The article below first appeared in NFB issue 8 (2007 p.27-29) and is a useful history of where we came from and the contents of each issue up till that date....We have now resolved the technical difficulties alluded to in point 5 of the conclusion below.
NOTES FROM THE BORDERLAND - THE FIRST DECADE
by Stephen Booth
November 2007 will be NFBs tenth birthday. Since we began, the magazine has come a long way, in the breadth of subjects covered, and also in production values. Two factors are important; the rigour and depth of the analysis; and secondly the wide range of documentation and sources drawn on to substantiate the analysis. Turn the pages of NFB and you'll see an internal memo of some dubious far right group, or the internal Searchlight pro-Europe research bid reproduced in issue 5, or those 'White Wolves' communiques. Some of these docs have exceedingly limited circulation. Sometimes I've looked at this, and asked 'How did they get hold of that?'. Now, I know better!
The unique selling point about NFB is intervention--confronting David Shayler in Newcastle or the London debate, bush-whacking an investigative journalist back-slapping fest in Sheffield, protesting about media disinformation against Mayday protesters outside The Guardian, or braving the Hepple UFO conference in Southport, to name but a few. NFB activists ask awkward sharp questions, trying to prick the complacent into action or the corrupt bubble for the sheer exhilarating hell of it.
NFB magazine did not come from nowhere--those involved, including Larry O'Hara, have a 30 year record of Left/Green/Anarchist/Animal Liberation activism in some cases. Research preceding NFB has been built on, most notably four publications Larry wrote (with help from others, including me and those producing Open Eye magazine RIP) between 1992-96. First was 'A Lie Too Far' (ALTF) quickly followed by 'At War With the Truth' (AWWT) (both 1993). Using primary sources and fearless logic, they put the disinformational Searchlight empire to the sword, as did the text for which Larry is (unfairly) best known, 'Searchlight For Beginners' (1996). Equally important, if not more so, is the book 'Turning Up the Heat: Ml5 After the Cold War' (1994), on targets and strategy. A notable feature of ALTF and AWWT was 'detourned' images on the front cover-enemy images and publications and are subverted: in ALTF Searchlight/Nazi thug Ray Hill had his moment in the limelight. This technique, subliminally echoing French Situationism, has been used by NFB in most issues-1, 3, 4, 5 & 6. Long may it continue. Issue 7 was 'detournement-lite', 8 sees a return to normal practice image-wise.
ISSUE BY ISSUE COMMENTARY
Issue 1 (November 1997) started on an investigatory high point with the report on the fascist ITP (now England First) Spanish village of Los Pederiches, Valencia. The item was followed up, acknowledged and unacknowledged, by several mainstream papers, and with a half-hearted Charity Commission investigation. Another article told of the hermaphroditic Lady Athena McHugh, who ran the British National Socialist Party, and simultaneously infiltrated both Left and Right. Issue 1 also blew the whistle on Jamie Damji/De Mayo, infiltrator, creeping round the London Anarchist Book-fair, a Liverpool meeting, the BNP in Manchester, and then canvassing for the Third Way in East London. Truly a "Man for All Seasons".
The NFB style was further defined In Issue 2 (Autumn-Winter 1998-99). A detailed article opened the lid on dirty far Right goings on in Yorkshire: "Sid Carthew has a large dog, so caution is advised", and as the Redwatch investigation elsewhere this issue (8) shows, research still relevant today. A piece on Matthew Collins, Searchlight provocateur, maintained the high standard. NFBs examination of David Shayler, the supposed MI5 'renegade' asked serious questions, breaking away from the common reaction by other radicals, of uncritical adoration. This long, thoughtful piece drew on the Shayler case to ask broader questions on the role of the security services, and how these are used against dissident groups of both Left and Right. What future did Annie Machon and David Shayler have?
As an example of the Interventionist approach, the 134 page 'pamphlet'(!) 'At War With The Universe' (November 1999) recorded the career of one-time far Right and Green movement infiltrator, Searchlight asset, agent provocateur, and then Ufologist, Tim Hepple a.k.a. Tim Matthews. Or to give its full title—'At War With The Universe: the British X-Files-How & Why Nazi Thug and State Asset Tim Hepple/Matthews has infiltrated Ufology. Some Ufologists, particularly those who had been the butt of Matthews' activities, appreciated the book, while others exhibited exactly the same ostrich tendencies shown six years earlier, in certain regions of the Left, when 'A Lie Too Far', and 'At War With The Truth'came out. Nonetheless, AWWU continues to have an effect, and sells steadily, as much for the detailed UFO research as anything else, debunking Nazi UFO claims with (again) detailed reference to primary sources.
Issue 3 (Autumn Winter 2000 - 2001). Perhaps the most important article here was the piece analysing David Copeland fascist bag bomber. Significant questions were asked about Ml5 foreknowledge that gays would be targeted before the Soho bomb. Why did it take so long - ten days, for the Brixton CCTV picture of Copeland to be released? Were some in the secret state letting the bomber run?
As with David Shayler, Copeland has been a recurring theme. The article traced his political trajectory, as a member of the BNP, present at the Stratford incident in September 1997, where anti-fascists attacked John Tyndall and his wife. His membership of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) was examined, and the relationship (if any) of Copeland's actions to the 'White Wolves' communiques and the tactics set out in the original document were probed. The activities of state agencies, including MI5, Special Branch and Searchlight, in relation to the attacks and aftermath, were also analysed. This issue was also notable for NFB's first foray into deconstructing main-stream TV investigative journalism, in this case the widely praised (at the time) 'Macintyre Undercover' series. By combining (in a detourned way) images of Macintyre and Copeland on the front cover, an arresting image was produced [SEE BELOW] that, in our experience, has had the most reaction of any NFB to date. A lesson there.
Issue 4 (Winter 2001-2002) marked the rise in production values with a glossy cover for the first time, although despite being printed, some inside pages hardly seemed so--especially dreadful was a very sun-tanned (except he wasn't!) lain Dale on page 52. Principal focus here was a ground-breaking 28 page article on the secret state and fascist disruption of the anti EU movement. This included secret state interference in the UKIP and other anti EU groups like the James Goldsmith Referendum Party. The career of Andy Carmichael, MI5 infiltrator, was shown. A great scoop was the Searchlight document exposing their pro-EU dishonesty. The career of Dr Mark Deavin was dissected, including his role in a plot to discredit UKIP. Mealy-mouthed hypocrisy from The Guardian was also laid bare, in a detailed critique of their May Day 2000 coverage.
Issue 5 (Winter 2003-2004) led on the link between newly appointed MI5 Director Eliza Manningham-Buller and the Royals. This put in context the Paul Burrell royal butler trial fiasco. Russell Miller wrote about the Wombles Trial, a failed state attempt to showtrial seven anti-capitalist protesters. A Copeland update asked further important questions. Max Burns exposed disinformation artists operating in Ufology. Peter Taylor's 'True Spies' BBC2 documentary was cut up on the slab; the career of Special Branch controlled fascist infiltrator, Peter Marriner, malign secret state campaigns against the WRP, SWP and Militant, Trade Unions, the anti-roads movement and animal liberationists were all looked at, in minute detail.
While the BBC has recently debated with 9/11 cult members about the BBC 2 'Conspiracy Files' on 9/11, no answer has been made to this broad-ranging and substantiated criticism. The BBC prefer tilting at windmills to engaging with serious critics.
Issue 6 (2005) 'Journocops', continued the media theme, examining the 'Secret Agent' BNP documentary, and the term 'SPIJ', (State Compromised Pseudo-Investigative Journalism) was coined. While this merely codified research NFB had always done, defining it as a phrase is useful short-hand. Journalists infiltrating targets to set them up is a staple of low grade TV documentaries. Macintyre used the tactic against Chelsea Headhunters, and Simon Ford against Greater Manchester Police. Here it was being done to state order, against the BNP in Yorkshire, to an agenda, with prosecutions to follow. They failed anyway, to the BNP's PR advantage.
At 29 pages, the 'Secret Agent' article was perhaps three in one-there is ongoing debate in the collective about the wisdom of such lengthy pieces. On the one hand, they allow for detailed analysis unrivalled elsewhere~on the other, are they too indigestible for some readers? Maybe it depends on the audience-whereas anti-EU activists quickly assimilated the NFB 4 article, there was little intelligent response from BBC types to this piece. Is it simply that anti-EU activists are not brain-dead smug coke-snorting yahoos?
NFB 6 had more on Shayler's smears against Tony Benn, and coolly looked at the late Paul Foot, SWP, journalist, Private Eye contributor, and ultimately trustworthy scion of the upper class. This treatment rattled a few coffins in the Last Century Left grave-yard. Tough. A new area of investigation was Paul Marsh reviewing 'Gang Wars' a book on the drug gangs of Manchester. We will see more on this topic (non-political crime) in future, especially given there is a whole industry whereby police-friendly journalists use classified information to lucrative effect, immune from any legal sanction.
Issue 7 (2006) marked the extremely worrying BNP electoral success, reaching 49 council seats. The failure of much anti-fascist strategy was reviewed (as in NFB 4 and 5), and constructive suggestions made. Scraping the barrel, Shayler/Machon had switched targets, now picking on the 9/11 conspiracy theorists' cult. Our examining this produced a furious response from cultists-but to date not one serious reply engaging with what we published, or adequately explaining the inconsistencies and evasions uncovered. Further claims by Machon and Shayler that Blair spied on CND and Militant on behalf of MI5 during the early part of his political career were studied. The 'SPIJ' concept was elaborated, while a follow up article on BBC's 'Secret Agent' reported the Griffin and Collett trial in Leeds. The shock exit of Tony Lecomber, an important figure in the BNP, was given a preliminary examination, showing NFB can be news-worthy and analytical. So confident are we of NFB's quality, if you go to the shop section of this site & click on the subscriptions/offers section, we will send you this issue for the princely price of 1p plus postage...Can't say better than that (HS 20/11/10)
THE BALANCE SHEET SO FAR
So what can we say to date? Aside from points made already, the great strengths of NFB are its independence and fearlessness. Through it, inconvenient areas of the political world have been put under analysis. Despite having clear Left-Green allegiances, there is no area NFB will not in principle examine, and we are not afraid to ruffle anybody's feathers. Well-meaning readers, seeking to classify us, sometimes compare NFB to Private Eye. Certainly, issue 7 had a Private Eye type speech-bubble on the front, as does issue 8. We do have a sardonic sense of humour, but the analogy should not be carried too far. A key difference (aside from politics) is the fact we reference statements and allegations where possible, which the Eye certainly doesn't. And we readily admit mistakes. Using footnotes is intended to help readers judge for themselves, so when we make inferences there is no documentation for, that absence will be obvious.
Others, equally well-disposed, compare us to Lobster magazine, and there is more substance to this. Whatever the editor of Lobster might think--you can find reference to NFB in its pages only by using a microscope--we don't see ourselves as rivals, but complementary. Our focus is more contemporary, and targets at times more obscure than Lobster staples like JFK/the Wilson Plot. Not always though: Princess Diana the BBC, BNP are definitely not obscure. Maybe we are more willing to look at new areas. A lot more could be said about both magazines different trajectories, but for our part, hope readers get Lobster in addition to NFB, as many do.
NFB is not without critics, and seven common points made are:
1) Sectarian attacks by people who have been criticised or analysed, and/or those who have been 'up to something' or who have a vested interest in suppressing an independent voice. These critics we can live with.
2) People who say its "too complicated". We have taken this on board, for instance a precis of each section in AWWU went down well. We could do even more to make ourselves more accessible and user-friendly. Some people, however, make this criticism as a cover for their own intellectual laziness dishonesty and unwillingness to face the issues. Even aside from such people, we have to accept that reality is complicated and messy-that's the way it is, and our stories reflect that.
3) We 'see spooks everywhere': a strange criticism, in that this is a specialist magazine which certainly doesn't reflect the life-interests (or even political concerns) of all involved. We have come into conflict with the 9/11 (and 7/7) cults precisely because we believe in examining the evidence for specific assertions, about Ml5 or anybody else. If somebody is widely reputed to be a spook, but the evidence doesn't stack up (e.g. Nick Griffin BNP leader) we say so. The minute you start allowing premises to effortlessly become conclusions, you've crossed the line into La-La land. Somewhere we refuse to go, except on the occasional fishing-trip.
4) The switch away from Left-wing politics, and increase in coverage of media-oriented materials/topics. Inasmuch as the 'Last Century Left' (a phrase we invented) has atrophied, a fair point. However, how the state mediates and manipulates reportage of politics is a legitimate concern. In any event, NFB certainly covers 'activism' in its broadest sense as much as we ever did-ranging from animal liberation to events on the Far Right/anti-fascist strategy and the 9/11 cult. We would like a far stronger Left/Green movement in this country--which is one valid reason for looking at those lost in the 9/11 cult blind alley.
5) From uninformed quarters emanates the amusing charge of us being in the pay of the secret state. Slightly contradicting this, we are also depicted as money-grabbing shysters because not all NFB is on the internet. Both criticisms hilarious to those who know the true state of NFBs finances. An ongoing project to put one sample story from each issue on the web-site continues. We have now reached issue 2. For technical reasons not yet resolved, we cannot copy and paste existing articles--they have to be re-typed using a complicated programme.
6) Our relatively small circulation. Not a criticism of NFB as such, or its content, but rather a comment about the market and the political world. We are addressing this, and within the last year have had proper national (and international) distribution for the first time. We do need to come out more frequently: twice yearly is the aim.
7) That we are not fashionable enough, in that we refuse to follow the easy options-for instance adherence to 9/11 & 7/7 cults. Guilty--we prefer to examine evidence, not imagine it.
THE FUTURE: THROUGH A GLASS BRIGHTLY?
Putting things in historical perspective, NFB operates in a radically different political (and publishing) environment than 1997. At that time, the internet was in its relative (political) infancy. Internet dominance has meant a proliferation of conspiracy theorists, which we are not, and never will be. For people whose knowledge of life and history is purely internet-based, the rigour involved in reading (never mind writing) something like NFB is too much to contemplate. While more of NFB will go on the internet, the whole magazine never will be. A cursory glance at any WH Smiths or Menzies reveals many high production value niche magazines, which means there is a market for such. Exactly where NFB comes in--we never will be, or want to be, a bland populist magazine. But a readership of 1% of the population would do us fine. The trick is reaching that audience--even 1% of 1% would do for a start.
We are branching out into other genres and presentation formats, DVDs and web-sites. There are now four NFB associated web-sites-the magazine itself, 911cultwatch, the 911cultwatch blog, and Paul Stott's blog. Given the time NFB has been in existence, some say a change in page lay-out is overdue. Perhaps we will see NFB publishing books. I personally would like to see a documentary film version of NFB--this would be worthwhile.
Anyway, here's to the next ten years. We welcome any contributions (including articles) from readers.