Duncan Campbell is an investigative journalist, author, consultant and television producer specialising in privacy, civil liberties and surveillance issues. His best-known investigations led to major legal clashes with successive British governments.
Campbell now also works and is recognised as a forensic expert witness on computers and communications data. He has providing specialist testimony in over a hundred criminal and civil cases and has given evidence to the House of Commons and the European Parliament on surveillance legislation.
For over three decades, he has produced and researched in-depth reports for television, print and online media. His award-winning work into topics including government secrecy, corporate crime and medical fraud has earned critical acclaim and provoked legal challenges. He has published on a wide range of subjects in leading UK newspapers including the Guardian, Observer, Sunday Times, Independent, Mail on Sunday, Daily Express.
He first became nationally known as ‘C’ in the infamous ABC official secrets case of 1977-78, when a Labour government prosecuted two journalists and a former soldier for holding an interview, using a law they had promised to repeal years before. The ABC case (named after the three defendants, Aubrey, Berry and Campbell) ended in November, 1978, causing grave embarrassment for the Labour government.
Before the ABC trial started, Campbell had been invited to join the weekly political magazine New Statesman as a staff writer. He joined in the summer of 1978, under the editorship of a veteran and founder of British investigative journalism, Bruce Page (first editor of the Sunday Times Insight team). Besides Campbell, Page recruited a now well known collection of leading writers, including Francis Wheen, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Patrick Wintour and the late Christopher Hitchens, reinvigorating the long running magazine
Campbell was born in Glasgow and educated in Dundee, Scotland. He graduated from Oxford University in physics in 1973, moving on to study Operations Research at the University of Sussex, which took him to Brighton. There he started writing as a contributor to the science and technology weekly, New Scientist and investigating for a local “alternative” newspaper, Brighton Voice.
Campbell was the first journalist to reveal the existence of the global British electronic intelligence agency GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), in a 1976 article called The Eavesdroppers. This story led to the “ABC” trial in 1978, when the government attempted to jail him for up to 30 years for breaking Official Secrecy laws.
The story: GCHQ, along with the United States National Security Agency (NSA) was operative a massive global electronic surveillance network from locations around Britain, independent of parliamentary accountability or any public scrutiny. One consequence was that Campbell’s co-author, Mark Hosenball was ordered to be deported as an alleged threat to UK national security. The consequences for Campbell were that he became a target for Britiah intelligence services, who tapped his phones. When the late Time Out journalist Crispin Aubrey telephoned Duncan to request he meet ex-SIGINT officer, John Berry, it allowed Special Branch to arrest them.
In 1980, the New Statesman began publishing a series of scoops by Campbell into Britain’s intelligence services. The first investigation identified the likely location of Britain’s phone tapping centre. The next in the series attempted to estimate the potential financial burden of the Security Services on the public purse.
These ground breaking stories on British intelligence and security agencies have recently been revealed to have caused concern at the highest level of government.
Campbell’s trailblazing reports also caught the attention of the wider press. The BBC’s Panorama programme followed, beginning its own and ultimately ill-starred investigation of the UK security services.
In 2011, the National Archives released a cache of Downing Street correspondence on the issue. Private and confidential memos then detail the Prime Minister and her advisors’ attempts to block or ban the programme, and also the extent to which they were bizarrely paranoid about the nature and motivation of Campbell and fellow investigative journalists of the era.
Later in 1980 he exposed the role of the United States National Security Agency (NSA) Menwith Hill Station, Yorkshire in intercepting worldwide communications.
Campbell’s prominence and concern to some in authority earned him special attention. When he was injured in a cycling accident in 1984, Special Branch officers were given his bicycle pannier and papers, and then raided his house on a search warrant.
In another clash in 1987, Special Branch officials raided his office, his house and the Scottish headquarters of the BBC to seize tapes from a six-part series Campbell had made for BBC-2, called "Secret Society".
In 1987, Campbell was commissioned to write and present a six-part documentary series for the BBC called Secret Society. Before the programme ran, however, the BBC became nervous about the nature of its content and approached the government for advice. Their reaction was to raid the BBC’s Scottish headquarters and then Campbell’s home. Special Branch seized the film in what became known as the Zircon Affair.
Zircon revealed the existence of a secret £500m British spy satellite programme of the same name. Another program detailed how government policy was being decided by a group of unaccountable committees operating beyond the scrutiny of parliament and the public. Eventually, the Zircon film was returned, but the BBC powers chose not to release the 'cabinets' episode. The programme was remade for Channel 4 in 1991.
Soon after the Secret Society affair in 1987, Duncan Campbell came out as gay. He then wrote on issues of equality, and about the circumstances of the Aids epidemic of the era. He was one of the six original founders of the human rights and equality group Stonewall, along with actors Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Cashman.
Campbell and former BBC Secret Society producer Brian Barr started the production company Investigation and Production Television (IPTV) in 1991. IPTV has since produced a range of documentary programs and inserts, mainly for Channel 4 and Channel 4 News.
In 1988, he revealed the existence of the ECHELON project, which has since 1997 become controversial throughout the world. In 1998, he was asked by the European Parliament to report on the development of surveillance technology and the risk of abuse of economic information, especially in relation to the ECHELON system. His report, “Interception Capabilities 2000” was approved by the European Parliament in April 1999, and presented to the parliament in Brussels in February 2000. In July 2000, the European Parliament appointed a committee of 36 MEPs to further investigate the ECHELON system.
In 1997, the Centre for Public Integrity in Washington D.C. founded the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The group was designed to be a cross border investigative outfit “focusing on issues that do not stop at national frontiers.” Campbell was a founder member.
One of the ICIJ’s first major projects was 'Big Tobacco Smuggling' - an investigation into how British American Tobacco [BAT], and others, appeared to be complicit and profiting from the smuggling of cigarettes. In 2000, he produced a report (‘Planning, organisation and management of cigarette smuggling by British American Tobacco plc, and related issues') and gave evidence to the House of Commons on how smuggling was organised.
In 2002, he joined another investigation. This time the topic was war. ‘Making a Killing: the business of war’ looked at our increasing use of private security firms and mercenaries and the how the multi-billion industry’s lobbying methods and lack of accountability.
In 2006, the ICIJ returned to the subject of illicit importing of cigarettes with 'Tobacco Underground.' This time the project had a wider scope, investigating how the trade funds terrorism, organised crime and the loss of tax revenue hurts developing economies.
In 2013, ICIJ began publishing the results of a 15 month investigation in to tax havens, called "Offshore Leaks,” at the time the largest ever journalism collaboration in history. It propelled the ICIJ to a wider audience. Duncan was the Data Journalism Manager for the project, handling and structuring the 260GB cache of data. He also published a series of stories for the Guardian, Sunday Times, Sydney Morning Herald and others. See Offshore Leaks page for more information.
Since the early 1980s, Campbell has provided expert witness testimony in a number criminal cases. Towards the end of the 1990s, much of his career centred around computer forensics work. He has given evidence in hundreds of cases related to terrorism, surveillance and child pornography.
In 2002, the UK police were given a list containing the names of over seven-thousand British citizens suspected of accessing child pornography. The evidence was provided by the FBI and had been seized following the trial of two Texas-based pornographers operating a website, Landslide. Thousands were arrested and charged, including high-profile musicians, Pete Townshend and Robert Del Naja. The evidence, however, was seriously flawed. Campbell was employed to analyse the computers of suspected offenders and found that most were guilty of little more than accessing legal pornography, or were victims of credit card fraud.
Campbell has been a visiting fellow of the Media School Bournemouth University since 2002. He teaches the ethics and practice of investigative journalism and lectures on computer-assisted reporting and data journalism techniques to postgraduate students.
Duncan's has produced some award-winning investigative journalism.
Please visit the contacts page for details on how to get in touch.