A Note on the Media and Jan Sarkocy

From the Daily Mail, 16 February:

Jeremy Corbyn was a paid informant of the Czech secret police at the height of the Cold War, a former Communist secret agent claims.

Former spy Jan Sarkocy said he recruited the MP, codenamed Cob, in the 1980s.

…’It was a consensual collaboration,’ Mr Sarkocy said. At his home in rural Slovakia, the 64-year-old added: ‘He was our asset, he had been recruited. He was getting money from us.’ 

…The ex-spy, who was renowned by bosses for his innovative ways of cultivating sources, yesterday bragged about his ability to work inside the British system.

‘I knew what Margaret Thatcher would eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day and what dress she would be wearing,’ he said.

The article appeared in the wake of a now much-discussed Sun splash that was published under the headline “Corbyn and the Commie Spy”. According to the Sun:

According to secret files, he passed on material about the arrest of an East German and was allegedly put on a list of Czechoslovakian state security team’s agents and sources.

…The papers claim he was vetted by agents and met one, Lieutenant Jan Dymic, at least three times including twice in the Commons.

The files, unearthed from the StB archive in Prague, indicate he was initially approached in 1986…

The StB archive made a large number of items newly available online to registered users in October; Prague Monitor reported that the archive director, Svetlana Ptacnikova, had warned (indirect quote) that “researchers who gain access to the documents should be cautious in drawing conclusions”.

“Jan Dymic” was soon afterwards identified as Jan Sarkocy – “Dymic” is described as having been an “alias”, but he is listed as Sarkocy in the London Diplomatic List for 1988, and that was the name given in a 1989 Times report on his expulsion (1). This explains why Corbyn’s spokesman told the Sun that “In the 1980s he met a Czech diplomat, who did not go by the name of Jan Dymic, for a cup of tea in the House of Commons”.

It’s not clear why “Dymic” appeared in the media, or how this name was then linked back to Sarkocy; a Daily Mail article from 15 February states that “experts said that Dymic’s real name was Jan Sarkocy”, but it is not explained who these “experts” are. The Czech newspaper Nový ?as suggests that they discovered him, but he perhaps  made it easy for them – certainly, one gets the impression  that he was delighted to suddenly find himself in the media spotlight.

Nový ?as published an interview, dated 17 February. Despite the date, it appears that this provides the source for the quotes that appear in the Daily Mail article dated 16 February. Here’s what he told his interviewer:

Aké informácie vám Corbyn dával?

– Poviem vám to takto. Vedel som, ?o bude ma? Thatcherová na ra?ajky, obed a ve?eru a aké bude ma? šaty na budúci de?. Corbynovi dávala peniaze iná osoba, ktorá je momentálne významným poslancom. Verbovanie sa konalo pod ochranou Ruska.

Here he specifically attributes to Corbyn his supposed knowledge of Thatcher’s meals and clothes – yet this rather unlikely story is obscured in the Daily Mail, which instead suggests that he claims this information came from other general “sources”. This gives the impression that the paper decided to tone down Sarkocy’s claims, to make them less far-fetched.

Perhaps such a story was meant to be understood as hyperbolic, but the Daily Mail also glossed over less incredible sensational boasts:

Cez odbory a mierové hnutia sa riešili otázky, ?o boli s Nelsonom Mandelom. Zapadá to, lebo on a jeho partia sa zú?ast?ovali na príprave podporných podujatí. Nakoniec sme urobili koncert vo Wembley. To financovalo ?eskoslovensko.

To myslíte Live Aid?

– To som robil ja. On udržiaval dobré kontakty s manželkou Mandelu. Ženy sú dobrý zdroj.

It’s not clear what Live Aid has to do with Nelson Mandela, and I have a suspicion that confusion has slipped in here between Live Aid in 1985 and the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute in 1988 – both events were held at Wembley Stadium. If so, the fact that Sarkocy so readily follows his interviewer’s error suggests that he is winging it. But either way, his claim is grandiose, with obvious implications for his general credibility. Why, then, was it left out of the Daily Mail‘s account?

And what is the basis for claiming that Sarkocy was “renowned by bosses for his innovative ways of cultivating sources”, as we are told by the Daily Mail? We are not provided with any source for this, let alone an account of what this assessment is based on. The 15 February Daily Mail article describes him as “a Slovak engineering graduate with ‘James Bond good looks’ who was known for his cunning espionage tactics.” “Known for” by whom? The 1989 Times report says he had been named by an StB defector (Vlastimil Ludvik) as one of several “key Czechoslovak intelligence agents operating in Britain”, but he’s not listed first or singled out as exceptional (2).

Sarkocy’s claims have been scathingly dismissed by a former Czech dissident who is now an analyst with the country’s ministry of defence; as reported in the Guardian:

Radek Schovánek, an analyst with the defence ministry of the Czech Republic… has spent 25 years researching documents filed by the now-defunct spy service. He told the Guardian the suspicions against Corbyn were unfounded, and the claims of Ján Sarkocy, a former intelligence officer expelled from Britain in 1989, to have signed the Labour leader up were false.

…Schovánek, 54, who secretly smuggled banned books from the west into Czechoslovakia during the cold war, said he felt compelled to speak out on Corbyn’s behalf, despite strongly disagreeing with the Labour leader’s leftwing politics. “I personally don’t like Corbyn. I’m Roman Catholic and conservative, but I think we have to defend people against a lie,” he said.

The Conservative Party vice-chair Ben Bradley has deleted a Tweet claiming that Corbyn “sold secrets” to Communist spies, after being threatened with a libel action.

The media narrative then switched to the possibility that old Stasi records from East Germany instead may have something damning on Corbyn – the inspiration for this was apparently Paul Staines, who said that he had contacted the Stasi Records Agency in 2016 and received in reply that data is only released “if the persons concerned have given their written consent”.

Thus it was that shortly afterwards the Prime Minister herself was urging Corbyn to provide this consent, reported by even the left-leaning Daily Mirror as “Theresa May encourages Jeremy Corbyn to allow the publication of the Stasi file on the Labour leader”. This was despite the fact that the reply to Staines was not actually a confirmation that any such record actually exists. (3)

The Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records has now issued a statement saying that

Thorough research in the records of the Ministry for State Security of East Germany in response to recent requests have not produced any records or any other information on Jeremy Corbyn or Diane Abbott.

Footnotes

1. Michael Evans, Andrew McEwen and Philip Webster, “Four Czechs Expelled after Defector Talks”, The Times, 26 May 1989, p. 1.

2. The expulsion was also logged by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Daily Reports, and as such is it is information readily available on Google Books.

3. Shades here of Staines’s work helping David Hart produce the red-baiting newsletters British Briefing and World Briefing in the 1980s, as blogged here. Its perhaps worth noting that Corbyn met Sarkocy around the same time that Staines attended a social function at the South African Embassy.

3 Responses

  1. It’s such palpable nonsense and the tale gives itself away in so many ways but I think the idea is the reader will just adsorb the false information and it will add to the list of perceived Corbyn bad traits.
    For instance as you point out the statement : “..who was known for his cunning espionage tactics” is ludicrously contradictory as if he was so known, then he’d be a bloody bad spy.

  2. Aj moja rodina tam chodila cvičiť.A čo jako?Na prvom mieste má byť športový klub.Tu si daj otázku,čo robili tvoji súdruhovia z KDH toľko rokov,keď nevedeli vybudovať dosť kvalitných kvalitných športových hál.Niekto lúskal prstami a penáze mu tiekli..Pán oligarcha 11 7

  3. Aj moja rodina tam chodila cvičiť.A čo jako?Na prvom mieste má byť športový klub.Tu si daj otázku,čo robili tvoji súdruhovia z KDH toľko rokov,keď nevedeli vybudovať dosť kvalitných kvalitných športových hál.Niekto lúskal prstami a penáze mu tiekli..Pán oligarcha 11 7

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