A DSMA-Notice (Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice) — formerly a DA-Notice (Defence Advisory Notice), and before that called a Defence Notice (D-Notice) until 1993—is an official request to news editors not to publish or broadcast items on specified subjects for reasons of national security. The system is still in use in the United Kingdom.
In the UK the original D-Notice system was introduced in 1912 and run as a voluntary system by a joint committee headed by an Assistant Secretary of the War Office and a representative of the Press Association. Any D-Notices or DA-notices are only advisory requests, and so are not legally enforceable; hence, news editors can choose not to abide by them. However, they are generally complied with by the media.
In 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). In 1993, the notices were renamed DA-Notices (Defence Advisory Notices).
One of the recommendations resulting from the 2015 review of the DA-notice system, included the renaming of the system to the Defence and Security Media Advisory (DSMA) Committee. This name reflected better the longstanding inclusion of the work of the intelligence agencies. In 2017, the notices were reworded and then reorganized into the following categories:
- DSMA-Notice 01: Military Operations, Plans & Capabilities
- DSMA-Notice 02: Nuclear and Non-Nuclear Weapon Systems and Equipment
- DSMA-Notice 03: Military Counter-Terrorist Forces, Special Forces and Intelligence Agency Operations, Activities and Communication Methods and Techniques
- DSMA-Notice 04: Physical Property and Assets
- DSMA-Notice 05: Personnel and their Families who work in Sensitive Positions
According to an article in Defense 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."
Known notable uses
In 1967, there was a political scandal in which Prime Minister Harold Wilson made a misjudged 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 been advised of no 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.
On 8 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 intelligence.
On 25 November 2010, the Committee issued a note to editors drawing attention to standing DA-Notices 1 and 5 in relation to sensitive documents expected to be imminently released on the website WikiLeaks.
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 against British journalists revealing the identity of the British author of a controversial dossier alleging collusion between Donald Trump and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election. Multiple British outlets ignored this advice and revealed his name anyway, including BBC News, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.
On 7 March 2018 and on 14 March 2018 two notices were issued to protect MI6, in relation to some aspects of the Skripal affair (Poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal). In the early 1990s Sergei Skripal was recruited by Pablo Miller, the MI6 agent inside the Estonian embassy in Tallinn. The MI6 officer under diplomatic cover in Moscow at this time was Christopher Steele. Miller was also the handler of Skripal after 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 "Trump–Russia 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 sharp questions about Skripal's ongoing involvement with British intelligence.
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:
- Technical information regarding navy, army and air force weapons, weapons systems, equipment and communications systems;
- Air operational capability and air defences;
- Whereabouts of Mr and Mrs Vladimir Petrov; and
- Ciphering and monitoring activities.
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.
In popular culture
The use of the D-Notice is demonstrated and referenced several times in the first episode of the Black Mirror TV drama series written by Charlie Brooker. The episode is titled "The National Anthem" and within it the UK government imposes a type 5 D-Notice to try and 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. One of the messages of the script is how ineffective the D-Notice system is in the age of digital technology and the Internet, as the ransom video is uploaded to YouTube and downloaded and disseminated by several people in a viral manner, rendering the D-Notice impotent.
- Prior restraint
- Classified information § Australia
- Classified information in the United Kingdom
- Super-injunctions in English law
- Right to be forgotten, sometimes called a "G-notice"
- Standing DA Notices
- Simon Roberts (2009-01-08). "D-Notices – UK's defence self censorship system".
- Duncan Campbell, Senior Correspondent, The Guardian, speaking on 'The Baker Street Robbery', DVD Group Inc production for Lionsgate Films Inc, 2008
- "£30,000 bail for man on bank raid charge." The Times (30 November 1971)
- Naughton, Philippe; Evans, Michael; Jenkins, Russell (2009-04-09). "Police chief Bob Quick resigns from the Met over terror blunder". The Times. London.
- "WikiLeaks: UK Government has issued a ..." Retrieved 2010-11-26. Wikileaks Twitter Feed
- Butselaar, Emily (2010-11-26). "Wikileaks: UK issues DA-Notice as US briefs allies on fresh leak". Index on Censorship. Retrieved 2010-11-26.
- "WikiLeaks And The Role Of The DA Notice System". Archived from the original on 2010-11-30. Retrieved 2010-11-27.
- order-order.com: "That wikileaks D-Notice" 26 Nov 2010
- Staines, Paul. "D-Notice, June 7, 2013". Retrieved 8 June 2013.
- Nicholas Watt, David Cameron makes veiled threat to media over NSA and GCHQ leaks, The Guardian (October 28, 2013).
- Cox, Joseph (12 January 2017). "UK Asks Journalists to Not Name Ex-Agent Allegedly Behind Trump Report". Motherboard. Vice News. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
- A hundred grand and hundreds of betrayed agents, 6 March 2018
- Revealed: rebranded D-Notice committee issued two notices over Skripal affair, 8 May 2018
- Hospitalized Russian spy linked to Russia-UK spy wars, CNN, 7 March 2018
- Sadler, Pauline (May 2000). "The D-Notice System". Australian Press Council News.
- "Fact sheet 49 – D Notices". National Archives of Australia. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011.
- Gordon J. Samuels and Michael H. Codd (1995), Report on the Australian Secret Intelligence Service - Commission of Inquiry into the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australian Government Publishing Service, pp. 114–115, ISBN 0-644-43201-2
- Stewart, Cameron (2010-11-26). "Attorney-General Robert McClelland urges media to accept security curbs". The Australian. Archived from the original on 2010-11-26. Retrieved 2010-11-26.
- Editorialists have dubbed this the "G-notice", as Google delivers notices to news publications that their articles cannot be indexed. Brendan O'Neill (2014-08-15). "Google: We must reverse the new tide of censorship sweeping Europe". The Telegraph.
- Wilkinson, Nicholas (2009). Secrecy and the Media: The Official History of the United Kingdom's D-Notice System. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780415453752. OCLC 281090467.