An intriguing report that an Argentine special forces bomb squad was arrested in the Spanish town of Cadiz on a secret mission to blow up a British warship and a support vessel in Gibraltar harbour during the 1982 Falklands Conflict has appeared in the London Sunday Times newspaper.
The report is all the more fascinating for suggesting that the plot was thwarted by French Intelligence services, which, the newspaper says, have spoken for the first time about an operation in which they intercepted communications and passed them on to Britain.
The report claims that four members of the Argentine special forces flew to Madrid on May 8th, 1982,a few days after the sinking of the Argentine cruiser Belgrano by a British submarine in the South Atlantic. The intention was to sink the destroyer and a support vessel at anchor in Gibraltar as a revenge strike.
The report says the special forces squad were equipped with four limpet mines smuggled through the Argentine naval and military attaches in Madrid and that the men headed south in a rented car, evading British military defences to carry out reconnaissance missions. But, it says, the destroyer had left harbour to be replaced by the frigate HMS Ariadne and a tugboat.
The Times report says the unit's communications were intercepted by French intelligence listening posts which warned British intelligence, and the four-man squad was arrested by Spanish police in Cadiz. The car contained oxyacetylene equipment and an inflatable rubber dinghy as well as the magnetic mines.
British military historians have reacted with surprise to the revelations. The former Member of Parliament, Nigel West, who wrote a book about the secret war in the Falkland Islands said he had never heard of the planned Argentine raid nor the involvement of the French. He suggests that the timing of the revelations may be a French attempt to capitalise on European concerns about Echelon, the Anglo-American system for communications interception, alleging it was being used to spy on the French when they had helped the United Kingdom in the Falklands conflict.
France and the European Parliament recently announced an inquiry into Echelon, a sophisticated eavesdropping system that can instantly intercept millions of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls an hour, a facility that could be used to find out about commercial business deals.
It is known that the French helped Britain in other ways in the conflict. Before the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands, France h