One man’s journey from the BBC and Radio 210 Berkshire to MI6,the CIA and Pol Pot.

A former BBC journalist and commercial radio station executive who went to work in psychological warfare for the intelligence agencies of Britain and America has finally given some insights into his extraordinary life.
Neil ffrench-Blake has written what he calls ‘a work of fiction, but it is solidly based on autobiographical fact’. The novel ‘The Pol Pot Conspiracy’,published in July 2015 as a Kindle e-book on Amazon, tells what it is like to be a contractor hired by intelligence agencies to run clandestine propaganda radio stations. It also highlights an element of foreign policy that Britain would probably prefer to forget -how the British were in alliance for a time with Pol Pot.
In 1983 ffrench-Blake was recruited via MI6 ,the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), to work with the CIA and the Government of Singapore to run radio stations supporting what was known as CGDK -the Coalition Government of Democractic Kampuchea. After the Russian-backed Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea (Cambodia) in 1978 which overthrew the regime of the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot, the West and its allies in South-East Asia decided to support an alliance of two non-Communist factions with the Khmer Rouge. Which is how a man with the very aristocratic name of ffrench-Blake, then the son-in-law of the Duke of St Albans, came to meet Pol Pot and to run clandestine radio stations based in neighbouring Thailand supporting the coalition in its aim of driving out the Vietnamese out of Cambodia. In 1989 Vietnam finally withdrew.
The author’s own view of the Khmer Rouge leader; ‘no world-class monster’ but ‘a fumbling idealist, a man never fully in control of the forces he purported to command, a patriot who believed he could improve the lot of his people’ will be controversial but it does at least come from somebody with first-hand experience.
The story behind the book is equally intriguing. I first met Neil when I was researching the history of the clandestine radio stations ,some of them secret,which British Governments had set up abroad at times of conflict .On an obscure specialist website I saw ffrench-Blake named as the programme controller of one of them. I contacted him via Facebook and my colleague Jeff Hulbert and I arranged to meet at his home in Newbury,Berkshire. We talked about his early career including his time in BBC TV Current affairs and Radio 210 in Reading where he helped launch the careers of DJs such as Steve Wright and Mike Read.He then worked for MI6 in the Middle East and Asia before agreeing to work on a station based in London but aimed at an audience thousands of miles away.
The more we talked the more I understood that whatever the shortcomings of this particular British station which he had agreed to work on at short notice it had pioneered propaganda techniques which have also been used in more recent British psychological warfare efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.He was effectively one of Britain’s few known practitioners using radio stations in psychological warfare.It was this experience working for the British that led him to be hired by the CIA.
Neil had many documents to verify his life and times- not many Britons have the equivalent of a contract with the CIA. This encouraged Jeff Hulbert and I to help Neil get his book published. There were a lot of problems .The book had been written after his return from South-East Asia in a word processing software which is rarely used today. The book was very long ,which is why I suspect the one mainstream publisher who’d seen it had turned it down. We worked our way through the technical problems and then came the process of taking the book through what most people still call ‘the D Notice system’. The Secretary of ‘The Defence,Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee’ helps to advise on anything that might endanger national security. As a long-time critic of the system I am not embarrassed to admit that in these circumstances it worked rather well and that the changes requested were very reasonable. Neil had already accepted that ‘because of the constraints of the Official Secrets Act and other agreements into which I freely entered, I am not able to write the whole story as it actually occurred’. He had therefore ‘ taken considerable care to ensure that nobody who is working, or has worked, for Western intelligence organisations, including particularly the SIS and the CIA, can be identified’.
When we first met, Neil was in what his doctors believed were the final stages of cancer. They had not reckoned on his resilience. A year and a half after they decided to stop medical treatment he was still alive at the time of publication and able to enjoy being a published author again, two decades after his last book on the golf courses of South-East Asia,another spin-off of his time working for the CIA.
What we thought was special about ’The Pol Pot Conspiracy’ was that so little has been written about British psychological warfare operations. Even though this one man’s account has been ‘fictionalised’ it is a piece of history that ought to be recorded properly. It now is.

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