The 1963 Cabinet Papers / 'Secret state' prepared for third world war: Donald Macintyre and Stephen Ward examine the documents released today

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IN AN unprecedented move, ministers have revealed the structure of the 'secret state' set up at the height of the Cold War to oversee intelligence and mastermind preparations for a global conflict

Documents released to the Public Record Office today show the composition of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the network of satellite committees set up initially to combat the Soviet threat after the Second World War. Some of the hitherto unknown committees, composed of top Whitehall officials and heads of security services, are thought to exist today.

One of the JIC sub-committees - made up of senior government information officers and representatives from the Post Office, the BBC, ITN and the security services - was to control the press in the event of a third world war

The papers name most of the members of the key committees in 1963 - the time of the major espionage scandals involving John Vassal and Kim Philby. They also reveal that there was a special Whitehall sub-committee charged with stimulating defections from behind the iron curtain.

The move is the most dramatic step yet taken by William Waldegrave, the Cabinet minister in charge of open government, to lift the curtain on the secret world of intelligence and planning for a third world war.

The key officials on the main committees included the permanent secretaries of the most sensitive government departments as well as Sir Dick White, the head of MI6 at that time.

Among other key sub-committees never disclosed before is the war legislation sub-committee which was charged with preparing and reviewing draft emergency legislation for use in a future war 'in the light of experience gained in the Second World War'.

The committees also include a Berlin Contingency Planning group to plan non-military counter measures in the event of a Berlin blockade and an Evacuations From Abroad Committee aimed at repatriating British nationals overseas in the event of a global war.

Other committees include the London Communications Electronics Security Board which was given the role of protecting high-security military and civilian signals traffic from enemy surveillance.

The press control committee's official terms of reference were to 'draw up and subsequently keep under review the arrangements for distributing official announcements, information and guidance to the press and broadcasting authorities in a precautionary period and in global war'. It included senior officials from major departments.

Last night Dr Peter Hennessy, professor of contemporary history at Queen Mary and Westfield College, London University, welcomed publication of the new Cabinet committee book as being 'without precedent'. He said that it exposed 'the bone structure of the most secret apparatus of the state during the high years of the Cold War'. Although the papers of the committees had not yet been disclosed, Whitehall had nevertheless acknowledged for the first time 'the degree of depth' to which the structure of government had been influenced by considerations of further world war.