During World War II, the Political Warfare Executive (PWE) was a British clandestine body created to produce and disseminate both white and black propaganda, with the aim of damaging enemy morale and sustaining the morale of the Occupied countries.
The Executive was formed in August 1941, reporting to the Foreign Office. The staff came mostly from SO1, which had been until then the propaganda arm of the Special Operations Executive. The organisation was governed by a committee initially comprising among others Anthony Eden (Foreign Secretary), Brendan Bracken (Minister of Information) and Hugh Dalton (Minister of Economic Warfare) (they were more forthright in those days).
PWE included staff from the Ministry of Information, the propaganda elements of the Special Operations Executive, and from the BBC. Its main headquarters was at Woburn Abbey with London offices at the BBC’s Bush House. As the Political Warfare Executive was a secret department when dealing with the outside world PWE used the cover-name ‘Political Intelligence Department’ (PID).
After D-Day most of PWE’s white propaganda staff transferred to the Psychological Warfare Division (PWD/SHAEF) of SHAEF.
At the end of World War II PWE were tasked with the re-education of German Prisoners of War. As with different types of propaganda, PWE used the same ‘white’, ‘grey’, and ‘black’ classifications for German POWs. Prisoners classed as ‘black’ were considered dangerous ardent Nazis, with anti-Nazis classed as ‘white’ and regular non-political soldiers classed as ‘grey’.
Hacking terms such as white-hats, black-hats and grey-hats use the same classification system even if the terminology has been turned on its head in our Orwellian existence where black is white and white is black. Aaron Barr of HBGary infamy is an example of this.
Sir Hugh Carleton Greene was a British journalist and television executive. He was the Director-General of the BBC from 1960―1969, and is generally credited with modernising an organisation that had fallen behind in the wake of the launch of ITV in 1955.
From 1941, Greene also helped to smooth the relationship between the BBC and the PWE whose goals were somewhat at odds (the BBC strove for accurate, unbiased journalism whereas the PWE was largely concerned with propaganda).
In his novel 1984, Orwell named Room 101 after a conference room at Bush House where he used to sit through tedious meetings. When one of the possible original room 101s at the BBC was due to be demolished, a plaster cast was made by artist Rachel Whiteread for posterity.
Orwell worked in Bush House between 1941 and 1943 and the building is said to have given him the idea, when writing 1984, both for the nightmarish Room 101 and the almost equally awful canteen at the Ministry of Truth.
Bush House was used by many celebrities, including Sir Paul McCartney, for his broadcasts to Russia. This was Britain’s mouth-piece to the world.
As with most if not all institutions, the BBC has elements of good and bad. Honest journalists and even writers of the calibre of Orwell were up against and compromised by agents of the Political Warfare Executive which says it all really.
Truth is the first casualty of war and in a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act..
The World Service vacated the premises in the summer of 2012.