There is a long tradition of the military suppressing news that it considers detrimental to national security by slapping a D-notice on it.
But when the D-notice committee decided that the time was ripe to publish its own official history, nobody imagined that it would fall victim to its own system. The history of the D-notice committee has, in effect, had a D-notice slapped on it by
the D-notice committee.
Secrecy and the Media , written by Rear-Admiral Nick Wilkinson, who was secretary of the committee from 1999 to 2004, should have been hitting all good bookshops this month, according to the academic publisher Routledge's website.
The book will now be published in May, but without its final five chapters. These cover the Blair years, charting the winding-down of the Irish terrorist campaigns and the War on Terror.
The censored chapters will eventually be published in a later edition of the book after a change of administration.
The Times has learnt that the manuscript was cleared for publication by all the relevant government departments – MI5, SIS, GCHQ and the Foreign, Home and Cabinet offices, as well as the Treasury Solicitor and the Attorney-General. However, when
it arrived at the Ministry of Defence it was passed not to the department's security and legal experts but to the current D-notice secretary, Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Vallance.
He advised that the book be withdrawn altogether for reasons of style and structure, and that a new official history should be commissioned, to be written instead by a trained historian , a source has told The Times. He said: It's poorly presented history. It's very thorough, but it's just difficult to read.
The air vice-marshal's view was endorsed by the MoD
Seven D-notices were sent to all UK newspaper editors by the Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee (DPBAC) in 2007 and a further five so far this year, Defence Minister Kevan Jones revealed in a written parliamentary reply published.
This compares with just two being issued in each of the previous three years from 2003, one in 2002, three in 2001, two in 2000, three in 1999 and none in either 1998 or 1997.
The D-Notice system, which is a virtual blanket publication ban, is a voluntary code that began back in 1912 to provide guidance to the British media on the publication or broadcasting of national security information.
The committee, a joint government-media body, says the objective is to prevent inadvertent public disclosure of information that would compromise UK military and intelligence operations and methods, or put at risk the safety of those involved
in such operations, or lead to attacks that would damage the critical national infrastructure and/or endanger lives.
No details are given of the latest bans. Some journalists have argued that the bans often include subjects that are merely unflattering to government, rather than a matter of national defence and thus are a form of soft censorship.
Governments, organisations and media across the world have been put on alert as whistleblowing site Wikileaks looks set to release millions of diplomatic communications.
As Wikileaks prepares to expose a huge cache of classified diplomatic communications, the US has warned allies that new revelations may lead to public embarrassment. The cables are expected to expose sensitive foreign policy issues including
corruption allegations against foreign governments and leaders, and clandestine US support for terrorism.
In what appears to be a harm minimisation strategy the US government has embarked on an impressive briefing campaign, reaching out to allies across the world.
In its efforts to manage the release and ensure its views are represented in the ensuing debate, the US has been vocal. In an email the Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs to the Senate and House Armed Services Committee Elizabeth
King said: State Department cables by their nature contain everyday analysis and candid assessments that any government engages in as part of effective foreign relations…. The publication of this classified information by WikiLeaks is an
irresponsible attempt to wreak havoc … It potentially jeopardizes lives.
As news breaks that the UK government has issued a DA notice, effectively asking to be briefed by newspaper editors before any new revelations are published it worth noting that there is no obligation on media to comply. DA-notices point to a set
of guidelines, agreed by the government departments and the media. In this case newspaper editors would speak to Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee prior to publication.
Government officials are planning to review the historic D-notice system, which warns the media not to publish intelligence that might damage security, in the wake of the Guardian's stories about mass surveillance by the security services based
on leaks from the US whistleblower Edward Snowden .
Sources said Jon Thompson, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defence, was setting up an inquiry into the future of the committee, raising fears that the voluntary censorship system also known as the DA-notice could be made compulsory.
The committee is supposed to be consulted when news organisations are considering publishing material relating to secret intelligence or the military. It is staffed by senior civil servants and media representatives, who give advice on the
publication of sensitive stories. Minutes of a recent meeting reveal the comment: The events of the last few months had undoubtedly raised questions in some minds about the system's future usefulness.
In his latest report, its secretary, Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Vallance, raised concerns about the parallel publication of Snowden's revelations by newspapers around the world, noting that at the outset the Guardian had avoided engaging with the
DA-notice system before publishing the first tranche of information .