belgrano’ 1984) conducted several interviews with him, and never picked up any hint that he had received an order to move in and attack. Clearly the book those two published would have been very different, had there been any trace of evidence of an Argentine order for the Belgrano and its escorts to head into the Exclusion zone. The route taken by the Belgrano, which no-one seems to have disputed, in no way indicates any such change of direction.

Thus the claim made by Major Thorpe needs to be challenged as lacking in historical foundation. Had any such order in fact been received by GCHQ, then it would have been manna from heaven for Margaret Thatcher, enabling her to answer nightmare questions about the sinking that so plagued her administration.

The Daily Mail’s pre-publication promotion of Thorpe’s book screamed ‘Britain WAS right to sink the Belgrano: Newly released intelligence proves the Argentine ship had been ordered to attack our Task Force’ with their journalist Guy Walters adding ‘This crucial new evidence flies in the face of what is often claimed by many Argentinians and their useful idiots among the British Left — that the Belgrano was heading back to her home port when she was sunk…’ But hang on, nobody has here presented any ‘evidence’, merely an allegation has been made – mysteriously surfacing thirty years after the event, to sell a book. Is anyone suggesting that the Belgrano had not been ‘heading back to her home port’ when struck? Surely no-one has queried the path taken by that ageing battleship? Its captain Hector Bonzo confirmed on various occasions that his ship had been ‘heading home’ due West, when hit, when he spoke to Narendra Sethia in September 2000 in Buenos Aires. (The Guardian 18.10.00 )

Or, is Thorpe in any way indicating that a document he prepared for Thatcher exists somewhere, or can he produce any testimony of some credible person who has seen it? No, its just a phantom.

As to how no-one noticed it, Thorpe explained: ‘Somehow, the significance of this intelligence had been overlooked, misread or perhaps not read at all’ Uh-huh. But, the all-important sequence of signals sent to the Argentine ships has been combed over in detail, eg by journalist David Leigh: ‘Belgrano codes Cracked,’ The Observer 6.1.85. Can we have corroboration, eg by someone in GCHQ, as to how this crucial signal was overlooked for thirty years? Don’t hold your breath.

The Telegraph advised its readers, ‘Despite the report being read by Mrs Thatcher she never disclosed the information either in Parliament or elsewhere possibly because she did not want to reveal Britain’s eavesdropping capabilities.’ Surely, reader, you’re not going to believe that, are you? It would have rescued her and Michael Heseltine from awful dilemmas. Its advance-promotion forThorpe’s book was entitled: ‘Belgrano was heading to the Falklands, secret papers reveal.’ O, no it wasn’t. Journalists should be trained not to believe stories beginning ‘secret documents reveal…’

Wherever Clive Ponting is now – author of The Right to Know following his famous trial in 1984 over revealing material to Labour MP Tam Dalyell, because his conscience impelled him to – the world needs his judgment on this matter, viz: can a report commissioned by Prime Minister Thatcher entitled “The Sinking of the Belgrano” not appear in the historic ’Crown Jewels’ dossier, which contained all of the controversial Belgrano material, not appear anywhere else – and then mysteriously surface thirty years later, conveniently at the 30-year anniversary, to validate the official line?

Thorpe’s book describes how he was given a book by two Argentinians on the subject, and that clearly has to be the Gavshon & Rice book of 1984, but he omits to state its title, The Sinking of the Belgrano, presumably because he is pretending that this is the title of his unseen memo to the PM.

One can’t help noticing the similarity of this amazing disclosure to that alleged by Lawrence Freedman in 2005 – that The Belgrano had received instructions to proceed to a point 54.00S 060.00W which was inside the exclusion zone, exactly due South of the Falklands. In contrast Thorpe’s ‘disclosure’ has instructions for it to proceed to a point ‘East of the Falkland Islands.’ Now, would the Belgrano have been steaming due West for twelve hours before it was hit, if it was actually supposed to rendez-vous due East of the Falklands? Thorpe gives us no hint that he has read Freedman’s Official History.

Thorpe avers that the Belgrano entered briefly into the 200-mile Exclusion Zone around the Falkland Islands on 26th April (p.170) and surmises that it may have been wishing to challenge the British fleet by doing this. He gives no source. It wasn’t detected until May 1st so how would he know this? Gavshon and Rice stated that the Belgrano left its port of Ushuaia (‘the world’s most southern city’) at 4 pm on the 26th April, their source being its captain, Hector Bonzo. But, Sink the Belgrano by Mike Rossiter has it leave Ushuaia on 24th April, being ’ordered to remain outside the TEZ’ by Admiral Lombardo. Neither of these versions are compatible with Thorpe’s account. On May 1st, the Belgrano  was still near the Argentine coast, so the date of the 26th for leaving port seems more likely. Again, is Major Thorpe just dreeaming up his history?

One Response to “Thorpe ‘The silent Listener’ – book review”

  1. [...] Right to Know’? That dossier had all of the high-security info surrounding the sinking. Any such message intercepted by GCHQ, would have had to have been [...]