Tito spy Mitja Mersol infiltrated the BBC
- From: The Times
- March 26, 2012
THE BBC World Service was infiltrated by a ring of informants run by the secret police of Communist-era Yugoslavia, newly released files have revealed.The spies were briefed by Marshal Tito's security service, the Udba, to inform on their Yugoslav and British colleagues and on dissident emigres living in Britain.
The informants unmasked in the files include Mitja Mersol, now an MP in Slovenia, the European Union state that until 1991 was part of Yugoslavia. In the 1970s he worked as an announcer for the World Service, where his Udba codename was "Linguist".
The secret files, released in Slovenia, paint a picture of London as the arena for covert cold war manoeuvring between Yugoslav agents and anti-Communist emigres.
Jure Brankovic, who has reported on the papers for the Slovenian station Pop TV, said they showed the Udba received a stream of information from spies at the BBC from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Mersol, 66, worked in the Slovene language service. Although Yugoslavia was Communist, it was not part of the Soviet bloc and the BBC gave temporary jobs to its journalists to foster good relations.
An Udba analysis of the World Service warns: "Although the BBC presents itself as non-political, it is an efficient mechanism for British indoctrination and for its secret service."
One source said last week that Mersol saw himself as a patriot and had agreed to help the Udba in return for avoiding military service.
The papers show that before he started at the BBC in 1971, Mersol was issued with a special camera by the Udba to photograph documents and he was instructed in the use of a secret writing system.
He was warned that, when talking to contacts about Yugoslavia, he should say only what had already been reported in local media.
He was ordered to report twice a month, but immediately if he heard about any developments on "special situations - the group of political emigres associated with the Mediterranean action". The nature of this action remains mysterious.
Mersol gained the confidence of colleagues and emigres, reporting back on topics such as their anti-Communist plotting, their love lives and who was in the pay of Scotland Yard. One target was Drago Lavrencic, known as Karl, a prominent Slovene emigre. The two became friends and Mersol reported that he "has a fatherly relationship towards me". This did not prevent him from reporting that the married Lavrencic - who died in 2003 - was besotted with "a young Arab woman called Nadja".
Mersol also told his handlers that Lavrencic had warned him never to speak to the Yugoslav police as the British would find out within a day, because they "are informed about everything that takes place in our country" through their own spy networks.
"We were friends. How could a friend do anything like that?" said Lavrencic's widow Dora, who still lives in Britain.
On one occasion, Linguist came close to being unmasked after reporting on a dinner party given by a 25-year-old Yugoslav working for the BBC. He reported that she had seemed particularly close to one guest, a right-wing emigre.
When the woman's parents in Belgrade were subsequently arrested she complained angrily to Mersol and clearly suspected him, prompting his handlers to plead with their counterparts in Belgrade not to rearrest the couple for fear of blowing their agent's cover.
Last week Mersol said that he had worked in a way that had "harmed no one".
"A man does many things in his life. Every man is a judge of his own actions and I have long ago drawn a line under what happened 40 years ago. We at that time lived in a different country, with a different system and in different circumstances."
The Sunday Times
Izobrazba: univ. dipl. novinar
Poročen, oče dveh hčera in dedek trem vnukom. Sem novinar, ki je s pisanjem začel pred 45 leti pri Mladini, Tribuni, redno zaposlitev pa sem končal v začetku leta 2008 kot komentator Dela, pred tem pa sem bil – od aprila 1996 do oktobra 2003 – odgovorni urednik Dela. Vmes sem tudi predaval novinarstvo in leta 1987 poskrbel za prvo izdajo revije Slovenija v angleščini. Med sedemletnim dopisništvom v New Yorku sem bil dva mandata predsednik FPA (Foreign Press Association of New York), najstarejšega tisoččlanskega združenja tujih dopisnikov v ZDA. Sem tudi član mednarodnega medijskega instituta IPI (International Press Institute), ki v prizadevanjih za svobodo izražanja že 60 let združuje novinarje in medijske založnike iz več kot 120 držav vsega sveta. Zdaj vodim mednarodni medijski center za izpopolnjevanje novinarjev. Napisal sem tudi nekaj knjig (Študentje na barikadah, Sedma sila, Američani kar tako, Dobrodošli v Sloveniji…), najnovejša pa je Beseda-Svet. Že četrt stoletja vodim humanitarne dražbe.