Category Archives: Espionage/Intelligence

Dick White’s Devilish Plot

Dick White

The Time: March to June 1951

The Places: London and Washington

GCHQ Eastcote
Arlington Hall

The Organisations: In the UK, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), operating out of Eastcote, in the London suburbs; the Foreign Office (FO), the Security Service (MI5), and the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, or MI6) – all based in Central London. (GCHQ, which during the war, as the Government Code and Cypher School, had reported to SIS, broke free at the end of 1945, and was then responsible to the Foreign Office.) In or around Washington, D.C. in the USA, the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA, which in 1952 became the National Security Agency, working out of Arlington Hall), the State Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The organisations are paired, in function and in primary communications, as follows: GCHQ and AFSA; the FO and the State Department; MI5 and the FBI; and SIS and the CIA.

The Personnel:

Edward Travis is head of GCHQ. The leading cryptanalysts at GCHQ working on VENONA are Wilfred Bodsworth and Jeffrey Northbury.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the ministerial head of the Foreign Office, Herbert Morrison, is new to his post, having succeeded the deceased Ernest Bevin in March 1951. At the FO, William Strang is Permanent Under-Secretary, Roger Makins is his Deputy Under-Secretary, while Patrick Reilly serves as Assistant Secretary, and acts as liaison with SIS. Reilly served as Secretary to the head of SIS, Stewart Menzies, during the war, and has also chaired the Joint Intelligence Committee since 1950. George Carey-Foster is Security Officer for the FO, while Robert Mackenzie fulfils an equivalent role in the Embassy in Washington, under the Ambassador, Oliver Franks. Christopher Steel is Franks’ deputy.

Stewart Menzies, the head of SIS, is a shadowy figure in the background. His deputy, Valentine Vivian, is responsible for security in SIS. (According to Nigel West, Vivian retired in March 1951, but his name appears in the archives as an SIS officer after that date.) At some stage in this spring, Vivian is replaced as Menzies’s deputy by Jack Easton. Kim Philby, who was recruited to SIS by Vivian in 1941, was transferred to Washington in 1949 as SIS’s representative, replacing Peter Dwyer, primarily to liaise with the CIA on special subversive operations, but with an additional mission to assist the FBI (but not the CIA) in identifying possible spies hinted at by the VENONA project. Maurice Oldfield headed the counter-intelligence section, R.5., for a while, but moved to South-East Asia in 1950.

Percy Sillitoe has been Director-General of MI5 since 1946, but gains little respect from his subordinates because of his police background. His deputy, Guy Liddell, previously headed B Division, responsible for counter-espionage, which is now led by Dick White, whom Liddell mentored. (Dick White worked in intelligence under General Walter Bedell Smith – see below – between 1943 and 1945.) Arthur Martin, who acts as liaison with GCHQ, and James Robertson are B Division officers knowledgeable about Soviet espionage. MI5’s Liaison Officer in Washington is Geoffrey Patterson, who replaced Dick Thistlethwaite in the summer of 1949.

J. Edgar Hoover is chief of the FBI, Mickey Ladd is his Director of Domestic Investigations, and Robert J. Lamphere is the agent working with AFSA on the VENONA project. John Cimperman is the FBI’s legal attaché in London.

Walter Bedell Smith has been Director of the CIA since 1950.  He is an ex-army general who has also served as Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1946-1948). He appointed Allen Dulles as Deputy Director for Plans in February 1951. His leading officer on Soviet counter-espionage is William Harvey. Harvey is unusual in that he joined the CIA from the FBI, and maintains a close relationship with Robert Lamphere. James Angleton (who built a close association with Kim Philby) works at this time in the Office of Special Relations.

Rear-Admiral Earl Stone is the head of AFSA. Meredith Gardner is his chief cryptanalyst working on VENONA. The senior British liaison officer at AFSA is Brigadier John Tiltman, at some stage replaced as SUKLO (Senior UK Liaison Officer) by Patrick Marr-Johnson. (Accessible records show them both present in Washington in 1951.) Philip Howse and Geoffrey Sudbury are cryptanalysts from GCHQ assigned to AFSA. William Weisband is a Soviet spy in AFSA who has worked in Signals Intelligence since 1942.

The Thesis:  That Dick White devised a plan to draw attention away from MI5’s own security failures towards Kim Philby, bringing the CIA in as an apparently imaginative source to cast aspersions on Philby’s loyalty without MI5 having to challenge Stewart Menzies and SIS directly.

VENONA – the Background

The Two Gentlemen of VENONA

John Tiltman
Meredith Gardner (on left)

Keith Jeffery concluded his authorised history of SIS on a celebratory note. In May of 1949, Menzies’s Principal Staff Officer (probably Jack Easton) and William Hayter, who was Foreign Office Liaison Officer, had visited Admiral Hillenkoetter, the head of the CIA, in Washington, and enjoyed the ‘very cordial’ tenor of the negotiations as they discussed Cold War initiatives. At the same time, Maurice Oldfield, who headed the R.5 counter-intelligence section, was gratified by the goodwill he encountered when visiting the CIA and the FBI. Hillenkoetter wrote to Menzies in June to speak glowingly of the organisations’ common purpose, and of the close working relationship they enjoyed. Jeffery pointed to this mutual enthusiasm as indicative of the special nature of the transatlantic intelligence relationship. Oldfield would in 1977 write to William Harvey’s widow that he had enjoyed knowing her husband since 1949, so the two must have met during this visit. Hillenkoetter was, however, a failure, and on the way out, unsuitable by temperament and experience to be a leading intelligence officer.

Maybe Sir John Scarlett, chief of SIS, who commissioned the history, was adroitly trying to define a positive legacy and avoid the more disturbing events. “Full details of our history after 1949 are still too sensitive to place in the public domain,” his successor, Sir John Sawers, wrote in his Forward to the 2011 publication. Indeed. But the lid of the seething cauldron could not be completely sealed. In late September 1949, Oldfield briefed the officer who had occupied the same post that he, Oldfield, currently held, before being posted to Ankara, Turkey at the end of 1946. The officer, Kim Philby, was about to be posted as Counsellor attached to the Embassy in Washington, with responsibility for liaising with the CIA, replacing Peter Dwyer, who, according to Anthony Cave-Brown, was being recalled at his own request. Yet memoirs indicate that Philby was brought in specifically to liaise with the Americans over the joint SIS-CIA operation to infiltrate exiles into Albania in an attempt to overthrow Enver Hoxha’s communist government. For instance, Queen Geraldine of Albania recalls that she and her husband, King Zog, met Philby in 1949, and both instantly ‘hated him’, the King refusing to have the SIS officer in the room with him again. [P.S. Neil ‘Billy’ Maclean, in a separate interview, claimed that Queen Geraldine was mistaken, and that the Englishmen they met was either Harold Perkins, or maybe Julian or Alan Hare, but not Philby.]

Alongside the briefings on Albania, Oldfield explained to Philby that a project that had been able to decrypt intercepted Soviet cables had identified a spy in the heart of the Foreign Office, working in the Washington Embassy in 1944 and 1945, who had passed on highly confidential communications to the Soviets. His cryptonym was HOMER, an identity that Dwyer had noted as early as March 1949 (but which had surfaced some time before, as I explain later). It would be an important part of Philby’s job to help his counterparts apply a name to the traitor who had betrayed these communications between the Foreign Office and the Moscow Embassy, and between Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt, on negotiations with Stalin as the war was running down. But the mutual trust and confidence that characterised the relations between Washington and London were about to break down.

The project was known as VENONA (initially as BRIDE in the UK). Its success lent itself to a procedural mistake by the Soviet authorities, who carelessly reused a set of one-time-pads for diplomatic and intelligence transmissions during the period 1943-1948. (One-time-pads were regarded as an almost unbreakable technique for encrypting messages.) These messages were sent both by cable (in the USA, where commercial carriers provided a copy of all such traffic to the US Government), or by wireless – between London and Moscow and between Canberra and Moscow, and later between (primarily) Washington and Moscow. An intense decryption exercise was initiated by the AFSA, who then brought in the GC&CS (who may well have had a parallel operation in play already) as partners in the exercise. One important aspect of the project is that, while the Soviets changed their procedures in 1948 once they had learned via spies of the breakthroughs, the task of message decryption carried on until 1980, and the whole programme was not officially revealed until 1995.

Yet the process of decryption, namely the timing at which (portions of) certain messages were resolved has not been revealed – apart from the survival of the occasional exchange of messages between cryptanalysts, and the evidence of critical breakthroughs that forced intelligence organisations to take action. This lack of archival evidence has made it very difficult for historians to assess the reactions and intentions of the persons directing the investigation. What is also important to recognize is that the process of translation required a lot of help from political and diplomatic sources, to help identify the source messages stolen by the Soviets, since the original texts were invaluable as ‘cribs’, and the contexts were vital in helping identify the thieves. This was especially true in Australia, where the richness of the cribs meant that traffic was being digested almost in real-time by the beginning of 1948. The search for original texts did, however, run the risk of alerting a broader audience to the highly secret VENONA project itself.

That the group of intelligence officers and Foreign Office officials stalled in passing on to their own teams and their American partners their conclusions about VENONA ‘recoveries’ (as the evolving messages were called) is indisputable. But was such behaviour caused by institutional embarrassment, or was it guided by high politics? Some analysts have interpreted such dilatoriness as a pattern of the latter dimension – that it was a high-level strategy ordered by the British prime minister Attlee to protect a fragile Anglo-American agreement over the sharing of atomic weapons technology. Negotiations on resuming the wartime agreement had begun only in September 1949, and, as Aldrich and Cormac inform us in The Black Door, Secretary of State Dean Acheson had recently explained (maybe insincerely) to the British Ambassador that Congress would probably be able to roll back the embargo that the 1946 McMahon Act had imposed on any technology-sharing.

Some authors, such as Anthony Cave-Brown, in his biography of Menzies, “C”, even hint at a ‘double-agent’ game (actually a misnomer) arranged by Menzies and Hoover (FBI) to use Philby as a medium for disinformation to the Soviets (with Angleton, of the CIA) – an unlikely collaboration. Cave-Brown’s case, however, is woolly and muddled, with a haphazard chronology. The delusion of such endeavours, moreover, lay in thinking that an intelligence unit could control what an agent handed over to the target when the unit had not comprehensively ‘turned’ that agent, and did not manage exclusively his medium of communication. Even if such a dubious programme had been entertained, the selection of an agent for such deception when that agent had been indoctrinated into the secret VENONA programme, which demanded the highest security precautions, would have simply been absurd.

Despite that obvious paradox, the legend lives on. The prime promoter of such a theory is C. J. Hamrick, who, in his 2004 book Deceiving the Deceivers, makes a number of claims about the deception that the British intelligence agencies planted on the public during this exercise. His book contains many ingenious passages of analysis, offers a remarkably insightful account of the controversies surrounding the CIA in its initial years, reflects some painstaking research into the evolution of cables processed at Arlington and Eastcote, and contains a fascinating array of valuable insights and facts concerning the relationship of intelligence to politics. Unfortunately, however, Hamrick makes some huge leaps of imagination in putting his theory together. His book constitutes overall a poorly constructed and frequently dense narrative, full of circumlocutions, non sequiturs, vague hypotheses, unsupported assertions and simple errors that make it difficult to determine a verifiable thread.

If I can discern Hamrick’s argument correctly, I would say that it runs as follows: Under the authority of Lord Tedder, Air Marshall Robb, and General Hollis, Dick White masterminded, with his co-conspirator Roger Makins, a counter-intelligence scheme that none of his immediate colleagues or superiors knew about. What Hamrick suggests is that, after the discovery of purloined ‘Churchill’ telegrams, the VENONA decryption exercise became a predominantly British affair, that the authorities knew about the existence and identity of HOMER as early as 1947 (and that Oldfield was able to give this information to Philby in 1949), and that White contrived to conceal the results of the Eastcote decryption exercises from his peers. Moreover, Percy Sillitoe (who was White’s boss) reputedly kept Hoover up to date on the progress of the investigation using something called an ‘MI6 cipher’, to which Philby had access, and from which Philby thus gained his knowledge of VENONA decrypts, and the progress of the investigation. The proposed goal of all these machinations was for White to exploit Maclean, Philby and Burgess (even though they did not work for him) as unwitting tools to mislead the Soviet Union about the West’s nuclear capability, a project, incidentally, that should presumably have been carried out by SIS, not by MI5.

The germ of this idea came from a General Edwin L. Sibert, who communicated his beliefs in such a deception operation to the author on intelligence matters Anthony Cave-Brown. According to Hamrick, Cave-Brown misunderstood the message, and garbled it in his Treason in the Blood. (Cave-Brown reprised the idea in “C”, adding the testimony of William R. Corson, from the latter’s Armies of Ignorance, but then cited severe doubts emanating from Reilly and Easton that apparently quashed the story.) Sibert had in fact retired eighteen months before Philby arrived in Washington, but Hamrick was impressed enough by Sibert’s story to write: “A strategic deception operation using Anglo-American war plans and bombers as a deterrent to Soviet aggression in Western Europe required a suspected or known Soviet agent of proven credibility whose long loyalty to Moscow and unique access to official secrets [my italics] amounted to verification. Was one available? Evidently he was.” It was if Britain had dozens of such persons waiting in the wings, proven Soviet spies, of many years’ vintage, allowed to flourish and remain unpunished, and all the authorities had to do was to select one with the best profile, and plant information on him. And that it made sense to post the candidate to Washington to perform his duplicity, even though a project that had been initiated to help unmask such spies had been underway in the same capital for over a year.

It does not make sense. There are too many anomalies in this thesis for me to list them here. A full dismantling of Hamrick’s exposition, which ascribes some superhuman sleights to White, as if he were in total charge of GCHQ, and was able to hoodwink his colleagues, including Patrick Reilly (who was, after all, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee), will have to be undertaken on another occasion. I present just a few comments. While it is true that senior officials probably concluded that Maclean was HOMER well before they communicated this fact to their subordinates, it does not mean that Dick White (and he is incongruously given the credit for being able to manage the whole charivari from his position as B Division chief in MI5) was successfully controlling the output from GCHQ, and running the trio of Burgess, Maclean and Philby as disinformation agents to the Soviets. Hamrick’s repeated referral to a frequent series of messages from Sillitoe to Hoover on the progress of the investigation, using ‘Philby’s secret MI6 cipher’, by which Philby gained his information, is simply absurd. Philby gained his information from Patterson, and Admiral Stone, the head of AFSA, knew about Philby’s clearance, because on June 8, 1951, he sent a message to the FBI to ascertain whether Burgess had also had access.

So much of what Hamrick asserts is contradicted by the evidence of the archival records (the KV 6/140 to 6/145 series) released in October 2015 that one must conclude either that the archive itself has been handsomely faked, or that Mr Hamrick has written a work more of fiction than of history. As Hamrick himself wrote: “Ignoring the fact that not one shred of documentary evidence has been found nor is ever likely to be found to support it [General Sibert’s deception plan], its probability can be considered by asking how such an operation could have successfully escaped disclosure.” Ipse dixit.

According to some analysts, the Fuchs case (see below: he was found guilty of espionage in February 1950) killed cooperation on atomic technology sharing between the USA and the UK for good. M.S. Goodman wrote an article in The Journal of Cold War Studies in 2005, quoting a US diplomat who said: ‘We were getting very close to getting into bed with the British, with a new agreement. Then the Fuchs affair hit the fan, and that was the end of it’. Goodman then commented: “The case destroyed any British hopes for a resumption of the wartime nuclear partnership, and even Attlee’s artful performance before Parliament could not rescue it.” The reality is rather more complicated. A research colleague (and biographer of both Guy Burgess and Donald and Melinda Maclean) Michael Holzman has drawn my attention to the recently issued Documents on British Policy Overseas, which include records of negotiations in 1950 between Makins, Bevin and Attlee, accompanied by Canadian Secretary of State Lester Pearson, and Dean Acheson of the State Department. Makins attributed the lack of progress on overturning the McMahon Act to allow exchange of atomic power and weaponry technology between Canada, the USA and Britain on the dampener that Fuchs’s arrest gave to harmonious relations, and tried to appeal to Acheson, through Bevin, that the discovery of one spy (although he forgot about Nunn May) should not be considered cause enough to break off plans.

I have been able to inspect these documents, and to verify from Volume 2 of Margaret Gowing’s authorised history of Britain and Atomic Energy (1974) that the author used the same sources in researching her account. According to Gowing, Acheson temporized and prevaricated, as he knew that Congress would not move quickly on the issue. There was an election coming up in November, and thus prospects for new legislation were slim, especially with the Korean War underway. The flight of another Harwell scientist, Bruno Pontecorvo, to Moscow in September 1950 did not help matters. Britain would have to go it alone, and did so, with a story about its decision published in the New York Times in March 1951. Aldrich and Cormac strongly suggest that Attlee’s attention quickly moved elsewhere, to covert operations in Europe by SIS, and that he left the boffins to produce Britain’s weaponry independently. Thus, while Makins’ concerns may have put a temporary brake on the project to unmask HOMER in April-May 1950, such sensitivities quickly became irrelevant. That summer, the American spies Harry Gold and the Rosenbergs were arrested (Gold as a result of Lamphere’s interrogation of Fuchs in London), so the one-sidedness of Britain’s exposure to treachery was quickly removed. Gowing’s conclusion was that ‘the negotiations would have failed even if there had been no Fuchs, Pontecorvo, Burgess or Maclean’ (p 320).

Moreover, more recent releases to the National Archives, in 2007, indicate that Attlee, when he was informed, on June 11, 1951, of the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean, had been completely unaware of their errant behavior, let alone of any suspicions of espionage. Foreign Secretary Morrison stoutly came to the defence of Maclean and of the Foreign Office. At the time of the Fuchs case, Attlee had been briefed on the VENONA investigation, but it appears he was not given comprehensive updates on the project thereafter. Thus there appears to have been little scope for political interference into what the Embassy Spy investigations were uncovering.

Kim Philby and VENONA

Kim Philby

Why was Kim Philby being brought into this web? The story contains multiple anomalies, and a number of unlikely twists and turns.

First of all, from the UK side, the investigation into the Embassy leaks was supposed to be an MI5 responsibility, not one for SIS. Dick White pressed hard for this at the beginning of 1949, and believed he had the support of Menzies and Carey Foster. He soon found, however, that it was not the case with GCHQ, and then learned that he could not rely on the compliance of SIS and the Foreign Office, with the latter starting to playing a much more inquisitive role. White’s representative in Washington, Dick Thistlethwaite, felt he was being undermined by Travis’s and Carey Foster’s officers in Washington, Marr Johnson and Mackenzie, respectively. Thistlethwaite therefore complained to White, who was not only his boss but a close friend as well. The fact was that every department felt it had  a proprietary interest: GC&CS, because it was in charge of the intercepted material, the Foreign Office, because the leak had occurred on its own territory, and SIS, because the initial prime suspect was Alexander Halpern, of British Security Coordination (BSC, the wartime British intelligence service in the USA), which had reported to SIS. Peter Dwyer, Thistlethwaite’s counterpart from SIS, had worked for BSC during the war, so could contribute very usefully to the investigation.

What was especially poignant, moreover, was the fact that FBI maintained domestically a very jealous hold over the VENONA product: not only did Hoover intensely dislike the CIA, and regretted it had ever been created, he also believed that both it and the State Department were riddled with Soviet spies. (He had a point.) While a few CIA officers were introduced to VENONA earlier, the CIA would learn about the programme officially only in 1952, ironically after a controlled leak to Bedell Smith by the British forced Hoover’s hand. Thus bringing in a senior officer like Philby primarily as the SIS-CIA liaison officer (he had developed a great relationship with James Angleton during the war) would, given the sensitivity of the VENONA enterprise, on the surface appear to be a highly risky and unnecessary move that could only ruffle feathers more. White’s failure to maintain intellectual and practical leadership of the project points, however, to a developing malaise.

For some reason, MI5’s representative in Washington was replaced at about the same time. No official explanation has been offered for the change in the team. A large gap in the record for the summer of 1949 can be seen at KV 6/140, but the authorised history states that Geoffrey Patterson took over from Dick Thistlethwaite in June 1949. These moves would have unbalanced the arrangement, as Thistlethwaite was a senior campaigner, on first-name terms with Dick White. Patterson seems to have been a keen but inexperienced officer, while Philby was clearly a man on the move, identified by some as a future head of the service. It could have been coincidental, of course, but the fact that Philby was heavily briefed by Oldfield before he left could suggest that Menzies was keen that SIS take a stronger hold of the investigations. On the other hand, the author Ben Macintyre suggests, in A Spy Among Friends, that Philby’s appointment arose from the high-level discussions in the USA, and that Philby was a name preferred by some of the CIA officers whose opinion was sought. Macintyre offers no source for that statement, but it would make sense for the presence of Philby to be desired primarily in the light of the plans for joint CIA-SIS operations in Eastern Europe, where the help of an experienced heavyweight would be necessary.  Philby would however have been instructed to stay silent about VENONA before CIA officers, but no doubt became extremely curious once he learned of the dangerous project. Menzies – who viewed Philby as his blue-eyed boy – would not have thought twice about the appointment.

Yet how much did SIS and MI5 suspect about Philby’s possible career as a spy at that time, and should he have been excluded from any sensitive post in Washington? Maurice Oldfield later informed his biographers that, having inspected Philby’s profile, and the records concerning Volkov, the Soviet diplomat who tried to defect from Turkey in 1945, but who was betrayed and killed, he had suspected Philby of treachery, and he even confided his thoughts to his friend Alistair Horne at the time. Yet, even though he was only four years younger than Philby, Oldfield had been in SIS for only three years, and Philby, with his allies high up, was not a figure he could easily challenge. Moreover, Richard Deacon, in his biography of Oldfield, “C”, suggests that Philby’s contacts with the Soviets that he made in Turkey were approved by Menzies, as some kind of disinformation scheme.  “Whenever MI5, or anyone else, raised the issue of treachery, the SIS would come to Philby’s defence and indignantly reject such pleas, explaining that what he was doing in Istanbul, and elsewhere for that matter, was carried out with their full approval”, wrote Deacon. That would explain, if it were true, why Philby was regarded as untouchable.

That account of Philby’s inviolability might also help explain the Guy Liddell discomfort. The information recently distributed about Eric Roberts, as I described in the April coldspur, indicates that Liddell in MI5 also had nourished suspicions about a senior member of the SIS in 1947, but had obviously been told to suppress them by the time Roberts returned from Vienna in 1949. [The BBC has so far not responded to our request for the 14-page document that Christopher Andrew described as ‘the most extraordinary intelligence document I have ever seen’, so the historian must be charged with irresponsible grandstanding until he helps facilitate the release of this document to the public.] Dick White was lower on the totem-pole than Liddell, but was a more dominant character, yet between them, with their own skeletons in the cupboard, they must have concluded that speaking out against Philby at that juncture would not help their careers, or the reputation of MI5.

Soon after Philby’s arrival in Washington, however, an extraordinary event occurred: he completely changed the tone of the investigation by pointing the inquisitors towards Krivitsky and his 1940 testimony. (Krivitsky had warned of a spy on the ‘Imperial Council’, but his hints had not been strenuously followed up.) Throughout 1949 the project had taken a desultory course, involving the collection of staff lists and checking the background of, almost exclusively, secretaries and members of the Cypher Department. (Halpern and Cedric Belfrage were also suspected, but the latter, who later confessed to being a spy, was discounted early since he was not in Washington when the cables were stolen.) As early as November 19, 1949, however, Philby wrote a memorandum to Robert Mackenzie which crisply summarized the advice that Krivitsky had given about a spy in the Foreign Office, advice that Patterson enthusiastically picked up on. Somewhat surprisingly, Patterson received a rather lukewarm response when Martin and Carey Foster received the message in London, as if to say that of course they had considered a link between the two cases. Carey Foster did, however, produce a shortlist of six diplomats who could fit the Krivitsky/Washington profile, namely Balfour, Makins, Hadow, Wright, Gore-Booth and Maclean.

This bravado from Philby surely suggests that he realised that the evidence against Maclean was so substantial that his goose was essentially cooked, and that Philby’s best course of action was therefore to distance himself as sharply as possible from his comrade in espionage, and boost his counter-Soviet credentials. Yet his action raises further questions: did he have access to pointers that were available to other investigators, and, if so, why did the latter not come to similar conclusions? Otherwise, was it not a bit premature to risk changing the direction of the probe so dramatically, and risk additional attention on himself, and his associations with Maclean?

The Search Takes Time

On reflection, it might seem highly negligent for the multiple leads to Maclean as the source of the Foreign Office leakage not to have been assimilated and acted upon sooner. That was the sentiment that Robert Lamphere expressed in late 1948, a few months after he had been informed by his colleague Ladd of the first VENONA breakthroughs. As he waited for a more urgent response from his British counterparts, he recorded that the counter-intelligence machinery in the USA would surely have moved into top gear in such circumstances. After all, if, following the creation of the shortlist, a notice had been taken of Maclean’s leftist opinions at Cambridge, and his less than outright rejection of them at his diplomatic service interview, and his nervous breakdown after consorting with Philip Toynbee, a ‘known Communist’ (as MI5 considered him) in Cairo, one might have expected him to rise quickly on the list of suspects.  Yet MI5 appeared to be overwhelmed by the list of possible offenders, knowing also that it would be very difficult to elicit a confession from any of them on such circumstantial evidence, and that the best chance of gaining a conviction would be to catch him or her in the act of passing information to the Soviet contact. For the VENONA transcripts would be inadmissible in court: apart from the fact that all intelligence agencies did not want to reveal the extent of their decryption efforts, the nature of the translations and interpretations would mean that their veracity would be able to be picked apart by any capable defence lawyer. And MI5 was not certain, even when the information about the visits to the spy’s wife in New York were revealed in early March 1951, that Maclean was the only Foreign Office staff member who fitted that profile. (Or so it claimed, as long as was possible.)

Donald Maclean

Dick White then made, in February 1950, a shocking and irresponsible suggestion. He had been in Australia when Philby’s memorandum came through, but must have been made aware of the resulting exchange. He held a meeting on January 31, attended by Reilly, Carey Foster, Vivian, Oldfield, Marriott & Martin, at which he floated the idea that the whole investigation should be called off, at least until dramatic new evidence arrived, because of the overwhelming staff lists to be combed through. At this stage, it appeared that he had high-level agreement from the attendees. Carey Foster agreed the field was wide, but wanted MI5 to continue to pursue traces in some way. Vivian was still interested in Halpern. MI5 was charged with providing a formal report, which White duly provided on February 16, laying out the reasons for abandoning the quest, and suggesting that the project be handed over to the FBI.

This reckless initiative must be seen in the context of what else White and MI5 were occupied with at the time. On February 2, Klaus Fuchs (whose role as a spy had also been confirmed by VENONA transcripts) had been arrested, and was sentenced a month later to fourteen years’ imprisonment. White was heavily involved in the project to cover up MI5’s negligence and incompetence over Fuchs, during which Sillitoe vented his fury at White and Liddell for their lack of thoroughness. As Tom Bower, White’s biographer, put it: “There were good reasons to hold MI5 responsible. Not least was White’s failure, in the chain of responsibility, to adopt Suppell’s [Serpell’s] suggestion of investigating Fuchs.” The outcome was that Sillitoe and White had an uncomfortable meeting with Attlee where they lied to the Prime Minister in order to protect the institution. Moreover, Guy Burgess had come under suspicion at this time. On January 23, Liddell noted in his diary that Burgess had probably passed on secrets to Freddie Kuh, a Soviet spy, and three days later was discussing with his colleagues whether Burgess should be prosecuted for Official Secrets Act offences. The last thing White wanted was a fresh revelation that MI5 failures to follow up the Krivitsky testimony had allowed another spy – and a homegrown Briton, at that – to escape the net. White simply wanted the problem to go away: the remedy preferred by him and Liddell was for unmasked spies to fade quietly into the backwaters, and promise not to misbehave again, with no fuss and no publicity involved. Whether in this case he was acting on his own, or was being guided by political considerations, say by Attlee, or possibly Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, is not clear. The 2007 archival information referred to earlier strongly suggests that Attlee was not involved.

Perhaps White overlooked the fact that the Eastcote/Arlington decryption exercises were going to continue no matter how hard he tried to stifle the investigation. For a while, however, he appeared to have been successful. On February 22, Carey Foster (who like many emerges from this whole farrago as a weak character, far too defensive of the organisation he is supposed to be auditing) expressed support for White’s move, although he reserved the right to interview one Samuel Barron, one on the longlist of suspects. The archive is somewhat confused at this point, with memoranda and letters being split into separate files, but a couple of weeks later, it seems that Carey Foster had been spurred into reaction, probably at the behest of his boss, William Strang. On March 9, Carey Foster wrote a determined riposte to White’s suggestion, which was followed up by a similar outpouring from Strang himself, effectively pouring cold water on White’s plan, and suggesting that the Foreign Office would take over the investigation itself, if necessary. It is clear that White was not happy about Strang’s offensive, but he had to clamber down. Yet this rapid volte-face suggests that there was probably no higher-level political direction at work.

So the project continued all through 1950. In August, new material did turn up, primarily about references to the spy’s wife in Washington, and, more dramatically, showing that highly critical correspondence between Churchill and Roosevelt had been compromised. MI5’s desire for secrecy enveloped the officers even more deeply in a mire of subterfuge. Part of the new intelligence-sharing agreement between the USA and the UK commanded full disclosure of information, and, indeed, Eastcote and Arlington would continue to share findings irrespective of MI5’s fears. The responsibility for decrypting the exclusively British telegrams of 1944 was passed to GCHQ in the summer of 1950, which meant that Arlington officially had to rely on Eastcote for the latest decryptions. As the search narrowed, it touched tricky ground in dealing with the FBI. MI5 could not afford any premature disclosure of suspicions, or plans to interrogate, to be communicated to Hoover and his cohorts, lest leaks occur and jeopardise the inquiry. At the same time, Lamphere in the FBI was pursuing a similar line, and MI5 had to stay a step ahead of what his progress might be. If Hoover, who was not sympathetic to Great Britain and its intelligence apparatus (he had considered BSC a gross infringement of his territorial rights) learned of the fruits of the inquiry from another source, he would be apoplectic. Thus the mandarins gradually switched from a policy of measured indolence to one of nervous deceit, which resulted in a ‘real’ inquiry being accompanied by a ‘notional’ one, which had to lag a bit behind so that the FBI could be stalled.

A Breakthrough?

How quickly should MI5 have started the quest for HOMER? The records are bewilderingly opaque. There is much controversy about the first appearance of the cryptonym ‘HOMER’ (or ‘GOMER’, sometimes ‘GOMMER’: since the Cyrillic alphabet has no letter for ‘H’, ‘HOMER’ was represented as ‘GOMER’, and frequently abbreviated to ‘G’.)   The folder HW 15/38 at Kew includes a report by Meredith Gardner that shows that HOMER had been identified as a source as early as 26 September, 1947, providing information about the upcoming meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill in Quebec in September 1944. One might judge that the amount of information contained in this message should surely have prompted a well-focussed search on qualified individuals with access to such information. Yet an anonymous post-mortem report written in October 1951 appears to bury this fact, stating: “The resumé mentioned was transmitted 7 September 1944, but the opening (which contained the name ‘HOMER’) was not solved until much later (probably 1951). [handwritten note – ‘not until just before May 1951’: coldspur] The resumé concerned chiefly occupation policies, mentioning both American and British plans.” It is difficult to interpret what this could mean: is the ‘opening’ something different, but, if so, why does it matter, since HOMER was so clearly identified elsewhere in the text? Very oddly, Nigel West (in Cold War Spymaster) ignores the Gardner evidence, and echoes this conclusion that the ‘opening’ was not solved until May 1951.

The investigators were waiting for a stronger clue to the identity of HOMER, facts with which they could confront Maclean. If MI5 and the Foreign Office leaders still had any doubts that their prime suspect was Donald Maclean, they were apparently dispelled on March 31, 1951, when (according to the prime chronicler, Nigel West) the team of Wilfred Bodsworth and Jeffrey Northbury at Eastcote decrypted enough of a message from Stepan Apresyan in June 28, 1944 to identify Maclean by ‘HOMER’s visit to Tyre [New York] where his wife is living with her mother awaiting confinement’. (Nigel West states that this was the first cable, chronologically, that referred to HOMER [GOMER], rather than just ‘G’.) Yet even the exact process of transcription is not clear: in Venona, West provides the text of the above message, not released until 1973, but does not present this cable as the one that provided the breakthrough. In Cold War Spymaster, however, the same author specifically names this Apresyan cable as the one that succumbed to Bodsworth and Northbury at the end of March, and thus allowed Maclean to be confidently identified, presumably because of the ‘wife in New York’ reference. In any case, the news was sent to MI5, and also to Arlington, where Bodsworth’s counterparts congratulated him on the achievement. Thus we know that AFSA experts knew about its content, although what they did with the information has not been recorded by the historians.

Yet it is difficult to trust West’s updated account of what happened. The archives at KV 6/142 reveal a very startling alternative sequence of events, however. On March 31, that is the same day on which the above information was reputedly passed by GCHQ to MI5 in London, Geoffrey Patterson wrote a long letter to the Director-General (nominally to Sillitoe: Harrison’s cables are normally addressed that way, although it is more likely that Martin, Robertson, or sometimes White was first to read them), in which he declared that ‘PH’ (unidentified) ‘has sent to his Headquarters a letter  . . . and enclosures  . . . which are of considerable interest and may take us another step forward in our search  . . .’.  He added: “PH despatched these documents to London on March 30.” The primary suggestion in PH’s conclusions is that ‘HOMER may be identical with G’. (Patterson then added, rather alarmingly, that he and Kim Philby ‘have discussed these latest developments with Bob Lamphere’.)

‘PH’ was undoubtedly Philip Howse, a member of GCHQ, as the October 1951 report cited above explicitly recognises. In his Historical Dictionary of Signals Intelligence, under ‘BRIDE’, Nigel West writes: “Although Philip Howse had been assigned to Arlington in a general liaison capacity, the Canberra-Moscow channel revealed the need for a British input into BRIDE, and he was integrated into the JADE team to look after British interests, which were also focused on the leakage attributed to HOMER in the British Embassy.”(JADE was the name assigned to the technique by which VENONA messages identified which page of the one-time-pad to use.) S. J. Hamrick states that Howse was assigned to Arlington Hall from 1944 to 1946, pointing out that the National Archives records on VENONA do not name the 1951 contributor. Howse clearly returned, however, and Patterson’s weak effort at concealing his identity failed to confuse posterity.

For some reason it had taken a long time for the equation to be made that GOMER represented the same source as ‘G’, a shorthand that was frequently found in Soviet cables. Hamrick reports, without comment, that Meredith Gardner, who must have been one of the smartest cryptanalysts in the world, was not able to work out that ‘G’ and ‘GOMMER’ were the same as ‘HOMER’ before the Embassy telegrams were passed over to GCHQ for further decryption and analysis in 1949. The correspondence between ‘Source G’ and ‘G’ was confirmed, however, as having been made by Mrs. Gray of AFSA in August 1950, and the fact was immediately communicated to the British. It was given to Marr-Johnson, the GCHQ representative, and presumably passed on to Eastcote. The August 1950 memorandum continues “These recoveries were communicated to the British 11 August 1950, who thereupon set up work-sheets for further recovery work. The suspicion that ‘G’ was the source of material ‘G’ occurred to people at AFSA immediately upon seeing Mrs. Gray’s work, and this suspicion was suggested to the British at the same time.” HW 15/38 goes on to report: “On 30 March 1951, Mr Howse transmitted to England the suggestion that G. was Homer and GOMMER. . . . This identification, if true, allowed the placing of G. in New York in June 1944.”  

Yet what is not explained is why Howse’s insight, the correspondence of ‘G’ and ‘GOMER’, was necessary to make the breakthrough. As we can see, ‘HOMER’ – not just ‘G’ –  appears in the Apresyan cable of 28 June 1944, which referred to the agent’s wife in New York. (The cable can be seen at https://www.nsa.gov/Portals/70/documents/news-features/declassified-documents/venona/dated/1944/28jun_kgb_mtg_donald_maclean.pdf) Yes, ‘G’’s communications would have provided supportive evidence, but Bodsworth did not need Howse’s analysis to make his breakthrough reconstruction of the text, and, in any case, Howse’s message would not have arrived in time for Bodsworth to apply it, and then make his report. So what was going on here? If the ‘breakthrough’ did indeed occur at GCHQ, maybe Bodsworth informed his American colleagues well before he let MI5 know, and Howse then tried to claim the credit, presenting a different, but maybe equally important, conclusion to Philby and Patterson as if it had been his own. Howse’s action in sending a package to Eastcote probably negates that, however, and if Howse despatched the documents only on March 30, they would not have arrived at Eastcote in time for Bodsworth to make his report. Was this just a coincidental timing of independent threads? Or was Howse instructed to report the ‘non-breakthrough’ to indicate for posterity that London had had no inkling about HOMER’s identity until he provided the insight?

Given the intensity of this effort, and its being undertaken by cryptanalysts highly skilled at the task, the time it took for these correspondences to be made defies belief. The name HOMER was decrypted on September 26, 1947.  Messages also emanating from the British Embassy, ascribed to ‘Source G’, were known by some time in 1949. The equivalence of ‘Source G’ and ‘G’ was worked out in August 1950. On March 31, 1951, a suggestion was made that perhaps ‘G’ and HOMER were the same person, at which time Eastcote announced it had solved the puzzle.  It took three-and-half years for Maclean’s identity as HOMER to be recognized and admitted: a period longer than that between the USA’s entry into the war and VE-Day. (Anthony Cave-Brown very provocatively, and without comment, wrote, in “C”: “Homer’s identity and nationality remained unknown to the State Department and Foreign Office until 1949.”) So why was the ‘breakthrough’ announced at that juncture?  It should perhaps be noted that the America spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had been convicted on March 29: did that event perhaps prompt the investigators to conclude that it was now politically safe to step into the daylight?

The evidence bequeathed us superficially makes no sense at all. Yet the historians generally have stepped away from trying to analyse the conflicts in front of them. C. J. Hamrick, however, on pages 45-48 of Deceiving the Deceivers, offers a fascinating analysis of the conundrum, concluding that Arlington Hall had been out of the picture on the British Embassy cables since the summer of 1950, and that Eastcote had been sitting on the solved cable for some time. That is one of Hamrick’s conclusions that holds together well. In any case, the scribes creating what turned out to be the HW 15/38 archive then entered some disinformation to help breed confusion. The whole imbroglio demands some more detailed analysis.

We can, nevertheless, make some striking conclusions: i) both Patterson and his colleagues in London were in on the act, since they reciprocally referred to Howse as ‘PH’, and obviously recognized that concealment and subterfuge were necessary; ii) MI5 had an independent back-channel into the AFSA organisation, and might therefore have gained information on the progress of VENONA decryption even before the FBI learned of it; iii) GCHQ in Eastcote was probably not aware that Howse was leaking information to Patterson; and iv) an immense security exposure occurred, since Patterson did not just share the confidences with Lamphere (whom MI5 apparently accepted as a justifiable recipient) but also Philby, which meant that the information would surely be passed on to SIS – and the KGB.

Patterson certainly had not been briefed by London, since he makes some creative suggestions about the identity of HOMER. Indeed, he follows up with another letter (presumably also sent by diplomatic bag) in which, having also discussed the material with Mackenzie, he expands on his analysis, and, somewhat impatiently, but justifiably, looks for a response. On April 4, Robertson responds by cable, apparently quite unconcerned that Patterson has seen the material before the officers of MI5. His main advice runs as follows:

  1. Agree new material most important. Leakage enquiry now being pursued on presumption HOMER equals G.
  2. Collateral for G.C.H.Q. being collected here and, unless we ask specifically, consider it safer you do not repeat not draw subject files from Embassy.

His response does not make sense if Bodsworth’s solving of the Apresyan telegram had provided the ‘breakthrough’. Robertson then asks Patterson to work with Mackenzie in inspecting travel documents that might help clarify the New York visits made by HOMER.

Apart from the anomaly of the ‘HOMER=G’ equivalence, and what relevance it had to the Bodsworth exercise, at least four aspects of this exchange are breathtaking for the interpretation of the decisions for the handling of Maclean, confirming the conclusions outlined earlier. The first is the total lack of surprise shown by MI5 at the fact that its Washington outpost has worked out the HOMER=G breakthrough before London has. The second is that London intelligence (by which I mean MI5 and the Foreign Office, with fragmented attendance by SIS) should have realised that, once the information about ‘the latest recovery’ (as it came to be called) floated around Washington, anyone over there could have been privy to the supposed secret. The third is that Patterson’s and Philby’s access to cryptographic sources, and thus awareness of what was going on, meant that they could not be hoodwinked in any way about the progress of the inquiry. The fourth was the news that Lamphere was right in the thick of things, and could thus presumably come to the same conclusions as MI5’s detectives: moreover, much of the evidence required to seal the deal was to be found in the United States.

Yet MI5 proceeded as if they knew none of this. Indeed, Robertson followed up by trying to dampen Patterson’s enthusiasm: ‘ . . at this stage consider enquiries  . . . should not be confined to preconceived theories but cover all Chancery, cipher and registry staff. Feel sure you agree and will exercise moderating influence on premature speculations’. It was as if dozens of Embassy staff had pregnant wives in New York whom they visited in New York occasionally, and were thus under suspicion. Indeed, Mackenzie in Washington was keen to look for other culprits, and, partly on the grounds that Krivitsky had said that the Foreign Office source had attended Eton and Oxford, pointed the finger at Paul Gore-Booth, who had the disadvantage that his name more closely resembled the letters of ‘GOMER’. It was then, on April 2, that Philby made an even more persuasive case that HOMER was the Imperial Council spy. In a telegram to his boss, Menzies (in the archive at KV 6/142-2, unsigned, and with its first paragraph redacted) he refines the analysis discussed with Patterson and Mackenzie, and adds helpful information about Gromov (Gorsky) and Paul Hardt, who had also been mentioned by Krivitsky. The letter is a masterful exhibition of subterfuge, with Philby trying to protect his reputation and deflect possible criticism. And it apparently worked with Menzies.

What is also extraordinary is the lack of archival evidence of how MI5 received the critical information from GCHQ, and the lack of any initiative to let the Washington representatives know formally of the results. The final entry in the KV 6/141 folder is a note whereby Robertson, Martin and Carey Foster have a meeting at the Foreign Office on March 28, 1951, where they discuss a long report that lists several dozen Embassy employees, including junior staff, in order to whittle down the suspects. The report focuses on Messrs. Pares, Middleton, King and Payne. It is an exercise in self-delusion, probably written by Carey Foster, as if the writer thought the problem would go away if the authorities sat on it for long enough.

The Great Deception

As soon as the British authorities accepted internally that Maclean was indeed HOMER, on April 17, 1951, according to its formal chronology, they started to dither. Martin had told Patterson on April 12 that Maclean was the top suspect, but the MI5 and Foreign Office mandarins suddenly realised the implications of their conclusion. They would eventually have to interrogate Maclean. But if they informed the FBI of their suspicions and plans, the news might leak in a horribly prejudicial way. Lamphere might, however, also come to the same conclusion, which could make them look very foolish if they had not confided in the FBI as they were supposed to. Thus they concocted all sorts of strategies to pretend that they were less well advanced in creating the recent ‘recoveries’ than they actually were, that there were still six suspects they had to investigate. MI5 wanted to tell the FBI more, but the Foreign Office held back, as it did not want the Department of State to hear of it before the FO was ready. Patterson was squeezed: he was again encouraged to let Lamphere harbour his suspicions about ‘Fisher’ (actually Belfrage), even though Belfrage had been eliminated from the inquiry long before.  Mackenzie therefore pressed for continued deception of the FBI: Patterson and Philby disagreed.

By May 15, a tentative timetable had been arranged, whereby Maclean (who was now under surveillance, and had had secret papers withheld from him, so had a strong suspicion of what was going on) would be interrogated on June 8, and the FBI would be informed of that event the day before. On May 17, the KGB sent instructions to London for the escape of Burgess and Maclean, deeming that Maclean was in such a nervous state that he needed accompaniment. Martin prepared for the interrogation, and wrote up his detailed case against Maclean, which he sent to White (but not the Foreign office) on May 19. Sillitoe intervened to insist that no action on Maclean could be taken unless the FBI were informed. The interrogation date was then pushed back to June 18 (because of Mrs. Maclean’s imminent confinement), and Sillitoe planned to be in Washington at that time to explain things, and soothe Hoover. On May 25, Foreign Minister Morrison signed off on the interrogation warrant. That same evening, Burgess and Maclean absconded via Southampton.

The events following the disappearance have been described in multiple books, and I shall not go over them in full here. Instead, I shall concentrate on two aspects of the case: White’s ploy to unmask Philby, and the puzzling use of Anthony Blunt as some kind of witness/consultant in the investigation. Menzies realised immediately that Philby was compromised, because of his close association with Burgess in Washington. In fact, Verne Newton, in The Cambridge Spies, even wrote that Vivian had been sent out to Washington in March to warn Philby about the unsuitability of his boarding Burgess, an account that Cave-Brown also reports, having interviewed Easton. Philby had written another memorandum, on June 4, in which he tried to distance himself from Burgess by providing hints to his suspicious behaviour. Cave-Brown represents this message as a key trigger for Martin to confirm his suspicions about Philby. Martin then tells White, who conveniently presents a damning report on Philby written by Millicent Bagot, and then convinces Menzies that Philby must be recalled. Any complacency Philby had was shattered when John Drew, an experienced and trustworthy officer who had worked for the London Controlling Section in World War II, who happened to be on a visit to Washington, was on June 6 able to hand Philby a letter from Jack Easton, Menzies’s deputy, which alerted him to the fact that he would shortly be formally recalled. He duly arrived in London on June 10, and was immediately summoned by Dick White ‘to help with our inquiries’.

White had meanwhile been very busy, making sure Sillitoe was properly briefed for his meeting with Hoover, and also preparing Patterson for the line of deceit to take. In a letter of May 25, he introduced the concept of the ‘real and notional aspects of the case’, emphasizing how the wool had to be pulled over the eyes of Lamphere and Hoover so that they would not guess that the authorities had concluded that Maclean was their man well before the day he absconded. It would have been disastrous if the FBI learned that Maclean had been at large for several weeks since being identified, and been able to escape the nation’s security forces. (On June 2, Patterson was even instructed to tell Hoover that Sillitoe believed that Maclean’s disappearance was a coincidence.) White decided that Sillitoe should be accompanied by the impish and devious Martin, as Sillitoe needed someone who understood what was going on (which Sillitoe clearly did not) and could plausibly lie about the situation. Sillitoe would work at the high level, and Martin would brief Lamphere. But this is where the story diverges: in the account that he gave his potential biographer, Andrew Boyle (whose notes were inherited by Tom Bower after Boyle’s death) greatly distorted the sequence of events in order to disguise his plot.

Robert Lamphere divulged what happened next in The FBI-KGB War. While Sillitoe met with Hoover, on June 13, Martin engaged Lamphere, and handed over the famous seven-point memorandum (which I described in the April coldspur). This report sharply described several aspects of Philby’s ostensibly communist background, and Martin then passed it on to Lamphere’s old friend William Harvey in the CIA.  The Cleveland Cram archive shows that, on June 15, Harvey then presented his scathing report to Bedell Smith, actually derived from the Martin memorandum, but claimed by Harvey (with encouragement by Martin, no doubt) as resulting from his own inspiration. The next day, Sillitoe met with Allen Dulles of the CIA, who passed ‘Harvey’s’ memorandum to him, Sillitoe of course being completely unaware of what the source was. Sillitoe cabled back home on June 17 to say that he had also had a very satisfactory meeting with Bedell Smith (see Guy Liddell’s Diaries), Bedell Smith telling him he would rather deal with MI5 than SIS in the future. On June 18, Sillitoe and Martin flew back to London. The same day, Hoover told Admiral Sidney Souers, special consultant to the President, about Burgess’s habitation with Philby while in Washington, and that Philby’s first wife had been a Communist. Aldrich and Cormac show this as evidence that ‘Truman was getting better information on the British moles than Attlee’. If that were true, it was because MI5 was not providing the intelligence they gave to the FBI and CIA to their own Prime Minister, not because the US organisations were more efficient.

General Bedell Smith in Moscow

Many of the accounts of this period (including Andrew’s authorised history of MI5) have Bedell Smith banishing Philby from Washington at this time, but, as the archival chronology clearly shows, Philby was back in London by the time Sillitoe and Martin left for Washington. Meanwhile, David Martin, in Wilderness of Mirrors, incorrectly amplified the story about Harvey’s heroic insights into Philby’s background, a story that has been picked up by innumerable chroniclers. I described this in the April coldspur, and also showed that Guy Liddell was completely unaware of what was going on.

Bedell Smith may well have stated that he did not want to see Philby in Washington again, but the record shows that the chief of the CIA was much more annoyed at Hoover’s withholding information about VENONA from him than he was at either Sillitoe’s deception or even possible treachery by Philby. After acting Ambassador Steel visited Bedell Smith in October of 1951, Steel wrote to Reilly about Bedell Smith’s mood, quoting him as follows: “Of course Percy Sillitoe lied to me like a trooper but I appreciate he had to do it on account of your understandings with Hoover and it was not his fault.” Steel went on to write: “Bedell’s principal worry is concerned with how much Burgess may have learned casually from Philby and in his house about his, Bedell’s, organization. He was very anxious to be reassured that we had not had any previous cause for suspicion of Burgess as we had of Donald Maclean and that we had let him know about Burgess as soon as our suspicions were aroused. He is naturally not very happy about what Burgess may have picked up but appeared much more interested in a vindication of our own bona fides towards himself.” That did not sound like the voice of a man greatly offended by rumours about Kim Philby.

As for White, his version of the story, as related in The Perfect English Spy, was a gross distortion of the truth. First of all, he represented Martin’s conversations with the CIA as ‘focused on Burgess’, concealing the Philby memorandum. He then claimed that the long message from Philby that hinted at Burgess’s possible flirtation with espionage arrived on June 18, when that message had actually been seen two weeks earlier. Next White asserted that at only at that stage did Jack Easton send the letter to Philby warning him of the cable to call him home, when that had happened on June 6. He then told his biographer that it was only then that he and Martin started to compile a record of Philby’s work, as preparation for the interrogation of Philby to which John Sinclair had given his grudging approval. Lamphere’s report makes it abundantly clear that the research had been completed well before Sillitoe and Martin left on June 11. Cave-Brown reported that White immediately produced a dossier compiled by Milicent Bagot on Philby. David Martin then contributed to the White caprice, however, by adding that it was at this stage, on June 20, that MI5 compiled the dossier on Philby, listing the seven points so ingeniously provided by Harvey! White also made sure that his harsh opinion of Rees was articulated (‘why did he not come to us earlier’?), and he left a very clear impression that Liddell was irreparably tainted by his association with Blunt.

‘Old Men Forget’. Was this just a misremembrance by White in his declining years? That is very unlikely: his account is a tissue of lies. What he was trying to do is show that he and Martin had nothing to do with the plot to bring Philby down, and were simply following up doggedly on their investigation, since Burgess’s friend from Washington had been brought to them on a platter. Yet it was imperative for White to show that the creation of the dossier on Philby had been prompted by outside investigations, and that it had not occurred until after Burgess’s escape. That was a somewhat risky line to take, as it indicated a fair amount of naivety about Philby’s past, a track-record which, if William Harvey could work out from so far away (from the planted evidence), MI5 should have been able to conclude themselves, as any objective observer might suggest. Philby was in SIS, not MI5, of course, which ameliorated their responsibility. As seems much clearer now – especially if the Liddell-Roberts anecdote is shown to have substance – White had very probably already made that calculation, but he had enough problems on his hands without taking credit for identifying another skeleton in the closet whom he should have called out a long time before. And, if Philby’s guilt could swiftly be acknowledged, though perhaps not proven or admitted, it would help his cause. Yet his old ally Bedell Smith did not respond with the degree of specific outrage that he had hoped for. And, in a clumsy interrogation carried out by White himself immediately Philby returned to Britain, the master-spy resisted the attempts to make him confess, despite the damning evidence.

The ghastly secret that haunted White was as follows: if it could ever be shown that he had harboured serious doubts about Philby before he was sent to Washington, or while he was there, and done nothing about it, he (White) would have to be regarded as putting the whole VENONA project in jeopardy. White would therefore continue to dissemble over the years (see, for example, what he said to Nicholas Bethell over the Albanian incidents, as recorded in Bethell’s book The Albanian Operation of the CIA & MI6) – highlighting his own insights into Philby’s culpability, but not saying exactly when he came to any individual conclusion about a certain activity, or with whom he shared it. #  Meanwhile he concealed from his interviewers the plant that was placed with Harvey and Bedell Smith that listed the fuller indictment. In summary, he distorted the truth to indicate that he had no suspicions of Philby before Burgess absconded. When Burgess and Maclean disappeared, however, he could not hold back any longer. He needed to punish the old foe, SIS, without drawing attention on himself. The fact that he went behind Menzies’s back to attempt to unmask Philby proves that Menzies was not aware of the plan. And White could not have masterminded a deception project using Philby without Menzies’ and Easton’s participation. But was White working alone? Who else knew what was going on?

# For example, in his comments to Bethell, the historian manqué attempted to excuse MI5’s tolerance of communists in 1940, the year in which Philby was recruited by SIS, by telling his interlocutor that at that time ‘the Russians were our allies’, when of course they were then allies of the Nazis, providing matériel to the Germans for the prosecution of the Battle of Britain.

Philby as the Third Man?

What would have been convenient for White would be evidence that Philby had been the agent who had warned Maclean about the net closing in on him, and let him and Burgess know about the imminent arrest. Was Philby thus the Third Man? That question is one of many that surround the eighteen months that Philby spent in Washington, and it is probably educational to list the main conundrums about the man’s activity at this time, and attach some tentative answers to the riddles:

  1. Why did Menzies send Philby to Washington in 1949? (He seriously had no doubts about Philby’s loyalties.  In his Forward to The Philby Conspiracy, John le Carré points out that Menzies had appointed him head of Soviet counter-espionage in 1944 despite knowing his past, and was not apparently disturbed by the Volkov incident in 1945.  According to Cave-Brown, based on interviews with Easton, Reilly was similarly not aware of the questions surrounding Philby, as he was party to the discussions on Philby’s possible promotion in early 1951.  Whether Menzies entrusted a mission of deception and disinformation to Philby cannot be verified.)
  2. Why did Philby so quickly help point the finger at Maclean? (Philby immediately realised from what Oldfield told him that Maclean was probably doomed, and he had to save his own skin.)
  3. Why was Burgess sent to Washington in 1950, despite his malfeasance? (It was typical FO incompetence, as reinforced by its treatment of Maclean after his riotous behaviour in Cairo. The Foreign Office was absurdly indulgent to its senior employees: Attlee was shocked when he later learned of the continued employment of Burgess and Maclean, despite their transgressions.)
  4. Why did Philby take on Burgess as a boarder? (He genuinely thought Burgess’s reputation was safe, needed him as a convenient courier to New York, and believed he could control Burgess’s aberrant behaviour better by keeping a close eye on him.  It was, however, appalling tradecraft.)
  5. Why was White not concerned about Philby’s close collaboration with Patterson? (He probably was concerned, but could do nothing about it without incurring Menzies’s ire.  If White truly had concluded much earlier that Maclean was HOMER, he may have even believed the situation would resolve itself without MI5’s being tainted.)
  6. Why did SIS only warn Philby about his association with Burgess in March 1951? (Menzies and his lieutenants – apart, possibly, from Jack Easton – were so out of touch that they genuinely did not know Burgess was a threat until his outrageous behaviour that month.)
  7. Why did SIS immediately recall Philby in May 1951 if it regarded him as a loyal officer? (Given that Burgess had absconded with Maclean, it accepted that Philby would be contaminated in Hoover’s and Bedell Smith’s eyes.  Cave-Brown claims that Menzies acted only after White had informed him of Martin’s suspicions, provoked by his reading Philby’s awkward letter about Burgess)
  8. Why did Menzies agree to White’s interrogation of Philby immediately he returned? (The political pressure was intense, but Menzies was confident that Philby would be exonerated.  Thus he instructed Easton to agree to the trial, grudgingly. In July, Easton would travel to Washington to tell Winston Scott of the CIA that SIS believed Philby was innocent.)
  9. Why was Lamphere not more shocked when he was told about Philby’s probable culpability? (He had never liked Philby, but was overwhelmed by the implications of Maclean’s treachery. He wrote that he did not believe Philby was an active spy since he had spent so little time trying to woo him, Lamphere.)
  10. Why did Philby later promote himself as the Third Man, despite the obvious logistical difficulties? (It distracted attention from the real facilitator in the bowels of MI5 and magnified his reputation as a fixer extraordinaire.)
Guy Burgess

In his notoriously unreliable memoir, My Silent War, Philby wrote, of the plan to use Burgess to help Maclean escape: “In somebody’s mind – I do not know whose – the two ideas merged: Burgess’s return to London and the rescue of Maclean.” From this emerged an extraordinary series of events that involved Burgess’ s being booked for speeding three times in one day in the state of Virginia, and thus arrested, a project that Burgess ‘brought off  . . . in the simplest possible way’, according to Philby’s account. Burgess was accordingly reprimanded by the Ambassador and sent home, where he then successfully met his Soviet contact, and informed Maclean of the escape plan.

This flight of fancy does not stand up to serious analysis, on the following grounds:

  1. Risk: To require Burgess to engage in dangerous driving, an activity that might have resulted in death, was irresponsible. The desired outcome of having Burgess recalled to London was by no means certain.
  2. Speed: The process was extraordinarily laborious. Burgess’s driving escapade happened on March 1: Ambassador Franks received the letter of complaint from the Governor of Virginia on March 14, and told Burgess he was seeking FO approval for his recall. On April 14, he was ordered home, but did not leave on the boat from New York until May 2, arriving in the UK on May 7. If Burgess had been serious, he could voluntarily have returned home earlier without suspicion.
  3. Necessity: As the Mitrokhin archive informs us (probably reliably, in this case), Philby had a Soviet handler in New York named Makeyev, and Burgess was used as a courier to take messages to him. Makeyev could have had messages passed on to Moscow and London much more easily – and no doubt did so. (While in New York, Burgess stayed with Maclean’s younger brother Alan, who was working as Gladwyn Jebb’s private secretary at the time – a series of visits, including Alan’s unrecorded role as a prison visitor to another traitor, George Blake –  that the Macmillan publisher unaccountably omitted from his jocular memoir, No I Tell a Lie, It Was the Tuesday  . . .)
  4. Logistics: It would have been impossible and irregular for Philby and Makeyev (or Philby and a claimed contact in Washington) to make arrangements for Maclean’s escape from so far away, a claim made by both Modin and Philby. Moscow Centre would have had to approve and organize the whole project.
  5. Timing: While Philby did not make the claim, critics have pointed to the fact that Burgess and Maclean absconded on the very day that Foreign Secretary Morrison signed the order for interrogation, suggesting that the Third Man was able to tip off the traitors immediately that decision was known. That would have been impossible for Philby to accomplish: the timing was probably coincidental.
  6. Pragmatics: The Soviets did not have to wait until the date of interrogation was determined to initiate the escape, which must have been planned for weeks ahead. Once Maclean had been confidently identified, his extraction would have occurred as soon as all the pieces were in place.

The fact that Philby was not aware of the timetable, or what the plans were for Maclean’s escape, is shown by a message from Makeyev that even Hamrick quotes, one ‘verifiable’ (although that word should always be used carefully when dealing with Soviet archives) from the Mitrokhin papers. Makeyev met Philby on May 24, and Hamrick comments on it, without dating it, as follows: “In one or only two of Philby’s documented face-to-face meetings with his KGB illegal, Makayev found him distraught: STANLEY, he reported, ‘demanded HOMER’s immediate exfiltration to the USSR, so that he himself would not be compromised.” Thus, the deception was a tactic to draw attention away from a real source close to the centre of power: and that process helped MI5 as well. Despite its obvious flaws, the account of Philby as the Third Man who warned Burgess and Maclean became a political catchphrase, and has been picked up by numerous writers. It suited Philby to deny it when under fire in 1955, and it suited him to confirm it when writing his memoir.

The Strange Case of Anthony Blunt

Anthony Blunt

When Guy Burgess arrived at Southampton on May 7, he was picked up by Anthony Blunt at the Ocean Terminal. The descriptions of Blunt’s role in helping the Soviet cause in the next two-and-a-half weeks before the May 25 departure of Burgess and Maclean are notably unreliable. The account by Yuri Modin (who was the KGB handler of Blunt and Maclean at the time) in My 5 Cambridge Friends is notoriously wrong on many points, such as Philby’s access to VENONA information and the timing of his suspicions concerning HOMER, Philby’s passing hints to the investigation in London, his own failure to recognize Makeyev, and the details of Krivitsky’s interrogation. He adopts the fiction of the Burgess mission undertaken to alert Modin and company of the imminent threat to Maclean, and that Philby and Burgess planned the details of the escape (for Maclean only, of course) while others (such as John Costello) have reported, by access to the Petrov papers, that the decision to exfiltrate Maclean had been taken months before. Somewhat puzzlingly, Miranda Carter in her biography of Blunt, Anthony Blunt: His Lives, despite acknowledging Modin’s flaws, cites him repeatedly. What is certain, however, is that Blunt acted as a go-between, communicating with Modin and Burgess about what shape the plans would take.

In his 1987 book, The Secrets of the Service, Anthony Glees quoted the testimony that Blunt provided to the Times in an interview published on November 21, 1979. It is an awkward and deceitful explanation in which Blunt gave away his continuing relationship with the Soviets, while denying that he had had any involvement in warning Burgess and Maclean. Thus Blunt supported the story that it was Philby who provided the hints that were based on VENONA. “Philby warned them, as has been publicly stated and I could not have had any knowledge of this.” Glees points out the anomalies, reminds us that Hugh Cecil and Andrew Boyle echoed the same line of reasoning, and cites Robert Lamphere’s account of the obstructive MI5 inquiry. But Glees’s argument focuses on the notion that the escape was provoked by the decision to interrogate Maclean in the week beginning May 21 (actually made on May 24), thus absolving Philby of the ability to communicate a warning from Washington.  If Blunt had been the source, however, he would have had to rely on another insider in MI5, since he had left the service in 1945. That conclusion would point to the existence of another mole, as Chapman Pincher strongly asserted, naming Hollis. Glees, sceptical of the case against Hollis, then turned to the evidence of Patrick Reilly, which I shall analyse soon. Yet if the timing of the abscondence had been coincidental, it would not have required the constant refreshment of the investigation’s progress to Blunt, or to anyone else, in those heady days of May 1951.

In my February posting of coldspur, I laid out the bizarre chain of events which led to Goronwy Rees arriving to have an interview with Guy Liddell, on June 7, only to find Anthony Blunt in the room. The source for the timing of this event comes from Jennifer Rees and John Costello, yet there must be some doubt about it. Liddell’s Diaries (which contain many redactions over Burgess and Maclean) are interrupted for the period between June 2, when he met with Blunt to discuss Burgess’s travel patterns, and June 12, when he indicates that he had just returned from Wales – presumably on holiday. His first entry on his return is to deflect the discussion to Dick White: “Dick had had a talk with Anthony and Garonwy [sic] Rees, which seems to indicate that Burgess had in 1937 been fairly closely implicated in Communist activities.” Thus it seems likely that the Rees/Liddell/Blunt encounter probably occurred earlier. Jennifer Rees provides no source for the date: Costello cites Nigel West’s MI5 and Chapman Pincher’s Too Secret Too Long, but neither of those works gives a date for the meeting. Maybe Rees’s hazy memory imagined a delay that did not occur. In any case, Liddell either tried to minimise the event, and reduce his involvement.

In The Perfect English Spy, however, the timetable changes. White told his biographer that Liddell’s meeting occurred on June 1 – but did not mention Blunt’s presence – and that he, White, interviewed Rees on June 6, i.e. while Liddell was away, which would grant more sense to Liddell’s comment. Yet there is no mention of a previous meeting between Liddell and Rees, and certainly no reference to Blunt’s presence. Was that ‘second’ meeting part of Rees’s imagination? The evidence of White and Liddell might suggest that it was: perhaps it was part of Rees’s fevered campaign of denunciation of Liddell. While White’s recollections are frequently dubious, and he might have had good reason for suppressing Blunt’s involvement, Liddell’s diurnal records were less sensitive, and occasionally very ingenuous. As Liddell wrote in that same careful June 12 entry, after dining with a very perturbed Blunt: “No new facts emerged, except that I feel certain that Anthony was never a conscious collaborator with Burgess in any activities that he may have conducted on behalf of the Comintern.”

Guy Liddell

Liddell’s contribution to the investigation was certainly unusual. He had headed B Division before White, and was now Deputy Director-General, but his Diaries show that White introduced him to the leakage case only on April 11, 1951! He does not appear to be surprised or upset about this, but does become more involved after May 25. A note to file by Robertson on May 29 states tersely: “Mr Anthony Blunt is being contacted by DD [Deputy-Director, i.e. Liddell].”  At this stage the whereabouts of Burgess and Maclean were not known, and most of the investigators would claim that they had no inkling that Burgess might come under the same suspicions that surrounded Maclean, so Liddell must have volunteered the information that Blunt, as a friend of Burgess, might be able to shed more light on him. Again, the lead-up to this invitation is ambiguous: both White and Costello reported that Liddell had received a telephone call from Rees on May 26, but had not been able to make sense of it. Rees said that he had tried to contact Liddell unsuccessfully that day, and thus contacted Blunt. Yet Liddell’s diary entry for May 29 (after a large redacted segment for the previous day) indicates that Burgess’s absence came as a complete surprise. He (Liddell) knew about Maclean’s departure, but not that he had been accompanied. It was Blunt who informed him: it is either an enormous bluff, or he was for some reason being kept out of the picture.

In any case, the outcome was that Blunt turned out to be the main witness for the prosecution. The archive at KV 6/143 contains an entry (June 6) where Blunt’s testimony that Burgess worked for the Comintern is used as the primary background material in the briefing-book prepared for Sillitoe for his coming meeting with Hoover. (Reilly’s and White’s knowledge that Guy Burgess had eagerly shown he had contacts inside the Comintern in June 1940 was conveniently overlooked.) At the same time, it is clear that Rees tried to exonerate his friend somewhat: he told the investigators that in 1939 Blunt had echoed his (Rees’s) protestations at the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact. That was not true, but Rees no doubt felt some obligation to a man he admired for dragging him into the controversy. And this whole exercise aroused the excitement of MI5’s B2 section. On June 11, Robertson was minded to declare: “Blunt has been named in Goronwy Rees’s statement as a person who was understood by Rees to have been one of Burgess’s source of information, at the time when Burgess was working for the Russians. Blunt has given every appearance of co-operating with M.I.5 in the present investigation but, by reason of his employment in this office during the war, must be regarded as under some suspicion.”

The irony was that the junior ranks in MI5 had just learned of Blunt’s possible treacherousness, while Liddell and White had known about it since 1944. After all, Blunt had made no secret of his Communist pretensions, he had written about them in the Spectator, he had been recalled from a Military Intelligence course in 1940 because of his dubious background (and somehow had been exonerated), and had then been recruited by MI5. As I also showed (conclusively, I would say: I have not received any rebuttal) in Misdefending the Realm, Blunt was caught red-handed accepting purloined secrets from his sidekick Leo Long, then working for MI14, which he then passed on to the Soviets. No doubt Blunt apologised, saying it was a one-off event, to which he was inspired by a deep sympathy for our struggling ally. He probably added that he believed Stalin was not receiving the richness of intelligence from Britain that he deserved, and felt entitled to show such initiative – an action, we should remember, with which Valentine Vivian expressed sympathy in another context. Long was suspended for a while, and Blunt was no doubt given a slap on the wrists, and continued with his perfidy.

Thus it might have come with a sudden and dreadful shock when White came to the realisation that, if apparently reformed Communist sympathisers like Maclean, and then Philby, and most recent of all, Burgess, could turn out to be red-blooded traitors and snakes in the grass, there was no reason why Blunt might not be in the same category, too. And here Blunt was, pretending to help the cause in nailing Burgess, just as Philby had gone out of his way to help incriminate Maclean. The final irony was that that, immediately White concluded that Philby’s guilt was proven – because of Burgess’s escape – he must have known that the fact of VENONA would have been leaked to the Russians, and thus there was no harm in confronting Maclean with the cables to cause him to confess. That would have been dangerous if Maclean had brazened out his interrogation (though that was unlikely, given his psychological condition), but it would no longer have mattered. By now, however, he had flown the coop.

Reilly and the Hollis Mystery

While Kim Philby had certainly acted as a ‘Second Man’ in warning Moscow of the net closing in on Maclean, many commentators and historians have picked up this unauthentic issue of a Third Man – an intelligence insider – warning Burgess and Maclean of the imminent plan to interrogate HOMER. Several have alighted on Liddell as the prime suspect, among them Costello, Lamphere, Oldfield, Deacon and Rees, as I listed in the April coldspur. An alternative theory has been strongly promoted by Chapman Pincher. Indeed, it was his life’s work to prove that the man behind all the counter-espionage disasters was Roger Hollis, who succeeded Dick White as Director-General of MI5 in 1956.

One of Anthony Glees’s objectives, in The Secrets of the Service, was to inspect Pincher’s claims, and I recommend the Professor’s book to anyone interested in the controversy. [I should declare that Professor Glees was my doctoral supervisor.] Glees analysed some of Pincher’s assertions about Hollis, and then reviewed them in the light of the Burgess-Maclean case. I have to say that I think Glees may have been influenced a little too much by some of the prominent politicians and officers whom he interviewed, among them Lord Sherfield (previously Roger Makins in our cast), Sir Patrick Reilly and Dick White. For instance, Lord Sherfield diminished the harm that Maclean had been able to cause, focusing on the matter of nuclear weaponry, when we now know that Maclean’s betrayal of Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s plans for negotiations at Yalta resulted in untold death and misery for much of eastern Europe, especially Poland. It is the post-mortem of the Burgess-Maclean affair, where Reilly contributed several comments in writing to Glees, that is even more provocative, I believe, and bears some close relationship to my inquiry.

Patrick Reilly

Glees introduces Reilly by citing Lamphere’s recently published FBI-KGB War, where its author complains about the way that the FBI were ‘misled and repeatedly lied to’ about the events that led up to the identification of Maclean. Lamphere stated that the Americans were told nothing about Maclean until after the escape, and he quoted Arthur Martin as ‘telling him that MI5 had insisted the FBI not be told about Maclean’. Glees then goes on to write: “As Chapman Pincher rightly observes, if this is true then Philby cannot have tipped off Maclean, since Philby would have known about Maclean and the date of interrogations only in his capacity as MI5’s postman to the FBI. But is this true? The answer must be ‘no’.” One might point out that, irrespective of Philby’s briefing by Oldfield in 1949, there is a solid difference between Maclean’s being identified as one of the suspects – a fact that was communicated to Lamphere, by Patterson – and the fact that he alone was about to be hauled in for questioning. In any case, Glees then called on one of the main participants in the investigation, Patrick Reilly, for his opinion.

To Glees, Reilly is a figure who instantly commands respect. “For against these allegations we must set the far more authoritative testimony of Sir Patrick Reilly . . .  His first concern now is that the full story of Maclean’s identification be told.” Reilly was generous enough to write letters to Glees on the topic, and I reproduce some of his statements here, adding my own commentary:

  1. “In the circumstances of the time, someone who was a member of the Communist Party might not have been acting dishonourably in not disclosing his political sympathies, provided, of course, he was not acting as a Soviet or a Communist agent.”

This is an extraordinarily ingenuous and weaselly policy to defend. First of all, it reflects the regrettable but all too real belief that there were ‘academic’ Communists who were harmless (probably British), and ‘practical’ Communists whose mission was to overthrow liberal democracy (probably foreigners), and that it was therefore quite acceptable to hire the former, even though they concealed their affiliations, while persecuting the latter. Did Sir Patrick not understand that the CPGB took its orders from Moscow, and that agents were known to engage in subterfuge, and thus conceal any illicit activity?

  • “One important stage in the investigation has, however, been overlooked. This is that at a fairly late stage a message became available that Homer was being consulted by the Russians  . . . The new message however showed that the spy was someone of some importance and we were then able to produce what was a relatively short list, about 9, I think. But we still had nothing special pointing to Maclean and indeed I remember clearly that we thought someone else was a more likely suspect.”

This is probably the only occasion in the history of intelligence where the treachery of leaking secret information has been described as a ‘consulting’ exercise. As KV 6/142 shows, Martin informed Patterson on April 12 that Maclean was then ‘the top suspect’. Reilly’s colleague in the Foreign Office, Carey-Foster, may have hoped otherwise, but the Washington Embassy was informed ‘at this fairly late stage’ of HOMER’s probable identity.

  • “The other part of the story quoted by Pincher is pure fabrication; it is totally untrue that the Foreign Office told MI5 not to inform the FBI that Maclean had been identified. On the contrary, Sir Percy Sillitoe [head of MI5] was absolutely determined not to put a foot wrong with Hoover since he had had such a lot of trouble with the latter over the Fuchs and Nunn May cases. He kept Hoover informed with messages which were sent over for special security through MI6 and therefore, of course, through Philby. And there is not the slightest doubt that it was Philby who was thus able to set Maclean’s escape in train. Indeed, I remember that when we in the FO were getting impatient about the delay in interrogating Maclean we were told that Sillitoe wanted to be quite sure we were in step with the FBI before the interrogation took place.”

There is no evidence that Sillitoe, who was out of touch with the details of the investigation, maintained regular communications with Hoover on the subject. (Hamrick makes much of the ‘special MI6 link’ accessed by Philby). K 6/142 shows that Reilly reported at a meeting on April 17 that ‘Strang wants no information passed to the Americans’. Martin passed that message on to Patterson on April 18. On May 10 Mackenzie suggested: ‘If Maclean breaks under interrogation, we should tell the FBI we intend to question him and very shortly afterwards give them the results’.  K 6/142 offers, from a meeting on May 15, that the Foreign Office ‘was anxious that nothing be disclosed to the State Department’, and thus nothing should be sent to Hoover (for fear of leaks). On the same date, Makins and Mackenize pressed for Hoover not to be informed until after Maclean’s interrogation had taken place.

  • “The allegation that Maclean was not going to be prosecuted is also totally untrue. The long delay in interrogating him was due to the fact that it was considered that the evidence from the deciphered telegrams could not be used in court.”

This is partly true. Unless Maclean could be encouraged to confess, or had been caught red-handed passing over information (which was then unlikely, given the obvious surveillance imposed on him), he could not be tried in court based on VENONA evidence. Thus there was no certainty that he was going to be prosecuted, but also no decision made in advance not to prosecute.

  • “MI5 therefore considered that a conviction could only be obtained by a confession and in order to obtain a conviction their star interrogator, Skardon, needed much more information about Maclean. Hence the long delay which proved disastrous, especially as MI5 did not have enough men to keep Maclean under continuous observation.”

On May 15, a meeting between Reilly, Carey Foster, Mackenzie, White, Robertson and Martin agreed to go ahead with the interrogation, but keep silent about it to Washington for up to 3-4 weeks. Reilly did have a point, however. MI5’s report of May 18 stated that the service needed three months to prepare for the interrogation: that was partly because they wanted the FBI to make further investigations about Maclean’s wife, but Lamphere was very nervous about leakages to the State Department.

  • “Morrison would certainly have had before him a written submission, certainly already signed and approved by Strang, drafted by me or Carey Foster.  That submission would have certainly have been the result of prior discussion and the Home Secretary’s concurrence would have been obtained.”

The use of the conditional tense shows evasiveness. Could Reilly, so anxious to set the historical record straight, not recall what papers he signed?

  • “All Sillitoe’s messages to Hoover went through Philby who was thus able to arrange for Burgess to get himself sent home to alert Maclean without the latter’s contact in the UK having to contact him. Philby would of course have been on the alert for information about the date of the interrogation. He could have telephoned to Burgess who was not then suspected or under observation. But it is surely much more likely that he would have used the safe channel of his Soviet contacts in Washington who would have informed their colleagues in London who must have told Burgess by the morning of the 25th since the latter spent the day preparing for the escape.”

Communications on the progress of the BRIDE/VENONA investigation were sent variously by Robertson, Martin or White to Patterson, who then shared the results, as guided, with Philby and Lamphere. There is no evidence of secret traffic between Sillitoe and Hoover. The existence of safe contacts in Washington is highly dubious: Philby used Burgess to contact Makeyev in New York, but does claim he made contact once or twice with handlers in Washington. In any case, Philby would not have had time to act. The decision to go ahead with interrogation (for June 18-25) was taken on May 24, the day before the abscondence.

  • “At last, towards the end of May, MI5 declared themselves ready to interrogate. Full details of the plan were telegraphed to Washington (via Philby). I seem to remember that some hitch with the FBI caused a last-minute delay.”

On May 25, White informed Patterson of the recent meetings, and the schedule. He claimed that the discovery of Maclean’s wife in New York was ‘very recent’, and introduced ‘the real and notional aspects of the case’. The same day, Sillitoe sent copies of the instructions to Menzies, adding that they would be available to Philby, too (via Patterson). The FBI was not party to the decision.

  • “In the FO we had no conceivable motive for further delay. We were longing for the end of three months of intense suspense.”

On the contrary, the Foreign Office was trying to stretch the process out.  For example, reluctant to admit that Maclean could actually be a traitor, Mackenzie continually sought to investigate Gore-Booth.

  1.  “Our service had the tradition of a closely knit family. That one of us, the son of a Cabinet Minister, should be a Soviet spy was something quite horrible and we had been living with this knowledge for months.”

Apart from the fact that the Foreign Office, like any normal family, had its black sheep, rivalries, jealousies, misfits and idlers (as is clear from memoirs and archives), if Reilly had known this fact ‘for months’ (and the description pointed solely to Maclean), how could he pretend that, ‘at a fairly late stage’, the shortlist of suspects had been reduced to nine? And had he already forgotten about the conviction of John King, and Krivitsky’s warnings about the ‘Imperial Council’ spy?  On the issue of ‘family’, Richard Deacon informs us that George Wigg, who had been the intermediary between Prime Minister Harold Wilson and the intelligence services, told him that esprit de corps was the bane of the Foreign Office.  Deacon wrote: “Wigg himself said that Morrison, when he left office, ‘still persisted in the view that Foreign Office esprit de corps was in part responsible for the affair [the failure to apprehend Burgess and Maclean before they defected]. Esprit de corps, apparently, had kept Morrison ignorant of information implicating Maclean which had been given to the Foreign Office by Stalin’s former agent, Walter Krivitsky, in 1940; it had also kept him ignorant of the Volkov revelations, made through the British Embassy in Turkey.”

  1.  “What is of course impossible to understand is that Arthur Martin should have told Lamphere (if he really did) that the FO told MI5 not to keep the FBI informed. . . If he is concerned to incriminate Hollis and therefore wants to minimize Philby’s part, he is being deliberately untruthful. I am absolutely astonished that it is possible for any doubt to be cast on the fact that it was Philby who warned the Russians of the investigation of Maclean and thus enabled them to plan his escape. The statement that the FO had told MI5 not to inform the FBI is false. I say that with complete certainty.”

As I have shown above, Reilly’s statement is simply untrue. There is not necessarily a logical link between the desire of the Foreign Office to keep information from the FBI (because of the risk of leakage, and the discomfort of having an announcement of Maclean’s interrogation pre-empted by the Americans) and the casting of doubt on the assertion that Philby could not have been responsible for all that Reilly (and others) claimed he did. Philby no doubt did warn the Soviets of the investigation into Maclean, but he would not have been able to alert them to the imminent interrogation. Indeed, no one may have done so.

Professor Glees’s conclusion from Reilly’s contribution was that ‘the full truth about the defection of Burgess and Maclean serves to incriminate Philby and to exonerate Roger Hollis in particular”. Apart from the fact that Philby was incriminated anyway (if not by the last-minute disclosure), if Reilly’s testimony can now be shown to be untruthful, would that incriminate Hollis? Not necessarily, but that is the topic of a completely different discussion. (Hollis hardly features in all the archival reports about the Embassy Spy investigation, but that was because he was intensely involved with the Australians in investigating their VENONA leaks, travelling to the Dominion frequently in 1948 and 1949, and helping to establish the ASIO organisation.) The major point here is: what was Reilly trying to hide?

The first declaration to be made is that, like White, he wanted to divert all attention away from any potential mole in MI5 (or a further one in the Foreign Office). This would likewise minimise the highly irregular relationship with Anthony Blunt, which must have also embarrassed Reilly enormously when the truth came out in 1963. If one maintained the stance that Burgess and Maclean had really been alerted at the last minute, but then Philby was eliminated from the line-up, fingers would have to point at another source close to the discussions. Blunt was later shown to be an intermediary for the Soviets, but he was not close enough to the action – unless Liddell had been keeping him constantly updated. But Liddell was largely out of the picture, too. The subsidiary point was that he wanted to clarify that MI5, not the Foreign Office, had been the main stumbling-block in the move to interrogation. That was perhaps petty (and White was still alive when he wrote to Glees), but it presumably meant a lot to Reilly.

Reilly thus remains something of a paradox. Why, after all that time, did he not simply admit that Philby had known about Maclean for a long time, and that the timing of the escape was probably coincidental? He would not have constructed such a web of deception around himself. Moreover, his professional contribution to intelligence matters appears very flimsy. His period as Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, a position he held from November 1950 to April 1953, is treated with complete lack of interest by Michael S. Goodman in his official history of the Committee (2014). Goodman grants Reilly and his specific tenure only two uninformative paragraphs. (The sole fact that Michael Goodman vouchsafes us, about Reilly’s term as Chairman of that body, is that he destroyed a chair when he heard the news about Burgess and Maclean – a highly symbolic gesture of Chekhovian, or even Dostoyevskian, proportions.) Goodman does comment, however, on the JIC’s general abrogation of responsibility over VENONA and Soviet espionage, whether out of ignorance or indifference: “The JIC’s failure to probe the strategic implications of the damage caused by Soviet espionage is even harder to understand, despite the fact that administrative responsibility for security and counter-intelligence lay with MI5”, he writes. Goodman might have added that Reilly was in close cahoots with White at the time, but clearly concealed everything from the JIC itself. The real mystery is why such an unimpressive character as Reilly was not only appointed Chairman of the JIC, but lasted there three years.

Summary and Conclusions

Jorge Luis Borges likened the Falklands War to two bald men fighting over a comb. Here were two old-age pensioners claiming that neither of them, when schoolboys, broke the window. In 1951, Dick White, when he realised that Philby was blown, executed a crafty move to plant the responsibility for MI5 lapses on his rival organisation, SIS. Thirty-five years later, he distorted the real sequence of events when he described the happenings of that spring to his biographer, not wanting to reveal that he had suspected Philby long before. Back then, Patrick Reilly, embarrassed and enraged by the leakiness of the Foreign Office, had tried to stave off the inevitable. Thirty-five years later, under no pressure at all, he volunteered to document for Anthony Glees ‘the full story of what occurred’, and tried to turn the reading public’s attention away from the rottenness of MI5 and towards the comprehensive culpability of Philby. He could quite plausibly have simply debunked the ‘Third Man’ concept without practising to deceive.

Why did they do it? Because they could get away with it, and they knew that, even if the archive were opened, they would not be around to see it. This was the 1980s, however. The decade had kicked off with Andrew Boyle’s Climate of Treason, and the unmasking of Blunt. Chapman Pincher had followed in 1982 with his searing Too Secret Too Long. The secret of VENONA was starting to leak out, from David Harvey and Nigel West, and then Robert Lamphere’s FBI-KGB War in 1986. It does not appear that either White or Reilly read Lamphere’s account, but Glees’s reading of it prompted his approach to Reilly. Peter Wright’s controversial and revealing Spycatcher came out in the same year (1987) that Glees’s book was published, at the same time when Tom Bower started interviewing White. The mandarins needed to move on to the offensive, and try to protect the reputations of themselves and their institutions. Dick White’s deep plotting shows a hitherto undocumented side of his character as he elbowed and intrigued his way to the Director-Generalship of MI5.

The last point to be made is on the rather romantic notion of ‘intelligence sharing’, with which this piece started. The practice has a humorous aspect, in that Britain was invited by the Americans to join an exercise that would turn out to embarrass its intelligence circles. MI5 (for a while) shared the fruits of the Embassy Spy investigation with the FBI, but the FBI did not share them with the CIA, who did not even know about VENONA. And it has its darker side, too. It appears that Dick White, to meet his own political objectives, shared his inner suspicions with the CIA in order to spite his real rival, SIS, while concealing what he was doing from his boss, Sillitoe (a policeman) and his political master, Attlee (a Socialist). All the time, the real enemy, Stalin, learned more about VENONA (from Philby, and the American spy, William Weisband, uncovered in 1950) than either Truman or Attlee.

The research is never over. While I am relatively happy that my explanation in this piece is as solid as possible, given the sources available, further questions remain to be answered: For example:

When did White seriously begin to suspect Philby? In 1945? In 1947? In 1949?

Was there anything devious in Philby’s posting to Washington in 1949?

Did Menzies apply pressure on White to remain silent between 1945 and 1951?

Was there any outside political pressure on White & Reilly?

Was the Embassy leakage investigation extenuated for reasons other than embarrassment?

How much did Liddell tell Blunt?

Why was Menzies so tacit in the whole project?

Why did Reilly feel he had to lie so poorly?

Did Eastcote truly delay or conceal some of the VENONA decipherments?

Readers may think of others. Please let me know.

And lastly, what historiographical lessons can be learned from this? They are familiar.

  1. Luminaries will say anything to protect their legacy if they believe the archival record will not be released. Do not trust interviews of ‘The Great and the Good’ for historical exactitude.
  2. You cannot rely on authorised histories. Their sweep is to great, their sources too random, and they are works of public relations.
  3. Too many accounts pluck indiscriminately from semi-reliable sources, and lack a research methodology, as if an accurate story can be enticed from a volume of facts both reliable and unreliable, or from a succession of interviews with persons loosely connected with the drama.
  4. A methodology is thus essential, containing a rigorous chronology, knowledge of the roles, ambitions and objectives of the participants, and the background in which they worked. The historian has continually to ask: Why should we trust certain sources? What does redacted information in the archive tell us? How can conflicts in the record be resolved? Why would a participant in the drama want to make such falsifiable claims?

Sources Used

I list the following, in a hierarchy of those most reliable downwards.

Level One comprises mostly official archives. The series KV 6/140-145 at the National Archives at Kew is the primary source, even though it is selective and has been redacted. Publicly available CIA & FBI records have been used, although they are likewise often heavily redacted. I am grateful to an anonymous colleague for showing me excerpts from the Cleveland Cram archive. KGB records should always be viewed with some suspicion, but the Mitrokhin Archive contains some items that most critics have judged reliable. The VENONA transcripts are trustworthy (despite what some leftist apologists have claimed in recent years). Guy Liddell’s Diaries have also been a useful source, as they mostly bear the aroma of immediacy, but they have also been heavily redacted in places, and Liddell was not above inserting the occasional deceptive entry.

Level Two consists mostly of serious, primarily academic, histories. It must be remembered that all of these were published before much of the relevant archival material was released. They are thus highly reliant on what little ‘authorised’ history had been published, on other secondary sources, on the press, sometimes on controlled access to archives, on testimonies from participants through interviews, even on leaked documents. They are characterised (mostly) by a seriousness and objectivity of approach, with some governing methodology apparent, but not always a sound approach to the resolution of conflicts in evidence. (If you challenge interviewees too closely, they will cut off the oxygen from you.) Andrew Boyle’s Climate of Treason (1979) clearly broke new ground. Robert J. Lamphere’s FBI-KGB War (1986) adds some well-supported facts, although the author is very loose on dates. Anthony Glees’s Secrets of the Service (1987) offers a painstaking analysis of the affair, but unfortunately is too trusting of the evidence of Reilly, Makins and White. John Costello’s Mask of Treachery (1988) is a compendious but more journalistic volume, suffering from the author’s apparent desire to cram every ‘fact’ he could find about the case in the hope that a consistent story would emerge from the exercise. Verne Newton’s Cambridge Spies (1991) provides a thorough US-centric view of the spies’ activity, although it uses some dubious sources a little too indiscriminately.  The accounts of VENONA are generally solid: the official publication VENONA: Soviet Espionage and the American Response 1939-1957 (1996), edited by Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, Nigel West’s VENONA: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War (1999), John Earl Haynes’ & Harvey Klehr’s VENONA: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (1999), and Herbert Romerstein’s and Eric Breindel’s VENONA Secrets (2001), but they are all weak on the exact process of message collection and decryption, and contain errors.

Level Three displays a broad range of more specialised works, biographies mainly, by such as (but not restricted to) Miranda Carter, Jennifer Rees, Andrew Lownie, Michael Holzman, Ben Macintyre, Stewart Purvis and Jeff Hulbert, Barrie Penrose and Simon Freeman, and Roland Phillips. They all bring something to the table, but are for the sake of this exercise a little too narrowly focussed, or are acts of homage, or rely too much on oral evidence and memoir. I would place in this category the very readable works of Chapman Pincher, who rewards his readers with some tireless excavation of ‘facts’, but provides no sources, is too easily impressed by insiders who may be stringing him a line, and whose methodology is flawed by his objective of having all evidence point to Roger Hollis as a traitor. Nigel West’s Molehunt is also useful, but has been carelessly put together, and requires caution. Anthony Cave-Brown’s Treason in the Blood (1984) has some valuable material, but is undisciplined, as is his biography of Stewart Menzies, “C” (1987), which throws out some will-o’-the-wisp stories about Philby in the course of reporting interviews the author arranged with contemporaries.

Level Four includes a number of unreliable works that need to be listed, since they are so frequently cited by books in Categories 2, 3 and 5. The comparison of misleading stories appearing in memoirs with new archival sources does however often result in new syntheses. David Martin’s Wilderness of Mirrors (1980) is perhaps the most dangerous because it has been so widely quoted, a journalistic creation lacking sources. I have covered S. J. Hamrick’s fascinating but irresponsible Deceiving the Deceivers (2004) in my text. Kim Philby’s My Silent War (1968) needs to be approached with great scepticism, as do most books about Philby, including Patrick Seale’s and Maureen McConville’s Philby: The Long Road to Moscow (1973), a work completely devoid of sources but apparently reflecting a belief that a plausible story could be woven from interviews with about one hundred-and-fifty persons, and The Philby Conspiracy (1968) by Bruce Page, David Leitch and Phillip Knightley. The biography of Dick White, The Perfect English Spy (1995), by Tom Bower, is a classic example of how a prominent intelligence officer manipulated the media and distorted the truth. Goronwy Rees’s memoir, A Chapter of Accidents (1972) is highly unreliable. Dozens of works, by authors from such as Richard Deacon to Yuri Modin, could be included in this category.

Level Five includes the official or authorised histories. In normal circumstances such would at least appear in Category 2, but for this subject, they add nothing, and, moreover, frequently cite items from Level Four for their authority. Keith Jeffery’s Secret History of MI6 (2010) stops in 1949. Christopher Andrew’s Defend the Realm (2009), the authorised history of MI5, has solid coverage of VENONA in general, but is weak on the Burgess and Maclean case, and uses Wilderness of Mirrors as a source. No authorised history of the FBI exists, but John Ranelagh’s The Agency (1986), which comes closest, shows the same defects as Andrew.

Lastly, as part of my background reading for this project, I read Robert Littell’s The Company (2002), a semi-fictional account of the life of the CIA. It is an epic work in many ways (900 pages), a complement perhaps to Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, and a real page-turner. It has the disquieting feature, however, of mixing in historical figures (e.g. Kim Philby, James Angleton, Richard Helms, J. F. Kennedy) with invented characters, which may give the work some measure of authenticity, but is bound to lead to disillusion among the cognoscenti. The figure of William Harvey of the CIA, who fulfils a minor, but very important, role in the story of Dick White’s deception, is thinly masked by Littell’s giving him the name of Harvey Torriti. The reason for this is, I think, simple. The author needed his hero to be alive when Communism collapsed (the real Harvey died in 1976), and he also wanted to describe Torriti’s experience in dealing with a botched defection in Germany – which he ascribed to Philby’s mischief – by the time he wrote his report to Bedell Smith condemning the British traitor. In real life, however, Harvey was not sent to Germany until after the 1951 incident. The facts would have impaired a good story.

This month’s Commonplace entries can be found here.

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The Mystery of the Undetected Radios (Part 5)

News update: A few weeks ago, one of my on-line research colleagues contacted me on some topic, adding incidentally: “You probably know that Ursula Beurton [i.e. SONIA] is the title of Ben Macintyre’s next book.” Well, I did not know that, but was able to verify the information at https://www.thebookseller.com/news/macintyre-reveals-20th-centurys-greatest-woman-spy-viking-979556. I thought it appropriate and timely to record the fact that I had tried to contact Macintyre towards the end of last year, sending the following message to his agent at Penguin/Random House, and asking her to forward it to the author:

“Dear Mr Macintyre, 

I have just finished reading ‘The Spy and the Traitor’, which I enjoyed as much as your previous books on espionage and sabotage (all of which I own). 

I wondered whether you were searching around for a topic for your next project. If you consider that extra-judicial execution of a German spy by the British authorities in World War II might be an attention-getting subject, may I suggest that you look at my latest monthly blog at www.coldspur.com? This is a fascinating case that has not received the attention it merits. Alternatively, you might want to pursue a highly credible explanation for the failure by Britain’s Radio Security Service to detect Soviet agent SONIA’s radio transmissions a little later on. The full saga can be seen at http://www.coldspur.com/sonias-radio/.

I am a serious historian. My book ‘Misdefending the Realm’, about the communist subversion of Britain’s security during the time of the Nazi-Soviet pact, published a year ago, was based on my doctoral thesis at the University of Buckingham. I clearly have some copyright interest in what I have written on my website, but I am keen to encourage an author like you to pick up my research, and collaborate with me on broader publication. 

I thank you for your time, and look forward to hearing from you. 

Sincerely,

Antony Percy (Southport, NC)”

I did not receive the favour of a reply, not even an acknowledgment, but that is sadly not an unusual experience. I am intrigued to know what secret sources Mr. Macintyre has been able to lay his hands on, but I would have thought that ‘Sonia’s Radio’, and ‘Sonia and the Quebec Agreement’ would have provided him with some valuable research fodder. After all, if he came up with similar conclusions to mine, that would be quite noteworthy. On the other hand, if he did not, it would mean that he had missed an opportunity. Just sayin’. (And of course he may come up with some spectacular evidence that counters everything I have written.)

So I thought I should lay this marker on the ground, just in case.

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The Mystery of the Undetected Radios, Part 5

“S.I.S. foresee no difficulties in the provision of W/T sets on the scale we understand the S.O.2. require, but the extension of this form of communication will raise demands for an increase in the W/T frequencies and the number of skilled wireless operators allotted to the S.I.S., or to S.O.2. if an independent organisation is set up under their direction. As the whole plan will depend on successful communications, and their establishment must necessarily form a commitment in the early stages, we feel that favourable consideration should be given to these demands.” (from ‘Special Operations Executive’, Report by the Joint Planning Staff, 9 August 1941)

The previous chapter in this saga concluded with an analysis of the military situation in Europe of June 1941. Hitler’s war machine had recently invaded the Soviet Union, prompting the latter’s agents back in Germany to be urgently re-activated by Moscow Centre. In Britain, the Radio Security Service had found its permanent home within SIS, and David Petrie, the new Director-General of MI5, was implementing the organisation he had envisioned before he accepted the job, which allowed B Division to concentrate exclusively on anti-Axis counter-espionage and counter-sabotage activity. The Nazi invasion of Great Britain had been (temporarily) called off, but the Abwehr believed it maintained a few residual spies from the Lena operation in place, to keep it informed of morale, weather conditions, and military plans. A year after its foundation, the Special Operations Executive was still groping its way in search of an effective and secure model for building a sabotage network in Nazi-occupied Europe. The acquisition of new territories brought more flexible and more powerful wireless detection capabilities to the Reich’s defence and intelligence organisations, but presented fresh challenges in scope, geography, communications and the management of hostile populations.

France – Occupied Zone & Free Zone

I had originally intended, in this installment, to take the story up to the end of 1943, but the volume of material forced me to be more conservative. Instead, this chapter covers the period up to the autumn of 1942 – a similarly critical turning-point in the conduct of the war. Fortunes for the Allies were probably at their lowest in 1942. Even though the USA had now joined the conflict, Great Britain was being battered on all fronts, and the Soviet Union was trying desperately to repel the Nazi advance. Stalin and his minions were applying pressure on the UK and the USA to open a ‘Second Front’, yet Churchill did not impress upon the dictator the impossibility of launching a successful invasion of Europe so soon. Nevertheless, plans were already underway for the deception campaign deemed necessary for the eventual assault on the European mainland, and the unit responsible, the London Controlling Section, acquired new leadership. The XX Committee nursed some doubts: whether their most established agent, TATE, was trusted by the Abwehr, and whether their opponents saw through the whole deception exercise. Attempts to cooperate with the Soviets on wireless and cypher matters (some officers hoped that the Soviets would share with them their codes, and thus eliminate decryption needs!) also started to break down at the end of 1942.

Meanwhile, the Abwehr, now joined by the Gestapo, was starting to mop up the Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra), the spy network controlled by the Soviets. Schulze-Boysen was arrested on August 30, 1942, and Germany had by then started to apply to the operations of SOE and SIS what it had learned in radio detection and infiltration of Soviet enemy cells. The invasion of North Africa prompted Germany, in November 1942, to take over control of Vichy France, putting a severe dent in the efforts of French resistance movements that had been operating with relative freedom there. In Britain, the Soviet Union’s spies were able to take advantage of the pusillanimity displayed by British politicians, anxious not to upset Stalin. SONIA was active, and had been joined by her husband: Fuchs had recently adopted British citizenship. Despite Petrie’s concerns, the communist spy Oliver Green was not prosecuted. And the RSS appeared to ignore many illicit wireless transmissions that were being made from British soil.

I should make clear that it is not my intention to provide a comprehensive summary of all aspects of these resistance movements, and the various attempts at espionage and sabotage. My goal has been to show patterns of wireless usage among the various agencies, the techniques that led to both success and failure, and reveal how the advances in expertise and technology in radio-detection and location-finding contributed to the fortunes of the secret radio-operators, and thus to the outcome of the war.

Countering the Red Orchestra

Plans for increased wireless activity from Soviet spies in Germany had begun before Barbarossa. At the beginning of May 1941, for example, Berlin station had asked for more, and improved, radio-sets for the Harnack group. Thus it was only a few days after Barbarossa, on June 26, that German monitoring-stations intercepted the first of the transmissions from the network that the Nazis would come to call the ‘Rote Kapelle’. It was the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, in its interception station at Cranz, that picked up the callsign ‘KLK from PTX’. As Heinz Höhne wrote, in Codeword Direktor: “By 8 July 1941 the intercept service had seventy-eight Comintern transmitters on its books and by October there were a further ten. (By July 1942 there were 325 clandestine Soviet sets working in German-occupied Europe, the majority admittedly on the Eastern Front.)”

Organisation of German Radio Counterintelligence (Praun)

The Funkabwehr (Wireless Defence, which was not subordinate to the Abwehr) had been approved by Hitler as the authority for radio monitoring in June 1941. Competing intelligence groups had tried to take responsibility for the interception of illicit broadcasting, but both the Abwehr and the Ordnungspolizei (the Orpo, or regular police) had failed. The Orpo, which at the start of the war was responsible for locating unlicensed transmitters, had tried to develop its own interception capabilities, and, after setting up in Norway and the Netherlands, extended its reach into France, Poland and Russia, hoping to be able to work independently.  Yet it was overwhelmed by sheer volumes. The Funkabwehr was stronger, bolstered by the transfer of expertise and men from the army interception service, with five companies formed to cover Europe from Norway to the Balkans. Yet, at this stage, the equipment used by the Funkabwehr was inferior to, say, that of the Luftwaffe. It possessed only short-range direction-finders, and its mobile units were too bulky and obvious. It might have come as a surprise to the British authorities (who, it will be remembered, were at the time concerned that transmissions from their double-agents might be accurately located by the Abwehr) to learn that the FuIII (the shortened version of the very Teutonic name for the radio section, OKW/WNV/FuIII) as late as September was still trying to establish whether the transmitter with the PTX callsign was working in North Germany, Belgium, Holland or northern France – that is an area as large as England itself.

In fact FuIII discovered, through ground-wave detection,  three illicit transmitters on its doorstep, in Berlin, and by October 1941 was ready to pounce. The operation was bungled, however, and an observer was able to warn Schulz-Boysen of the impending raid, after which the transmitters (who had deployed solid security practices) were shut down on October 22, and not reactivated until February 1942. FuIII had thus to return its attention to PTX, and, with improved direction-finding techniques, was soon confident that its operator was working in Belgium, probably in Bruges. FuIII then engaged the assistance of the local Abwehr office. A few weeks later, on November 17, Berlin confidently informed the local team that Brussels was now the source. Captain Piepe flew over the city with direction-finding equipment, and aided by improved short-range detection gear (as well as by disastrously long broadcasts by the radio operators), a successful raid was conducted on the night of December 13/14. The agent KENT’s set had been disabled, and the chief, Trepper, had to flee to France.

German Direction-Finding Operation (Praun)

The Rote Kapelle in Germany was eventually mopped up quite speedily. Hitler, provoked by the insult of hostile wireless operators continuing to transmit, ordered its destruction in early 1942, and brought the Gestapo in to assist. The exercise was a rare example of the German intelligence agencies cooperating. As Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote in his report on the Abwehr: “Liaison at the centre for the most part consisted of little more than the transmission of reports between departments, though some large-scale cases, such as the Rote Kapelle, appear to have been centrally controlled by co-operation between different organisations.” The counter-espionage operation was thus aided by the secret police’s merciless interrogation and torture of agents they had arrested, as well as by some absurdly irresponsible behavior by the wireless operators. The papers seized in Brussels had given Germany’s decryption agency insights into the codes used, and this experience was parlayed into more aggressive pursuit of the members of the network in 1942. Yet as early as October 10, 1941, a fateful message had been sent from Brussels that revealed the addresses of the major spies in Berlin, Schulze-Boysen, Harnack and Kuckhoff, and when that message was deciphered in July 1942, it allowed the traitors to be tracked down quickly, and eventually executed.

For some time more, the Rote Kapelle operated outside the boundaries of Germany: the Brussels cell was effectively moved to Paris, while the unit in Switzerland, first detected in September 1942, would remain a thorn in the Funkabwehr’s flesh until late in 1943. The Abwehr learned, however, several lessons from the successful exercise in Brussels and Berlin. More accurate long-range direction-finding was necessary, but it would always have to be complemented by more discrete, miniaturised, and concealable local equipment. Gaining access to codebooks, and torturing spies to betray secrets, made up for slow and lengthy decryption capabilities. Given the rivalries that were endemic to German intelligence, a degree of cooperation between the Gestapo, the Orpo, and the Abwehr (who all had different agendas) turned out to be an important contributor to success. Moreover, the experiences that shortly followed in the Netherlands and Belgium proved that an efficient machine could, with some patience, ‘turn’ radio networks into an efficient vehicle for arresting further agents before they even started broadcasting. The improved techniques in location-finding would eventually, some time in 1943, be consolidated in the Gestapo’s headquarters on the Avenue Foch in Paris.

The Abwehr and the ‘Englandspiel’

The Abwehr was then able to apply some its lessons learned to confounding the attempts of the SOE to install sabotage agents into Nazi-occupied Europe. The Netherlands was one of the busiest countries, and, from the German standpoint, had one if its most ingenious teams working on the problem of illicit wireless. With its territory expanded, the RSHA was able to deploy more accurate direction-finding techniques, and Section IX of the Abwehr in the Netherlands had been informed, in the summer of 1941, of what sounded like classical agent activity (call-signs, irregular times of communications, short traffic-periods, etc.) in the country, in a triangle with a base of about twelve miles between Utrecht and Amersfoort. Another transmitter was indicated in an equilateral triangle of about twenty miles between Gouda, Delft and Noordwijk. An intense campaign of close-range tracking was initiated.

Issues of territorial ownership had to be resolved, however. If the groups responsible were working independently of London, it would fall to the Orpo (which, predictably, had its own Radio Observation Office, known as FuB) to investigate and prosecute. In the Abwehr’s mind, the Orpo would enter the project bull-headedly, quick to trumpet its success and punish the offenders: Himmler’s Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei, or Sipo), of which the secret police, the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo), was a part, alongside the criminal police (Kriminalpolizei, or Kripo), would be even more aggressive. The Abwehr, on the other hand, had longer-term goals of undermining the network, learning more, and inveigling further indiscretions. Hermann Giskes of the Abwehr had been able to gain the cooperation of the Orpo and the Sipo, and was then informed that the Funkabwehr had been able to prove that the stations were communicating with contacts in England. (A few months later, the station communicating with PTX had been localised to ‘North of London’ – still not a very precise estimate.)

The transmitter with the callsign UBX was caught red-handed by the Sipo, but the opportunity to play the agent back dissolved, as Sipo insisted on performing the interrogation, and the codes used turned out to be hard to crack. Another failure occurred in the Hague, where the local direction-finder, disguised as a meter-reader, was too obvious. Even though the operator with callsign TBO was localised to a single block of flats, the operator got away. These failures, and the corresponding decline in illicit transmissions, meant that the Wehrmacht direction-finding detachment was withdrawn from the Netherlands at the end of September, showing that, at this time, such units were something of a luxury that had to be deployed sparsely. Yet, early in 1942 the FuB had discovered a new transmitter with the call-sign RLS, located only as ‘somewhere in South Holland’. Close-range direction-finding was able to ‘pinpoint’ (a perhaps overused term in this sphere of discourse) to a modern block of flats in the Farhenheitsstraat in the Hague. The Sipo was able to conduct a successful raid on March 6, and haul in one Lauwers, who was to play a major role in allowing the Germans to run the SOE network in the famed ‘Englandspiel’, by which the Abwehr controlled almost all the SOE’s network in the Netherlands..

When Giskes wrote his book about the operation (London Calling North Pole), he described how incompetent and poorly trained the SOE wireless operators had been. “Without doubt, lack of experience and gullibility played an important part on the other side. The agents were really amateurs, despite their training in England, and they had no opportunity to work up through practice to the standard required for their immensely difficult task.” Yet the main fault lay with their contacts in England, who overlooked the omission of security signals that would have indicated that the agents were not operating under duress. Giskes rightly criticised the total radio organisation of British Intelligence for its sloppy approach to security, which allowed a small team of Orpo men to hoodwink the Baker Street setup, going on to write: “The carelessness of the enemy is illustrated by the fact that more than fourteen different radio links were established with London for longer or shorter periods during the Nordpol operation, and these fourteen were operated by six ORPO men!” He also showed that both parties were in total ignorance of the enemy’s direction-finding techniques, grossly overestimating the comparative capability of the other. Giskes said that the Abwehr assumed that the British would be taking bearings on the wireless locations of their agents, just as B1a in MI5 took pains to ensure that agents like TATE did actually transmit from where they were supposed to be.

The successful deception would carry on until March 1944, when Giskes recommended to the RSHA of putting a stop to it, sending a message of disdain and triumph to the British when he did so. The whole exercise was a coup for the Germans, and a tactical disaster for the British. Certainly, Giskes and his team showed as much flair and imagination as the members of the Double-Cross operation, and the British SOE Netherlands group was woefully naïve and gullible about what was going on (and later tried to cover up its mistakes). Yet the impact on the war’s outcome was meagre: many gallant lives were lost (the Germans executed most of the wireless operators, despite the Gestapo making promises to Giskes to the contrary), but sabotage in the Netherlands was not a critical component of the conflict, while deception of Allied invasion plans most assuredly was.

I shall study the infrastructure that the Funkabwehr supposedly deployed from the Gestapo headquarters in Paris in the next instalment. It represents an impressive achievement – if it can be entirely believed. Hugh Trevor-Roper, who wrote a very informative account of the detection and location methods deployed by the Orpo and the Funkabwehr, which can be seen in the HW 34/2 folder at Kew, encouraged a certain degree of caution. After describing the technical means by which a transmitting station could be precisely located within half an hour, he went on to write: “The greater amount and reliability of information which has become available since the end of the war has shown that the picture presented by these reports was very far from accurate. In point of fact there is no real evidence that the size of the Funkabwehr was in any way remarkable nor that it possessed greater technical efficiency than might have been expected. This throws an interesting light on the origin of these reports which came from apparently quite distinct sources but which were yet mutually confirmatory. In the light of this it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that they were the result of exaggerated information deliberately put out by the German authorities to discourage the Allies from the use of illicit wireless. In this case they may in effect have been a form of preventive weapons used by the Funkabwehr itself whose effectiveness may have been feared by its own chiefs or by other security services to be very different from what these reports suggested.” That judgment would echo a familiar theme – that the Germans exaggerated their direction-finding abilities in order to deter operators and instill fear.

German Radio Counterintelligence Operations (Praun)

Lastly, the Germans admitted that ‘cooperation’ was a technique forced upon them by confused organizational structure. In his report on German Radio Intelligence given to the Americans in March 1950, General Praun wrote that this structure: “ . . .  in which the authority of the counterintelligence agencies, the civilian police, the Central Office of National Security, and the like overlapped constantly –  –  led to a waste of effort and constant jurisdictional conflicts. As a result many an enemy radio agent was able to escape, although his whereabouts had been definitely established by D/F.”  Maybe there is an element of buck-passing in General Praun’s account, but the reputation for ruthless efficiency over wireless matters enjoyed by the Nazi counter-intelligence machine received another buffeting.

SOE Strikes for Independence

In the previous instalment, in which I concentrated on SOE in France, I showed how histories of SOE have tended to overstate the efficiencies of Nazi radio-detection and location-finding techniques in the first couple of years of its existence, as an honourable but incorrect method of covering up its own operational failures, primarily in the area of training and security. Thus the experience in the Netherlands constitutes a more useful representation of how the Germans made advances in their defensive techniques, taking advantage of geography (a smaller, adjacent area, with flatter terrain, which made concealment difficult, and radio-wave distortion less likely). The Netherlands was also a crowded theatre in terms of the overall conduct of the war: the obvious sea-based entry towards Germany from the British Isles, and the territory that bombers on their way to the German heartland had to cross. For those two reasons it was stoutly defended. I now turn to analyzing the Allied perspective of SOE’s accomplishments in the Low Countries.

Whereas British Intelligence was able to compose (primarily through interpretation of ULTRA intercepts) a highly accurate picture of the organisation of their Nazi counterparts – insights that amazed officers interrogated after the war – the Germans had only a hazy idea of the structure of their adversaries’ intelligence units. M.R.D. Foot has written about how the SS and the Abwehr did not understand the distinctions between SOE and SIS, were slow to conclude that they had separate missions (sabotage and intelligence-gathering, respectively), and even thought that the SAS was a uniformed wing of SOE. Yet SIS and SOE were at daggers drawn, in a rivalry that matched any of the internecine battles of the Nazi hierarchies. From the outset, Stewart Menzies, the head of SIS, had regarded SOE, set up under the civilian control of Hugh Dalton, as an irresponsible upstart unit whose destructive sabotage activities would interfere with SIS’s mission of intelligence-gathering. While jealously protecting his ULTRA information sources, since the Government Code and Cypher School reported to him, Menzies had also been given control of RSS, and had established a wireless section (Section VIII) under Richard Gambier-Parry.

The problem was that SOE was scorned by SIS, interfered with by the Foreign Office, and excluded from the military planning mechanism in the War Office, all of which led Frank Nelson to threaten to resign in November 1941. Hugh Dalton does not even mention SIS or Menzies in his diaries (primarily for reasons of secrecy), but they were a thorn in his flesh, and it was not until after Dalton was relieved of his post in February 1942 that SOE was able to take better control over its own communications. For SOE had to go begging, not only for airplanes that it had to plead for against the priorities of the Air Ministry, but also for wireless equipment and ciphers. As Foot wrote: “ . . . all SOE’s W/T equipment and ciphers were handed out by SIS, of which the home station handled all the traffic – with no increase in the cipher staff. This naturally caused delays, which in turn caused friction.” Thus the dry, bureaucratic minute with which I introduced this segment does not do justice to the struggle that evolved between SOE and SIS. SOE’s requirements had by far surpassed what SIS could provide. The matter would not be resolved until June 1942. Professor Hinsley, who in Volume 2 of his History of British Intelligence in World War II overall revealed a rather hazy and misleading understanding of how MI8 morphed into RSS, recorded how SOE, in March 1942, ‘acquired its own codes and wireless organisations and no longer depended on those of the SIS’.

Moreover, Menzies, and his sidekick Dansey controlled the information coming back from SOE agents. Claude Dansey – – an even more committed enemy of SOE than Menzies – was the latter’s liaison at Baker Street, the headquarters of the SOE, and was responsible for ensuring that, under an agreement made as early as September 15, 1940, any intelligence gathered by SOE agents had to be passed to Menzies even before SOE officers and managers had a chance to see it. (I was intrigued to read in the London Review of Books, May 9, 2019, an extract from an unpublished memoir by Kenneth Cohen, shared by his son, in which Cohen, who had worked for Dansey in the highly clandestine ‘Z’ unit, reported that ‘the SIS organisation was at its worst, partly because it made no serious attempt to pool varied intelligence sources on France: diplomatic (even Vichy); Free French; SOE, and our own counter-espionage were all operating uncoordinated.’ Neglect of SOE was no surprise, but Menzies was clearly in love with ULTRA, and derived his power and prestige from his role as communicator to Churchill of the output of the project.)

Thus the setbacks which SOE experienced in the Low Countries have to be reviewed in the light of the challenges imposed upon them by SIS. Several mishaps were reported in the attempts to land agents in the Netherlands in the summer of 1941. Radio equipment frequently failed, as it had been wired improperly (or so was the claim by SOE alumni). A lone agent, J. J. Zomer, was parachuted in in mid-June, and the first successful pair (Homburg and Sporre) arrived by the same means on September 7, which time happened to coincide with an increase in sabotage, probably caused by Dutch communists who had now changed sides. In any case, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, who had been appointed Reichskommissar over the Netherlands in May 1940, was ordered to clamp down. As Giskes reported in detail, none of the agents survived long undetected. Zomer was discovered near Utrecht on August 31, by direction-finding equipment: his capture turned out to be a colossal liability, as ‘the text of about a hundred messages that he had exchanged with London since his arrival in mid-June, both in cipher and in clear’ (Foot), was captured with him. On the night of November 7/8, Taconis and Lauwers were sent into Holland to find out what had happened to Homburg and Sporre. Lauwers’s set would not work, and he had to get it repaired by a student. It was not until early January that Lauwers was able to make his first transmission, a delay in operation that some at Baker Street thought suspicious, only this time his silence had been an accident.

By now, the Abwehr knew about planned aircraft arrivals, with stores or further agents. Lauwers was arrested on March 6, and was turned just quickly enough to meet his transmission schedule. When a junior employee in N Section of SOE pointed out that Lauwers’s next message did not contain any security checks, he was told ‘not to worry about trivia, at the start of great events’. Foot indicates that security checks were regarded as an annoying fad of Menzies’s, but in this case, Gambier-Parry and his team were correct. It took a long while for Baker Street to come to the conclusion that its network had been suborned: since running a successful agent was what defined the career of the home officers, they were reluctant (as were the Abwehr espionage officers) to believe the evidence they had been trained to suspect. At the end of April, Gubbins, responsible for operations, expressed to Hambro the uncertainty felt by the Dutch authorities about which groups in the Netherlands should be regarded as intact. Yet the network was not closed down, and further agents were needlessly sacrificed.

SOE was undone more by its own incompetence in Belgium: it seemed to experience special trouble in recruiting appropriate persons. If no subversion of the networks on the lines of the Dutch fiasco occurred, enough missteps were made for ‘T’ Section of SOE effectively to shoot itself in the foot. Parachute drops started in May 1941, but the navigator on the first run forgot to press the switch to release the container of the wireless, with the result that it actually landed in Germany. Training was frequently rushed. The wireless operator Leblicq died horribly after making a bad exit from a plane. Agents were frequently dropped miles beyond their designated dropping-zone. One Courtin foolishly strung up his set immediately he had booked himself into a hotel: the casual curiosity of the local police resulted in his aerial being spotted, and his wireless set discovered under his jacket. (That is at least an indication that less clumsy and bulky apparatus was in use at the time.) Another, called Campion, started transmitting on December 1, but he was quickly captured, and his set turned, allowing the Germans to confirm new arrivals, and be waiting for them. Agents frequently fell out with their wireless operators, whom they regarded as feckless, careless or idle. One named van Impe plugged his AC-adapted set into a DC socket, and burned it out. Brion and van Horen stayed on the air for over an hour, and were caught by direction-finding: Van Horen had to watch while an Orpo sergeant played his set back. Fonck always transmitted from the same place – his mother’s home, and was caught on May 2, 1942. In June 1942, ‘Lynx’ could not make his wireless work.

Such maladroitness was compounded by the nervousness of the local population. Belgium was a small country, and it was difficult to hide. It was perhaps understandable that scared members of the population, doing all they could to survive the war, brought such illicit goings-on to the attention of the authorities. Thus Foot’s conclusion is not wholly surprising: “London normally put these arrests of wireless operators down to efficient German direction-finding. D/F was in fact often the cause; but so was careless talk, and so sometimes – as Campion’s example shows – was treachery. It suited the Germans to have the British believing in D/F, rather than realizing how widespread were the Germans’ informers, conscious and unconscious, in resistance circles. One contemporary account put down denunciation as responsible for 98 per cent of the arrests in Belgium.” It was much more Secret Army than ‘Allo ‘Allo.

And I unashamedly quote Foot again, at length, with his final judgment on the Belgian operation.

“By late October 1942 T had dispatched forty-five agents to Belgium, of whom thirty-two had fallen into enemy hands, ten of them – including three killed in enemy action – on their dropping zones. Besides Leblicq, who had never landed, eighteen of these forty-five were wireless operators. Among these, Verhafen had returned safely, Vergucht had no set, and all the rest were already dead or in enemy hands: in most cases, unknown to T. It may help the reader to have these unhappy results set out in the table on the following page; which adds two relevant agents from DF and one from the NKVD to T’s tally.”

“The Germans were both ingenious and assiduous in playing back their captured sets; T’s war diary is full of imaginary tales of minor acts of sabotage, with a few major ones – undetectable from the air – thrown in; T dutifully reported all this to higher authorities, and it was generally understood in the secret world in Whitehall that Belgian resistance showed great promise. This was all illusion: T had so far achieved very little.” The sense of failure was crystallized in the fact that, in August 1942, SOE and the Belgian government-in-exile came to break off relations in a dispute over objectives.

The timing of Foot’s analysis (and what I reported in January) shows that SOE’s move to independence from SIS brought results only slowly, and that the lessons of security were not quickly learned by Gubbins himself. The switch occurred in June 1942, and SOE took control of wireless, as well as the deployment of codes and ciphers. It constructed its own sets, and developed a training centre at Thame Park in Oxfordshire. It established two transmitting-receiving statins at Grendon Underwood and Poundon, on the Oxfordshire-Buckinghamshire border. Later, Passy, of de Gaulle’s government-in-exile, was to claim that SOE professionalism in wireless operation greatly improved after this, but the service was still hindered by the abilities of those it could hire, and the struggle to complement solid, reliable and more concealable equipment with safe transmission practices.

SIS in Europe

While most of the attention in the media has focused on SOE, SIS had a valuable role to fill in providing intelligence from Nazi-occupied Europe. The networks had to be re-built almost from scratch, however, as the Venlo incident (whereby two SIS agents had been captured by the Germans, and identities of SIS networks betrayed), and the rapid overrun of European territories by the German war machine had left SIS without active agents or wireless capabilities to communicate back to the United Kingdom. The history of this attempt at reconstruction is choppy: much of it relies on individual testimonies that have frequently been romanticized to emphasise the heroic. Keith Jeffery, in The Secret History of MI6, provided some fragmented accounts of the challenges and successes, but there is no dedicated ‘authorised’ history of SIS espionage in Europe to draw on. Hinsley’s history reminds us that SOE was accused by SIS of recruiting some of its agents, and then invading its turf by using them to transmit intelligence when its mission was one of sabotage.

Claude Dansey’s Z organisation had moved to Switzerland at the outbreak of war, but the wireless set in Geneva could be used only for receiving messages, because of local regulations. Despite friction between SIS and the Dutch government-in-exile, SIS was able to send in fifteen agents into the Netherlands between June 1940 and the end of 1941, but eleven of these lost their lives. Operations in Belgium were a little more successful: Gambier-Parry learned a lesson from early mishaps that trying to train an agent with no signalling experience into reliable wireless practices was a lost cause. (He apparently did not pass this insight on to his dependent ‘colleagues’ in SOE; moreover, it was a hopelessly utopian principle, given the recruitment pool to which the subversive organisations had access.) Thus a successful network called ‘Cleveland’, later ‘Service Clarence’, under Dewé operated fruitfully until Dewé was captured and shot in 1944. ‘Cleveland’ was joined by three other networks at the end of 1941, although Jeffrey writes that their effectiveness as a source of intelligence was jeopardized by their use of a courier service for British service personnel trying to escape home via Spain. By 1942, however, with new, properly-trained wireless operators in place, the Air Ministry and the War Office were complimenting the SIS networks in Belgium for their valuable intelligence on German troop movements, night fighter organisations, and railway activity.

The theatre of France differed in many ways. What it offered in the way of terrain – large and spacious, offering scope for concealment – was offset by some intractable political problems, very representative of the fact that, while all the governments-in-exile were bitterly opposed to Hitler, they frequently nourished vastly differing visions of what should replace the Nazi tyranny when the war was won. France had a strong Communist contingent, which was muted during the Nazi-Soviet Pact, but took on new breakaway life after Barbarossa. SIS’s strongest contacts had been with men who continued to serve under the Vichy regime, a faction that was strongly opposed by de Gaulle’s Free Frenchmen. Thus, as Jeffery points out, the split was reflected within SIS where Wilfred (‘Biffy’ *) Dunderdale headed Section A.4, in contact with the Vichy French, reporting directly to Menzies, while Kenneth Cohen, who had served under Dansey in the Z Organisation in Paris, continued to report to Dansey as head of A.5, dealing with the Free French.

[* It is one thing for Wodehousian or Boy’s Own Paper -type nicknames, such as ‘Biffy’, ‘Jumbo’, ‘Bobbety’, ‘Buster’, and ‘Sinbad’, to be used by their colleagues, but a regrettable aspect of this mannerism is that all too frequently the sobriquets leak into the authorised histories, sometimes perpetuating a character belied by the evidence.]

The War Office applied pressure on SIS to infiltrate France immediately after the country’s fall. For the first year, efforts were tentative, and successes meagre. The professionalism of agents sent in was sub-standard, and attention to security was weak. Far too many persons knew the names of other agents in a network, and the networks were too big. One of the most prominent networks, Navarre’s ‘Kul’ organisation, had successfully penetrated much of Northern France, as well as the unoccupied zone, but Navarre was arrested in July 1941. The network was then taken over by Marie-Madelene Fourcade, as ‘Alliance’, and the latter has received a large amount of attention in histories and biographies. Cohen was able to report a high degree of success in many exploits, including the information gained by the Confrérie de Notre Dame about Saint-Bruneval that led to the successful raid on the radar station in February 1942, but the losses, especially of wireless operators, caused a constant drain on efforts to get information back to London.

Alliance was largely undone by the recruitment of one Blanchet who, immediately after Navarre’s incarceration, was sent out by London with a new type of transmitter, and a mission to train agents in its operation, and in cyphers. At about the same time, communist resistance fighters took up a more aggressive campaign of assassinating German officers, which provoked sterner measures on all in the movement. The Metro Barbès assassination of August 21, 1941 led to fierce reprisals culminating in the execution of forty-eight hostages at Chateaubriant on October 22. In turn, fierce debates took place between the governments-in-exile and the more radical leadership of SOE, again spotlighting the contrary aims of sabotage and intelligence-gathering.

SIS benefitted from some relaxation. In the spring of 1942, for example, the British Ambassador in Spain cancelled his ban on the deployment of clandestine wireless sets. SIS thus continued with its mission, but in much of France and the Low Countries the atmosphere had been contaminated by carelessness and civilian fear. For a while, a burst of productivity allowed reports to be sent to London from six French cities, but then disasters started to occur. Agents in Pau were betrayed by the head of Alliance in the Dordogne, who had been having an affair with the daughter of a policeman. Blanchet turned out to be a Nazi informer: he was eventually executed by Alliance officers in November 1942. David Stafford informs us of another major disaster: “In November 1942 the names of 200 of its [Carte’s] important members fell into the hands of the Abwehr when a courier fell asleep on a train and a German agent walked off with his briefcase . . .” While the intensity of requests from London for information increased every week, the networks were becoming under more and more stress.

A significant fact about this period is that radio direction-finding, at least until the summer of 1942, did not play a large role in the dissolution of the networks, which were undermined by traitors and poor security procedures. Yet the Nazi RSHA was impatient at the progress that the Abwehr had been making in eliminating all illicit wireless activity. On April 18, 1942, the ardent pro-Nazi Pierre Laval became head of the Vichy government, and collaborated in a much harsher policy. Laval gave his approval for the SS to transport into the South nearly three hundred agents from the SS and the Abwehr, accompanied by a fleet of cars and vans with the latest direction-finding equipment. Alliance tried to adapt by giving instructions to operators to move around more, and restrict their broadcasts, but the attempt was largely futile. On November 11, the so-called ‘Free Zone’ was invaded by several divisions of the Wehrmacht: the period of intense and accurate surveillance, so familiar from the war movies, started at this time. As Hinsley records:  “  . . .operation Torch led to a further setback for the SIS by precipitating the German occupation of Vichy France, where its own and Polish and the Free French networks suffered heavy casualties and widespread arrests, and Bertrand [who had developed productive connections both in Vichy and Paris] forced to retreat to the Italian-occupied zone in the south, lost most of his remaining contacts.”

The Double-Cross Operation

Back in Great Britain, as the threat of imminent invasion wore off, MI5 started to prepare its double-agents for the inevitable deception operation that would be required when Allied forces would cross the Channel into Europe. Some had had to be discarded, because their credible sell-by date had elapsed, or they had turned out to be untrustworthy (e.g. Reysen (GOOSE), ter Braak, Caroli (SUMMER), and Owens (SNOW) – all incarcerated or dead. TATE (Wulf Schmidt) appeared to have the most potential, but he had to be given a credible cover-story to explain his survival. While the investments that MI5 made in his equipment eventually provided him with a reliable transmitting capability, the need for him to find permanent employment put restrictions on his mobility, and he was thus prevented from answering much of the questionnaires sent to him by his handlers. But first, his ability to maintain reliable communications with the Abwehr had to be developed.

Coverage of Great Britain by German agents (from KV 3/77)
Guide to German agent activity – October 1940 (from KV 3/77)

TATE experienced an extensive number of teething-problems when his communications were tested out in the latter half of 1941. He had been given frequencies that were too close to a commercial station, and thus needed an alternative crystal. But when Karel Richter flew in with a replacement, in May 1941, Reed of B1A later discovered that it would not work on TATE’s apparatus. His transmitter was unstable, his receiver was too weak; modifications had to be made to his aerial. His handlers failed to pick up messages on his alternative wavelength (which made MI5 question how efficient the German equivalent of the RSS was). He was having problems with corroded parts, but received poor technical advice from the Germans on replacements. The apparatus was too large and conspicuous, and thus could not be moved around the country easily.

The experiments and tinkering went on into March 1942, when it appears that MI5 had almost given up. RSS was constantly monitoring TATE’s attempts to make contact (and the responses from the Abwehr). One irony from this exercise was the arrived conclusion that any double-agent working in the UK would be at great risk from direction-finding. As Reed wrote on March 16, 1942: “It is quite apparent from this that as soon as any agent here starts to send more than one or two messages at a time the possibility of his station being intercepted and located by means of direction finding is very great. TATE for example can usually get through his traffic in about ten or twelve minutes, but operating is spread over a period of an hour to an hour and a half, the danger to the agent is great . . .” Reed therefore made efforts to reduce the radiation output from the set, so that groundwave detection would be more difficult.

At last, in the spring of 1942, regular communications were achieved, and TATE’s wireless traffic was of high standard, and being picked up. RSS was able to monitor the fact that TATE’s organisational control was based in Hamburg, and that there were regular exchanges between Hamburg and Paris about his messages. The state of the art of remote direction-finding can be assessed by the fact that Reed was able to report that bearings indicated that the replying station was probably located ‘some twenty miles south of Paris’. By this time, however, TATE had been set up with a new legend: having been called up for military service, he had found notional employment on a farm, in September 1941. His apparatus had been in actuality been established in Letchmore Heath, east of Watford, which was presumably near enough to agricultural land to convince the German direction-finders, if they were indeed similarly acute in such calculations, that his new occupation was genuine. TATE’s opportunities for secret communications, however, were small, what with his long farming hours. He kept his transmissions short, and infrequent, just at the time that the pressures for increasing the information he could send were intensifying. But by the end of 1942, MI5 was confident that the enemy trusted its prime radio performer.

While the London Controlling Section, given the mission of masterminding the deception campaign, had been set up in April 1941, it was slow finding its feet, and acquiring the appropriate leadership. And MI5 struggled to expand its array of agents with wireless capabilities: it is astonishing how much information at this time was still relayed through invisible ink to poste restante letter boxes in neutral countries. John Moe (MUTT) and Tor Glad (JEFF) had arrived in April 1941, in Scotland, but their behavior was often troublesome, and JEFF had to be interned in September 1941. It was not until February1943 that MUTT received a new workable wireless set, parachuted in near Aberdeen. One agent who eventually turned out to be the most productive, Garby-Czerniawski (BRUTUS), arrived in Gibraltar in October 1942, after making a deal with the Nazis, who had arrested him, but he did not disclose his full story and hand over his wireless crystal until November 1942, so his story belongs to the next episode. Likewise, Natalie Sergueiew (TREASURE), who had even been trained in wireless operation and tradecraft in Berlin in 1942, and who would turn out to be a valuable (but temperamental) contributor, was in May 1942 taught how to use invisible ink. After moving to Madrid that summer, she had to remind her handler, in November 1942, that she had had wireless training, and needed to be equipped with a proper apparatus. Thus her story will appear in the next instalment, also. Dusko Popov (TRICYCLE) did not bring back a wireless set from Lisbon until September 1943.

Perhaps the most famous of the XX agents was Jan Pujol (GARBO), who will turn out to be the most controversial of all those who broadcast before D-Day, and whose wireless habits are critical to the story. Not only did he himself (or, more accurately, his MI5 wireless operator) provide some of the most important messages concerning invasion plans, but he also ‘recruited’ a complex network of imaginary sub-agents who were able to report from around the country. Yet GARBO’s ability to use wireless was also delayed: he had arrived in London in April 1942, and Reed had quickly acquired a transmitter for him and his network to use. Yet it was not until August of that year that his handlers in Lisbon gave him permission to use it, and in fact it took until March 1943 before his first transmission was sent.

On May 21, 1942, the Chiefs of Staff had approved John Bevan to replace Stanley as head of the London Controlling Section. He would turn out to be a great success: calm, forceful, inspiring, and insightful. Thus the pressures on MI5 and the XX Operation increased. At that time, MI5 confidently told the LCS that it controlled ‘80% of the German espionage network’, which was a surprising assertion, in many ways. How did it know who the remaining 20% were? And what efforts was it making to unveil them? Yet it was probably very sure that it controlled all the wireless agents, as it had an effective RSS on its side; indeed, Masterman wrote to the W Board in July, 1942, claiming all such agents were under his control. Yet some eerie fears set in. On August 8, one of Robertson’s officers, John Marriott, voiced the concern that the Germans might be suspicious of TATE. In his diary entry for August 13, Guy Liddell expressed a general scare that the Abwehr must realise that its ciphers had been broken, and its messages were being read. And how effectively was RSS operating in picking up illicit traffic?

The Radio Security Service

(I have already written quite deeply about the activities of RSS, and interception of illicit Soviet and Russian traffic  – the two not necessarily being synonymous, of course – in the 1941-1943 period,  at http://www.coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-ix//.  Rather than my repeating that analysis, I would suggest that readers might like to refresh their memories by inspecting the latter part of that instalment. I summarise here the findings, and add a few observations gained from research since, with the contributions of a former RSS interceptor, Bob King, especially poignant and relevant.)

Unlike the USA, which enforced a ban on any non-governmental wireless traffic when it entered the war on December 7, 1941, Great Britain had a more complicated set-up to deal with. It had granted permission to the Polish and Czechoslovakian governments-in-exile to have their own telecommunications facilities. Thus official bans became difficult to enforce, especially since SIS was trying to gain foreign government approval for its own clandestine wireless usage overseas (such as in Switzerland). Moreover, with the Soviet entry into the war, a more testing challenge reared its head, what with the Russians seeking permission for similar facilities – and if not gaining permission, going ahead anyway. In the United States, the FBI had its claws clipped on April 2, 1942, when it had to agree not to move against any clandestine transmitters without service approval, suggesting that some illicit operators were working under military control.

In Britain, the coyness of the early part of the war disappeared. The National Archives (HW 34/1) report that RSS in 1942 busily started monitoring the communications of the foreign governments-in-exile – ‘mainly [sic] Polish, Czech, Yugoslav, French, Russian’, thus proving that spying on allies was viewed as a necessary ploy. Guy Liddell and Richard Gambier-Parry, the head of SIS’s Section VIII (which controlled RSS) had frequent disagreements about illicit transmissions. Early in 1942, Liddell noted in his diary that he was being let down by RSS, as it had failed to detect transmissions from the Soviet consulate, and (maybe more alarmingly) from German agents in Croydon and Blackpool. Gambier-Parry was not interested, enigmatically insisting that he had everything under control with the Russians. “They are well watched”, he dismissively told Malcom Frost on March 6, 1942, when Frost wrote to complain about illicit transmissions detected at 3, Rosary Gardens in London, effectively telling the MI5 officer to mind his own business. Gambier-Parry would later have to review his casualness.

RSS grew under its new control, SIS. One report indicates that, at its peak, it had a staff of 2094, of which 98 were officers, 1317 operators, 83 engineers and 471 administrative personnel, as well as 125 civilian clerks. That team was complemented by over 1200 Voluntary Interceptors in the UK, as well as units abroad. And, while it eventually had to concede some of its control of equipment and codes to the SOE, it took ownership of more location-finding capabilities. In the autumn of 1941, SIS terminated its contract with the General Post Office for mobile direction-finding units. The GPO had developed quite an extensive fleet of such vans, but they were judged (by one RSS insider) as being too obvious, too slow, and their operators not disciplined enough. Yet, by this time, the prevailing wisdom was that, since all extant enemy wireless operators were under MI5, no remaining operators, however illicit, could harm the national war effort.

What spurred all this research, as will be known to those who are familiar with ‘Sonia’s Radio’, is the question of how such an efficient RSS organisation could have overlooked the transmissions of Sonia. I reproduce here an extraordinary artefact from December 1941 that was passed to me by Bob King, a veteran of RSS. As is clear, it is a log sheet of Mr. King’s as a ‘watcher’ in the Oxford area, where Sonia Kuczynski operated. In an email message to me last summer, Mr. King wrote: “The RSS knew of her [Sonia’s] presence, with over 2,000 widely spread operators listening for any unidentified signals we could hardly miss her. But as she was not Abwehr we didn’t follow her up. I expect someone else did.” He later added: “I can say the tests and good evidence shows that it is unlikely that any illicit transmission within the UK during the war years escaped our notice. If it was not our assignment we dropped it. Whether the information (call sign, frequency, time and procedure, if any) was passed to some other organisation I cannot say. I was informed by one RSS operator that Sonia (he later discovered it was she) was copied and told ‘Not wanted’”, and then: “But it is certain that no Abwehr traffic escaped our notice including the movements of all spies/agents (with the exception of Ter Braak).”

I was overwhelmed by being able to exchange information with a survivor from the war who had operated before I (now a 72 year-old) was born, and intrigued by Mr. King’s revelations. I followed up with other questions, asking, for instance, how his unit knew that the operator, was Sonia, even that she was a woman. Mr. King replied: “I am sorry but I have no further information.  We identified the Abwehr by several means: procedure, tying in with other Abwehr (already known) and such things as operator recognition, note of transmitter and an experienced knowledge hard to describe. It was an operator (I forget who) who wrote to me long after the war saying that he had copied Sonia (this was sometime after 1946 I believe) when I left RSS and had no connection with it at all. Surveillance of short waves continued post-war I understand and exercises demonstrated that transmitters could not go undetected for long. Pre-war a rogue transmission was located by the GPO in many cases, it was their job to catch unlicensed transmitters and post war radio amateurs as well to report a station sending coded messages which in peace time was strictly forbidden.  This is why I maintain that Sonia could not have been undetected at any time since.  What the authorities did about it I am not in a position to say.” Mr. King also told me that the Interceptors were instructed to log everything, indiscriminately, on the wavelengths they were responsible for. They could not make independent decisions, say, on listening for overseas transmitters.

RSS Logsheet from December 1941

When commenting on one of my posts on Sonia, Mr. King summed up his experiences and opinions: “I am convinced that no illicit, or other, transmission audible in the UK could escape detection for long.  The whole high frequency spectrum was divided into sections (the size dependent on frequency) and searched regularly by several thousand skilled listeners.  All signals, recognised or not, by the operator, were passed to Arkley unless directed otherwise.  If not identified by us as Abwehr we either asked for a ‘Watch please’ or ‘Not wanted’. We had several VIs in or near Oxford (I was one in 1941) and I visited a full time one in Somerton so Sonia’s signals must have been reported. In my nearly 5 years at Arkley reading logged reports I may well have stamped ‘Not Wanted’ on a Sonia transmission.  There were some inquisitive attempts to discover the ownership of strange signals but I know no more or where information that we had was dealt with. Embassy traffic also I am sure was monitored.”

Like all members of RSS who were sworn to secrecy about what they did in the war, Mr. King obeyed the interdiction, but was then taken aback by the sudden revelations in the 1980s and 1990s, with books like The Secret Listeners by Sinclair McKay being published, and he warns about the possibility of faux memoirs among such publications. (I have written about the inventions recited in the periodical After the Battle, and how they have been promulgated by careless writers.) Mr. King’s goal is only to keep the memory of the dedicated persons who worked for RSS alive, and to ensure that the truth is told. He is very confident about the watertight coverage of illicit transmissions that occurred, and added the following: “We were always concerned that an enemy agent may have slipped our notice and put the XX system in danger.  It transpired after the war from our records and those of the Abwehr that no operational agent went undetected.  Several times spoof transmissions were arranged by us to test the RSS intercept capabilities.  They always appeared on our operators’ logs.  The longest delay was only about 5 to 6 weeks but usually much quicker.   This is hardly surprising with a least 2,000 people listening (about 500 on 24 hour watch) distributed over the UK.”

Yet there was a darker story behind the energies of RSS, an account that the rather sunny analysis in Hinsley’s official history overlooks. The archive at KV 4/97 (itself frequently redacted, which is alarming) shows a prolonged struggle between the forces of MI5, pressing for stricter interception of illicit wireless, and the more relaxed, but obviously arrogant, leaders of RSS, who were driven by other priorities. The main protagonist was the maverick Malcolm Frost, the ex-Post Office man who had so excited Guy Liddell early on in his career with MI5, but then antagonised so many by his own power-seeking and arrogance. From the time that SIS took over RSS up until the end of 1942, Frost ceaselessly prodded RSS to be more communicative on its ‘discrimination’ practices (i.e. selection of wavelengths and messages to pursue), and to bolster up the defective mobile units that the RSS had inherited from the General Post Office. This thrust, gradually taken up more enthusiastically by Guy Liddell himself, evolved from two drivers: the increasing knowledge that the airwaves in the UK were being illegally exploited by various agents, including suspicious Russian traffic, and the developing recognition that such interception apparatus and skills would be required after the eventual invasion of Europe in order to handle all the wireless-using agents that the Nazis were expected to leave behind as they retreated from the Allied attack.

Maltby in RSS at last grudgingly agreed with much of Frost’s argument: that the RSS Engineering staff had been dedicated to other work, and had not invested anything in the ‘deplorable’ state of the mobile units they had taken over (a fact they had concealed from Liddell). The apparatus was bulky, and required too many operators probably visible to the subject under scrutiny. They had made poor personnel choices, the incompetent Elmes heading up the teams being a prime example, and morale in the detection squads was low. RSS reputation for arrogance and poor leadership went before it: potential candidates for detection squads were refusing to join it. The mobile units themselves were too sparse, and too slow to move in on their prey. (A note by Guy Liddell in October 1942 states, for instance, that ‘the existing Mobile Unit bases at Leatherhead and Darlington should be transferred to Bristol and Newcastle respectively’, with Newcastle having to cover an area from Edinburgh to Leeds, and Bristol required to cover Wales. That is not a rapid-response organisation.)

Frost continued to probe and pester. In September 1942, he had reported that it could take three weeks for a unit to move in on suspect premises. Communications were slow and insecure, via telephone, when radio contact was essential. For such a search operation to be successful, of course, the illicit transmitter would have to keep on operating at the same location – highly likely if the culprit was an operator at a foreign embassy in London, but less probable if the transgressor was a trained Abwehr agent or Soviet spy looking out for detector vans. On October 23, 1942, Frost requested a correction/insertion to the minutes of the recent RSS Committee meeting: meeting: “Major Frost said in his experience it was unlikely that d/f bearings taken from this country could possibly give an clearer indication of the location of an illicit transmitter than a minimum area of 100 square miles, and he did not consider that this would be of much material assistance in making an arrest.” This observation matched what an expert such as Frank Birch wrote in his Official History of British Signals Intelligence. The fact that Frost had to make this observation would suggest that RSS was probably making exaggerated claims about the power of remote direction-finding techniques when mobile units tracking groundwaves were essential to trap offenders.

What all this meant was an expressed desire by Frost and Liddell to bring back the GPO, and Dollis Hill as a research establishment, and have MI5 put in charge of the mobile units. Liddell, somewhat belatedly complained, in September 1942, that ‘for eighteen months, RSS had done nothing to provide a solution to the problem which was of vital interest to the Security Services’. (He even told Maltby that MI5 had been undertaking its own research into better apparatus, which rather shocked the RSS man.) Yet RSS was overall obdurate, claiming territorial ownership. The foolish Vivian had endorsed the breaking up of the joint RSS-MI5 committee, being pushed by Gambier-Parry without knowing the facts, and then had to climb down. Maltby had to admit that his unit was really only interested in technical matters, and did not want to deal with the messy details of liaising with the Police, for instance. Gambier-Parry was clearly impossible to negotiate with, condescending and obstinate: he did not want his operation run by any committee, and he was evidently just very single-minded and parochial, or simply taking his orders from someone behind the scenes. Thus matters between RSS and MI5 (not purely involving intercepts) came to a head at the end of 1942, when new committees were set up, and an improvement in operations occurred.

Conclusion

The rapid progress that the German intelligence machinery made in detection techniques and apparatus during 1942 contrasted sharply with the relaxed and inefficient way that the British infrastructure dealt with the challenge. First of all, the Weimar Republic’s prohibition of private radio traffic, an order provoked by the fear of illicit Communist communications, ironically deprived it of a pool of capable amateur interceptors. The Germans were faced with a real and growing threat as their Reich expanded, and they complemented their improvements in technology with an uncharacteristic degree of cooperation between rival agencies, as well as a ruthless approach to interrogation and torture. It was a necessary survival technique – or so they believed. The various forces working subversively helped to soak up valuable German effort and resources, and both their intelligence and sabotage ingredients contributed much to the success of OVERLORD. Whether the carpet bombing of Germany or the thrust of SOE – so often at apparent loggerheads in the demand for resources – was a more effective factor in the prosecution of the war is still debated by historians. But the Germans took SOE and SIS very seriously – and probably exaggerated their detection capabilities as a deterrent.

The British, on the other hand, got lulled into a false sense of security by virtue of their isolation and relative impregnability, by their confidence that they had turned all existing wireless agents of the Abwehr, and probably by the notion that their decryption of the ULTRA traffic was really the key to winning the war. Unlike the Germans, they had a very gifted set of ‘amateurs’ in their Voluntary Interceptors: the Germans recognized the diligent way that the ‘Radio Amateur Association’ (as General Praun called the Radio Society of Great Britain) had selected and managed its members. On the other hand, the overall organisation and management of RSS was flawed. (Of course, it helped the cause of the Double-Cross Operation if the Germans gained the impression that British location-finding was weak!)  The British were not helped by a more bureaucratic approach to decision-making, a greater respect for the law, and a more humane approach in handling offenders. Yet there was also a failure of will, a slowness to respond to political conflicts, and a lack of clear leadership from the top. One can detect an absence of resolve in such subjects as how important the actions of SOE were, and how the organisation should be helped, how firm a line should be taken with such a dubious ally as the Soviet Union, and what actions should be taken with obstinate leaders such as ‘Bomber’ Harris  or Richard Gambier-Parry, and how the weaknesses of Stewart Menzies’s organisation was protected by his custodianship of the ULTRA secret. Certainly SOE suffered especially from some very poor management and preparation of agents. Yet overall there endured a cultural respect for rival personalities and institutions, a feature entirely lacking in their adversaries, which helped them surmount the various crises.

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The Importance of Chronology (with special reference to Liddell & Philby)

I had been hoping to deliver the next chapter in The Mystery of the Undetected Radios this month, but I have been thwarted by circumstances. Towards the end of March, I suffered a recurrence of tendinitis caused by whiplash to my neck in a traffic accident thirty-five years ago, and started undergoing a three-month treatment of spinal decompression. This process fixed the problem last time I had it seven years ago, but I must have been negligent on maintenance, and the complaint suddenly returned with a vengeance, with acute stabbing pain in my neck and shoulder. Yet, when my doctor gave me cortisone and lidocaine injections, they did not seem to be having an effect. Moreover, he also prescribed painkillers and a muscle relaxant, which likewise did not ease my condition. After a very painful and sleep-deprived weekend at the beginning of April, I saw the doctor again, and he very quickly identified the culprit as shingles. This was puzzling, as only last summer I had undertaken the course of anti-shingles vaccine. My doctor had not encountered a case of a vaccinated person catching the disease. Could the GRU or MI5 have been involved? No explanation has been excluded.

What it means is that for several weeks I could not work at my desktop for more than 5-10 minutes at a time, which made the task of researching files, checking my notes, and compiling fresh text impossible. I also realized that there were at least three more books I needed to read to cover the 1941-1942 period adequately: M. R. D. Foot’s SOE in the Low Countries, Hermann Giskes’s London Calling North Pole, and a volume that came out only a few weeks ago, Lynne Olson’s Madame Fourcade’s Secret Army. I have also read from cover to cover David Stafford’s Britain and European Resistance 1940-1945, a work that I have owned for a long time, but only dipped into beforehand. I have acquired the other three, and read all four now, but have only recently been able to transcribe my notes, and enter items in my chronology.

For the issue dated April 18, the London Review of Books commissioned from a ‘writer’ with the improbable name of Colm Tóibín – an Hibernian, I would wager – an article of some 9,000 words that described his experiences with testicular cancer. I am deeply sorry about the gentleman’s condition, but this self-indulgent piece was of such relentless tediousness that I can only conclude that the editrix of the LRB, Mary-Kay Wilmers (she with the Eitingon connections), presented it as an effort to win some obscure journalistic contest. While judging myself capable of similar medical discourse, I can assure coldspur readers that I shall not burden them with comparable distressing details of my complaints. During my disability (which has now mercifully abated), I was able, however, to create instead fresh text in relative comfort on my iPad, and hence present a report for April on an important intelligence-related subject that did not require close, integrative research.  Restored almost to tip-top form, I was able to resume work on my PC towards the end of the month, and thus I also present some updates to the Liddell affair, which, I hope, will fascinate my readers as much as they fascinated me. This bulletin, which started out as a reasonably modest report, took on a vigorous new life in the last week of the month. It could probably merit a post on its own, but, having invested some thought in putting this methodological introduction together, I decided to remain with it as the lead. Moreover, the analysis of Liddell and Philby represents an outstanding example of why attention to chronology is important.

The Importance of Chronology

For me, one of the most annoying aspects of any historical book, or volume of biography, is inattention to chronology. I read a few pages, unanchored precisely by date, and then suddenly come across a phrase like ‘the following spring’. What year are we talking about? I suspect that the author him- or her-self has only a hazy idea of what is happening when he or she [I refuse to use the fashionable ‘they’ in this situation] carelessly lays out events out of sequence, and thereby does not provide solid references in the calendar for many critical happenings.

I am under no delusions about causes and seriality. The proximity of an event to another does not necessarily indicate that the earlier one influenced the second, but it is very important to place events in their proper sequence, and tether them precisely. (What is undeniable, pace J. B. Priestley, is that events with a verifiable date cannot have exerted any influence on events proven to have occurred earlier.) Very rarely do original sources lack a date attached to them, and they should be echoed in any text that exploits them. Moreover, for the historian, organization of dates coming from disparate sources can show new patterns of discovery that might not otherwise have been apparent. I think, for example, of my locating the row over authority between Jane Archer and Guy Liddell that was not covered properly in the latter’s Diaries when he described the circumstances of her sacking.

Accordingly, the creation and maintenance of a detailed chronology have been integral to my research methodology ever since I set out on what evolved to become my doctoral thesis. I maintain a Word document of over three hundred pages, covering military and political, but chiefly intelligence and counter-intelligence, events for four decades in the twentieth century. There are almost 300 pages of pure timeline, with 13 pages of references, constituting about 500 different sources, including 30 from the National Archives. I try to maintain every entry to a single line. The years 1936 to 1950 are particularly densely covered: for example, the year 1940 has over 2400 entries. Each entry has at least one source appended to it. (See sample page)

A typical page from my Chronology

The Preamble to the document reads as follows:

Chronology: WWII – Prelude & Aftermath

This chronology is constructed to provide a guide to the history of intelligence and counter-intelligence in Britain and the US between 1917 and 1956, and focuses on key dates relating to:

a) the recruitment and establishment of Soviet agents in British intelligence, and their subsequent deeds and movements;

b) the actions by Soviet intelligence agencies to subvert British institutions:

c) the plot by Guy Burgess and Isaiah Berlin to go to Moscow in the summer of 1940;

d) attempts by MI5 (and its predecessor, the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch) to counter subversion and Fifth Columns; 

e) the various reorganisations of British Intelligence;

f) the WWII rivalry between the Ministry of Information and the Foreign Office for controlling propaganda, especially in the USA;

g) the purging of OGPU/NKVD agents by Stalin, with special reference to the revelations, and death, of Walter Krivitsky;

h) activities involving Eduard Beneš of Czechoslovakia, and his contacts in the UK and the Soviet Union;

i) the stealing of US/GB atomic power secrets by the Soviet Union, with special reference to Stalin’s manipulation of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, and the espionage activities of Klaus Fuchs;

j) revelations about the massacre of Jews by the Nazis;

k) pre-war negotiations between Zionists and the UK government, and subsequent actions to further or delay the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948;

l) the evolution (and decline) of communistic/anti-fascist thought among British intellectuals;

m) attitudes of British politicians towards the Soviet Union between the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and Barbarossa;

n) Walter Krivitsky’s revelations about Stalin’s negotiations with Germany and his supply of arms to the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War;

o) the growing awareness by the US and GB of the coming postwar threat posed by the Soviet Union as WWII proceeded, and its effect on intelligence sharing;

p) activities associated with the detection and decryption of illicit radio transmissions in WWII, and decryption of enemy (including Soviet) communications, especially involving disagreements between SIS and MI5;

q) the Nazis’ successes in unmasking members of the Soviet spy network, the ‘Red Orchestra’, especially as it relates to Alexander Foote and the ‘Rote Drei’ in Switzerland;

r) the activities of British communists in the International Brigades in Spain;

s) the effect of the failure to follow up Krivitsky’s warnings on Allied negotiations for postwar security, and the onset of the Cold War;

t) the activities of US-based, and Canada-based, Soviet spies with British links;

u) the management of the Double-Cross operation, and its effect on other disinformation campaigns;

v) the Abwehr’s management of spies sent to Britain for intelligence or sabotage purposes, and Britain’s responses.

(The somewhat erratic structure of this list, which I have not re-ordered through time, shows the evolution of my research focus.)

Readers can probably now understand how critical a part of my methodology the chronology is. It gives me the following benefits:

a) On looking up an event, I can quickly identify its source, and go back to my notes on each book listed (taking notes after the conclusion of reading a book is an equally important part of the methodology). Dates are a vital part of the notes: page numbers are listed, and I can go back to the original text, if necessary. (I own an overwhelming majority of the books.)

b) I can immediately spot anomalies in dates, such as occasions where different authors represent the same event differently. This allows me to verify sources, and give some indication of reliability. Dubious unconfirmed events are marked with a ‘?’.

c) I can examine the authority of references. Authenticity is not automatically guaranteed simply because multiple historians or journalists quote an identical date. They may all be using the same defective source, such as Professor Hinsley’s dubious claim about Churchill’s ordering interception of Soviet messages to cease. Weight does not necessarily indicate quality.

d) Insights can be gained by the adjacency of apparently unrelated themes, and common names appearing in discrete threads. They allow new hypotheses to be explored, and fresh analysis of subject-matter to take place (such as the progress in Radio direction-finding across different countries and zones).

e) Word’s Search capability allows me to highlight the occurrence of any name within the whole Chronology, thus simplifying the tracking of the career or activities of any prominent figure.

It all leads me to a vital principle of my methodology: A chronology will never be able to write the story by itself, but the creation of a proper narrative will be impossible without a rigorous chronology. The maintenance and exploitation of this document are thus my ‘Crown Jewels’, my ‘secret sauce’. One day I may make it universally acceptable (or even have it published as a book?). I have shared extracts of it with other historians, but no one else has seen the complete artefact.

Another aspect of chronology that intrigues me is the relationship of publications to the dates of release of official material, or the issuance of authorised histories. As far as British counterintelligence is concerned, one can identify seminal events that changed the historiography of espionage (e.g. Gouzenko’s defection in 1945, Fuchs’s confession in 1950, the escape of Burgess and Maclean in 1951) and can map also critical government-sponsored or -approved publications, such as the admission of the Double-cross system (in 1972), the disclosures about the Ultra Secret (in 1974), or the Official Histories of British Intelligence in WWII (starting in 1979), which freed many others to talk. Yet in the background one can detect a vast amount of noise – memoirs and off-the-record briefings from intelligence officers who felt that the real story was not being told, or wanting to influence the history to show themselves in better light.

When reading any book that claims insights into these events, one has therefore to ask: ‘Where did the author derive his/her information?’; ‘Why was the Official Secrets Act not applied?’; ‘Should some of these exercises be treated as government-controlled disinformation’? One thinks of the slew of romanticized and frequently erroneous accounts of espionage and counter-espionage that came out in the decade following WWII, often brazenly declaring the help the authors gained from government departments such as the War Office. Of course, the perpetrators never imagined that official archive material would be released at some time to contradict the errors of their analyses. But that did not matter, as all the authors would be dead by then. Yet books still come out that cite some of these flights of fancy as if they contained relevant facts.

To complete the story, one would also have to list all the critical archival material that has been made available in the past twenty years. I have not done that here, as my Chronology focuses on the first 60 years after the outbreak of WWII. Here follows a personal, and highly selective, account of dates (in years, only), which the general reader may find useful in tracking the history of intelligence matters affecting the UK since WWII, and putting accounts of it into proper perspective. I encourage readers to send me additions to the list that would help clarify the dynamics.

Key events in Espionage History (MI5, and to lesser extent SIS)

1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact

1940 Krivitsky’s revelations to MI5 & SIS

1940 Blunt & Rothschild recruited by MI5

1940 Double-Cross System set up

1941 Krivitsky murdered

1941 Germany invades the Soviet Union

1941 USA enters the war

1942-43 German Englandspiel turns Dutch SOE network

1943 Comintern ‘dismantled’

1943 VENONA project of decryption of Soviet cables starts

1944 Leo Long detected spying in MI14

1945 Gouzenko defects in Canada

1945 Volkov (would-be defector from Ankara) betrayed by Philby

1947 Cookridge publishes ‘Secrets of the British Secret Services’

1949 Foote’s ‘Handbook for Spies’ published (ghost-written by MI5)

1950 Fuchs convicted

1951 Burgess & Maclean abscond

1952 Cairncross’s first ‘confession’

1953 Giskes reveals Englandspiel (control of Dutch SOE)

1954 Petrov defects in Australia: confirms careers of Burgess and Maclean

1956 Gaitskell dies, with suspicions of Soviet poisoning

1956 Goronwy Rees’s disclosures about Burgess in ‘People’

1962 Golitsyn’s defection confirms treachery of Philby: ‘the five’

1963 Philby defects

1963 Straight betrays Blunt

1964 Cairncross confesses to MI5

1966 Publication of ‘SOE in France’ & AJP Taylor’s ‘History 1914-1945’

1967 Philby’s ‘My Silent War’ published

1967 Phillip Knightley’s exposé of Philby in the ‘Sunday Times’

1968 Trevor-Roper reveals decryption of Abwehr messages in Canaris essay

1972 ‘The XX System’ by John Masterman appears

1972 Ritter publishes ‘Deckname Dr. Rantzau’

1973 Malcolm Muggeridge publishes ‘Chronicles of Wasted Time’

1973 Seale and McConville hint at VENONA programme in book on Philby

1974 Winterbotham reveals ULTRA secret

1978 David Kahn publishes ‘Hitler’s Spies’

1979 Andrew Boyle’s ‘Climate of Treason’ published: Blunt outed

1979 Thatcher announces Blunt’s pardon

1979 Penrose outs Cairncross

1979 Rees’s deathbed revelations

1979 Volume 1 of Hinsley’s History appears

1980 David Martin’s ‘Wilderness of Mirrors’ identifies VENONA

1981 Nigel West publishes ‘MI5’ (with information from disenchanted White)

1981 Volume 2 of Hinsley’s History appears

1981 Harold Macmillan publicly denounces Michael Howard for irresponsibility

1982 Existence of VENONA starts to leak out

1983 Nigel West publishes ‘MI6’

1984 Pincher’s ‘Too Secret Too Long’ accuses Hollis

1984 Volume 3 of Hinsley’s History appears

1985 Gordievsky escapes to UK

1986 Nigel West publishes ‘GCHQ’

1986 Joan Miller publishes ‘One Girl’s War’

1986 Lamphere publishes ‘FBI-KGB War’

1987 Peter Wright publishes ‘Spycatcher’

1989 Government recognizes MI5

1990 Volume 4 of Hinsley’s History appears

1990 Volume 5 of History (Howard) appears

1991 Nigel West writes about VENONA in ‘7 Spies . . .’

1991 End of Communist regime in Russia

1992 Mitrokhin brings his Archive to the UK

1992 Queen recognizes SIS in speech to parliament

1993 Primakov identifies threat from NATO

1994 Intelligence Services Act: Existence of SIS & GCHQ acknowledged

1994 Weinstein given access to KGB files

1994 Aldrich Ames convicted

1996 USA declassifies VENONA materials

1999 Nigel West publishes book on VENONA

1999 Haynes & Klehr publish book on VENONA

2000 Weinstein’s ‘Haunted Wood’ published

2009 History of MI5 appears

2010 History of SIS appears

2014 First volume of History of JIC appears

2017 History of GCHQ commissioned

This litany of publication shows a number of developing themes and tensions, namely:

i) the overall desire of government organizations to maintain a veil of secrecy over intelligence operations;

ii) the eagerness of journalists and (some) agents and officers involved in intelligence to reveal clandestine operations to the public;

iii) the expressed need by the security services to assist public relations efforts by selective breach of the Official Secrets Act, and granting controlled access to certified materials, or leaking certain information;

iv) simultaneous prosecution of authors trying to breach the OSA when the authorities believe such disclosures might harm the reputation of the intelligence services, on the pretext that national security is at risk;

v) unofficial leaking of information to journalists and historians by insiders frustrated by prolonged secrecy, and perhaps anxious to establish their own legacy;

vi) a recognition by the authorities that information may be revealed from other countries (e.g. the USA, Germany and Russia), a process they cannot control, while that information may or may not be any more reliable than domestic archives;

vii) with the fading-away of uncontrollable ‘amateurs’ successfully telling their stories of war-time exploits, the new professional heads of intelligence agencies attempt to re-tighten the screws of security (this is a point made by Hugh Trevor-Roper in a 1981 letter to Lord Annan);

viii) an eventual, though sometimes reluctant, admission by the authorities that it is now acceptable for an ‘authorised’ or ‘official’ history to be told, and the commissioning of respectable and reliable scholars to perform exclusive research on security organizations;

ix) the appearance of authoritative-sounding such histories, which are incomplete, unverifiable, and frequently cite questionable facts or conclusions from works published in the controversial period;

x) the fostering of the belief that, now such an official history has been written, it can be viewed as reliable, and need not be examined or contested;

xi) the incorporation of such lore, both from official histories and semi-historical accounts, into such presumed reliable references as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography;

xii) the declassification of archival material which, if inspected closely and properly synthesized, sheds doubts on some of the main assertions of the histories;

xiii) the tendency for new history-writing to drill down into horizontal cases of personal appeal rather than attempt to integrate more complex cross-disciplinary topics;

xiv) a mutually reinforcing admiration process between the experts and the authorised historians, who are reluctant to have their reputations spoiled by any admission of errors;

xv) a state of confusion, where the reading public is faced with a mixture of fact and fiction, finding it difficult to find bearings in a world of circular regurgitation of dubious reportage, conspiracy theories, fake news, and the chaotic aggregation of information on the Web.

xvi) the gradual disappearance of capable and affordable professionals chartered with acting as gatekeepers to maintain integrity in the historiography of Intelligence matters.

And I suppose that’s a good way of reminding myself why Coldspur exists.

Finally, I want to expand on this matter of ‘gatekeepers’. Shortly before I left Gartner Group in 1999, a case was made for opening up all of the company’s research on the Web, as ‘everybody was doing it’. I strongly resisted this, saying that anything given away for free would essentially be seen as valueless, and no better than anything else published there. It would have reduced Gartner’s business to a conference and consulting affair, rather than a leveraged product. To this day, I support strongly those on-line publishers who are subscription-based, and who presumably believe they can command decent fees through a commitment to excellence. On the other hand, I never make a charitable donation to any free site (such as the undisciplined and unreliable Wikipedia), since the outfit does not have a business model that drives quality, and I have no wish to encourage such unscholarliness.

Yet there are challenges in trying to compete with an advertising model. For example, in the Intelligence world, Taylor and Francis has acquired prominent publishers, and offers access to their on-line journals through subscriptions. These publications are in many ways essential reading for the serious analyst, but the fees are penal for the individual researcher not affiliated with an academic institution. (It was a long struggle to get hold of critical articles even when I was affiliated with the University of Buckingham.) I have suggested alternative plans to T & F (who also offer enhanced packages of National Archives material): the company has acknowledged the problem, but is inflexible.

I have an especial interest in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which also offers a subscription service. Several years ago, I was commissioned to create an entry for the architect Gordon Kaufmann. (see http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-98440) This exercise involved much self-education, the acquisition of a few books on architecture, some fee-based exploration of genealogy sites, visits to libraries in Palo Alto and London, and to a house in Sussex, email exchanges with historians of California, and some patient detective work. I was proud of the final result, which was well annotated, and closely inspected by the ODNB editor. The entry was used as a showcase sample to promote the new on-line version of the ODNB. I was paid a modest amount for my work, and offered a 50% reduction in fees for a year’s access to the electronic version of the Dictionary.

I had no complaints about this. I was very happy to perform the work, believing that it is becoming for those who have benefitted from the education system at Oxford (for example) to contribute to scholarship in what ways they can, even if the beneficiary is a commercial enterprise. That is one of the many ways the public (‘the little platoons’) assists in the continuity of Britain’s cultural heritage. I did not become a regular subscriber, however: I can drive thirty-five miles to the University of North Carolina library in Wilmington to inspect the on-line edition.

This, when I went, a few weeks ago, to look up the entry for Guy Liddell (see last month’s post), I was shocked and disgusted. The piece was riddled with errors, and looked as if had been composed in a couple of hours, without any editorial supervision. It debases the whole value principle of the ODNB. It would have been better not to have published any entry at all instead of this shoddy compilation. I have brought my dismay to the attention of my contact there, and received, a couple of weeks ago, an acknowledgment of my message. Since then – nothing. I await the next step with interest, and shall report what happens on coldspur.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Guy Liddell, Eric Roberts and Kim Philby

The Cookridge Archive

Perspicacious readers will recall that in February of this year, I made the following observation concerning the irritatingly vague references given by the author of The Climate of Treason, Andrew Boyle:

“While I have not performed a cross-reference, I would hazard that most of the correspondence with these persons is to be found in the Boyle Archive, where individual letter-writers are clearly identified. Of this period, Boyle writes, for example (p 455, Note 15): “Confidential information to the author as attested in E. H. Cookridge’s notes from Guy Liddell of MI5.” One might react: What on earth was Liddell doing speaking to Cookridge? Did Cookridge (who died on January 1, 1979) ever publish an account of these confidences? Did Boyle consider, now that Liddell and Cookridge were both dead, that he could safely write about these secrets, or did he still fear the Wrath of White? I hope that a study of the correspondence with Cookridge will clear some of this up.”

E. H. Cookridge (born Ernest Philo)

I inquired of the Cambridge University Library about the availability of selections from the Boyle archive, and, at considerable expense, ordered a sample of photographs of items of Boyle’s correspondence, namely his exchanges with Isaiah Berlin, Malcolm Muggeridge and E. H. Cookridge. These arrived at the beginning of April, but were largely disappointing. I was, however, able to determine in what circumstances Cookridge had consulted Guy Liddell, and to establish what Liddell said to him (or, at least, what Cookridge claimed he said). Unfortunately, Boyle and Cookridge converse somewhat at cross-purposes, and the loose ends from their correspondence are never neatly tied up. Two questions that Boyle posed to Cookridge, on August 30, 1977, run as follows:

“3) Was the substance, or even outline, of the Krivitsky testimony ever made known? If not, why do people refer to it as though they were familiar with it?

4) In stating ‘I believe that originally Philby was introduced by Springall to Leonid Tolokovisky [sic]’, what is your evidence – or is this merely a hunch?”

Cookridge’s answers, given on September 5, were:

“3) Krivitsky referred to it in his book ‘I Was Stalin’s Agent’ (Hamish Hamilton, 1939) and I believe Elsa Poretsky mentions something about it when dealing with some detail with Krivitsky’s activities. I recall to have seen something of interest in Krivitsky’s testimony published in the House Reports of the Un-American Activities Committee. That was many years after his death.

4) No, it’s not just a hunch. But unfortunately the people who had good evidence are dead. One was Guy Maynard Liddell. He was Deputy Director of M.I.5 to Sir David Petrie, later head of B-division under Sir Percy Sillitoe from 1945 to about 1952. He later became Director of Security for the Atomic Energy Authority. In 1955 when the ‘Third Man’ business bust, he was asked to go to Washington and investigate Philby’s activities. He also knew – from the secret investigations conducted about Philby’s past – all about Philby. About a year or two before Liddell’s death (in 1960) I had a talk with him on a quite different subject. I intended to write about the suspected betrayal of the Arnhem operation. Liddell (with a captain of Mil. Intell. named Wall) interrogated the suspected Dutch traitor Christiaan Lindemans in November 1944 in Holland and then at a London ‘cage’ (020). I wanted to learn from what he got out of Lindemans and he did tell me a lot. In the course of our conversation we got to Philby (who had by then, of course, gone to Beirut). I told him that I knew Philby in Vienna and he told me that he knew Philby was recruited in London or Cambridge by a Russian agent of the Cagan [Cahan? : coldspur] team. I can’t remember whether he mentioned Tolokonsky (NOT Tolokovisky) and Aslakov. I was then not yet concerned with the Philby story. Much later I learned from Derek Mark, editor of the Daily Express (who had initiated the big hunt after Philby) that several of his reporters, particularly John Mather, found out that the controller of Philby was Tolokonsky. I believe the Daily Express did publish it there.”

The answer to ‘3’ famously misses the point. Boyle was assuredly referring to Krivitsky’s testimony given to his MI5 & SIS interrogators in January 1940, not what he declared to US Senate inquiries before he made his visit to the United Kingdom. This is remarkably obtuse of Cookridge, unless he seriously did not know about Krivitsky’s exploits with Jane Archer and company. As for Douglas ‘Dave’ Springhall, the communist spy jailed in 1943, I have no idea why Philby would ever have dealt with him, although some books do still claim, as did Cookridge, that it was Springhall who recruited Philby in 1933, acting as an intermediary for Tolokonsky and Cahan.

Yet it is Cookridge’s reference to Liddell’s visit to Washington that primarily intrigued me. Allowing for Cookridge’s mistakes over Liddell’s roles under Petrie and Liddell before he left MI5, as well as the date of Liddell’s death (1958), it is unlikely that he would have confused Liddell’s visit to Washington on March 14, 1946 (which is confirmed by USA archives) with a post-retirement voyage in 1955. It would have been unusual for Liddell to have been brought out of his retirement from MI5 to consult with Washington, unless Dick White (who was Director-General until 1956) believed that under cover, and because of previous relationships, it would be preferable to send out on a special assignment Guy Liddell than, say – ahem –  White’s deputy and successor, Roger Hollis.

The Philby Inquiry

This was a difficult year for the Philby inquiry. By then, MI5 leaders were convinced that he was the ‘Third Man’, but SIS was defending him. In August 1954, Vladimir Petrov had defected in Australia, and brought confirmation that Burgess and Maclean had been tipped off. Yet defining what action to take was a hazardous project. Moreover, the new head of SIS, John ‘Sinbad’ Sinclair, who had replaced Stewart Menzies in 1953, came to Philby’s defence, writing to Dick White on July 20, 1955 that the interrogation of Philby by Helenus Milmo had been biased, and that Philby was being unfairly treated. The story of Petrov’s defection broke on September 18, 1955, when the Royal Commission in Australia published its report, but Philby was given a soft interrogation by SIS on October 7, which infuriated Dick White.

Meanwhile, J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, who was convinced of Philby’s guilt, expressed similar frustration at Philby’s continuing to live scot-free and unchallenged. As Ben Macintyre reports in A Spy Among Friends, on Sunday, October 23, the New York Sunday News ran a story naming Philby as the Third Man. This publication led to the famous questions by Marcus Lipton in the House of Commons, Harold Macmillan’s feeble denial, and Philby’s eventual manipulation of the Press to convince them of his innocence. In his 1968 book The Third Man, Cookridge states that a journalist showed Lipton the story from the Sunday News, but says that the story was written by the paper’s London correspondent, ‘an American, known for his associations with the C.I.A.’  That could have been a blind, although the FBI agent Robert Lamphere, in his book The FBI-KGB War, tells us that the informant was his friend, the CIA’s Bill Harvey. Perhaps Liddell had been sent out as an emissary to Hoover to help stoke the fires, and fight the battle on White’s behalf without drawing SIS’s attention? Given the timing and the circumstances, it is difficult to project any other rationale, and this would follow a pattern (as I explain later). Liddell must have been very flattered.

The next question that must be posed is: was Liddell indeed the major source for Cookridge’s assertions in The Third Man? Describing Lipton’s question in the House of Commons, Cookridge informs us that Lipton remarked that he had further information but could not disclose it because it concerned ‘secret agents’, and that this observation was understood as meaning that it came from somebody in M.I.5.  Cookridge then laconically adds: “It is not for me to interpret Colonel Lipton’s remark, but we know now that he had good reason to believe his information was correct, thought whether it emanated from Dick White or the New York Sunday News must remain a matter of speculation.” In other words, in the vernacular of House of Cards: “You might say that, but I couldn’t possibly comment”.

Cookridge’s comments to Andrew Boyle suggest very strongly that Liddell was his source. In his Preface to The Third Man, Cookridge rather disingenuously attributes his ability to get a scoop to his work as a political journalist. Intriguingly, he says he started the book that very same year, 1955. “At that time (and for eleven years) I was the political correspondent of a British newspaper. Through my work in the Lobby of the House of Commons I had access to sources of information not available to the public. But because of the confidential nature of much of this information  . . .  I was compelled to put away the Philby manuscript.” Yet his confidence to Andrew Boyle twenty-two years later, when he probably suspected all had blown over, reveals an apparently critical role that Liddell played in disclosing MI5’s substantial evidence against Philby.

Who Recruited Philby?

This leads directly into another aspect that intrigued me, namely the reference to Cahan, and possibly Tolokonsky. A search of books that cite the fact that Philby was originally recruited by Cahan and Tolokonsky leads normally to Andrew Boyle as the source, and we can now see that Boyle relied on Cookridge, and Cookridge apparently on Liddell. In The Third Man Cookridge reported that Springhall, early in 1933 at a house in Rosary Gardens in London, introduced Kim Philby ‘to his new masters, Leonid Tolokonski [sic] and George Aslakoff, and there he received his initial briefing.’ The Soviet officers then (according to Cookridge) directed Philby to go to Vienna, to work as a courier ‘maintaining communications between the outlawed leaders of the Austrian Communists and GB agents in Vienna and the ‘foreign bureaus’ of the Comintern which functioned without interference in Prague’.

So why, the incident recollected in tranquillity, did Cookridge misrepresent what happened? When he wrote to Boyle that he could not recall whether Liddell mentioned Tolokonsky or Aslakoff, did he not have a copy of his book at hand? Perhaps when he wrote his book he was relying on the supposed publication of the ‘facts’ by the Daily Express rather than his briefing by Liddell. (I cannot find any Daily Express reference to Cahan on www.newspapers.com, but, of course, that does not mean that one did not exist.) It is thus impossible to ascertain whether the Daily Express received its information likewise from Liddell, who may have been on a mission to enlighten Fleet Street in MI5’s campaign against SIS.

Yet how did Liddell, if he was indeed aware of Philby’s recruitment, learn about it? There are no files for ‘Samuel Cahan’, ‘Tolokonsky’ or ‘Aslakoff’ at the National Archives. Christopher Andrew’s authorized history contains no reference to any of them. Nor do their names appear in the PEACH materials, as recently displayed in Cold War Spymaster (see last month’s blog). Anthony Cave-Brown does not refer to them in Treason in the Blood. Even that exhaustive and prodigious chronicler of Stalin’s espionage, Boris Volodarsky, in Stalin’s Agent, has only a fleeting sentence on Tolokonsky, recording his murder in Siberia in 1936. All of these phenomena are very puzzling, even disturbing. Is it possible that Liddell alone knew about the recruitment? After all, Cookridge told Boyle that ‘he’ (Liddell) knew about it, not that MI5 knew about it. Was that not an odd way for Liddell, and then Cookridge, to represent the lesson? It would appear that, if MI5’s senior officers were aware of the story, they managed to throw a wrap over it, and suppress any information that they held on the KGB or GRU officers in London. But why would they do that?

(The only other reference to Tolokonsky that I have found is in a novel based around Kim Philby and his Russian handler, given the name Orloff, titled A Spy In Winter, by one Michael Hastings, published in 1984. ‘Michael Hastings’ is a pseudonym of Michael Ben-Zohar, an Israeli historian born in Bulgaria, and the author has Orloff declare: “Until I came into the open, the British secret services believed that Maly and Tolokonsky had recruited and run Philby.” Whatever his sources were, Ben-Zohar’s text suggests that there was some substance behind the Tolokonsky claim. Of course, he may simply have used what he read in The Climate of Treason or The Third Man as a useful aid to authenticity. I have attempted to contact Ben-Zohar via his publisher, but, as so often happens in such cases, I have not even received an acknowledgment of my inquiry.)

If Liddell had exclusive knowledge, therefore, it could not have come from shared sources, such as Gouzenko or Petrov, unless he had private conversations with them. And there is no evidence of that. Candidates, therefore would have to include Krivitsky (with whom Liddell did have one-on-one discussions, the details of which were reacted from his Diaries) or maybe Douglas Springhall. Another candidate might be Fred Copeman, who was a close comrade of Springhall’s in 1933, but later turned respectable, and may have been an informer for MI5.

Krivitsky seems highly unlikely. I believe no mention of the triad of Cahan, Tolokovsky or Aslakoff appears in the transcripts of his interrogations. And 1940 would be very early for Liddell to receive a tip on Philby and do nothing about it. Moreover, Krivitsky had shown himself unwilling to reveal Philby’s identity as the journalist sent to Franco’s Spain under cover. Springhall is problematical. On my desktop computer, I have twenty-seven bulky PDFs from his files at the National Archives, which I have not yet inspected properly. They provide a fairly exhaustive account of his movements, but Special Branch did not appear to track him having a meeting with members of the Soviet Embassy in 1933. (Springhall did make a request to visit Cambridge in March of that year, however.) I suppose it is possible that Liddell had an interview with the communist activist at the time of his conviction in 1943, but it is improbable that a record of such a conversation has lain undiscovered. Somewhere in that archive (according to Springhall’s Wikipedia entry) is a suggestion that Springhall was working for the GRU from 1932 onwards, but locating that record is a task that will have to wait – unless any alert reader is already familiar with the whole of KV 2/2063-2065 & KV 2/1594-1598 . . .

Liddell and Eric Roberts

All this links to the third leg of this particular inquiry, which casts dramatic new light on the compelling question of whether British intelligence nourished stronger suspicions about the activities of the Cambridge Five well before they admitted so to the public. “It has been brought to my attention” (as Sir Edward Heath was accustomed to start his letters of complaint to the Spectator, presumably being too busy or too important to read the magazine himself), that, in other records recently declassified and released to the National Archives, Guy Liddell pointed out as early as 1947 that a spy existed in SIS.  This astonishing story concerns the MI5 officer, Eric Roberts, and the germ of it can be found on the MI5 website at https://www.mi5.gov.uk/eric-roberts-undercover-work-in-world-war-ii. A more detailed explanation can be seen in a BBC article posted back in 2015, where Christopher Andrew is quoted commenting on an extraordinary testimony that Eric Roberts left behind. The story can be inspected at https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33414358, and contains the dramatic statement: “In 1947 Roberts was seconded to Vienna to work with MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service. Before Roberts went, he spoke to Liddell. According to Roberts, Liddell warned him ‘there was a traitor operating at the highest level’ of the SIS.”

Before I analyse this vital claim, I need to step back and critique the way this story has been presented, as I think the whole issue of the ‘Fifth Column’ has been distorted., and that the MI5 bulletin contributes to the muddle. As you will see, the piece starts: “In the early part of WWII  . . .”, and goes on: “It was hoped by this means to ‘surface’ others of a similar pro-Nazi persuasion who might be capable of forming a fascist 5th Column – still a major source of anxiety for MI5 so long as invasion remained a threat.” Yet the narrative suddenly jumps to ‘early 1942’, when Eric Roberts’s role was decided, namely almost halfway through the war. Hitler had in fact called off the invasion by September 1940, and, though Britain had to prepare for it still throughout much of 1941, by the end of that year, the conditions of engagement had changed considerably. Both the Soviet Union and the United States had joined the Allies, and the focus was then on the question of when a so-called ‘Second Front’ (a misleading Soviet-inspired term, as Britain was already fighting the Germans on several fronts) would be opened, and a European invasion begun. Thus, with the Abwehr’s network of agents already controlled by the Double-Cross system, the manipulation of a rather tawdry set of Nazi sympathisers, in the belief that MI5 was warding off a dangerous threat, seems a somewhat quixotic and perhaps a merely futile exercise. This was no ‘Fifth Column’, since the Wehrmacht surely was unaware that any of these persons were active on its behalf, and the MI5 piece rightly suggests that they could probably not have been prosecuted because of the ‘spectre of provocation’.

The records of Eric Roberts and this adventure can be inspected at KV 2/3783 & 2/3784 in the National Archives. The latter is downloadable at no charge, and contains the myriad conversations between Roberts and his Nazi sympathisers that were recorded. Unfortunately, the former, which must contain the more interesting articles described in the BBC story, has not been digitized, and I have thus not yet been able to inspect it. (As I was completing this story for my press deadline, I heard from my researcher in London that the 14-page testimonial is not in the archive, but presumably owned by the Roberts family. Given the publicity on the MI5 and BBC sites, including Christopher Andrew’s provocative comments that appear below, it would seem that the family is seeking greater attention to Eric Roberts’s claims, so I am hopeful of gaining access via the BBC.) It also occurs to me that Kate Atkinson, whose novel Transcription I reviewed on this site a few months ago, exploits these recordings, and Henry Hemming, whose biography of Maxwell Knight, MI5’s Greatest Spymaster, I read when it came out in 2017, also describes the activities of Roberts. I should probably annotate my review of Atkinson’s work, although I think her timetable becomes even messier, given the period at which the events occurred. Hemming, whose approach to chronology is also a little wayward, in his concentration on Maxwell Knight, appears not to have exploited this mine of information.

Additionally, it was with some amusement that I read the MI5 comment: “For a variety of reasons, until very recently the story of her [Marita Perigoe’s] group and Eric Roberts’ achievements had gone largely unseen by MI5 historians and accordingly the significance of these events was unnoticed.” MI5 ‘historians’? Who might they be, I wonder? Since Andrew’s authorised history came out some six years before these files were released, did MI5 for some reason forget to draw the historian’s attention to their existence when our intrepid researcher was being walked round the archives? Would the MI5 spokesperson be prepared to explain what the ‘variety of reasons’ was? Was MI5 perhaps embarrassed at some of the revelations that came forth from the 14-page document that Andrew is quoted as describing in the following terms: “It’s the most extraordinary intelligence document I’ve ever seen. It’s 14 pages long – it will keep conspiracy theorists going for another 14 years”? Well, here is one professional conspiracy theorist who can’t wait to get his hands on it. If it is going to keep us busy, we have to see the document.

Yet it is Roberts’s friendship with Guy Liddell that is for me the most compelling aspect of the story. In 1947, before his secondment to Vienna, we learn that Eric Roberts was warned by his friend that ‘there was a traitor operating at the highest level of the SIS’. Roberts thus credited Liddell with helping him in an awkward situation, but, when he returned to London in 1949, and asked his friend whether the traitor had been identified, Liddell ‘evaded the question’. That is surely evidence that he was not alone in his suspicions, but had been told to clam up. If we inspect my Chronology above, it is clear that the predecessor event that might have convinced Liddell of the guilt of a senior officer in SIS would clearly have been the hapless attempt to defect from Istanbul, Turkey by Konstantin Volkov, on August 16, 1945. We now know of Philby’s manoeuvres to have the informant captured, with the result that Volkov was drugged and executed by Moscow before London could work out what was going on.  (This was before the notorious episode of Teddy Kollek, who had witnessed what Philby was up to in Vienna in 1934, being shocked by spotting Philby in a diplomatic role in Washington in 1949.) Did Liddell rumble Philby then? The reason that this question is so important is that conventional accounts of the ‘Third Man’ scandal have focused on the identification of Philby as a possible traitor only after the abscondment of Burgess and Maclean in 1951.

I present Liddell’s relevant Diary entry for October 5, 1945 in its entirety: “The case of the renegade WOLKOFF in the Soviet Embassy in Istanbul has broken down. In accordance with instructions he was telephoned to at the Soviet consulate. The telephone was answered by the Russian Consul-General on the first occasion and on the second by a man speaking English claiming to be WOLKOFF but clearly was not. Finally, contact was made with the Russian telephone operator who said that WOLKOFF had left for Moscow. Subsequent enquiries showed that he and his wife left by plane for Russia on Sept.26. Wolkoff had ovvered [sic: ‘offered’] to give a very considerable amount of information but much of it appeared to be in Moscow. WOLKOFF estimated that there were 9 agents in London of one of whom was said to be the ‘head of a section of the British counter-espionage service’. WOLKOFF said he could also produce a list of the known regular NKGB agents of the military and civil intelligence and of the sub-agents they employed. In the list are noted about 250 known or less well known agents of the above-mentioned services with details. Also available were copies of correspondence between London and General Hill of SOE in Moscow. WOLKOFF maintained that the Soviet authorities had been able to read all cypher messages between our F.O. and Embassy in Moscow and in addition to Hill’s messages [line redacted] the Russians had according to WOLKOFF two agents inside the F.O. and 7 inside the British Intelligence Service.”

Does this indicate that he believed that Philby was the guilty party? Maybe he was already starting to question why such a valuable potential operation had suddenly turned so sour. We should also recall that Jane Archer, the author of the Krivitsky report, had returned to MI5, probably at the beginning of 1946, from working for Philby in Section V of SIS. It seems inconceivable that she and Liddell would not have discussed her previous boss, the Volkov incident, and maybe started to look more closely at Philby’s career. Archer would have been fascinated by the information revealed in Liddell’s diary entry, and Philby, who wrote of her knowledge of the ‘journalist in Spain’ in My Silent War, might have been alarmed by her return to MI5. Did Liddell also discuss the affair with Dick White? Not so certainly, but White (who was by now taking charge of MI5, as I explained in last month’s report, and moving to squeeze out his mentor at the top) may have cautioned him to silence, unaware that Liddell had shared his suspicions with Roberts. With Blunt (as I confidently assert) recently unmasked in MI5, and Philby a strong suspect in SIS, White may have felt that they could control the poison – and preserve the reputation of the service. As we see, Liddell was going to have to suppress his suspicions when his friend Roberts returned from Vienna, suggesting that he was not alone in harbouring serious doubts about Philby’s loyalties, but that pressure was being applied not to rock the boat. That was not the behavior of a Soviet mole, but of a weak and frightened man.

Confusion in Washington

Moreover, my overseas informant (who wishes to remain anonymous) has pointed out to me a dramatic new twist to the story. In the 1967 Sunday Times article that broke the Philby story, there appears a provocative statement concerning Philby after the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean in May 1951. It runs as follows: “The weekend after the defection, a four-man team, led by G. A. Carey-Foster, the head of Q-Branch in the Foreign Office, flew to Washington and questioned Philby. Almost immediately afterwards Philby was withdrawn from his post as CIA/SIS liaison officer: apart from any suspicions the British had, the Americans were no longer prepared to deal with him.” If this were true, the team presumably flew out to forestall any attempt by Philby to defect, which must have meant that MI5 and the Foreign Office harboured deep suspicions about Philby’s loyalties, and were very quick to adopt a ‘Third Man’ theory. So what happened to this story? The cavalcade of events constitutes an excellent example of the importance of Chronology.

Surprisingly, the claim does not appear in the 1968 book that followed the Sunday Times article – The Philby Conspiracy, by the Sunday Times journalists Bruce Page, David Leitch and Phillip Knightley. In fact, the only publication where I have been able to find the story duplicated is in that now familiar compendium, E. H. Cookridge’s The Third Man, where he wrote (p 208): “What followed was a world sensation. Sir Percy Sillitoe flew to Washington six days after the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean; he was preceded by a team, led by Mr. Carey-Foster, sent to interrogate Philby.” This account, if only partially true (Sillitoe did not fly out until two weeks after the spies’ absence was noticed), would tend to confirm the preparedness of British security organs to spring into action. But where did Cookridge get his information from? The Sunday Times? Or the same source who provided it to the newspaper? It is not clear, and, unless the Cookridge archive can shed light on the matter, we shall probably never know.

The circumstances of Philby’s departure from the USA at that time are represented inconsistently in the literature. Perhaps the most detailed account of the goings-on is S. J. Hamrick’s 2004 opus Deceiving the Deceivers. Hamrick was a former US intelligence officer who believed that MI5 and the Foreign Office had deceived the British public – and the CIA – about their investigation into Maclean and Philby. Unfortunately, Hamrick, who compiled a detailed chronicle of the events leading up to Burgess and Maclean’s disappearance, spun a yarn that had Dick White and the RAF trying to use Philby in an extravagant operation to feed false information on atomic weapons to the Soviets. This fantasy was deftly dissected and trashed by Nigel West himself, in a review titled ‘Who’s Fooling Who?’, which appeared in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence in 2006. (Yet West lists the work as a source in Cold War Spymaster, without any explanation why a work that he has panned elsewhere has suddenly become worthy of being recommended to his readership. A very bizarre practice, which must be condemned.) The account of Philby’s departure is quite clear, however: he received a telegram recalling him to London before Sillitoe and Martin flew out, and arrived the day they left London.

As I delved more deeply into the various accounts of Philby’s recall in early June 1951 (I have made notes from about twenty), I realized that the whole saga is more complicated, more puzzling, and more disturbing than I ever imagined. I cannot possibly do justice do it in this report, and shall have to dedicate a whole future instalment of coldspur to the full exploration of the inconsistencies. It may not surprise readers to learn that one of the latest renderings, Christopher Andrew’s authorised history of MI5, Defend the Realm (2009), despite having all the records at the author’s disposal, seems to me to have got the timetable dramatically wrong. (Chronology again!) On the other hand, the supposed visit to Washington by Carey Foster and his team may be purely mythical – and may not matter much. So I shall here simply outline my main findings and conclusions.

First, let us step back a bit. Just before Kim Philby was posted to Washington in September 1949, as the liaison for British intelligence with the US government, he was briefed by Maurice Oldfield, deputy head of counter-intelligence in SIS, about the VENONA project. This programme, by which certain wartime cables between Moscow and outlying embassies had been (partially) decrypted by US and GB teams, had by then thrown up the cryptonym HOMER as an important source of highly sensitive information passed on to the Soviets. It was Philby’s job to assist the FBI in identifying possible suspects. Given that the ‘Foreign Office’ spy (namely Maclean) had been identified, but not named, by Krivitsky, it took an unconscionably long time for British intelligence to whittle down the candidates for this breach to Maclean himself. MI5 would later claim that only in April 1951 could HOMER’s identity be firmly nailed on to Maclean, after which the bumbling investigation (hindered by the Foreign Office) sputtered along so ineptly that it allowed Burgess and Maclean to escape on May 25.

The whole point of the investigation was to delay and prevaricate. Yet, when the story broke to the astounded FBI and CIA, MI5 had to act fast to try to restore confidence. The records point dominantly to the fact that Percy Sillitoe, the Director-General of MI5, accompanied by one of his junior officers, Arthur Martin, flew out to Washington the same day that Philby, who had been recalled, flew into Heathrow (June 12). (Philby had given the impression to his friends, such as James Angleton, that he would be returning.) Yet the files at the National Archives in Kew show that this goodwill trip had been planned before Burgess and Maclean escaped, as part of the charm offensive that MI5 knew it would have to undertake when Maclean was brought in for questioning. The days June 12/13 had already been chosen, at the planning meeting for the interrogation of Maclean, on May 23, as the dates to speak to Hoover. The records show that Sillitoe intended to inform Hoover of the name of the ‘principle suspect’.

In the changed circumstances, however, with the renegades escaping under MI5’s noses, a different strategy was required. Arthur Martin brought a sharp seven-point memorandum with him, which he apologetically shared with his FBI contact Robert Lamphere, while his chief had a meeting with his counterpart, Edgar Hoover. This report listed some major damning reasons why Philby was seen as a security risk, and clearly would be interpreted as putting an end to his career with SIS. Lamphere documented them (in The FBI-KGB War) as follows:

  1. Maclean, Burgess and Philby had all been communists at Cambridge
  2. Philby had become pro-German to build his cover story
  3. Philby had married the communist Litzi Friedman
  4. Krivitsky had pointed to a journalist in Spain (who was in fact Philby)
  5. Philby was involved in the Volkov affair
  6. Philby was involved in infiltrating Georgian agents into Armenia
  7. Philby was suspected in assisting in the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean.

It had presumably not been the plan to open up so blatantly when preparations for the visit were originally made. Yet Sillitoe did not take this memorandum to Hoover.

The CIA Takes Charge?

When Bedell Smith, the head of the CIA, heard of the Burgess-Maclean fiasco, he apparently asked his lieutenants to write up reports on what they knew about Philby. Even though there had been no deep briefing of the CIA by Sillitoe and Martin, one of Smith’s officers, Bill Harvey, responsible for countering Soviet espionage, used information which was uncannily similar to that supplied by Martin to give meat to his account. James Angleton, the other prominent agent, wrote more about the rude behavior of Burgess in Washington, but was overall more forgiving of Philby. Bedell Smith then wrote to Stewart Menzies, the head of SIS, insisting that Philby never represent the British government again – as if he had been unaware of the Martin submission. What is most critical for this story, however, is the fact that Harvey’s report was dated June 18, the day Sillitoe and Martin returned to London after their conversations with their counterparts in the FBI. Philby was already out of the country.

It is important to note a few important aspects of Philby’s recall. The first concerns the fact that Stewart Menzies, the head of SIS, very quickly sent a recall message to Philby after his friends had fled. That would suggest that Menzies, who was later to become a stout defender of this high-flying officer, at the time had doubts about him – perhaps because some analysts were suggesting that Philby was ‘STANLEY’ in the VENONA decrypts – and recognized that Philby was a security risk. Yet a disturbing part of the recall was the unusual behavior of Menzies, in that he first sent a letter to Philby, in which he warned him that an official telegram would soon be arriving. Some interpreters of this (e.g. Hamrick) have suggested that this was an alert for Philby to indicate that he should fly the coop if he wanted to. It is difficult to imagine Menzies taking advice on this matter from anyone else.

As Genrikh Borovik recorded in The Philby Files (1994) (and confirmable in KV 6/143 at Kew) Philby was also asked by MI5, by telegram, to contribute an opinion on the Burgess and Maclean affair before the letter from Menzies came through. He sent two messages back, of which the second, dated June 6,is on file, and danced a cautiously informative line, dropping hints about the pair’s possible association and friendship, and identifying possibly incriminating property (a sun-lamp, a camera, books by Stalin) in Burgess’s possession. It was crafted to provide just enough awareness to show a degree of observation, but not enough to have implicated himself.

Hamrick reports that the letter-carrier was one John Drew, who ‘happened to be leaving for Washington on official business’, and that the letter had been written at Menzies’ request. “The purpose was to warn Philby of the coming cable recalling him to London so he could quickly pack up and hustle out of town before Percy Sillitoe arrived for his talks with J. Edgar Hoover. MI6 wanted to make sure Philby was beyond Hoover’s grasp and unavailable for FBI interrogation.” That sounds fraudulent and unlikely to me: why on earth would Philby, as an SIS employee, have to submit to interrogation by the FBI? If accurate, however, it also shows that Menzies was aware of the planned Sillitoe visit: Patrick Reilly, identified as ‘SIS Foreign Office Adviser’, attended the vital planning meeting on May 24 at which the timetable was laid out. Reilly had also been Menzies’s private secretary during the war, so Menzies would quickly have learned all that was going on. Reilly (who was the gentleman selected to prepare, a few years later, the lie to the House of Commons about Burgess’s career with the Foreign Office) could have also been called ‘Foreign Office SIS Adviser’.

Another significant fact is that Philby maintained cordial relations with his contacts in the CIA (for example, James Angleton) right up to his departure. That would indicate that the CIA did not connect any dots until after he had left, for whatever reason, and that Bill Harvey’s work on building a case against Philby did not occur until Sillitoe and Martin had arrived in Washington. No record of Harvey’s report to Bedell Smith, which has received so much attention in the various accounts of this period, exists. Gordon Corera, in The Art of Betrayal (2012) informs us that he made repeated requests through the Freedom of Information Act, but came up with nothing. (Corera, by the way, is another historian who ignores the chronology: he has ‘Washington’ insisting that Philby leave.)

Moreover, Corera also has Harvey sending his memorandum not to Smith, but to Allen Dulles, who was Deputy-Director of Plans at that time. Yet this was assuredly a different memorandum. The Cleveland Cram Archive at George Washington University reveals that Harvey and Angleton probably submitted two separate memoranda: when Jack Easton of SIS returned to Washington in July, he pointed out that Sillitoe had been given these memoranda by the CIA, and that the one written by Harvey claimed that Philby was ‘ELLI’. That assertion was not part of the Martin-Lamphere-Harvey communication, and it would appear clear that Harvey had been instructed not to let the Director-General of MI5 see the infamous memorandum with the seven points. In addition, the missive to Dulles was dated June 15, while that to Smith was written two days earlier, immediately after Lamphere’s meeting with Martin.

Christopher Andrew is another of those observers who assert that Philby was recalled because of Bedell Smith’s ‘prompt’ action in demanding Philby’s recall, and that such a demand then required Sillitoe to travel to Washington to mollify Bedell Smith! Moreover, Andrew makes no reference to the seven-point memorandum which Lamphere clearly described in his book, published as early as 1986. Even Anthony Cave Brown, not regarded as the most reliable of historians, reflected the Martin disclosures, in his 1994 epic Treason in the Blood, although he suggested that the dossier on Philby was created by Martin in a rush, when he inspected the records on Philby only after Burgess and Maclean were shown to have flown (May 28) –  a highly improbable scenario. While a fresh decision was no doubt made to communicate its contents to Lamphere, the dossier had surely been compiled beforehand. Nigel West, in his recent Coldwar Spymaster (see last month’s report) quotes Liddell’s diary entry of June 18, when he shares Sillitoe’s statement of regret that the FBI had not been shown the shortlist, but otherwise does not explain the circumstances by which this memorandum was created and passed on.

The comments in Liddell’s diary indicate a highly significant and devious plot, however.  On June 14, he reports that Sillitoe has sent in a telegram, ‘saying that the CIA are already conducting enquiries about Philby, whom they regard as persona non grata, and that the FBI may take up the running before long. He [Sillitoe] thinks, however, that we should disclose to the FBI now that Kim’s first wife was a Communist’. Liddell was doubtful about providing this information, and recorded that the decision should be left to Sillitoe: “.  . .  he should make it clear that no proper assessment of Philby’s position has so far been possible.” Apart from the absurdity of the Director-General of MI5 having to telegram home for instructions (I cannot see J. Edgar Hoover calling back from Topeka, Kansas to ask his subordinates ‘What should I do?’), Liddell’s state of ignorance would seem to be confirmed.

Given that Martin had just informed Lamphere of the fact of Philby’s first marriage, as one of the seven points, it would appear to prove that (unless Liddell had been creating fake entries for posterity) i) Liddell himself knew nothing of Martin and his seven points; ii) Sillitoe knew nothing of the seven points, and iii) Lamphere could be trusted not to have shared what he was told with his colleagues at the FBI. The only person who could have managed this whole exercise was Dick White. As it turned out, Sillitoe went on to have a meeting with Bedell Smith, but since he had been deliberately kept in the dark about the mission of his sidekick Martin, it is safe to assume that he could have told Bedell Smith nothing about MI5’s dossier on Philby. Ironically, as late as June 27, Liddell records in his diary that White ‘has agreed a memorandum with SIS on the subject of Kim Philby, which is to go to the FBI’. Dick White must have struggled to keep a straight face.

The American side of the story is equally bizarre, with the CIA’s Bill Harvey clearly trying to steal the thunder, claiming he had come to his conclusions about Philby while stuck in traffic on the way to work. (In his 2001 Secret History of the CIA Joseph J. Trento relates an alternative version which Harvey used to tell his team in Berlin, where he was posted in 1953 – that the breakthrough occurred while he was sitting in the barber’s chair: maybe he had trouble remembering his legend.) Harvey was an unusual character, in that he had been recruited from the FBI in 1950 after he had effectively been fired from Hoover’s organisation, probably because a hangover caused him to miss an appointment. Trento, citing William R. Corson, offers a more dramatic explanation – that Hoover set up the incident, so that he could infiltrate Harvey into the CIA as a mole. Whether that is true or not, Harvey had also been enraged when Guy Burgess drew an unflattering caricature of his wife at a party hosted by the Philbys. The story of his epiphany comes from the very influential, but woolly and unreliable 1980 book, Wilderness of Mirrors, by the journalist David Martin, who echoed the claim that Bedell Smith gathered Angleton’s and Harvey’s reports, and let Menzies know that Philby was no longer welcome in Washington. Martin went on to write, in blissful ignorance of what his namesake Arthur had provided, that MI5, ‘working from Harvey’s premise’ then compiled a dossier against Philby that included the seven points of light. “I have toted [sic] up the ledger and the debits outnumber the assets’, he had the head of MI5 (i.e. not Menzies, but Sillitoe) then informing the CIA in response. Wilderness of Mirrors builds up a paean to Harvey as ‘the man who unmasked Philby’ and upstaged his rival James Angleton, the start of a lifelong reputation that was then reinforced by everyone who read Martin’s book: it was all a sham.

In his profile of Philby, The Master Spy (1982), Phillip Knightley (who interviewed his subject in Moscow) manages to record both anecdotes in the space of two pages – Harvey’s extraordinary insight, and the fact that Lamphere was informed by Arthur Martin of the seven points – without recognizing the paradox. Moreover, he also echoes David Martin’s absurd claim that White then endorsed the Bedell Smith report by compiling its own dossier on Philby.  As a weird adjunct to his written testimony, Lamphere then informed Knightley that Martin was accompanied by White himself in a visit to Washington after the Bedell submission, and thereby convinced him of Philby’s guilt! Knightley’s account is typical of this genre in showing an utterly undisciplined approach to chronology, an impressionability to unreliable sources, and a lack of rigorous methodology to sort out conflicts.

Lamphere thus seemed to contradict himself, sealing the fact of his complicity in the plot. As further evidence, Lamphere, who documented the Arthur Martin revelations in 1986, appeared not to object to this flagrant distortion of the truth when Burton Hersh, in The Old Boys (1992) regurgitated this story that appeared in the more definitive history of the CIA, John Ranelagh’s The Agency (1986). The CIA and the FBI were fierce rivals, and culturally very different. Why would he not call out his vainglorious counterpart, and correct the record? (Questioning the possible motives of participants is another aspect of my methodology.) Probably because Harvey was his friend and ally, and they agreed that it was the best way of getting rid of the odious Philby.

Dick White’s Plot

My theory about this is, therefore, that Lamphere knew that a wily plot was under way, and went along with it to enhance the CIA’s reputation. I suspect that Dick White, alerted by Liddell (and maybe by the very astute Maurice Oldfield, an SIS officer who had come to similar conclusions about Philby, but was not yet influential enough to challenge Menzies) crafted the policy of leaking a dossier on Philby to the CIA via Lamphere, so that the CIA could challenge SIS on it, thus deflecting the source of the attack away from MI5. Since Harvey was an ex-FBI man, he had a special relationship with his former colleague: he and Lamphere were old friends. The CIA had been depressed by its recent failed exploits in Albania, with which Philby had been involved, and MI5 was in no shape to make any open criticisms of SIS, what with the Fuchs fiasco fresh in its collective minds. What better way for MI5 of raising its esteem in the opinion of the CIA, and diverting attention to the misfortunes of SIS, than enabling the passing on to the CIA secret information with which it could assail SIS, and secure Philby’s demise?

Thus Lamphere became a willing participant in the scheme, and remained silent. In his book, he very smoothly elides over Harvey’s ‘breakthrough’: “In the summer of 1951, in my in-service lectures to FBI field agents, I was discussing Philby as a major spy; simultaneously, over at the CIA, Bill Harvey and Jim Angleton had no doubts about Philby’s perfidy.” He says nothing about Harvey’s ‘Aha!’ moment when stuck in traffic. He subdued his ego for the greater cause. By 1986, however, he no doubt felt that it was safe to explain what really happened. Yet no one picked him up: instead we read all these stories, no doubt encouraged by the CIA, of MI5 responding to the shrewd insights of its operatives by compiling its dossier on Philby in response to the CIA’s breakthroughs.

MI5 was thus clearly trying to play a very cagey game, no doubt inspired by Dick White rather than the bemused Sillitoe or the cautious Liddell, playing off the Foreign Office and SIS, and attempting to curry favour with the CIA, minimizing MI5’s culpability in the sluggish investigation into HOMER. The service surely had compiled a dossier on Philby much earlier (as the Roberts-Liddell exchanges will probably confirm), and many commentators, such as Hamrick, imply that the study of the VENONA texts had led White and co. to Maclean much earlier than MI5 later claimed. SIS’s passivity in the whole affair is a bit surprising, unless Menzies and White (acting on behalf of the confused Sillitoe) had done a deal whereby they would quietly ‘bury’ Philby in the same way that White and Liddell had smothered any disclosures about Anthony Blunt and Leo Long. Yet the fact that Menzies sent his emissary Jack Easton out to Washington in July to explain to Bedell Smith that Philby’s only identified transgression so far had been to board Guy Burgess in his Washington home indicated that SIS was probably not aware of the beans that had been spilled by Arthur Martin earlier.

As for Liddell, it was surprising that he was not sent on the mission with Sillitoe – after all, he was Sillitoe’s deputy, was nominally in charge of the investigation, and knew as much as anybody about Soviet espionage – but maybe he was considered not devious enough, and might have betrayed the fact that he had harboured suspicions about Philby for some years already. White may have therefore manoeuvered Martin into the assignment, as a less imaginative spokesperson. Yet Tom Bower’s biography of White, The Perfect English Spy, offers a different explanation. The account of these weeks is a chronological disaster, as White clearly wanted to deceive his interlocutor. The future head of MI5 and SIS gave his biographer a complete tissue of lies, not only massively confusing the timetable of events, but omitting some vital aspects of the story. Again, this episode merits a report of its own, and I need to interweave the claimed chronology with my previous account of Liddell’s meetings with Rees and Blunt (see http://www.coldspur.com/donald-macleans-handiwork ), so I shall just highlight the main travesties here.

Among the distortions, Bower has White approaching John Sinclair, the deputy-director of SIS, after Sillitoe’s return from the USA, requesting that Philby be brought back to England for questioning, while indicating that Philby was not under suspicion at that time. He makes no mention of the detailed plans for visiting Washington that Kew has now disclosed, most significantly overlooking the dossier that Arthur Martin shared with Lamphere, instead saying that Martin’s conversations with Lamphere ‘were focused on Burgess’. Instead, White has himself and Martin compiling the dossier after the request to Philby went out. Moreover, he repeats the story of the letter of warning to Philby before the telegram, but again, being sent after Sillitoe and Martin had returned. It is apparent, also, that White told Bower that he wanted Liddell out of the investigation because of Liddell’s associations with Burgess and his injudicious meeting with Blunt, and Liddell’s foolish request to Blunt to open Burgess’s flat to look for clues and correspondence.

White hints broadly to his biographer that Liddell came under suspicion as a Soviet spy, yet on January 2, 1980, he would declare (as reported by the Canberra Times) that “Any suggestion that Liddell was a Russian agent is the most awful, rotten nonsense. I knew him well and never had the slightest doubt about his good faith.” What is also remarkable is the evidence, in the Cleveland Cram files, that, when White came over to Washington in January 1952, he admitted to Scott, Dulles and Wisner in the CIA that Philby had been spying for the Soviets up until 1945, but had then ‘probably stopped’ his activities. That was an extraordinarily reckless statement to make, especially in view of the fact that MI5 had not elicited a confession from Philby, and that Harold Macmillan would go on to clear him, to the House of Commons, in 1955. It was overall a very slippery, mendacious performance by White in trying to put a positive seal on his legacy, concealing the bulk of the facts, and shifting the blame to Liddell when he, White, was just as responsible as his mentor. After all, if, as I claim is true, Blunt and Leo Long were discovered spying in 1944, White and Liddell should both have steered very clear of Blunt in 1951. ‘Dick White – A Re-assessment’ is urgently required.

But why MI5 thought that it had to bow to Foreign Office pressure, and could get away honourably, and without detection, with showing Lamphere the seven-point memorandum while concealing it from Hoover remains a puzzlement. It is all very amateurish, suggesting perhaps that the Foreign Office, which in May had been insistent that Martin not tell the FBI that Maclean was a suspect, was in on the ruse, perhaps believing that it would move attention away from Maclean to Philby. The whole saga demands further analysis.

Conclusion (for now)

In conclusion, therefore, it would appear that the judgments made against Philby by Liddell in 1947 were indeed shared, but suppressed. If there is one continuous theme to my research, it is the fact that awareness of the Cambridge Five’s treachery existed well before the authorities admitted it: Burgess with the Comintern in 1940, Blunt in 1944, Philby by 1947, Cairncross in 1952, and Maclean in 1949 – or even earlier. We also have new dimensions to Liddell’s career – an insider who guessed too much too soon in 1947, a senior officer, during the vital Philby inquiry in 1951, being pushed aside and outwitted by someone who would vanquish him in the competition for Director-General a year later, and then a possible secret assignment for the same erstwhile colleague in 1955, after his retirement from MI5. And was he perhaps an articulate and expert source to favoured journalists, trying to get the hidden facts revealed in some way without his fingerprints detectable on the medium?

The irony is that E. H. Cookridge, of all observers, because of his first-hand knowledge of Philby’s activities in Vienna, should be the one to learn from Liddell of Philby’s recruitment before he set out for Austria. The conversation must have been two-way: no doubt Cookridge helped fill in the background to Philby’s communist agitation for Liddell. In 1968, however, with Liddell dead, Cookridge still felt he could not identify his source when he wrote The Third Man, but no doubt sensed the sands of time were running out when he communicated with Andrew Boyle in 1977. There is work to do: trying to inspect travel records for 1955, having a look at the  photographs of KV 2/3783, applying to the BBC for access to Roberts’s testimonial, wading through the voluminous Springhall files myself, tracking down those CIA memoranda, reading Bayard Stockton’s biography of Bill Harvey, Flawed Patriot, applying some more rigorous structure to the events of May and June 1951 (including re-inspecting KV 6/143, and attempting to integrate Dick White’s erroneous chronology), and, maybe most significant of all, gaining access to the Cookridge archive at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Is there anyone out there who can help with that last task?

Oh, and by the way, is there anyone in MI5 or SIS keeping tabs on coldspur? If such a person has any questions – or any tips – you know how to get hold of me.

This month’s Commonplace entries can be found here.

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Guy Liddell: A Re-Assessment

Guy Liddell

Guy Liddell’s ‘Guardian’ – Nigel West

I have met Nigel West, the pen name adopted by Rupert Allason, the undisputed doyen of British writers on intelligence matters, on three occasions, as I have recorded in previous blogs. I met him first at a conference on wartime Governments-in-Exile at Lancaster House several years back, and he kindly agreed to come and listen to the seminar on Isaiah Berlin that I was giving at the University of Buckingham the following week. We exchanged emails occasionally: he has always been an informative and encouraging advisor to researchers into the world of espionage and counter-espionage, like me. A couple of years ago, I visited him at his house outside Canterbury, where I enjoyed a very congenial lunch.

Nigel West

Shortly before Misdefending the Realm appeared, my publisher and I decided to send Mr. West a review copy, in the hope that he might provide a blurb to help promote the book. Unfortunately, Mr. West was so perturbed by the errors in the text that he recommended that we withdraw it in order to correct them. This was not a tactic that either of us was in favour of, and I resorted to quoting Robin Winks to cloak my embarrassment: “If intelligence officers dislike a book, for its tone, revelations, or simply because the find that one or two facts in it may prove compromising (for which, also read embarrassing), they may let it be known that the book is ‘riddled with errors,’ customarily pointing out a few. Any book on intelligence will contain errors, given the nature and origin of the documentation, and these errors may then be used to discredit quite valid judgments and conclusions which do not turn on the facts in question.”  (Robin W. Winks, in Cloak & Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961, p 479) Since then, therefore, I have not dared to approach Mr. West on questions of intelligence where I might otherwise have sought his opinion.

I would still describe myself as being on friendly terms with Mr. West, though would not describe us as ‘friends’.  (No collector like Denis Healey or Michael Caine am I.  I count my friends in this world as a few dozen: most of them live in England, however, which makes maintenance of the relationship somewhat difficult. On my infrequent returns to the UK, however, I pick up with them as if I had last seen them only the previous week. What they say about the matter is probably better left unrecorded.) And I remain an enthusiastic reader of Mr. West’s books. I have about twenty-five of his publication on my shelves, which I frequently consult. I have to say that they are not uniformly reliable, but I suspect that Mr. West might say the same thing himself.

His latest work, Cold War Spymaster, subtitled The Legacy of Guy Liddell, Deputy Director of MI5, is a puzzling creation, as I shall soon explain. Two of Mr. West’s works on my bookshelf are his editions of Guy Liddell’s Diaries – Volume 1, 1939-1942, and Volume 2, 1942-1945. In a way, these items are superfluous to my research needs, as I have the full set of Liddell’s Diaries on my desktop, downloaded from the National Archives website. Mr. West told me that he would have dearly liked to publish more of Liddell’s chronicle, but it was not considered economically viable. Yet I still find it useful to consult his editions since he frequently provides valuable guides to identities of redacted names, or cryptonyms used: it is also important for me to know what appears in print (which is the record that most historians exploit), as opposed to the largely untapped resource that the original diaries represent. Cold War Spymaster seems to reflect a desire to fill in the overlooked years in the Liddell chronicle.

Guy Liddell, the Diaries and MI5

As West [I shall, with no lack of respect, drop the ‘Mr.’ hereon] points out, Liddell’s Diaries consist an extraordinary record of MI5’s activities during the war, and afterwards, and I do not believe they have been adequately exploited by historians. It is true that a certain amount of caution is always required when treating such testimony: I have been amazed, for example, at the attention that Andrew Roberts’s recent biography of Churchill has received owing to the claim that the recent publication of the Maisky Diaries has required some revisionist assessment. The Soviet ambassador was a mendacious and manipulative individual, and I do not believe that half the things that Maisky ascribed to Churchill and Anthony Eden were ever said by those two politicians. Thus (for example), Churchill’s opinions on the Soviet Union’s ‘rights’ to control the Baltic States have become distorted. Similarly, though to a lesser degree, Stephen Kotkin takes the claims of Maisky far too seriously in Volume 2 of his biography of Stalin.

Diaries, it is true, have the advantage of immediacy over memoirs, but one still has to bear in mind for whose benefit they are written. Liddell locked his away each night, and probably never expected them to be published, believing (as West states) that only the senior management in MI5 would have the privilege of reading them. Yet a careful reading of the text shows some embarrassments, contradictions, and attempts to cover up unpleasantries. Even in 2002, fifty years later, when they were declassified, multiple passages were redacted because some events were still considered too sensitive. Overall, however, Liddell’s record provides unmatched insights into the mission of MI5 and indeed the prosecution of the war. I used them extensively when researching my thesis, and made copious notes, but now, each time I go back to them on some new intelligence topic, I discover new gems, the significance of which I had overlooked on earlier passes.

Describing Liddell’s roles during the time of his Diaries (1939-1952) is important in assessing his record. When war broke out, he was Assistant-Director, under Jasper Harker, of B Division, responsible for counter-intelligence and counter-espionage. B Division included the somewhat maverick section led by Maxwell Knight, B1F, which was responsible for planting agents within subversive organisations such as the Communist Party and Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. When Churchill sacked the Director-General, Vernon Kell, in May 1940, and introduced the layer of the Security Executive under Lord Swinton to manage domestic intelligence, Liddell was promoted to Director of B Division, although he had to share the office with an inappropriate political insertion, William Crocker, for some months. As chaos mounted during 1940, and Harker was judged to be ill-equipped for leadership, David Petrie was brought in to head the organisation, and in July 1941 he instituted a new structure in which counter-intelligence against communist subversion was hived off into a new F Division, initially under John Curry. Thus Liddell, while maintaining an interest, was not nominally responsible for handling Soviet espionage during most of the war.

David Petrie

Petrie, an effective administrator appointed to produce order, and a clear definition of roles, was considered a success, and respected by those who worked for him. He retired (in somewhat mysterious circumstances) in 1946, and was replaced by another outsider whose credentials were superficially less impressive, the ex-policeman, Percy Sillitoe – an appointment that Liddell resented on two counts. Petrie was a solid administrator and planner: he had been in his position about a year-and-a-half when he produced, in November 1942, a paper that outlined his ideas about the future of MI5, how it should report, and what the ideal characteristics of officers and the Director-General should be. His recommendations were a little eccentric, stressing that an ideal D-G should come from the Services or Police, and have much experience overseas. Thus Liddell, who probably did not see the report, would have been chagrined at the way that career intelligence officers would have been overlooked. In the same file at Kew (KV 4/448) can be seen Liddell’s pleas for improving career-paths for officers, including the establishment of a permanent civilian intelligence corps in the services.

Petrie was reported to have kept a diary during his years in office, but destroyed it. The authorised historian, Christopher Andrew, glides over his retirement. In a very provocative sentence in his ODNB entry for Petrie, Jason Tomes writes: “In retrospect, this triumph [the double cross system] had to be set alongside a serious failure: inadequate surveillance of Soviet spies. Petrie sensed that the Russian espionage which MI5 uncovered was the tip of an iceberg, but the Foreign Office urged restraint and MI5 had itself been penetrated (by Anthony Blunt).” What Soviet espionage had MI5 uncovered by 1945? Green, Uren and Springhall were convicted in 1942, 1943 and 1944, respectively, but it is not clear why Petrie suspected an ‘iceberg’ of Communist penetration, or what sources Tomes is relying on when he claims that Petrie had evidence of it, and that he and the Foreign Office had a major disagreement over policy, and how the Director-General was overruled. Did he resign over it? That would be a major addition to the history of MI5. The defector Gouzenko led the British authorities to Nunn May, but he was not arrested until March 1946. Could Petrie have been disgusted by the discovery of Leo Long and his accomplice Blunt in 1944? See Misdefending the Realm for more details. I have attempted to contact Tomes through his publisher, the History Press, but he has not responded.

Like several other officers, including Dick White, who considered resigning over the intrusion, Liddell did not think the Labour Party’s appointing of a policeman showed good judgment. Sillitoe had worked in East Africa as a young man, but since 1923 as a domestic police officer, so he hardly met Petrie’s criteria, either.  Astonishingly, Petrie’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography asserts that Petrie had recommended Liddell for the post, but had been overruled by Attlee – an item of advice that would have been a complete volte-face in light of his memorandum three years earlier. On the other hand, it might be said that Sillitoe could have well riposted to his critics, after the Fuchs affair, that the established officers in MI5 did not understand counter-intelligence either. And in another of those enigmatic twists that bedevil attempts to work out what really happened here, Richard Deacon (whose role I shall inspect later in this piece), wrote about Sillitoe in The Greatest Treason: “The picture which has most unfortunately been portrayed since Sillitoe’s departure from MI5 has been that of a policeman totally out of place in a service which called for highly intellectual talents. This is total balderdash: someone like Sillitoe was desperately needed to put MI5 on the right track and to get rid of the devious amateurs who held power.” One might ask: was that not what Petrie had been doing for the past five years?

Percy Sillitoe

In any case, Liddell also thought that he deserved the job himself. Yet he did receive some recognition, and moved nearer to the seat of leadership. In October 1946 he replaced Harker as Deputy Director-General, and frequently stood in for his new boss, who had a rough time trying to deal with ‘subversive’ MI5 officers, and reportedly liked to travel to get away from the frustrations of the office climate.  What is puzzling, however, about the post-war period is that, despite the fact that the Nazi threat was over, and that a Labour government was (initially) far more sympathetic to the Soviet cause, B Division did not immediately take back control of communist subversion. A strong leader would have made this case immediately.

The histories of MI5 (by Christopher Andrew, and West himself) are deplorably vague about responsibilities in the post-war years. We can rely on John Curry’s internal history, written in 1945, for the clear evidence that, after Petrie’s reorganization in the summer of 1941, F Division was responsible for ‘Communism and Left-Wing Movements’ (F2, under Hollis), which was in turn split into F2A (Policy Activities of CPGB in UK), under Mr Clarke, F2B (Comintern Activities generally, including Communist Refugees), and F2C (Russian Intelligence), under Mr. Pilkington. Petrie had followed Lord Swinton’s advice in splitting up B Division, which was evidently now focused on Nazi Espionage (B1A through B1H). Dick White has been placed in charge of a small section simply named ‘Espionage’, with the mission of B4A described as ‘Suspected cases of Espionage by Individuals domiciled in United Kingdom’, and ‘Review of Espionage cases’. Presumably that allowed Liddell and White to keep their hand in with communist subversion and the machinations of the Comintern.

Yet that agreement (if indeed it was one) is undermined by the organisation chart for August 1943, where White has been promoted to Deputy Director to Liddell, and B4A has been set a new mission of ‘Escaped Prisoners of War and Evaders’. F Division, now under the promoted Roger Hollis, since Curry has been moved into a ‘Research’ position under Petrie, still maintains F2, with the same structure, although Mr Shillito is now responsible for F2B and F2C. With the Soviet Union now an ally, the intensity of concerns about Communist espionage appears to have diminished even more. (In 1943, Stalin announced the dissolution of the Comintern, although that gesture was a fraudulent one.) One might have expected that the conclusion of hostilities, and the awareness within MI5, and even the Foreign Office, that the Soviet Union was now the major threat (again), would provoke a reallocation of forces and a new mission. And, indeed, this appears to be what happened – but in a quiet, unannounced fashion, perhaps because it took a while for Attlee to be able to stand up to the Bevanite and Crippsian influences in his Party. A close inspection of certain archives (in this case, the Pieck files) shows that in September 1946, Michael Serpell identified himself as F2C, but by the following January was known as B1C. This is an important indicator that White’s B Division was taking back some responsibility for Soviet espionage in the light of the new threat, and especially the Gouzenko revelations of 1945. Yet who made the decision, and exactly what happened, seems to be unrecorded.

According to Andrew, after the war, B Division was highly focused on Zionist revolts in Palestine, for which the United Kingdom still held the mandate. Yet he (like West) has nothing to say about F Division between Petrie’s resignation in 1946 and Dick White’s reorganisation in 1953. The whole of the Sillitoe era is a blank. Thus we have to conclude that, from 1947 onwards, Hollis’s F Division was restricted to covering overt subversive organisations (such as the Communist Party), while B Division assumed its traditional role in counter-espionage activities, such as the tracking of Klaus Fuchs and Nunn May, the case of Alexander Foote, and the interpretation of the VENONA transcripts. The artificial split again betrayed the traditional weaknesses in MI5 policies, namely its age-old belief that communist subversion could come only through the agencies of the CPGB, and that domestically-educated ‘intellectual’ communists would still have loyalty to Great Britain. White held on to this thesis for far too long. Gouzenko’s warnings – and the resumption of the Pieck inquiry – had aroused a recognition that an ‘illegal’ network of subversion needed to be investigated. Yet it was not until the Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia, with the subsequent executions, and the Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948, that Attlee’s policy toward the Soviets hardened, and B Division’s new charter was accepted.

I return to West and Liddell. On the inside cover of each volume of the published Diaries appear the following words: “Although reclusive, and dependent on a small circle of trusted friends, he (Liddell) was unquestionably one of the most remarkable and accomplished professionals of his generation, and a legend within his own organisation.” Even making allowances for the rhetorical flourish of granting Liddell a ‘mythical’ status, I have always been a little sceptical of this judgment. Was this not the same Liddell who recruited Anthony Blunt and Victor Rothschild into his organisation, and then wanted to bring in Guy Burgess, only being talked out of it by John Curry? Was this the same officer who had allowed Fuchs to be accepted into atomic weapons research, despite his known track-record as a CP member, and who allowed SONIA to carry on untouched in her Oxfordshire hideaway? Was this the same officer whom John Costello, David Mure, Goronwy Rees, Richard Deacon and SIS chief Maurice Oldfield all * thought so poorly of that they named him as a probable Soviet mole? Moreover, in his 1987 book, Molehunt, even West had described Liddell as ‘unquestionably a very odd character’. Can these two assessments comfortably co-exist?

* John Costello in Mask of Treachery (1988); David Mure in Master of Deception (1980); Goronwy Rees in the Observer (1980); Richard Deacon in The Greatest Treason (1989); Maurice Oldfield in The Age, and to US intelligence, quoted by Costello.

To balance this catalogue of errors, Liddell surely had some achievements to his credit. He was overall responsible for conceiving the Double-Cross Operation (despite White’s claims to his biographer of his taking the leading role himself, and ‘Tar’ Robertson receiving acclaim from some as being the mastermind of the operation), and basked in the glory that this strategic deception was said to have played in ensuring the success of OVERLORD, the invasion of France. He supervised Maxwell Knight’s infiltration of the Right Club, which led to the arrest and incarceration of Anna Wolkoff and Tyler Kent. He somehow kept B Division together during the turmoil of 1940 and the ‘Fifth Column’ scare. His Diaries reveal a sharp and inquiring mind that was capable of keeping track of myriads of projects across the whole of the British Empire. Thus I opened Cold War Spymaster in the hope that I might find a detailed re-assessment of this somewhat sad figure.

‘Cold War Spymaster’

First, the title. Why West chose this, I have no idea, as he normally claims to be so precise about functions and organisation. (He upbraided me for getting ‘Branches’ and ‘Divisions’ mixed up in Misdefending the Realm, although Christopher Andrew informs us that the terms were used practically interchangeably: it was a mess.) When Geoffrey Elliott wrote about Tommy (‘Tar’) Robertson in Gentleman Spymaster, he was somewhat justified, because Robertson’s main claim to fame was the handling of the German double-agents in World War II. When Martin Pearce chose Spymaster for his biography of Maurice Oldfield, he had right on his side because Oldfield headed SIS, which is primarily an espionage organisation. Helen Fry used it for her profile of the SIS officer, Charles Kendrick, and Charles Whiting wrote a book titled Spymasters for his account of GCHQ’s manipulation of the Germans. But Liddell headed a counter-espionage and counter-intelligence unit: he was not a master of spies.

Second, the subject. Subtitled The Legacy of Guy Liddell, Deputy Director of MI5, the book ‘is intended to examine Liddell’s involvement in some important counter-espionage cases’. Thus some enticing-looking chapters appear on The Duke of Windsor, CORBY (Gouzenko), Klaus Fuchs, Konstantin Volkov (the would-be defector from Turkey who almost unveiled Philby), BARCLAY and CURZON (in fact, Burgess and Maclean, but why not name them so? : BARCLAY does not appear until the final page of a ninety-page chapter), PEACH (the codename given to the investigation of Philby from 1951), and Exposure. One might therefore look forward to a fresh analysis of some of the most intriguing cases of the post-war period.

Third, the sources. Like any decent self-respecting author of average vanity, the first thing I did on opening the book was to search for my name in the Acknowledgments or Sources. But no mention. I might have thought that my analysis, in Misdefending the Realm, of Liddell’s flaws in not taking the warnings of Krivitsky seriously enough, in not insisting on a follow-up to the hint of the ‘Imperial Council’ source, worthy of inclusion. I saw such characters as Tommy Robertson, Dick White, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross, Yuri Modin and even Jürgen Kuczynski listed there, which did not fill my bosom with excitement, as I thought their contributions would have been exhausted and stale by now. The Bibliography is largely a familiar list of books of various repute, going back to the 1950s, with an occasional entry of something newer, such as the unavoidable and inevitable Ben Macintyre, from more recent years. It also, not very usefully, includes Richard Deacon’s British Connection, a volume that was withdrawn and pulped for legal reasons, and is thus not generally available  So what was this all about?

It turns out that the content of the book is about 80% reproduction of public documents, either excerpts from Liddell’s Diaries from the time 1945 to his resignation in 1953, or from files available at the National Archives. (It is very difficult to distinguish quickly what is commentary and what is quoted sources, as all appear in the same typeface, with many excerpts continuing on for several pages, even though such citations are indented.  And not all his authoritative statements are sourced.) The story West tells is not new, and can be largely gleaned from other places. Moreover, he offers very little fresh or penetrating analysis. Thus it appears that West, his project on publishing excerpts from the Diaries forced to a premature halt, decided to resuscitate the endeavour under a new cover.

So what is Liddell’s ‘legacy’? The author comes to the less than startling conclusion that ‘with the benefit of hindsight, access to recently declassified documents and a more relaxed attitude to the publication of memoirs [what does this mean? Ed.], we can now see how Liddell was betrayed by Burgess, Blunt and Philby.’ Is that news? And does West intend to imply that it was not Liddell’s fault? He offers no analysis of exactly how this happened, and it is a strain to pretend that Liddell, whose object in life was to guard against the threats from such lowlifes, somehow maintained his professional reputation while at the same time failing calamitously to protect himself or the Realm. What caused the fall from grace of ‘unquestionably one of the most remarkable and accomplished professionals of his generation’? Moreover, the exploration of such a betrayal could constitute a poignant counterpoint to the sometime fashionable notion – espoused by Lord Annan and others –  that Goronwy Rees had been the greater sinner by betraying, through his criticisms of Burgess and Maclean in his People articles, the higher cause of friendship. Cold War Spymaster thus represents a massive opportunity missed, avoided, or perhaps deferred.

Expert, Administrator or Leader?

In Misdefending the Realm, my analysis of Liddell concluded that he was an essentially decent man who was not tough enough for the climate and position he was in. Maybe someone will soon attempt a proper biography of him, as he deserves. His earlier years with Special Branch and the formative years in the 1930s are not really significant, I think. West starts his Chronology with January 1940, when Krivitsky was interrogated, and I agree that that period (which coincides closely with the start of the period studied in Misdefending the Realm) is the appropriate place to begin.

I have always been puzzled by the treatment of Jane Archer, whom Liddell essentially started to move out at the end of 1939. Why he would want to banish his sharpest counter-espionage officer, and replace her with the second-rate Roger Hollis – not the move of a ‘remarkable and accomplished professional’ – is something that defies logic. Yet the circumstances of Archer’s demise are puzzling. We have it solely on Liddell’s word that Archer was fired, in November 1940, at Jasper Harker’s behest, because she had reputedly mocked the rather pompous Deputy Director-General once too much. (She did not leave the intelligence world, but moved to SIS, so her behaviour cannot have been that subversive.  Incidentally, a scan of various memoranda and reports written by Harker, scattered around MI5 files, shows a rather shrewd and pragmatic intelligence officer: I suspect that he may have received a poor press.) I should not be surprised to discover that there was more going on: I am so disappointed that no one appears to have tried to interview this gallant woman before her death in 1982.

Kathleen (aka ‘Jane’) Archer, nee Sissmore, MI5’s most capable counter-espionage officer

It would be naïve to imagine that MI5 would be different from any other organisation and be immune from the complications of office politics – and office romance. If I were writing a fictionalized account of this period, I would have Guy Liddell showing an interest in the highly personable, intelligent, humorous and attractive Jane Sissmore (as she was until September 1939). Liddell’s marriage had fallen on rocky ground: in Molehunt, Nigel West stated that his wife Calypso née Baring (the daughter of the third Baron Revelstoke) had left him before the start of the war.  John Costello, in Mask of Treachery, related, having interviewed Liddell himself, that Calypso had absconded as early as 1938, and that Liddell had travelled to Miami in December of that year, and surprisingly won a successful custody battle. Yet contemporary newspapers prove that Calypso had left her husband, taking their children to Florida as early as July 1935, in the company of her half-brother, an association that raised some eyebrows as well as questions in court. Liddell followed them there, and was able, by the peculiarities of British Chancery Law, to make the children wards of court in August. In December, Calypso publicly called her husband ‘an unmitigated snob’ (something the Revelstokes would have known about, I imagine), but agreed to return to England with the offspring, at least temporarily. At the outbreak of war, however, Calypso had managed to overturn the decision because of the dangers of the Blitz, and eventually spirited their children away again. West informs us that, ‘for the first year of the war Liddell’s daughters lived with his widowed cousin Mary Wollaston in Winchester, and Peter at his prep school in Surrey, and then they moved to live with their mother in California’. (Advice to ambitious intelligence officers: do not marry a girl named ‘Calypso’ or ‘Clothilde’.)

The day before war broke out, Jane Sissmore married another MI5 officer, Joe Archer. In those days, it would have been civil service policy for a female employee getting married to have to resign for the sake of childbearing and home, but maybe the exigences of war encouraged a more tolerant approach. Perhaps the Archers even delayed their wedding for that reason. In any case, relationships in the office must have changed. There is not a shred of evidence behind my hypothesis that Liddell might have wooed Sissmore in the first part of 1939, but then there is not a shred of evidence that he maintained a contact in Soviet intelligence to whom he passed secrets, as has been the implication by such as Costello. Yet it would have been very strange if, his marriage irretrievably broken, he had been unappreciative of Sissmore’s qualities, and not perhaps sought a closer relationship with her. It might also explain why Liddell felt uncomfortable having Jane continue to work directly for him. Despite her solid performance on the Krivitsky case, she was appointed supremo of the Regional Security Liaison Officers organisation in April 1940. In this role she quickly gained respect from the hard-boiled intelligence officers, solicitors, stockbrokers and former King’s Messengers who worked for her, until she and Liddell in late October 1940 had another clash (as I reported in the Mystery of the Undetected Radios: Part 3). She was fired shortly after.

Liddell’s life was complicated by the insertion, in August 1940, of William Crocker as his co-director of B Division, at Lord Swinton’s insistence, and no doubt with the advice of Sir Joseph Ball. It is not clear what the exact sequence of events was, but Crocker, who was a solicitor, and Ball’s personal one to boot, had acted for Liddell in trying to maintain custody of the three children he had with Calypso. While the initial attempt had been successful, it was evidently overturned in 1939, and Liddell and his wife were legally separated in 1943. Crocker did not last long in MI5, and he resigned in September of 1940. While David Petrie brought some structure and discipline to the whole service by mid-1941, Liddell had buried himself in his work (and in the task of writing up his Diaries each night), and had found social company in circles that were not quite appropriate for his position. The personal stress in his life, alone and separated from his four children, must have been enormous.

Such contacts would come back to haunt Liddell. When Petrie retired from the Director-Generalship of MI5 in 1946, Liddell was overlooked as replacement, some accounts suggesting that a word in Attlee’s ear by the leftwing firebrand, ‘Red’ Ellen Wilkinson, had doomed his chances. The most recent description of this initiative appears in Michael Jago’s 2014 work, Clement Attlee: The Inevitable Prime Minister, where he describes Liddell’s rejection despite the support for him from within MI5. Wilkinson had apparently told her lover, Herbert Morrison, who was Home Secretary in the postwar Labour administration, that Liddell had in 1940 betrayed the communist propagandist Willi Münzenberg, who had entered Stalin’s hitlist and been assassinated in France.

Several aspects of such an assertion are extremely illogical, however. It is true that the suspicions that Attlee and his ministers had about the anti-socialist tendencies of MI5 coloured the Prime Minister’s perspectives on security matters, but this narrative does not bear up to examination. First, for a leftist agitator like Wilkinson (who had also been the lover of Münzenberg’s henchman, Otto Katz) to confirm her close association with Münzenberg, and take up Münzenberg’s cause against Stalin, was quixotic, to say the least, even if her convictions about the communist cause had softened. Second, for her to believe that the democratically-minded Attlee would look upon Münzenberg’s demise as a cause for outrage reflected a serious misjudgment. He would not have been surprised that MI5, and Liddell in particular, would have taken such a stance against Communist subversion, especially when he (Attlee) learned about the activities of the Comintern a decade before. Third, for Wilkinson to think that Attlee could be persuaded that Liddell had abetted the NKVD in eliminating Münzenberg, showed some remarkable imagination. Fourth, if Attlee had really listened carefully to her, and found her arguments persuasive, he would hardly have allowed Liddell to continue on in MI5 without even an investigation, and to be promoted to Deputy Director-General as some kind of designate. (Churchill was back in power when Sillitoe resigned.) Thus Wilkinson’s personification of Liddell as an agent of Stalinism has the ring of black comedy.

Donald McCormick (aka Richard Deacon)

I have discussed this with the very congenial Mr. Jago, who, it turns out, was at Oxford University at exactly the same time as I, and like me, relocated to the USA in 1980. (We worked out that we must have played cricket against each other in opposing school teams in 1958.) He identifies his source for the Wilkinson anecdote as that figure with whom readers of this column are now very familiar, the rather problematical Richard Deacon. Indeed, in The Greatest Treason, Deacon outlined Wilkinson’s machinations behind the scenes, attributing her reservations about Liddell to what Münzenberg had personally told her about his ‘enemy in British counter-espionage’ before he was killed. Deacon had first introduced this theory in his 1982 memoir With My Little Eye, attributing the source of the story to the suffragette Lady Rhondda, who had apparently written to Deacon about the matter before she died in 1958, also suggesting that Liddell ‘was trying to trap Arthur Koestler’. Yet Deacon qualified his report in The Greatest Treason: “Whether Ellen Wilkinson linked the Münzenberg comments with Guy Liddell is not clear, but she certainly remembered Münzenberg’s warning and as a result expressed her doubts about him. Morrison concurred and it was then that Attlee decided to bring an outsider in as chief of MI5.” I rest my case: in 1940, with Nazi Germany an ally of Soviet Russia, Liddell should have done all he could to stifle such menaces as Münzenberg. Of course Münzenberg would have ‘an enemy in MI5’. I cannot see Attlee falling for it, and this particular urban legend should be buried until stronger independent evidence emerges.

The rumour probably first appeared in David Mure’s extraordinary Last Temptation, a faux memoir in which he uses the Guy/Alice Liddell connection to concoct a veiled dramatization of Liddell’s life and career. This work, published in 1980, which I have analysed in depth in Misdefending the Realm, exploits a parade of characters from Alice in Wonderland to depict the intrigues of MI5 and MI6, and specifically the transgressions of Guy Liddell. If anyone comes to write a proper biography of Liddell, that person will have to unravel the clues that Mure left behind in this ‘novel of treason’ in order to determine what Mure’s sources were, and how reliable they were. Mure describes his informant for the Ellen Wilkinson story as an old friend of Liddell’s mother’s, ‘the widow of a food controller in the First World War’, which does not quite fit the profile of Sir Humphrey Mackworth, whom Viscountess Rhondda had divorced in 1922. A task for some researcher: to discover whether Mure and Deacon shared the same source, and what that person’s relationship with Ellen Wilkinson was.

‘The Greatest Treason’

Regardless of these intrigues, Nigel West suggested, in A Matter of Trust, his history of MI5 between 1945 and 1972, quite reasonably that an ‘insider’ appointment would have been impossible in the political climate of 1945-1946, what with a rampant Labour Party in power, harbouring resentment about the role that MI5 had played in anti-socialist endeavours going back to the Zinoviev Letter incident of 1924. Yet West, while choosing to list some of Liddell’s drawbacks (see below) at this stage of the narrative, still judged that Liddell could well have been selected for the post had Churchill won the election. The fact was that Churchill returned, and Liddell again lost.

Another Chance

When Sillitoe’s time was over in 1953, Liddell still considered himself a candidate for Director-General, and faced the Appointments Board in the Cabinet Office on April 14. (West reproduces his Diary entry from that evening.) It appears that our hero had not prepared himself well for the ordeal. Perhaps he should have been alarmed that a selection process was under way, rather than a simple appointment, and that one of his subordinates was also being encouraged to present himself. When the Chairman, Sir Edward Bridges, asked him what qualifications he thought were appropriate for the directorship, Liddell recorded: “I said while this was a little difficult to answer, I felt strongly somebody was need who had a fairly intimate knowledge of the workings of the machine.” That was the tentative response of an Administrator, not a Leader. Later: “Bridges asked me at the end whether I had any other points which had not been covered, and on reflection I rather regret that I did not say something about the morale of the staff and the importance of making people feel that it was possible for them to rise to the top.” He regretted not saying other things, but his half hour was up. He had blown his opportunity to impress.

Even his latest sally probably misread how his officers thought. Few of them nursed such ambitions, I imagine, but no doubt wanted some better reward for doing a job they loved well. For example, Michael Jago (the same) in his biography of John Bingham, The Spy Who Was George Smiley, relates how Maxwell Knight tried to convince Bingham to replace him as head of the agent-runners. Jago writes: “He strenuously resisted promotion, pointing out that his skills lay as an agent runner, not as a manager of agent runners. The administrative nature of such a job did not appeal to him; his agents were loyal to him and he reciprocated that loyalty.” This is the dilemma of the Expert that can be found in any business, and is one I encountered myself: should he or she take on managerial duties in order to gain promotion and higher pay, or can the mature expert, with his specialist skills more usefully employed, enjoy the same status as those elevated to management roles?

Dick White

Liddell was devastated when he did not get the job, especially since his underling, Dick White, whom he had trained, was indeed appointed, thus contradicting the fact of White’s ‘despondent’ mood after his interview, which he had communicated to Liddell. The authorised historian of MI5, Christopher Andrew, reported the judgment of the selection committee, which acknowledged that Liddell had ‘unrivalled experience of the type of intelligence dealt with in MI5, knowledge of contemporary Communist mentality and tactics and an intuitive capacity to handle the difficult problems involved’. But ‘It has been said [‘by whom?’: coldspur] that he is not a good organiser and lacks forcefulness. And doubts have been expressed as to whether he would be successful in dealing with Ministers, with heads of department and with delegates of other countries.’ This was a rather damning – though bureaucratically anonymous – indictment, which classified Liddell as not only an unsuitable Leader, but as a poor Administrator/Manager as well, which would tend to belie the claim that he had much support from within MI5’s ranks.

(Incidentally, Andrew’s chronology is at fault: he bizarrely has Liddell retiring in 1952, White replacing him as Deputy Director-General and then jousting with Sillitoe, before the above-described interviews in May 1953. The introduction to the Diaries on the National Archives repeats the error of Liddell’s ‘finally retiring’ in 1952. West repeats this mistake on p 185 of A Matter of Trust, as well as in Molehunt, on pp 35-36, but corrects it in the latter on p 123. Tom Bower presents exactly the same self-contradiction in his 1995 The Perfect English Spy. West’s ODNB entry for Liddell states that “  . . . , in 1953, embarrassed by the defection of his friend Guy Burgess, he took early retirement to become security officer to the Atomic Energy Authority”, thus completely ignoring the competition for promotion. It is a puzzling and alarming pattern, as if all authors had been reading off the same faulty press release, one that attempted to conceal Liddell’s embarrassing finale. In his 2005 Introduction to the published Diaries, West likewise presents the date of Liddell’s retirement correctly, but does not discuss his failed interview with the Appointments Board. The Introduction otherwise serves as an excellent survey of the counter-intelligence dynamics of the Liddell period, and their aftermath.)

Liddell’s being overlooked in 1946 cannot have helped his cause, either. West wrote, of the competition for D-G that year, that Liddell’s intelligence and war record had been ‘exceptional’, and continued: “He was without question a brilliant intelligence officer, and he had recruited a number of outstanding brains into the office during his first twelve months of the war. But he had a regrettable choice in friends and was known to prefer the company of homosexuals, although he himself was not one. [This was written in 1982!] Long after the war he invariably spent Friday evenings at the Chelsea Palace, a well-known haunt of homosexuals.” West updated his account for 1953, stating that Liddell ‘might have at first glance have seemed the most likely candidate for the post, but he had already been passed over by Attlee and was known to have counted Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess amongst his friends.’ In the light of Burgess’s recent decampment with Maclean, that observation strikes an inappropriate chord, as if Burgess’s homosexuality rather than his involvement in Soviet espionage had been the aspect that tarnished Liddell’s judgment, and that Liddell’s now recognized professional failings were somehow not relevant. After all, Burgess’s homosexuality was known to every government officer who ever recruited him.

Moreover, if associating with the Bentinck Street crowd that assembled at Victor Rothschild’s place cast a cloud over Liddell’s reputation, Dick White may have been as much at fault as was Liddell. It is somewhat difficult to find hard evidence of how close the associations at the Rothschild flat were, and exactly what went on. Certainly, Rothschild rented it to Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt. Goronwy Rees’ posthumous evidence, as retold by Andrew Boyle, was melodramatic. The Observer article of Sunday, January 20, 1980 was titled ‘The Brotherhood of Bentinck Street’, with Rees explaining how ‘Burgess and Blunt entangled top MI5 man Guy Liddell in their treachery’. Rees went on to say that Liddell was one of Burgess’s ‘predatory conquests’, and that Burgess’s ‘main source’ must have been Liddell. Rees certainly overstated the degree of sordidness that could be discovered there. White, meanwhile, still a bachelor, was reported, according to his biographer, Tom Bower, to attend wartime parties in Chesterfield Street, Mayfair, hosted by Tomas ‘Tommy’ Harris, where he mixed with such as Blunt, Philby, Burgess, Rothschild, Rees and Liddell himself. White, however, was not a ‘confirmed bachelor’ and married the communist novelist Kate Bellamy in November 1945.

Yet none of this would have been known about in 1953, or, if it had, would have been considered quite harmless. After all, the top brass in Whitehall was unaware at this time of Blunt’s treachery (although I contend that White and Liddell, and maybe Petrie, knew about it), and Burgess had mixed and worked with all manner of prominent persons – all of whom rapidly tried to distance themselves from any possible contamination by the renegade and rake. Moreover, Liddell had not recruited Burgess to MI5, even though he had wanted to, but been talked out of it by John Curry. John Costello, in his multipage assault on Liddell in Mask of Treachery, lists a number of ‘errors’ in Liddell’s behavior that raise ‘serious questions about Liddell’s competency, bad luck, or treachery’, but most of these would not have been known by the members of the Appointments Board, and the obvious mistakes (such as oversights in vetting for Klaus Fuchs) were not the responsibility of Liddell alone. He simply was not strong enough to have acted independently in protecting such persons.

Thus it is safe to assume that Liddell was rightly overlooked in 1953 because he was not leadership material, not because of his questionable associations. White was, on the other hand, a smoother operator. He had enjoyed a more enterprising career, having been posted to SHAEF at the end of 1944, and spent the best part of eighteen months in counter-intelligence in Germany, under General Eisenhower and Major-General Kenneth Strong, before touring the Commonwealth. (Strong was in fact another candidate for the MI5 leadership: White told his biographer that he noted Strong’s lack of interest in non-military intelligence.) He knew how to handle the mandarins, and sold himself well. As Bower wrote, in his biography of White, The Perfect English Spy: “The qualities required of an intelligence chief were evident: balance, clarity, judgment, credibility, honesty, cool management in the face of crisis, and the ability to convey to his political superiors in a relaxed manner the facts which demonstrated the importance of intelligence.” Malcolm Muggeridge was less impressed: “Dear old Dick White”, he said to Andrew Boyle, “‘the schoolmaster’. I just can’t believe it.”

White was thus able to bury the embarrassments of two years before, when he and Liddell had convinced Sillitoe to lie to Premier Attlee over the Fuchs fiasco, and he had also somehow persuaded the Appointments Committee that he was not to blame for the Burgess/Maclean disaster. This was an astounding performance, as only eighteen months earlier, in a very detailed memorandum, White had called for the Philby inquiry to be called off, only to face a strong criticism from Sir William Strang, the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office since 1949, who was also on the Selection Committee. Yet White had previously clashed with Strang when the latter held back secret personal files. They shared similar convictions of misplaced institutional loyalty: Strang could not believe that there could be spies in the Diplomatic Service, while White refused to accept that there could be such among the officers of the intelligence corps.

White had also benefitted from Liddell’s promotion. He had returned from abroad in early 1946, and had been appointed head of B Division, since Liddell had been promoted to Deputy Director-General under Sillitoe, with Harker pushed into early retirement. Thus White took over centre-stage as the Cold War intensified, and was in obvious control of the meetings about Fuchs (1949-50), and then Burgess and Maclean (1951), with Liddell left somewhat out of the main picture. White was then able to manipulate the mandarins to suggest that the obvious mistakes had either not occurred on his watch, or had else been unavoidable, while Liddell was left in a relatively powerless no-man’s-land. It would appear that White out-manoeuvred his boss: how genuine was his display of ‘despondency’ to Liddell after the interview, one wonders?

White was probably also a better Leader than a Manager. He was somewhat bland, and smoothness was well-received in Whitehall: he had the annoying habit of agreeing with the last person who made a case to him – a feature that I came across frequently in business. There can be nothing more annoying than going in to see a senior manager, and making a well-prepared argument, and see a head nodding vigorously the other side of the desk, with its owner not challenging any of your conclusions or recommendations. Yet nothing happens, because the next person who has won an audience may put forward a completely different set of ideas, and still gain the nodding head. That is a sign of lack of backbone. R. A. (later Lord) Butler ascribed the same deficiency to his boss, Lord Halifax, and Franklin Roosevelt was said to exhibit the same tendency, preferring to manipulate people through his personal agencies and contacts, and commit little in writing. But White dealt well with the politicians, who considered him a ‘safe pair of hands’, and his career thrived after that.

Re-Assessing Liddell

When Kim Philby was being investigated as the possible ‘Third Man’ in the latter part of 1951, George Carey-Foster, the Security Officer in the Foreign Office, wrote to Dick White about their suspect’s possible escape: “Are you at any stage proposing to warn the ports, because even that may leak and bring in the Foreign Office? For these reasons as well as for those referred to in my previous letter I think we ought to know how we are to act before we are overtaken by events.” That was one of the main failings of Liddell’s that I identified in Misdefending the Realm: “Liddell was very reactive: he did not appear to prepare his team for any eventuality that came along” (p 284). How should MI5 respond if its recommendations over vetting were overruled? What policies were in place should a defector like Gouzenko or Volkov turn up? How should MI5 proceed if it came about that one of its officers was indeed a Soviet spy, yet the evidence came through secret channels? Who should conduct interrogations? Under what circumstances could a prosecution take place? There was no procedure in place. Events were allowed to overtake MI5.

The task of a regular counter-espionage officer was quite straightforward. It required some native intelligence, patience and attention to detail, stubbornness, curiosity, empathy, a knowledge of law and psychology, unflappability (the attributes of George Smiley, in fact). As it happens, I compiled this list before reading how Vernon Kell, the first Director of MI5 had described the ideal characteristics of a Defence Security Officer: ‘Freedom from strong personal or political prejudices or interest; an accurate and sympathetic judgment of human character, motives and psychology, and of the relative significance, importance and urgency of current events and duties in their bearing on major British interests’. They still make sense. Yet, if an officer performed his job of surveillance industriously, and identified a subversive, not much more could be recommended than ‘keeping an eye on him (or her)’. MI5 had no powers of arrest, so it just had to wait until the suspect was caught red-handed planting the bomb in the factory or handing over the papers before Special Branch could be called in. That process would sometimes require handling ‘agents’ who would penetrate such institutions as the Communist Party HQ, for example Olga Gray and her work leading to the capture and prosecution of Percy Glading. That was a function that Maxwell Knight was excellent at handling.

With the various ‘illegals’ and other aliens floating around, however, officers were often left powerless. They had to deal with busybody politicians interfering in immigration bans and detention orders, civil servant poohbahs overriding recommendations on non-employment, cautious ministers worried about the unions, inefficient security processes at sea- and air-ports, leaders cowed by their political masters, Foreign Office diplomats nervous about upsetting Uncle Joe Stalin in the cause of ‘cooperation’, or simple laziness and inattention in other departments – even absurd personnel policies. Thus Brandes and Maly and Pieck were allowed to escape the country, Krivitsky’s hints were allowed to fade away, Fuchs was recruited by Tube Alloys, and Burgess and Maclean were not fired from their positions in the Foreign Office but instead moved around or given sick leave, and then allowed to escape as the interrogation process ground into motion. These were problems of management and of leadership.

If a new manager asks his or her boss: “What do I have to do to perform a good job?”, and the boss responds: “Keep out of trouble, don’t rock the boat, and send your status reports in on time”, the manager will wisely not ruffle feathers, but concentrate on good recruitment, training, and skills development, following the procedures, and getting the job done. The problem will however arise that, after a while when the ship is running smoothly, the manager may be seen as superfluous to requirements, while his or her technical skills may have fallen by the wayside. That may lead to a loss of job (in the competitive commercial world anyway: probably not in government institutions.) If, however, the boss says: “I want you to reshape this unit, and set a few things on fire”, the candidate may have to develop some sharp elbows, lead some perhaps reluctant underlings into an uncertain future, and probably upset other departments along the way. That implies taking risks, putting one’s head above the parapet, and maybe getting metaphorically shot at. In a very political organisation – especially where one’s mentor/boss may not be very secure – that rough-and-tumble could be equally disastrous for a career. I am familiar with both of these situations from experience.

So where does that leave ‘probably the single most influential British intelligence officer of his era’ (West)? We have to evaluate him in terms of the various roles expected of him. He was indubitably a smart and intelligent man, imaginative and insightful. But what were his achievements, again following what West lists? ‘His knowledge of Communist influence dated back to the Sidney Street siege of January 1911’ – but that did not stop him recruiting Anthony Blunt, and allowing Communists to be inserted into important positions during his watch. ‘He had been on the scene when the Arcos headquarters in Moorgate had been raided’, but that operation was something of a shambles. ‘He had personally debriefed the GRU illegal rezident Walter Krivitsky in January 1940’, but that had been only an occasional involvement, he stifled Jane Archer’s enterprise, and he did not put in place a methodological follow-up. ‘He was the genius behind the introduction of the now famous wartime Double Cross system which effectively took control of the enemy’s networks in Great Britain’, but that was a claim that White also made, the effort was managed by ‘Tar’ Robertson, and the skill of its execution is now seriously in question. As indicated above, West alludes to Liddell’s rapid recruitment of ‘brains’ in 1940, but Liddell failed to provide the structure or training to make the most of them. These ‘achievements’ are more ‘experiences’: Liddell’s Diaries contain many instances of decisions being made, but it is not clear that they had his personal stamp on them.

Regrettably, the cause of accuracy is not furthered by West’s entry for Liddell in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Again, vaguely referring to his subject’s ‘supervision’ of projects, and ‘key role’ in recruiting such as White and Blunt, West goes on to make the following extraordinary claim: “Thus Liddell was closely associated with two of MI5’s most spectacular accomplishments, the interception and decryption of German intelligence signals by the Radio Security Service, and the famed ‘double cross system’. The Radio Security Service had grown, under Liddell’s supervision, from an inter-service liaison committee known as the Wireless Board into a sophisticated cryptographic organisation that operated in tandem with Bletchley Park, concentrating on Abwehr communications, and enabling MI5 case officers to monitor the progress made by their double agents through the reports submitted by their enemy controllers to Berlin.” Yet this is a travesty of what occurred. As I showed in an earlier posting, the Radio Security Service (RSS) was a separate unit, part of MI8. MI5 rejected taking it over, with the result that it found its home within SIS. It had nothing organisationally to do with the Wireless Board, which was a cross-departmental group, set up in January 1941, that supervised the work of the XX Committee. RSS was an interception service, not a cryptological one. It was the lack of any MI5 control that partly contributed to what historian John Curry called the eventual ‘tragedy’. Thus West founds a large part of what he characterizes as a ‘remarkable’ career on a misunderstanding: Liddell’s lifework was one dominated by missed opportunities.

Moreover, West cites one of his sources for his bibliographic entry on Liddell as Richard Deacon’s Greatest Treason. This seems to me an error of judgment on at least three counts, and raises some serious questions of scholarship. While Deacon’s work contains the most complete account of Liddell’s earlier life, it is largely a potboiler, having as its central thesis the claim that Liddell was an agent of Soviet espionage, and may even have been the elusive ELLI over whose identity many commentators have puzzled. (The lesser-known subtitle of Deacon’s book is The Bizarre Story of Hollis, Liddell and Mountbatten.) Yet this is a position with which West is clearly not in sympathy, as is shown by his repeated encomia to Liddell’s performance. The Editors at the ODNB should have shown much more caution in allowing such a book to be listed as an authoritative source without qualification. Lastly, a fact that Deacon did not acknowledge when his book was published in 1989, West had himself been a researcher for Richard Deacon, as West explains in a short chapter in Hayek: A Collaborative Biography, edited by Robert Leeson, and published in 2018. Here he declares that Deacon was ‘exceptionally well-informed’, but he finesses the controversy over Liddell completely. Somewhere, he should have explained in more detail what lay behind his research role, and surely should have done more to clarify how his source contributed to his summarization of Liddell’s life, and why and where he, West, diverged from Deacon’s conclusions.

Something else with which West does not deal is Liddell’s supposed relationship with one of the first women members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Joyce Whyte. David Mure, in The Last Temptation, had hinted at this lady’s identity, but not named her, giving her the codename ‘Alice’. In With My Little Eye, however, Richard Deacon went much further, providing us with the following insight (which can be found in a pagenote on p 194 of Misdefending the Realm): “In the early 1920s, when Liddell was working at Scotland Yard, supposed to be keeping a watch on communists, his mistress was Miss Joyce Wallace Whyte of Trinity College, Cambridge, and at that time one of the first women members of the Cambridge Communist Party. In 1927 she married Sir Cuthbert Ackroyd, who later became Lord Mayor of London.” For what it is worth, Deacon has Whyte’s family living in Chislehurst, Kent: Mure indicates that the influential lady lived nearby, in Sidcup.

It is not as if Liddell were outshone by his colleagues, however. To an extent, he was unlucky: unfortunate that there was another ‘able’ candidate available in White when a preference for an insider existed, and perhaps unfairly done by, from a historical standpoint, when the even less impressive Hollis succeeded White later. A survey of other candidates and successes does not depict a parade of standouts. Jasper Harker was regarded by all (maybe unjustly) as ineffectual, but was allowed to languish as Deputy Director-General for years. Dick White was not intellectually sharper than Liddell, but was likewise impressionable, and equally bamboozled. He managed the politics better, however, had broader experience, and was more decisive. Hollis was certainly less distinguished than Liddell in every way. Petrie was an excellent administrator, and occasionally showed signs of imaginative leadership, sharpening up MI5’s mission, but he was not a career intelligence officer. Sillitoe did not earn the respect of his subordinates, and had a hazy idea of what counter-intelligence was. Liddell’s equivalent in SIS, Valentine Vivian, comes across as something of a buffoon, clueless about the tasks that were confronting him, and how he should go about them, and Vivian’s arch-enemy within SIS, Claude Dansey (whose highly unusual behavior may perhaps be partially explained by his being involved, in 1893, in a scandalous affair with Oscar Wilde, Lord Alfred Douglas, and Robbie Ross), was regarded as poisonous by most who encountered him. Kim Philby outwitted them all. (If his head had been screwed on the right way, he would have made an excellent Director-General.) So, with a track-record of being only a mediocre man-manager, it should come as no surprise that the very decent and intellectually curious Liddell should have been rejected for the task of leading Britain’s Security Service. The tragedy was that MI5 had no process for identifying and developing interior talent.

When Liddell resigned, he was appointed security adviser to the Atomic Energy Commission, an irony in that AERE Harwell was the place where Fuchs had worked until his investigation by Henry Arnold, the adviser at the time. The introduction to Liddell’s Diaries at the National Archives suggests that he was in fact quite fortunate to gain this post, considering his links to Burgess, Rothschild and Philby. (The inclusion of Rothschild in these dubious links is quite impish on the behalf of the authorities.) Liddell died five years later. The verdict on him should be that he was an honest, intelligent and imaginative officer who did not have the guts or insight to come to grips with the real challenges of ‘Defending the Realm’, or to promote a vision of his own. He was betrayed – by Calypso, by Blunt, Burgess and Philby, by White, and maybe by Petrie. In a way, he was betrayed by his bosses, who did not give him the guidance or tutoring for him to execute a stronger mandate. But he was also soft – and thus open to manipulation. Not a real leader of men, nor an effective manager. By no means a ‘Spymaster’, but certainly not a Soviet supermole either.

What it boils down to is that, as with so many of these intelligence matters, you cannot trust the authorised histories. You cannot trust the memoirists. You cannot trust the experts. You cannot always trust the archives. And you cannot even trust the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which is sometimes less reliable than Wikipedia. All you can trust is coldspur, whose ‘relentless curiosity and Smileyesque doggedness blow away the clouds of obfuscation that bedevil the world of intelligence’ [Clive James, attrib.].

In summary, we are left with the following paradoxical chain of events:

  • During the 1970s and 1980s, Nigel West performs research for Richard Deacon.
  • In 1987, West publishes Molehunt, where he describes Liddell as ‘a brilliantly intuitive intelligence officer’.
  • In 1989, Deacon publishes The Greatest Treason, which claims Guy Liddell was a Soviet mole.
  • In 2004, West writes a biographical entry for Liddell in the ODNB, which praises him, but carelessly misrepresents his achievements, and lists The Greatest Treason as one of the few sources.
  • In 2005, West edits the Liddell Diaries, and provides a glowing Introduction for his subject.
  • In 2015, West provides a chapter to a book on Hayek, praises Deacon for his knowledge, but debunks him for relying on two dubious sources. He does not mention Liddell.
  • In 2018, West writes a new book on Liddell, which generally endorses the writer’s previous positive opinion of him, but rejects the opportunity to provide a re-assessment of Liddell’s career, merely concluding that Liddell, despite being’ the consummate professional’, had been ‘betrayed’ by Burgess, Blunt and Philby. West lists in his bibliography two other books by Deacon (including the pulped British Connection), but ignores The Greatest Treason.

So, Nigel, my friend, where do you stand? Why would you claim, on the one hand, that Liddell was a brilliant counter-espionage officer while on the other pointing your readers towards Richard Deacon, who thought he was a communist mole?  What do you say next?

This month’s Commonplace entries can be found here.

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Special Bulletin: In Search of Henry Hardy

Regular readers will know that Isaiah Berlin has featured prominently in my research. His planned trip to Russia with Guy Burgess in 1940 was what triggered the course of study leading to my doctoral thesis; my article in History Today, ‘The Undercover Egghead’, analysed his role in intelligence; his study of Marx and Marxism plays a pivotal role in Misdefending the Realm, where I also record his wartime activities, including his somewhat shady dealings with the Soviet agent Gorsky; I have written about his private life in ‘Isaiah in Love’, and in ‘Some Diplomatic Incidents’, both posted on this website.

Isaiah Berlin

Throughout this time Henry Hardy, Berlin’s chief editor, and the man largely responsible for bringing Berlin’s writings to orderly publication, and a broader audience, has been very helpful to me, providing me with unpublished source material, and answering my questions. He attended the seminar on Berlin that I held at the University of Buckingham, and I had the pleasure of travelling to the Wirral to visit him a few years ago. Yet Henry has, quite naturally, been a little suspicious of my motives, thinking that I was perhaps a ‘conspiracy theorist’ (true, in a way), and he has probably not agreed with all my conclusions about the qualities of Berlin’s thought, or the judiciousness of some of his actions. I believe I can confidently state, however, that he respects the seriousness of my methods, and my commitment to scholarship.

Henry Hardy

Last year, Henry published a book titled In Search of Isaiah Berlin, in which he describes his decades-long relationship with Berlin, and his struggles (as they must surely be called) to bring Berlin’s papers to a state ready for publication and see them into print. (He had already kindly sent me some of these works that I had not already acquired.) A philosopher himself, Henry also records the exchanges he had with Berlin in trying to understand exactly what lay behind the ideas his mentor espoused, attempting to resolve what appeared to him to be contradictions.

The book recently became available in the USA, and I have now read it. While enjoying the saga of Henry’s activities as an editor, I must confess to being somewhat disappointed by the essence and outcome of the philosophical debate. (I am probably a little jealous, too, that Henry’s book has received far more attention in the press than has Misdefending the Realm, but that must be due both to Henry’s energies and the fact that Berlin is still regarded as a national treasure.)

‘In Search of Isaiah Berlin’ by Henry Hardy

Henry’s reflections concern some of Berlin’s more controversial assertions, especially those about the universality of human nature, and the nature of pluralism. At the risk of oversimplifying what is a deep discussion in the second part of Henry’s book, the paradoxes arising from Berlin’s writings that particularly interested me could be stated as follows:

  1. Are human values in some way universal, and thus shared? If so, whence do they derive? And should we treat behavior that appears essentially as ’evil’ as still ‘human’?
  2. How does a pluralist outlook relate to the national culture to which it belongs, and how should it treat dogmas that ruthlessly reject such a compromising worldview?
  3. Can pluralism function as a remedy against relativism, namely the view that values have no standing outside the society or person who espouses them?

Berlin appeared to cherish some thoughts about the objectivity of such a common core of values across humanity, but provided little evidence, and Henry’s earnest and well-framed questions frequently drew no convincing response from Berlin. I was somewhat alarmed at the fuzziness of all of this, and accordingly organised some thoughts to send to Henry, to which he generously replied. That exchange comprises this Special Bulletin. Henry’s comments appear in bold in the passage below.

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Dear Henry,

Congratulations on the publication of In Search of Isaiah Berlin. I enjoyed the story of your quest. I wonder: will we soon read a parody by David Taylor in Private EyeHope springs eternal …

I was prompted by the intensity of your debate, and my own exposure to IB’s writings, to record a few reactions, not exactly random, but not comprehensive or fully-formed, either. (I have not studied what sociologists have no doubt written about these issues.)

The dominant thought that occupied me was that, if the great thinker’s ideas needed to be explained by his amanuensis, and yet that interpreter could not find any consistency or coherence in them That’s an exaggeration: my difficulties are local, and I believe resolvable, though not, it seems, by IB at that stage of his life, when his mind had begun to rigidify, then perhaps the ideas were not that outstanding in the first place. Some critics have called out IB for humbuggery, but, now having read your book, I am more convinced that IB accepted that he was not a great or original thinker, and was indeed surprised by the attention, acclaim, and awards that he received. Yes, I think he meant it, though he was not too keen when one agreed too readily.

What also struck me was a disappointing vagueness in the terminology used in the discourse. That point is well taken, and indeed I make it myself in the book (e.g. p. 207). But to some extent vagueness goes with the territory: ‘Out of the vague timber of humanity no precise thing was ever made’, one might say. This point was made by Aristotle: ‘It is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs.’ Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, 1094b.24. IB himself is aware of this point: I could look for the references if you wanted them. But the main message is that human affairs do not lend themselves to the same precision as the sciences. You may recall that, in Misdefending the Realm, I wrote of IB’s book on Marx: “In his method and style, Berlin echoes much of Marx’s verbosity, and displays an unexpected lack of precision in his references to such concepts as ‘civilisation’, ‘class’, ‘nation’, ‘race’, ‘community’, ‘people’, ‘group’, ‘culture’, ‘age’, ‘epoch’, ‘milieu’, ‘country’, ‘generation’, ‘ideology’, ‘social order’, and ‘outlook’, which terms all run off the page without being clearly defined or differentiated.” I am not sure that watertight definitions of these terms are possible; but of course one should use them with all due care. (I also asserted that the book was ‘erudite, but not really scholarly’ – an opinion with which Professor Clarke of All Souls and the University of Buckingham agreed. I agree too. Did you really find it ‘brilliant’ (p 61)? Yes, in the sense that he gets inside Marx’s skin and understands what makes him tick: far more important, in my opinion, than getting the references right. Sadly, I saw this pattern repeated in many of the exchanges you had with IB. What does it mean, for example, to wish that humanity could have ‘moral or metaphysical unity’ My phrase not IB’s: I meant living in a shared moral and conceptual world (p 251)? Who are ‘normal human beings’ (p 177)? That is the $64,000 question, to which chunks of this book, and all of the next one, are/will be devoted. It was also one of IB’s recurring themes, of course, but it is not an easy one: he appeals to ‘A general sense of what human beings are like – which may well not merely have gaps but be seriously mistaken in places – but that cannot be helped: all vast generalisations of this kind are neither avoidable nor demonstrable’ (p. 189).

 I also found the debate all very abstract. That may be a valid criticism. My own default methodological rule is to give at least one concrete example of every abstract point, but I expect I fail to do this reliably in the book. However, part of the problem is that IB and I have a more philosophical temperament than you do, as a historian. That’s why I invited unphilosophical readers to skip chapters 9–11. Do you not agree that it could have benefitted from more real-world examples? Probably (see above). Perhaps some references to research being performed in more scientific disciplines than philosophy, such as anthropology, psychology, evolutionary biology, or even history, and the dreaded sociology? Perhaps, but a leading burden of IB’s song is that human studies are generically different from scientific ones, and this means that there is a limit to how far the latter can throw light on the former. Some disciplines are partly hybrids between the two, including those IB mentions on p. 189; and he always insisted that science should be used to the maximum extent possible. I, however, am too ignorant to summarise the current state of science. (IB tends to support this point of exposure on p 189.) As I write, I have in front of me the March 1 issue of the Times Literary Supplement. In one review, the anthropologist Richard Wrangham is quoted as identifying ‘coalitionary proactive aggression’ as a drive that launched human ancestors toward full humanity. I read that review too, and found it enormously suggestive. A few pages later, Michael Stanislawski draws our attention to Omer Bartov’s Anatomy of a Genocide (which I have read, and have referred to on my website), which describes how members of a friendly community suddenly turned mercilessly on each other under the experience of both Nazi and Soviet occupation. What do such pieces tell us about any consistent ‘human nature’, and how could other such experts contribute to the debate? Good questions, which again I am not competent to answer. But there are connections between them and my suggestion that IB underrates evil.

I believe that one of the problems is that, if we talk about ‘human nature’ in a vacuum, we enter the world of mysticism, akin to that of religion. Ignorance rather than mysticism, in my case: I am dead against mysticism. Where does human nature reside? In human biology, history and society. How is it passed on genetically by DNA, or modified by culture and education? IB (p 184) indicates that he thinks that religion is ‘hard-wired’ into human nature: if this were true, how and when did this occur? Who knows? We can only examine ourselves as we are now, and such records of the past as we have, and speculate. And when did the wiring fail I don’t regard its absence as any kind of failure, but as a (sometimes hard-won) strength for those of us who do not require that facet in our lives? And how do such religious instincts get wired into those who would practice, say, honour killings, under the guise of religion by culture, again, which can be a malign force? Does human nature thus not end up being simply those traits that we enlightened beings consider desirable? We must avoid that risk: it should be those traits that are actually beneficial, which is a different matter. Or is human nature just another name for something that is mere tradition, and thus differs in separate countries and times, like the practice of suttee or female circumcision? No: that’s exactly what the term is not supposed to refer to. (Would their adherents say it was ’tradition’ it’s mistaken tradition, in my opinion or ‘human nature’?) And what do we do with a monster like Eric Hobsbawm, who was feted for his historical accomplishments, but to his dying day refused to deny that the murder of millions on behalf of the Communist cause had been a mistake? Was he human? Or was he simply ‘malign’, a ‘pinpusher’, as IB might describe those who fall outside the morally acceptable? Was he ‘evil, without qualification’ (p 194)? Not quite, perhaps; but he was what IB describes as ‘wickedly wrong’ (p. 261).

P.S. I noticed that, in the next issue of the TLS, dated March 8, David Kynaston offers a review of Richard J. Evans’s biography of Hobsbawm, subtitled ‘a national treasure whose politics provoked endless bitterness’. What can one say about a ‘culture’ that promotes a worm like Hobsbawm to such status? It is all here, including the notorious ‘Desert Islands Discs’ programme where Hobsbawm openly approved the slaughter of millions in the communist cause. As John Gross is recorded here as saying, such apologists would have been the first to be lined up against the wall to be shot.

On religion, I was surprised by your rather weak defence of atheism, as if we needed a new term to define somebody who simply ‘doesn’t understand’. I think we do, for the reasons given; but this doesn’t make one a weak(er) opponent of religion, as my book surely shows. If I am faced with all the verbal paraphernalia of, say, Christianity, with the ideas of God, angels, saints, sin, salvation, heaven, hell, Holy Spirit, saviour, resurrection, eternal life, soul, immaculate conception, transubstantiation, prayer, etc. etc., it is quite easy to take the line that this is all mumbo-jumbo, and no more worthy of discussion than the existence of the Tooth Fairy. It would be easier for me to have conversation about beginnings and ends with an atheist from Turkmenistan than with my fundamentalist Baptist neighbour, who is presumably of the same ‘culture’ or ‘society’ that I find myself in. I share your alienation from that terminology, but to call it mere mumbo-jumbo underestimates its allegorical/metaphorical significance for many believers, something IB accepts (up to a point).

It is no doubt fashionable to talk about ‘cultures’, and the pluralist bogeyman of ‘multiculturalism’, but I believe the concept is much more fluid (and evasive) than your debate suggests. I would maintain that we have to inspect ‘culture’ in at least three dimensions – temporal, geographical, and social, and determine how it relates to the concept of a nation (is there a national ‘culture’ yes, to a greater or lesser extent is specific cases; how does it relate to that country’s rule of law closely?). For example, British (or English!) culture has changed over the centuries: we no longer accept bear-baiting, hanging, slavery, child labour, or duelling, but are currently torn over fox-hunting, and largely indulgent of fishing for sport. Our mores over divorce and homosexuality have gradually evolved in recent decades. We extend the geography to talk about ‘European’ culture, which in its most lofty forms presumably means such features as a free press, scientific inquiry, French cuisine, the Prado, and the Eurovision Song Contest, but have to make exceptions for such localised cultural activities as eating horseflesh, bull-fighting, euthanasia, and lax regulations concerning gun-ownership. (European culture also produced the horrors of Nazism and Communism.) Within a certain country, there may be differences between (and I hesitate to use the terms) ‘high’ culture, such as opera, fox-hunting and polo, and ‘low’ culture, such as fishing, greyhound racing, grunge rock, or trainspotting (p 223)! I might consider myself a ‘cultured’ person without indulging in any of those activities. Thus I find it very difficult to identify something that is a clear and constant ‘culture’ among all these behaviours. Fair enough. One can certainly try to be more careful in one’s use of terms such as ‘culture’. But everyone knows what one means by something being characteristically British, German, Japanese etc.

 So what is the pluralist culture that IB defends? He says (p 194) that he is ‘wedded to his own culture’ – but what is that? Englishness, mainly. He writes about a ‘dominant culture’ in every society, and asserts that the ‘society’ has a right to protect itself against ‘religious or ethnic persuasions which are not compatible with it’ (p 199). But what standing does this have in law? Culture doesn’t operate only by legal means; but law can help support the dominant culture. Enlightened people should stand up against ‘grooming’ and bigamy, presumably of course, but who decides what is compatible and what is incompatible outside the processes of legislation? Everyone, by consensus. What allowances are made for religious observance? I wish it were none, but can’t persuade myself to defend such an extreme position. Should parents be allowed to indoctrinate their own children in some faiths, but not others? Not in any faith, say I: all children should be educated in the plurality of faiths, in the hope (for me) that this will help inoculate them against faith as such. Are they allowed to reject certain socially beneficial practices, such as vaccination? I say no. Don’t tell the Jehovah’s Witnesses! What would IB have said about wearing the niqab in public places? He was probably in favour of allowing it: some Jews, after all, wear skullcaps in public; some Christians crosses. It makes my own flesh creep, but I can’t agree that it should be totally banned. The best test of one’s tolerance is when it is most severely tried.

While I was groping with the elusiveness of what ‘a culture’ means, I read further in the March TLS. It was fascinating. I read pieces about Jews in Belarus, and Circassians in Palestine, and reflected how sad it was that individuals should try to solve their problems of ‘identity’ by searching for the odd habits and practices of one of their grandfathers. Quite so. (I would not expect my grandchildren to do this, since they have a mixture of Vietnamese, West Indian and typically complex British grandparents: is that because we are privileged, or merely sensible?) And then I encountered a marvellous essay by Hanif Kureishi, ‘Touching the Untouchable’, where he looks back at the Satanic Verses scandal. He quotes (disapprovingly) some remarkably silly statements by John le Carré and Roald Dahl, which run as follows:

“My position was that there is no law in life or nature that says great religions may be insulted with impunity” (le Carré), and

“In a civilized world we all have a moral obligation to apply a modicum of censorship to our own work why? in order to reinforce this principle of free speech” (Dahl), and then goes on to state:

“The message of the Enlightenment is that we have some choice over who we want to be, making our own destiny as individuals, without submitting to gods, revelation or ancestors. The basis of this is a liberal education and a democracy of ideas. These are not British values – over which Europeans have no monopoly – but universal ones.”, and closes with:

“Notions of criticism, free-ranging thought, and questioning are universal values which benefit the relatively powerless in particular. If we gave way on any of these, even for a moment, we’d leave ourselves without a culture, and with no hope.”

I think making that equivalence of ‘a culture’ with ‘pluralism’ is spot on bravo, although I think Kureishi is being too optimistic yes: what he should have said is that they should be universal values when claiming these are ‘universal values’, as apparently even members of the intellectual elite do not share them with him, let alone Islamicists = Islamists/Moslems?. And of course, Britain is still part of Europe, with or without Brexit, so the distinction between ‘British’ values and ‘European’ values is somewhat specious, but also telling.

 In summary, I find all the talk about a ‘common core’ of human values, an inherent ‘human nature’, and a definable ‘culture’ all very unconvincing. ‘The crooked timber of humanity’ is indeed that: human beings are very unpredictable, and display very different traits over time and space. Human culture, including religious belief, is not genetically wired in any way, but passed on through the agencies of family, school, friends, church, etc. (For example, I hear so many Americans say that ‘hunting is in everybody’s blood, because once “we” were hunters’: but I have never had any desire to hunt, although if I were starving, I might rediscover the skill. cf. my remarks in the book about militarism, e.g. p. 333) There is no biological basis for ethnicity I think this an exaggeration, given the generalisations of physical anthropology, or the notion of practices inherited through it. Geneticists still do not understand exactly how evolutionary adaptation works. Morality is the sphere of the personal: expansive social actions claiming broader virtue frequently fall foul of the Law of Unexpected Consequences a point IB regularly makes. What governs cultural activity is partly the rule of law, which operates at the level of the nation-state, whose actions themselves should be controlled through democratic processes. The preferred ‘culture’ should simply be pluralism. There is also room for culturally specific ingredients like the Japanese tea ceremony, which are neither required nor prohibited by law, but maintained by tradition for as long as they last. (And, in my implementation, Hobsbawm would not be persecuted, but he would not be invited to appear on Desert Island Discs.)

In Misdefending the Realm I attempted to draw my own picture of how this dynamic operates in a liberal, pluralist society. ‘Forgive me’ (as you are wont to say to your mentor) for including a paragraph here: “In a pluralist society, opinion is fragmented – for example, in the media, in political parties, in churches (or temples or mosques), and between the legislative and the executive arms of government. The individual rights of citizens and their consciences are considered paramount, and all citizens are considered equal under the law. The ethnic, cultural, religious or philosophical allegiances that they may hold are considered private affairs – unless they are deployed to subvert the freedoms that a liberal society offers them. A pluralist democracy values very highly the rights of the individual (rather than of a sociologically-defined group), and preserves a clear line between the private life and the public sphere. So long as the laws are equally applied to all citizens, individuals can adopt multiple roles. The historian of ideas Sir Isaiah Berlin, who has featured so largely in this book, was a major contributor to this notion of the ‘incommensurability of values’, although he did not confidently project it into political discourse why do you say this? I don’t say it in the cited article?.[i] Moreover, a highly important distinction needs to be made: pluralism is very distinct from ‘multiculturalism’, which attempts to reduce the notion of individual identity by grouping citizens into ‘communities’, giving them stereotyped attributes, and having their (assumed) interests represented collectively outside the normal political structure and processes.”

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Henry and I could probably debate further, but I think we are of a very similar mind, and the differences are minor. I did add to him that I thought that philosophers (and others) have to be very careful when they use analogies from the sciences in describing human behaviour (e.g. ‘hard-wired’, ‘in our DNA’), because the usage is dangerous as a metaphor, and inaccurate if meant literally. I also don’t deny the succour that religion has brought to many people (the Paul Johnson theory that because it is beautiful and beneficial, it must be true), but it doesn’t alter my belief that it should be called out for what is, and mumbo-jumbo conveys exactly the right spirit for me. I hope this exchange encourages readers to seek out Henry’s book – and, of course, Misdefending the Realm, for those who have still resisted my entreaties. I look forward to the next publication he promises us.

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Two Cambridge Spies: Dutch Connections (1)

I use this bulletin to update my story of two Cambridge Spies – Donald Maclean, one of the notorious set of 1930s communists, and Willem ter Braak, a member of the Abwehr’s LENA group who underwent a mysterious death in Cambridge in April, 1941. Because of its size, and the distinct subject areas it addresses, I have decided to split this report into two sections, even though there are areas of overlap. Part 2 can be seen here.

Donald Maclean

First, a recap. In ‘Donald Maclean’s Handiwork’ (coldspur, December 2018), I analysed the peculiar and provocative indications that Andrew Boyle and Goronwy Rees had left behind concerning the possible stronger clues that MI5 may have received to the identity of the Foreign Office employee identified (but not named) by Walter Krivitsky as a Soviet spy. Krivitsky had named (John) King as a spy in the Foreign Office, but only hinted at the person who was the ‘Imperial Council’ spy. Two strong hints appeared: the first was Rees’s belated identification of a photographer called ‘Barbara’, who had testified to Maclean’s abilities with a camera, and Rees’s suggestion that Krivitsky had recognized Maclean’s handiwork when he (the GRU officer) had last been in Moscow in 1937. The second was an enigmatic reference to a diplomat called ‘de Gallienne’ in a note in Boyle’s ‘Climate of Treason’, which attributed to him an early reference to Krivitsky and the latter’s description of the persona of Maclean.

At the time, I questioned the reliability of Rees’s deathbed testimony. Rees had historically been a highly dubious witness, and the posthumous account of the conversation he had had with Boyle, which appeared in the ‘Observer’, was a typical mixture of half-truth, downright lies, and questionable accusations. It sounded as if ‘Barbara’ was an inspired invention. As for ‘de Gallienne’, the name was probably wrong. I had discovered a diplomat called ‘Gallienne’, who was chargé d’affaires, and then Consul, in Tallinn in Estonia at the time, but it seemed a stretch to connect this official with Krivitsky and the information that the defector provided to the FBI or to his interrogators from MI5 and SIS in London.

And then – a possible breakthrough. I thus pick up the story and analyse the following aspects of ‘Donald Maclean’s Handiwork’:

  1. The identity of ‘Barbara’, and her relationship with Maclean;
  2. The investigations by MI5 and MI6 into Henri Pieck’s exact involvement in handling Foreign Office spies;
  3. The missing file in King’s folder, and how it relates to anomalies in the story;
  4. The Foreign Office’s obstinacy in the face of Krivitsky’s testimony; 
  5. The possible contribution of Wilfred Gallienne, diplomat, to the investigation; and
  6. Boyle’s apparent reliance on Edward Cookridge and Guy Liddell for information.

‘Barbara’

Barbara Key-Seymer

As I recorded soon after I posted the December story, the author of the recent biography of Donald Maclean, Roland Philipps, suggested that ‘Barbara’ could well be Barbara Key-Seymer, a well-known society photographer of the 1930s. Astonishingly, I had read of this woman only a week beforehand, in Hilary Spurling’s biography of Anthony Powell, Dancing to the Music of Time, where, on page 108, she describes Powell’s friend in the following terms: “As observant as he was himself, she was well on the way to becoming one of London’s most up-to-date photographers  . . .”. Yet the Barbara-photographer connection with the Rees testimony had eluded me. A quick search on ‘Key-Seymer & Donald Maclean’, however, had led me to a portfolio of her photographs at the Tate. The gallery contains an impressive set of artistic names from the 1930s, and on the album page 12 at https://www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/items/tga-974-5-5/ker-seymer-photograph-album/14, alongside Cyril Connolly, can be seen a photograph of Donald Maclean, in Toulon, probably in the summer of 1936. Yet in the annotations provided by the Tate, a question mark appears next to Maclean’s name.

Other communists appear in the album. On page 19, Goronwy Rees can be seen at the 1937 May Day march, and on page 25 two photographs of ‘Derek Blakie’ appear. The editor has not seen fit to correct the script here, but the person is certainly Derek Blaikie, who accompanied Guy Burgess to Moscow in 1934. Blaikie had been born Kahn, attended Balliol College, Oxford, and become a friend of Isaiah Berlin, who suggested in a letter to Stephen Spender that he was a rather dangerous Marxist. Kahn changed his surname to Blaikie in 1933. According to Stewart Purvis & Jeff Hulbert in The Spy Who Knew Everyone, Blaikie’s primary claim to fame was to write a letter to the Daily Worker, just before Burgess’s introductory talk on the BBC in December 1935, in which he explained that Burgess was ‘a renegade from the C.P. of which he was a member while at Cambridge’. This letter, suggesting that Burgess’s conversion to the far right was a ruse, was intercepted by MI5, and entered in Blaikie’s file, but then apparently forgotten. Significantly, Helenus (‘Buster’) Milmo, the QC who interrogated Philby in December 1951, had access to this letter. In his following report Milmo quoted another passage, which ran as follows: “In “going over to the enemy” Burgess followed the example of his closest friend among the Party students at Cambridge who abandoned Communism in order successfully to enter the Diplomatic Service.” A massive tip was not followed up.

I asked Mr Philipps about the collection. I was amazed to learn that he was not aware of its existence and availability. Furthermore, when I followed up about a week later, he told me that he had not yet inspected the display, even though, for reasons he would prefer I not disclose, the albums contained several photographs that would have been of intense interest to him. I was a bit puzzled by the fact that the author of A Spy Named Orphan, which is promoted as ‘the first full biography of one of the twentieth century’s most notorious spies, drawing on a wealth of previously classified files and unseen family papers’ would show such a lack of curiosity in his subject. He then added: “  . . . I also don’t think that the man in that one is DM.  He doesn’t seem tall enough or have quite the face and hair.  Also, I didn’t find him mixing in that society much – he didn’t care for Burgess and I don’t know of any records of his connections with Rees and his rather more social circle.”

Is that not remarkable? That a biographer, without inspecting the photograph personally, instead relying on the on-line image, would distrust the evidence that the photographer herself had recorded? How the figure’s height can be determined when he is squatting, or how his hair could confidently be judged as unrecognizable some eighty years on, strikes me as inexplicable. The evidence for Philipps’s conclusion about Maclean’s social activity is sparse: if we consult his biography, we can find only a few examples of the spy’s life in this period. We learn that ‘wearing the regulation white tie and tails, with his silk-lined opera cloak draped around his tall figure, he escorted Asquith’s granddaughters Laura and Cressida to dances . . .’, and that he was Tony Rumbold’s best man in 1937. Yet Maclean also mixed in bohemian circles – especially after he moved to Paris in 1938. E. H. Cookridge wrote, in The Third Man, that Maclean ‘became a regular visitor to Chester Street’ (Guy Burgess’s residence), and that it was at such parties that he became a habitual drinker. (Cookridge’s anecdotes are, however, unsourced. For some reason he did not consider that Maclean was a Comintern agent at this time.) Nevertheless, no matter how well (or poorly) Maclean and Burgess got on, it would have been considered poor spycraft for them to have gathered together too frequently.  As Philipps himself writes: “Acting on Deutsch’s instructions, Maclean never mentioned Burgess or Philby or spoke to them on the rare occasions when their paths crossed at parties.” Moreover, Maclean became a close friend of the louche Philip Toynbee. Thus I find Philipps’s instant dismissal of Key-Seymer’s evidence, and lack of interest in pursuing the lead, astonishing – mysterious even.

As for Rees, his (and Blaikie’s) presence in the album only reinforces the fact that the Ker-Seymer circle included leftist enthusiasts.  Philipps has told me that Ker-Seymer ‘adored Rees, but was wary of him’, while a letter to the Independent in 1993, after an obituary of Ker-Seymer was published, recalled Barbara with her ‘old friend Goronwy Rees sitting on a banquette during World War II’. Yet the connection sadly does not advance the investigation very far. The inveterate liar Rees may have bequeathed us all a truth when he declared that he and Maclean did indeed have a mutual friend Barbara, who was a photographer, but his testimony does not show that her studio was used by her, or by Maclean, as a location to take photographs of purloined Foreign Office documents. And her studio was not in Pimlico. So why would he bring the subject up? The quest continues.

Henri Pieck and Krivitsky

The career of Henri Christian Pieck, the Dutchman who recruited John King, and then handled him until his operation was suspected by British Intelligence, merits closer analysis. Ever since MI5 and SIS learned from Krivitsky that there was a second spy in the Foreign Office (the ‘Imperial Council’ source), they speculated whether Henri Pieck may himself have run both agents. This investigation picked up after Krivitsky was murdered in Washington in February 1941, especially since Pieck had made a bizarre attempt to leave Holland and work as a cartoonist for the Daily Herald in early 1940. Nothing came out of this venture, but, after the war, when MI5 betook itself to reinspect the vexing case of the Imperial Council spy, with new minds on the case, the evidence was re-examined for the purpose of verifying whether there were physical and logical links between Pieck and the unidentified traitor.

One might ask why Krivitsky, if he was so unwilling (or unable) to offer his interrogators the identity of the Imperial Council spy, but had readily provided them with the name of John King (a mercenary), was so forthcoming about Pieck (a dedicated communist, who had worked for Krivitsky in the Hague). The most probable explanation is that Krivitsky believed that Pieck was no longer working for the Soviets. Pieck had had to withdraw from handling King in early 1936, and to retire to Holland, although he did make one or two discreet visits back to the UK in 1937. Yet Krivitsky did suggest that, if Maly were still alive (of course, he was not), because of the good relationship that existed between Maly and Pieck, there was a possibility that Pieck could be resuscitated at some stage. Telling the British authorities about his role would surely have scotched that: it was not as if Pieck were a shadowy character without a public presence.

Hans Christian Pieck (from TNA file)

A certain amount of animosity existed between the two, however, which might explain Krivitsky’s diminished loyalty. Krivitsky considered Pieck’s expense account for the entertainment and bribing of his agents and friends in the cipher department of the Foreign Office, and others, lavish. When Krivitsky had gained an ideologically committed spy in the Foreign Office (Maclean), he told Pieck, who had had to leave London soon after Maclean was recruited because his ‘safe’ house was no longer secure, that he now had a much cheaper and more effective source. Pieck’s replacement as King’s handler, Maly, then recruited a further Foreign Office source, John Cairncross, before he was recalled to Moscow in the summer of 1937. King’s role thus became markedly redundant, and he was abandoned. Krivitsky may have taken pleasure in that. He was also critical of Pieck’s ingenuousness about the approach in Holland by the ex-SIS operative Hooper (who had ostensibly been fired), saying that it might well be a plan to infiltrate the GRU. He considered Pieck ostentatious and indiscreet: his spycraft was poor.

From his side, Pieck much later told MI5 that Krivitsky’s account of the attempt to acquire arms for the Spanish Republicans in the autumn of 1936 was false, even though Krivitsky’s presentation probably shows Pieck’s performance in better light than what in fact occurred. Krivitsky had described Pieck’s role to his interrogators without naming him, and had not specifically identified the ‘Eastern European capital’ in which the transaction was attempted as Athens. Perhaps trying to boost his own track-record, Krivitsky did not explain that the attempt made  – when Pieck was accompanied by the Englishman William Fitzgerald – was a total failure. (The exchange was also reported back to Menzies, the head of SIS, by the local ambassador.)  Yet one can also not trust Pieck’s account of his dealings with Krivitsky. He claimed that Krivitsky ordered him to kill Reiss: that is unlikely. Like Philby with Franco, he would not have made a reliable hitman, as the NKVD files attest on both of them. Finally, Pieck told his interrogators that he disliked Krivitsky and his wife, so there was clearly no love lost between them. Thus it seems safe to conclude that Krivitsky felt free in giving to MI5 and SIS a name to whom he owed no particular loyalty, and whom he felt they could pursue without any further exposure.

It did not seem to occur to MI5 that, if Pieck had indeed handled both spies, it would have been unlikely that Krivitsky would have talked so freely about him, as Pieck might have been able to reveal information which Krivitsky was clearly reluctant to share. But MI5 and SIS (the latter becoming involved because the breach occurred in the Foreign Office, and was being controlled from overseas), showed a track-record of sluggishness in following up the leads. They were constantly one step behind, and never resolute about what to do next. For example, the SIS renegade Jack Hooper knew, by January 1936, through Pieck’s business associate Conrad Parlanti, of the meeting-place in Buckingham Gate, and even told Pieck, at a house-warming party held by the latter in the Hague later that month, that MI5 knew he was a Communist and that he had been under surveillance in Britain. MI5 and Special Branch had supposedly been trailing Pieck all year. By then, of course, Maly had already replaced Pieck as King’s handler/courier, as Pieck no longer had legitimate reasons for staying in London, and it was taking too long for material to get to Moscow when Pieck had to take it with him to the Hague each time. Just as with Maly shortly afterwards, MI5 and Special Branch would let Pieck slip through their fingers.

What is remarkable about this period, and highlights how unprepared MI5 and SIS were when they were faced with the evidence of an ‘Imperial Council’ spy, is the mess that Valentine Vivian (of SIS) and Jane Sissmore (of MI5, who became Jane Archer when she later married, on the day before war was declared) made of the Pieck investigation when they picked it up again in 1938. 

Vivian and Sissmore Move In

Two years after Pieck supposedly had left the country for good, Vivian was exchanging memoranda with Sissmore about Pieck’s role in Soviet espionage. It appears that Sissmore was taking stock of the situation after the successful, but highly time-consuming, prosecution of Percy Glading, who had been passing on secrets from Woolwich Arsenal to his Soviet contacts. She had played a key role in preparing the case, and Glading was sentenced on March 14, 1938. Glading’s diary had triggered some valuable leads, including one that led MI5 to Edith Tudor-Hart. Pieck was another piece in the puzzle, but his exact role was still a mystery. We should remain aware that, through the agency of Hooper in early 1936, the Intelligence Services had learned of Pieck’s Buckingham Gate location, and what it had been used for, and the fact that Foreign Office documents had been ‘borrowed’ for photographing. The process was a mirror of the Glading exercise. Moreover, MI5 and SIS knew that Pieck had met Foreign Office clerks in Geneva in the early 1930s, and it could trace who those individuals were.

Given the later painstaking process that the CIA and MI5 undertook, in late 1949 and early 1950, to try to discover who in the Washington Embassy had access to the report that finally gave Maclean away, it is surprising that a similar procedure was not initiated on the important report that the ‘Imperial Conference’ spy had passed on. In fact, as her conversations with Krivitsky in early 1940 show, Jane Archer identified it as a secret SIS report, which had been distributed to several Foreign Office contacts by MI5. The exchange is vivid, as her report to Vivian in early February 1940 informs us: “In accordance with your instructions I took Thomas [Krivitsky] yesterday the photographed copy of the cover of the C.I.D. Imperial Conference document No 98., the last page and the portion dealing with the U.S.S.R.  As soon as I showed it to him Thomas said ‘Yes, I have seen this cover several times in Moscow, in white on black form, in the office of the man who receives the material.’ Yet when Krivitsky read the text about the Soviet Union, it was unfamiliar to him.

Archer then tried something else. “I then showed him part of the very secret S.I.S. document of 25.2.37, particularly the paragraph on Page 2 marked (1). He read the first few lines and then said ‘this is the document’.” Archer did not provide a precise pointer to the document in question, but we can learn more about it from elsewhere in the Krivitsky file, at KV 2/405-1, a passage that is worth quoting in full. We find that, much later, on May 1, 1951, A. S. Martin, B2B, wrote: “Xxxxxxx xx [redacted] S.I.S showed me on 28.4.51 extracts from a file held by Colonel Vivian from which it was clear that in 1940 SIS had identified document which K had seen in Moscow. Its title was ‘Soviet Foreign Policy During 1936’; its reference was Mo.8 dated 25.2.37. It had been circulated by S.I.S to FO Northern Department, FO Mr. Leigh, War Office (M.I.2.b, M.I.3.a, M.I.3.b, M.I.5 and the Admiralty. Xxxxxxx told me that he had been unable to trace the document in the S.I.S.  registry and he presumed that it had been destroyed. Xxxxxxx had passed the description of this document to Mr. Carey Foster of the Foreign Office. I subsequently found that the M.I.5 copy of this document was filed at 1a on SF. 420/Gen/1.’ (from). A handwritten note indicates that the document was in ‘K Volume 1’. If K means ‘King’, that was a file that was destroyed (by fire? – see below).  Thus the investigation fizzled, and, as each year passed, the trail became colder.

Valentine Vivian

In any case, Vivian’s insights on Pieck were seriously wrong, out of inattention or laziness. In his letter to Sissmore of March 25, 1938, he wrote: “Pieck has filled much the same position in this country as the ‘PETERS’ (Maly) and ‘STEVENS’ of the recent GLADING case. . . . If his statements are to be believed, he had established himself with certain Foreign Office contacts by the end of 1935 or beginning of 1936, and was able to get the regular loan of documents, which were photographed with a Leica camera and apparatus at an office, which he had taken in, or in the vicinity of, Buckingham Gate.” The ‘has filled’ is deplorably vague, suggesting that Pieck has recently played a role similar to that of Maly and was probably still active, and one of Britain’s most senior counter-intelligence officers appears to think that the purloining of state secrets is an act akin to the borrowing of library books. Should Vivian, moreover, have perhaps developed a mechanism by which he would first distrust the declarations of Soviet agents? Why would they tell the truth? He then shows his disconnectedness by representing the time when Pieck was withdrawn as the time that he started his conspiratorial work with the Foreign Office clerks.

Kathleen (aka ‘Jane’) Archer, nee Sissmore, MI5’s most capable counter-espionage officer

What is even more surprising, given Sissmore’s sharpness and Vivian’s relative dullness, is her not correcting Vivian. MI5 had apparently done nothing in the interim: it must surely have informed Alexander Cadogan, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, some time back, because he refers to the leakages in his diary. Yet no suspects had been interviewed, security procedures had not been tightened, and, for all that MI5 knew, the extractions of secret documents could still have been going on. Just because Pieck had also told Hooper that he was out of the espionage game, why should MI5 believe him, as SIS apparently did? Should they not have attempted to verify? Had they been tracking his movements? After all, they had also learned that Pieck had made his unsuccessful bid to acquire arms for the Republicans in Spain when he and Fitzgerald approached the Greek government in the summer of 1936, as the British Embassy in Athens had reported the encounter to SIS. Pieck was thus still clearly active in the Soviet Union’s cause.

Archer wanted to bring Pieck over from Holland to talk, so she and Vivian must have regarded his commitment to Communism as weakening, and considered that he might now be willing to help his erstwhile target.  This thought was balanced by a strange request from the Dutch Government.  Vivian told Sissmore that his agent in Holland had learned from the Dutch police that Pieck ‘travelled frequently between Holland and England in 1937 and is believed by them to have had the confidence of a high official of Scotland Yard’. Yet his permission had now been withdrawn: they wanted to know why. Vivian could not add much, explaining that they had not been in touch with Hooper since 1935, but did not appear nonplussed by the Scotland Yard linkage. Did he perhaps think that was normal practice for Soviet agents? Moreover, he made an obvious error, as Hooper had had the significant meeting at Pieck’s apartment in January 1936. Was Pieck also stringing the Dutch police along?

Moreover, if that assertion about Pieck’s travel habits was true, how on earth had he managed to fly or steam in to England under the noses of MI5 without being detected? Why did Vivian not express surprise at this revelation? After all, this was a man whom Special Branch had been watching assiduously in 1935, although they never spotted anything untoward. Sissmore had written to Vivian in April 1935 that they could not detect anything suspicious about his visits, but had noted that Pieck should be watched ‘if he ever came over again’. One might expect at least that all ports of entry were being watched. Sissmore next made an inquiry to Inspector Canning of Special Branch on September 2, 1938, and her words are worth quoting verbatim: “It is reported that Pieck is an espionage agent working on behalf of the Soviet Union, and is believed to have at one time filled the place of Paul Hardt (Maly) in the Glading espionage group in this country. He has paid frequent visits to England in the past, but is at present in Holland.”

This is an extraordinarily tentative and detached statement by Sissmore, in its vagueness about dates and use of the passive voice: one explanation might be that she had been unduly influenced by Vivian. Yet her letters to him do not indicate that she was in awe of him: she treats him very much as an equal, and he responds likewise. After all, who was authorized to perform the reporting, and articulating beliefs, if not Sissmore herself? And how could she get the timetable of events so direly wrong, indicating that Pieck had replaced Hardt (Maly), when she knew that Maly, who in fact had replaced Pieck, had left the United Kingdom for good in June 1937, barely escaping capture by Special Branch, and that Pieck’s most frequent visits to Britain had occurred in 1935? (She also unaccountably records this year incorrectly in her report on Krivitsky.) Did she really believe that Pieck had started up his subversive activities again in 1937, simply because of what the Dutch authorities said? And should she not have been a bit more careful in approaching the Metropolitan Police, if Pieck was claiming he had some kind of protection on high at Scotland Yard? Was she simply all at sea? It is an untypically undisciplined performance by MI5’s star counter-espionage officer. One could perhaps surmise that she was being directed to hold back. It is almost as if she were sending a coded message in her reports: ‘This is not my true voice’.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Canning (and Colonel Hinchley-Cooke) (from Stanley Firmin’s ‘They Came to Spy’)

Inspector Canning was then able to inform Sissmore that Pieck had made two visits to England, via Harwich and Folkestone, towards the end of 1937, but these passages had gone completely unnoticed by MI5. What is more, their log showed that Pieck made fifteen visits to the UK in 1935, making his final departure for a while on February 14, 1936, not returning until October 14, 1937. The last trip was a lightning event, since he arrived on February 13 at Dover, and left from Harwich the following day, probably hoping that the change of ports would avoid immediate suspicions. So what did Vivian mean when he said that Pieck established contact at the end of 1935, or early in 1936, if the suspect then disappeared for twenty months? It appears that no detailed chronology – a sine qua non of successful detective work – had been created. The archival record is disappointingly blank after this – until the stories start to appear from Krivitsky and Levine a year later. Perhaps Sissmore and Vivian realized they had severely mishandled the job.

For those who relish intrigue and conspiracy theory, they might find an explanation for Vivian’s enigmatic behavior elsewhere. A Dutchman, F. A. C. Kluiters, has written an article that suggests that Jack Hooper was a double-agent for the Abwehr and the NKVD, and was probably being used by Claude Dansey to pass on disinformation to the Germans. The article can be seen at:
https://www.nisa-intelligence.nl/PDF-bestanden/Kluiters_Hooper2XV_voorwebsite.pdf
   I do not recommend it lightly, as it is so convoluted that it makes a typical chapter of Sonia’s Radio seem like Noddy Goes to School. One day I may attempt to analyze this particular tale, but all I say now is that, if this scheme actually had any substance, and was indeed the creation of Claude Dansey, his arch-rival Valentine Vivian would have been the last person in British Intelligence to know what was going on. Vivian and Dansey were at daggers drawn on many issues, not least of which was the treachery of Jack Hooper, and his subsequent re-engagement after being fired. Vivian may well have been set up to perform a mea culpa over Hooper’s betraying to the Abwehr a spy named Dr. Krueger, who had been providing the British with details of German naval construction for some years.

Yet such theories of double-dealing should not be abandoned as irrelevant to this quest. In the authorised history of MI5, Christopher Andrew (who mentions Pieck on a couple of pages, but does not grace him with an Index entry) states that SIS was dangerously misled by Hooper, who, ‘it was later discovered, was in reality the only MI5 employee who had previously worked for both Soviet and German intelligence (as well as SIS)’. Sadly, and conventionally, Andrew does not provide detailed references for his sources from the Security Service archive, ascribing proof of King’s guilt to interrogations of German prisoners after the war, but he indicates that SIS made a poor decision in re-hiring Hooper in October 1939, after he had worked with the Abwehr in 1938-39. What is remarkable is that Keith Jeffery, in the authorized history of SIS, has only one line about Hooper, stressing instead the treachery of a Dutchman recruited by the SIS office in the Hague, Fokkert de Koutrik. I suspect Hooper’s role in the King/Pieck story has not been fully told. It is not often one comes across an agent with such multiple allegiances – especially one who survived. (Another is the mysterious Vera Eriksen, who landed alongside Druecke and Walti in Scotland on September 30, 1940, but escaped the death penalty.  A book on her is about to be published.) This one will clearly run and run. Is anyone out there, apart from Mr. Kluiters, researching his story? (I notice that four files on Hooper were released by the National Archives in November 2017: they must form a valuable trove, and I look forward to inspecting them some time.)

A Fresh Look

The story moves forward to 1940, to the Krivitsky interrogations, and beyond. As readers of Misdefending the Realm will recall, Jane Archer was already being eased out of her job as MI5’s leading officer in communist counter-intelligence when she compiled her report on Krivitsky in March of 1940, and she was replaced by her subordinate, the unremarkable Roger Hollis. 1940 was a difficult year for MI5: the transition from Chamberlain’s administration to Churchill’s, the sacking of its Director-General, Vernon Kell, the imposition of the Security Executive layer of management, the insertion of unqualified supervisors, and the fear of invasion accompanied by the ‘Fifth Column’ panic, with the stresses of making thousands of internment decisions. Little attention was paid to concealed communists, with Hollis’s activities directed more at the possible unreliability of communists in the factories, and Guy Burgess doing a skillful job of directing energies away from his conspirators in government. During 1940, there were occasional communications about Krivitsky between Vivian and Cowgill of SIS, Harker, White, Liddell and Archer of MI5, and even the occasional guest appearance from the sacked supremo Kell. Krivitsky was in Canada for most of the year, and attempts were even made to contact him directly. Yet no apparent effort was made to pick up the unresolved matter of the ‘Imperial Council’ spy.

Unsurprisingly, we cannot read any reaction within MI5 to the announcement of Krivitsky’s death. Even Guy Liddell could not stretch to recognizing the event in his diaries: true, an item in his February 11, 1941 page has been redacted, but there is no corresponding entry for ‘Krivitsky’ in his Index. A half-hearted attempt was made, however, to investigate the Pieck case in the light of the disturbing murder set up to look like a suicide. In the same month, Pilkington in B4C tried to track down Pieck’s architect friend, Stuart Cameron Kirby, who had accompanied Parlanti in 1934 to see Pieck in Paris. In April, Pilkington eventually interviewed Kirby in Cambridge, where he had secured an impressive-sounding sinecure as ‘Home Office Assistant Regional Technical Advisor’, but nothing came of it. Two years later, Shillito of F2B (i.e. in Hollis’s new Division, split off from Liddell’s B) was requested to confirm that Pieck was still on the ‘Black List’ of dangerous communists. All thoughts of identifying the ‘Imperial Council’ spy appear to have been dispelled, however. The Soviet Union had become an ally, and all energies were directed towards the Nazis.

After the War

By the end of the war, however, the Soviet Union was accepted as the dominant threat to the nation’s security. But perhaps not by Alexander Cadogan, still Permanent Under-Secretary in the Foreign Office. Cadogan, who had been so distressed about the spies in his domain in 1939, had apparently forgotten about their existence by the autumn of 1945. Konstantin Volkov, the Soviet Vice-Consul to Turkey, approached the British Embassy in Istanbul in August of that year, offering to name nine agents who were ‘employees of the British intelligence organs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Great Britain’, as well as one who currently ‘fulfils the duties of the chief of a department of the English counter-intelligence Directorate in London’. As Nigel West reminds us in his new book Cold War Spymaster, Volkov’s follow-up letter was translated and sent to Cadogan himself. Rather than sounding alarm-bells in the Permanent Under-Secretary’s mind, the arrival of the message prompted an instruction simply to pass the document on to the Chief of SIS, Stewart Menzies. Likewise unable to fathom that perhaps a degree of caution was required in the circumstances, Menzies delegated the task to the head of Section IX, the group responsible for Soviet affairs, Kim Philby. Volkov was soon afterwards spirited back to Moscow and executed, and Maclean and Philby survived another shock.

Sir Alexander Cadogan

A few months afterwards, in apparent ignorance of the Volkov affair (although Guy Liddell was very familiar with the incident), the possibility of a Pieck/Imperial Council spy connection was resuscitated. By then, stories had arrived about Pieck’s survival from Buchenwald. On September 13, 1946, Michael Serpell (F2C) issued a long report titled ‘The Possibility that Pieck was in Touch with the Source of the “Imperial Council” Leakage’. Serpell had quickly immersed himself in investigating Soviet espionage, and would soon become a notable player in the studies of Soviet spies. He was one of the officers who analysed the papers of Henri Robinson, the ‘Red Orchestra’ agent, that had been captured from the Gestapo in Paris after the war, and he would soon gain himself a reputation for dogged criticism of the handling of the Fuchs and Sonia cases. He was the officer who accompanied Jim Skardon to interview Sonia in Oxford in September 1947. He also interrogated Alexander Foote, recommending that he not be prosecuted for desertion, and then wrote the report on him that was distributed to such agencies as the CIA. His status was such that he was selected as the officer who accompanied the director-general of MI5, Percy Sillitoe, to Canada in March 1951.

In the case of the Imperial Council source Serpell’s instincts and objectives were correct, but his analysis wrong. He suggested that Pieck may have recruited an agent ‘at a much higher level than King’ when in Geneva, and that his large budget would have allowed for such a recruitment. Yet he slipped up badly on chronology, noting that the Imperial Council source (according to Krivitsky) had begun to become active in 1936. He assumed that the same camera at Buckingham Gate was probably used by this agent, but failed to note that Pieck had fled the country by then. He could hardly have ‘run’ the spy from Holland. In mid-stream, Serpell catches the contradiction, backtracking to claim that Pieck could have handled early examples of the photographic material. He admits that the main plank against his theory is that King described how he was abandoned after Maly’s departure in summer 1937, although he has been made aware of Pieck’s brief return to the UK in November 1937.

Serpell’s report rambles somewhat, and it is probably not worth any further inspection. Furthermore, what inevitably tainted his investigation was the fact that he and Roger Hollis had to communicate with SIS to gain information about what was going on in Holland. The officer they had to deal with was Kim Philby, who, while pretending to offer substantive support for Serpell’s inquiries, would surely have encouraged Serpell in his mistaken pursuit of Pieck as the handler of Maclean. To begin with, John Marriott of B2c was energised by Serpell’s research, especially since he provocatively admitted, in a letter to Commander Burt of Special Branch on December 12, 1946, that the idea that Pieck might have recruited other agents ‘is lent some support by our knowledge from more than one source that Government information has been communicated to the Russians since King’s retirement.’ After a meeting between the three of them, however, Marriott disagreed with Serpell. As the dispute carried on into 1947, Serpell’s arguments looked increasingly weaker: one might wonder whether he, as a tenderfoot, had been put on a false trail to give the impression of earnest endeavour. Marriott recommended dropping the investigation even though Serpell (now moved from F Division closer to Marriott as B1C) continued to disagree.  Meanwhile, the prospect arose of MI5 actually being able to interview Pieck himself.

Dick White, now director of B Division, is the officer whose name appears as heading plans to bring Pieck to Britain, in the early months of 1950. After Pieck had been released from Buchenwald, the British had apparently been in touch with the Dutch authorities, and reminded them that Pieck had been a Soviet spy. It seems that a private security organisation had got in touch with Pieck, who declared that he was surprised by the Krivitsky revelations. But he also said that he was very short of money, and might be prepared to talk. After some local negotiation, however, he agreed to MI5’s terms for the interrogation, which involved no payments, but some protection from prosecution, and some conditions concerning confidentiality, and arrived in London on April 12. What is extraordinary is that, in November 1949, Pieck had made a visit to London, in a search for help with his embryonic exposition business, without MI5’s knowing about it.

Pieck and Vansittart

Another mysterious dimension to Pieck’s relationships with British officials needs to be explained, however. Before the war, Pieck had made puzzling references to his association with Sir Robert Vansittart, a very prominent figure in the Foreign Office. Vansittart had been the Permanent Under-Secretary until 1938, when his continued vigorous opposition to Germany’s aggressions resulted in his being ‘kicked upstairs’ to the purely symbolic post of Chief Diplomatic Advisor. At the time, British intelligence officers had interpreted Pieck’s references to Vansittart as a code for his acquaintance with John King, attributing the deception as a clumsy method of confusing them. Yet, after the war, Pieck indicated that he looked forward to meeting Vansittart again, and it transpired that in May 1940, with the Germans about to invade Holland, Pieck had expressed an urgent desire to flee to England, where he expected his friends in high places to welcome him. This was bizarre – or very brazen – behavior from a Soviet spy who knew that the British authorities had rumbled him.

Sir Robert (later Baron) Vansittart

Yet when it came to bringing Pieck over, and interrogating him, the MI5 officers, led by Dick White, made no attempt to question him about the Vansittart connection – or, if they did, the redacted record conceals the fact. Certainly, the consequent report does not mention him. The oversight might seem simply careless, or an admission that the reference was jocular, and thus not worth pursuing. Other evidence, however, points to more complicated entanglements. In a Diary entry for January 5, 1945, Guy Liddell had written: “Kim [Philby] came to see me about xxxxxxx, who had been taken on in his section. Jane [Archer] when introduced to him recollected that he was one of the people who might possibly have been identical with the individual described by KREVITSKY [sic] as acting as a Soviet agent before the war, and as being employed in an important government office. [sentences redacted]  Kim was very anxious to get at the old records of the KING case in order to satisfy himself that he was on sound ground. I have put him in touch with Roger.”

As can be seen, the identity of this possible recruit has been redacted. Yet, when publishing his selections from the Diaries in 2005, Nigel West very blandly, and without comment, inserted the name of ‘Colville Barclay’ in the place of the redacted name. In his 2014 biography of ‘Klop’ Ustinov (the father of Peter), Klop, Peter Day went further. He claimed that Barclay had come under suspicion by Jane Archer and Guy Liddell when they interrogated Krivitsky, as Barclay fitted the profile of the ‘Imperial Council’ spy as described by the defector – aristocratic, artistic, Scottish, and educated at Eton and Oxford. Unfortunately, Day does not provide a precise reference for this claim. In the published version of the MI5 Debriefing (edited by the scrupulous Gary Kern), which faithfully reproduces the text from the archival Krivitsky file, no mention of Barclay can be found. But we should be able to rely on Liddell’s gratuitous recalling of what Jane Archer told him about Barclay’s coming under suspicion.

Sir Colville Barclay

So what has this to do with Vansittart? In 1931, Vansittart married Sarita, Barclay’s mother, who had recently been widowed. Thus Colville Barclay became Sir Robert’s stepson. Moreover, in another memorandum that did not make the final Krivitsky report, Jane Archer did allude to Sir Robert. As the interrogations progressed, Archer would send a daily summary to Vivian in SIS, and this correspondence can be seen at the National Archives in KV 2/804. In the item dated February 5, 1940, Archer wrote: “The C.I.D. case was the first discussed with Mr. Thomas [Krivitsky]. He said that the Soviet authorities had a great regard for Sir Robert Vansittart and followed his activities with great interest. None of the information regarding Sir Robert, however came through the source which furnished them with the C.I.D. documents. In further attempts to identify the person who procured the C. I. D. information Mr. Thomas was asked whether any mention had been made of this man being the stepson of some highly paced official. The word ‘step-son’ certainly aroused some memories in Mr. Thomas’s mind.”

This is all I have found. It does not offer anything conclusive about Barclay or Vansittart, but begs for some kind of follow-up. Why did the Soviets track Vansittart’s activities with such interest? If not the ‘Imperial Council’ spy, who was it who provided them with information? John Cairncross? Why was the stepson’ reference not pursued? (Was Krivitsky being devious again, confusing the issue of orphans, sons and stepsons?) Peter Day reports that Barclay did not know that he had become a suspect: he told Day in 2003 that he had never been questioned. One might have expected some reflection of this conversation to have appeared in Archer’s final report, but, either she felt that it was not so important, or her superiors instructed her to omit any such potentially embarrassing details.

Any closer inspection of this web of intrigue will of necessity require a plunge into the murky waters described by Kluiters above, and I am not yet ready to do this. It would not be surprising, however, to see a relationship between Pieck and Vansittart confirmed. Vansittart came from an originally Dutch family; he was a fierce anti-fascist (and might have mistaken the objectives of Pieck: Vansittart was equally opposed to communism); he maintained a private intelligence group, and he apparently received information from both Putlitz in the German Embassy (according to Norman Rose), as well as from Soviet agents (according to Charles Higham). Thus we should not discount the fact that Pieck may have played a very cagey game, and skillfully exploited Vansittart.

Be that as it may, if Pieck’s interrogators expected to hear more about the Imperial Council source when Pieck arrived for questioning, they were disappointed. Pieck confirmed that he had started to photograph documents at the Grosvenor Hotel in 1935, but then switched to use his apparatus at Buckingham Gate. He stated, however, that he had never controlled a second source at the Foreign Office, although he had heard of one from Krivitsky. “Krivitsky told him they could get the same material from another man at a tenth of the price”, the report ran, and went on: “Pieck was unable to throw any light on the other facts about a Foreign Office source which do not fit into the King case: – a burglary from the Foreign Office, the disused ‘kitchen’ in the Foreign Office alleged to have been used by an agent for photographing documents, and the renting of a special house. Pieck did not train King in photography, nor did he give him a Leica.” MI5 reluctantly concluded Pieck was telling the truth, but admitted they could not be sure until the Imperial Source were identified.

But the sleuths were getting closer. The VENONA transcripts had helped identify Klaus Fuchs, who was sentenced on March 1 to fourteen years’ imprisonment. Sonia had escaped to East Germany two days before. Since 1949, MI5 and the FBI had been whittling down the names of possibilities for the agent with the cryptonym HOMER, as revealed by VENONA, and in April 1951 they were able to point quite confidently to Donald Maclean, because of the visits he made from Washington to New York to visit his wife. The defection of Burgess and Maclean in May 1951 would give MI5 the name of the ‘Imperial Council’ source they had not very vigorously been pursuing since 1939.

A Missing File, and other Embarrasments

One of the last enigmas of the case is the destruction of the first volume of the John King archive. In this, one might have expected to find such items as the complete correspondence between Washington (Mallet) and the Foreign Office (Jebb) concerning the information that Levine was passing on. If you look up the files on John Herbert King at the National Archives (e.g. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C11050136 ), you will find under both KV 2/815 & KV 2/816 a note that says ‘Vol 1 destroyed’. You will have to delve elsewhere to learn more. For example, in the Pieck files (KV 2/809-814), you can find at least three references to the destruction, which say, variously that the file was ‘destroyed’, ‘destroyed by fire’ and ‘destroyed by enemy action.’

While all three statements could be interpreted as communicating the same truth, this strikes me as more than a little suspicious. It seems to this particular observer that an enemy attack would have to be particularly selective to destroy completely just one of the King files, but leave the others completely unscathed. We do know that MI5’s offices at Wormwood Scrubs were bombed in September 1940, and several records burned, but the histories tell us that they had all been photographed beforehand, and that nothing was lost. Is it possible that this event could have been used as a convenient alibi for the removal of material that was potentially embarrassing?

The process of copying individual records into files to which they were related means that some of the items have been preserved, and one can tell from their Serial numbers that their source was the missing file. For instance, the interrogation of Oake, a colleague of King’s, that took place on September 26, 1939, receives the following handwritten comment: ‘(Original in PF 48713 KING, 50A Volume 1 destroyed in fire)’. Yet all such comments are made in the 1946-1947 time-frame: the Pieck records from 1941 never refer to the destruction of any files, by fire or any other agency. Unfortunately, the salvaged records that I have managed to identify and inspect do not offer anything spectacular: maybe another sleuth can come up with more dramatic examples.

One awkward fact that Jebb and the Foreign Office may have wanted suppressed was King’s connection with Mallet himself. Michael Serpell believed that some of the missing records could have referred to Special Branch’s search of King’s property. In a summary of the tripartite meeting with Inspector Rogers, John Marriott and him that took place on January 6, 1947 can be found the following astonishing statement: “Rogers handled King, and elicited his confession. He does not believe King told the whole truth and suggests King may have been shielding friends such as Quarry, Oake and Harvey. King claimed he left his wife because she became mistress of Victor Mallet who was until recently the British Ambassador to Spain (or maybe Mallet’s brother.)”

Victor Mallet was indeed the chargé d’affaires in Washington who had been dealing directly with Krivitsky’s agent, Isaac Don Levine, and communicating with Jebb, in September 1939. It is not clear where Serpell derived this fact of King’s wife’s affair, or when King actually admitted it, unless Rogers himself had just divulged it: it was not until March 7, 1947 that Serpell recorded an interview with the ailing King, who had just been released from prison. (During this interview, it was revealed that King’s son lodged in Pimlico, and that King himself had lived there during 1935-36! Pimlico – the district that Goronwy Rees mentioned!) Yet this disclosure, if it were in fact true, must have been highly embarrassing. Mallet would surely have had to own up to Jebb about the connection, as the truth would surely come out in any investigation, and it would presumably have damaged his career. (If he had a brother, he appears to have sunk without trace.)  From Washington, however, Victor moved to Sweden as Envoy during the war, and was appointed Ambassador to Spain in 1946. He did not suffer.

Thus one can only speculate what else might have been lost in the destroyed file – including the source SIS report which Krivitsky saw, as detailed above. Certainly we are missing the full set of exchanges between Washington and London. It is thus impossible to build a reliable chronology of exactly who informed whom. One of the earliest accounts is actually Valentine Vivian himself, who wrote a report titled ‘Leakage from the Communications Department, Foreign Office’, dated October 30, 1939, which appears in full as the second King file, KV 2/816. Vivian is very open about the failure of SIS to take seriously the evidence of ‘Agent X’ (Hooper), who was treated ‘with coldness, even derision’ when he tried to pass on what Pieck had told him two years earlier, and had ‘remained forgotten, and in abeyance’ until Conrad Parlanti came forward on September 15, 1939. Vivian then reflects the current Foreign Office thinking (see below) when he dismisses Krivitsky – testimony that he would presumably have preferred buried when the defector came over a few months later. “We had, therefore, the bare word of KRIVITSKI – at the best a person of very doubtful genuineness and one, moreover, whose ability to speak on such a matter with authority was even more doubtful – to incriminate Captain J. H. King of the Communications Department, whose record appeared on the surface to be quite impeccable.” Peter Cook would have been quite proud of that performance.

Yet a strange anomaly appears. In his report, Vivian says that, after the identification of King was received on September 4, he was instructed to go on leave until September 25, but was to be kept under surveillance. Oake was interrogated on the 25th, and King the following day, after which King tripped up by visiting his mistress Helen Wilkie, and was thus charged the same day. But Alexander Cadogan, Permanent Under-Secretary in the Foreign Office, wrote – in an unpublished part of his diary dated September 15 – that King was currently being interrogated. Is it possible that, because of the Mallet connection, the Foreign Office decided to undertake its own investigation without informing MI5 or SIS? Or, perhaps Vivian did know about it, but was encouraged to portray another series of events, and to record it in some haste? Is the fact that Cadogan’s estate prohibited Professor Dilks from including this item in the published Diaries an indication of this subterfuge? (I have contacted Professor Dilks, but he can shed no light in the matter, as the sources I refer to were not available when he edited the Cadogan Diaries fifty years ago.)

Further indication that the Foreign Office was unduly embarrassed by the King affair was its determination to keep the conviction secret. Nothing appeared in the press, and Levine even stated, in November 1948, that the disgraced cypher clerk had been executed. (He had in fact been released by then.) It was not until 1956 that the British Government was forced to admit the whole account, after Levine offered the same testimony to a Senate investigation committee. The Foreign Office initially denied that there had even been a spy named King, but, when faced with the prospect of awkward questions in the House of Commons, then had to reveal that King had been tried under the Emergency Powers Regulations, and sentenced on October 18, 1939. One might understand the coyness as war approached, but the desire to cover up when the convict had already been released seems simply obtuse.

Lastly, how did the Foreign Office regard the evidence of Krivitsky? It was exposed to the first of the Saturday Evening Post articles in May 1939, and was immediately dismissive. Such comments as ‘mostly twaddle’, ‘Don’t want the rest’, ‘a few grains of sense in this rigmarole’, ‘General’s “revelations” not worth taking seriously”, are scattered among the hand-written annotations of the file as it gets passed around, including from the pen of the head of the Northern Department, Laurence Collier. The degree to which this official was clued into current events – and the responsibilities of his own section  –  is shown by a plaintive note he sent to Gladwyn Jebb on May 24: “Do we know anything about Genl. Krivitski?”. At the end of May, Collier rather reluctantly sent the cutting, with a letter, to the Embassy in Moscow, writing: “On the whole we do not consider that these would-be hair-raising revelations of Stalin’s alleged desire for a rapprochement with Germany etc. are worth taking seriously  . . .”. Collier must have been a bit chastened to hear back from his colleagues in Moscow a few weeks later that the articles ‘have excited considerable interest’, and that ‘the consensus of opinion is that they may well be genuine’. He still opined that Krivitsky was ‘talking nonsense’ but agreed that Washington should be asked for the complete series, which arrived at the end of July. (He did not know that Jane Sissmore had had copies of the articles in her possession since they came out.)

What is extraordinary about this exchange is the apparent awareness in Moscow of German-Soviet negotiations, while London was still vaguely planning for a British agreement with the Soviets. The mission to forge such a compact, led by the improbably named Admiral the Hon. Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, left from Tilbury on August 15, and was thus doomed from the start, whether Chamberlain was in earnest or not. (Marshal Voroshilov is said to have inquired of our gallant emissary: “You are not one of the Somerset Ernle-Erle-Draxes, by any chance?”) Collier and his minions continued to pooh-pooh the contributions of the Soviet defector, but then the record goes eerily silent. The next item recorded is not until November, two months after Ribbentrop and Molotov had signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact. On December 27, an official notes that ‘Stalin is expert at reconciling the apparently irreconcilable, as recent events have shown’, to which Collier adds that ‘he will find this particular reconciliation harder than most’.  Collier would also survive to see the ‘Imperial Source’ unmasked, but I have not discovered any record of what his reaction was.

The Elusive Gallienne

And what of ‘Wilfrid de Gallienne’, the diplomat whom Andrew Boyle credited with the information about Krivitsky? The British consul in Tallinn, Estonia, during 1939 was indeed Wilfrid Gallienne (sic), and he was deeply involved in discussions about the protection of the borders of the Baltic States, including Estonia of course, in any future negotiations between the Soviet Union and Great Britain. His main claim to fame, however, appears to be the disagreement he had with a British lecturer in the Estonian capital, Ronald Seth, who was providing information to the Foreign Office while bypassing the local resident diplomat. In his reports to his superiors in London, Gallienne justifiably complained about this irregular back-channel, and admitted that he had had to rebuke the nosy academic. (For readers who want to learn more about the extraordinary adventures of Seth, who was later parachuted into Estonia as an ill-equipped SOE agent, but survived, I recommend Operation Blunderhead, a 2105 account by David Gordon Kirby.)

Yet, despite the imaginative endeavours of my researcher in London, I have not yet been able to find any minute or memorandum from Gallienne that touches on Krivitsky. My next step is to explore the Andrew Boyle archive, and, as I write this in mid-February, I am waiting to hear from the Cambridge University Library whether it can send me photographs of the relevant papers. Rather than starting with what are presumably voluminous documents that concern the creation of A Climate of Treason, I have made a more modest request to inspect Boyle’s correspondence with E. H. Cookridge, Malcolm Muggeridge and Isaiah Berlin, as I suspect these smaller packets may provide me with a glimpse of the way that Boyle nurtured his sources.

Cookridge is a fascinating case. He was born Edward Spiro, in Vienna in 1908, and knew Kim Philby well from the spy’s subversive work with communists there in 1934. His Third Man (1968) is thus a most useful guide to Philby’s early days. While claiming in his Preface to that book that he had access to secret sources (“Through my work in the Lobby of the House of Commons I had access to sources of information not available to the public”), it is clear that he was used by the government as a method of public relations as far back as 1947. He published in that year a book titled Secrets of the British Secret Service, in which he openly acknowledged the help that he had received from the War Office and the Foreign Office. One must therefore remain wary that, while being given access to certain documents, Cookridge would have been shown what the authorities wanted him to see.

His relevance lies in the attributions that Boyle grants him in his Notes to A Climate of Treason. Much of Boyle’s information comes from named sources, and most of them are actually identified, rather than being cloaked in the annoying garment of ‘confidentiality’. While I have not performed a cross-reference, I would hazard that most of the correspondence with these persons is to be found in the Boyle Archive, where individual letter-writers are clearly identified. Of this period, Boyle writes, for example (p 455, Note 15): “Confidential information to the author as attested in E. H. Cookridge’s notes from Guy Liddell of MI5.” One might react: What on earth was Liddell doing speaking to Cookridge? Did Cookridge (who died on January 1, 1979) ever publish an account of these confidences? Did Boyle consider, now that Liddell and Cookridge were both dead, that he could safely write about these secrets, or did he still fear the Wrath of White? I hope that a study of the correspondence with Cookridge will clear some of this up. If anyone reading this lives in the Cambridge area, and is interested in inspecting the Boyle papers in a more leisurely, more efficient and less expensive manner, I should be very grateful if he or she could get in touch with me. Similarly, I should love to hear from anyone who can shed light on the Gallienne puzzle.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, all this evidence does not bring us much closer to determining how and when MI5 and SIS might have learned more about the identity of the Imperial Council spy, and thus have been able to apprehend Maclean before he did any more damage. Yet the fruits of the research do show that Andrew Boyle’s claims may have some truth behind them, and that the assertions of the rascal Goronwy Rees may indeed have some substance. Moreover, the multiple anomalies in the archival record suggest that some persons had a vested interest in muddying the waters, and even using the written documents to start a bewildering paper-chase that might distract analysts from the real quarry. If one considers such events as the following:

  • The reluctance of Krivitsky’s interrogators to apply pressure on him;
  • Pieck’s enigmatic claim to have protectors at the Special Branch;
  • Pieck’s professed desire to escape to England as the Nazis approached in May 1940;
  • Pieck’s carelessness in confessing to Hooper his illicit activities in London;
  • The reluctance of SIS to listen to anything that Hooper told them for two years;
  • Vivian’s obvious discomfort and confusion about the facts of the King case;
  • The contradictions in the chronology shown up by Vivian and Cadogan;
  • King’s alarming claim about Mallet’s affair with his wife;
  • The coyness of the British Government in admitting the facts about the King trial and sentencing;
  • The barely credible account of a single King file being destroyed by enemy action;
  • The apparent destruction of the copy of the SIS report that Krivitsky recognized during his interrogation by Jane Archer;
  • Jane Archer’s uncharacteristically unprofessional and detached approach to the investigation;
  • Pieck’s ability to re-enter Britain unnoticed after a watch had been put on him;
  • The official historian’s laconic but undeveloped comment about Jack Hooper’s having worked for MI5, SIS, the Abwehr and the NKVD;
  • The enigma of Pieck’s exact relationship with Sir Robert Vansittart;
  • The failure to follow up on the clue of the stepson, Colville Barclay;
  • The dogged efforts to try to put together a case that Pieck controlled the Imperial Council spy as well; and, overall,
  • The remarkably unenergetic efforts, over a period of twelve years, of MI5, SIS and the Foreign Office to try to unveil an important spy in the corridors of power;

one does not have to be a rabid conspiracy theorist to conclude that there was another narrative being stifled that would tell a completely different story. If I were forced, before this programme of research were over, to identify one theory that might explain the anomalies in the story of Sonia, the Undetected Radios, and the Imperial Council spy, I would doubtless point to the delusional belief of Claude Dansey that his wiles, accompanied by the fearsome reputation of British Intelligence, could somehow control all the agents of hostile espionage organisations on this planet, and probably some on galaxies as yet undiscovered.

Thus we have a double Dutch Connection to be pursued: Jack Hooper, the half-Dutch disgraced SIS officer, who apparently worked for both the Abwehr and the NKVD, and is a pivotal figure in the Krivitsky-King-Maclean case; and Willem ter Braak, who has been claimed to be both a Nazi fanatic in the Abwehr, and a well-disguised NKVD spy. Could Claude Dansey possibly have been behind all this, pulling the strings? I shall have to put my best men and women on the job.

This month’s new Commonplace entire can be seen here.

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Two Cambridge Spies: Dutch Connections (2)

I use this bulletin to update my story of two Cambridge Spies – Donald Maclean, one of the notorious set of 1930s communists, and Willem ter Braak, a member of the Abwehr’s LENA group who underwent a mysterious death in Cambridge in April, 1941. Because of its size, and the distinct subject areas it addresses, I have decided to split this report into two sections, even though there are areas of overlap. Part 1 can be seen here.

Ter Braak

I was delighted, towards the end of last month, to receive a message from a Mr. Jan-Willem van den Braak, who had discovered coldspur, and my article on ter Braak. His was a name I knew, since a colleague had drawn my attention to a biography of his pseudonymous namesake that Mr. van den Braak had published in Dutch, in 2017. It was titled Spion tegen Churchill; leven en dood van Jan Willem ter Braak (Spy against Churchill: the life and death of Jan Willem ter Braak), issued by the WalburgPers. Not knowing any Dutch, I was unable to use Mr. van den Braak’s work in my research, but I am now happy to report that it is being translated into English, and should be available later this year. Curious readers who use Wikipedia will find that a richer entry on ter Braak now appears at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Willem_Ter_Braak. It was written, largely, by Mr. van den Braak himself. It does, however, not explore any of the prevailing theories about ter Braak’s demise, including my analysis at coldspur.

Mr. van den Braak has been very generous in explaining to me how he came upon Engelbertus Fukken (the real name of ter Braak), and I do not want to steal his thunder by outlining his lines of research, and the sources he has used, or his conclusions. Let me just say that I think he has been very diligent in tracking down details about ter Braak’s background in the archives and libraries of The Hague and elsewhere, as well as exploiting the records about ter Braak to be found at the National Archives at Kew. I think I can mention that the title of the book appears to suggest the author’s focus on the repeated claim that ter Braak was sent over specifically to assassinate Winston Churchill, and I look forward to seeing the evidence he presents, and reading about how he covers that theory.

Yet, through the medium of email, Mr. van den Braak and I have explored some of the thornier questions of the published sources of information on ter Braak, and have discovered some new facts (or misinformation) that should be recorded as soon as possible. Much of this debate revolves around the role that two well-known writers on matters of espionage and counter-espionage have played in promoting the ter Braak story, namely E. H. Cookridge and Richard Deacon. I have already mentioned Cookridge in the first part of this month’s bulletin, but Deacon may not be so familiar. His real name was Donald McCormick, and he compiled a number of popular books on intelligence matters between the early 1960s and the mid-90s. As his Wikipedia entry states, however, he was ‘attracted to controversial topics on which verifiable evidence was scarce’, and this would lead him to make some wild claims that have to be treated with scepticism.

Donald McCormick aka Richard Deacon

What is interesting is that Mr. van den Braak was introduced to the character known as ter Braak by a letter that Deacon published (under his real name) in Het Parool in January 1978, which invited readers who knew anything about ter Braak to contact him at his home in Beckenham, Kent. Mr. van den Braak saw that request, but did not start his research until 2014. He had by then read Deacon’s History of the British Secret Service, but he had not inspected (for reasons that will soon become clear) Deacon’s British Connection, to which I drew his attention. I scanned for him several pages that included the text of the letter that Deacon wrote in 1978, and his theories about ter Braak, which included the provocative claim that ter Braak ‘was a Soviet spy masquerading as a refugee from Nazi-controlled Holland’, and that ‘he was murdered by an NKVD agent to stop him talking in the event of an arrest.’ I think it fair to say that Mr. van den Braak, while he knew about this theory from other sources, was astonished by these passages. I found the chapter quite incoherent, and regard it as quite absurd to think that ter Braak had been a Soviet spy, but I shall leave it to Mr. van den Braak’s book to explore this idea comprehensively.

The main reason that Mr. van den Braak was taken aback was that The British Connection had been withdrawn immediately after publication in 1979. Mr. van den Braak was under the impression that the recall had taken place because Deacon had named the Cambridge academic Professor Arthur Pigou as a Soviet spy, and that his relatives had objected. This assertion was related to the statement Deacon made in his book that Pigou and ter Braak had been seen together in Cambridge. I responded that I was sure that the reason the book had been withdrawn by the publisher was that Deacon had stated that Professor Rudolf Peierls had come under suspicion in connection with the Fuchs case. (The Pigou story is one energetically promoted in a very bizarre volume titled Hayek: A Collaborative Biography, Part III, edited by Robert Leeson, and published in 2015, which grants Deacon an importance far greater than he ever merited, and then proceeds to humiliate him. The book also includes an odd and equivocal chapter by Nigel West, who worked for Deacon as a researcher in his younger days.)

The problem was that Deacon, when making his accusation, thought Peierls was dead, and declared him such, feeling free to state his opinion without fear of rebuttal. (Pigou was indeed dead in 1979, and thus no longer protected by any libel laws.) But Peierls, on the other hand, was very much alive and kicking, and took the slur on his character very much to heart. The book had to be pulped. I must have acquired my copy via abebooks: it is stamped ‘Withdrawn from Bradford Archives, and Information Libraries’, so the Municipality of Bradford must not have received the message, or chose to ignore it. The irony was that Peierls had indeed come under suspicion, and had been questioned by Special Branch, and I am not the only historian who thinks he was probably guilty in abetting Fuchs’s insertion into the atomic weapons projects, knowing his true allegiance. You can read about the whole saga (if you have for some unaccountable reason not already done so) in Misdefending the Realm.

E. H. Cookridge aka Peter Leighton

A second area where I was able to help Mr. van den Braak was in a significant article about ter Braak that he had come across in his researches. It had originally been published in Reynolds News in 1946, and had then been translated into the Dutch. This piece (according to Mr. van den Braak) suggested that ter Braak had been sent into the United Kingdom specifically to assassinate Winston Churchill, and had shot himself after learning that Special Branch officers were close on his tail. (I had not read this piece when I wrote my analysis of ter Braak’s ‘suicide’ back in September 2018.) I was able to locate another manifestation of this item, published in the Vancouver Sun of January 18, 1947. With the heading of ‘Secrets of the Secret Service’, it has a by-line ‘Himmler’s Ace Agent Planned to Kill Churchill’, written by Peter Leighton. Indeed, the article claims that Dr. [sic] ter Braak was shot after he discovered that espionage apparatus had been found in his rooms in Cambridge, indicating that it was a self-inflicted wound. This was a story that was picked up in an issue of After the Battle to which I referred in September.

Leighton’s (Cookridge’s) Article in the Vancouver Sun

So who was Peter Leighton? It was one of the pseudonyms of our friend the journalist E. H. Cookridge, born Edward Spiro.  Moreover, under his assumed name of Cookridge, in 1947 he published a book titled Secrets of the British Secret Service (note the echo in the Vancouver Sun article). I own this volume, also.  In Chapter 18 (‘Murder Unlimited’), Cookridge reproduced the story about ter Braak, again emphasizing the Churchill mission, and the suicide of the agent after he has been discovered. Cookridge shows enough detail to indicate that he has accurate insider information (ter Braak’s forged identity-card, for example), but also a few details that show that he wanted to embroider the story (such as the fact that ter Braak had ‘a Luger pistol gripped tightly in his right hand’ – something belied by the photograph.) Mr. van den Braak has also very shrewdly pointed out to me that Cookridge, in his account of ter Braak’s parachute being found, writes that it was in a field near Amersham, when in fact it happened near Haversham. Amersham is a large well-known town, while Haversham is only a village, which all suggests that Cookridge acquired his knowledge aurally.

Another dimension to Cookridge’s drama exists, however. His section on ter Braak concludes a chapter where he explains that the Nazis’ track-record of murder outside the judicial process actually follows in the old tradition of the Vehmgericht, a centuries-old institution of sentencing and execution by private associations – a kind of ‘vigilante’ justice. (I had learned of these tribunals when reading Goethe’s Götz von Berlichingen at school in 1964.) Cookridge follows this up in the following chapter, where he suggests that the spies Waelti and Druecke had been sent out to kill Rudolf Hess, and that Richter was on a mission to assassinate the exiled Czech President Beneš. I shall not debunk these theories any further than by noting that Druecke and Waelti (and their unmentioned comrade, Vera Eriksen, who escaped the death penalty) arrived in Scotland on September 30, 1940, while Hess did not make his bizarre flight to Scotland until May 10, 1941. This is perhaps the most egregious of Cookridge’s many errors.

So what is going on here? Since, in his Preface, Cookridge thanks ‘the Foreign Office, the War Office, the Home Office and the Lord Chief Justice’s Office for their assistance’, one has therefore to ask: Did these agencies of government all conspire to help put out false stories about ter Braak and others in order to improve their reputation in the public’s eye, showing how Britain’s doughty Security Service and Special Branch saved the lives of politicians? Or is there a measure of truth in what was leaked in a controlled fashion through Cookridge? Certainly the National Archives reveal none of this melodrama. If the government agencies wanted to promote a story that boosted MI5’s and Special Branch’s effective safeguarding of the Prime Minister’s life, would they not have created a more solid paper-trail that confirmed the account? We still do not know where the Churchill assassination story (which was faithfully reproduced in After The Battle), comes from.

1947 was a good year for government-inspired falsehoods to boost the reputation of Britain’s intelligence services. That same year one Stanley Firmin, who described himself as ‘Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph accredited to Scotland Yard’ wrote a wildly inaccurate book on the exploits of British espionage and counter-espionage titled They Came to Spy. His work is graced with a Foreword by Read-Admiral G. P. Thomson, C.B., C.B.E,, who was formerly Britain’s Chief Press Censor. He provided an enthusiastic endorsement of the truths that he knew Firmin was relating. One of Firmin’s revelations is the story of the discovery of a body in a Cambridge air-raid shelter. But who was he? “Records were searched, every line of inquiry possible was followed. Military Intelligence had, however, to confess themselves completely baffled,” wrote Firmin. It was one thing for maverick agents to compose romanticized and veiled accounts of their wartime exploits, but the government’s role in such PR exercises has not been examined deeply enough.

Cookridge and Deacon were in many ways birds of a feather –  journalists with an intelligence background, boasting of solid connections in the secret world, dedicated to digging around in mysterious cases, but not very disciplined with their sources, a bit too credulous of stories that may have been planted on them, and not beyond adding a bit of spice to help their books sell. So we can never be sure when they are a) mavericks telling us the true facts, b) tools of the intelligence services, consciously feeding us disinformation, c) dupes susceptible to theories placed elsewhere, or d) fantasists out to exploit the public. The fact that Deacon claims that ter Braak was a Communist out to steal secrets from the Dollis Hill Research Station, and that Cookridge believes he was a true Nazi agent on a mission to assassinate Churchill, might suggest that my more mundane theory, that he became a victim of a misguided and mismanaged MI5 project to keep him under surveillance for a while, may be a more accurate conclusion.

Mr. van den Braak has read my analysis, and I believe respects it while not agreeing with it. I am equally keen on reading his explanation, and I applaud his professionalism and dedication. There are no certainties in this business, there is no room for dogmatism. One has to remain constantly curious and open. And in our discussions, he and I have discovered some fresh anomalies. To begin with, in my analysis, I had stressed the coroner’s report, which stated that a bullet had entered ter Braak’s cranium above the left ear. Mr. van den Braak, quite correctly, points out that in the photograph the blood oozing from his temple appears to be on the right side of his face. Of course, this does not solve anything, but makes our belated autopsy even more problematic. Was the negative reversed? Could a bullet enter the left side of the head, but cause more damage as it exited the right? Did the coroner ever inspect the corpse? I would suggest that this case cries out for more expert forensic attention – including the matter of the type of weapon used. Cookridge also said it was a Luger: ter Braak’s file states that it was a Browning. MI5 were very keen to point out that the makes of ter Braak’s pistol and that of Richter’s were the same. (Jakobs had a Mauser.) And, of course, the same questions about ter Braak’s being able to stuff himself under a bench after killing himself, and the contradictory information about the presence of the gun itself (which I highlighted in September), are still unresolved.

Liddell Trips Up

Thirdly, there is the issue of the Liddell Diaries, which have played such a significant role in my researches. I recently encountered an item from September 5, 1945 that I had overlooked before. (It does not appear in the published edition of the Diaries edited by Nigel West, which are very selective, and in any case conclude on June 1, 1945. The entry can be inspected at KV 4/466 at the National Archives, a file that has been digitized, so it can be acquired and downloaded.) It runs as follows: “A Major Friedrich BUSCH who joined the Abwehr in August 1939 and worked in the air section operating against Gt. Britain, knows a considerable amount about the agents which the Abwehr were running to Gt. Britain and the USA. He mentions first a Sudetenlander who was trained in Holland and was working in Einz Wi. * He thought this man was of poor quality and ill-instructed. He was dropped but never established communication. Busch learned later from the British Press that he had been picked up. This may be ter Braak.”

[* Note: Einz Wi indicates the Wirtschaftliche (Economic) section of Abwehr 1 (Eins: Foreign Intelligence.]

Now this is a very troubling and provocative statement. Liddell must have been very familiar with the ter Braak case: he has mentioned it in his Diary beforehand, and the circumstances of a LENA agent who remained undetected for several months should have been a very searing experience for him. Yet he associates the ‘Sudetenlander’ with ter Braak, when it was well understood that ter Braak was a Dutchman, and that Richter was a Sudetenlander who had parachuted in some weeks after ter Braak’s death. Furthermore, there was no notice in the British press that he had been ‘picked up’. A local story in the Cambridge press to the effect that a suicide had been found was quickly stifled. The Guardian of December 11, 1941, reported on Richter’s execution, but it was not until four years after ter Braak’s death that the first story about him appeared, in the Daily Sketch, on September 8, 1945. That brief article said he had committed suicide, not that he had been ‘picked up’. So why was Liddell deluding himself – and posterity?

We can read the record of Major Busch’s interrogation at KV 2/229-2. Moreover, this examination took place on August 7, 1945, so it was impossible that Busch could have picked up the news of ter Braak from the Daily Sketch. Busch appears to have made disparate impressions upon his interrogators: one called him ‘intelligent and extremely cooperative’; another wrote of his ‘complete unreliability’. In 1940 he had been assigned to Abwehr Intelligenz-Luft, first with Referat England, later with Referat Amerika. He had a somewhat jaundiced view of espionage operations. Captain J. C. Hales wrote of his account: “It is the story of a man trying to bring to the notice of his superiors many inconsistencies in the reports of agents reported to be very reliable, and whom he believed to be under control. At each step in his fight he is surrounded by incompetence or knavery. In the end he is accused of defeatism, fails to secure promotion, and retires in disgust. . . . He states that he wishes eventually to write a book on: ‘How to lose a war by running controlled agents’.”

Busch wanted to volunteer information to the allies about German agents in the UK, and, on his contributions on the LENA spies, he was judged as being a useful witness. Comments are recorded, both typed and in hand-written annotations from B1A and B1B of MI5, pointing out minor corrections to his testimony, mostly concerning the career of TATE. What are critical for the analysis are the handwritten notes that explain some of the names behind Busch’s rather vague identities, as it is important to establish whether these were comments made at the time, or at some stage later, when other intelligence may have come to light. For example, Busch is described in the report as ‘a Fishmonger by trade, yet very shrewd’, but someone has clarified his profession: ‘Director of wholesale firm’, and underlined the ‘yet’, adding with an exclamation mark, to emphasize the fact that he was a successful businessman, that his shrewdness should come as no surprise. This sounds like a very contemporaneous clarification.

Thus, when Busch refers to an unidentified ‘Sudetenlander’, someone has written in ‘probably Richter’, and made a cross-reference to an MI5 file on Praetorius. Likewise, when Busch describes TATE by the cryptonym that he used (actually redacted, but followed by ‘alias LENA(SI)’), the editor has written in ‘TATE’ in place, for guidance, with his file number given as 53776.  Busch offered the following startling opinion that TATE was under the control of the British: the report runs: “Oberstltn. Von Dewitz, referat for England at the Luftwaffe Führungstab . . .. also agreed (with Busch) that TATE was controlled, but despite that view deliberately vouched for him, on the principle that it was better to have a working agent than none at all.” And, when this section completes with the statement ‘the other agents were probably all Germans with the exception of one Dutchman”, someone has written in ‘ter Braak?’. The conclusion is clear: MI5 was very aware of these identities when the interrogation report was read.

In this context, Liddell’s response is astonishing. He very selectively uses this report: he is keen to have the story of ter Braak tidily taken care of. We do not know, of course, in exactly what form the report came to him, yet, despite having a reminder about a Sudetenlander and a Dutchman right in front of him, he confuses the two, and comes to a completely different conclusion from that at which his subordinate officers arrived. What is more, he completely ignores Busch’s comments that TATE was suspected of being a double-agent, and that Busch wanted to write a book on the way that the war was lost by relying on spies who had been turned. It is as if he wanted to help leave a record for posterity that ter Braak was just another run-of-the-mill LENA spy who was quickly captured, and of course Liddell would not want the success story of the Double-Cross Operation to be tarnished by any suggestion that the Abwehr had seen through it all.

I happen to think that this overlooked episode makes my case that ter Braak was poorly manipulated by MI5, and constituted an embarrassing story that MI5 wanted to bury, even stronger. Moreover, it introduces a fascinating new twist to the ‘Mystery of the Undetected Radios’. The research continues, and I look forward to including Mr. van den Braak’s discoveries into the pot. I am also now trying to track down some of the sources – for both Krivitsky and ter Braak – in the papers that Deacon left behind. And that is another hunt of a very individual kind.

A Forgery?

Lastly, we have a previously unrevealed artefact to display and discuss. This month, Mr. van den Braak very enterprisingly approached McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, which is the custodian of the E. H. Cookridge Archive, about items relating to ter Braak. The Librarian not only responded promptly, but actually enclosed a PDF containing a document from the archive (see below). This could be a remarkable find, as it appears to be the transcription of a wireless message, originally sent by ter Braak in the winter of 1940-41, and then forwarded to Berlin by the Abwehr station in Hamburg. Then follows another intercepted message from Hamburg to Berlin at the end of January, reporting what the agent has told them. Might they perhaps confirm that the agent had succeeded in contacting his controllers in Hamburg, and tell us something about his activities?

Transcriptions of Abwehr messages (from William Read Division of Archives and Research Collections, McMaster University Library, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada)

[A rough translation:

Message no 18 from L502, November 1, 1940 at 10 pm. 2200

{crossed out} “I am now installed in my new accommodation to the south of Cambridge. Have expended much money on costs of sickness and living.” To OKW Abwehr I

“Between the street and the railway south of Stapleford stand light flak- and detection-equipment. Large groups of troops to be found around here, also the Somerset Light Infantry Camp closely guarded by Bren gun posts.”

Ast. (Abwehrstelle) Hamburg B Nr. 2887/40

January 27, 1941 to KW Abw. from Lena 502 (3719)

“Lena 502 has to interrupt work for a while, for reasons of concealment. Equipment has been secured via 3554.” Ast. Hamburg 247/41]

We thus have to try to verify both the genuineness of the article (i.e. whether the creator of this item was indeed the person qualified and authorized to issue it), and its authenticity (i.e. does its content represent a true account of the circumstances it purports to describe). And we immediately are faced with problems. The text appears to have been written by a native German, yet it contains multiple errors. The character ‘ß’ (EsZett) is not used consistently (‘große’, but ‘Strasse’); the ‘1s’ and ‘7s’ are not continental; ‘Horch’ is spelled ‘Horrch’; ‘Gerät’ has an umlaut in one place, but not in another; ‘jetzt’ appears to have been spelled with an ‘s’, not a ‘z’; ‘augeblick’ is missing an ‘n’, etc. And why did ‘Flak’ originally appear as ‘Flack’? Is this not a clumsy giveaway, and is it perhaps a very premature use of this WWII abbreviation (from Flieger-Abwehr-Kanone)?

The handwriting in this document is indubitably Cookridge’s: it matches his other notes in the archive. But was he inventing or copying? Maybe this was a literal transcription of the coded message: after all, ter Braak was a Dutchman, not a German, and may have made mistakes that the transcriber faithfully replicated. Was another transcriber also the translator? The script at the top, in English, is in the same hand as the body. But we should also remember that Cookridge had been born in Austria, as Edward Philo, so he would have been immersed in German script, and would not have been likely to forget the habits drilled into him. So perhaps the items were falsified by a third party, and passed on to Cookridge, who wrote them out in his own hand? It certainly looks as if these messages are authentic, as their format matches known transmissions published elsewhere, such as in John Bryden’s Fighting to Lose. (I have not yet inspected raw decrypts held at Kew.)

The content, however, is also shady. The story of ter Braak that was published in ‘After the Battle’ gives the date of arrival as October 3, this date appearing to originate in Cookridge’s (‘Leighton’s’) article in the Vancouver Sun, while the National Archives files clearly indicate that he did not land until the end of October. Cookridge may have misunderstood the time of arrival, and embroidered his story. If we can believe what the archive tells us, it would have been impossible for ter Braak to have acquired new accommodation, and already spent that much money, if he had been in the country for only a day or two. So the message looks like a pure invention, probably created by Cookridge himself, with the lesser likelihood that an intermediary who had received the same wrong information about ter Braak’s arrival, and tried to embellish the story with some realistic-looking observations, had passed it on to Cookridge. The second date, January 27, occurs just before the day that ter Braak informed the authorities, under stress, about his new ration-card. It thus sounds as if Cookridge’s informer knew some aspects of the case, and Cookridge received a garbled account of what actually happened.

It is all very strange. Why would anybody bother to create these items, if they were never used? Were they simply produced to ‘prove’ that ter Braak had successfully deployed his wireless equipment? In which case, if the messages were intercepted and decrypted, why did the location-finders and the Special Branch not start combing the rental properties in southern Cambridge? Moreover, when I asked a wise ex-RSS officer this month about the trustworthiness of these messages, he simply replied that ter Braak’s equipment would never have worked, as a reputedly competent engineer’s report had shown. But is that what my contact was told, to fob him off? The archive tells a very different story, with contributions by other ‘competent engineers’. If ter Braak’s equipment never worked, why would he have hauled it around in the suitcase, and concealed it in a left-luggage office? 

Yet Mr. van den Braak and I now think that (part of) the mystery is easily explained. While Cookridge interpreted this message as being sent by ter Braak, it is actually one transmitted (under control of the XX Committee) by Gösta Caroli, aka SUMMER. SUMMER was indeed Agent 3719, the identification given. The timetable fits: SUMMER had attempted suicide on October 11, 1940, and was kept under close supervision in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire. On January 13, 1941, he assaulted (and nearly killed) his guard, and tried to escape. He was re-captured, but his role as a double-agent was over, and he had to be eliminated. Leonard Mosley claimed he was hanged in early February. (See Part 3 of ‘Undetected Radios’ for more details.) So the second message here represents the confirmation that Hamburg received from SUMMER (actually from the operator of his wireless set, as part of the Double-Cross deception) that he had to go underground, and that Agent 3554 (in fact the MI5 plant Sam McCarthy) has concealed his equipment.

What is perplexing about this whole episode is that the rest of the Cookridge Archive (something to be analysed here another day) proves that the government in 1945 wanted to open up to the press the proceedings of the trials, in order to boost the reputation of Britain’s intelligence services. Cookridge (and others, such as Stanley Firmin, Donald Stokes, and Bernard Newman) must have been briefed on the now well-known cases held in camera, but also on ter Braak, who was of course never put on trial. Among the information the journalists may have been given were some genuine transcripts of messages, but also some really imaginative, fake accounts of agents’ missions, such as the assassination of Hess, Beneš and Churchill. Much of that passed on into the lore of WWII history, but has now slowly been dismantled owing to the releases of the MI5 files concerning the agents themselves. Lastly, whether Cookridge received his transcripts from official government outlets, or from a secret contact within GC&CS (GCHQ), we face the astounding truth that he had in his hands a very early indication of the Double-Cross system at work. The secret was strenuously protected, and not publicly revealed until 1972. And the precise mission of ter Braak, and whether he successfully made any transmissions, remains an unsolved puzzle.

Thus we have a double Dutch Connection to be pursued: Jack Hooper, the half-Dutch disgraced SIS officer, who apparently worked for both the Abwehr and the NKVD, and is a pivotal figure in the Krivitsky-King-Maclean case; and Willem ter Braak, who has been claimed to be both a Nazi fanatic in the Abwehr, and a well-disguised NKVD spy. Could Claude Dansey possibly have been behind all this, pulling the strings? I shall have to put my best men and women on the job.

This month’s new Commonplace entries can be found here.

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The Mystery of the Undetected Radios (Part 4)

“A masterpiece of Radio Precision”? see below

News Update:

Alert readers will have noticed that I received important communications from Roland Philipps (the biographer of Donald Maclean) and from Jan-Willem van den Braak (the biographer of the Abwehr spy Jan Willem ter Braak), whose work is being translated from the Dutch for publication in the UK. I shall report on the outcomes of these dialogues in next month’s report.

An observation on Guy Liddell and Roger Hollis by one of my contacts in intelligence inspired me to break out in verse on the subject of MI5’s efforts to counter Soviet influences. The doggerel can be found at DiaryofaCounterEspionageOfficer.

************************************************************************

After I had put Part 3 of this saga to bed at the end of September, some thoughts that I had vaguely touched on in earlier episodes returned to me with more vigour: What if the mistakes over ter Braak and the controversial report by Walter Gill (which effectively concluded that domestic wireless interception was not necessary) were both deliberate exercises by MI5 and its partners? Were the plans for the double-cross operation that far advanced in the last few months of 1940 that it was considered vital to give indications – in the belief that the Abwehr would pick them up – that Britain’s wireless interception policies were so weak that German agents could essentially roam at will, and broadcast home undetected? After all, as early as September 1939, Guy Liddell of MI5 had written that ‘it was in our interests that the Germans should regard us as grossly inefficient in these matters’, and that ‘if they thought our organisation was good they might well ask how it was we managed to get his [SNOW’s] messages through’. And were the Abwehr’s planting of obviously fake identification cards on its agents a deliberate ruse to determine how gullible the British counter-espionage services were?

These may be utterly fanciful notions, but they have a modicum of sense about them, as all such exploits at face value are very difficult to explain. One has to assume that agencies like MI5 and the Abwehr were continually thinking: how will our enemy counterpart think and act? (A British FOES committee did in fact exist: Guy Liddell described it as ‘an inter-services committee that tries to put itself in the position of the enemy intelligence service’.)  And, if some sensible insight were applied, each intelligence section should have assumed that its counterpart, because of native influences, might in some circumstances act in a different fashion. Thus, in this instalment, I start to explore the variations in the strategies and successes of the major European-based espionage/sabotage organisations: SOE (Special Operations Executive), the German Abwehr, and the network of the Soviet Union’s GRU and KGB spies, and what their controllers should have learned from their experiences in one theatre of war to apply to another. There is a symmetry in some of the things undertaken by each organisation, as they strain to develop measures to confound the forces trying to counter them. Yet one can also spot asymmetrical aspects, driven by the idiosyncratic nature of each force, including their overall motivations and objectives, the personnel they selected, the territorial dimensions, and the cultural drivers behind their operations. It is hard not to suppose, however, that the policies of each were not somehow affected by their knowledge of what their adversaries were doing with their own offensive activities.

The focus of my research in this series has been the detection of illicit wireless. It is worth recording here that the primary purpose of what is commonly known as RDF (Radio Direction-Finding, but implicitly including Location-Finding) had, before the war, been the interception and decryption of government (e.g. military, diplomatic and police) traffic. Initially, precise location was not as important as content. As countries started to perform intelligent traffic analysis, however, the origin – and mobility – of transmitting stations, especially military units, became much more significant, often providing intelligence even though the underlying messages could not be decrypted. Then, as the combat started, organisations had to start to apply their knowledge to the possible threat of illicit stations operating behind their own lines.

With all three combatants, the techniques for long-range triangulation were well-developed by the time war broke out, and thus could in principle be quickly adapted for identifying illicit domestic transmissions. The paradox was that, owing to the vagaries of the behavior of radio waves, it was often easier to pick up transmissions originating abroad than those issuing from inside the country’s boundaries. As I explained in Part 1 of this saga, low-powered wireless sets operating on high-frequencies in domestic territory, designed to exploit ‘bouncing’ off the ionosphere, were often hard to detect because of the skip zones involved, and widely dispersed human interceptors would have been needed to pick up their ground waves. Such a set-up was possible in the United Kingdom, but not in the expanding German Reich. Moreover, the finer granularity required for locating individual wireless sets (at building-block or house level) demanded new mobile equipment and techniques not explored in long-range location-finding.

As I discuss the strategies and challenges of the three espionage forces, and attempt to assess their effectiveness, I shall be considering them under the following criteria:

  1. Operational leadership: How good were the directors in planning how objectives should be met, and following up by providing the motivation, material, and structure to allow agents to be successful?
  2. Quality of operators: Were agents with the appropriate profile chosen for the job in hand?
  3. Quality of training: Did the agents receive thorough and suitable training?
  4. Quality of equipment: How effective was the equipment (primarily wireless apparatus) for the location of operation and for transmission needs? Were conditions such as local power supply properly taken into account?
  5. Operating procedures: Were safe and secure operating procedures defined, and did the agents follow them?
  6. Remote support: Did the agents receive reliable and effective support from their home controllers?
  7. Detection capabilities: How effective were the enemy’s radio-detection and direction-finding mechanisms?
  8. Social environment: How hostile or sympathetic was the social environment in which they had to work?
  9. Counter-Intelligence strategy: What goals drove the counter-espionage strategy of the enemy on whose territory the spying took place?

June 1941 constitutes the major chronological dividing-line in the conduct of wireless espionage. (In the light of my research, I have deviated from the temporal Phases identified in my first post in this series, which had Phase 1 completing at the end of 1940, and Phase 2 winding down in June 1942.) The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union immediately changed the German attitude in Soviet counter-espionage from one of wary passivity to aggressive pursuit. The Russian stance in illicit communications switched from cautious dormancy to careless urgency. For Britain, it signalled that any planned invasion of the island nation had been postponed indefinitely: the timing coincided with the transfer of RSS to SIS, and the implementation of the new structure in MI5 under David Petrie. The date has less significance for SOE: it was still in an experimental, groping stage in the summer of 1941, with only two radio-stations established in France by that time. My analysis thus presses forward in this dimension of espionage and sabotage to address the continued struggles of the unit into 1942. I now summarise the activities of the three agencies in this period before delving into more detail.

I have shown how the greatest intensity of Nazi attempts to infiltrate British territory occurred in the autumn of 1940 (Operation LENA), with a couple of reconnaissance landings (by Jakobs and Richter) occurring in the spring of 1941 – i.e. before Germany’s alliance with the Soviet Union turned into a clash. By then, with the plan to invade the United Kingdom abandoned, and Hitler’s attention now directed to Operation Barbarossa, the agents whom the Abwehr had apparently successfully installed in Britain took on less importance. They appear to have been largely forgotten, or abandoned, and it took the arrival of new ‘spies’, such as TRICYCLE, GARBO and TREASURE (whom I shall cover in the next chapter), to re-activate the espionage – and the Double-Cross – project. Yet using wireless was not at the forefront of the Abwehr’s plans, and MI5, in their efforts to facilitate the passing on of fake information, had to be very careful and imaginative when encouraging use of the medium.

As far as Britain’s own plans for espionage and sabotage were concerned, Churchill had in the meantime (July 1940) established the SOE as a force to penetrate Nazi-occupied Europe, and to soften up and harass the invader’s government of occupied territories. Yet this was not primarily an espionage organisation, like SIS (whose network had been almost completely destroyed at the outset of war.) It was an outfit committed to sabotage, and, while wireless communication became a critical part of its operational infrastructure, the technology was used more to arrange for shipments, drop-offs, and pick-ups, and only secondarily as a mechanism for providing intelligence. Sabotage operations also drew more obvious attention from the enemy: furthermore, in the first two years of its existence (i.e. until the summer of 1942), SOE was hampered by being reliant on Section VIII of SIS for its wireless equipment, wavelengths, codes, etc. The experience in responding to illicit SOE transmissions in France may have given the German counter-espionage agencies a leg-up when the Soviet apparatus fired up in the summer of 1941, but, as will be shown, the evidence for this is shaky.

When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, all Soviet agents in place in Germany were immediately activated to provide intelligence about Nazi war-plans. Yet they had not been completely dormant before then. The situation was in fact more complex than that. After the show-trials and purges of 1937-1938, the KGB and GRU networks had been patiently rebuilt – not just in Germany, but across most of Western Europe. As early as May 1940, however, when Paris fell, Moscow suspected that relations with Nazi Germany – despite the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact – might deteriorate, and diplomatic representatives (e.g. Kobulov in Berlin) started building networks of informers, not only in Germany but also in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Elsewhere, the Soviet Union’s spies had long been active, such as in the origins of the famous Red Orchestra group in Switzerland, led by SONIA (Ursula Kuczynski) and DORA, the Hungarian Sándor Radó, who had been recruited in 1935, and moved to Switzerland in 1939. Before 1941, however, couriers, and communications through local Soviet embassies, had been a much more convenient method of passing information than the use of wireless transmission methods.

Abwehr Spies up to June 1941

Admiral Canaris of the Abwehr

The decision to infiltrate spies into Great Britain in late 1940 was taken at short notice, but, like many events of a time when feints and deceptions were part of the strategy, the exact date when Admiral Canaris initiated the LENA programme is uncertain. In 2018, Bernard O’Connor, relying on the rather dubious transcription of Lahousen’s War Diaries claimed by Wighton & Peis sixty years earlier, asserted that Canaris told his Abwehr officers as early as June 22 that gathering intelligence on Britain, in preparation for the planned invasion, was of the highest priority. That early preparation is vaguely echoed by Niklaus Ritter in his 1972 memoir, Deckname Dr. Rantzau, where he improbably describes being in the company of Caroli (SUMMER) and Schmidt (TATE), ready for their departure some time in July, when they had already completed their eight-weeks’ training. Yet Ritter’s memory was at fault: he describes them as leaving on the same plane – something which the British archives strongly refute, so one must question the reliability of his memory. John Lukacs, in The Duel, represents Admiral Raeder as still trying to talk Hitler out of invading Britain as late as July 11, with Hitler responding in terms of wanting to make peace with the United Kingdom. O’Connor and Ben Macintyre both refer to a conference held in Kiel ‘some time in July’ to plan the details of the LENA operation, an event confirmed by the Kew file on the Hamburg Abwehr officer Praetorius (KV 2/170-1), and given precision by KV 3/76, which sets it as taking place on July 16. That would dovetail with Ritter’s account that eight weeks of training had to be accomplished to meet Hitler’s deadline of September 15. 

Praetorius’s recollection was that the agents parachuted in at this time would ‘only have to be of independent means for 6-8 weeks as by at time the invasion of England was expected to be an accomplished fact.’ Yet the chronology does not work. If a decision had been made in July, the recruitment and training of agents was supposed to take eight weeks, and their subsequent independent existence on British soil might have been expected to take another six to eight weeks, the latest date for a successful invasion would have to be placed as late as early November. While Anthony Cave-Brown gave August 1 as the date that Hitler issued his Directive 17 to prepare for the invasion of Britain, Operation SEELÖWE (SEALION), Churchill himself reported it as being on July 16, with Hitler’s apparent objective of having his forces arrive four weeks later. On September 11, however, Hitler had to delay the invasion order until September 24, and on September 17 he ordered the indefinite adjournment of SEALION, and formerly cancelled it on October 12. Yet the first LENA agent, Caroli (SUMMER) did not parachute in until September 3, and his colleagues were still arriving in early November. It sounds as if Canaris gave Hitler unreasonably optimistic indications of the speed with which agents could be recruited and trained: if Hitler had been able to stick to his original plan, there would have been no planting of infiltrators in the United Kingdom, successful or not, to assist the invasion. Yet the program unaccountably went on after invasion plans were suspended, which would have made nonsense of the ability of the agents to survive independently for a few weeks.

Given the haste by which recruits had to be selected, vetted, and prepared, it is thus difficult to take seriously the claim made a few years ago (in Monika Siedentopf’s Unternehmen Seelöwe) that the invasion of Britain was sabotaged by Canaris and his team, in that they selected unsuitable candidates as spies who simply let the side down. Apart from the chronological problems listed above, however successful the few who landed might have been in evading capture, their effect on a planned invasion that required destroying the Royal Air Force would have been minimal either way. But that does not mean that the Abwehr’s project was not quixotic, or even cruel. The agents were chosen in a hurry: they were not native Germans, but mostly citizens of bordering countries (Denmark, Sweden, the Sudetenland – the last, of course, transferred from Czechoslovakia to the German Empire). Some were diehard Nazis, some were lukewarm, others were pressured into signing up by threats. The belief was that agents from outlying countries would fade into the background more easily than native Germans: some had spent time in the UK beforehand, but, overall, they were hopelessly unprepared for life in the United Kingdom. And as potential observers, they were untrained. Reports at Kew indicate that ‘though they were expected to report on such military objectives as aerodromes, land mines and gun batteries, on examination they showed only a vague idea of the significant points to note.’  They had ‘only an amateur knowledge of transmission technique.’

The main point, however, was that the spies of the LENA operation were not expected to be operational for long, a fact that is reinforced by the way that most of them were equipped. More than half of the eighteen (the exact number is debatable) who landed, either by parachute or boat, between September 3 and November 3, 1940 either carried with them a transmitter only, or no wireless equipment at all. A transmitter might have been useful for sending a brief set of dazzling reports about air defences, bomb damage, or weather conditions, but without an ability to have confirmed whether one’s messages were being received correctly, it would have been a short and demoralizing career. For those agents being parachuted in, wireless apparatus was a significant health hazard: at least two spies were injured by virtue of their collision with the earth when harnessed to sets weighing twenty pounds or more. Most had not practiced a parachute-jump before. Moreover, many were told in Hamburg that there was not enough shock-proof material available, and thus they would be equipped with transmitters only. If wireless sets were dropped separately, there was the risk of the apparatus’s never being found. TATE demanded he be equipped with a combined Transmitter/Receiver. As his Kew file reports: “His controller, RITTER [Captain Rantzau] then informed him that arrangements were being made for him to take with him to England a separate transmitter and receiver and also a large transmitter (called a ‘Z.B.V.’) which would be dropped separately and which he could destroy if the smaller sets were unbroken after landing.”

MI5’s analysis of the equipment the agents were provided with would indicate that they did not have a high chance of success in trying to contact their controllers. The boat agents (Meier, Waldberg, Kieboom and Pons, who arrived on the Kent coast) were equipped with compact and light cases, one weighing 7 lb., and containing batteries and connecting wires, the other weighing only 4 lb., containing the transmitter, aerial and spare valve. (This was in dramatic contrast to the bulky devices that SOE agents were required to take to France or, say, Yugoslavia, in following years.) Yet the experts judged that such low-powered devices ‘would require exceptional conditions to work over 100 miles’, with an expected range of nearer 50 miles. *  If that assessment is correct, it would show an extraordinary misjudgment by the Abwehr experts: reducing power to such a degree that transmissions would not only be undetectable locally, but would also not have enough energy to reach their intended target. This statistic is put into perspective by the fact that the distance between the port of Southampton and Cherbourg is over 100 miles, while German wireless agents were transmitting home from as far afield as New York and Brazil.

[* This opinion needs to be balanced against that of E. H. Cookridge, who, in his 1947 work Secrets of the British Secret Service, described Kieboom’s equipment as ‘a masterpiece of radio precision’, following up by claiming that ‘the transmitter allowed to send [sic] messages over a range of more than 600 miles, yet was so small that it could be hidden in two leather boxes  . . .’ (see Figure below). In his Preface, Cookridge thanked the Foreign Office, the War Office, the Home Office and the Lord Justice’s Office for their assistance, so his book should probably be regarded as an item of selective disclosure for propaganda purposes, perhaps maximizing the wireless threat.]

SNOW’s transmitter was reported to have a much more realistic range, of up to 1200 miles.  Likewise, CAROLI’s (SUMMER’s) equipment was much heavier and more powerful, but would have a corresponding disadvantage of requiring much more space to set up the aerial. “Aerials provided would not be easily untangled and satisfactorily erected except in secure privacy with plenty of space. E.g. indoor space 60 ft. long or a secluded wood with a fairly clear space 6o ft. long with trees etc. on which to tie the end of the aerial to a height of at least 6 ft.” How a spy in tight wartime conditions, in densely populated England, was supposed to accomplish such a task is not clear. A tentative conclusion by the report at KV 3/76 was that the agents were so ill-prepared that they should perhaps be considered as decoys.

Kieboom’s equipment details (from Cookridge)

Nevertheless, it seems that the Abwehr stations stayed observant, looking for transmissions from the agents. The same file, K 3/76, based on interrogations of the six prominent spies captured by September 1940, supplemented no doubt by RSS interception and decryption of Abwehr exchanges, discloses the following: “It appears from other sources [sic: surely a code for Ultra decrypts] that a constant watch is kept by Hamburg, Berlin, Paris and Cherbourg, for the reception of any wireless messages by all agents despatched to the U.K.  This is presumably in order to make sure that messages shall not be missed through bad atmospheric conditions.” The advantage gained by the German Reich’s territorial extension into Northern France (which also aided triangulation for location-detection) was counterbalanced by the fact that ENIGMA radio communications had to be used rather than highly secure land-lines, which allowed British Intelligence to tap into the plans and processes of the Abwehr. Moreover, by this time, Hamburg (which would have had secure contact with Berlin) was shifting its attention to Norway, placing the responsibility for Britain on to Paris and Cherbourg. A dangerous increase in interceptible traffic was caused by the fact that the Abwehrstelle in Brussels was used as an intermediary point for traffic, with messages passed to it from advance stations to be decrypted, and then passed on to Hamburg, Paris, or Berlin.

Because nearly all of the spies were picked up soon after they landed, little can be said about the adequacy of their training. Ter Braak apparently struggled with his receiver: concealing aerials in densely-populated Britain, with vigilant landlords and ladies, would have been a problem. TATE had only one frequency to work on, which was effective only in daylight hours: this inhibited his activity later. TATE admitted that he had been taught the fundamentals of operating, but nothing about wireless theory, which would mean he would be helpless when problems occurred. He said that he only knew “the practical details of how to join it up, erect the aerial, and tune the transmitter by the lamp. He thought he could spot a disconnected wire inside, but that was about all”. As Reed of B1A reported: “He had been instructed to join motor-cycle batteries in series, but three 6 volt batteries would burn out his valves.” Consequently, even with MI5 assistance, TATE struggled to make consistent contact. Reed reported, on October 1, that ‘experiments with [TATE’s] wireless were unsuccessful due to inefficiency of aerial provided with a set of so small an output.’ His first successful message was not sent until October 10: he was supposed to send a postcard in invisible ink to a contact in Lisbon if his wireless failed to work. She never received the postcard.

TATE had quickly understood that his life depended upon abandoning his Nazi affiliations, and following the instructions of his new captors. Unlike SUMMER, he did not have second thoughts, and thus did not employ any security code to indicate that he had been turned. (He claimed that the possibility of being captured and used had never been acknowledged by his trainers, and he thus did not have such a code.) He initially operated his set himself, and thus displayed a consistent ‘fist’. Yet the overall message to be gained from this exercise is that the Abwehr controllers soon lost interest. As early as September 7, Field-Marshal Jodl told the Abwehr to open up operations against the Soviet Union. The realization that German could not dominate the skies above Britain, and that a winter invasion across the Channel would simply be a recipe for failure, had by then convinced Hitler that it was time to turn his attention to the East.

What TATE’s files at the National Archives show is the enormous lengths to which MI5 and RSS went to experiment with his apparatus, attempting to make contact with Wohldorf. While SUMMER’s set had been shown to work quite quickly, MI5 provided their counterparts at RSS with all the details of call-signs, frequencies, and times so that the location-finding network of interception towers at Thurso, St Erth, Gilnakirk, Sandridge, Cupar and Bridgewater could gauge the strength of the signal, and give back advice. Hughes (W6B) and then Reed (who was on secondment from the BBC) had to move the set around from city to countryside, change the length of the aerial and fine-tune its alignment, and also have the complex instructions for TATE’s back-up set translated before they were able to send transmissions of consistent quality. Yet they were already sensitized to the need to avoid German direction-finding – to a degree that was unnecessarily cautious: they believed that the transmissions could have been localized to an actual building (e.g. Latchmere House), a degree of accuracy way beyond what the Funkabwehr was capable of at that time.

Meanwhile, agent SNOW (Arthur Owens) was being kept in close confinement. It should not be forgotten that SNOW was the original Abwehr agent equipped with wireless, and was notionally active right up until April 1941. Yet the first experiments with wireless were haphazard: he was supplied with a clumsy and reliable transmitter (only) in February 1939, but, since he was able to meet his handler, Ritter, in Hamburg until war broke out, and, after that, arrange regular rendezvous in the Netherlands and in Belgium until the Nazis overran those countries in May 1940, the use of wireless to pass on intelligence was not so critical. Of course, that made the task of monitoring what he said impossible, and suggestions that SNOW had betrayed his country by revealing suitable targets for bombing (i.e. going beyond the ‘chickenfeed’ that he passed in his encrypted messages) caused MI5 to terminate him, and incarcerate him for the remainder of the war.

Agent SNOW

MI5 was aware of SNOW’s wireless usage from the day his set was picked up. SIS even broke the set, and had to repair it. But SNOW did not make his first successful transmission until late August 1939: soon afterwards, MI5, aided by his wife’s jealous reporting of his duplicitous activity, arrested him, and then found both his transmitter, and then a receiver, concealed at his property in Surbiton. Under MI5’s tutelage, SNOW moved house to premises where his aerial would not stand out so obviously, and transmitted regularly on weather and less than critical military operations and preparation. The first Double-Cross message was sent on September 9, but no confirmation of receipt occurred for some weeks. At some stage in October, Maurice Burton, who had earlier checked to verify that SNOW was transmitting as instructed, took over the operation of the apparatus, and eventually a new afu transmitter-receiver was delivered through a third party.

Whether the Abwehr had been careful enough to pay attention to SNOW’s radio ‘fist’, or whether Burton was adept enough to emulate it, is not clear. The archival reports give every indication that Robertson and his team assumed that Ritter must have concluded that SNOW was being controlled by MI5. Guy Liddell even wrote, on February 2, 1941: “Another point that occurs to me us that the Germans must now be wise to the game of collaring an agent and forcing him to use his wireless set in our interests. There is in fact evidence that they are doing it themselves.” Yet the Abwehr used what SNOW fed to them concerning passports and ration cards to supply the LENA agents, and lure them to their doom or glory. Exactly who was deluding whom by the time SNOW was regarded as a high security risk may well never be established. A triple agent works only for himself, trying desperately to play one employer against the other in order to survive. Interrogators of Ritter after the war concluded that he had realized that SNOW had been turned, but, when Ritter wrote his memoir in 1972, he gave no suggestion that SNOW was anything but the genuine article. Ritter believed that SNOW was being used by MI5, but that the Abwehr had outwitted them. He certainly would not wanted to have admitted to his bosses in Berlin at the time that he had been deluded. Other Abwehr officers interrogated were more outspoken and direct about their suspicions: I shall explore these in a later chapter.

MI5 and RSS gained much from these experiences. They learned about the enemy’s equipment, and the RSS was able to test out its interception and location-finding techniques when they applied their sensors to TATE’s transmissions, in order to evaluate how effective they were. Yet this was a precarious time for MI5: the seeds of the successful XX Operation were quickly sown, but Liddell and others also came to realise that allowing ‘undetected’ radios to operate would require the existence of a ham-handed and inefficient detection service for them to evade interception. This concern would continue to dog MI5 throughout the war –  the fear that the Germans must assume that the wily British had better radio-detection finding equipment than appeared to be the case, and would thus assume that their agents were not operating freely. And, as I pointed out in my article on ter Braak, is it not somewhat ridiculous to think that, in densely-populated Britain, with a citizenship well advised to look out for suspicious activity, that an obvious foreigner, with accented English, could traipse round the country picking up information, and then return to some lodging where he managed to conceal the existence of a lengthy aerial while sending in his reports?

For the Abwehr, their LENA spies were dispensable. The espionage service did not think they would survive long, and it had low expectations of their deliverables. As a July 1944 report submitted jointly by MI5 and SIS declared: “According to the calculations of one Abwehr officer, eight-five per cent of the agents dispatched were never heard of again; ten per cent turned in information which was either worthless or false; the remaining five per cent provided sufficient accurate reports to justify the expense of the remainder. The first two clauses of this sentence may have a greater validity than the last.” (The last observation was perhaps a tacit hint of the XX Operation.)  Agent Richter may have been sent in to verify whether TATE had been turned, but the fact that the Abwehr never learned anything from Richter did not deter them. The Abwehr no doubt had it confirmed for them how difficult it was to infiltrate an island nation. MI5, even at that time, took pains to ensure that manipulated transmissions took place in locations where the spy was supposed to be, but the state of the technology on the German side at that time was probably inferior to that of the British: even with appropriate triangulation, transmitters could not be ‘pinpointed’ to much less than a circle of 20-mile radius, and there is no evidence that the Germans bothered. Yet the awareness of RDF as a technique for counter-espionage would have registered with them, and would come sharply into focus a few months later.

As a coda, and a point to be picked up later, the British apparently recognized, after the war, the Germans’ superior techniques in detection and direction-finding. In his 2011 memoir of his days at Bletchley Park, Secret Days, Asa Briggs writes that GCHQ acquired a field north of Bletchley that was later named Furzton. “A radio direction finding system developed by the Germans was installed there. Judged superior to all existing British systems, it consisted of an outer circle of forty and an inner circle of thirty smaller metal masts,” he adds. Yet a search on ‘Furzton’ fails to come up with anything else. (Google led me to Hinsley’s and Tripp’s Codebreakers, a book I own, but with no incidence of ‘Furzton’, which does not appear in the Index.) To learn more, perhaps, we must wait for the Official History of GCHQ to appear next year. The overarching conclusion must be that, after the initial excitement in setting up W Division in MI5 in August to track illicit wireless, the transfer of RSS to SIS, and the establishment of the XX Operation, accompanied by the belief that all German agents had been turned, incarcerated or executed, concern about  illicit radio transmissions, whether they came from foreign embassies, maverick civilians, Soviet spies, or even undetected German infiltrators, the demand for prosecution of such activity through urgent and efficient location-finding went somewhat off the boil.

The Funkabwehr

The Nazis had their equivalent of Britain’s Radio Security Service, the Funkabwehr, sometimes translated as the Radio Defence Corps. Yet the Germans came rather later to recognize that the threat of domestic illicit wireless communications required a more committed function. Created by Hans Kopp in 1940, the Funkabwehr reported to the OKW, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, and readers may find references to the OKW/WNV/FU, a typically precise but wordy example of how the Germans described their units, Wehrmacht Nachrichten Verbindungen Funküberwachung, loosely the surveillance of radio intelligence and communications. Unfortunately, a good history of the Funkawehr remains to be written, as German records are unavailable. For a detailed history of the organisation, the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funkabwehr is reasonably solid, but has a very shaky chronology, is written too much in the passive voice, and in my judgment contains several errors. * Moreover, it is highly dependent on a 1946 report compiled by the RSS itself, which can be seen at https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B_oIJbGCCNYeMGUxNzk0NWQtNzNhZi00YWVjLWI1NmItMzc2YWZiZGNjNjQ5, a folder in Christos T.’s excellent website dedicated to military intelligence matters. While this account lacks the benefit of historical distancing, and integration of much new material, I shall not repeat here the detailed evolution of the Funkabwehr’s capabilities.

[* The danger of referring to Wikipedia, or indeed any on-line source, is that the entry may change suddenly, or even disappear. The Wikipedia entry on the Funkabwehr has been expanded considerably since I started this article.]

Germany and Great Britain had long maintained ‘Y’ (signals interception) capabilities, the focus of which had been primarily diplomatic and political communications of foreign powers, but assumed interest in military plans and operations as war approached. Britain had listening posts throughout the empire, and Germany had established a similar network within the German borders. The Nazi interest in the years before the war appears to have been directed more against the Soviet Union: by 1937, from their intercept stations at Treunbritzen, Jüterbog, Königsberg and Breslau, they were picking up a large amount of NKVD traffic stretching from Murmansk to Odessa. This activity no doubt continued during the period of the Nazi-Soviet pact (August 1939to June 1941), and helped Hitler prepare for operation Barbarossa.

German Communications (from RSS report)

Yet, as the awareness of possible clandestine wireless activity within each nation’s borders increased, approaches to the problem started to diverge. True, the general methodology and use of technology were very similar, but the geographical and political constrains led the adversaries down different paths. First, the borders in the European theatre of operations remained stable for the British: the Germans had to deal with their fast expanding occupation of new territory. While it provided for a steady increase in suitable locations for interception stations (e.g. Brest, in France), it also increased the possible quantity of subversive communications. It also put more strain on inter-unit communications, since secure landlines were no longer available, and thus exposed more secret information transfer to interception itself. Moreover, the operations were frequently taking place in environments hostile to the invaders, with the risk of sabotage, and, certainly, non-cooperation.

Another aspect was duplication of effort. It sometimes comes a surprise to learn how fragmented the approach of a totalitarian nation could be to intelligence matters. Hitler encouraged rivalries, however, and there was a large absence of trust between organisations. In fact, the function of the Funkabwehr was split between the OKW unit and a section of the Ordnungspolizei (or Orpo) called the Funkabwehrdienst, which was under the control of Heinrich Himmler. Both units were responsible for the location and apprehension of those transmitting illicitly, but for most of the war their missions were divided by what could seem to be an absurd and unproductive distinction. Orpo was responsible for identifying clandestine operations against the government and the regime, while the WNV/FU directed its efforts against activities against the state. How they could confidently conclude which category a transmission belonged to before analysis, or why they discounted the fact that some factions might effectively be fighting both, has not been explained. Britain, on the other hand, maintained a unified control over interception, and generally benefitted from the large amount of trust that existed between the military, the political, the interception and the cryptographic organisations. It was not until 1943 that the Orpo and the WNV divided their tasks more sensibly along geographic lines.

One critical matter that the RSS report brings to the surface is that of distortion of signals, and how the proximity of electrically conductive objects of dimensions close to the length of the wave could affect both reception and interception. What the receivers of transmissions initiated from agents in enemy territory were interested in was content, and weakening of the signal would affect successful reception. Communication was one-to-one: the receiving station would be the sole unit dedicated to trying to capture a transmission. Distortion could mean that the signal was lost completely, or fell into the skip zone. Location was not important to such receivers: indeed, transmitters were encouraged to move around (with those clumsy antennas – but not too far afield so as to jeopardise the signals plan) to evade detection. Interceptors, on the other hand, were rarely interested in content: they probably did not have the resources or time to decrypt the messages. What drove them was location, so that they could quickly eliminate (or turn) the offending agent and equipment. Distortion might not mean complete loss, as multiple detectors had to be in place to perform the triangulation necessary, but it could mean that a faulty indication of location was reached.  

Yet it was all a hazardous business. The presence of interfering objects (buildings, mountains), by radiating signals in new directions, can confuse the process of triangulation, or cause the assumed location to be challengingly large. This distortion can also occur simply because of the erratic behavior of the ionosphere, especially at time of sunrise and sunset. Guy Liddell reported, on February 10, 1941 that ‘the alleged parachutist’s [JAKOBS’s] transmitter from this country was heard again on Sunday but turned out to be a communication between Paris and Cracow’. In a 1944 report, written by British Intelligence to prepare its officers for the invasion of Europe, appears the following observation: “The skip distance of any transmitter is calculable in normal circumstances; but, occasionally, owing to temporary changes in the atmosphere freak results may be obtained, as in the summer of last year when the short wave transmissions of Chicago police cars were clearly (and tiresomely) audible on the south coast of England.” (I am confident that this pamphlet, available at Kew at WO-279-499, was written by Hugh Trevor-Roper: he was the Abwehr expert, and the prose has a donnish flair, and is regularly sprinkled with Latin phrases.) We should also remember that Britain’s scheme of catching all groundwaves by the dispersion of interceptors throughout the country could not conceivably be mirrored in Germany, let alone in its expanded territories. The dynamics of the cat-and-mouse game played between spies and enforcers must be evaluated in this context.

Overall, therefore, the reputation of German counter-intelligence as a ruthless and efficient machine, which has been encouraged by war-movies, and even historians of SOE, is certainly overstated. The Funkabwehr suffered from duplication, tensions of centralisation and decentralisation, inadequate training, poor communications, a shortage of qualified amateurs (unlike Britain’s Voluntary Interceptors), too rapid job movement, insufficient mobile units, sometimes poor quality equipment, and lack of appropriate language skills. Coordinates provided by remote RDF were frequently too vague to ensure successful local house-hunting. Certainly the discovery of the Soviet Rote Kapelle spy network in the summer of 1941 moved operations into a higher gear, but the organisation in France (for instance) remained weak until as late as 1943. The RSS report assesses the technical resources at the outbreak of the war as being ‘completely insufficient’, given the rapidly occurring military victories and the increase in occupied territory’. It tells a story of frequent failure, that it took weeks or even months before a transmitter was at all precisely located. Yet the RSS seemed also to be under the impression that the number of Allied W/T agents was rapidly growing in 1940, an illusion that is undermined by the histories of SOE that have appeared. The more innovative technologies and approaches of the Funkabwehr thus occur well after the period under the microscope in this chapter, and will be analysed in a future episode.

SOE and Wireless: 1940-1942

The SIS organisation in Europe had been greatly weakened by the beginning of war, and the Venlo incident on November 9, 1939 (whereby the Abwehr captured SIS officers in Holland, and gained detailed information about the service’s structures and personnel) crushed it. SOE was launched, with a charter written by the dying conservative Neville Chamberlain, and under the ministerial direction of the socialist Hugh Dalton, in July 1940. Its mission was to perform subversion and sabotage in those countries of Europe controlled by the Nazis. While Chamberlain declared that its operations should be tightly woven in to the greater military strategy of the war, this facet of its decision-making was never really clear. Was it supposed to disrupt the Germans’ efforts to produce war material? Was it designed to initiate minor diversionary attacks that would draw a high degree of military and police resources away from other arenas? Or was it intended to help prepare for the eventual invasion by softening up targets, and impeding troop movements? All these goals were troubled by the fear of what reprisals the Nazis might take on such incendiary activity, and what effect that might have on local morale. Moreover, SOE was always competing for resources – especially for aeroplanes and wireless equipment – and those often unfulfilled demands, hampered by other departments that questioned SOE’s effectiveness, meant that SOE had a very chequered history in the first two years of its existence.

The sources on SOE are fragmented. M. R. D. Foot’s SOE in France, originally written in 1966, and reissued in 2004, is an ‘official’ history, part of the Government Official History Series, but, as is clear from its title, covers France only. (In an interesting sidenote, Foot himself, in his 1976 work, Resistance, refers to SOE in France as a ‘quasi-official’ history.) Foot wrote another volume covering all of SOE, SOE: The Special Operations Executive 1940-1946, in 1984, but it is not an ‘official’ or even ‘authorised’ history. Its chronology is hazy, and it provides little detail on wireless equipment and procedures. After the war, an internal history was commissioned from an Oxford don, W. J. M. Mackenzie (who had not been employed by SOE), and was eventually published, in 2000, as The Secret History of SOE: The Special Operations Executive 1940-1945. In all three books, the coverage of wireless is very sketchy until 1943, after SOE’s own research and manufacturing facilities had been set up, and Colonel Gubbins rather belatedly introduced more rigorous signals procedures. Various memoirs refer to the use of wireless, but they are not always reliable.  A number of files have been released to the National Archives in recent years, but few records of SOE’s activities in the early years appear to have survived fire, destruction or the weeders, and what have endured are (so far as I can judge) all undigitised

This report focusses on SOE in France, as it was the earliest field of operation, and it is here that the most pressing lessons of wireless usage were learned. SOE had two units working in France: the F Section, which was run as a British operation, and the RF section, which was a Gaullist unit for which French nationals only could work. F thus depended mainly on agents of Anglo-French nationality who spoke the language fluently.  And it took many months before SOE sorted out is mission, recruited and trained people, overcame political opposition, and were able to start placing agents deep inside France. It had infiltrated a few agents equipped with wireless by sea, but their communications were apparently spotty. The first confirmed F agent to be parachuted in with a wireless set was Georges Bégué (aka George Noble), who arrived in unoccupied central France on the night of 5/6 May 1941.

It might be expected that the local populace would be more supportive of parachutists sent in to hinder and harass the invader, but it was not necessarily so. Up until Barbarossa, the French communist party had welcomed the Nazi allies of Moscow, and rapidly had to change their stance after June 1941. Before then, however, communists were a threat to subversive activities as possible informers. Even in Vichy France, considered to be safer territory, many peasants were loyal to the administration, and would betray illicit movements to the authorities, and hence to the Germans. SOE’s policy with wireless operators was open to criticism: it would send in a team of three (agent, courier, and wireless operator) rather than devolving the task of transmission and receiving to the agent him- or her-self.  Frequently the operator spoke no French, and might be idle for weeks at a time, which meant concealment and exposure were a constant concern. Yet progress was slow. Lorain (see below) writes that there were only two clandestine stations working in France for Section F in May 1941, and a year later, still only seven.

Thus one has to treat Foot’s claims about the rapidity with which the Germans developed direction-finding techniques with some skepticism. He reports that ‘the German wireless interception service had detected Bégué’s transmissions almost at once, had begun to jam them within half a week.’ The Vichy police was involved, and ‘D/F vans joined in the search’. Elsewhere, in a general commentary, Foot writes: “The German intelligence service’s wireless direction-finding (D/F) teams were numerous and efficient, probably better than the British, for whom Langelaan [George Langelaan, Knights of the Floating Silk, p 220] claimed that if ever an unidentified transmitter was heard ‘in a manner of minutes a first, rough direction-finding operation had been accomplished.’” Again citing Langelaan, Foot then goes on to make the following rather nonsensical observation: “If the transmitter was anywhere in the United Kingdom, in less than an hour experts equipped with mobile listening and measuring instruments were converging on the region where it had been located.” Why an official historian like Foot would rely on Langelaan as a source, when the author was an SOE agent who probably received the information second- or third-hand, is not clear. (Admittedly, Foot would not have been able to find reliable information in the archives, but that is no excuse for such slipshod reporting.) From other accounts (such as Liddell’s Diaries), it is quite clear that, during this period, the approach by RSS to suspicious signals was much less rigorous.

As for what the capabilities of the Nazi teams were, ‘converging’ might mean location-finding rather than physical movement, but the proximity of Augsburg and Nuremberg to each other [see below] would mean any attempt at triangulation with Brest on sites in Britain would be a very haphazard, as well as pointless, exercise.  Nevertheless, Foot goes on to write: “French operators in the field early discovered that a long transmission in a large town would probably bring a detection van to the door within thirty minutes. The Germans soon worked out a technique for establishing what part of a town a clandestine operator was working in, by cutting off the current sub-district and noting when the clandestine transmission was interrupted; then they would concentrate their efforts on the sub-district affected, and hope to track down quickly at least the block, if not the building, the set was working from.”

In his general book about SOE, Foot reinforces the message. “In towns, sensible organisers and wireless operators took care not to see too much of each other; for the wireless operator was always the circuit’s weakest point. The Germans, like the British, kept a constant watch on every wireless wavelength, and it took only twenty or thirty minutes for a team of their armed direction-finders to get within a few yards of an operator who was fool enough to remain on the air so long. Relays of thirty clerks with cathode-ray tubes in the Gestapo’s headquarters in the Avenue Foch in Paris, for example, kept up a continuous watch on every conceivable frequency. When a new set opened up, it was bound to show up on a tube; the frequency could be read off at once. In a couple of minutes, alerted by telephone, direction-finders at Brest, Augsburg and Nuremberg were starting to take cross-bearings; within a quarter of an hour, detector vans would be closing in on the triangle a few miles across that the cross-bearings had indicated. Some of SOE’s early organisers in France and Belgium insisted on sending messages so verbose that their operators had to remain at their morse keys for hours at a time; and, inevitably, they were caught.

German Position-Finding, Phase 1 (1942?) (reproduced from Pierre Lorain’s ‘Secret Warfare’)

It did not take long for Gubbins, as head of operations, to spot what was wrong, or for the signals training school at Thame Park to start to impress on operators – as Beaulieu explained to organisers – that mortal danger lay in trying to send long messages by wireless.”

Yet all this is undated, and perhaps an indication why this analyst is wary is that Foot immediately follows this last passage with the following: “By the winter of 1943-4 – hardly before time – there was an order: no wireless telegraphy (W/T) transmission was to last longer than five minutes.” In the context of the war, this is an enormous chronological jump. Foot lists several other operations (Forman and Labit, DASTARD, Bloch) in the second half of 1941 that he claims were terminated because the operators stayed on the air too long, and were trapped by the efficiency of German detection-finding. Yet it is perhaps more likely that many of these agents were betrayed by sloppy tradecraft, or visible behavior that prompted the interest of citizens who felt it their duty to report such activity before they were arrested for ignoring it. In fact Mackenzie tells us that Labit (the wireless operator) had to escape to the Unoccupied Zone without his set, while his partner Cartigny was probably shot. Some gave the game away by weak identity cards, or obviously wrong serial numbers on notes, the same types of error that had bedevilled the LENA spies. In Resistance, Foot undermines his argument by writing: “Early in the war, the Germans worked the process [of interception] clumsily, but by the spring of 1943 they had main intercepting stations in Augsburg, Berlin, Brest, Nuremberg, and no doubt elsewhere.” Again, a distressing lack of precision, and a big chronological leap.

In his largely pictorial study of the use of wireless in the French Resistance, The Clandestine Radio Operators in France (2011), Jean-Louis Perquin presents an arresting account of the German special unit ‘dedicated to the detection of clandestine emissions’, describing a complex web connected to three detection-finding centres located in Brest, Augsburg and Nuremberg, and backed up goniometer trucks with equipped with the latest technology. Yet, again, chronology is vague: the text indicates that the procedure described was deployed in 1943. There is no evidence of the state-of-the-art in 1941. Perquin explains that RF agents were trained by British instructors, and also dependent on SOE equipment. “In Autumn 1941”, he writes, “following the numerous loss (sic) suffered by those specialists and considering how such losses were threatening the very existence of the networks, the SOE decided to create a security course in Grendon, Buckinghamshire.” Yet, if losses of agents were due to overlong transmission times, or failure to switch frequencies, one might think the problem could have been swiftly addressed through tighter discipline. Gubbins’s edict of winter 1943-44, after ‘it did not take him long’ to work out what was happening, simply seems absurd.

It appears that Foot and Perquin were using the same source, but it is not clear what it is. In Resistance, Foot declares his heavy reliance on Pierre Lorain’s Armement Clandestin (1972), a book that also appears in Perquin’s Bibliography, which was translated and published in English as Secret Warfare in 1983. Lorain gives a much more reasonable account of what happened, and it is worth quoting three paragraphs in full.

“German detection methods had made decisive progress in 2 years. In 1941 and 1942, the localization of a clandestine station was extremely difficult. It could be carried out only if the operator transmitted on the same days of the week, from the same site, and on the same frequency during several consecutive hours. Direction-finding operations were not yet automatic, and panoramic reception was non-existent. The scanning of all usable frequencies was necessarily very slow and left substantial gaps.

In addition, during the final approach, each Gestapo agent had to hide a heavy suitcase containing a receiver with a loop aerial under his coat. A Tirolean cap or Basque beret tilting down over his ear just barely hid an earphone. Their general posture aroused the curiosity of even the most naïve of passersby.

The arrest of a radio operator thus required long months of continual surveillance, the operation was complicated by the fact that if a clandestine operator was spotted in the unoccupied zone of France (controlled by Vichy), the Germans could only signal the suspect frequency to the French radio control group at Hauterive near Vichy. The latter promised to look into the matter, but secretly warned the clandestine station to move as quickly as possible, and then supplied the Germans with an almost completely false position.”

The Funkabwehr article I referred to before contains nothing about operations in France against SOE. I have been advised that the unit’s records reside somewhere in Moscow, so one cannot judge how much of Lorain’s account is true. Yet it seems as if Foot’s official history tries to deflect attention away from other systemic problems in SOE’s deployment of wireless. (His comments above need to be transferred en bloc to the state of the game in 1943 onwards, a period I shall cover in a later article.) A careful reading of Mackenzie would suggest that a number of severe problems affected both the F and R/F operations in France until 1942: a lack of radio expertise for establishing reliable wavelengths and schedules, leading to failed use; struggles with transporting and concealing the heavy equipment; inappropriate choices of agents who had unsuitable personalities; careless practices by the wireless operators, who were not always trained properly; inappropriate centralisation of transmissions because of shortage of equipment, leading to intense and long broadcasts; betrayal by agents (such as the notorious VICTOIRE); the unreliability of the local police in Vichy France. It was easier for SOE to blame German direction-finding.

And it seems more probable that other territories – and another enemy – were the arena in which the Reichssicherheitshauptamt improved its detection capabilities. As I shall explore, the Funkabwehr was provoked into quick reaction after Barbarossa (June 1941), as the Red Orchestra started tuning up, primarily in Northern France and Belgium. Colonel Buckmaster, who headed F Section, reported that, as late as August 1942, in the Occupied Zone, he had only two wireless sets, of which one was operational, while in the Unoccupied Zone, the numbers were six and four. In Belgium, however, the following distressing tale emerges, as German counter-action took place. In the First Quarter of 1941, two out of 9 sets had been captured and operated by the Germans: the figures for the next three quarters were 5 out of 6; 8 out of 8; and 7 out of 8. I shall return to the topic of whether German RDF advanced faster in Germany, because of the activation of the Red Orchestra after Barbarossa, and explore how soon operations in France were able to take advantage of such breakthroughs. Overall, my conclusion would be that the sluggishness with which SOE mobilised its wireless communications, and the slow but steady steps by which the Funkabwehr moved into action against Communist spies in the latter half of 1941, suggests that Foot’s suggestions of hyperactive German detection-finding in 1941 are premature, and that the losses were due to other causes.

In any case we know that SOE was inhibited by the fact that SIS controlled its cyphers and communications until June 1942. Up until then, it had had to accept whatever equipment SIS gave it – clumsy and heavy apparatus. As Foot writes: “Agents were not best pleased at SIS’s first offering, a plywood box that weighed some 45 lb. (20kg), already looked old-fashioned and contained a Mark XV two-valve transmitter fitted with a morse key, and its power-pack, a 6-volt car battery.” Foot does not describe the travails that agents lugging a 45-lb. suitcase around an unfamiliar terrain must have experienced, let alone the difficulties in setting up a suitable aerial without drawing attention to themselves.

The conclusion about SOE’s (and specifically Gubbins’s) track-record concerning wireless up to 1942 must be that the operation was needlessly clumsy. It cannot all be blamed on SIS.  I read A. R. B. Linderman’s Rediscovering Irregular Warfare: Colin Gubbins and the Origins of Special Operations Executive (2016) in the hope of acquiring some deeper insights. Linderman informs us that a Frederick Nicholls served under Gubbins as director of signals during World War II, but that is the only mention that Nicholls merits in the Index, and the story is disappointingly thin on wireless matters. Maybe the skills of Nicholls, who ‘had managed to establish wireless communications with the British Embassy in Kabul during the Third Anglo-Afghan War’ (which occurred between May and August 1919) were stretched by the exigencies of communications in Nazi-occupied Europe if that was his premier achievement. The clumsiness of SOE’s wireless strategy would however endure until the end of the war, as I shall explain in a later episode.

Major-General Sir Colin Gubbins

The Red Orchestra

While the Comintern and its allies had enjoyed successful experiences with illicit wireless transmission in the 1930s, Stalin’s purges of 1937 and 1938 had required much of the Soviet Union’s networks in the West to be rebuilt. It was not hard to find native Soviet sympathisers outside Germany, since the propaganda of communism as the only effective bulwark against fascism had worked effectively both on the disenchanted ‘toiling masses’ as well as on the guilt-ridden intellectuals. Since Hitler had either executed, incarcerated or forced into exile any members of the Party, or outspoken supporters of communist doctrine, Germany remained a more difficult country to penetrate. But neighbouring nations provided a rich source of potential spies and informants: many eastern Europeans found homes in the Low Countries and France, for instance, and were able to fade into the background without being conspicuous. Britain had its own nests of spies, of course, both from the older universities – who had successfully detached themselves from any association with the Communist Party of Great Britain – as well as more traditional working-class enthusiasts. But these eager adherents to the cause of the proletariat needed managing, and directing in their efforts. They needed intermediaries, and they need a mechanism for getting the fruits of their espionage back to Moscow.

Soviet espionage had three arms – the Comintern, the NKVD, and military intelligence, the GRU. David Dallin, in his epic Soviet Espionage (1955), informs us that, as early as late 1935, “Only a comparatively small Soviet apparat now remained in Germany: the greater part of the network had either been dissolved or moved abroad. The OMS had moved with the Comintern’s West European Bureau, the WED, to Copenhagen; the passport apparat had gone to the Saar, and Soviet military intelligence to Holland and France; the party leadership had migrated part to Prague and part to Paris.” Thus what survived the purges (with the GRU the most hard-hit) was still a very fragmented approach to intelligence-gathering, with no guarantee that it would be efficiently shared back in Moscow. In Volume 2 of his biography of Joseph Stalin, Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941, Stephen Kotkin writes (p 496) that a dozen NKVD station chiefs abroad were arrested in 1937-1938, and that, in Berlin, ‘Stalin cleaned house, arresting nearly every NKVD operative there’. The GRU suffered even more, with 182 operational staff arrested in the same time-period. Yet the growing menace of Germany and Japan meant that, under Beria, a rapid repopulation of the networks had to be accomplished.

The International Brigades in Spain had constituted a useful source of potential operatives, as well as an opportunity to grant new identified to infiltrated agents, by virtue of the passports that had been stolen from Brigade members when they entered Spain. Alexander Foote was a famous example of such a footsoldier who was plucked from obscurity to be sent to Switzerland to received training in wireless operation from Ursula Kuczynski, agent SONIA. At the end of 1938, agents in their dozens started arriving in Europe, as well as the Far East and the United States. Like the Nazis, but with far more deliberation and craft, the Soviets chose, or allocated citizenship to, agents who would never arouse suspicion owing to domestic (Russian) nationality. The complex borderlands of the old Russian Empire provided a rich environment for muddled heritage and absence of reliable documentation, in order to allow unverifiable accounts of life-history to be passed off.

Accounts of training for wireless activity are thin on the ground. SONIA’s memoir (which in these technical aspects is probably much more reliable than in political observations, such as her absurd accusations of imperialistic infiltration helping to crumble the Soviet Union) is certainly not typical.  For she was respected enough to avoid the purges, and also had had a long experience in China as a wireless operator before being recalled to Moscow for leave and ‘discussions’ in late 1935. Her account is unfortunately very muddled in chronology, but it is educational in that it clearly identifies some of the problems that illegal wireless operators would experience anywhere in Europe. After a brief interlude with her family in London, she was then sent to Danzig, then a ‘Free City’, where she was instructed to ‘obtain residence permits, find work to legalise our existence, and set up our transmitter for radio contact with the Soviet Union’.

SONIA had been instructed how to build a transmitter in China, by her lover, Ernst, and claims that she received a response from Moscow immediately she set up her apparatus. Her task was to advise a group of labourers undertaking occasional sabotage at a shipyard building U-Boats in Danzig (where the Nazis were outrageously breaching the constitution that the city had been granted), and transmit on their behalf. At one stage, she and Rolf moved to a new house, but discovered that proximity to a power-station made signals inaudible, and she had to take her equipment to an apartment – a lesson that probably stood her in good stead later in England. Yet she immediately stumbled dangerously: the apartment block she chose was the residence of several Nazis, and one day the wife of them asked her whether the reception on her radio had been affected by interference. Her husband had told her he believed that someone was transmitting secretly, and was going to arrange for the block to be surrounded. SONIA even mentions triangulation of radio detection, which would have been a very early indication of the Nazis’ fears – and progress in allaying them.

Soviet ‘Sever’ Wireless Model

SONIA did not take the right steps, however. She broadcast again, from the same apartment at the same time, instead of the middle of the night when neighbouring radios would not have been on. She should have moved to a friend’s apartment, or returned to Warsaw. It appears that she was in awe of doing anything without Moscow’s approval: the outcome was that she was ordered to return to Poland as she could no longer transmit. Thus, when she met her boss, Comrade Andrey, in Warsaw, she asked to receive further training in wireless construction and use in Moscow. That need was reinforced by her receiving a severe electric shock one night, burning her hand. SONIA would pay two visits to Moscow during 1937 and 1938 (she admits that the details of each congealed into a blur). Her return to Poland was uneventful. She had to return to Danzig to help a comrade set up his transmitter, and admits that he was ‘slow on the uptake’, so maybe Moscow’s selection and approval processes for its agents were not very rigorous. Communist fervor may have been considered more important than intelligence and the right psychological profile. SONIA felt she was not accomplishing much: “The Danzig people had their own radio operator, the Bulgarian comrade produced little information. I only transmitted once a fortnight.”

In August 1938, it was decided to send her to Switzerland, where the plan was to infiltrate agents into Germany, to make contacts at the Dornier aeroplane factory in Friedrichshafen. And that is where the story of ‘Sonia’s Radio’ picks up, with her eventual successful establishment in Britain in the spring of 1941, and her activation as a wireless agent a few months later. She met up with Sándor Radó, who as agent DORA had been appointed head of the Swiss network, but had no wireless skills. In his memoir, Radó writes how Sonia visited in him in December 1939, and how the following month his radio contact with Moscow had been established. He also describes a visit in March 1940, set up by Moscow Central, by someone he knew only as KENT (see below). KENT spoke authoritatively about the necessity of secure wireless procedures, stressing the importance of changing the number and times of transmissions as often as possible ‘as the best protection against being located’. He added that operators should move around different residencies, as well. “Keep changing them if you can – but again, avoiding any kind of system. The thicker the fog, the better.” It suggests, again, that a prematurely intense fear of radio-detection capabilities existed with the Soviets, and that their listeners back in Moscow would be prepared to listen around-the-clock for their agents’ transmissions. But it was easier to preach such practices than to follow them.

The Soviet defector Walter Krivitsky also gave hints of subversive radio activity in Central Europe. In his memoir In Stalin’s Secret Service, he related how Marguerite Browder, the sister of the head of the US Communist Party, Earl Browder, had graduated from the school in Moscow that specialised in wireless competency, and had then been sent abroad as an illegal with an American passport issued in the name of Jean Montgomery. “During 1936-1937 she worked in Central Europe where she laid the ground for the establishment of our secret radio station,” he added, with an unhelpful lack of precision. If we can rely on Krivitsky, shortly before his recall to Moscow Sergei Spiegelglass, sent on a deathly mission by his OGPU boss Yezhov, tried to get Krivitsky to assist in the assassination of his friend and colleague Ignace Reiss. When Krivitsky demurred, he then asked Krivitsky to hand Browder over to him, as he had an ‘important job’ for her in France. The implication in Krivitsky’s rather fractured account is that he managed to warn Browder of what Spiegelglass had in mind for her, and that she was able to continue with her wireless activities.

In his biography of Kitty Harris, The Spy With Seventeen Names, Igor Damaskin informs us that the European network was issued with much more sophisticated wireless equipment at the end of 1936. Kitty Harris, who was Marguerite Browder’s sister-in-law, was brought back to Moscow for retraining in January 1937. She apparently showed little aptitude, and it was determined that ‘any more technical training would be a waste of time. She was later assigned to be Donald Maclean’s handler in London and Paris, where she specialised in photography.

Yet wireless usage in broader Europe at this time was sparse. It was not necessary. Moscow had its eye on the long term. The presence of Soviet legations or embassies in most capitals of the West provided a mechanism for information to be collected and then sent by diplomatic bag or courier back to Moscow. As a long-term measure, a wireless centre was set up in Brussels, where Trepper, as the new leader of the western organisation, replacing Walter Krivitsky, installed himself in March 1939. Yet, as Heinz Höhne tells us in Codeword Direktor, Trepper left it dormant, concentrating first on recruiting a team of informers, and enlarging his contacts with the world of business, the military and diplomacy. Even when war broke out, there was no quick change of operation. Only when Nazi Germany started its invasion of Belgium and the Netherlands in May 1940 did hasty adjustments have to be made. Even though the Soviet Union was in a non-aggression pact with Germany, its needs for information on Germany’s plans, and the reactions of France and Great Britain to Nazi movements, placed increasing pressure on Trepper and his cohorts to deliver.

Communication switched to radio sets when the Germans occupied Brussels, and the staff of the Soviet legation was withdrawn. In August, 1940, Trepper moved with his mistress to Paris, leaving there the unreliable playboy Sukolov-Gurevich, known as KENT, as the only agent capable of representing the GRU network. The Sokols were then recruited as wireless operators by the Soviet Embassy, and trained by someone called Duval. By June 1941, the Soviet Military Attaché, Susloparov, had moved to unoccupied France, and Trepper was in Vichy on the day that Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, in Berlin, more urgent plans were made in April 1941 to establish direct radio contact between the cells led by Arvid Harnack and Harro Schulze-Boysen, the Soviet spies in the heart of the Nazi administration. (Even if Stalin did not believe the rumours of a Nazi invasion, some of his intelligence officers were presumably more realistic.) In late May, two transmitters were sent by diplomatic bag from Moscow to Berlin, ‘one a small battery model and the other a large mains-powered set portable enough when broken down to fit in a suitcase’, as Costello and Tsarev describe. Harnack was chosen to be the operator, but declined, delegating it eventually to an engineer named Behrens, while Schulze-Boysen took up the challenge for his group, with much more eagerness, selecting a factory technician called Hans Coppi.

Costello and Tsarev report further: “The Berlin groups had established several safe locations on the upper floors of trustworthy colleagues’ houses in the countryside outside the city where the transmitters could be assembled and their aerials run up into the attics in order to communicate with Moscow. The Centre arranged to keep a listening watch on set hours and days of the month, which were multiples of the numbers four and seven.” Coppi received training from the local NKVD office, and successful transmissions were made in the beginning of June, and picked up and decrypted in Moscow. The infrastructure was in place when Operation Barbarossa was started. As Dallin records the situation: “This, then, was the setup on the eve of the Soviet-German war: a number of espionage agencies with radio facilities and sources of information, organized but dormant, in Belgium and Holland; rudimentary apparats in France and Denmark; a few trading firms established as covers in Brussels, Paris, and Geneva; a promising start in Switzerland; and a group of enthusiastic but inexpert operators in the German capital.”

Summary

Thus, as the wartime alliances solidified in the summer of 1941 (with the USA to join the Allies a few months later) mainland Europe entered its most intense couple of years of illicit wireless transmission and detection. Many agents – as well as dedicated wireless operators – did not have a suitable profile for the tasks at hand, and had been sketchily trained. The equipment they used was frequently clumsy and unreliable. The support structures behind them had not always analysed the variables of distance, sunspots, terrain, or mechanical interference in depth enough to define the wavelengths and times that they should best operate. They frequently disobeyed best practices in their transmission techniques, and ignored rules of basic spycraft. But they all probably had an exaggerated sense of the state-of-the-art of enemy detection and direction-finding techniques at the time, and how efficient it was, and certainly used such capabilities as an excuse for sloppy behaviour when agents were apprehended. All this would change very rapidly as the battle of wits intensified in the second half of 1941, when Nazi Germany honed its capabilities in the face of the Rote Kapelle activity. The major significant conclusion is that, as Germany intensified its capabilities for detecting the threat of domestic (or imperial) illicit wireless, Britain moderated its own home coverage. Through policy and organisational change, it concentrated much more on transmissions in mainland Europe, and on the interception and decipherment of official transmissions made by the Nazi war machine.

The final observation to be made is to note the anomalous attitude of British Intelligence towards its Nazi enemy during this period. While crediting an exaggerated efficiency and skill to the Abwehr’s counter-espionage activities, in the form of effective Radio Detection- and Location-Finding, it attributed the obvious ill-preparedness of the agents (training, language, identification papers, etc.) it sent to Britain to the stupidity and clumsiness of the same organisation. Yet, while priding itself on its superiority in both regards, the British intelligence services (in this case MI5, RSS & SOE) developed casual habits in its interception of domestic illicit wireless, and also sent agents to the continent who were likewise unready or unsuitable for the challenges of working in hostile territory.

(I am again grateful to Dr. Brian Austin for giving me guidance on matters of wireless technology. Any mistakes or misrepresentation are mine alone.)

Sources, and for further reading:

SOE in France by M. R. D. Foot

SOE, the Special Operations Executive by M. R. D. Foot

The Secret History of SOE by William Mackenzie

Resistance by M. R. D. Foot

Deceiving Hitler by Terry Crowdy

Soviet Espionage by David Dallin

Codeword Direktor by Heinz Höhne

Unternehmen Seelöwe by Monika Siedentopf

Rediscovering Irregular Warfare: Colin Gubbins and the Origins of Special Operations Executive by A. R. B. Linderman

Secret Warfare by Pierre Lorain

The Clandestine Radio Operators by Jean-Louis Perquin

Wireless for the Warrior, Volume 4 Clandestine Radio by Louis Melstee and Rudolf F. Staritz

The Third Reich is Listening by Christian Jennings

SNOW: The Double Life of a World War Spy by Nigel West & Madoc Roberts

Operation Blunderhead by David Gordon Kirby

Sonia’s Report by Ursula Hamburger

Codename Dora by Sándor Radó

The Duel by John Lukacs

Double-Cross by Ben Macintyre

Hitler’s Spies by David Kahn

Fighting to Lose by John Bryden

Deadly Illusions by John Costello and Oleg Tsarev

Secrets of the British Secret Service by E. H. Cookridge

Codebreakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park by Alan Stripp & Harry Hinsley

Bodyguard of Lies by Anthony Cave-Brown

Secret Days by Asa Briggs

The Searchers by Kenneth Macksey

The Spy With Seventeen Names by Igor Damaskin

In Stalin’s Secret Service by Walter Krivitsky

The Guy Liddell Diaries, edited by Nigel West

The National Archives at Kew, London

This month’s Commonplace entries can be found here.

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Donald Maclean’s Handiwork

Donald Maclean

News Items

  • For those of you who were intrigued by the career of Lt.-Col. Adrian Simpson a few months back, a research colleague, Dr. Giselle Jakobs, has performed some spectacular sleuthing, and uncovered a host of new facts about his life. Please see http://www.josefjakobs.info/ for her blog of December 3.
  • It may interest others that the yearly rainfall for the area where I live (near Wilmington, North Carolina) reached almost 102 inches on December 30. The previous record was 83.65 inches, in 1877. Our average annual rainfall is 57.61 inches. (Final year’s total came out at 102.40 inches.)

I was intending to pick up the story of ‘The Mystery of the Undetected Radios’ this month, and had written much of the piece by the end of November, when a startling discovery made me decide to change my plans. An overseas contact casually referred me to a document in the CIA archives that turned out to be the first of two articles from the British Sunday newspaper, the Observer, from early 1980. One sentence in this piece made me gasp with amazement, and I immediately convinced myself that I should investigate the story, and report on it as soon as possible. (My contact has since provided me with one or two important documents, including a copy of the New Statesman from February 1980 that he tracked down in his local library, and he has also offered me many encouraging words. Yet he prefers to remain anonymous.)

The sentence ran simply, as follows: “Krivitsky, the first major Soviet defector, saw specimens of Maclean’s handiwork in Moscow”, and it was reported by Andrew Boyle that Goronwy Rees had said it.  That was it. Now, a casual reaction today might run as follows: “Goronwy Rees? Wasn’t he mixed up with Guy Burgess somehow? Well, of course Rees would have been aware that Maclean had spied for Russia. And it is common knowledge that Maclean absconded to Moscow with Burgess, but that was all a long time ago, in 1951. Was Maclean still alive in 1980? Oh, yes, so he was. Died in 1983. And Boyle? Didn’t he write the book that led to the outing of Blunt? Yes, The Climate of Treason. So Boyle must have known what was going on. As for Krivitsky, what were his dates? Okay, he died in suspicious circumstances in 1941. But you can’t always trust what these defectors say. So Krivitsky knew about the spies. What’s the big deal?”

Yet the potential dynamite behind this statement could have been enough to destroy the good name of a senior retired intelligence officer, and to drag the reputation of MI5 into the mire. The constant challenge over Maclean (and Philby) issued to the British intelligence services by historians has been: “Did you not receive enough hints from Krivitsky in 1940 to identify them and haul them in?”. These two articles offered some enticing suggestions that some information was still being withheld.

The first article appeared on January 13, 1980, exactly forty years on from the time when Walter Krivitsky was on his way across the Atlantic to be interrogated by officers from MI5 and SIS. But Goronwy Rees was dead: he had died from cancer at Charing Cross Hospital in London on December 12, 1979. Andrew Boyle had published his exposé The Climate of Treason in November 1979, making a veiled reference, after the flight of Burgess and Maclean in 1951, and then Philby in 1963, to the Fourth and Fifth Men in the scandal as ‘Maurice’ and ‘Basil’ respectively. Shortly after his book was published, the periodical Private Eye had revealed that Maurice was in fact Anthony Blunt, and Margaret Thatcher had, in two separate sessions in the House of Commons, on November 15 and 21, admitted that Blunt had been granted a pardon sixteen years earlier in exchange for giving his interrogators a full confession. (The authorities had no way of gauging how comprehensive the information was that Blunt gave them: not surprisingly, he held back.) The responses to the outing of Blunt, both from those who hounded him and those who defended him, are not the concern of this report. Nor is the overall embarrassment of the Security Service at the fact that the closely-guarded secret of Blunt’s confession and pardon had been revealed. The focus is on the secret source that Boyle dared not describe openly.

Goronwy Rees’s Quandary

Goronwy Rees

Why did Rees grant Boyle such an extensive interview at this particular time – on his deathbed, when the revelations had already been published? Rees had had a chequered career, and a very troubling relationship with Guy Burgess. Burgess had recruited him as an informer in late 1937 or early 1938, when Rees was a Fellow of All Souls’ College at Oxford University, and had passed on to Burgess high-table titbits in which Burgess’s masters in Moscow were interested. Burgess had told Rees that he was working for the Comintern: we know this as Rees shared that fact with his lover, Rosamond Lehmann, and Lehmann later confirmed the story. (In an interview with John Costello, Lehmann provocatively dated the disclosure to ‘late 1936’, and declared that Rees threatened to strangle her if she mentioned it to anybody.) Burgess also confided to him at that time the name of Anthony Blunt as a fellow-conspirator: Rees described the incident in his 1972 memoir A Chapter of Accidents, but did not name the individual. (“I don’t suppose he could have named a person who could have carried more weight with me.”) When Burgess and Rees both learned, in late August 1939, of the Nazi-Soviet pact (which dashed any pretensions Communism had for being an antifascist force), however, Burgess had to claim that he had given up work for the Communists, since Rees defiantly declared he wanted nothing more to do with them. A few years later, in July 1943, Burgess was so afraid that Rees might betray him (and also Blunt, now with a critical post within MI5) that he even told his controllers he was willing to murder Rees, a suggestion that Moscow rejected as too melodramatic and dangerous.

I stay here with Rees’s account of the saga in his memoir. Some time after the war, in July 1950, when Burgess had been sent to Washington, Rees encountered Donald Maclean, whom he had not seen for fifteen years. Maclean got drunk at the Gargoyle Club, and made the famous observation to Rees: “I know all about you. You used to be one of us, but you ratted”. Rees immediately realised that a) Maclean was surely another spy in the Foreign Office, and b) Burgess had at some stage told Maclean of Rees’s pivotal ‘betrayal’ of the movement in 1939. Several months later, in May 1951, when Burgess had returned from Washington, Rees, now Estates Bursar of All Souls, met him for a drink. He decided, however, not to mention to Burgess the challenge he had received from Maclean. A few days later, on Friday May 25, not many hours before the defectors took flight, Burgess called Rees’s wife, Margie, on the telephone, and carried on a long incomprehensible monologue with her. When Rees returned home on Sunday evening, he interpreted what Burgess had said as some kind of warning and farewell message.

Rees’s first reaction was dramatic. He claimed he told his wife: “He’s gone to Moscow” – perhaps not a surprising conclusion. But he then took it upon himself to sound the alarm. He called an unnamed ‘friend’ in SIS (MI6), saying that he thought MI5 should be told that he had a hunch that Burgess had defected to Moscow. Was such an action really justified? The only cause for concern was that ‘Jimmy’, Guy’s live-in boyfriend (actually Jackie Hewitt), had also called Rees’s wife in a great state of agitation, since Guy had not returned home on the Friday night, something that, according to ‘Jimmy’, he had never done before. Margie Rees, however, remarked to her husband that staying overnight with them without telling anyone was something that Burgess had done ‘often enough’. Another twist to the story, as told later by Miranda Carter in Anthony Blunt: His Lives (2001), is that Hewitt called Blunt first to report Burgess’s disappearance, and then – against Blunt’s advice – called the Reeses.

For Rees to insert himself so speedily in the hunt for a missing person – if indeed Guy would truly have been considered ‘missing’ so soon – seems on reflection to have been either reckless or the work of a busybody. Whatever Rees’s precise intentions, his contact in SIS arranged for a meeting to be set up between Rees and MI5. That same evening, however, according to A Chapter of Accidents, Rees called another unnamed friend of Burgess’s, ‘who had served in MI5 during the war’ to tell him of what he had done. This ex-officer was apparently so troubled that he visited Rees on the Monday, trying to convince Rees that it would be rash to disclose what he knew about Burgess, as it might all rebound unpleasantly on him. Rees rejected his friend’s advice, and went ahead with his meeting, convinced that now was the time to open up. He writes in his book that appointment with MI5 occurred the next day. He then told his contact in MI5 that he thought Burgess had gone to Moscow, and was then informed by the officer (whom he also knew from his wartime days: one might ask why he did not contact this officer directly in that case, rather than going through an intermediary) that Burgess and Maclean, about to be dubbed ‘the missing diplomats’, had absconded together. In his memoir, he claims he then experienced ‘a terrible sinking of the heart’, and that ‘matters were even worse than I thought’.

That was in fact not how matters evolved. What Rees did not say in his memoir was that when he had his first meeting with the (unnamed) Guy Liddell, which was set up after a provocative delay (i.e. not the very next day), the latter was improbably accompanied by Anthony Blunt – the ‘ex-officer’ from the preceding paragraph. (I shall examine the whole timetable in more detail later.) This was a somewhat inhibiting experience, since, in Blunt’s presence, Liddell tried to ward Rees off making extravagant claims about Guy Burgess. When this casual meeting was followed by a more formal appointment with Liddell, Liddell was accompanied by Dick White, who was heading the investigation into the disappearance of the Cambridge duo. Upset at the way he was being treated by the two counter-intelligence officers, Rees identified Blunt as a further conspirator, but Liddell and White responded stonily, making Rees feel that he was the transgressor. They gave signs of knowing then of Blunt’s past treachery (the evidence for which I have shown in Misdefending the Realm, but which is not a fact that has been recognised in print elsewhere, I believe: see below). At this stage Blunt showed all the calmness of one who knew that the authorities were on his side.

It was not the way for Rees to win friends and influence people. After an embarrassing flurry of media attention in the following months of summer 1951, when he even chose to deny, in the Daily Mail, Burgess’s possible malfeasance, or even that his friend had been a Communist, Rees bit his tongue for a few years. He was appointed Principal of the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth, and then ruined his career in March 1956 by some ill-conceived articles, published anonymously, but soon undeniably attributable to him, in The People. Spurred, and annoyed, by a press conference given by Burgess and Maclean in Moscow, Rees had described the treacherous behaviour of the pair, and warned of other traitors who needed to be rooted out. The reaction was almost uniform: Rees was accused of being disloyal to his friends, and was largely ostracised by former acquaintances. (I have written about the bizarre exchange between him and Isaiah Berlin over the incident in Misdefending the Realm.) He was fired from the Principality, and surely did not lunch in Aberystwyth again. At his death the University even refused to lower the flag to half-mast. He struggled out of the limelight, issuing his rather sad but not completely honest apologia in 1972, until Andrew Boyle sought him out (according to Jenny Rees) in October 1978.

What emerges from all this is that Rees was a psychological wreck. Having refrained from informing MI5 about the treachery of Burgess (and Blunt) back in the thirties, partly because he was to some extent guilty himself, but also because he did not want to snitch on friends, it became more and more stressful to bottle things up. If he did finally break his silence, he also feared that his interviewers might ask him: ‘Why did you not do this before?’ And if he said nothing, and the authorities discovered from another source of his complicity in the subversion, it would be too late to declare his knowledge of what was happening, and he would be as guilty as his friends. This crisis contributed to his telling some untruths, and making some rash statements that found favour with nobody. But how did he know of Krivitsky in Moscow, and why would he make extravagant claims about Maclean’s handiwork?

Andrew Boyle’s Quest

Andrew Boyle

Andrew Boyle was best-known as the editor of the BBC Radio 4 programme The World at One, and had written some well-received biographies. Having witnessed the fugitive Kim Philby follow his conspirators to Moscow in 1963, Boyle set about discovering who the ‘Fourth and Fifth Men’ in the group were. He stated in his Prologue to The Climate of Treason (published in the USA as The Fourth Man) that he had gained much of his information from CIA and FBI files in Washington.  That may have been partly true, but it was also a feint to protect a number of retired and serving intelligence officers in Britain who knew they were breaking the Official Secrets Act when they divulged inside information to him. One major figure who spoke to him was Dick White who, having headed both MI5 and SIS, and served as an intelligence advisor to the Cabinet, had by then retired to Sussex. While Boyle minimised the importance of the direct conversations he had had with White, he was fascinated enough by them, after the publication of his book on the Cambridge Five, to start to gather research for a biography of White. The project was eventually abandoned, ostensibly because of Boyle’s illness and untimely death. Instead, the journalist Tom Bower was given access to Boyle’s files, which resulted in his profile of White, The Perfect English Spy, which was published in 1995.

Boyle also understated the contributions to his research provided by Goronwy Rees. In The Perfect English Spy, a rather undisciplined, and certainly mistitled, compilation, Bower states that Boyle met Rees as early as May 1977, where the academic, now a journalist, soon disclosed to him that Blunt was the Fourth Man, a fact that Boyle managed to have confirmed by speaking to other intelligence officers. He thus arranged a series of interviews with White, who was writing a history of MI5 that was planned to be part of the series of British Intelligence under the overall editorship of Professor Harry Hinsley. In the wake of the attempts to identify Communist moles within the intelligence services, White was trying to rebuild the reputation of MI5 and SIS by describing its successes, primarily the wartime Double Cross Operation. After long discussions, Boyle let drop his suspicions about Blunt, and was testily warned by White to stay off ‘that difficult and embarrassing ground’. White added, rather paradoxically, that he ‘knew nothing about that subject, whatsoever’. After a few months, however, White had to change his tune, as general media coverage, and what Boyle had uncovered, suggested to him that journalists were better at uncovering skulduggery than were his own officers. He decided to face the inevitable while trying to protect MI5’s reputation in the whole sordid affair. He effectively confirmed Blunt’s treachery, and made only trivial comments when he reviewed Boyle’s manuscript in April 1979. (For libel reasons, the text concealed the names of Blunt and the gentleman considered at that time to be the Fifth Man, Wilfrid Mann.)

The account by Jenny Rees, Goronwy’s daughter, in Looking for Mr. Nobody (1994) differs, not only chronologically. She complemented the evidence derived from her father, not always the most reliable of witnesses, with information gained from later publications, but still stressed her father’s role as a collaborator with Boyle, as ‘together, they were putting together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle’. But Boyle may not have told Rees immediately about everything he had gathered, as Goronwy wrote a letter, a few months before the book was published, to his friend Micky Burn (who had been a friend of Burgess’s), saying: “He told me, among other things, that our friend AB [Blunt] had actually confessed, but it would have caused too much of a scandal to do anything about it. This was on the personal authority of Dick White, but please don’t mention it  . . .”  Boyle may have kept that observation out of the notes that eventually fell to Bower: it might also explain his reluctance to conclude the biographical project, as it might have turned out to be unfavourable. Rees was by then, however, a very sick man. He was admitted to Charing Cross Hospital because of cancer at the beginning of November 1979, and soon experienced an unpleasant jolt when, because of a missing line in a Daily Mail review of The Climate of Treason, the article suggested that Rees himself had recruited Kim Philby.

After Private Eye made the identification clear, Blunt made a statement blaming Rees for his unmasking, and then went into hiding. This is an important fact, as the fatally ill Rees was to become a convenient dumping-ground for all manner of accusations that must have been preying on Boyle’s mind. Prime Minister Thatcher’s admission of Blunt’s guilt, and of his confession to the authorities in 1964 (after a broad pointer from Michael Straight in the USA) referred to Rees’s act of informing MI5 of Blunt’s treachery (without identifying Rees by name), claiming that the accusation had been dismissed because of lack of evidence. That was another lie prepared for the PM. I have shown, in Misdefending the Realm, how White and Liddell had assuredly had to face the truth of Blunt’s espionage when they caught his accomplice Leo Long (arguably the Sixth Man) in the act of purloining secrets from MI14 during the war. Moreover, Blunt’s communism had already come under the very opaque MI5 microscope when he was recruited by Military Intelligence in 1939, and then by MI5 in July 1940. Rees watched Mrs. Thatcher’s announcement from his hospital bed, and derived much satisfaction from the knowledge that the villain had been brought out into the open at last. In the Observer the following Sunday, Boyle acknowledged Rees’s contribution in nailing the art historian. That same day, Rees went into a coma.

With the consideration that the exact timing – or even genuineness – of all these events may be open to some debate, the documentary evidence of what Boyle engineered in the winter of 1979-80 is incontrovertible. Rees came out of his coma after a week, but his health steadily declined. Nevertheless, Boyle arranged to speak to him, and encouraged him to contribute to a testimony that appeared as the two Observer articles. On the day he died, December 12, Rees wrote to Jenny of the long pieces that Boyle had written based on their recent conversations: “They will appear after Christmas, and are, I think, very good.” It is clear that he approved of the texts, and supported Boyle’s aims. Jenny Rees informs us, according to what her sister Lucy told her (Jenny lived in Brittany at the time), that her father resisted seeing Boyle at first, but Boyle was then a man on a mission, and must have persuaded Rees to participate in creating the bizarre testimony that ended up in the Observer.

The first of the articles, published on January 13, can be seen at
https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP90-00552R000100600022-2.pdf .  Immediately, we can note a discrepancy in the accounts: Boyle claims that, when he regained consciousness after his coma, ‘the only visitor he asked to see was Andrew Boyle’. If Rees had indeed had a preview of the articles, that would appear to contradict what his daughters passed on to us. Perhaps Rees did not think that his coma was ‘consistent with his malignant condition’ (as one doctor had advised his family) and may have been induced by a malevolent outside agent, and thus wanted to impart extra information to Boyle in a hurry. As Boyle tells the story, Rees was roused to anger by Blunt’s ‘disingenuous replies’ in an interview broadcast on November 22. Yet, as Jenny rightly points out, the text that follows does not sound like a natural conversation, especially from a dying man. It is scripted, unnatural, with Rees melodramatically appealing to Boyle as if in a poorly constructed novel: “You, Andrew, [who else, in a duologue?] were largely instrumental in exposing him publicly as a Soviet spy.” What follows is a narrative about Rees’s life that must have also been very familiar to Boyle, not meriting the dying man’s wasted breaths. It was a show designed for the chattering classes.

And then we come to the critical leading questions on Maclean: “Was that the only occasion on which Maclean came into your life? Did anything occur at that time which might have alerted you to the double life he was already leading as a Soviet agent?”, asks Boyle. Rees has to think about this, as if it were all impromptu. He then comes up with new details about ‘Barbara’, a mutual friend, a photographer with a studio in Mayfair, who one day told Rees about Maclean’s skill with a camera. And suddenly, after all those years when, in decent health, he might have considered such details more constructively, he comes up with the linkage to Krivitsky, and how the defector had seen, in Moscow, specimens of Maclean’s handiwork (presumably photographs he took rather than documents with Maclean’s signature on them, although how Krivitsky knew that Maclean had photocopied them himself is not explained). Yet the vital salient fact is that, according to the report on Krivitsky compiled by Jane Archer in the spring of 1940, Krivitsky had never identified Maclean by name, and thus had been unable to ascribe documents he had seen in Moscow to Maclean’s doing. It was that failure by MI5 to follow up on clear hints to Maclean’s identity that had brought a heap of justifiable criticism to the Security Service, and especially to Guy Liddell and Dick White. To what source could Rees (and Boyle, his stooge in this conversation) possibly have been referring?

Mysterious Clues

Walter Krivitsky

Before I switch to exploring Krivitsky’s role in this adventure, however, I must inspect two clearly stated hints that appear in The Climate of Treason, but seem to have been overlooked by everyone, including Dick White, presumably, when he had a chance to vet the proofs. While the Archer report (which was eventually released to the National Archives in KV2-805, and can be read in Gary Kern’s 2004 package of documents on Soviet intelligence, Walter G. Krivitsky: MI5 Debriefing) gives vague background hints to Maclean’s identity, Boyle went to two outside sources for some of his information. In chapter 6 of his book, he records the verifiable evidence that Krivitsky asserted that the second spy in the Foreign Office ‘was a Scotsman of good family, educated at Eton and at Oxford, and an idealist who worked for the Russians without payment’. Krivitsky was wrong about the candidate’s precise educational background, but was giving reasonably warm tips. Then without defining the exact source, Boyle goes on to say that the spy ‘occasionally wore a cape and dabbled in artistic circles’, as if Krivitsky had also provided this information.

This line has been quoted also by Robert Cecil (in his 1988 biography of Maclean, A Divided Life), merely giving a reference for it of ‘FBI’, and by Roland Philipps (in his 2018 A Spy Named Orphan), with Phillips giving a precise reference (WFO 65-5648 from the ‘FBI Vaults online’), while suggesting also that Victor Mallet, the chargé d’affaires in Washington, heard of the statement. The phrase was reputedly included in the report that Mallet, on behalf of Lord Lothian, sent to MI5, and which prompted London to invite Krivitsky there for discussions. The archives at Kew inform us that, after Levine’s visit on September 3, Mallet immediately communicated with Alexander Cadogan, the Permanent Under-Secretary in the Foreign Office, who then delegated action to Gladwyn Jebb, the Foreign Office liaison to the intelligence services. Levine, on the other hand, in his Plain Talk article written in 1948, asserted that he dealt solely with Lothian until the latter received confirmation from London a couple of weeks later that King had been identified as a spy, and that it was only then that Lothian introduced Mallet to him. The cables indicate otherwise. We must therefore bear in mind that Levine’s accounts may not be completely reliable, and that he could have been trying to elevate the role he played.

What Mallet wrote, thereafter, in the only extant memorandum to Jebb, was a profile that indicates that lines had been crossed somewhere: ‘a Scotsman of very good family, a well-known painter, and perhaps also a sculptor’, in connection with someone who had abetted in providing arms to Spain. (Despite Mallet’s belief to the contrary, Krivitsky did know the name of his agent who bought ‘arms for Spain’: it was Henri Pieck.  And Pieck was, indeed, a painter and graphic artist. Typical of the confusion sown was a message from Washington where a character named ‘K’ was being interpreted as meaning ‘King’, when it in fact meant ‘Krivitsky’.) Yet, even though the ‘cape’ delineation is the closest indication we have of a description from someone who actually met Maclean, it never appears in the Archer report. There is, furthermore, no record of it in the Krivitsky files at Kew, where the single confidential memorandum above is presented, but not the full correspondence between Mallet and Jebb. Krivitsky presumably did not repeat the phrase in London, or, if he did, for some reason the team overlooked it.

The intricacies of the supposed statements by Krivitsky – or, more accurately, by his guide, ghost-writer and translator Isaac Don Levine, who told officials of the British Embassy in Washington facts without letting Krivitsky know what he was doing – and where they were recorded, and how they have been distorted, are such that they merit a complete blog to themselves, and I shall thus defer a full analysis for another time.  Suffice it now to clarify five important points:

  1. The extended communication chain of Krivitsky-Levine-Lothian-Mallet-Cadogan-Jebb-Liddell was bound to introduce some misunderstandings at some stage.
  2. It is probable that Mallet and Jebb concealed from MI5 and SIS exactly what Mallet exchanged with Jebb in their ‘most secret’ communications;
  3. We must remember that, when Krivitsky faced his interrogators in London, he did not know that Levine had told them anything about Soviet spies in the UK government (or, at least, that is what we have been led to believe);
  4. Krivitsky himself behaved very deviously with his interrogators: if he had really wanted to help identify the anonymous spy in the Foreign Office, he would have provided them with clearer clues rather than the deliberately vague and misleading hints that Jane Archer extracted from him.
  5. If Archer and her colleagues had really studied all Krivitsky’s pronouncements from articles published in the USA more thoroughly, they would have been able to apply far more pressure on him.

I thus return to the statement about the cape – the visual clue which is the closest we get to a suggestion that one of Krivitsky’s informers had actually encountered Maclean. Where did it originate? A startling item of data appears on page 460, as Note 24 to the ‘cape’ sentence (only) in Chapter 6 of A Climate of Treason. Boyle writes of the source: “FBI/CIA files, incorporating testimony of Isaac Don Levine and Walter Krivitsky. Apart from the Lothian report to the Foreign Office [sic, not to MI5], earlier evidence had been submitted on Krivitsky’s behalf by Wilfrid le Gallienne, a British diplomat *. In this evidence the unnamed ‘idealist of a good family’ had already proved his value by providing photocopies of proceedings of the Committee of Imperial Defence, seen by Krivitsky on his final visit to Moscow before defecting to the West. The photocopying was done in a Pimlico flat ” (my italics). Yet no explanatory information for this cryptic reference is provided. The apparently French connection is intriguing, since Krivitsky had, according to Kern and others, left massive amounts of testimony about his European spy network with the Sûreté in Paris before he left for the Americas in 1938. These volumes mysteriously disappeared at some stage, but is it possible that a British diplomat in the French capital had glimpsed what Krivitsky revealed of the UK group?  Lastly, I remind readers that Krivitsky’s ‘final visit to Moscow’ concluded on May 22, 1937.

[* Probably Wilfred Gallienne, 1897-1956. Gallienne was born in Guernsey. Having been chargé d’affaires and consul for four years in Tallinn, Estonia, he was appointed Ambassador on April 26, 1940. How Gallienne might have been encountered Krivitsky is not easily explained: Kern does not mention him. After the Soviet invasion of Estonia, Gallienne undertook a train journey from Moscow to Tokyo in August 1940: the timing is inappropriate, the connection to Krivitsky obscure. Gallienne was intriguingly appointed British consul in New York in January 1941, a couple of weeks before Krivitsky’s death, but Boyle writes of ‘earlier evidence’ suggesting, at the latest, summer 1939. Alternatively, but less probably, Boyle could have meant Richard de Gallienne, 1866-1947, poet, essayist and critic, who wrote from Paris to H. Montgomery Hyde in 1938, and could have thus run across Krivitsky there. The Hyde lead is intriguing, since he joined SIS in 1940, and then worked for British Security Coordination in New York. He later wrote several books on intelligence. A promising letter from Gallienne’s step-daughter, Gwen, to Montgomery Hyde, however, turns out to be concerned with Hyde’s enthusiasm for homosexual law reform, not espionage. (My thanks to the Record Office at Liverpool Libraries for providing a photocopy of the letter.) A longshot could be that Boyle misinterpreted his source, and was referring to GALLENI, the alias of the illegal Dmitri Bystrolyotov, who almost became Maclean’s (or King’s) handler in 1936, and also managed Henri Pieck for a while. Yet supplying motivation and opportunity for Bystrolyotov to speak up for Krivitsky is a struggle. Whichever source is correct, it is astonishing to me that the ‘de Gallienne’ lead was not substantiated, verified, or followed up by anyone. A research task for another day.  Lastly, I should declare an interest: I am a descendant of the Galliennes of the Channel Islands through my maternal grandmother. See: http://www.coldspur.com/reviews/an-american-odyssey/ ]

The first part of Boyle’s explanation does not make sense. To begin with, the CIA was not created until after the war, and it is highly unlikely that original statements made by Krivitsky about a spy in the British Foreign Office would appear only in an FBI file. Philipps’ citation of a detailed reference appears to be false: I have asked the author about it, and he states that he was relying on Cecil, and inserted it as a kind of guess by default. (Research at the National Archives and Records Administration indicates that the record cited concerns a possible Soviet double-agent, Nosenko.) One can find another statement about the hints to Maclean in an article, Who Killed Krivitsky?, by the American journalist Flora Lewis published in the Washington Post of February 13, 1966, to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Krivitsky’s death. (It appears as an Appendix to Krivitsky’s In Stalin’s Secret Service). A clipping of the article appears in the Krivitsky file at the FBI Vault, which might explain later references. This text reads as follows: “Krivitsky described another agent in the British Foreign Office, a dashing Scotsman given to smoking a pipe and sometimes wearing a cape.” But no mention of ‘dabbling in artistic circles’. (And smoking a pipe was hardly a characteristic likely to distinguish a British civil servant from the herd in the 1930s.) Astonishingly, Lewis provides no source for her citation, and she includes multiple egregious errors in her account of the Krivitsky/Levine approach to the British. (One of the few weaknesses of Kern’s book is that he pays close attention to what she writes about Krivitsky’s death while ignoring her very palpable errors concerning transatlantic matters.) But was there a missing Krivitsky document to which she referred, perhaps?

This whole farrago is muddied even further by John Costello, who wrote his in-depth analysis of the whole business, The Mask of Treachery, in 1988. Costello did not help his cause by writing imprecisely about who was saying what. “He also referred to another traitor in the Foreign Office ‘whose name was Scottish and whose habits were Bohemian’”, he wrote, on page 345, as if Krivitsky had said this before the initial message arrived on Alexander Cadogan’s desk, when we know that it was Levine who provided the information.  Furthermore, Costello attributed this statement in his Notes to one of the Saturday Evening Post articles from April 1939, as well as to Levine’s Stalin’s Great Secret (p 140). Yet neither source shows evidence of any such description: Jane Archer of MI5 had read the Saturday Evening Post articles that summer, and would surely have noticed such a statement, anyway. Levine’s book did not come out until 1956: it contains only 126 pages, with no mention of Krivitsky. (In Plain Talk, in November 1948, Levine did write, however, that he “learned that the second agent was of Scottish origin, with an artistic background”.) Costello then shed doubt on the case for Maclean, agreeing with the author Richard Deacon, and pointed his suspicion towards Lord Inverchapel (then Archibald Clark Kerr), who would in 1942 replace Stafford Cripps as His Majesty’s Ambassador in Moscow. Yet Kerr was posted to Iraq between 1935 and 1938.

Even if Krivitsky did not know the name of his agent, Lewis’s phrase would suggest that he knew what the spy looked like. And in his 1973 memoir, Eyewitness to History, Isaac Don Levine reinforced that notion, on p 191, with the following startling revelation: “Krivitsky could describe his appearance, he knew something of his background, he did not know his name.” (In his 1956 evidence to Congress, Levine merely paraphrased what Krivitsky told him as follows: ‘a member of a Scottish family and a young intellectual communist with artistic interests’, echoing his Plain Talk description.) To be able to describe someone’s appearance strongly suggests that one is not relying on second-hand impressions. Unfortunately, Levine shed no new light on capes, pipes, artistic circles, bohemian habits, or even hints of Caledonian élan, but it is worth mentioning that, in making the arrangements for Krivitsky’s passage to England at the end of 1939, Levine said that Krivitsky was nervous because he had travelled to the UK once before, probably undetected, but no doubt on a false passport, and thus might have feared being arrested. And, as I indicated above, Krivitsky told Levine his knowledge about the spies in the Foreign Office in confidence, and did not know that Levine had passed on the hints to the British Embassy in Washington. One of the benefits to the British was that they were able to impress Krivitsky with the fact that King was already behind bars when he arrived in January 1940, and thus give the defector the impression that British Intelligence was much smarter than he thought it was. Yet Krivitsky never told his interrogators that he could ‘describe the spy’s appearance.’

Given this muddle, and the absence of evidence elsewhere, the second part of Boyle’s Note has therefore to be taken more seriously. But what was the purpose of presenting, in 1979, this gratuitous factoid, and why could Boyle not be more explicit about the ‘de Gallienne’ informant? If the source of the original documents was not identifiable, why was the location of their copying, but not the camera-operator, worth mentioning? Why would Boyle refer to Pimlico as the location, but encourage Rees to cite a studio in Mayfair? Yet the Note does suggest that someone not only knew that Maclean had provided photocopies, but could also locate the studio where he had performed the job. Was that a hint that the purloiner had been the copier? If that was known, why could it not be declared openly? I shall return to this point later.

Krivitsky’s Supervision

Ignace Reiss

An accurate recording of Krivitsky’s chronology is essential for setting Boyle’s claims in a proper context. (I shall not provide here a full summary of his life: readers can go for that to Misdefending the Realm, or, better still, to Gary Kern’s superlative biography, A Death in Washington.) All that is necessary to know here is that Walter Krivitsky had been head of Soviet Military Intelligence (the GRU) in western Europe, had defected in 1937 after seeing his colleague Ignace Reiss killed by Stalin’s assassins, survived two assassination attempts in France, and had made his way to the USA. There he struggled with residency permits, suspiciousness on the part of the FBI because he was defector, attacks from the right because he was a communist, and from the left because he was anti-Stalin, and disdain from the White House because he was rocking the boat against the USA’s future ally, for whom Roosevelt harboured some ideological sympathy. After his intermediary Isaac Don Levine revealed to Lord Lothian, the British ambassador in Washington, the existence of a Soviet spy named King in the Foreign Office, and hints of a second agent there, Krivitsky was brought over in January 1940 to London, under conditions of extreme secrecy, to be interrogated by officers of MI5 and SIS about possible other infiltrators in Britain’s political hallways. It was then that he gave broad tips to the identities of Kim Philby and Donald Maclean that were not followed up. Krivitsky died in a Washington hotel, in January 1941, almost certainly shot by Stalin’s hitmen, in circumstances that were made to look like a suicide.

What is critical to this story is the fact that Krivitsky’s last visit to Moscow took place in May 1937: he left there for the Hague on May 22. Thus any evidence of espionage records that he described to his British interrogators must refer to a period before then. This fact is important, as Maclean’s chief courier (and soon lover) was one Kitty Harris, a Moscow agent who had travelled widely, and had even engaged in a probably bigamous marriage with the founder of the Communist Party of the USA, Earl Browder. The leading biographers of Maclean, Roland Philipps (A Spy Named Orphan, 2018) and Michael Holzman (Idealism and Espionage, 2014) both suggest that Harris and Maclean met for the first time some months after Kitty returned from Moscow after intensive training (in wireless and photography) in May 1937. Philipps sets the date as late as April 1938, indicating that Harris had spent some time in the USA: Holzman merely states ‘early 1938’. Both appear to derive their information from Igor Damaskin’s The Spy With Seventeen Names (2000), a work that the author claimed was based on reliable Soviet archives, but which, he has since admitted, contains some romantic flourishes and innovations. What neither author points out, however, is that Damaskin relates how Harris was working as a courier between London and Paris as early as 1936, before being summoned to Moscow in January 1937 for training. Thus she might well have been used as an intermediary for Maclean in this period, and the dramatic first encounter (using coded phrases) that Damaskin describes could have been an invention. Overall, Kitty Harris’s movements in the late thirties are more easily verifiable than her exploits in China the previous decade.

Kitty Harris

What Damaskin does not report, however, is that, while in Moscow, Harris, who was an NKVD operative *, had a meeting with Krivitsky, as they were both staying at the Savoy Hotel. In his memoir, In Stalin’s Secret Service, based on his 1939 Saturday Evening Post articles, Krivitsky explained that he was looking for a woman agent for Switzerland, and Harris was sent to him to be interviewed, as if he did not know who she was. (“She had been described to me as the former wife of Earl Browder . . .”) It is a rather disingenuous statement by Krivitsky, as he later admitted, to Ruth Shipley of the State Department, that Earl Browder’s sister, Marguerite, going under the name of Jane Montgomery, had been an agent working for him in Berlin, while in his book he declares only that Marguerite ‘was then in our service in Central Europe’, and that Kitty ‘spoke well’ of her. It was this encounter that enabled him later to recognise Kitty in a photograph, but he seemed to want to distance himself from both agents in any written account.

[ * The state intelligence service, the future KGB, previously the OGPU, was titled the NKVD between 1934 and 1941.]

Nevertheless, Krivitsky claimed that he approved Kitty’s assignment to a foreign post without resolving for us the issues of how NKVD and GRU responsibilities and agents were shared or allocated, or why she was not suitable for Switzerland, or how the coincidence of her ending up as the handler for Maclean occurred. The details he provided, however, constitute reasonably solid evidence that the encounter did in fact happen. And one can understand, perhaps, why the Moscow organs did not want to have Krivitsky’s name soiling the heroic biography that Damaskin was concocting. It is another reason why Damaskin’s accounts have to be taken with some scepticism, and his assertions verified from another source, if possible. Yet we have to remind ourselves that Krivitsky was devious too, as the ‘kriv’ origin (= ‘crooked’) of his assumed name tells us.

When Kitty Harris landed in London in April 1938, Maclean advised her to rent an apartment where she could perform photography, and she took up a flat in Bayswater, where, so Maclean said, he went from his own place in Oakley Street, in Chelsea, twice a week with papers ‘borrowed’ from the Foreign Office, to have them photocopied. Other accounts suggest that Kitty came to his flat, and copied them there: that is unlikely. We must draw two conclusions from this timeline: even if the district of Pimlico, indicated by Boyle, might have been a mistake, Kitty Harris was certainly not the agent responsible for getting documents to Moscow that Krivitsky would have been able to see, but it is quite possible that Kitty could have been the source of Krivitsky’s impressions of the character and employment of Maclean if she did indeed act solely as a courier in 1936.

Maclean Delivers the Goods

Alexander Orlov

1936 was a very productive year for Maclean, although the evidence is a little contradictory. John Costello and Oleg Tsarev, in Deadly Illusions (1993), claim that he was ordered by his ‘illegal’ * NKVD handler Alexander Orlov not to supply any documents in the first few months of the year, but instead focus on finding his way properly around the Foreign Office. Orlov, when he had to make a speedy exit from London in October 1935, had taken with him a copy of a letter from Lord Simon congratulating Maclean on his acceptance into the Foreign Office, something that was ‘read with glee in the Lubyanka’, according to Costello and Tsarev. Orlov thus had to leave another renowned illegal, Arnold Deutsch, in charge. A few months later, Orlov wrote, in a memorandum to Slutsky, the head of the Foreign Department of the NKVD, that Maclean was ready for ‘full activation’ on March 26. Yet the same authors report that Maclean had already provided Deutsch with his first batch of documents in January. Maclean and Deutsch must have ignored Orlov’s instructions.

[* ‘illegal’: an agent operating without protection of Soviet diplomatic cover, probably in the country on a false passport]

Arnold Deutsch

In April 1936, the Politburo decided that Orlov should be sent to Spain, and Theodore Mally, another Great Illegal, who had originally been sent to the UK, in January 1936, to handle the other spy in the Foreign Office, was appointed the chief illegal rezident in England. Deutsch thus started working for Mally. This was also the time when Kitty Harris was assigned to Mally, and started acting as a courier. Moreover, Deutsch was to meet Krivitsky for the first time, in Paris, in June 1936, so that encounter could have provided another opportunity for the achievements of their young star to be communicated and lauded. Nigel West and Tsarev, in The Crown Jewels (1998), assert that Deutsch started working for himself again at the end of August, only to be re-assigned to Mally in January 1937. It might have all been rather confusing for Maclean, and the NKVD infrastructure was not very stable, but the documents got through.

Theodore Mally

Krivitsky referred to some important documents that he had seen on three occasions, in 1936 and 1937, in Moscow. On the last, he had called on Slutsky (see above), who was a friend. Slutsky, clearly well-briefed by Orlov, handed him the latest book of extracts of information from the ‘Imperial Council’ source, which were treated with special respect, as they dealt with vital information concerning the political situation in Berlin. They were in fact minutes of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and we can rely on the inspection of the same by Tsarev to understand that Maclean had been the source of the originals that had been photocopied in London. Security in the western department, where Maclean worked, was notoriously lax, and Maclean was able to help himself to any number of telegrams, reports from SIS, and transcriptions from deciphered foreign reports, as well as to re-assure his controllers that Britain was not making breakthroughs in cryptology against Soviet ciphers. The trove from the latter part of 1936 was especially valuable, culminating in the delivery of the complete minutes of the meeting of the Imperial Defence Committee of December 20, at which Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was not the only prominent attendee.

How were these documents photographed? Costello and Tsarev tell the story as follows: When Maclean handed over bundles of documents “ . . . they were then photographed in the apartment of HERTA, another codename used by the female courier PFEIL. They were returned to Maclean the next day, so he could take them back the following day. For the most secret ‘blue jackets’ containing signals intelligence which Maclean could only obtain access to during office hours, he had been given a roll-flex camera so that he could photograph them himself in situ.” Michael Holzman, using information from the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service in Moscow (‘Sketches of History’), says that the documents ‘were photographed on a “flat carrier” at the NKVD residency and given back to him so that the next day he could return them to their proper places in the Foreign Office files.’ Holzman echoes the claim that Mally gave Donald a miniature camera. Thus Maclean may have been an occasional photographer, but there was no indication that he maintained his own studio.

Edith Tudor-Hart

PFEIL (German) or STRELA (Russian), in English ARROW, was the cryptonym initially given jointly to Alexander Tudor-Hart and his wife, Edith (née Suschitsky). Edith had been born in Vienna, and was a close friend of Philby’s first wife, Litzi Friedmann. She was a renowned photographer, and, according to West and Tsarev, maintained a studio in Brixton, which was not really convenient for quick turn-rounds from Chelsea, but could have served as an overnight operation. Ironically, MI5 kept a constant watch on Tudor-Hart: she was implicated in the Percy Glading spy affair, since a Leica camera belonging to her had been found on Glading’s premises. MI5 interviewed her in March 1938, but again failed to join up the dots: Tudor-Hart simply denied knowing how Glading could have acquired the camera, and MI5 dropped the investigation.  She was later divorced from her husband, in 1940: he had gone to Spain with the Republicans Medical Aid Committee. Tudor-Hart has obtained a somewhat mythic status among the friends of Stalin, a reputation that is probably overstated.

Philipps claims that Deutsch ‘would meet Maclean on his way home to Chelsea, take the files to his photographer and then meet Maclean again in Chelsea late in the evening so that he could give the documents back for their return to the office.’ That sounds like a dangerous routine that should have been avoided, as it was too predictable and regular, and presumably also made Maclean’s social life rather dreary. A visit to Brixton and back, including a session in the dark room, would have been well nigh impossible. The source, however, was Kim Philby in a STASI training-video, so we should not rely on that too heavily. Other accounts suggest that Maclean was encouraged to pass on documents on Fridays, so that the photographer would have more time to work on them before the next business day. Tudor-Hart was also reported to have acted as courier, taking photographs clandestinely to Copenhagen, which would indicate that dealing with the Soviet Embassy was considered too risky. Yet it would have taken Tudor-Hart out of action for long stretches, provoked suspicion as she returned through customs each time, and extended the delay after which Moscow could view the secrets. Deutsch wrote for her file that she was ‘modest, diligent, and brave’, but also rather careless, though he might have been covering up his own clumsiness in that memorandum. And, since Tudor-Hart was also a well-known photographer for children, she attracted more attention than was appropriate. (But not the scrupulous attention from MI5 that she merited.)

A study of Tudor-Hart’s files at the National Archives suggests a more complicated story, however. The address at Brixton was probably that of her husband, with whom she was not living permanently. Surveillance reports indicate that she was living alone at Haverstock Hill, in Belsize Park, NW3 (very close to the celebrated Lawn Road flats, where communists and illegals resided). There she maintained her studio, from April 1935 until at least February 1936, and probably until late 1937. For a while, in the summer of 1937, she was reported as staying with her husband in Acre Lane, Brixton – somewhat astonishingly in the company of Margaret Moxon, described as the wife of Arthur Wynn, who would later be unveiled as the leader of the ‘Oxford Ring’ of Soviet spies – and departed thence to collect her mother from Vienna.  On August 27, 1937, landing from Ostend, she gave the authorities an address of 132C, Sutherland Avenue, Maida Vale, and by the following January, she was reported living at that address, with her studio moved to Duke Street, off Oxford Street. To muddy the waters even further, when a suspected communist Siegfried Baruch was interrogated on arrival in February 1938, he communicated with Tudor-Hart at an address in Halsey Street, Knightsbridge. The conclusion concerning Maclean would appear to be that the peripatetic Tudor-Hart, if she did carry out the photographing of documents during 1936, would have performed the procedure from her studio in Belsize Park, and it is highly unlikely that she moved her operation from one side of London to unfashionable Brixton. (By 1939, she had moved to 128 Alexander Road, Hampstead.)

There was, however, another photographer working for Mally at that time, someone called Wolf Levit, and his story really belongs to that of another spy.

The Demise of Captain King

Much has been made of the rivalry between the Soviet GRU (Military Intelligence) and OGPU or NKVD (State Intelligence), but Krivitsky’s close involvement in NKVD espionage operations in Britain in the mid-1930s shows that a more cooperative atmosphere was evolving. The frequent exchanges that he, as a GRU officer, had with NKVD agents and illegals is explained by the MI5 report, which informs us that, under the commission granted to him in 1935, Krivitsky was entitled to look into Mally’s organisation. Krivitsky was based in the Hague in the Netherlands, and was also allowed to use NKVD agents for his own operations if it was convenient. He himself indicated that the NKVD had begun to take over the functions and personnel of the GRU in 1935-36, and in May 1937 the Fourth Department of the Red Army General Staff (which was the official name of the Foreign Branch of military intelligence) was transferred to the Commissariat of Internal Affairs, under Nikolai Yezhov. This background manoeuvring helps explain why Krivitsky became so involved with the decisions concerning NKVD agents.

This was true in the case of John King, a clerk in the cipher department of the Foreign Office. King, who had money troubles, was recruited by the NKVD in March 1935, and quickly provided a steady stream of notes, and summaries of cables – but not yet photocopies. Moscow wanted originals, however.  The NKVD infrastructure was stretched: King was handled by a Dutchman called Henri Pieck, but Pieck was under surveillance, and had to restrict his visits to the United Kingdom. In May 1935, Mally came back to London to review the situation, and recommended that King be handled by Orlov. This suggestion was rejected by Moscow Centre, as Orlov (and Deutsch) were too occupied with handling Percy Glading and the burgeoning Cambridge spies. In June, Moscow then made the superficially astonishing decision that Krivitsky should handle King, perhaps because Krivitsky actually controlled the NKVD agent Pieck, and was geographically close to him. While this was being considered, Mally returned to London to set up an apartment in Buckingham Gate, ostensibly for Pieck’s business, and rented by Pieck’s partner, Conrad Parlianti, which King then visited practically every day, taking documents for a quick turn-round of photocopying.

Henri Pieck

Mally was clearly concerned about King’s status. Because of morale problems, he could not be left unsupervised for long, and Mally doubted that Krivitsky (who at that time did not speak English, and would have had visa problems getting into the UK) would be able to take over such an important responsibility. Hence Mally went to the Hague to speak to Krivitsky in December 1935, and apparently convinced Krivitsky that he should abandon the idea of taking on the supervision of King: he, Pieck and Mally decided that this valuable spy needed to be controlled by Mally himself. Mally thus returned to London, and had his first meeting with King at the 34 Buckingham Gate apartment on January 6, 1936. What is truly significant about this episode is that Krivitsky was fully briefed on John King, his motivations, his employment, his access, and the existence of the convenient address at Buckingham Gate (which is actually in Westminster, close to the Foreign Office, on the border with Pimlico).

Yet complications ensued. MI5 learned that the Buckingham Gate address was registered in the name of Pieck’s company. The British commercial attaché in the Hague, John Hooper, who might have been trying to recruit Pieck to SIS, attended a house-warming party at Pieck’s new apartment in the Hague, and revealed to Pieck that British intelligence knew about his past. Pieck immediately let Krivitsky know of the peril they were now in, and informed Mally that no more rendezvous could be held there. The fact was that Pieck’s business partner Parlianti, with whom Pieck’s wife was in love, was an informer for MI5, and Parlianti discovered the camera studio at Buckingham Gate. As West and Tsarev relate it: “A replacement was rented and the meetings were resumed with the previous frequency.”  They do not tell us where the replacement address was located.

Buckingham Gate may have been used as a drop-off point for some while after that, as Krivitsky told his MI5 interrogators that a young Englishman, Brian Goold-Verschoyle (who met a grisly end in the Soviet Union in 1942, murdered by the NKVD as a ‘Trotskyist’) was used to fetch packages from that location and deliver them to Mally. “If the material contained matter of urgent importance HARDT [Mally] telegraphed its contents to Moscow through the Soviet Embassy. If not, he sent it by Brian Goold-Verschoyle, or by another courier to Wolf Levit to be photographed”, ran Jane Archer’s account. Levit was apparently a GRU man, and Krivitsky had the authority to move him from Paris to London specifically to address the need for photographing King’s documents. William E. Duff, in his account of the Great Illegals, A Time For Spies (1999), locates Levit’s studio off Belsize Park in London NW3, much further away from the centre of London than Brixton, and in the opposite direction, (and, of course, close to Tudor-Hart’s studio). Duff states that Levit also acted as a courier for the photographs he took. It was not an efficient way of doing things.

The time of these Great Illegals was winding down. Mally was appointed chief illegal resident in April 1936. He and his wife had arrived as ‘Hardts’ on their passport: MI5 noticed their arrival with suspicion, but did nothing. Mally quickly concluded that the volume of material coming from Maclean was so great and so important that he needed a dedicated handler. Mally could not give him enough attention, since he was occupied with all his other recruitment and management duties. According to Costello and Tsarev, Moscow Centre responded promptly, saying that another famous illegal, Dmitry Bystrolyotov, would be coming over to handle Maclean. Bystrolyotov’s biographer, Emil Draitser, claims that the agent was sent over to handle King, perhaps to free up Mally.  Irrespective of the exact mission, however, Bystrolyotov fell into disfavour, and was prohibited from travelling. (He later endured a long period of torture and incarceration, but escaped a bullet in the back of the neck.) Mally thus had to continue to handle Maclean himself. Early in 1937 the rezident also realised that there was a lot of overlap in the documents coming from King and Maclean, which diminished King’s importance somewhat. Furthermore, by April 1937 Mally had also recruited John Cairncross, so he had yet another source in the Foreign Office. Mally was also involved in trying to set up another photography studio in May 1937, after the credentials of the MI5 agent Olga Gray had been accepted by the CPG, which was looking for a valuable assistant. She was encouraged to take up an apartment in Holland Street, Kensington, and receive training in photography from a Mr. and Mrs. Stevens – in fact the agents Willy and Mary Brandes. Mally liked to keep his photocopying crews separated. This successful penetration by Gray – when MI5 came very close to capturing Mally red-handed – led to the successful arrest of Glading by MI5 and Special Branch.

Stalin’s purges were now in full swing. In June, Mally was ordered to go to Paris to help organise the killing of Krivitsky’s colleague and friend, Ignace Reiss, something that he rejected, thus signing his own death-warrant. Mally was then summoned to Moscow in July, and shot soon after. Reiss was killed, anyway. King faded from view at this time, as he now had no contacts on whom to pass information. Left without a Soviet handler, Guy Burgess set about recruiting further enthusiasts for the cause, and it was soon after this, probably at the beginning of 1938, that he encouraged Goronwy Rees to provide him with information from the All Souls High Table, ready for the time when a new contact, Anatoly Gorsky, was sent out in December 1938 to take over the ‘legal’ NKVD rezidentura. Moscow Centre was convinced enough of Rees’s seriousness to grant him the cryptonyms GROSS and FLEET, and examples of the fairly trivial information he provided can be found in the Mitrokhin archive.

Krivitsky ignored the recall to Moscow in early October 1937, and made his escape via France, avoiding an attempt on his own life a couple of weeks later. His friend Slutsky was not so lucky, killed by cyanide poisoning in February 1938. And Krivitsky’s survival would mean that King would eventually be ‘betrayed’ by Krivitsky. When Krivitsky eventually reached the USA, and told his ghost-writer and adviser, Philip Don Levine, about the spy in the Foreign Office, Levine decide to inform Lord Lothian in the Washington Embassy, with the result that King (alongside a number of other traitors) was detained and interrogated. The incriminating evidence of payments made to him from the Narodny Bank was discovered: he initially denied that any secret documents had been photographed, but eventually confessed, and was sentenced and in jail by the time Krivitsky arrived in January 1940. Krivitsky did not mind sacrificing a mercenary: though not a Stalinist, the defector was still a communist, and did not want to make it easy for the imperialist enemy to start mopping up the networks in which so much investment had been made.

A. Kitty Harris’s studio                                          E. Wolf  Levit’s studio

B. Olga Gray’s apartment                                      F.  Tudor-Hart’s home & studio

C. Edith Tudor-Hart’s home – 1937                      G. ‘Barbara’s’ studio

D.  Victor Rothschild’s house                                 H.  Tudor-Hart’s studio – 1937

I.  The Foreign Office                                              M.  Henry Pieck’s office

J.  Guy Burgess’s apartment                                   N.  John King’s lodgings

K. Donald Maclean’s apartment                            O.  Tudor-Hart’s 2nd home

L.  The mysterious studio in Pimlico                     P.   A. Tudor-Hart’s home

Espionage Sites in 1930s London

The Pimlico Gambit

What the events of these years tell us is that a) Donald Maclean never developed the skills to operate his own photographic studio, b) while the NKVD may have operated such studios in Brixton, Maida Vale, Mayfair, Kensington, Westminster, Bayswater and Belsize Park (and maybe elsewhere), there is no evidence that it used premises in Pimlico, and c) Maclean’s ‘handiwork’ was never manufactured in the Buckingham Gate office that was closest to the district of Pimlico. Thus we have to conjecture what Andrew Boyle had in mind when he very provocatively claimed that Maclean’s photocopying was performed ‘in a Pimlico flat’. (I note that the real Fifth Man, John Cairncross, lived in Pimlico at the time, but Maclean and Cairncross were unaware of each other’s recruitment by the Soviets.)

It seems probable that Boyle knew far more than he was able to let on. By the time he submitted the copy for The Climate of Treason, he must have received some insider knowledge that Maclean’s espionage activities had been known a long time back. Of course, it should not be discounted completely that he was simply making an intelligent assumption about the fact that the copies that Krivitsky saw in Moscow must have been photographed somewhere close to the Foreign Office and Maclean’s apartment. Yet it was a worthless and unsubstantiated squib to throw out in a well-concealed Note. If he had something important to say, he would have brought it out in the main text. As a footnote, however, it is highly puzzling. Were readers supposed to track down who of the spies were known at that time, identify who lived in Pimlico, and therefore work out for themselves who the responsible party was?

We have to accept, of course, that the provocation must have failed, as nobody appears to have noticed it. If Boyle had been challenged on this fact – say by White, who must have failed to spot the reference when he reviewed the text – he might have been able to ascribe it to vagueness, or muddled notes, as it was not specific enough to incriminate a source for the geography. For Boyle had to be very careful: if an ex-intelligence officer had given him information that breached the OSA, he would have been very careful not to have endangered that person’s reputation (and pension) by revealing any undisclosed information that could point unfailingly to a particular source. Moreover, Boyle was surely scared. White had given him warnings not to delve too deeply into the matter of Blunt, even. Yet Boyle was anxious to see the story developed further, as he sensed a massive cover-up.

And then the Blunt story broke, thanks to Private Eye, on November 9. That was one hurdle crossed. Margaret Thatcher made her announcement on November 15. In the Observer of November 18, Boyle revealed how Goronwy Rees had confirmed Blunt’s treachery to him a couple of years earlier, and he also made the claim that ‘two dozen and more accomplices and accessories whom MI5 claims to have neutralised’ still remained at large, and had been responsible for protecting Burgess and Maclean. Matters then must have moved quickly. Blunt came out of hiding on November 20, and made a statement. Maybe another intelligence officer contacted Boyle after the story broke, to encourage him or even give him new facts. At some stage Boyle must have decided that he could use Rees to deflect attention away from himself in his campaign to name the guilty persons. As indicated above, Jenny Rees claimed (based on what her sister told her) that her father did not want to see Boyle at first, ‘though he finally [sic] agreed to do so’. Boyle and Rees did not have much time to share their thoughts.

Maybe Rees was provoked into helping Boyle by a strange incident. As I reported above, the day that Margaret Thatcher made her announcement, Rees fell into a coma. Jenny’s brother Daniel telephoned her to say that a doctor at the hospital believed he could have been injected with insulin, and accounts of unidentified Russians loitering near the wards of the hospital were repeated. Another doctor said that his coma could have been ascribed to his cancer. In any case, Rees took a week to recover, which would take the chronology up to November 22. (In November, I tried to contact Jenny Rees, who has been very helpful to me in the past, to ask whether her father had retained any memory of being injected by non-professional staff, but she has not responded to my email.)

I do not believe this incident has gained any other attention: it sounds a bit desperate for either the KGB or MI5 to want to kill a dying man who had probably already communicated all he knew about the case. As Rees’s other daughter, Lucy, said: “Boyle wanted to talk to him to see what more he could find out, but Rees said he did not know any more and there was nothing he could add.” That was probably true. Yet Boyle must have succeeded in completing some lengthy conversations with Rees, written them up, and given them to the dying man to approve. And that approval was probably sought by David Astor, the editor of the Observer. Ironically, two days before Rees died on December 12, Isaiah Berlin wrote to Margaret Thatcher to decline her offer of a life peerage. Perhaps he recognised that it would have been unseemly for him, as one of the closest conspirators with Burgess, to have accepted such an honour just after Blunt had been deprived of his knighthood.

Yet, if Boyle hoped that there would be a counter-reaction to Rees’s spurious claims about Mayfair and the probably fictitious ‘Barbara’, with a revitalised interest in real photographic studios, he must have been disappointed. How would the Pimlico Gambit play out?

Controversy in the ‘Observer’

I now return to the two instalments that were published in the Observer, on January 13 and 20, 1980, and analyse their arguments and structure in more detail. The first article starts off by trying to change the perception that Rees was a villain to making the case that he was a victim: “But Rees himself, although close to Burgess, was never a spy, or a homosexual, or even a member of the Communist Party”. This statement was certainly true about Rees’s sexual preferences, but mendacious or irrelevant otherwise. Rees had indeed acted as a spy, and avoiding the Communist Party was a key behaviour of the most dangerous of Stalin’s Men and Women. Boyle then brings up the troubling matter of Rees’s coma, even citing the ‘bizarre murder of Georgi Markov’, perhaps to suggest that the KGB had been responsible. He specifically indicates that Rees was in peril from ‘more dangerous intruders’ than ‘over-zealous journalists’.

Boyle then makes the point that the meeting with him was undertaken on Rees’s initiative. It may have been – or Boyle might have convinced him that this was the better way of representing for posterity what happened next. Then follows a long, and largely redundant, account of Rees’s encounters with Guy Burgess. It is stagey, artificial, and includes information which Boyle certainly knew already, or with which readers of A Chapter of Accidents would have been familiar. It has clearly been set up for the benefit of the uninformed Observer readership: Rees would not have wasted his dying breaths on such material otherwise, and would not have requested a meeting with Boyle to tell him what the author already knew.

Guy Burgess

Some of Rees’s testimony is deceitful. He makes the ridiculous claim that ‘Burgess ‘had inexplicably turned a political somersault, declared himself a Fascist and gone down from Cambridge’, adding that he didn’t hear Burgess’s explanation until 1935-1936, when he and Burgess became neighbours in London. Yet Burgess had taken his aegrotat degree at Cambridge in the summer of 1933, and even replaced Rees on a visit to Moscow in 1934, showing openly communist sympathies. Burgess was probably recruited officially by the NKVD early in 1935, and took up his right-wing cover only at the end of that year, when he started working for the Conservative MP John Macnamara, and joined the Anglo-German Fellowship. Burgess told Rees that he was working for the Comintern, and tried to recruit him, probably in late November 1937. Thus Rees’s reputation as someone unreliable with the truth can be seen to be deserved, even on his deathbed. He then makes a disparaging (for 1979) remark about Kim Philby being another of Burgess’s sexual conquests, an assertion that is highly unlikely. He also makes a mention of Burgess’s Chester Square flat – in Belgravia, so not strictly Pimlico, but right next-door, in case that was seen as a marker.

Now comes the critical, but almost parenthetical, section. Rees happens to mention his first encounter with Donald Maclean: ‘his air of empty superiority affronted me’. Here Boyle comes up with the question that must have been on his mind ever since the ‘Pimlico’ reference: “Did anything occur at that time which might have alerted you to the double life he was already leading as a Soviet agent?” After a significant pause, Rees does not respond with any insights on Maclean’s political affiliations or sympathies, his activities at Cambridge, his friendship with Burgess, but a wholly irrelevant and assuredly imagined story of his and Maclean’s ‘mutual friend’, Barbara, who was a professional photographer in Mayfair. I repeat the section, for emphasis: “She told me one day how skilful Donald was with a camera – so skilful that she’d no hesitation in letting him use the studio for his own work.” (We should also recall that Rees earlier stated that he had not seen Maclean between 1935 and 1950, so the reality of this liaison, since Maclean did not start handing over documents until early 1936, must be highly questionable.)  Rees then makes the extraordinary conceptual leap that, because documents probably stolen or borrowed by Maclean had found their way on to Krivitsky’s desk, Maclean himself must have photographed them, and used the highly insecure vehicle of a female friend’s studio to do so.

No other source indicates that Maclean had any disposition to photography as a hobby, that he was outstandingly skilful at it, or had his artwork displayed anywhere. As we have seen, no evidence has yet appeared elsewhere to suggest that Maclean photocopied any documents himself apart from the use of the miniature camera at the Foreign Office. Since the Special Branch had not seen fit to detain Edith Tudor-Hart when she was caught practically red-handed, it was not going to detain Donald Maclean on the grounds that he was in unauthorised possession of photographic paraphernalia. Moreover, why would Rees recall this incident only now, a recollection which would undercut the claim he made that he did not conclude that Maclean was a spy until the unpleasant encounter in 1950? And he significantly does not mention Pimlico.

Yet a more important question must be asked: how did Rees know that Krivitsky had seen specimens of Maclean’s handiwork in Moscow? The information in Jane Archer’s report was tightly held by MI5, and was not declassified until 2002. Moreover, it does not specifically identify Maclean – the whole catastrophe of MI5’s indolence lies around the fact that the Security Service did not follow up the obvious hints. As I have explained in Misdefending the Realm, Jane Archer’s report passed over the desk of Jenifer Williams (soon to be Hart) at the Home Office in March 1940, and was certainly seen by Guy Burgess after that, but the last thing that Burgess, who in 1943 recommended that Rees should be killed as he was a possible threat to his safety, would have wanted to do at that time would be to share the contents of the MI5 report with Rees.

Boyle must have known, however. A possible circumstance – unless excavating the de Gallienne Connection shows some fresh intelligence from Europe – was that a prominent intelligence officer had either described or shown to him the Krivitsky report. Yet more than that: that person might have indicated to Boyle that Krivitsky had told one (or some) of the officers who interrogated him more than appeared in the eventual report, presumably enough to identify surely Maclean as the informer. Having access to the report itself was not enough. Yet an analysis of Krivitsky’s evidence (see below) suggests that off-the-record hints were unlikely. A more probable scenario is that Levine could have told Mallet (and Jebb, vicariously) of some obvious pointers that were concealed from the interrogators, but divulged elsewhere. For example, Boyle claims that Mallet (in the latter’s own words) ‘sent to London a very detailed and secret dossier’. That dossier has, however, not come to light. Thus, whether Krivitsky or Levine actually provided the address of a studio in Pimlico will probably never be ascertainable. (Liddell’s final conversation with Krivitsky before his departure has been redacted from his Diaries.) Boyle could not divulge that person, or the relevant nugget of information, but he presumably believed that, after the vague hint in the book, and the much bolder statement made posthumously by his proxy, Rees, he would be able to bring the controversy into the open.

If Krivitsky did provide the information, who could his informer have been? Of the officers and civil servants who interviewed Krivitsky (Vivian, Harker, Archer, Liddell, White, and Jebb), Jebb, White and Archer were still alive in 1979. Gladwyn Jebb is an unlikely source: he was a shifty character who displayed sympathies for Soviet Russia, and tried to conceal his close association with Burgess in his memoirs. I even classify him as an ‘Agent of Influence’ in Misdefending the Realm. White is, of course, even more unlikely, since he was the person who was going to come under fire from any media onslaught if the news got out. Jane Archer is a possible candidate. She had singularly developed a very strong rapport with Krivitsky. Having been ousted by Liddell from the very expert job she was doing in communist counter-espionage, she was put on the sidelines, and eventually ended up working for Kim Philby in SIS, before returning to MI5. Her moral code would have prevented her from too casually breaking the OSA, but she may have been so disgusted at the deal done with Blunt, and the cover-up after it, that she felt obliged, after almost forty years of silence, to speak to the author when Boyle’s book came out. That argument, however, does not explain where she gained the information, unless Krivitsky gave it to her confidentially, or she perhaps saw a highly secret part of the Mallet-Jebb correspondence. And there was another example of justified righteous feminine indignation. Soon after that, Joan Miller was so disgusted at the treatment of Blunt (she had witnessed Blunt’s and Leo Long’s espionage at MI14 during the war) that in 1986 she published One Girl’s War in Ireland, a book that MI5 tried to ban.

The transcripts of interviews that Jane Archer had with Krivitsky that appear in the Kew archive, but which did not become part of the final report, show that Archer valiantly tried to extract further details about the ‘Imperial Defence’ spy from Krivitsky, but he would not budge, despite giving the appearance of struggling hard. It was probably an act. One very significant item of evidence is the fact that, in an interrogation of January 30, Krivitsky suggested that the ‘Imperial Council source’ was a young man. Furthermore, “the boy obtained the papers from his father who may probably have taken them home.”  Krivitsky encouraged Jane Archer to pursue this paternal aspect: not even Gary Kern has noticed that this was a mean trick.  For a spy whose cryptonym was in Russian SIROTA (or, in German, WAISE), namely ORPHAN, it was a rich and sardonic piece of irony to emphasise his active relationship with his father, a ruse undetected by the stumbling British. (Donald’s father had died in 1932: hence the unimaginative choice.)

Archer and her colleagues should have been familiar with cryptonyms: the Double Cross agents were all given them, and Archer even refers, in a memorandum of May 1939 to GROEHL (or GROLL), which was in fact the code name for Krivitsky himself. In the interrogations, Krivitsky went so far as to provide some cryptonyms (or ‘service names’, as Archer called them), such as FRIEND for Goold-Verschoyle, and HARDT for Maly. It seems now to be an obvious question not asked of what label had been assigned to Maclean, given that there seems to have been an unavoidable tendency on both sides to bestow cryptonyms that had some relevance to the agent (e.g. TATE, because Wulf Schmidt looked like Harry Tate, TONY for Blunt, GIRL for Burgess, and SONNY for Philby). Another later note by Archer claims that Krivitsky was ‘passionate’ to stay in touch with her, should further thoughts come to his mind. The defector and the inquisitor may have built some rapport, but the evidence seems to be that Krivitsky did not want to betray a dedicated ideological spy not motivated by monetary needs, and was having some sport at the expense of his interrogators.

Boyle then changes gears in the first Observer article. The main thrust now is a pointed criticism of the groups that used to gather during the war at Victor Rothschild’s residence, at 5 Bentinck Street (in Marylebone, some distance from Pimlico). “Among the most frequent of the casual visitors I noticed in 1943-44 were J. D. Bernal, the scientist, John Strachey, the politician, and Guy Liddell, a long-serving officer of MI5 whose marriage had recently broken up and who was a colleague of Blunt’s. He was also on close terms with Burgess.”  Then Boyle makes the highly controversial claim that this faction at Bentinck Street was abetting Stain’s objectives in Eastern Europe: “Although many voices were raised at that time in the clamour for a ‘Second Front Now’, Goronwy Rees believed that the Soviet sympathisers of Bentinck Street helped to orchestrate the discord.” He then quotes Rees’s lamenting how Blunt had betrayed the lives of Poles, Finns and Ukrainians.

The chronology is again dubious. By 1943-44, the plans for the invasion of Normandy were well advanced. The dangers of a Soviet propaganda campaign pressing for a premature Second Front had been real back in late 1941 and 1942: it was then one of Stalin’s most urgent appeals, and was not resisted properly, but by this time it was not an issue of debate. And by incriminating such luminaries as Liddell and Rothschild in this cabal, Boyle was treading on very dangerous ground. It was one thing to accuse Liddell of having been negligent or incompetent, but quite another to suggest he had been helping the cause of a foreign power.

Guy Liddell

Yet Boyle made more focussed accusations in the second article, published on January 20, where he reproduced Rees’s further indictments of Liddell, showing how Liddell had behaved evasively when Rees informed him of the Blunt connection in 1951, and intensifying his criticisms. The sub-heading ran “How Burgess and Blunt entangled top MI5 man Guy Liddell in their treachery.” (The full article appears below.) The most damning testimony would appear to be the claim that Liddell had invited Blunt to the meeting with Rees, and essentially ganged up with the Fourth Man against the plaintiff. It should have been a decisive lead to be followed up, but it apparently was lost in the controversy over Rees’s more speculative claims.

The Observer, January
20, 1980

What also hurts Rees’s argument is that his story here changes from that in A Chapter of Accidents. Rees feels free now to name David Footman as the SIS officer (echoed by Jenny Rees in Looking for Mr. Nobody), someone who later also came under suspicion because of his communist sympathies. The ex-officer from MI5 was, of course, none other than Blunt himself, as Rees likewise revealed in the Observer: Boyle identifies him, and records that conversation. Yet Rees’s story in 1979 changes: he oddly dates the call with Footman as happening on the Saturday evening, and also states that he called Blunt that same evening, and that Blunt came down to his house, at Rees’s request, on the Sunday, not the Monday. John Costello, somewhat improbably, has Rees, on the Sunday afternoon telephoning Blunt to ask for his advice, since he (Rees) had still [sic] not heard from Liddell. Given what he knew about Blunt, going to the art historian as a mentor in this situation would appear to be downright lunacy. Blunt apparently ‘read the signs of incipient panic’ in Rees’s voice, rushed to his house, and tried to convince him that it would be best for the authorities to find out the truth about the absconding independently.

In any case, we are thus left with the question as to why Rees contacted Blunt, urging a person-to-person discussion, if his intention was to denounce him to the authorities? Had he at this stage been considering solely describing the fact that Burgess had admitted his Comintern allegiance in 1937? If so, why not simply go to MI5, and leave Blunt out of it? The only possible outcomes from discussing the problem with Blunt could be either that Blunt would talk him out of saying anything about Burgess (and himself!), or that Rees would end up scaring Blunt witless, but allow him to develop a plan to protect himself. Burgess had surely told Blunt of his critical conversation with Rees, as he had indeed told Maclean. Blunt knew what Rees knew: Rosamond Lehman even thought that Blunt knew that Rees had told her everything. The fact that Blunt did not panic suggests very strongly that he knew that, despite his past transgressions, he enjoyed the patronage of the high-ups in MI5. And Rees in fact gave him a very clear warning.

Then there is the conflicting information about the meeting with Liddell and Blunt. In his memoir, Rees said he went up to London, ‘alarmed and despondent’, for his meeting with MI5 the following day. Yet his Observer statement runs as follows: “What I have been wracking my brains over was the extraordinary slowness on the part of Liddell. He let nearly ten days pass before doing anything positive. . . . Not until the end of the following week was a move initiated.” He might have left that detail out of his memoir because he was scared, but if he wanted MI5 to be investigated in 1978 by reporters other than himself, he could have left much broader hints without pointing directly at Blunt’s guilt, and Liddell’s compliance. As it turned out, Blunt and Liddell must have strategized, and concluded that putting on a united front was the best way to silence Rees. Yet it was an extraordinarily stupid move by Liddell, a clear breach of protocol, as Blunt had left MI5 in 1945. What is more extraordinary is that none of the commentariat picked up this anomaly: Rees’s obvious inability to tell a plain truth did not help his, or Boyle’s cause. But Boyle should have been more careful, too.

Jenny Rees adds further complications to the story. She advises us of a further conversation that Rees had on the subject – in between the recognised disappearance by MI5 of the ‘diplomats’ on May 28 and his meeting with Liddell on June 7, which Rees does not mention in his memoir or in the Observer articles. At a party that week, he encountered an old friend, the prominent academic and intelligence officer, Stuart Hampshire, and explained the dilemma he had established for himself.  Hampshire admitted that he had advised Rees not to stir the pot – advice he said he regretted much later. (Implicitly, it would appear that Hampshire knew what was going on, even though he was also no longer employed by MI5, and was then one of the select many who knew the secret of Blunt.) As we see, Rees rejected Hampshire’s counsel, but assuredly went too far, as, in one further interview with MI5, apparently implicated not only Burgess and Blunt, but also Hampshire, the former SIS officer Professor Robin Zaehner, and even Guy Liddell himself. The evidence from Jenny Rees is confusing: it is unlikely that Rees would have accused Liddell in an interview where the latter was present. But it was still an extraordinarily undisciplined and disloyal performance by Rees, seeking advice from his old friend Hampshire and then immediately denouncing him to the authorities. It is another example of how Rees’s erratic behaviour undermined any serious intentions he could have had.

The Backlash

By the Law of Unexpected Consequences, instead of Boyle’s receiving encouragement for his pains, and attempt at full disclosure, he bore the brunt of a fierce backlash. He made (at least) five major mistakes:

  1. He loaded up the charges against Liddell with so much irrelevant and erroneous information that the strong but smaller points were overlooked. If he had concentrated on i) the Gallienne/Pimlico disclosure, and ii) Liddell’s unprofessional behaviour in drawing Blunt into his meeting with Rees, he might have achieved his goals of more serious attention to the obvious secrecy and conspiracy that cloaked the Blunt case.
  2. While claiming that Rees should not be condemned by virtue of mere association with Burgess, he implied that Liddell was guilty for exactly the same reason – he had consorted with Burgess and company at Bentinck Street during the war. Since this was the only evidence of pro-Soviet conspiracy (as opposed to incompetence), it was very a flimsy argument.
  3. He forgot that Rees had a reputation for being an unreliable witness. Since (for example) his facts about the chronology of his association with Burgess in the 1930s were wrong, it could have led knowledgeable readers of the account to doubt Rees’s other assertions. Readers who bothered to read A Chapter of Accidents would have found further disturbing anomalies. Rees (they would claim) was saying whatever it took to save his own reputation before he died.
  4. Boyle underestimated the wrath of Dick White. Even though he did not mention White in the Bentinck Street Brotherhood, White had been just as frequent a visitor to Rothschild’s premises as Liddell. Thus White would have concluded that he was tarred with the same brush, and he was implicitly under attack.
  5. He overestimated the tenacity of the British press. He left enough leads and inconsistencies in his story to provoke a dedicated sleuth, but even the ‘quality’ newspapers seemed to be more interested in dramatic headlines and hints of sleaze than following-up with simple but arduous digging-around at the coal-face.
Dick White

Tom Bower wrote that White was infuriated by the articles. Not only was his own reputation vicariously under assault, all his efforts to try and redeem the status of the intelligence services he had led were being quashed. While there had been an initial outrage at the covert deal agreed with Blunt, Boyle’s attack on Liddell provoked a recoil the other way. In the Sunday Times of January 20, in an article by Barrie Penrose, David Leitch and Phillip Knightley headlined ‘“A grotesque smear” say top spymasters’, Dick White was quoted as saying, somewhat bizarrely, that ‘accusing him [Liddell] may have possibly have been a way of deflecting accusations against others.’ Why Rees would want to conceal the names of others on his deathbed was not explained. Then the minor character William Skardon, who had an overrated reputation as an interrogator, was wheeled out to give his testimony in favour of Liddell. No notice was taken of Gallienne, or Maclean’s photography, or the Pimlico-Mayfair discrepancy. This was not a very enterprising piece of investigative reporting by the famed Insight team at the Sunday Times, but it surely distracted attention away from the oversubtle allusions made by Boyle.

A minor skirmish followed in the pages of the New Statesman. In the issue of February 1, one Richard Winkler rather laboriously pointed out that much of what Rees was quoted as saying was almost an exact echo of what had appeared in A Chapter of Accidents. The fact that that was no doubt Boyle’s aim eluded him, and, by concentrating on what was re-hashed, Winkler overlooked the really dramatic new material. He did then isolate the major discrepancy in Rees’s story, that concerning the timing of Rees’s meeting with MI5, but interpreted it as a plot by Rees and Boyle to doctor the story to show how ‘sinister’ Liddell’s behaviour was. It was a very obtuse performance by Winkler, who sounded as if he had a grudge against Boyle.

Boyle responded in a letter published on February 15. He essentially confirmed that the statements came, with Rees’s approval, from Rees’s memoir, but that Rees had refreshed them with some new recollections. He then, rather clumsily, attempted to turn the tables on Winkler by saying that it was Blunt who first pointed out the timing discrepancy, and that the meeting could not have occurred as soon as Rees first said it did, because of the contemporaneity of the announcement of the ‘missing diplomats’, as if that absolved Rees of his initial carelessness. It was all rather an inelegant and pointless spat, and added nothing to the resolution of the mysterious references.

The hunt for Boyle’s traitors was apparently on. The Sunday Times did extract a confession from John Cairncross, the ‘Fifth Man’, at the end of 1979. Margaret Thatcher, however, pressed by intelligence chiefs upset about the Blunt admission, was energised enough to cancel publication of Dick White’s pet project, Volume 4 of the series British Intelligence in the Second World War, which would have cast glamour on the successes of the Double-Cross system in an official light. White, who was ‘furious’, according to Boyle’s notes, immediately went underground, and broke all his OSA vows by encouraging Rupert Allason (Nigel West) to use White’s knowledge, and access to the MI5 officers involved, to write an unofficial history of MI5. Then the investigation into Roger Hollis started, and the controlled leaks via Victor Rothschild to Chapman Pincher about Hollis, followed by Pincher’s series of books, and Peter Wright and Spycatcher. Jane Archer died in 1982, a year before Donald Maclean. Volumes 4 and 5 of British Intelligence came out in 1990. Dick White died in 1993. The journalist John Costello continued to pursue the Liddell trail, and included a scathing indictment, in his Mask of Treachery (1988), of Liddell as the likeliest candidate for the mysterious GRU spy within MI5, ELLI, who had been identified (but not named) by Gouzenko in 1945. Costello succumbed to an odd and unexplained, but fatal, bout of shellfish poisoning in 1995, at the young age of fifty-two. But all of this is probably for another story.

It took exactly thirty-nine years from Krivitsky’s death before Rees’s hints to awareness of Maclean’s fabled career in photography were published – and then forgotten. Almost precisely thirty-nine years later, this blog resurrects the strange story of the Pimlico Gambit. Perhaps the puzzle will be resolved in the winter of 2057. The project starts now, with an investigation into (de) Gallienne and Montgomery Hyde, the constitution of the British Embassy in Paris in 1938, and a deeper analysis of the statements left behind by Krivitsky and Levine. The game’s afoot! As always, I encourage insights and leads from my readers.

Sources, and for Further Reading:

The Climate of Treason by Andrew Boyle

A Spy Named Orphan by Roland Phillips

Donald and Melinda Maclean by Michael Holzman

Stalin’s Agent by Boris Volodarsky

The Crown Jewels by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev

Deadly Illusions by John Costello and Oleg Tsarev

Defence of the Realm by Christopher Andrew

A Chapter of Accidents by Goronwy Rees

Searching for Mr. Nobody by Jenny Rees

MI5 Debriefing by Gary Kern

A Time for Spies by William E. Duff

The Spy With Seventeen Names by Igor Damaskin

In Stalin’s Secret Service by Walter Krivitsky

A Death in Washington by Gary Kern

The Perfect English Spy by Tom Bower

The Sword and the Shield by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin

Stalin’s Englishman by Andrew Lownie

Mask of Treachery by John Costello

Anthony Blunt: His Lives by Miranda Carter

A Divided Life by Robert Cecil

The Cambridge Spies by Verne Newton

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Christopher Andrew

Eyewitness to History by Isaac Don Levine

Treason in the Blood by Anthony Cave-Brown

Agent Dimitri by Emil Draitser

Misdefending the Realm by Antony Percy

Archival Material from Kew (TNA), the FBI and the CIA

(Final set of the year’s Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Literature/Academia, Politics

Four More Books on Espionage

Seasonal greetings to all my readers – especially those who joined the group this year! Among new contacts is one former officer of an intelligence service, who very kindly wrote, about ‘Sonia’s Radio’: “It’s the most impressive counter intelligence research/historiography I’ve read – the web of known and suspected affiliations is masterly.”

And now you can help spread the word! In a survey of a thousand households of recent retirees across the European Union, commissioned by the Coldspur Appreciation Society, residents were asked to list the Top Ten Items on their Bucket List. Here are the consolidated results (after some flattening of rankings according to the Ogden-Zeiss method of Flawed Preference Detection): ‘Reading “Sonia’s Radio”’ was pipped out of first place by ‘Visiting Machu Picchu’, but pushed ‘Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef’ into third position. A great outcome!

Machu Picchu
(First Place)

‘Sonia’s Radio’
(Second Place)

Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef
(Third Place)

So all you have to do, laid out in five easy steps:

And you will immediately have made another close friend or relative very happy!

 

And now to those books  . . .

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre (Crown New York, 2018)

Traitor Lodger German Spy by Tony Rowland (APS Publications, 2018)

Transcription by Kate Atkinson (Little Brown & Co., 2018)

The Secret World by Christopher Andrew (Yale University Press, 2018)

The Spy and the Traitor

How well do you know your Communist defectors? For instance, can you clearly distinguish and differentiate Igor Gouzenko, Anatoly Golitsyn, Michael Goleniewski and Oleg Gordievsky?  (In the spirit of 1066 and All That, the use of protractors is encouraged.) No? Well, here’s a thumbnail sketch to help you prepare for that pub quiz. Gouzenko was the cipher clerk who worked for the GRU in Ottawa, and whose revelations in 1945 led to the unmasking of the atom spies. Golitsyn defected in 1961, and provided information that led to the confirmation of Kim Philby’s treachery. Goleniewski was a Pole, reputedly a triple agent, who helped identify George Blake as a spy within SIS. And Gordievsky was the KGB officer who turned against his employers after the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and in 1985 was spirited out of the Soviet Union in a daring escape organised by SIS.

The highly successful journalist Ben Macintyre, author of five gripping books about espionage and sabotage, has now turned his hand to the story of Gordievsky. The tale is not new: Gordievsky wrote a memoir titled Next Stop Execution, which gives almost as much detail about his career with the KGB, as well as the climax of the book, the enterprising escape plan, and how it was executed. (In recommending The Spy and the Traitor as one of his Books of the Year, Peter Frankopan wrote recently in the Spectator: “As with his other books, Macintyre seems not only able to find amazing new material, but to write perfectly paced prose that reads like a thriller.” I agree with the second part of the statement, but not the first.)

Ben Macintyre

Shortly after being posted to London in early 1985, Gordievsky, who had made his desires and loyalties clear when an officer in Copenhagen, and had later provided much valuable information to help Margaret Thatcher negotiate with Gorbachev, was recalled to Moscow, ostensibly for some kind of confirmation process for his recent promotion to rezident. Instead he was immediately interrogated and put under surveillance on suspicion of being a spy. Fortunately for him, Soviet Intelligence was at that time taking a more formal approach to the determination of guilt. Taking advantage of a scheme devised by SIS long before, Gordievsky was able to signal to British Embassy officials that he was in danger, and made his plans for escape. He took a train to Leningrad, and hitched a ride to a place near the Finnish border, where he was picked up and hidden in the boot (trunk) of a car being driven by members of the embassy. He was then smuggled into Finland – an adventure which must surely lead to a movie before long. Macintyre has complemented that account by virtue of his being able to discuss the case freely with Gordievsky’s handlers in SIS (MI6) – a disturbing venture in its own right, given the implications of the Official Secrets Act, and one that raises some troubling questions about the reliability of Macintyre’s judgments.

First of all – that title. The Spy. And the Traitor. Is Gordievsky supposed to be both? Probably not. The traitor is probably meant to indicate Aldrich Ames, the CIA agent who was, somewhat remarkably, given his personality and drinking habits, the Soviet and East European Division’s chief of counter-intelligence, which allowed him to realise that an anonymous high-grade informer was being handled by the British. In order to deliver his high-expense wife the luxuries she demanded, Ames offered his services to the KGB, and was able to provide enough hints to Gordievsky’s background and movements that the Soviets concluded that the pattern of activity and geography cast a strong suspicion that Gordievsky might be the source of the leaks. Yet we should not forget that both men were traitors. I would probably be the last man to propose ‘moral equivalence’ in the actions and motivations of the two (see Misdefending the Realm, p 280, for example), but it is a matter of fact that both men were traitors to the nation they served. This is a vital point, because Gordievsky is still under a death sentence: Putin is reported to be livid with his former colleague’s treachery. An attempt has been made on Gordievsky’s life already, and he has to live in seclusion in darkest Surrey somewhere. (I know Surrey is still ‘leafy’. But do ‘dark’ portions of that county still exist?

What Macintyre does well, he does very well. He has a journalist’s eye for the telling detail, weaves the relevant background material into his ripping yarn very smoothly, and keeps the suspense up extremely capably. Yet his judgment is fallible: he gets a little too close to his subject and the SIS officers who guide him through the story, and lacks the temperament and resolve to stand back coolly from the whole operation. Gordievsky has collaborated with Christopher Andrew on a couple of books since his defection, and, as I noted in last month’s blog, these were not received with the critical acclaim that the author appears to assume. I repeat Macintyre’s assertion: “He gave lectures, listened to music, and wrote books with the historian Christopher Andrew, works of detailed scholarship [sic] that still stand as the most comprehensive accounts of Soviet intelligence to date.” Macintyre echoes Gordievsky’s claim that the spy ELLI was Leo Long, Gordievsky having claimed to have found that detail in the KGB archives. Remarkably, Christopher Andrew used Gordievsky’s statement to voice the same opinion in his authorised history of MI5, The Defence of the Realm, as well as in other books he has written about the KGB, a mistake that has been criticised by historians ever since. (Andrew has declined to appear in forums to discuss this very controversial judgment, but Macintyre should have known about the problem.) It has been rumoured in some quarters that Gordievsky was encouraged by SIS to make the equivalence of ELLI and Long to distract attention from molehunts after more likely candidates  . . .  Again, Macintyre, in his enthusiasm, is reluctant to consider such matters worthy of discussion.

Then there is the case of Michael Foot. Macintyre repeats Gordievsky’s claim that the leader of the Labour Party had been a paid Soviet agent with the cryptonym BOOT (again showing the Soviet bureaucrats’ highly subtle choice of monikers to conceal the identity of their contacts). Macintyre accepts unquestioningly everything that Gordievsky says about Foot, how he was served with raw Soviet propaganda, and how he provided valuable information about Western political strategies from the Korean War onward. In recent weeks, the fortnightly magazine Private Eye has taken the cudgels up against Macintyre, coming to Foot’s defence, showing how his Tribune articles constantly criticised the Soviet Union, and thus showed that he was no friend of the Soviets. I think Private Eye may be jumping too quickly into the fray, too (Michael’s nephew, the late diehard Socialist Paul Foot, is still a much-revered figure at Gnome House). It is possible that Michael Foot conveyed an anti-Soviet stance in Tribune to cover his activities as an agent of influence, but the magazine has showed that Macintyre has tied himself in knots over the chronology of Gordievsky’s awareness of Foot’s activities. However, both Macintyre and Private Eye fail to use the diaries of Anatoly Chernyaev, the Kremlin’s liaison with the Labour Party, which have been translated and are available at the National Security Archive (see https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB192/index.htm ), and would appear to confirm Foot’s foolishness, if not malfeasance. ‘This one will run and run’, in the words of one of Private Eye’s favourite slogans.

And was Macintyre being used by his SIS friends? He carefully explains (in his Acknowledgments) that his work is not an authorised biography, and takes pains to explain that he has had ‘no access to the files of the intelligence service, which remain classified’. Yet he is naïve enough to state that the book was not aided by SIS, having shortly before expressed his huge gratitude to ‘every MI6 officer involved in the case’. If that is not ‘aid’, what is? On page 79, he writes that ‘the correspondence between SUNBEAM and C remains in the MI6 archives, proof of the personal touch on which successful spying depends.” If that is some ‘proof’ to which Macintyre can attest, has he actually inspected it? Even to know that the correspondence exists seems to me an outrageous liberty granted by SIS to the journalist. I do not understand how, given the constraints of the Official Secrets Act, SIS officers were allowed selectively to pass on confidential material to a chosen writer, and get away with it.

But perhaps I do. Macintyre is careful to conceal his contacts under aliases. Gordievsky’s main handler in London is identified as ‘James Spooner’, but Christopher Andrew, in The Secret World (see below) has identified ‘Spooner’ as John Scarlett, who later became chief of SIS. So we must interpret this joint venture between SIS and Macintyre as another in a line of valiant PR exercises by the intelligence services, which started with Alan Moorhead’s The Traitors in 1952. So long as there is a positive story to tell, which shows up the imagination and dedication of the Secret Intelligence Service in a good light, SIS will arrange for a reliable journalist/historian to tell the tale, and break its own rules in so doing. The Spy and the Traitor will be immensely successful, and like other popular retreads of Macintyre’s, will no doubt be enjoyed by millions, but his books should not be regarded as serious history, as they constitute a potpourri of fascinating facts and unreliable information. Moreover, if there is a serious reappraisal of Anglo-Soviet relations to be undertaken, it should not be at the whim of John Scarlett, allowing selective disclosure by the triumvirate of Andrew, Gordievsky and Macintyre. The material on which their statements are based should be made generally available to historians at large.

Traitor Lodger German Spy

Tony Rowland (a nom de plume, as the author wishes to stay anonymous) has chosen, for his crafting of a novel about the mysterious German agent, broadly the same archival documents on ter Braak that I used in my September analysis (see TheMysteryoftheUndetectedRadiosPart3). ‘Based on a true story’, the back cover boasts, but, as readers who have studied my explanation would probably agree, exactly what the true story was is open to a large amount of controversy. Mr. Rowland has overall ingeniously translated the fragments available at the National Archives on Engelbertus Fukken (ter Braak’s real name) into a gripping tale of treachery and murder, but, since the bare threads of the Abwehr agent’s life evading capture have been embellished by the insertion of a completely artificial and unconvincing personage of a Cambridge Professor who is (as far as I can judge) nowhere to be found in the archival records, the story unnecessarily loses its grip with reality.

That is not to say that the fiction is unenjoyable. Rowland has done his homework: he portrays Cambridge in 1940 in very convincing fashion, he is good with dialogue, he represents police procedures with authority, he understands well the political issues at home as well as the sensitive dynamics of the Abwehr, and the subversive mentality of its leaders. He presents the complex issues of wireless telegraphy soundly, and realistically brings in both Bletchley Park and the Cavendish Laboratory as possible targets of ter Braak’s mission. He very sensibly questions the denials by Abwehr officers that they could identify ter Braak, as well as the repeated claims that the arrival of the parachutist Josef Jakobs had nothing to do with ter Braak’s plight. He has done an excellent job of bringing life into the two-dimensional characters who largely people the documents released by MI5. It may be that the person-in-the-street, unfamiliar with what appears in the archives, will find Traitor Lodger German Spy an engrossing spy story and not be concerned about where the author’s imagination has run away with him.

The primary problem, as I see it, is that Rowland presents MI5 as ‘moving heaven and earth’ to find ter Braak, when it is clear from the archives, and from the way Rowland faithfully reflects that part of the story, that the Security Service attempted no such thing. Thus his fiction fails to take on with any resolve the paradox central to ter Braak’s status as a fugitive. How could an escaped German parachutist, at a time when a small densely populated country was on alert for any alien presence, and when enemy agents had been swiftly captured elsewhere, survive for so long, living among apparently unsuspicious civilians and officials? And why would he dabble with the Cambridge netherworld so dangerously, and thus draw attention to himself? Moreover, the background, personality, activities and discoveries of the person that really drives the plot, the Professor (about whom I shall write no more detail, as it would spoil the reader’s enjoyment), were to me so unconvincing as to pull the story out of its realistic framework.

Perhaps my experience in trying to analyse what the ‘true story’ about ter Braak was make me an unsuitable critic of Mr. Rowland’s experiment. To me, the questions naturally surrounding what went on in those hectic months of the winter of 1940-41 are fascinating enough without bringing in in any deus ex machina. In an email exchange, Mr. Rowland told me that he had ‘made no attempt to stick with the recorded facts, or indeed cold logic, where they don’t fit with the plot.’ That struck me as an odd argument to make: if the plot drove everything, why attempt to promote the book as being based on a true story, while emphasizing the process of researching the story in ‘the files of the National Archives at Kew, the Cambridge Archives . . .’?  (Rowland appears to have overlooked the very considerable facts about ter Braak uncovered in the articles in After the Battle magazine.) He does credit, however, two writers with a significant interest in the story, a Dutch writer Jan-Willem van den Braak, and Giselle Jakobs, the granddaughter of Josef Jakobs (who was executed later in 1941) with assisting him with the results of his research. I have not read the contributions of either (apart from blogs posted on the latter’s website), but why would the author go out of his way to incorporate information from them, only to dismiss certain facts as inconvenient for his plot?

In an imagined world of fiction, the plot should derive from the convincing but probably flawed characteristics of the participants, and not be a mechanism of its own that relies on artificiality and unexplainable events. Rowland has the skills to have made this a more convincing tale. I am very supportive of efforts to bring the strange history of ter Braak into the public eye, but the bare facts as revealed by the archives provide enough opportunity for weaving an engrossing story about a brave but misguided man during a fascinating winter in history, without the introduction of unconvincing melodrama.

Transcription

I do not read much fiction these days, but this title caught my eye. Kate Atkinson was not a name I knew, but her latest work was suddenly being reviewed everywhere, she was being interviewed by the New York Times, and Transcription quickly made its way into the NYT best-seller list. More relevantly, it was a novel about a period that I know fairly well – the spring and summer of 1940 when Britain came under a ‘Fifth Column’ scare. So I thought I should acquire the book, and see what was going on.

The story concerns a young lady, an orphan, who is recruited by MI5 to assist in a surveillance operation against Fascist sympathisers. After working as a transcriber of the recorded conversations that the potential traitors engage in, innocently believing they are having an exchange with a Gestapo officer under cover in Dolphin Square, Juliet Armstrong is asked to take part in a more aggressive project to entrap one of the ladies who is facilitating the illicit passing of information from the American Embassy. This leads to further complications, both romantic and political – including a murder carried out and concealed by MI5 – and an estrangement from the MI5 agent who was responsible for carrying out the deception. After the war, she is called on again to provide a safe house for a fleeing scientist from behind the Iron Curtain, and things go wrong, which lead to her being persecuted. The narrative starts with her death when hit by a car in London in 1981, and flashes back to 1940 and 1950, when she was working for the BBC.

My first, highly distracting, impression was that Ms. Atkinson overloaded her reach for historical authenticity by including too many reasonably well-known historical figures masquerading under invented names. Thus Peregrine Gibbons, the handler of agents who works from his residence in Dolphin Square, is incontrovertibly the nature-lover of ambiguous sexuality, Maxwell Knight, who, like Juliet, moves over to the BBC to work after the war. Godfrey Toby, who mysteriously ‘cuts’ Juliet after the war, is Eric Roberts, working for Knight, who pretended to be a representative of the Gestapo in encouraging the Fascist ladies. Oliver Alleyne, who is Gibbons’ boss, and who also recruits Juliet for special tasks, is presumably Guy Liddell: the name Alleyne is perhaps a deliberate echo of John Le Carré’s Percy Alleline. Miles Merton, ‘the intellectual communist’, must be based on Anthony Blunt. I glimpsed Olga Gray, and saw traces of Joan Miller (author of One Girl’s War) in Juliet. The American spy Chester Vanderkamp is indubitably the author’s name for Tyler Kent, and his partner in crime Mrs. Scaife is Anna Wolkoff of the Russian Tea Room. The introduction of a dog named Cyril who is withheld from his owner, a double-agent, clearly comes from the case-history of Anna Sergueiew. Etc. etc.

But why all the distortions? The author gets dates wrong, for instance, misrepresenting Knight’s career. She greatly overstates the function of the perceived Nazi sympathisers, a set of chattering ladies, as a ‘Fifth Column’, when it bore none of the characteristics of a force ready to take up arms in the event of an invasion. Even though Maxwell Knight’s official report on the operation (written much later) called it that, the Fifth Column menace did not rear its head until the Low Countries and France succumbed to Nazi invasion, and then blew over in a couple of months. Victor Rothschild and Anthony Blunt did not join MI5 until May of 1940. Roger Hollis was not yet a prominent officer of MI5. Ms. Atkinson anticipates the execution of German spies by about a year. The Sergueiew incident did not occur until 1943. Some of this may be deliberate – an attempt to show that the experts in counter-espionage were as deceived as anybody as to what was going on. As another MI5 officer (Hartley, who also wants to use Juliet as ‘his girl’ on a project) says: “Storm in a teacup, all that stuff about the fifth column. Bunch of frustrated housewifes, most of them. Gibbons was obsessed with them. Anyway, you were looking at the wrong people – you should have been looking at the communists, they were always the real threat.”

Kate Atkinson

So what we find here is more playing fast-and-loose with historical figures. And then I found that the author is quite candid about such games. In her ‘Author’s Note’, she admits that she ‘got a lot of it wrong, on purpose’, and ‘invented what she felt like’. Her sources show all the familiar titles (although she appears not to have used Henry Hemming’s recent biography of Maxwell Knight), and she has plucked from these the anecdotes and characters that suited her. But why? What she ends up with is neither authentic documentary nor imaginative fiction. She describes the process as ‘a wrenching apart of history followed by an imaginative reconstruction.’ No, madam: this is no Wolf Hall. And the plot is no stellar composition to compensate: the character of Juliet (who is mildly interesting to begin with, although this reviewer, appropriately sensitised by the #MeToo movement, found her urgent desires to be seduced by one or more of her mentors a trifle unsavoury) dissolves into a blur. Her involvement in a murder, and MI5’s disposal of the body, is simply melodramatic. Juliet never shows the aptitude or inclination to be a spy, and simply becomes a creature of apparently unexplained events. If there were subtle hints of her eventual political convictions to be found in earlier scenes, they certainly escaped me. I had lost interest in her before the twist in her career became clear.

Is there a deeper message here? Does ‘Transcription’ have something to do with ‘Deception’ or ‘Distortion’? Are the struggles and delusions of the Security Service an allegory of some post-imperial hangover? Does the ‘transcription’ carry a genetic metaphor, reflecting some process of DNA copying?  “Search me, guv!”, as Harold Pinter responded when an enthusiastic devotee asked him for confirmation as to what one of his plays meant. One critic of this ‘superb story of wartime espionage’ (Gerry Kimber, in the Times Literary Supplement) declared that ‘readers will eventually learn that nothing they encounter here can be taken at face value: in this novel the dividing line between truth and lies is only smoke and mirrors.’ But thriving on smoke and mirrors can lead to intellectual sloppiness, and allow the writer to get away with all manner of carelessness. This novel has many moments of humour, and insights into the world of 1940 Britain and 1950 BBC that I found convincing and familiar, even, but Juliet’s arch asides became tiresome after a while, and I was not convinced by the actions and motivations of anybody.

As readers of my critiques will now have concluded, I am not a fan of ‘novels’ which attempt to compensate for their lack of creativity in credible plot and characterisation by drawing on historical sources in a highly selective manner. And I do not think I am alone, as the recent controversy over the distortion of facts by Heather Morris in her best-selling The Tattooist of Auschwitz shows. The author’s editor at Harper Collins was quoted as saying: “It’s a novel so it didn’t need to be fact-checked, though a novel needs to have verisimilitude.” But then it should not emphasise the ‘true story’ aspect if it plays around with the facts, as the alert reader will question everything else. I happened to turn next for my bedtime reading to an often neglected book by John le Carré that truly covers the ‘smoke and mirrors’ theme: The Looking-Glass War (1964). In his Foreword, le Carré writes: “None of the characters, clubs, institutions nor intelligence organisations I have described here or elsewhere exists, or has existed to my knowledge in real life.”  That’s more like it, guv! (Though he had to say that, as they obviously did. But that’s a story for another day.)

The Secret World

For any collector of books on intelligence, Christopher Andrew’s latest work must be a necessary addition, probably to join other serious companions on the shelf of authorised histories. Yet, if such bibliophiles are like me, there will no spare space on any of their shelves, and it will have to take its place on one of the piles on the bridge-table, or heaped on the grand piano, unless I consider reclaiming shelf-space from some valuable but less solemn volumes that will be relegated to the annex. On reflection, I do not think the last option is likely. For all its 760 pages of Text, 58 pages of Sources, and 55 pages of Notes, I doubt whether I shall be referring to The Secret World often. Weighing in at three-and-a-half-pounds, however, it will undoubtedly bust many blocks. (And maybe block a few busts on top of the piano.)

So what is it about? Its subtitle runs ‘A History of Intelligence’, but the flyleaf claims that it is ‘the first global history of espionage ever written’, which is not the same thing at all. Espionage, counter-espionage, information-gathering, propaganda, deception: all those I might include under ‘Intelligence’, but I would certainly not consider state-arranged murder of its own citizens, or covert assassinations of foreign politicians, as part of that domain. Yet, in his Introduction, Andrew provocatively claims that they are. Thus, while it may be illuminating to make comparisons between the Spanish Inquisition and Stalin’s Great Terror of 1938, I question whether the classification of mass murder of innocent persons as a matter of ‘intelligence’ reflects a solid humanitarian judgment. Simply because the institution that carried out the executions was also responsible for spying on the populace, that fact does not contribute valuably to the study of the suitable deployment of ‘intelligence’ in domestic or foreign affairs. Andrew reinforces this unhappy theme by relating, in the concluding chapter, the worldwide assassination exploits of the Israeli intelligence organisation, Mossad, and controversially appears to approve such aggression as a winning strategy of ‘the most recent of the world’s most successful intelligence agencies’ in protecting the country. While ‘intelligence’ must be largely secret, however, not all that is secret counts as intelligence. These are shifting and controversial territories to be working in, and some moral compass is required.

Andrew’s dominant message is that a professional unawareness of how intelligence has been successfully (and unsuccessfully) deployed leads to repeated mistakes. Yet, as he explains in his Introduction, the excessive secrecy that attends to its role leads to delayed recognition of such awareness and to an uninformed populace. Records are not released, and histories are written with incomplete information or concealed knowledge (e.g. by such leading lights as A. J. P. Taylor and Winston Churchill respectively), with the result that whole generations are brought up on inadequate or distorted accounts of what primarily influenced outcomes. As he says, the public was protected from knowing about Ultra and the Double-Cross system decades after the events. But he does not analyse (as an outsider) or explain (as an insider) why secrets are maintained for so long. The Double-Cross system was never going to be exploited successfully against the Soviet adversary, no matter that some had delusions that it could be. Germany was never going to gain a revanchist advantage from learning how its Enigma messages had been decrypted, and the science of cryptology moved on. The VENONA secret was maintained for fifty years, but the Soviets knew about it from their spies anyway, and had fixed any procedural problems that the project would have revealed. (Moscow frequently knew much more than Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee about what was really going on in the UK’s Secret World, a point that Andrew does not explore in depth.)

At the end of the book, Andrew returns to this important question of secrecy, dedicating a few pages to Wikileaks, making the claim that not much damage was in fact performed through this breach, and that government secrets have been betrayed for centuries. But, in that case, why has the US Government granted the highest-level security clearance to one-and-a-half million employees and consultants? How could it possibly monitor and maintain a system that pretended that it could vet and trust so many persons, and that the exposure of the secrets that had been entrusted to them would cause ‘exceptionally grave damage’? And why do MI5 and SIS display such a possessive and secret attitude to files that can have no possible bearing on today’s security challenges, and refuse to release folders that have by far outlived their shelf-life? This is the obverse of Andrew’s assertion, which he does not inspect at all. (Yet it was one that came through very clearly in his 1984 collaborative work with David Dilks, The Missing Dimension.)

Sir Christopher Andrew

The bulk of the book consists of a walk through intelligence history over the millennia, but it lacks much of a roadmap. One looks, therefore, to the final chapter for perhaps a thematic summing-up. This chapter is not titled ‘Conclusions’, however, but ‘Conclusion: Twenty-First Century Intelligence in Long-Term Perspective’. Rather than neatly integrating the lessons from the past, the section disappointingly rambles all over the place, introduces much new material, and ends with the rather plodding assertion: “The more that is discovered about the long-term history of intelligence, the more difficult it will be for both policymakers and practitioners to ignore past experiences”, as if the publication of this book will suddenly make ministers, intelligence chiefs, and watchdogs around the world all suddenly perk up when Andrew had presumably not been able to convince them beforehand of the errors of their ways. Well, maybe. Old habits die hard. And if the ‘Yoda’ (see FourBooksonEspionage) of intelligence studies cannot improve matters, who will be able to? But that is what you are paying for.

To reach that conclusion, the reader will have waded through a rich cavalcade of histories of espionage and deceit through the ages. The early parts had a little too much religion and mythology for my liking, much of the story having an anecdotal and unreliable aspect that may not bear much rigorous examination. (His narrative also served to remind me how the interminable feuds between Catholics and Protestants disproportionately influenced state policies, and how calamitous such futile religious commitments were for the peace of Europe.) Thereafter, the reader can pick up some of the lessons that recur over the centuries: the analogies between Ivan the Terrible and Stalin, for instance; the fact that despots want to be told what they have already preconceived (the difficulty of telling ‘Truth-to-Power’), disdaining intermediary intelligence-analysing bodies; and the requirement for governments to avoid proving an allegation against a foreign power by disclosing the clandestine channel through which they acquired it. (Though the existence of those hidden cameras in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Ankara had to be revealed for the greater good.)

But it would have been useful for Andrew to have identified up-front some themes that were important to the use of intelligence in strategy, and relate them to the epochs he studies. For example, how relevant today are lessons from the Second Punic War as opposed to those from WWII? What technological developments in the past fifty years have caused strategic assessment to change? In the final chapter he tries to recapitulate, by making some highly important points about the necessity for imagination when assessing the motivations and practices of the foe: these indeed point to some enduring patterns. Thus he shows how important open-ended questions for agents assessing German weapons programmes in WWII were, a lesson forgotten by the CIA sixty years later when it sought intelligence on Iraq. And he reminds us that both Stalin’s and Hitler’s obsessions, at different times of the war (Stalin’s determination to assassinate Trotsky, Hitler’s pursuit of the Final Solution) were completely misread by intelligence analysts in the West. Yet only in the last sentence of the penultimate chapter does he introduce his theory of Historical Attention-Span Deficit Disorder (HASDD), which he had briefly introduced in his Introduction. Why so late? Moreover, this is a global study: is misuse of intelligence cancelled out if it is perpetrated by adversaries, such as the West on the one side and Russia or China on the other? It is as if he (rightly) feels uncomfortable about giving advice to regimes for whose goals he does not bear any sympathy, but this matter is never explored.

By dint of this rather strange structure, Andrew does not really perform justice to the richness of lessons to be learned. Would it not have been educational, for instance, to make some comparisons between surveillance and containment activities undertaken by totalitarian regimes to further their control over perceived enemies, and those pursued in constitutional democracies? How should policies differ in peace and war, and how should they change in that time when the former drifts into the latter? What lessons should we take from the successes of state-sponsored assassination – that it works for some democracies, but not others, and is not justifiable when committed by more authoritarian states (Israel, yes, but not Russia or North Korea, perhaps)? It would have been enlightening if he had offered an analysis of how many of Israel’s 2700 targeted killings were a) strategically beneficial, and b) justifiable. Such passages really shocked this reader, who looked for more context and analysis.

It would also have been useful for him to have explored the question of political organisation of intelligence. For example, should leaders’ recognition of the strategic value of intelligence be translated into close contact with intelligence heads, or should it concentrate instead on the building of the appropriate processes and structures, and the recruitment of the right people (not potential traitors!), including enough individuals with appropriate language skills, and giving them training and a proper budget?  (The former could indicate the latter has been ignored, of course. Executive politicians come and go: institutions endure.) He could have inspected successful patterns for developing mechanisms for sharing intelligence across different groups of the armed forces, and encouraging objective assessment. He could have explored cases where intelligence personnel showed imagination in not assuming that the enemy worked and thought as themselves. Britain, in the Chamberlain era, ignored nearly all these rules, and it took Churchill to make amends, such as giving the Joint Intelligence Centre some real teeth and focus, but policy towards the Soviet Union in World War II was marred by the Foreign Office’s belief that, if handled nicely, Stalin would behave like a typical English gentleman, rather than the Georgian gangster he always was. Readers will learn much more about such matters from, say, Ralph Bennett’s Behind the Battle (a work not appearing in Andrew’s Bibliography, but one which he could profitably have read) than they will from The Secret World.

Andrew’s judgments are largely unsurprising and sometimes questionable, I think, and he steps back from exploring really important topical matters, such as the use of modern technology (e.g. encryption, social media) in both subversion and counter-subversion. Neither Apple nor Facebook appears in the Index. He offers a few pages on Islamic fundamentalism, but does not discuss the critical subject of taqiyya, Islamic propaganda with a devious religious spin, or recommend how it should be countered. He represents 9/11 as a failure to combine the preparation for a threat originating on foreign soil with delivery inside the nation’s boundaries, when the plotters were in fact able to pass undetected because of woeful lack of communication and collaboration by the country’s intelligence agencies. He comes up with a knee-jerk assessment of McCarthyism that contains all the fashionably correct codewords: “The outrageous exaggerations and inventions of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s self-serving anti-Communist witch-hunt in the early 1950s made liberal opinion skeptical for the remainder of the Cold War of the reality of the Soviet intelligence offensive”, as if McCarthy had been responsible for the concealment of communists undertaken by such as the State Department. If there was a ‘reality of the Soviet intelligence offensive’, how should it have been revealed when it had already succeeded in its infiltration? Why was ‘liberal opinion’ so appeasingly indulged? How would experience have helped? Andrew ventures no opinion. He spends an enormous amount of print on Pearl Harbor, but barely scrapes the surface of the Soviet Union’s Red Orchestra and spy network in World War II, and how it affected critical negotiations between the Big Three towards the end of the conflict.

What it boils down to is that repeated patterns of activity are not really that interesting, while integrating growing knowledge of intelligence into historiography is endlessly so. That is why rewriting WWII history in the light of revealed secrets about Ultra, for example, is an ongoing task: even histories written in the 1990s were not able to take advantage of the raw decrypts that have now been released to the National Archives. He mentions this in his Introduction, but does not follow through. Instead, in order to provide some linkage with the present, Andrew has chosen to develop some leitmotifs that are entertaining, though not always revelatory. It is worth quoting a few:

“Scot was the first, and so far the only, British intelligence chief executed for treason.” (p 231)

“Before he [James II] could escape, however, he was caught by fishermen looking for fleeing Catholic priests, and suffered the humiliation of becoming the only British monarch ever to be strip-searched.” (P 250)

“Wallis was the first, and so far the only, British codebreaker to receive an award from a foreign ruler.” (P 253)

“Among the most reluctant witnesses to give evidence in the Lords against Atterbury was Edward Willes, the only codebreaker ever to appear before Parliament.” (p 274)

“His [Swift’s] Gulliver’s Travels contains the first (and so far the only) satire of codebreaking by a major British writer.” (p 275)

“So far as is known, following the failure of the Cadoudal conspiracy [1804], no British government or government agency approved another plot to assassinate a foreign leader until the Second World War.” (P 338)

“The identity of ‘Michel’ was discovered from the handwriting and he became probably the only Russian spy ever to be sent to the guillotine.” (P 355)

“After the Bolshevik Revolution, Stalin placed all the volumes in his personal archive and brooded over them for many years, making extensive annotations and occasional doodles. So far as is known, no other world leader has ever spent so much time brooding over the intelligence record of his past life.” (P 441)

“Apis and three fellow officers were shot by firing squad. He thus became the first intelligence chief [of Serbia] of the twentieth century to be executed.” (P 448)

“Thanks to the failure of the Cheka to provide security, Lenin became the first, and so far the only, head of government to be the victim of a carjack.” (P 574)

“He [Kalugin] became the first (and possibly the last) KGB officer to serve on the Columbia University Student Council.” (P 685)

Does this pattern represent a nervous tic, or does it show innovative scholarship? I leave the reader to decide. But it must be passages like this that prompted Ben Macintyre to assert, in an interview in the New York Times Book Review, that The Secret World is ‘easy to dip into’ and ‘surprisingly funny’. I did not laugh much – but then I was not dipping.

While this critic was sometimes overwhelmed by the panorama of historical figures, many of whom I had not encountered before, I must credit the tremendous scholarship that has gone into this publication. Did Andrew really compose it all himself? Can any single scholar have read all those works listed? He thanks dozens of academics in his Acknowledgements, many of whom ‘notably extended my grasp of intelligence by allowing me to supervise their PhD theses’. Yet those theses are not listed separately, and only four such writers (Gioe, Gustafson, Larsen and Lokhova, whose contribution is actually an MPhil dissertation) have their theses listed in the Bibliography. On the other hand I did notice references to Cambridge University theses by authors whose names do not appear in the Acknowledgments. Were projects delegated to different scholars? I ask simply because I do not know how the process worked, although I have read that Andrew, who said that his writing of Defend the Realm was for him a part-time occupation, did on that project have junior academics performing primary research for him in the MI5 archives.

Irrespective of how the project functioned, or whether everyone has received the credit due to them, any seams are overall well concealed, and Andrew’s copy-editor has performed a solid job in providing stylistic consistency. Some deep textual analysis might show multiple authors at work: I spotted ‘different to’ on page 346, and ‘different from’ on page 490, which would be an unusual syntactic habit by an established academic with a competency for polished prose. Occasionally, errors occur: repeated textual descriptions and references (even in the same chapter) come up quite regularly, suggesting a text that has undergone homogenization without complete cross-checking.  An individual map appears twice. ‘Bagration’ (from the Index) appears as ‘Bagratian’ (in the text). Rear-Admiral Macintire appears as ‘Macintyre’ in the same line (p 633). Colonel House appears sometimes as ‘Colonel’ House, as if it were a nickname. (The author invites readers to contact him with notices of errors, but does not indicate how.)

As for sources, Andrew quotes his own works a little too much for my liking, and I found it bizarre that he, as the authorised historian of MI5, would cite Ben Macintyre’s Double Cross as a source. He stresses the importance of the American journalists Woodward and Bernstein, but fails to mention anything that Chapman Pincher wrote, or the contribution that Pincher made to drawing attention to murky secrets. On the other hand, Andrew is a bit too eager to mention his acolyte Svetlana Lokhova (see FourBooksonEspionage), who even gains credit for her entrepreneurship: “The investigation of the Kremlin plot, whose voluminous files have recently been discovered by Svetlana Lokhova, revealed a security shambles on an even larger scale.” It was not as if Ms. Lokhova had been tramping intrepidly through the Amazon jungle in search of a lost tribe: she would not have been able to ‘discover’ those voluminous files without some high-up permission and guidance. Yet Andrew has no room for Lokhova’s profile of Shumovsky, The Spy Who Changed History, which essentially glorified the Soviet Union’s purloining of American scientific secrets. Is Andrew suggesting that the lessons of HASDD be applied consistently by potential global adversaries? It is all rather uneven, and reflects very indeterminate principles.

In conclusion, I should have liked Andrew to explore this notion of HASDD in more detail, and how it relates to the defence of the constitutional democracies. After all, we should assume that his lessons are for the ‘good guys’ (the liberal democracies) rather than for the ‘bad guys’ (authoritarian or totalitarian states, or transnational terrorist organisations). Andrew does not make this explicit: he describes China’s efforts to erase any memories of Tiananmen Square, but does not offer us an opinion of whether this initiative to improve state security is commendable, or to be deplored. (Is a stable but authoritarian and expansive China better for the West than a China that starts to fragment or crumble?) Nor does he encompass the possibility, as we are frequently told these days, that the democracies may well be at risk more from the imitation of illiberal democracies, or from the sway of undemocratic superstates, than they are from ideological would-be territorial invaders, such as the Nazis and the Communists. That former warning is, presumably, the moral message he is leaving with us, rather than a sermon on how an inattention to historical precedent sometimes inhibits China’s new imperialism, or Iran’s regional ambitions.

Does this HASDD syndrome reflect a problem of structure, personnel, process, or skills? Is it the fault of the intelligence services, the politicians, (in Britain) the Joint Intelligence Committee, or some other agency? Is this a uniquely British/American condition? And, if he considers that the lore of successful spycraft is not properly understood and applied, why is he surprised, given that the security services (in the UK) were not admitted to exist until the 1990s, that the authorised history of SIS stops in 1949, that both MI5 and SIS have engaged in cover-ups to conceal their mistakes, and that they have selectively broken the Official Secrets Act by allowing journalists access to secret files in order to write publications that would act as public relations exercises? After all, the authorised histories avoid the really contentious issues that might provide learning examples for HASDD. It is no wonder that there exists a substantial amount of suspicion about the effectiveness of both institutions.

Coming closer to home (well, my spiritual home, I suppose, but I suspect I have more readers in the UK than in the USA), what needs to be done to improve British intelligence? In response to Andrew’s examples from more recent times, were the close links between Sir Richard Dearlove (head of SIS) and Anthony Blair that the author highlighted a sign of greater ministerial awareness, or of dangerous cronyism? Clement Attlee, as he points out, had frequent meetings with Percy Sillitoe, the head of MI5, but what Andrew does not say is that it did not help Attlee, since Sillitoe lied to his PM over the Fuchs case, in order to save the Service. How actively should the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee monitor MI5? Shouldn’t there be a vigorous filter between intelligence collection and executive action – the JIC? Andrew supports the establishment of centres for study into intelligence and security matters, but are those who teach there going to be unrestrained by pledges of secrecy? Would research carried on under their auspices address the HASDD problem? And does each faculty then become part of that inescapable irritatingly-named entity ‘the intelligence community’? Is it good or bad that members of this group might have different views on intelligence matters? If it is indeed a ‘community’, should MI5 and SIS be combined, since the Empire no longer exists, and many threats to security do not recognize national boundaries?  Do retired heads of MI5 and SIS, voicing their opinions on national security on public platforms, help or hinder the task of guiding policy? These are some of the questions that it would have been useful for Andrew to address.

And, as a final thought – perhaps intelligence is sometimes overrated. In life we learn that the predatory behavior of a bully is best resisted as early as possible, as the malefactor will otherwise assume that his aggression works for him, and will repeat it. At the time of Hitler’s militarization of the Rhineland in 1936, and Stalin’s claims for possession of the Baltic States in 1941, both bullies were relatively weak, and yet they were not challenged. Is it the same with President Xi, and his demands on Taiwan, and the construction of artificial islands in the China Sea? No furtive gathering of information was necessary to divine what was happening in either of the two historical instances, yet the fear of ‘provocation’ overrode the political conviction that what deters bullies best is a quick biff on the nose – or, at least, its diplomatic equivalent. And autocrats are more transparent in that they don’t have to avoid decisions that might lose them the next election (unlike Stanley Baldwin). We can perhaps get too caught up in the fog of intelligence, and forget some simple psychological lessons.

I suppose part of the problem in taking on a task of this magnitude is the truth that Andrew has become part of the official intelligence apparatus. That leads to a paradox – a Morton’s Fork. If Andrew is indeed that firmly embedded, it must be impossible for him to analyse objectively the infrastructure to which he belongs. Yet, if he were an outsider, he would not be privy to much of the knowledge of how the apparatus works, because it is so secret, although sometimes unnecessarily so. An insider knows too much, an outsider too little. Moreover, it is difficult to write a volume that serves as both objective history as well as a tutorial on intelligence and spycraft. The Secret World is thus a compromise: a monumental and educational undertaking of great academic quality, testimony to some impressive research, but lacking a clear charter, and failing to explore ruthlessly enough the patterns of failure and success in governments’ deployment of intelligence. There is a book to be written about that latter topic, but Andrew’s is not it.

(This month’s new Commonplace entries can be found here.)

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