Spinwatch can reveal that the Skripal affair has resulted in the issuing of not one but two 'D-N otices' to the British media, which are marked private and confidential. We can also disclose the contents of both notices, which have been obtained from a reliable source.
That two notices were issued has been confirmed by the ‘D-Notice' Committee. The Committee, which is jointly staffed by government officials and mainstream media representatives has recently changed its name to the ‘Defence and Security Media Advisory (DSMA) Committee’. The use of the word ‘advisory’ is no doubt a bid to discourage the public from thinking that this is a censorship committee. However, the DSMA-Notices (as they are now officially called) are one of the miracles of British state censorship. They are a mechanism whereby the British state simply ‘advises’ the mainstream media what not to publish, in ‘notices’ with no legal force. The media then voluntarily comply.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury and discovered collapsed on a park bench in the late afternoon of Sunday 4 March. Less than three days later on 7 March, the first and - until now undisclosed - notice was issued.
The notice stated that the ‘issue surrounding the identify [sic] of a former MI6 informer Sergei Skripal is already widely available in the public domain. However, the identifies [sic] of intelligence agency personnel associated with Sergei Skripal are not yet widely available in the public domain’.
The notice goes on to refer to standing notice 5 on the intelligence services:
The provisions of DSMA Notice 05 therefore apply to these identities. DSMA Notice 05 inter alia advises editors against the:
'inadvertent disclosure of Sensitive Personnel Information (SPI) that reveals the identity, location or contact details of personnel (and their family members) who have security, intelligence and/or counter-terrorist backgrounds, including members of the UK Security and Intelligence Agencies, MOD and Specials Forces.'
On the evening of 6 March a Russian opposition news outlet Meduza, styling itself 'Russia's free press in exile', published a long piece on Skripal in English. Citing a variety of online sources including in Russian, some from over a decade old, identifying Pablo Miller as the MI6 agent inside the Estonian embassy who had recruited Sergei Skripal. By the next afternoon the notice was issued to the mainstream media. Perhaps the misspellings in the DSMA notice -'identify' and 'identifies' instead, presumably, of 'identity' and 'identities' - was due to haste in getting it out?
This was followed that evening by a report in the Daily Telegraph published online at 10.24pm. The Telegraph was the first mainstream outlet to discuss - in discreet and decorous terminology - the connection between Skripal and a 'security consultant' who is 'understood to have known him for some time' and 'is also based in Salisbury'. It noted that the paper was 'declining to identify' the consultant, and we can only suspect that this was not unconnected to the notice issued earlier that day. The Telegraph reported that the ‘consultant’ worked at the same company (Orbis Business Intelligence) that compiled the controversial dossier on Donald Trump and Russia – paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Convention. The consultant was, as we now know, Pablo Miller, who had ‘known’ Skripal in the specific sense that he was his MI6 handler. Some, such as Guardian journalist Luke Harding, have suggested that Miller never worked for Orbis, but this seems to be false.
The second D-Notice was issued on 14 March. This appears to be the notice referred to in a tweet by Alex Thomson of Channel Four News. This notice reiterated the warning about intelligence service personnel.
One of the reactions from the Russian authorities in response to the measures that the UK authorities have recently announced, may include the publication or broadcast of Sensitive Personal Information (SPI).
Any publication or broadcast of SPI could identify personnel (and their family members) who work in sensitive positions.
The notice helps to encourage the climate of anti-Russian hysteria implying that investigative reporting on this matter that might discuss British intelligence is in effect Russian propaganda. This is a nice illustration of David Leigh’s phrase from nearly 40 years ago: ‘the obverse of the secrecy coin is always propaganda’.
It is a standing rebuke to the notion that journalism should question power, that 15 senior media people should agree to sit on this censorship committee. As well as the BBC, ITV, ITN and Murdoch’s Sky News, representing broadcasters, there are a variety of representatives from the broadsheet and tabloid press, regional and Scottish newspapers and magazines and publishing - including two News UK and Harper Collins, (both owned by Murdoch) as well as Trinity Mirror, the Daily Mail and the Guardian. On the government side of the committee are the chair from the MoD and four intelligence connected representatives from the MoD (Dominic Wilson, Director General Security Policy), Foreign Office (Lewis Neal, Director for National Security), Home Office (Graeme Biggar, unspecified post in the OSCT) and Cabinet Office (Paddy McGuinness, Deputy National Security Adviser for Security, Intelligence, and Resilience).
The DSMA committee likes to cultivate the impression that it is a rather uninteresting committee that is, as a former vice chair of the committee (a journalist) put it, ‘is emphatically not censorship… but voluntary, responsible media restraint'. Then working at Sky News, that vice chair, Simon Bucks, is now CEO at the Services Sound and Vision Corporation, the broadcasting service which says it is ‘championing the Armed Forces’. Bucks also wrote that the DSMA committee is ‘the most mythologised and misunderstood institution in British media... “Slapping a D-notice” on something the establishment wanted suppressed has been the stuff of thrillers, spy stories and conspiracy theories for more than a century'.
This is a typical deception used regularly by defenders of the British system of censorship. DSMA notices are indeed ‘slapped’ on the media to this day, as the two notices revealed here show.
The DSMA notices can be found here:
For further information on the DSMA Notice Committee see Powerbase: Defence and Security Media Advisory (DSMA) Notice System.
* This story was updated on 9 May to correct the time of publication of theTelegraph piece on 7 March and note the Russian coverage of the Skripal case the day before.