An Overview of the Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee

Introduction

The Defence and Security Media Advisory (DSMA) Committee oversees a voluntary code which operates between the government departments which have responsibility for national security and the media.

DSMA is an ad-hoc advisory group of the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

1912 Origins

In 1912, the Admiralty and the War Office concluded that they needed some means of preventing the press from publishing information which might be of value to a future enemy. After some informal discussion with the press, the then Secretary of the Admiralty met on 13 August 1912 with representatives of the War Office and various Press Associations to discuss the problem. It was agreed that an organisation should be set up to deal with the matter, on which the Press would be represented. The Press representatives sought, and got, assurance that only matters that really did affect the National interest would be concerned.

  • 1912-1919: Admiralty, War Office and Press Committee.
    • An Assistant Secretary of the War Office and Mr. Robbins, the representative of the Press Association, were joint Secretaries. Letters, or telegrams, were sent to editors when agreed.
    • They came to be known as “Parkers” after Mr. Parke who was then the representative of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association on the Committee.
    • This evolved into the D-Notice system (Defence Notice, see below).
  • 1919-1939: Admiralty, War Office, Air Ministry and Press Committee.
  • 1945-1967: Admiralty, War Office, Air Ministry and Press Committee.
    • Admiral George Thompson, who had been the Chief Press Censor during the war, became the Secretary of the committee in 1945.
  • 1967-1993: Services, Press and Broadcasting Committee.
    • Vice Admiral Sir Norman Denning was appointed Secretary in 1967.
  • 1971: all existing D-notices were cancelled and replaced by standing D-notices, which gave general guidance on what might be published and what was discouraged; and what would require further advice from the secretary of the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee (DPBAC).
  • 1993-2015: Defence, Press and Broadcasting Committee.
  • 1993: D-Notices renamed DA-Notices (Defence Advisory Notices).
  • 2015: Review of the DA-Notice system, with DA-Notices being renamed DSMA-Notices.
  • 2015-Present: Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee (DSMA).

The records of the committees are held in the British National Archives.

You can read a more detailed history of the DSMA here.

Purpose of the DSMA Committee

The DSMA Committee oversees a voluntary code which operates between the Government departments which have responsibilities for national security and the media. It uses the DSMA-notice system as its vehicle.

Composition of the DSMA Committee

As of May 2023, the DSMA Committee was made up of the following:

  • Chair:
    • Director General Security Policy (MOD), Paul Wyatt.
  • Vice-Chair (Chair of the Media Side):
    • Head of Compliance ITN, John Battle.
  • Official Members:
    • The Chair is also an official member.
    • Deputy National Security Adviser, Cabinet Office, Matthew Collins.
    • Director National Security at The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Chris Rampling.
    • Director National Security, The Home Office, Jonathan Sinclair.
    • Director National Security, MOD, Gareth Martin.
  • Media Members (various organisations and individuals including):
    • Executive Director, Society of Editors.
    • Associate Editor, The Times & Sunday Times.
    • Editor, Press Association.
    • Editor, Mail on Sunday.
    • Director, Janes.
    • Digital Publishing Director, Trinity Mirror Regionals.
    • Director of News, Current Affairs and Sport, ITN.
    • Director of Editorial Policy and Standards, BBC.
    • Editor, The Register.
    • Director, Scottish Newspaper Society.
    • Director Editorial Content, British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS).
    • Chief Executive Officer, Harper Collins UK.
    • Deputy Head News Gathering, Sky News.
    • Public Affairs Executive, Professional Publishers Association.
    • Deputy Editor, The Daily Telegraph.
    • Editor Newsquest, North Cumbria.
    • Freelancers.

How are the Official Members Chosen?

  • They are ex-officio posts.
  • The Chairman is the Director General Security Policy at the MOD.
    • His/her deputy covers Ministry of Defence interests; in particular Special Forces and Defence Intelligence.
  • The Cabinet Office representative covers security intelligence coordination issues.
  • The Home Office representative covers Security Service and legislative matters.
  • The FCDO representative covers Secret Intelligence Service and Government Communications Headquarters matters.

DSMA Secretary

The DSMA Committee is assisted by:

  • DSMA Secretary;
  • First Deputy Secretary;
  • Second Deputy Secretary; and
  • PA to the Secretary.

How are the Media Members Chosen?

  • They are nominated by media organisations and associations: BBC, ITV, ITN, Sky TV, Professional Publishers’ Association (1), the News Media Association (5), the Press Association, the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society, the Society of Editors and the (Book) Publishers’ Association.
  • The Chairman and Vice-Chairmen select four members from the digital-only media.
  • The media members choose their own chairman who is also the DSMA Committee Vice-Chairman.

Aim of the DSMA Notice System

The aim of the DSMA-notice system 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.

Notices are only advisory requests and are not legally enforceable; hence, news editors can choose not to abide by them. However, they are generally complied with by the media.

DSMA Notices

  • The DSMA Notices aim to provide general guidance on those areas of national security which the Government considers it has a duty to protect: to national and provincial newspaper editors, to periodicals editors, to radio and television organisations and to relevant book and web publishers. The Notices have no legal standing. The advice that is offered within their framework may be accepted or rejected in whole or in part and they will not apply to information that is already widely available in the public domain.
  • Should it be found necessary to issue additional DSMA Notice advice on a specific matter, the Secretary after consultation with the Government department concerned will issue a letter with that specific advice. The letter will be distributed by email to all editors and through the Press Association and the Society of Editors’ networks.
  • These letters will be caveated:
    • Private and Confidential; or
    • Not for Publication, Broadcast or for use on Social Media.

There are currently five (5) standing notices, all published on 03 November 2021:

Standing Notice Number & TitleOutline
1:
Military Operations, Plans & Capabilities
1. This Notice aims to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of information which would improve an adversary’s knowledge and understanding of the UK’s military plans, current operations and capabilities including details of cyber activity, technology, methods and techniques in support of the Defence and Security of the UK.
2. Such disclosure could improve an adversary’s knowledge in ways which could put UK forces at a disadvantage. At a minimum, this would increase the risk to UK personnel and undermine the effectiveness of UK operations. In more acute cases, this could lead to the loss of UK lives and endanger national security.
2:
Nuclear & Non-Nuclear Weapon Systems & Equipment
1. This Notice aims to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of information which would improve an adversary’s knowledge and understanding of the UK’s military and security weapon systems and equipment (including nuclear, conventional and counter-terrorist).
2. Such disclosure could enable an adversary to develop defensive counter-measures and/or offensive capabilities or take pre-emptive actions to negate their effects. Such action would endanger national security and/or increase the risk to UK lives.
3:
Military Counter-Terrorist Forces, Special Forces and Intelligence Agency Operations, Activities and Communication Methods and Techniques
1. This Notice aims to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of classified information about:
a. Special Forces, Cyber and other MOD units engaged in security, intelligence and counter-terrorist operations, including their methods, techniques and activities;
b. Security and Intelligence Agency operations, methods, techniques and activities
And
c. Communications methods, techniques and activities
d. Encryption capabilities, techniques and activities;
e. Data protection measures
f. Operational Cyber Activity
used or undertaken by the UK Government and its NATO and other allies.
2. Such disclosure could:
a. Reveal details of operations or operating methods and techniques before, during and after their execution which would bestow an advantage on an adversary which could endanger national security and increase the risk to UK lives;
b. Reveal vulnerabilities, enabling adversaries to penetrate systems or infrastructure and endanger national security and increase the risk to UK lives or capabilities;
c. Give adversaries access to highly classified information which would endanger national security and put lives in the UK or in allied countries at risk; and
d. Enable adversaries to improve their knowledge and understanding of the UK’s intelligence-gathering, defence and security capabilities and intentions, and secure communication facilities.
4:
Physical Property and Assets
1. This Notice aims to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of information in connection with sensitive UK and NATO installations of critical importance to the security of the UK and its international partners.
2. Disclosure could assist an adversary to develop plans and capabilities to:
a. Monitor, attack, disrupt or destroy installations thereby endangering UK national security and capabilities; and the lives of the UK civilian population.
5:
Personnel and their Families who work in Sensitive Positions
1. This Notice aims to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of Sensitive Personal Information (SPI) that reveals the identity, location or contact details of personnel (and their family members) who have security, intelligence and/or counter-terrorist duties and/or backgrounds, including members of the UK Security and Intelligence Agencies, MOD, Special Forces and Operational Cyber Units.
2. Those working in such sensitive positions should be able to do so without there being unnecessary personal risk to them or their family. SPI of such individuals and their family members includes any information that could lead to their identification but in particular includes their images, names and work and home addresses. Disclosure of such details can create risks up to and including endangering their lives.

An outline of the DSMA-Notice system written by the Society of Editors for journalists.

Original file can be found @ https://www.societyofeditors.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/The-Defence-and-Security-Media-AdvisoryRev1.docx

Known Uses

  • According to an article in Defence Viewpoints, between 1997 and 2008 there were “30 occasions where the committee secretary has written to specific editors when a breach in the D-Notice guidelines is judged to have occurred”.
  • In 1967, a political scandal known as the D-notice affair occurred, when Prime Minister Harold Wilson made an attack on the Daily Express newspaper, accusing it of breaching two D-notices which advised the press not to publish material which might damage national security.
    • When the newspaper asserted it had not been advised of any breach, an inquiry was set up under a committee of privy counsellors.
    • The committee found against the government, whereupon the government refused to accept its findings on the disputed article, prompting press outrage and the resignation of the secretary of the D-notice committee.
  • It has been reported that in 1971, four days following the Baker Street robbery, a D-notice was issued, requesting that reporting be discontinued for reasons of national security.
    • It is claimed that some security boxes contained embarrassing or nationally sensitive material.
    • However, an investigation some years later showed that a request had never been made to the D-notice committee.
    • In fact, The Times newspaper was still reporting about the case over two months later.
  • In 2004 and 2005, three blanket letters were sent to newspapers advising against publication of countermeasures used against roadside ambushes of British forces in the Iraq War.
  • In 2008, a DA-notice was issued to prevent further disclosure relating to sensitive anti-terror documents left on a train by a senior civil servant.
  • On 08 April 2009, the committee issued a DA-notice in relation to sensitive anti-terror documents photographed when Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick arrived at Downing Street for talks about current police intelligence.
  • On 25 November 2010, the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee sent DA-Notices to UK newspapers regarding an expected major publication by WikiLeaks of a “huge cache” of United States (US) diplomatic cables.
    • Index on Censorship presented this as part of “a harm minimisation strategy the US government has embarked on [with] an impressive briefing campaign, reaching out to allies across the world.”
  • In October 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron made a veiled threat to newspapers over NSA and GCHQ leaks, stating in Parliament that the government might use “injunctions or D-notices or the other tougher measures” to restrain publication of leaked classified information if newspapers did not voluntarily stop publishing them.
  • In 2017, a notice was issued to British journalists regarding revealing the author of the controversial Steele dossier alleging collusion between Donald Trump and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election.
    • Multiple British outlets ignored this advisory and revealed his name anyway, including BBC News, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.
  • On 07 March 2018 and on 14 March 2018 two notices were issued to protect MI6 in relation to some aspects of the Skripal affair.
    • In the early 1990s Sergei Skripal was recruited by Pablo Miller, the MI6 agent inside the UK embassy to Estonia in Tallinn.
    • The MI6 officer under diplomatic cover in Moscow at this time was Christopher Steele. Miller was also the handler of Skripal after he went to jail and was released by Russia in a spy swap.
    • Both lived in Salisbury.
    • Steele and Miller worked for Orbis Business Intelligence which compiled the controversial Steele dossier, comprising 17 memos written in 2016 alleging misconduct and conspiracy between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Putin administration.
    • While the precise nature of the relations between Skripal, Miller, and Steele were hidden, enough was already known to raise questions about Skripal’s ongoing involvement with British intelligence.
  • February 2022, Declassified explains why it did not comply with a DSMA-Notice.

Why does the UK have a System like this when no other Country Does?

  • National approaches to the public disclosure of sensitive national security information are rooted in national culture and law.
  • The UK has tended to prefer voluntary agreements over mandatory arrangements.
  • The DSMA Notice System has been reviewed several times but the principle of a voluntary system, based on mutually agreed guidelines, is still seen as appropriate by both the Media and the Government.
  • The system does not guarantee that sensitive national security information will be protected but it plays a valuable part in alerting the media to the consequences of disclosing certain types of information; whilst leaving editors to judge whether to publish or broadcast.
  • These are judgements which, in a wider context, the Media are used to making.
  • A similar system was previously operational in Australia, but has fallen into disuse, and Sweden during World War II.

Australia

A voluntary system of D-Notices was also used in Australia starting in 1952 during the Cold War period; these were issued by the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Committee. At the first meeting of the Committee, eight D-Notices were issued covering atomic tests in Australia, aspects of naval shipbuilding, official ciphering, the number and deployment of Centurion tanks, troop movements in the Korean War, weapons and equipment information not officially released, aspects of air defence and certain aerial photographs.

In 1974 the number of D-Notices was reduced to four, covering:

  1. Technical information regarding navy, army and air force weapons, weapons systems, equipment and communications systems;
  2. Air operational capability and air defences;
  3. Whereabouts of Mr and Mrs Vladimir Petrov; and
  4. Ciphering and monitoring activities.

A fifth D-Notice relating to the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) was issued in 1977.

In 1982 D-Notices were again revised to four.

  • D Notice 1: Capabilities of the Australian Defence Force, Including Aircraft, Ships, Weapons, and Other Equipment;
  • D Notice 2: Whereabouts of Mr and Mrs Vladimir Petrov;
  • D Notice 3: Signals Intelligence and Communications Security; and
  • D Notice 4: Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS).

The Defence, Press and Broadcasting Committee has not met since 1982 although the D-Notice system remains the administrative responsibility of the Minister for Defence. The D-Notice system fell out of common use at the end of the Cold War but remained in force. The 1995 Commission of Inquiry into the Australian Secret Intelligence Service reported that newspapers confessed ignorance that the D-Notice system was still operating when it was drawn to their attention in 1993 and 1994.

On 26 November 2010, Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland sent a letter to heads of Australian media and other organisations proposing the creation of a new system similar to the D-Notice system. The proposed National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (2014) has been described as an extension of the D-Notice system that would subject journalists who reveal details of intelligence operations to criminal penalties.

Sweden

During World War II, the Swedish government agency Statens Informationsstyrelse distributed gray notices (“grå lappar”) to the media. The notes requested the media not to report on certain events that were not to become public knowledge for political or military reasons. During the war, a total of 260 gray notices were distributed to the media.

Freedom of Information

Although not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, the DSMA Committee is committed to practising a policy of maximum disclosure of its activities consistent with the effective conduct of business and the need to ensure that it honours any assurance of confidentiality given to the individuals and organisations with which it deals.

In Popular Culture

  • The use of the D-Notice is demonstrated and referenced several times in the first episode of the Black Mirror television series, first aired in 2011.
    • The episode is titled “The National Anthem” and within it the UK government imposes a D-Notice to try to stifle a controversial ransom demand that the (fictional) prime minister have sex with a pig to secure the release of a member of the royal family.
  • In the comic book series Transmetropolitan (1997), a legally binding type of D-Notice is issued by the US President in an attempt to prevent the main character, gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem, from exposing police corruption and a government-sponsored massacre.
  • The film Defence of the Realm (1986) illustrates the implications of the D-Notice protocols.
  • In the film The Bank Job (2008), MI5 discusses issuing a D-Notice about sensitive photos stolen from a safe deposit box during a bank heist.
  • In the film Official Secrets (2019), a journalist from The Observer questions whether a D-Notice would be applied to a story which exposes intelligence leaked by a GCHQ employee.
  • In Season 2 (2021) of the Sky One television drama series COBRA, the Foreign Secretary points out that a D-Notice could be issued to prevent unwanted journalistic reporting, and has it pointed out to him by the Head of MI5 that they are now called DSMA-Notices.
  • In Season 4 Episode 1 (2017) of Sherlock, Mycroft Holmes mentions putting out a D-Notice to prevent any unauthorised disclosure of the contents of the meeting held behind closed doors.
  • In Season 2 Episode 2 of the BBC television series The Capture (2019), at 32 minutes in, DSU Gemma Garland (played by Lia Williams) mentions ‘you can’t broadcast it; we’ll slap a D-Notice on it.’

Useful Websites, Articles, and Books

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia articles < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defence_and_Security_Media_Advisory_Committee > AND < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DSMA-Notice >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

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