Slice of Life
From the South China Morning Post this week in: 1980
The front-page lead was datelined London but the report was about a remote corner of Hong Kong Island, called Little Sai Wan.
On May 23, a Friday, this newspaper reported that the Foreign Office had been duped into denying allegations of 'serious security breaches in Hong Kong', which had been going on for some years at Little Sai Wan, now known as Siu Sai Wan.
Quoting the Daily Mirror, the Post reported that David Ennals, formerly a Labour minister in the Foreign Office, had asked prime minister Margaret Thatcher for a full inquiry into allegations first made in 1975 by Jock Kane, a radio officer who had worked for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Little Sai Wan. It was then an operations centre for some of the satellite dishes that straddle Hong Kong Island's western peaks to this day.
Kane had written a book, GCHQ: The Negative Asset, detailing sleaze, incompetence, corruption, espionage and security breaches at the facility. The book was never published after MI5 confiscated Kane's manuscript from the publishers, but his allegations did reach the media five years later.
GCHQ had told the Foreign Office that Kane's allegations had been followed up 'and action taken where necessary', but British press reports summarised in the Post claimed that nothing had been done and that in Hong Kong, the GCHQ had become 'an unaccountable state within a state'.
Not only had highly classified documents gone missing and kickbacks been paid for signals-intelligence equipment, the GCHQ also ran a brothel at the Ascot House Hotel, which served as 'temporary accommodation for all its top security employees in Hong Kong and [was] the site of the most blatant call-girl racket among the colony's luxury hotels' and where GCHQ 'permanently leases 20 to 30 suites for visiting intelligence staff'. However, in reports with a photograph of a receipt from an 'executive fitness club', a Daily Mirror reporter and one from ITV's World in Action established that GCHQ's 'prostitute services were available from HK$250 upwards'.
These call girls, London newspapers quoted Hong Kong vice squad police as saying, were run by members of the 14K triad gang, which 'apart from involvement in opium smuggling and organised crime, is closely connected to the Taiwan-based Kuomintang, one of the numerous hostile intelligence agencies operating in Hong Kong'.
Agents from the People's Republic were also afoot. After Kane made his allegations it was discovered that office cleaners at Little Sai Wan had handed over the contents of its rubbish bins to communist agents.
However, in earlier times of 'firmer management' the GCHQ had made it clear to staff that 'the possibility of sexual compromise is a circumstance that enormously threatens security', the New Statesman reported, as quoted in the Post. 'In 1964 [it sent] six Little Sai Wan staff home and cancelled their security clearances for having married Chinese women with relatives in the People's Republic.'
Veteran pilot, Flight Lieutenant Mike Butt saved the life of then former British prime minister James Callaghan and his wife, Audrey. The Callaghans were supposed to visit the Shun Lee housing estate off Clear Water Bay Road in east Kowloon, when a No3 signal storm overtook their helicopter, trapping it 'in a fierce downdraft'. Lieutenant Butt avoided disaster by flying the Royal Hong Kong Auxilliary Air Force Alouette Mark III underneath a flyover. 'I warned him [Butt] that in Britain he would be fined for flying under a bridge,' Mr Callaghan later quipped.
'Canton radio' reported that an ideological conference in Beijing had urged the Communist Party 'to educate people not to watch popular Hong Kong television programmes'. This was part of efforts by 'the authorities in Guangdong to counteract the influence and attraction of Hong Kong', and educate people from China about the problems they would face here. The programme stressed 'the difficulties of finding a job, the cost of transport and accommodation and 'the tension of daily life'.' Nevertheless, mainland authorities 'seem to be facing an uphill battle in dimming the [colony's] bright lights and attractions', the Post reported, citing continuing instances of illegal emigration.