Category Archives: Espionage/Intelligence

What Gouzenko Said About ELLI

‘This Was My Choice’

Introduction

In my May report on ELLI, I set out to make the case that a group of intelligence officers, primarily in MI5, had attempted to frame Roger Hollis as the mysterious spy whose cryptonym was revealed by the defector from Soviet Military Intelligence (the GRU), Igor Gouzenko. I did not explore why they did this – a detailed analysis is a subject for another day. In brief, it was a convenient cover for MI5’s general indolence over the ELLI business, and its failure to put the matter to bed. To have a cloud hanging over Hollis (one that not even Burke Trend in his careful investigation could dispel) provided them with a scapegoat, and an explanation for all those failings that had reportedly damaged MI5’s performance in Soviet counter-espionage. At the same time, apart from the fanatics like Peter Wright and Arthur Martin, most officers probably believed that Hollis was innocent, not being ready to credit him with the brains and wiles to deceive his colleagues so ably. (And even Arthur Martin recanted in his old age.) Yet Chapman Pincher’s vigorous claims about Hollis’s guilt have dominated public perceptions.

Another dimension of the case fit for exploration is that list of intelligence failures which led Wright and his colleagues to assume that MI5 had been betrayed by an insider, a catalogue written up in Wright’s Spycatcher, and in Nigel West’s Molehunt. Again, an inspection of how real these failures were, and whether they should have been justly ascribed primarily to high-level leakages, will have to wait for treatment another time. But a third dimension is what occupies my research this month –  the testimony of Igor Gouzenko. How could it be that the presumably straightforward evidence he gave of ELLI’s activity has been so miscommunicated, distorted, denied, overlooked, even concealed? I decided that a stricter investigation into what he said to various persons and agencies was merited, as an attempt to shed light on the rather bewildering behaviour of those who should have been processing his disclosures.

I shall not dwell here on Gouzenko’s character. He was by most accounts a difficult man, greedy, obstinate, peevish, litigious, and ill-mannered. While he impressed his interlocutors in Ottawa with his memory and clarity of thinking, his articulation was once described during earlier interrogations as incoherent. Irrespective of his personal faults, however, he displayed a willful contrariness in his testimony over the years, and it is hard to ascribe his inconsistences simply to a failing memory, or to the much-questioned fact of his alcoholism. For my own purposes, I knew I needed to apply a strict chronology to his statements, so that I could more easily cross-refer those assertions that collided. And that is what this report consists of.

This is not an easy read – one perhaps for the aficionados only. (Casual readers may wish to skip to the Conclusions after reading ‘Statements and Confessions’ below.) The construction of the report has helped crystallise my thinking, however, and I believe that the piece will constitute an important resource for any other historian/researcher who wants to investigate the bizarre ELLI phenomenon, and to shed further light on it. (And if I have missed any relevant Gouzenko statements, please let me know.)

Statements and Confessions

In their attempts to prosecute spies, MI5 and the Department of Public Prosecutions have always relied heavily on confessions. The prevailing methods of gaining evidence (telephone surveillance, or transcripts of intercepted hostile communications) were considered too secret to be used in court, and would probably have been dismissed anyway as being too vague and circumstantial. Thus, apart from catching the suspect red-handed in the act of passing over documents to his or her controller (as Special Branch hoped to trap Nunn May), the spy had to be persuaded to make a confession.

Yet even that process was problematic. Klaus Fuchs was inveigled into making a statement to Bill Skardon, and it represented the primary evidence in his trial. MI5 knew, however, that it was probably compromised by the fact that it had been offered under duress, as some sort of quid pro quo. Fuchs’s lawyer was not canny enough (or had been guided otherwise) to show that the statement was thus tainted, and the case was quickly concluded. Or the process could be more fortuitous. George Blake was so offended by the suggestion that he had spied for the Reds for mercenary reasons that he blurted out that his espionage had been performed out of ideological purity.

The UK authorities were normally less eager to prosecute homegrown spies (apart from Nunn May), a public trial threatening to become a total embarrassment. Thus, with the Cambridge Five, seeking a confession was more a method of clearing the books, and trading an apology for facts, in the hope that the lack of publicity would allow the whole story to be buried. Yet MI5 counter-intelligence officers and Civil Service mandarins displayed an enormous amount of naivety in so doing. They dithered over interrogating Donald Maclean (who might well have succumbed, given his psychological state), allowing him to escape with Burgess. They gained a minimal confession from Cairncross at first, and banished him from government employment. Nicholas Elliott extracted a weaselly confession from Philby in Beirut, but Philby absconded immediately afterwards. Blunt was offered a pardon on the basis that he would make a full confession, and would also confirm to his interrogators that he had not spied since the end of the war [!]. He obliged, but lied in so doing, and his confession was by no means ‘full’. At the second take, Cairncross gave a fuller confession, but it was on American soil, and thus not valid evidence in an English court. Moreover, he declined to repeat it after being given the requisite legal warning.

With defectors, one might expect the business to be cut and dried. After all, they were volunteering information, and their intentions were presumably friendly. The process of interrogation should have been leisurely, and the ability of their questioners to verify the story should have been explicit. One might thus assume that signed statements would become an integral part of the data collection exercise. Yet this phenomenon also had its problems – concerning language, fear, accessibility, and trustworthiness.

The closest analog to Gouzenko’s situation is probably that of Walter Krivitsky. After receiving the fatal message of recall to Moscow, Krivitsky abandoned his position with the GRU, escaped from France to the United States, and was then marooned in Canada. He agreed to come to the UK to be interrogated, because he might have needed favours in order to gain a residence permit. Having arrived in January 1940, he was cloistered in a hotel for over three weeks, where he was interrogated primarily by Major Alley, a Russian speaker, and Kathleen (Jane) Archer, MI5’s expert on Soviet intelligence. He was initially nervous, but Archer gained his confidence. Krivitsky, while virulently anti-Stalin, was however still a Communist. He did not want to betray any personal colleagues, and he did not want to make MI5’s job too easy. He spoke only a little English.

The outcome was that Archer was able to compile from Krivitsky’s testimony a lengthy and authoritative report on Stalin’s policies, and the organisation of Soviet intelligence. Krivitsky had already published revealing articles in the USA, so he knew he was a marked man, but here he was able to provide more targeted hints at the nature of Soviet espionage against Britain. Yet he never signed off on the report, which was compiled after he left. The discussions proceeded rather haphazardly, and probably according to Krivitsky’s whims. As Archer wrote: “The facts and views expressed are put down as nearly as possible as told by him. The work represents an attempt to sort out and put into coherent form a mass of information gleaned from KRIVITSKY at odd moments in the course of lengthy and diffuse conversations extending over three or four weeks.” Nothing was tape-recorded. Later attempts to contact Krivitsky to clarify points failed. He was murdered in Washington in February 1941.

The bulk of Igor Gouzenko’s overall testimony was diligently recorded, as the Canadian Government set up a commission to investigate the circumstances of his defection, and the details of the spy-ring he uncovered, but his evidence about Soviet espionage in Britain was more problematic. Even though he was bitterly opposed to the whole Communist system, and thus sincere in wanting to reveal all he knew, he was highly suspicious – because he believed all government institutions might have been infiltrated by Stalin’s agents. Moreover, what he had to reveal about the UK was primarily information gained at second-hand – and the Canadian government warned him about not disclosing ‘hearsay’ evidence as factual. His spoken English was also poor (although the demonstration of that fact is ambiguous), and his early interrogations suffered from a highly undisciplined approach by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which was unpractised in such matters. Hence the regrettable muddle about exactly what he said, when, and how reliable such statements were. It is for that reason that my task here is to report and analyse closely everything that Gouzenko was reputed to have said or written about the mysterious figure known as ‘ELLI’.

I thus concentrate here not on the broader material on the organisation of the GRU, and the profiles of its agents in Canada, provided by Gouzenko, and thoroughly documented, but solely the scattered comments he made on Soviet penetration of British Intelligence in London.  I identify these (including some events that may be purely apocryphal) individually as follows:

Summary of Gouzenko’s Statements

  1. Informal statements to the RCMP, communicated by Dwyer in daily reports (early and mid-September, 1945)
  2. The so-called ‘BSC Report’ (September 15 et al.)
  3. The ZILONE telegram (October 16)
  4. The statement in late October
  5. The interrogation on October 29
  6. Re-interrogation and cables in early November
  7. The interview by Roger Hollis on November 21
  8. The RCMP Report (November)
  9. The testimony to the Commission (February, 1946)
  10. The interview by Guy Liddell (March 20)
  11. A possible second interview by Hollis (May 23)
  12. Commentary on the Hollis report (November 1946)
  13. Statements in Gouzenko’s Autobiography (1948)
  14. Ann Last’s Notebook (1950)
  15. The statement to the RCMP in 1952
  16. The memorandum from the FBI (October 1952)
  17. Senator Jenner’s sub-committee (January 1954)
  18. The response to Stewart in 1972
  19. Communications with Chapman Pincher

1. Informal Statements to the RCMP:

Officers of the RCMP began interrogating Gouzenko, and then releasing the information they learned to Peter Dwyer (of MI6 and BSC) and his colleague John-Paul Evans, immediately he was moved to his first safe house, probably around September 10, 1945. Dwyer then began sending daily bulletins back to Kim Philby in MI6. The RCMP was not very well organized. According to the officer John Batza, John Leopold (whose Russian was not very good) started interviewing Gouzenko in the first cabin in which he and his wife were installed, at Kemptville. Evans and Dwyer did not question Gouzenko themselves, a fact confirmed by Evans. In a letter to David Stafford (the author of Camp X) Evans wrote that Leopold was the only direct contact with Gouzenko. “He would spend some time with him each day, going over the translations which he would have made to date and questioning him as required. He would bring the material to me and I would write it up and raise queries as they arose. Peter would also study the results and generally deal with matters of liaison.” This procedure was not ideal, but at least suggested an attempt to verify facts. Thus the early signals that Guy Liddell and co. received about ‘ELLI’ originated in less than perfect surroundings, but should have resulted in greater precision.

Ormond Uren

The only mention of ELLI in this period is the statement in Guy Liddell’s cable of September 23: “Reference your CXG 301 of 13.9.45 – do not consider that ELLI could be identical with UREN.” So what can one draw from this, given that the cable of September 13 has not been released? Gouzenko certainly did not know about SOE, the Special Operations Executive, where Ormond Uren had served. Dwyer assuredly knew that Uren had been convicted for espionage, but his suggestions that Uren was ELLI might have been a wild stab, the statement that he was working on not necessarily including any reference to SOE, or connections with Moscow.

Yet Liddell quickly dismissed Uren’s candidature, while not rejecting the SOE link. Gouzenko and Dwyer must have passed on additional information that did more than claim that a spy was at large in British Intelligence. It is more likely that the hints provided enough of a clue that indicated to Liddell (any maybe Dwyer) a link between ELLI and SOE, rather than between him and MI5 or MI6. That can only have been because of knowledge of the presence of the SOE station in Moscow, and it would thus point to the fact that Gouzenko had made a claim about the existence in 1942 of a British Intelligence spy in the Kremlin. Liddell’s familiarity with George Hill’s set-up in Moscow, alongside his awareness of Uren’s conviction for espionage, must have suggested to him that Uren was at least a plausible explanation. As I wrote in May: “Something in the information provided by Gouzenko must have indicated to him either a) that there were corners of SOE’s organisation that were not known to Uren, or b) that the disclosures had occurred either before his recruitment to SOE (in 1942) or after his arrest (in July 1943), or c) that the additional hints about ‘Russian descent’ excluded Uren. The third alternative seems the most likely, and may have pointed him towards Alley. In addition, Uren was known to have worked by supplying secrets to Dave Springhall, not to a Soviet handler from the Embassy.”

2. The BSC Report:

This item was not a singular document, but something that was regularly amended after its first publication, and it reflected the evolving story as described by Gouzenko. (BSC was British Security Coordination, the wartime intelligence organisation set up in New York under Bill Stephenson.) Amy Knight (p 60) presents it in the following terms: “  . . . the British had put together a comprehensive report on behalf of the BSC, entitled “Intelligence Department of the Red Army in Moscow and Ottawa, 1945”, and she sources it as C293177 in the CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) files on Gouzenko. For clarification, she adds that ‘the report listed twenty-seven individuals who were connected with Zabotin’s GRU network in Canada, including an American scientist named Arthur Steinberg.’

Old Alleynian Peter Dwyer

While this document has not been released, it would appear to be in essence the same as the document residing in the Gouzenko file at the National Archives, in KV 2/1420. Titled ‘THE CORBY CASE’, it is introduced by verbiage (dated 25.9.45) that explains that the following pages should be interleaved or substituted into the preliminary report. The dates of the inserts range from September 13 to October 7, and this Issue Number 3 was posted on October 30. It does indeed include a reference to Steinberg, but, as with many other sections, it has been redacted, and no information about him is visible. Since Knight is able to quote Dwyer’s and Evans’s comments on Steinberg, presumably from the Canadian version, it seems odd that this information had to be redacted when the copy was stored in the UK.

It is page 30 of the British version of this report that contains a reference to ELLI, as described by William Tyrer in his article ‘The Unresolved Mystery of ELLI’, where he describes the report as ‘the long report from the RCMP’ (thus a source of some confusion). The whole page has been removed, but ELLI’s substance is confirmed by the Alphabetical Index of Cover Names, where ELLI is differentiated from ELLIE (Kay Willsher) as ‘Unidentified agent in England in 1943’. This would appear to offer adequate proof that Gouzenko had provided tangible evidence about the mysterious spy. That certain names were too sensitive to be displayed is confirmed by two cables from New York, dated September 14 (Sns. 11A & 12A of KV 2/1420-2), which list by alphabetic letter a summary of station agents, from A to S (who happens to be STEINBERG). Items M & N have been redacted, but it is not clear who has been omitted, as this is a very preliminary list, and the cable concludes: ‘Name of further individuals to be uncovered shortly.’

Tyrer was nevertheless able to extract an important item from the Canadian archive dating from this period, and it makes sense to include it as part of ‘The BSC Report’, since it is this testimony to which the Index entry must surely relate. Tyrer assumes that this document (given as C293235 in MG26 J4, Vol 417, Library and Archives Canada) is the same as the item removed from the BSC Report, and I am sure he is right. His quoted text runs as follows:

            Alleged Agent in British Intelligence

Corby [the codename for Gouzenko] states that while he was in the Central Code Section [in Moscow] in 1942 or 1943, he heard about a Soviet agent in England, allegedly a member of the British Intelligence Service. This agent, who was of Russian descent, had reported that the British had a very important agent of their own in the Soviet Union, who was apparently being run by someone in Moscow. The latter refused to disclose his agent’s identity even to his headquarters in London. When this message arrived it was received by a Lt. Col. Polakova who, in view of its importance, immediately got in touch with Stalin himself by telephone.

I presented this, as quoted by Amy Knight, in my May coldspur bulletin (while drawing attention to her misattribution of the occasion as Hollis’s non-existent interrogation of Gouzenko in September), and, indeed, she gives page 30 as the source, thus confirming the equivalence, and showing that the fuller text in the Canadian archive compensates for the redacted version in the British archives. The timing of the communication of this nugget would appear to confirm also that this is the item that excited Dwyer/Evans and Liddell, and started them on the trail of hypothesizing about SOE and the station in Moscow. KV 2/1420 informs us that Sergeant Bayfield of the RCMP probably brought the original version of this report straight to Menzies on September 16. Roger Hollis brought with him updates to it when he returned to the UK on September 28.

3. The ZILONE telegram:

As I reported in March, the Gouzenko archive (KV 2/1421, s.n. 35a) shows a cryptic and incomplete reference, dated October 16, in Telegram No 533, sent with some urgency (‘MOST IMMEDIATE’). Its text runs as follows:

A. CORBY states that cover name for ?all foreign ?intelligence or counter espionage services is ZILONE repeat ZILONE meaning green in Russian.

B. Agent referred to by CORBY in 534 was referred to as working in ZILONE.

So why was the revelation that the agent that Gouzenko had identified worked in counterintelligence suddenly that urgent? Had that fact not been communicated in September? ZILONE could presumably refer to either MI5 or MI6 – but also to SOE, since the Soviets made no distinction between SOE and MI6 (as this telegram confirms), which may have been significant. It might seem that someone in London had raised a question, and that Gouzenko wanted to clarify that his ‘Central Code Section’ handled traffic from all British intelligence services.

4. The Statement in Late October:

Igor and Svetlana Gouzenko

In early October, the Gouzenkos were moved to Smith’s Falls, to a place on Otter Lake, and here, according to one report, a more competent translator, Mervyn Black (who was born of Scottish parents in Petrograd), was introduced. Soon after that, a more permanent accommodation was found, much nearer Toronto, in a farmhouse at the Camp X establishment, which was an SOE training facility, and communications centre. The testimony provided in Gouzenko: The Untold Story, the compilation by John Sawatsky, is unfortunately not very reliable. George Mackay, another RCMP officer, claimed that Gouzenko, shortly after he and his wife arrived, ‘was being interviewed by various people in the Mounted Police and some MI5 people’. (He presumably meant ‘MI6’ or ‘BSC’, but his evidence is the only testimony that suggests non-RCMP personnel were allowed to visit.) Moreover, despite the seclusion, and the availability of more appropriate buildings nearby, the method of interrogation was still crude. Another RCMP officer, Don Fast, contributed that ‘a lot of the debriefings took place in the car’, as the authorities ‘were trying to get him away from the noise and the child and whatnot.’

On the other hand, Svetlana Gouzenko remarked that Leopold was still active on the interrogation team at Camp X, but continuing to struggle, misunderstanding what her husband said, and constructing organisation charts that were ‘wrong’. She indicated that, on one occasion, ‘six or seven of them [RCMP officers] would be all downstairs at this big farm table and they would be sitting there’, adding that ‘each of them would look for some point that he wanted clarified’. It sounds all very chaotic, especially as Gouzenko did not trust the RCMP.

Another account suggests that Black was involved by then as chief interpreter. Amy Knight cites a letter from the CSIS files, dated October 11, when Inspector George McLellan of the RCMP wrote to Rivett-Carnac in Ottawa: “I would like to point out that under the present conditions at Rexall [Camp X] at the moment, Black laboured under much difficulty in obtaining the statement already submitted herewith, and it will take some days to get a complete statement in the manner in which you want it. This is due to the fact that Corby has somewhat of a dreamer mentality and it is extremely difficult to pin him down to the business at hand.” Such observations anticipate the frustrations later expressed by Liddell over the lack of coherence in Gouzenko’s evidence.

Guy Liddell reports a further bulletin from Gouzenko during this period. His diary entry for October 24 (also recorded by Tyrer) runs as follows:

John Marriott showed me a new wire which has come in from the other side indicating that the CORBY case is breaking. Warnings have obviously been given to a number of people. There is also a further telegram about the agent known as ELLI who is alleged to hold some high position in British intelligence. References are made to C.E. [counter-intelligence] but as CORBY’s theories are only based on scraps of information picked up here and there there is not much to work on. It is possible in mentioning the figure 5 he is referring to the five people who formerly signed JIC reports. It equally does not follow that because information is high-grade it comes from a highly-placed officer. It may mean that an extra copy of JIC reports is coming off the roneo and being passed by a clerk. In this connection the KING case is not a bad illustration. Hooper always referred to Vansittart as the source of the information and we found afterwards that his name was only used to cover up the high-grade reports received from cypher communications which KING was handing out to the Russians.

Tyrer reports that this telegram (and the following one) were sent ‘during Hollis’s second visit to Canada’, as if implying that his presence had something to do with the distribution, but that cannot be true. This cable was probably sent – and arrived via Philby – before Hollis left. Hollis did not depart until October 22, sailing from Southampton for Halifax on the Queen Elizabeth, and thus would not have arrived in Ottawa until several days later. His first report from there (concerning Nunn May) appears to have been sent on October 31. In any case, Hollis soon moved to Washington for meetings between Attlee and Truman, and a note from Petrie indicates that he wanted Hollis to stay there until November 18. Indeed, on November 19, Hollis reported a meeting with Edgar Hoover, chief of the FBI. The RCMP, however, pressed for him to return to Ottawa before he took his seat on the Clipper on November 26 to return to the UK.

The cable itself has not been released, so we are left puzzling over that first enigmatic reference to ‘the figure 5’, and what it meant. One of the ‘Cambridge Five’? – I do not think that that interpretation has been considered. In any case, the attitude of Liddell seems extremely blasé, even irresponsible. Even if the spy were not as ‘high-grade’ as the information supplied, that was no reason for complacency. The KING case had alerted MI5 to gross lapses in security at the Foreign Office, and here was possible evidence that similar poor practices were in use at one of the intelligence agencies.

5. The Interrogation on October 29:

“Gouzenko: The Untold Story”

Knight draws attention to the next incident, an interrogation that took place on October 29, recorded only in handwritten notes, and sources it as ‘Transcript 000009, interview 2, October 29’. It is possible that Gouzenko returned to Ottawa for this briefing, but the fact that the notes were only hand-written suggests that the interrogation was less formal. There again, the evidence from the RCMP officers is unreliable. In Gouzenko: The Untold Story (where dates are almost completely absent), Herb Spanton states that he took Johnny Leopold to Camp X, where he met [sic] Gouzenko, suggesting that he had not encountered him before – a claim that contradicts what Batza had earlier stated about Leopold’s acting as translator at Kemptville (see above). Spanton added that ‘the next day we left for Ottawa [a journey of about 250 miles] and Igor came with us, but he wouldn’t ride in the same car as Leopold.’ As far as Gouzenko was concerned, Leopold was a spy. Yet The Gouzenko Transcripts present Leopold as ‘close to an expert on communism and the Soviet Union as the R.C.M.P. possessed’. (p 155)

Be that as it may, Gouzenko provided further clues about ELLI during this interrogation. Apparently he said that it was

            . . . possible that he or she is identical with the agent with a Russian background who Kulakoff [Kulakov, Gouzenko’s successor, who had recently come from Moscow] spoke of – there could be 2 agents concerned in this matter. CORBY handled telegrams submitted by ELLI . . .  ELLI could not give the name of the [British] agent in Moscow because of security reasons. ELLI [was]already working as an agent when CORBY took up his duties in Moscow in May 1942 and was still working when Kulakoff arrived in Canada in May 1945. Kulakov said agent with a Russian connection held a high position. CORBY from decoding messages said ELLI had access to exclusive info.

The most remarkable aspect of this item, for me, is the twice-told statement that Gouzenko himself was responsible for ‘handling’ and ‘decoding’ messages from ELLI. The verifiability of this activity will have serious implications as the story progresses. What also stands out is the suggestion that telegrams were ‘submitted by ELLI’. That cannot be right, as ELLI would not have direct access to Embassy cable resources. Messages from ELLI would have been packaged by his or her controller. This must be an error of understanding/translation. The fresh revelations from Kulakov concerning the spy’s still being active in 1945 would dispel any lingering illusions about Uren.

6. Re-interrogation and cables in early November:

Guy Liddell’s next diary entry on ELLI appears dated November 5. One might assume that it refers to the interrogation of October 29.  It runs, however, as follows:

Marriott showed me some recent telegrams on the subject of ELLI. CORBY has been re-interrogated and refers to an incident where the Soviet M.A. in London referred to information that he had received from ELLI relating to a British agent in Russia. As the only organisations that can possibly have been running a British agent in Russia were SIS, SOE or the British Military Mission, it seems unlikely that ELLI could have any connection with ourselves. Nobody in fact knows anything about any agent in Russia. I should doubt very much whether there was one. The above does not necessarily throw any doubts on the bona fides of CORBY, who may have got the story wrong.

This entry is noteworthy for several reasons. (As Tyrer notes, Liddell’s comments are ‘perplexing’.) First, it refers to ‘some recent telegrams’, suggesting three or four, at least. None has been released to the archive. Given the delay in channelling the messages through Philby, and the traditional lag time shown in Liddell’s previous reactions, one might assume that the interrogations referred to antedated the events of October 29. Indeed, Liddell does not refer specifically to the news imparted in the previous item: one might have expected him to cite it as confirmation that Gouzenko was muddling things. Instead, Liddell focuses on ‘old’ news – the rumour of an unidentified British agent in Moscow. This was an essential part of the ‘BSC Report’ (see above), but now enhanced by the additional insight that the medium through which ELLI communicated this information was the Military Attaché in London. (Tyrer hypothesises that Hollis may have been the interrogator in this case, but then wisely immediately rejects his suggestion.)

Was Liddell really not paying attention? He had already discounted Uren of SOE as being ELLI, but the fresh news about the Military Attaché should have reminded him of his previous analysis. As I conjectured, Liddell and Dwyer were back in September probably told much more than the bare cables reveal. He should have immediately cast his mind on the few characters who had contact with the Attaché, Colonel Chichaev (as he apparently did, after some reflection). Yet he should also have displayed a little more concern about ELLI than expressing relief that he was probably not a member of MI5: if there were spies at large in any service in London (such as Uren), it was MI5’s responsibility to root them out.

And it was on November 16 that Liddell recorded his follow-up with Air Commodore Archie Boyle:

I am getting the personal files for all the representatives of the SOE mission. Neither Hill nor Graham of course really fits the bill since the only apparently concrete piece of evidence by CORBY is that he decyphered two telegrams indicating that ELLI was in London and worked through the Soviet M.A.

Here Liddell consolidates his impressions. He articulates the link between ELLI, Chichaev, and George Hill, and manifestly confirms the fact that Gouzenko had stated that had deciphered the telegrams from ELLI himself  – the nugget from the October 29 interrogation. And he adds the audacious footnote:

ELLI=ALLEY is I think too fantastic to merit any serious thought

This led to the flurry of activity at the end of November that I described in coldspur in May.

7. The interview by Roger Hollis on November 21:

William Tyrer is again to be credited for extracting from MI5 the contents of the two-page telegram sent by Hollis on November 23, two days after his interview with Gouzenko. (The National Archives created a new folder for it in KV 2/1425B, released in November 2014, and added to the catalogue on July 3, 2015. Confirmation of the event had been referred to in a minute of May 23, 1946, visible at sn. 216a in KV 2/1423.) This encounter surely did not occur ‘on the shores of Lake Ontario’ (as fancifully reported by Dick White): Hollis would not have travelled five hours for what was later described, rather imaginatively, as a three-minute interview. Mahomet came to the mountain. I present the text:

A. I paid a brief visit to CORBY on Wednesday. He makes a good impression as regards his honesty and truthfulness.

B. I dealt particularly with ‘ELLI’ case, the position of which is as follows:

            1. CORBY himself deciphered 2 telegrams from Soviet Military Attaché in London, one stating ELLI was now going over to DUBOK method and the other that British Military Attaché in Moscow would not give name of agent there.

2. LIUBIMOV * told him in 1943 that ELLI was a member of a high grade intelligence committee, that he worked in British counter-intelligence. CORBY thinks that LIUBIMOV mentioned the number 5 in connection with committee.

3. KOULAKOFF in 1945 told CORBY that a high grade Soviet agent was still working in United Kingdom. He did not specifically say this agent was ELLI and appeared unwilling to discuss matter. CORBY did not press it.

4. CORBY told me that he did not know that the two incidents of the theft of the papers from Military Attaché in London and attempt to Telephoto his office were reported by ELLI.

5. I tried to get some further indication of the nature and scope of information supplied by ELLI: for instance I asked whether he supplied information on German war dispositions, political matters, etc. CORBY said that he did not know and refused to be led in these matters and I think it is quite clear that he knows nothing more about ELLI than information given in previous paragraphs.

[* ‘The name ‘LIUBIMOV’ appears in the texts sometimes as ‘LUBIMOV’. I have reproduced the original spellings as they lie. Similarly with ‘KOULAKOFF’ and ‘KULAKOV’.]

Hollis’s account is enormously provocative. Item 1 would appear to point to Chichaev as the Military Attaché (rather than the head of the GRU station), since Hollis associates him with his counterpart in Moscow, and the reference foreshadows the item in 4, which without a doubt refers to thefts from Chichaev’s lodgings. If Chichaev was indeed familiar enough with the methods of communicating with ELLI, it sounds as if ELLI was directly controlled by Chichaev. This is a puzzling revelation, as it would draw attention away from any casual but authorised relationship (such as that with Stephen Alley), and point to a much more clandestine affair.

On the other hand, the description of the behaviour of the British Military Attaché in Moscow is bizarre. It suggests that a) George Hill had been presented with this information, and b) he did not deny that he ran an agent, but declined to identify him. Why would Chichaev be reporting this information from London rather than Ossipov in Moscow, and how would ELLI have learned about it? It would require a highly amicable and cozy relationship between Chichaev and Hill (as well as a secure method of communication) for them to discuss the matter. One would have expected Chichaev to warn his bosses in Moscow, and for Ossipov to challenge Hill, but, even if the response travelled back to Chichaev, he would not have seen any point in echoing it back to Moscow.

The only other interpretation must be that Hill had a meeting with Chichaev when he returned to Britain in the summer of 1942. Hill had been enormously indiscreet in sending letters to his contacts in SOE, especially John Venner, the finance director, about his plans for an ‘undercover operation’ in Moscow, and his messages may have been intercepted by the NKVD. He made another trip back to London in March 1943. Thus the tip may have come from Ossipov, Chichaev was assigned to verify it, and the story about the agent had nothing to do with ELLI. In any case, Hill’s inability to deny the rumour is puzzling.

The identity of the committee named in Item 2 is also problematic. Tyrer deftly referred to the Cram papers that contained a communication between Bourdillon of MI5 and the CIA in 1984, where Bourdillon claimed that Hollis interpreted Gouzenko’s reference to ‘M5’ [??] as ‘MI5’. How he arrived at this conclusion is not clear, but Tyrer adds that, a few months later, Bourdillon reported as follows:

Pincher makes a case for Hollis being Gouzenko’s ELLI. Actually the Gouzenko ‘ELLI’ lead was terribly vague and contradictory, and did not lead to MI-5 at all.

Nothing much more needs to be said about Item 3. Item 4, on the other hand, encourages further analysis. As I reported in May, I have discovered the ‘facts’ about the burglary from the Chichaev residence in April 1942 (and can thus provide an update to Tyrer’s article), in Chichaev’s file at KV 2/3226, but a full analysis is outside the scope of this discussion. Hollis’s language is irritatingly imprecise, however. It could be interpreted as saying that Gouzenko knew about the incident with the papers, but was not aware that it was ELLI who had reported it, or it could mean that the whole anecdote was new to him. Yet it seems to suggest that Hollis knew about the incident, and even that he, Hollis, knew that ELLI was involved. The latter interpretation cannot be correct, surely, given how recently ELLI had entered MI5’s realm of interest. In any case, it shows a disastrously cavalier approach by Liddell and co. not to have followed up on this ambiguity, and to have failed to ask Evans/Dwyer to clarify what Gouzenko actually said.

I have also covered Item 5 in previous research. It expressly reflects Hollis’s knowledge about MI14, part of the Directorate of Military Intelligence specializing in Germany, and the stealing by Leo Long in April 1942 of papers deriving from ULTRA, and subsequently passed to Anthony Blunt. Hollis was thus presumably trying to ascertain whether Leo Long could have been ELLI, but his question predictably fell on stony ground.

Hollis’s final claim is somewhat preposterous. He may have been speaking out of ignorance, if he truly had not seen any of the previous ELLI material [!], but other offerings, in particular the ‘BSC Report’ that he had brought back with him in September, conveyed more information – such as the suggestion of Russian descent. The lack of follow-up is yet more evidence of the slipshod approach taken by MI5’s top counter-intelligence officers.

8) The RCMP Report (November 1945):

The report titled ‘Soviet Espionage in Canada’ issued by the RCMP Intelligence Branch in November 1945 (inspectable at KV 2/1428) offers valuable information on the structure of GRU intelligence in Moscow, and also includes, under Chapter 7, ‘Distribution of Agents’, both Ignaci Witczak in Los Angeles, and Arthur Steinberg in Washington, as well as ‘ELLI’ in London. It also offers an intriguing insight into the contact that Hermina RABINOVITZ (who had worked for the International Labour Organization in Geneva) had with members of the Red Orchestra in Switzerland (e.g. SISI, LUCY, ALBERT and PAUL), although a whole page has been redacted. Under the Alphabetical List of Cover Names, ‘ELLI’ re-appears, defined as ‘Unidentified agent in England in 1942-1945’, but it should not be interpreted from this that ELLI was in contact with Zabotin and the Ottawa-based ring. Another bizarre tip is that LUCY is defined as ‘Czech diplomat in Switzerland’ (with ‘?’ beside it, which raises intriguing questions about the Roessler/Sedlacek conundrum (for further information, see http://www.coldspur.com/sonias-radio-envoi/).

9) The Testimony to the Commission:

Robert Taschereau

The hearings of the Taschereau-Kellock Commission began on February 6, 1943, and Gouzenko gave his first deposition on February 13. According to the record, Gouzenko was asked by Commissioner Taschereau whether he could read and write the English language, and Gouzenko answered in the affirmative. His spoken English may not have been so good, and Black was on hand to assist with translations and technical terms. In The Master Spy, Philip Knightley referred (p 134) to an oblique reference to ELLI in the evidence that Gouzenko provided. He wrote: “Instead [of Gouzenko’s pointing out the oddity of there being two spies in the West with the same code name], the possible existence of a second ELLI emerged, almost as an afterthought, in Gouzenko’s evidence before the Royal Commission”:

            Q: Do you know whether ELLI was use as a nickname or covername for any person other than Miss Willshire?

A: Yes, there is some agent under the same name in Great Britain.

Q: Do you know who it is?

A: No.

Alternatively, the exchange ran as follows, as The Gouzenko Transcripts records. After Commissioner Taschereau pointed out that K. Willsher, secretary to the High Commissioner in Ottawa, possessed the cover name ‘ELLI’, the dialogue went as follows:

            GOUZENKO: That is right.

            TACHEREAU: And there is also a cover name ELLI, and I understand that he or she, I do not know which, has been identified as an agent in England?

            GOUZENKO: That is right.

            TACHEREAU: Would that be the same person?

            GOUZENKO: No.

            TASCHEREAU: You are sure of that?

            GOUZENKO: As far as I know.

            TACHEREAU: Did Miss Willsher come from England or is she Canadian born?

In whatever form it appears, this is an odd exchange, as if the questioner were absent-mindedly introducing the fact, and catching Gouzenko off-guard. Gouzenko did not appear to want to discuss the matter, and the question was not pursued. Taschereau must surely have been familiar with Willsher’s biographical details by that time, but he clumsily introduced a reference that the intelligence authorities would probably have preferred to keep concealed. Likewise, given the calendar details, Gouzenko must have known for sure that the two ELLIs were not the same person. The London ELLI does not appear in the official Commission Report published on June 27, 1946, which focused on the espionage ring in Canada, with only occasional straying into connections in the USA and Switzerland.

One important aspect of these revelations about the USA, though not directly related to ELLI, is the fact that Peter Dwyer was forced to admit, several years later, in 1953, that in 1946 he had passed on to Lish Whitson of the FBI strong indications that Harry Dexter White was a Soviet agent, and recommended that he should not be appointed to the International Monetary Fund. Edgar Hoover had admitted that he received such a confidence from a ‘Canadian official’. What was especially egregious is that Dwyer had not informed his Canadian hosts of this secret message. This story is inspected in detail in Mark Kristmanson’s Plateaus of Freedom: Kristmanson suggests that Dwyer’s coyness over the episode may have been attributable to the fact that he did not want to spill the beans about the fact that British Intelligence may have been in touch with Gouzenko before he defected.

Dwyer probably elicited this information when he was able to interrogate Gouzenko during the hearings. Apart from the embarrassment that the incident caused, it is noteworthy for the fact that it may not have been the only item of intelligence that was suppressed. In a television programme in the 1960s, Dwyer (who was a very cautious man with great respect for confidentiality), let slip that, apart from the hints that led to the arrest of Alan Nunn May, the remainder of Gouzenko’s information was ‘crap’. That was obviously a jocular observation that went too far the other way in minimising the significance of other revelations, but Kristmanson explores, rather ponderously, the paradoxes and gaps in the Gouzenko record, including the claim that Stewart Menzies himself was in Ottawa when Gouzenko absconded – a story I explored in an earlier piece (see http://www.coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/ ). Kristmanson thereby suggests that MI6 had a greater hand in Gouzenko’s defection than the available archive shows us. These theories will have to be analysed in depth at another time.

10. The interview by Guy Liddell:

This event in March 1946, when Liddell extended his tour of the United States to visit Canada, needs to be recorded, as expectations for an encounter with Gouzenko should have been high. Liddell’s Diary entry is the only known reference to it, and, as I explained in my May piece, what he wrote down for posterity shows a complete avoidance of any discussion of ELLI. That in itself may be significant. In Their Trade is Treachery, Chapman Pincher had asserted that the Canadian Government had strongly warned Gouzenko against mentioning ELLI – even in his memoirs, and that caution may have been prompted by the accidental revelation described in Item 9 above. Nevertheless, Gouzenko’s silence about the London ELLI when speaking to Liddell must have other causes.

11. A possible second interview by Roger Hollis:

At KV 2/1423/2, sn 216a, appears an unsigned telegram to New York (no. 762) dated May 23, 1946. The text runs as follows:

            A. In conversation with Hollis Corby mentioned that directions came from Moscow to Ottawa Embassy for political activities of Canadian Communists.

            B. These directions were communicated from the Embassy by open contacts such as Press Correspondents.

            C. Please ask Corby what Section of Official in the Embassy handled this political work and what department in Moscow issued the directions.

A handwritten note adds: “cf. PF.66962 sn. 26a – pres[ume]. this refers to the meeting on 21.11.45.” If a reply was received (and saved), it has not been released from the archive.

While not directly relating to ELLI, it is interesting because the note implicitly suggests there may have been a second encounter between Hollis and Gouzenko. And, as William Tyrer shrewdly observed,: “ . . . the ELLI/Hollis telegram is serial 25a not 26a, and Canadian Communists are not mentioned in the ELLI/Hollis telegram.” Guy Liddell was fairly disciplined in noting the absences abroad of his colleagues, especially White, Hollis and Sillitoe. Liddell did not return from the Americas until April 26, and, since Hollis was reported to be busy with leakages during May, it seems highly unlikely that he would have been afforded another visit to Canada during these months. The source of the ‘Canadian Communists’ factoid remains obscure.

12. Commentary on the Hollis report:

This fragment derives from the correspondence between MI5’s Bourdillon and the CIA. I quote directly from Tyrer’s article in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence:

            Later, he [Gouzenko]expressed suspicion as to why his MI5 interviewer was so brief when so much more information could have been added. The extract from the memo from Bourdillon at MI5 to the CIA states that Gouzenko had read the telegram from Hollis one year after their meeting. Bourdillon added: “Gouzenko commented that some of the statements made in the telegram were untrue.”

            To which specific statements Gouzenko is referring remains unknown, especially as serial 26a has not been released, and he may be referring to a report about a different meeting. But Gouzenko is said to have been upset about reports that he had said that British Intelligence had agent(s) within the Kremlin, so he may have been referring to point B.1. Notably, Gouzenko first provided the information about a British agent in Russia to the RCMP, and not to Hollis, and it is included in their 15 September report. [the ‘BSC Report’]

As with many of these items, as many questions are raised as are answered. If Gouzenko was as truly disappointed at the paucity of information that Hollis had been able to extract from him, why did he not take it up with others, such as Dwyer, or even Liddell, when he came over a few months later? Why did he not write up a fuller deposition? And Tyrer’s observation in the passive voice (‘is said to have been upset’) is disappointingly vague. Who made this claim? And when was Gouzenko ‘upset’? Was it Chapman Pincher, who may have been putting ideas into Gouzenko’s head, who was responsible for some creative antedating? No record of Gouzenko’s comments from November 1946 resides in the digitised archive. If Tyrer is correct about the precise statement that Gouzenko was complaining about, however (and I am sure he is right), it would point to the fact that Gouzenko was trying to claw back his statements about the agent in Moscow as early as late 1946.

13. Statements in Gouzenko’s Autobiography:

Gouzenko’s memoir, originally published as This Was My Choice in 1948, concludes with his escape in 1945, so it says nothing about his experiences with interrogation, or his encounters with MI5 officers. Unfortunately, it is also not very revealing about any relevant experiences as a cipher-clerk in Moscow or Ottawa: he was ordered to stay silent on these matters. (The memoir was largely ghost-written, in any case.) He does assert that there were thousands of Soviet agents in Great Britain – surely a gross exaggeration, but a statement that casts doubt on his overall reliability. He claims that, because he had ‘some nodding acquaintance with the German language’, most of his work ‘was on telegrams from and to Germany in Switzerland’. In that respect, he was exposed to the communications from Sisi (Dübendorf), Lucy (Roessler) and Alexander (Radó), a fact that adds an intriguing dimension to the Rote Kapelle business. Of his exchanges concerning cables with Liubimov on the English desk, he says nothing, although Liubimov appears in a grisly anecdote. Liubimov had been a Soviet officer on the Caucasian front, and had been ordered to shoot a captured German airman. One other insight that could be relevant is Gouzenko’s assertion that information of particular importance ‘was handed over in unedited and unabbreviated form to Molotov, Malenkov, or Stalin’. That would appear to reinforce the authenticity of the story of Poliakova’s actions in bringing immediately to Stalin’s attention the news that British Intelligence had a spy in the Kremlin.

14. Anne Last’s Notebook:

Ann Elwell (nee Last)

A curio in this collection is the notebook of Ann Last, who left MI5 in 1950 after marrying her colleague Charles Elwell, whom coldspur readers will remember from my coverage of Gordon Lonsdale and the Cohens (see  http://www.coldspur.com/five-books-on-espionage-intelligence/ ). What makes her manuscript record so interesting is that Peter Wright suggests strongly (Spycatcher, pp 188-189) that it was only through reading the notebook, passed to him by Evelyn McBarnet, probably in 1961, that he learned the details of Gouzenko’s revelations. Wright reports:

            According to Anne [sic] Last, Gouzenko claimed in his debriefing that there was a spy code-named ELLI inside MI5. He had learned about Elli while serving in Moscow in 1942, from a friend of his Liubimov, who handled radio messages dealing with Elli. Elli had something Russian in his background, had access to certain files, was serviced using Duboks, or dead letter boxes, and his information was often taken straight to Stalin. Gouzenko’s allegation had been filed along with all the rest of his material, but then, inexplicably, left to gather dust.

One must reflect that this may not be an accurate transcription of what appeared in Last’s notes, and Wright may have been recreating his account from information learned afterwards (or even inventing the whole episode), but it shows an eclectic use of sources, with information about Liubimov (Item 7), Stalin (Item 2), duboks (Item 7), Russian background, i.e. not ‘descent’ (Item 5), and access to files (Item 5). Yet it includes nothing about the knowledge of the spy inside the Kremlin, which is prominent in Items 1, 2, 5, 6 & 7. Moreover, Wright indicates that the information had been filed (‘left to gather dust’), but he then inexplicably fails to inform us whether he went to inspect that material presumably stored in the GOUZENKO and ELLI folders. Instead he makes out that its unavailability, and the lack of follow-up, were part of a devious plan by Hollis to conceal the traces of ELLI.

On the other hand, if the artefact is authentic, Last obviously believed that the ELLI investigations had been feeble, and confided her concerns to McBarnet. But why would she have to record all that information in a secret notebook, if it were available in the registry? Under what circumstances could she have read the documents, been conscious of the lack of follow-up, and also been aware that they had been concealed? McBarnet (according to Wright) said that both she and Arthur Martin (for whom she worked) dared not bring up the ELLI business to the current Director-General, Roger Hollis. The time of the Last secret notebook, however, was under the régime of Sillitoe, Liddell and White. It was the latter pair who had fallen down on the job, not Hollis. The whole melodrama is quite absurd.

15. The statement to the RCMP:

This event has an interesting history. Chapman Pincher seems to be the sole source for the story.  He wrote, on page 210 of Too Secret Too Long, as follows:

            Early in 1952, as part of the inquiry into the identity of the Third Man, Dick White, then MI5’s Director of Counter-Espionage, decided that another look should be taken at Gouzenko’s allegation about the spy in MI5 with the code-name ‘Elli’. On 6 May Superintendent George McLellan of the Security Branch of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police asked Gouzenko, on MI5’s behalf, to submit a memorandum giving as much detail as he could remember of the circumstances in which he had heard about ‘Elli’. Gouzenko produced the document to which I have already referred and which is reproduced in Appendix A. The memorandum was classified Secret, and while Gouzenko was adamant that the spy had existed in 1942/43, and probably still did, it led to no result, much to Gouzenko’s disgust . . .

            The memorandum became public only through a leak, through Gouzenko himself, to the Toronto Telegram in September 1970.

Guy Liddell’s Diaries provide us with additional information. Ever since the summer of the previous year, after the abscondence of Burgess and Maclean in May, the FBI had been pressing MI6 for further investigations into Kim Philby as the possible ‘Third Man’ who had warned the pair of Maclean’s imminent arrest. On July 7, Liddell recorded that Dick White had communicated to him Stewart Menzies’s deep concerns about Philby, in light of revelations about Philby’s first wife, Litzi, and a re-examination of the Volkov affair:

            Dick said that it would be difficult for him to carry the enquiry any further on the assumption that Philby was identical with “ELLI” of the Gouzenko case, or that he was the “C.E. officer” mentioned by Wolkov [sic]. He suggested that Edward Cussen or Buster Milmo should be given all the evidence and conduct an enquiry. He doubted, however, whether any such enquiry could be conclusive: Philby would have to be told that the Americans suspected him of being ‘ELLI’ and that it was up to him to do everything he could to produce factual evidence to the contrary. This might, however, be extremely difficult.

This is a remarkably ingenuous observation by Liddell. First of all, it shows that the Americans were closely aware of the ELLI problem, and tracking it far more rigorously than the British. Second, it displays the fact that MI5 itself had not solved the question of ELLI’s identity to its satisfaction. Given the intensity of the investigation at the end of 1945, this is shocking. That is why one must posit the notion that perhaps Liddell and White were confident they had fingered ELLI already, but the nature of any disclosure would have been so embarrassing that they had to pretend that ELLI was an unsolved mystery. Yet this would rapidly inveigle them into further disarray, as the FBI would be able to accuse them of indolence and negligence. Either way, they were caught in a classic Morton’s Fork (not named after Churchill’s intelligence adviser, Desmond Morton, incidentally).

Indeed, the pressure increased. On August 20, Liddell created another diary entry where he made some rather silly analysis about the Burgess/Maclean business, and then tried to record excuses why MI5 had not been able to respond to the FBI’s comments on the paper on Philby that his department had written. He described his message to the unnamed contact (probably Cimperman, the CIA representative in London) in the following terms:

            We had in fact, and were still, making exhaustive enquiries. Meanwhile, it was useless to interrogate a man who had all the cards in his hands. Until we get some fresh cards, and some pretty high ones, there was nothing in the way of interrogation that would be profitable. I hoped that he would express this view, with which he agreed, upon his superiors in Washington. They have been urging us to interrogate immediately on the more sinister allegations against Philby arising from the Gouzenko and Wolkov cases.

Again, Liddell had confidently expressed the opinion, back in late 1945, that ELLI was probably in SOE, and had pursued his investigations with Commodore Boyle. Now he is unable to assert that Philby could not possibly be ELLI. Nevertheless, amid all this turmoil, Liddell was able to take the month of September off on leave, but returned to find the pot still boiling, and the Philby case much blacker. On October 1, he recorded:

            I saw the D.G. [Sillitoe] who told me about his interview with Bedell-Smith [the head of the CIA]. Bedell Smith was given certain facts about the PHILBY case, which he was told were still under investigation. It was, however, made clear to him that up to the moment these could only be regarded as a chain of co-incidences, all of which might have a different explanation. He seems to have got a somewhat false impression of this interview and told ‘C’ [Menzies] that we were now confident that PHILBY was identical with the man mentioned by GOUZENKO and by WOLKOV. This of course is far from the case.

Of course’! Liddell appears to have lost it by now. He is unable to separate the claims made by Gouzenko (very vague, and surely not pointing towards Philby), with those from Volkov (very damaging, and the occurrence of which had immediately caused wise heads to suspect Philby), and merely echoes the woolly understanding that he apparently attributes to both Sillitoe and Bedell Smith. The gross defects in his handling of the ELLI investigation should have been apparent to any sensible observer, but he and White must have been colluding, and Sillitoe was obviously too bemused by the whole business to ask any penetrating questions.

That is the last entry specifically on the pressure from the CIA. Dick White (after waiting a few months) presumably then took matters into his own hands, perhaps to show the CIA that MI5 was serious in resuming the quest for ELLI, resulting in the request to the RCMP that is described by Pincher. Gouzenko’s response is the most comprehensive extant document expressing his opinions. It is too bulky for me to transcribe in full, so I hereby display the four-plus pages as scanned objects, and attempt to summarise their main points instead.

Gouzenko’s Memorandum Page 1
Gouzenko’s Memorandum Page 2
Gouzenko’s Memorandum Page 3
Gouzenko’s Memorandum Page 4
Gouzenko’s Memorandum Page 5

* Gouzenko said that he had forgotten the cover name [‘ELLI’]. That is not important, as it may have changed. The fact that it may have had a female character does not mean the person was a woman.

* Gouzenko immediately gave the Canadian authorities three major names: Fred Rose, Edward Stettinius [former US Secretary of State], and a member of MI5 in Great Britain.

* The evidence of Stettinius and the MI5 member were only in Gouzenko’s words (i.e. no documents, as with Rose). His colleague Kulakov informed him that Stettinius’s assistant was working for the Soviet Union.

* Whittaker Chambers’s information led to the conviction of Alger Hiss, Stettinius’s assistant.

* As for the MI5 member, Gouzenko saw the telegram himself, and the information was confirmed by his colleague in Moscow, Lubimov

* Gouzenko saw the telegram at the latter part of 1942, or the beginning of 1943. It concerned the use by the man from MI5 of a dubok in a graveyard. The man was ‘one of five of MI’.

* Gouzenko could not recall whether he or Lubimov deciphered the telegram, but it was probably Lubimov, as he knew the English language better.

* Lubimov told him that the man ‘had something Russian in his background’ (which could mean a variety of things).

* In the latter part of 1944, or early 1945, Zabotin [head of the GRU station] received a message from Moscow warning of British counter-intelligence officers arriving in Ottawa. That required precautionary measures.

* Real name of agent might be known by a) Soviet military attaché in London; b) his cipher clerk; c) contact man (though that is not certain); and Maj-Gen. Bolshakov, formerly chief of First Intelligence H.Q. in Moscow.

* The fact that the task of investigating the agent was given to MI5 was a mistake. It should be entrusted to Governor General Alexander, currently Defence Minister in Britain. [!!!]

* Persistent observations of members of the Soviet Embassy in London would have produced results. That clearly did not happen.

Again, this is quite a provocative statement. That Gouzenko had forgotten the name ‘ELLI’ (especially as there were two of them) is truly bizarre, and might indicate more that he had been instructed not to mention it at all. His concentration on the triad he named is surely erroneous: the most prominent name was that of Nunn May (ALEK), on whom the RCMP and MI6/MI5 immediately acted. Alger Hiss was an NKVD spy, not an agent of the GRU, which rather demolishes the theory of compartmentalization of GRU-NKVD processes in Moscow, and of the claim that Gouzenko and his colleagues knew only about the GRU (and that ELLI was necessarily a GRU asset, therefore). His claim that he saw the telegram himself is in apparent conflict with the statement that he made in September 1945 (Item 2: The BSC Report, above) where he ‘heard about’ him in Moscow. On the other hand, since Gouzenko, in 1945, much closer to the date, had stated that he had deciphered telegrams himself (Item 5), it would be an odd change of perspective for him now only to imagine that he might have done so. In fact, he had also told the ‘inattentive’ Hollis that he had deciphered two telegrams (Item 7, above), and had even informed Hollis about the second cable, where the inability of the British Military Attaché to give the name of his agent there was communicated –  a fact that he surprisingly omits from his account here.

What is more, Gouzenko is now sure that the man was a member of MI5, whereas before he had indicated only that he was a member of the ‘British Intelligence Service’. The phrase ‘one of five of MI’ appears, but the exact Russian original of this expression is not given, and it would seem to be an unlikely representation of MI5. The original description of ELLI’s background (‘of Russian descent’: see the BSC Report) has now been made vaguer, referring to ‘something Russian in his background’. Gouzenko does, however, repeat the information about the ‘dubok method’ that he imparted to Hollis, and now adds the revealing information about its location, in a graveyard. This would also have repercussions later.

Even for making allowances for the passing of time, and the natural weakening of the memory, and possible problems in the original translations, this is a strange report. Though reputedly anxious to set the record straight, Gouzenko actually reveals less here than Hollis extracted from him in his infamous three-minute interrogation, and he studiously avoids the vexed issue of the unidentified agent cultivated and managed in Moscow. Was he perhaps tutored to pare back his story, and avoid mentioning embarrassing connections? Did he really forget the earlier testimony that he had given or believe that it would have been forgotten? In any case, he does not come across as a reliable witness.

But what happened when McLellan responded to White, presumably with a copy of the memorandum? Why is it not in the Gouzenko archive?

16. The memorandum from the FBI:

In my May report, I drew attention to Chapman Pincher’s focus on Gouzenko’s statements about the visit by British counter-intelligence officers to Ottawa, represented in the deposition above, as evidence of a leaker within MI5. I have since discovered that Liddell’s account of this refers to the same ‘recent statement’ by Gouzenko. It is almost certain that this statement is the same one as that appears in the memorandum triggered by Dick White’s request, but I include Liddell’s reaction here, since it reflects Liddell’s puzzling decision to focus solely on this aspect of what Gouzenko wrote, and it provides important clues as to how the Philby/ELLI investigation was progressing.  Moreover, someone has inscribed ‘FBI’ in the margin of Liddell’s diary entry, perhaps to suggest that the source of the information did not come from Canada. The entry for October 3, 1952 runs as follows:

            James Robertson and Evelyn McBarnet came to see me about a recent statement by GOUZENKO that he recollected a message in the latter half of 1944 which indicated that certain Counter-Intelligence personnel were visiting Canada and that there would be some general tightening up on Soviet activities. The message was in the form of a warning.

            It appears that PHILBY had some conversation with T.A.R. [Robertson] before I left for the United States on July 17, and that my visit might possibly be alluded to in this message.

I said that my diary for this period showed that it was immediately prior to my leaving for the United States that we had for the first time contemplated close co-operation with the Americans on Communist matters.  It had been suggested that the F.B.I. should send a representative over here, but this had been turned down by the State Department, who felt that such a close liaison on this matter might be politically dangerous if it came to the notice of the Russians. It was, of course, at this time that Roosevelt, and presumably also the State Department, were preening themselves on their own view that they had got Stalin eating out of their hands and would bring Russia back into the comity of nations. In the end it was agreed that I should go over to America. Although one of my objects in doing so was to discuss with Cyril Mills GARBO’s notional agent and the WATCHDOG case, I doubt whether I had much discussion on Communism in Canada.

It is possible that some intimation or collaboration by ourselves with the F.B.I. on Communist matters may have reached the Russians through the State Department, but I doubt whether it could have done so through PHILBY. His discussions with T.A.R. were much more likely to have related to the GARBO case.

If Liddell had to be informed about this statement by his underlings McBarnet and Robertson, does that imply that he had not himself seen the full memorandum produced by McLellan of the RCMP? Was the FBI the source of McBarnet’s and Robertson’s information? Had White perhaps not told any of them what he was up to, and concealed the report? (This episode, with McBarnet’s apparent ignorance of the details of the case, severely undermines Wright’s account in Item 14.) Why did Liddell not comment on the troubling revelations in the rest of it? Again, it is all very puzzling. The perennial problem in interpreting Liddell’s Diaries is that one can never be sure whether the absences of obvious commentary are due to a) the fact that he did not know what was going on; b) he knew, but did not want to record anything; or c) he recorded some observations, but the entry was redacted.

17. Senator Jenner’s Sub-Committee:

In 1952, Senator William Jenner was appointed chairman of a US Senate committee called the Senate Internal Security Committee, which investigated communist infiltration. Amy Knight covers its proceedings in How the Cold War Began, describing how, in the Steinberg investigations, Jenner and his colleague Senator McCarran had flown to Ottawa in January 1954, leading a sub-committee, to interview Gouzenko. Mark Kristmanson described it as follows: The gadfly George Bain explained to Globe and Mail readers that the Jenner subcommittee’s pressure tactics against Lester Pearson and their demand to re-interview Gouzenko were products of their lack of direct access to FBI files.” At the end of 1953, Gouzenko had declined an invitation to appear before them in the USA, citing security concerns. He had to clarify, however, that he had nothing new to tell about communist infiltration, but did have ideas as to how more defectors could be won over, and in particular named the cipher-clerk for the NKVD, Farafontov, as a valuable resource. During the interview he nevertheless brought up the subject of the British spy – something in which the Americans did not seem very interested. Knight conjectures that Gouzenko thought that the FBI should want to hear what he had to say because of the unresolved ‘Third Man’ debates, and the suspicions hovering around Philby, and was thus disappointed when the subcommittee, led by its counsel Jay Sourwine, maintained a distinctly parochial domestic perspective. It was evidently not going to go out if its way to help the FBI.

What is relevant is the fact that Gouzenko told Sourwine that he had disclosed all the information about the agent (he did not name ‘ELLI’) to the Canadian Royal Commission, and said that he had believed it had all been passed to the FBI (unaware, no doubt, that the FBI had frustrated the subcommittee). Since all the evidence points to the fact that ELLI was kept out of the discussions when he was formally interviewed, this may have been a lapse of memory. Sourwine was thus not impressed, forgetting Gouzenko’s public reminder of a couple of months back (quoted in the Toronto Telegram). To bolster his case, however, Gouzenko obliquely referred to his recent memorandum given to the RCMP. As Knight writes: “Speaking to the Jenner subcommittee, Gouzenko claimed he had written three pages about ELLI sometime earlier, but he did not say for whom.” She then goes on to quote (from the proceedings in the Canadian National Archive) that Gouzenko stressed the aspect of the ‘Russian background’ of the agent. “But from the telegram it as clear, and I also described in the detail the circumstances under which this telegram came to my attention.”

The ‘it’ looks unmistakably to refer to the fact that ‘ELLI’ had a Russian background. Yet, as the memorandum in Item 14 undeniably shows, this fact was not ‘clear from the telegram’: it was imparted to him by Lubimov. And Gouzenko did not there describe in detail how that telegram came to his attention. The one he described that he saw himself concerned the activity with the dubok and the graveyard. His testimony continues to show a pattern of minor inconsistencies.

18. The response to Stewart in 1972:

In the 1960s, Peter Wright (of Spycatcher fame) had made his unsuccessful approaches to the RCMP on Gouzenko, being told (in error) that the notes of his debriefing had been destroyed. Yet he surely would have had access to the Gouzenko and ‘ELLI’ files maintained by MI5, where he would have been able to learn about the defector’s original statements. Knight cautiously observes: “If Wright had seen the notes of Gouzenko’s RCMP debriefing he would have known that Gouzenko made no mention of MI5 to the RCMP”.  More dubiously, however, she then reveals her own firm conviction about ELLI’s home, while ignoring the facts of Gozuenko’s denials: “Moreover, Gouzenko’s statements confirmed that ELLI was from MI6 because Elli was privy to information about a British secret agent in Moscow.”

Thus matters in the FLUENCY operation (the search for the mole, ELLI) moved sluggishly onwards. Maurice Oldfield of MI6 interviewed Dwyer for two days, unproductively. When Dick White, now head of MI6, visited J. Edgar Hoover in 1965, he confided in him that allegations had been made against Hollis, and that an investigation was under way. Yet none of the FLUENCY Committee thought to interview Gouzenko again, and that particular operation was wound down when Hollis retired.

And then came the strange events of 1972, when the investigation was picked up again, shortly before Hollis’s death in 1973. The only source appears to be Sawatsky, who in 1984 conducted interviews after Gouzenko’s death, and the story is told through the voices of John Picton and other journalists (Peter Worthington and Robert Reguly), and a lawyer named William McMurtry. Patrick Stewart of MI5 was sent out to Ottawa to interview Gouzenko, but exactly what material he brought with him, and what was shown to him by the RCMP, is very vague. Picton said that Stewart brought ‘a thick report’ with him. Knight guesses that it was the ‘BSC Report’, but that would have been a thin compilation. Gouzenko never gave enough information on ELLI or other spies within British Intelligence to cover more than a few pages. Here Knight adds that the RCMP had given Stewart the notes of the ‘original debriefing’ of Gouzenko, but it is not clear which debriefing she is referring to.

The extended commentary includes observations by the three journalists. No one appears to have stopped to ask: why on earth were three journalists invited to a confidential meeting between the RCMP, MI5 and Gouzenko? Was it a set-up? Worthington claimed that Gouzenko invited him, but did the RCMP give him permission? It is suspicious, because Gouzenko went off the deep end when he started reading the dossier, picking up the document that Stewart described as ‘the earlier interview with our fellow’, and claiming it was all lies. Now, the reference to ‘our fellow’ obviously points to Hollis’s interrogation at the end of November 1945, which occurred well after the ‘original debriefing’. Picton’s account is worth recording:

            Gouzenko said he started reading it and threw it across the room. He said: “It’s all lies. It’s all lies. I didn’t say any of those things.” And apparently some of the things in there quoted him as saying that the British had a high-ranking mole in the Kremlin. “It’s not true. They couldn’t possibly have a high-ranking mole in the Kremlin, not when Philby was sitting as head of MI6.” And beside which, he said, the interview lasted only three minutes. He said: “I wouldn’t have had time to say those things.” He subsequently found out that the Mounties had exactly the same report in their files and never satisfactorily explained that.

I see multiple problems with this story. First of all, the claim about the mole in the Kremlin did not originate with Hollis: it appeared in early telegrams and in the BSC report (qv. Items 2, 5, 6, & 7). Philby was, of course, never head of MI6, and very far from that position in 1942-1943. The reference to the ‘three-minutes’ indubitably points to the Hollis interview, and RCMP would surely have a copy of Hollis’s report in their files. For Gouzenko to deny so strenuously the documented claims, and attribute it all to Hollis’s distortion of what he said, should have placed him on very shaky ground.

Yet the situation became even more bizarre and unlikely. McMurtry (the lawyer) stated that ’they’ (the RCMP and Stewart) ‘showed him the statement of his first [sic] statement and it was totally fabricated’. Worthington described how they went over the interview with him, and Gouzenko’s response was now a bit more justifiably peeved:

            He said: “I’d never say this. Any intelligent person reading this would know it’s all nonsense and everything then would be discredited.” He said, for example, he was quoted as saying: “We in the Kremlin know – have a list of all the British agents who are inside the Kremlin.” Words to that effect. He said: “There are no British agents inside the Kremlin. It’s impossible for them to be there. They know they don’t have any. I know they don’t have any,” He said: ‘The only person who would put that in is someone who wants to discredit everything I’m saying.” Which I subscribe to.

As I have shown, no known archival material uses that language. Reguly then pointed out that Gouzenko claimed that the transcript had been doctored ‘to conceal references to a high-level spy in the British MI5 organization’, and Svetlana, Gouzenko’s wife, also invited, chipped in to report that someone had tried to emulate the handwriting of the interpreter Mervyn Black. A careful sleuth might have tried to establish which of Gouzenko’s statements Black had contributed to (as I have noted above, the date he joined the team is difficult to establish), but, in any case, the insertion was ham-fisted. Gouzenko was not allowed to take a copy of the document with him to compare it with samples of Black’s handwriting. The encounter ended in acrimony.

Amy Wright interprets this fiasco as an example of Gouzenko’s expressing frustration at the man from MI5’s (Hollis’s) perfunctory dealing with him, when Gouzenko was prepared to give him more information. But Gouzenko never had much more to say, Hollis extracted insights from him in real-time that he denied ever communicating when he had ample opportunity to give his full account, and Gouzenko treated as lies facts that he had described to other interrogators than Hollis. He was wrong to deny so strenuously the facts of his earliest depositions, but justified in accusing MI5 of fabrication.

Moreover, what Stewart and co. hoped to gain by their clumsy fakery is elusive. Maybe Stewart was innocent, but someone else appeared to have doctored the record in a feeble attempt to portray Gouzenko as a total flake. Why on earth did they think that ploy would succeed? And where was the report submitted by Gouzenko in 1952, and presumably in White’s hands shortly after? Was it not filed, and made available to Stewart? Why had Stewart not perused the early telegrams, the BSC report, and the Hollis account, where he could have established a defensible record of Gouzenko’s statements? At least he would have had something definite to chew on, and to debate with Gouzenko in the light of his earlier statements. The whole incident is farcical, but the evidence suggests that it was staged, to provide an inauthentic story that Hollis had doctored the records, and for Gouzenko’s aggrieved reaction to be public.

19. Communications with Chapman Pincher:

The veteran journalist – and persecutor of Roger Hollis – claimed multiple exchanges with Gouzenko over the years, some in meetings, some in letters, some over the telephone. These events are described in Pincher’s three primary books: Their Trade is Treachery (1981 & 1982), Too Secret Too Long (1984), and Treachery (2009 and 2012). This resource is not yet inspectable. Pincher’s archive is held by King’s College, London. A note on the web-page states: “Notes and correspondence relating to Pincher’s investigative journalism on British-Soviet espionage during the Cold War, 1950s-1980s, CLOSED, pending cataloguing.”

I shall paraphrase the important passages (readers can easily inspect the full text in Pincher’s books), and provide some straightforward commentary.

Their Trade is Treachery:

P 6 IG recently described to CP how he had learned of a spy within MI5 while working in the main cypher room of the GRU in Moscow. Lubimov passed him a telegram which he had deciphered from London: it came from ‘ELLI’. The spy was so important that he was only contacted through duboks. The favourite hiding-place was a split in a stone tomb belonging to someone named Brown.  (Telegrams from London did not ‘come from’ ELLI. Gouzenko confirms that it was not he who deciphered the critical telegram. The ‘Brown’ flourish seems an unlikely detail.)

P 40 Hollis was sent out to Ottawa to deal with the MI5 aspects of the Gouzenko revelations. IG told CP that RH asked him very little when he told him of a Russian spy within MI5 known as ELLI. RH took few notes, and did not show them to him. IG said that the original report put in to MI5 was read over to him in 1972, several typed sheets, paragraph by paragraph. IG was astonished to learn from the interviewer that the report had been submitted by Hollis: how could RH have written so much when he asked so little? RH reported IG as saying that Britain had a spy in 1945 working in a high-level Government Office in Moscow. IG denied ever saying that. The report was obviously faked to discredit him. If report was written by RH, there was no doubt in IG’s mind that he was a spy. (It was surely not Hollis’s report that Stewart read to him.)

P 100 IG assures CP that no Intelligence officer has questioned him since 1973 (when Stewart returned, with photographs).

P 299 IG did not mention ELLI when he wrote his memoirs: the Canadian authorities would not have allowed him to. IG was recently interviewed by Toronto Globe and Mail, and confirmed that MI5 spy was ELLI.

Too Secret Too Long:

81-86 IG told CP on more than one occasion that Lubimov leaned over and told him about ELLI and duboks. Lubimov passed him the message, and IG saw ‘ELLI’, though he never handled ‘ELLI’ messages himself. He learned about the grave and headstone ‘Brown’. Lubimov also mentioned ‘something Russian’ in ELLI’s background. There was no doubt in IG’s mind about the existence of a Soviet agent inside MI5 in 1942/43 and probably later on. Pincher’s anonymous informant [Peter Wright] said Lubimov claimed that the spy extracted folders on Soviet Intelligence officers. Hollis was at that time in charge of anti-Communist and anti-Soviet security. A letter from Svetlana Gouzenko of March 6, 1983 confirms the ‘Brown’ story. (Here Gouzenko states that he never handled ELLI messages himself, in contradiction of his evidence elsewhere. His assertion that he knew that early that the spy was from MI5 is mendacious.)

Pp 104-105 Dwyer was flown in to debrief IG: IG could not recall being questioned by Dwyer. The cross-examination was greatly facilitated by IG’s grasp of English. The telegram sent by Dwyer (in MI6 archives) contained information on i) duboks, ii) the matter of files on RIS officers; iii) the fact of ‘something Russian’, and iv) ELLI was controlled by the GRU, not the KGB. (Pincher had not seen the archive. Dwyer did not interview Gouzenko directly. The information pointed to the Military Attaché in London, but not specifically to the GRU.)

P 108 Svetlana Gouzenko said that the RCMP was concerned when IG mentioned MI5, as MI5’s existence was supposed to be a secret. IG was advised by Canadian authorities not to mention English ELLI in any statements, and to restrict evidence to names he could substantiate in documents he had removed.

P 109 Hollis made a further visit to Ottawa, and questioned IG on MI5’s behalf. G describes his interviewer at the Justice Department (forty, stooping, shifty). He talked in English, but did not even sit down: the interview lasted 3 minutes. IG said that he told Hollis that the GRU had a spy in MI5 in England, known by the code-name ELLI. (Pincher was under the impression Hollis had interviewed Gouzenko in September, as well. If Hollis was told that ELLI was in MI5, he clearly did not record that fact!)

P 484 IG tells CP that RH interviewed him only once. (Pincher had been misinformed by his contacts that Hollis had multiple sessions with Gouzenko.)

Treachery:

P 27 Over several long telephone conversations, IG told CP six things: 1) ELLI was male; 2) ELLI was thought of so highly that he had to use duboks; 3) ELLI’s messages were sent via the military attaché in London, who was always a GRU officer; 4) ELLI was in a position to remove MI5 files on Russians suspected of espionage in London; 5) ELLI’s messages were so important that they were sometimes passed directly to Stalin; and 6) There was something Russian in his background. (No mention of the agent in Moscow, yet it was that information that had provoked the message being passed by Poliakova to Stalin, in Item 2!)

P 32 CP refers to a statement from Michael Hanley of MI5, dated December 6, 1949, that revealed that IG had said that the cover name of one of the officers involved in servicing British spies had been Dragun. CP confirmed the identity of this assistant military attaché in London from July 1941 to 1944. (Pincher does not say how he discovered this item.)

P 227 IG confirms the brevity of his meeting with Hollis, and how RH behaved as if he wanted to get away from him as quickly as possible. They spoke in the presence of an RCMP officer who spoke Russian. (Probably Black.)

P 243 In 1972, IG was reluctant to be interviewed alone, and it was eventually agreed that his wife could be present. (No mention of the three journalists and the lawyer! CP makes out that IG told them afterwards what happened.)

P 244 When Stewart read the report to IG, every time that IG said ‘That’s nonsense!’, Stewart replied: ‘I’m glad to hear you say so’. IG vehemently denied having told Hollis that he knew Britain had a high-ranking mole in the Kremlin, stressing that he could not have known such a thing and that it was impossible anyway. (The denials continued.)

Conclusions:

What to make of all this? I offer my preliminary conclusions.

* Gouzenko was an unreliable witness, in a way that cannot be attributed solely to language problems or physical deterioration. His retractions started within a year after he defected.

* Gouzenko’s emphasis on denying statements that he made multiple times about the existence of a British spy in Moscow suggests that he was encouraged in this behaviour by the RCMP and MI5/MI6. He may have been given financial inducements to do so.

* The denial of such a claim would not appear, superficially, to alter the substance of the case. The possibility that ELLI had revealed such a phenomenon was on the surface far less damaging than the fact that a spy named ELLI had been operating within British Intelligence.

* The possible exposure through the publication of a story that an agent was being controlled in Moscow seems totally disproportionate to its significance. It must have had far more dangerous implications for MI5 and MI6. It was not suppressed because of concerns about Soviet sensitivities.

* In 1946, when Gouzenko’s retractions started, no suspicions had been raised about moles in MI5, and thus the quest to find a scapegoat had not started. Diverting attention away from SOE would have been a futile exercise.

* MI5 and MI6 must have believed that it was imperative that a darker secret remain concealed – presumably a security disaster revolving around SOE, George Graham and George Hill, with some possible contribution from Stephen Alley.

* The anomalies uncovered by Mark Kristmanson (echoing John Bryden’s observations about Menzies’ presence in Ottawa) indicate that there were other mysteries surrounding the Gouzenko Affair, primarily related to MI6, which would allow the ‘Moscow agent’ business to be joined with other uncomfortable facts for censorship.

* Guy Liddell’s feeble attempt to follow up on, and seal, the ‘ELLI’ business in early 1946 left open a huge exposure when the FBI intensified its investigation after the ‘Third Man’ rumours.

* MI5 displayed a lamentable approach to record-keeping, and there were obviously attempts by senior officers to shield their juniors from the facts of the case. Dick White’s actions look particularly egregious, with his officers Robertson and McBarnet apparently kept in relative ignorance.

* As the ‘molehunt’ started, the exclusion of the ‘Moscow agent’ information from the dossier made it easier to associate ‘ELLI’ with suspected MI5 officers such as Mitchell and Hollis. References to SOE would have disturbed the focus of the case.

* The managers of the inquiries in the early 1970s determined that it would be convenient to doctor the reports, and selectively ignore others, in order to make it appear that Hollis had distorted the record.

* Gouzenko was encouraged to make a spirited disparagement of such evidence in the presence of journalists who would then further the story of Hollis’s probable culpability.

* Peter Wright is again shown to be a highly unreliable chronicler. His accounts are historically and psychologically inauthentic.

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Claude Dansey’s Mischief

‘War in the Shadows’

The Review

I must confess that, while I am a keen subscriber to the Times Literary Supplement, I do skim over many of its book reviews. For instance, in recent months there has been a surfeit (not just in the TLS, but in the press generally) of lengthy reviews of biographies of such tiresome persons as Philip Roth, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, and one can digest the sordid aspects of their lives only so many times. Occasionally, something startling appears, and a review in the issue of December 4, 2020 especially caught my eye. It was headlined ‘Lost in a hall of mirrors: Did Britain betray Jean Moulin?’, and it covered a publication by Patrick Marnham, titled War in the Shadows: Resistance, deception and betrayal in Occupied France’, which offered new theories about the fate of the illustrious SOE (Special Operations Executive) emissary and resistance leader. The review was written by Nigel Perrin, described as ‘a lecturer at the University of Kent’, and author of a book about SOE agent Harry Peulevé.

My interest was piqued on several fronts. Decades ago I had read such popular biographies as The White Rabbit (of ‘Tommy’ Yeo-Thomas), and Carve Her Name With Pride (of Violette Szabo), but had never properly internalized exactly what was going on with SOE and its various divisions. When I retired, I started catching up with my reading, and eagerly absorbed such SOE-related works as Leo Marks’s Between Silk and Cyanide, and Sarah Helms’s A Life in Secrets, about Vera Atkins. Yet it was only when my study of wireless interception in WWII became more intensive that I read the more serious histories of SOE, such as those by William Mackenzie and M. R. D. Foot, as well as a number of not utterly reliable biographies and memoirs that handled the use of wireless by agents in occupied Europe, and the efforts of the Gestapo to intercept and locate their transmissions. Nevertheless, I would have had to admit that I still had only a sketchy idea of the manner in which many of the Allied networks in France had been penetrated and broken down, in contrast to what I had learned about the notorious ‘Nordpol’ operation in the Netherlands.

Patrick Marnham was a name I recognized, mainly in association with the magazine Private Eye. He had been heavily involved with the Jimmy Goldsmith case, and had written a history of Private Eye (a copy of which I own) that apparently infuriated its editor Christopher Booker, an achievement that must constitute a special irony, I imagine. Marnham was obviously a sound investigative journalist, but I had not got round to reading any of his other books. And then there were the compelling code phrases ‘hall of mirrors’, ‘deception and betrayal’, that drove the story right into my territory, with echoes of the ‘wilderness of mirrors’, as imagined by James Angleton, and the betrayals inherent in John le Carré’s novels.

Jean Moulin

The review was quite scathing. Marnham had written a book on Jean Moulin in 2000 (The Death of Jean Moulin), where he had investigated the murky background to the way in which the first President of the National Council of Resistance occupied that post for only two months before being betrayed and then tortured by the infamous Klaus Barbie, and then dying in captivity on July 8, 1943. The circumstances of the betrayal of Moulin and his comrades are controversial, and still hotly debated, but Marnham’s new book (so Perrin stated) suggests alarming connections between the death of Moulin and the demise of another SOE network named PROSPER, led by the eponymous Prosper, namely Francis Suttill. As Perrin described it: “If Moulin’s demise is a complex subject, the downfall of Prosper is positively labyrinthine.”

Marnham’s fresh research and conclusions were prompted by veiled hints provided to him in writing by an anonymous character he calls ‘the Ghost’, sent to him after the publication of his earlier book. The Ghost encouraged Marnham to investigate links between Moulin and Prosper. And this is where my interest rapidly swelled, as Marnham’s claim is that the PROSPER network was sacrificed as part of a scheme to convince the Germans that an invasion of France would occur in 1943 (when Churchill, Roosevelt and all their planners knew that it could not possibly be attempted until 1944). Thus was the COCKADE deception plan designed, a piece of which was Operation STARKEY – a project to keep enough of Hitler’s forces occupied in France by convincing them that the cross-Channel assault would occur in September of that year. It was also useful as a sop to Stalin, who had become increasingly frustrated by the misleading promises that his Allies had made to him about opening what Stalin called ‘the Second Front’ (an inaccurate term that he had managed to have picked up by his friends in the West).

Henri Dericourt

Key to the whole story is the role of one Henri Déricourt, rather inaccurately described as a ‘double agent’, who turned out to be a down-and-out traitor. Déricourt arrived in England in September 1942, was recruited by SOE, and then trained as an ‘air movements’ officer. He was parachuted back into France in January 1943, but was soon informing the Gestapo of everything that was going on, so that the Nazis were gradually able to mop up the whole network – while probably ascribing their success to detection of illicit wireless. Two valiant SOE officers, Francis Suttill, and his radio operator, Gilbert Norman, were captured and later executed, as well as scores of members of the French resistance. Yet Marnham’s most challenging assertion is that, behind the general scheme to delude the Germans, Claude Dansey of SIS was an active agent in the operation, and had even taken Déricourt under his wing in 1942, in the knowledge that he had already been recruited by the Gestapo.

Now, Claude Dansey’s antipathy to SOE, and his fear that its madcap saboteurs would interfere with SIS’s proper intelligence-gathering, is a well-known fact, but it is a much more serious charge to suggest that Dansey was actually responsible for more malicious and destructive initiatives. According to Perrin, Marnham goes further. He claims that Nicolas Bodington, an SOE staff officer who, in July 1943, after the arrest of Prosper and four other F section agents, went to Paris to investigate the Prosper affair (and made it back unscathed) was an SIS ‘mole’. In addition, Dansey was reputedly also involved in Moulin’s arrest, since he had used an agent Edmée Delettraz, ‘a courier for an SIS network based in Geneva’, who had been arrested in Lyon, and thereafter agreed to work for Klaus Barbie. Readers who are familiar with what I discovered about SIS and Victor Farrell in Geneva, and his mysterious communications with Len Beurton, (see Sonia and MI6’s Hidden Hand), will perhaps understand why this particular story suddenly gained some new appeal for me, with my curiosity over exactly what Farrell and co. were up to in 1943.

This was all too much for Perrin, who did not see the evidence required to support Marnham’s thesis. “Amid a wealth of conjecture, supposition and insinuation, one is hard pressed to find any solid evidence to support the extraordinary claims being made”, he wrote. Perrin saw all the mysterious riddles emanating from the Ghost as leading readers down a pointless rabbit-hole, and regretted openly Marnham’s exploits into ‘the realms of speculation’. I made a mental note that I should read the book at some stage, but had other fish to fry at the time.

The Correspondence

What followed was a provocative exchange of letters in the periodical. I always turn first to the Letters page of the TLS when I receive my copy (as I do with the London Review of Books), as some of the letters turn out to be far more engaging than most of the book reviews. In fact, I wish both magazines devoted more space to letters from subscribers. Admittedly, many of them contain only very obscure or pedantic points, but a few present lively new perspectives on matters arising from the reviews themselves. (As an aside, let me point out that the LRB would do well to focus on its mission rather than dedicating so much space to long essays on political matters. That is part of the stylistic legacy of the recently retired editor Mary-Kay Wilmers, but in the past few years I have become heartily fed up, for example, with pages occupied by yet another diatribe telling me how awful Donald Trump is. I could understand why the left intelligentsia wanted to let off steam on this matter, but what on earth had it to do with a London-based Review of Books?? And the pattern continues.)

To return to the correspondence. First appeared a predictably peeved rebuttal from Mr. Marnham, on December 18. I found it persuasive. He carefully dismissed Perrin’s complaints about a lack of ‘solid evidence’, painstakingly referring again to the documents that he had found that proved links between Claude Dansey of SIS, T. A. Robertson of MI5 (the most prominent member of the Double-Cross Committee), and the Gestapo agent Henri Déricourt. He corrected Perrin for ascribing to him a statement by M. R. D. Foot, and reminded readers of his own chapter that painstakingly exposed some of Professor Foot’s errors. He alluded to an admission by Vera Atkins, made in France after Déricourt’s trial (at which Nicolas Bodington appeared as a defence witness), and not previously published in the United Kingdom, that Bodington, the F Section officer that she had worked alongside during the war, had ‘probably worked for SIS’. On the link between Prosper and the arrest of Moulin Marnham was a little more guarded, implying that much of the story remained problematic. This reply certainly reinforced my wish to read his book.

Three weeks later, a rather emotional letter appeared under Francis J. Suttill’s name. Mr Suttill stated that he had written a book titled Shadows in the Fog, published by the History Press in 2014 that covered the wartime activities of his father, Major Francis Suttill. Now, that was a very poignant revelation: it is impossible to understand the particular grief that Francis Suttill must have suffered, having never known his father properly (he was born in 1940), and I am filled with admiration for the many years he had spent investigating the events that led to his father’s arrest. Yet no historian should be exempt from a ruthless inspection of any new evidence that appears, or not be prepared to re-analyze his or her conclusions in the light of such discoveries.

Nicholas Bodington

Mr. Suttill came across as a little intemperate. Mr. Marnham’s claim was ‘nonsense’, he declared, and he further categorised War in the Shadows as a ‘novel’. Yet he offered no detailed evidence to support his case, merely suggesting that his own book was the final and irrefutable account of what happened, and expressing his belief that Marnham must have ignored what he wrote since it did not fit in with his theories. He explained the appearance of Bodington at Déricourt’s trial as the repayment of a debt, since Déricourt had saved Bodington’s life in 1943. Suttill completed his script, rather oddly, with the following statement: “Jack Agazarian was betrayed by three SOE agents. His fellow wireless operator, Gilbert Norman, then in the hands of the Gestapo, set the trap. Bodington, despite knowing it was a trap from Déricourt, ordered Agazarian to go to the rendezvous as their host at the time later testified.” For me, this stirred up the pot even more mysteriously rather than clearing up any unfinished business. Suttill certainly did nothing to unravel the ‘labyrinthine’ tangle that Perrin had alluded to: if anything, he hinted at conspiracies that called for the kind of plausible theorizing that Marnham was engaged in.

Alongside Suttill’s letter appeared a longer submission from Nigel Perrin. He started his riposte with a defence of ‘official’ history. While he acknowledged that new evidence might be able to ‘overturn’ it, this was perhaps not the strongest card he could play, given the established reputation of various ‘official’ and ‘authorised’ histories for selectivity, obscurity – and error. He then went on to question the solidity of Marnham’s evidence, claiming to be familiar with the detailed items that Marnham cited, but minimising their significance, and dismissing Marnham’s case as purely speculative. It was clear that the public debate was winding down, and close inspection of Marnham’s text (and maybe the archival material quoted, too) would be necessary for the independent reader to make a proper judgment. Marnham was afforded a last short opportunity to reply, in which he repeated his claim that Perrin was misquoting him, and conceded that an informed assessment on his claims would have to reside with the interested reader. Rather surprisingly, Suttill was given a last bite of the cherry, where he merely disputed the number of casualties arising from the betrayal of the Prosper circuit.

Other Reviews

I thus ordered the book, and, while waiting for it to arrive, took a look at one or two other reviews. Now, I am usually quite cautious in my consideration of book reviews in this sphere. I want to know what the credentials of the reviewer are for having any authority to offer judgments on such works. My dismay over the many amateurish assessments of Ben Macintyre’s Agent Sonya was a prime motivation in my accepting an offer to write a review for the Journal of Intelligence and National Security. I was pleased that, in the Times recently, one Oliver Kamm was on hand to give Anne Sebba’s fawning and inaccurate biography of Ethel Rosenberg the proper dismissive treatment it merited, despite the puffs from Philippe Sands and Claire Tomalin that the book displayed on its cover. (Not that the Rosenbergs deserved the death penalty, but they were guilty.) Moreover, if the book in question is one that focuses on topics close to my own domain of interest, I do not want my reactions to be swayed unduly by what professional critics have written.

I did inspect two reviews – one in the Spectator, and one in the Times. That in the Spectator (October 10, 2020) was a little perfunctory, provided by Allan Mallison, who is a former army officer, and writer of novels set in Napoleonic times. He combined his review with one of Helen Fry’s MI9, and he showed that he had no particular expertise in these matters. A good chunk of his review is taken up by direct quotation, he provides no detailed analysis while commending Marnham’s ‘painstakingly forensic’ approach, and he merely concludes: “This is a masterly analysis, impeccably presented.” This was good for Marnham, but the magazine should have commissioned the usually excellent Clare Mulley (who normally reviews such items on its pages) for this particular task. (I have just noticed that Mulley wrote a sympathetic review of Sebba’s biography in the Spectator of June 19, where she claimed that Ethel Rosenberg betrayed nobody! Adam Sisman echoes this stance in his evaluation in Literary Review.)

Roger Boyes, in the Times of November 9, provided a more serious analysis. Boyes is a staff journalist who has written books on Russian history, and he engaged with Marnham’s argument more expertly. He focused on the coincidence that Moulin’s arrest and the mopping up of the PROSPER network occurred on the same day (June 21, 1943), and explained how Marnham’s interest was spawned because, as a teenager, he had stayed for a while with the woman who had been the leader of the betrayed group. Boyes perhaps dwelled on her activities a little too much, but used that introduction to describe how the group’s regular sabotage operations were overtaken by the dropping of large amounts of armaments to be deployed to support the D-Day landings. The French Resistance was to be used to convince the Germans that they needed to maintain a strong force in the West.

“But it was a bluff that cost lives as the Germans cracked down,” wrote Boyes. Moreover, even though the Nazi general von Runstedt was fooled for a few months, the backlash from the lies and trickery endured much longer. Boyes commended Marnham for capturing all this intrigue with verve, but criticised him for his ‘relentless feuding’ with the official chronicler of SOE activities, the late MRD Foot, as if he had a personal animus against him. That remains to be seen: Foot was notoriously protective of ‘his’ story, and disliked any other historian treading on his turf. Boyes was also of the opinion that Marnham had not performed enough justice to the German side of the story.

His final assessment, however, was that Marnham did not promote unambiguously a strong conspiracy theory, but left the question of whether the British betrayed the French Resistance as part of a deception exercise for the reader to decide. Some (perhaps including Boyes) might consider that an evasion of responsibility, but I can sympathise with the dilemma, having placed myself in a similar position. Fresh evidence can frequently evolve and modify the conventional wisdom, but dogmatism is never appropriate, no final account can ever be written, and the open-minded historian can hope only that fresh evidence and fresh inquisitive students will allow a more accurate picture to be portrayed.

I was left with one very serious thought, however. Boyes quoted a minute of Churchill’s (of April 14, 1943): “Stalin not to be informed that 2nd Front is now cancelled.” (It was not clear at the time whether Marnham cited this instruction in his text. I later discovered that he does indeed quote it, on page 94.) Apart from the fact that my understanding has been that Stalin was well aware by the spring of 1943 that there would be no English Channel landings that year, this instruction showed extraordinary naivety on Churchill’s part. What with Stalin’s spies infiltrated in MI5, MI6, SOE, GC & CS, the Foreign Office, The Home Office, The Ministry of Information and probably other government institutions, it would have been practically impossible to prevent a ‘secret’ of that magnitude from reaching Stalin’s ears. (Not that Churchill realized that at the time, of course, but that is another story. Moreover, if it reached the Kremlin, it could have been passed surreptitiously on to the Germans.) That is another dimension of the ‘betrayal’ that Marnham reportedly covered – that Stalin would consider his Allies even more perfidious because he gained access to intelligence that they did not pass to him on official channels – just like the Enigma decrypts. I experienced an increased interest in learning how Marnham dealt with these issues.

The Book

War in the Shadows arrived, and it came with some impressive blurbs on its back-cover, from James Holland, Antony Beevor, and William Boyd: ‘an incredible story brilliantly told’ (Holland); ‘a brilliant and revelatory work of modern historical investigation’ (Boyd). Yet it had to wait a while before I finished reading a series of books related to MI5 after the war, and to the Gouzenko affair, that had been lined up in series. Unlike some of those items I had just completed, however, Marnham’s book proved to be what I believe is referred to in the popular press as a ‘page-turner’.

Patrick Marnham

Marnham approaches his main topics carefully and methodically, explaining the circumstances of his stay in the Sologne in 1962, and his becoming acquainted with Souris (Anne-Marie de Bernard), one of the heroines of the story, and how she and her friends and family helped refugees after the fall of Paris. He outlines the background to the war in 1940, and what prompted Winston Churchill to set up the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Yet SOE’s beginnings were infected with conflict from the start: by opposition from SIS (MI6), which was focussed on intelligence-gathering, not sabotage, and resented SOE, and from rivalries within SOE itself, as de Gaulle’s government-in-exile wanted control of French operations, and ended up running its own section (RF) alongside SOE’s native French unit (F).

The kernel of Marnham’s story is the tale of two parallel, and almost symmetrical, betrayals of SOE agent networks, at the end of June 1943. The first, in Paris, that of the PROSPER network, led by Francis Suttill and his radio operator, Gilbert Norman, was engineered by Henri Déricourt, a Gestapo spy who had infiltrated SOE to become the air movements officer for ‘F’. The second, that of the movement behind Jean Moulin, who was de Gaulle’s chosen leader of the resistance movement, occurred in Lyon. It was facilitated by the activities of Edmée Delettraz, a courier managed by Colonel Groussard, of SIS in Geneva, who was befriended by another Gestapo infiltrator, became his mistress, and led her lover’s police force to the place where Moulin was holding a meeting with resistance colleagues. Suttill, Norman and Moulin were just three of hundreds who were rounded up. All were tortured horribly. After brutal treatment by Barbie, Moulin died in transit to a German prison. Suttill and Norman were later executed.

This might have been a relatively simple tale of incompetence and confusion, but Marnham makes a stronger claim (not the first to do so, incidentally, but the first to come up with more convincing evidence) that a malign, and plausibly evil, plot lay behind the betrayals. And the common element was Colonel Claude Dansey, the vice-chief and director of operations of SIS, who was apparently playing a furtive role in manipulating SOE. One of the officers in his Z intelligence network, Frank Nelson, had worked in Geneva before being appointed head of SOE in 1940. Nicholas Bodington, who was second-in-command of F Section, had been placed there from SIS, and undeniably was aware of Déricourt’s associations with the Gestapo in Paris, yet persisted in sending Suttill and Norman to their doom. Delettraz and Groussard worked for Dansey’s current representative in Geneva, Victor Farrell. Groussard likewise knew of Delettraz’s liaison with Robert Moog, the Abwehr officer seconded to the Gestapo, but encouraged further contact.

Claude Dansey

The reason for Dansey’s treachery against the SOE was a fierce regard for the strategic goal of convincing the Germans that a large-scale invasion of France was imminent. The scale of armaments drops, and feverish resistance activity, was designed, as part of the STARKEY ruse, to convince the Wehrmacht that a large force needed to be maintained on the Western Front, in order to make Stalin’s task easier. Marnham’s research indicates that the Double Cross Committee was aware of the deception. Yet why so many noble lives had to be sacrificed in this endeavour, and whether it was these events that convinced the Germans that an attack was imminent, is never properly explained by Marnham. He refers briefly to Churchill’s decision that the camouflage Operation SLEDGEHAMMER should proceed, and that Stalin should not be informed that the real invasion will not go ahead, but he does not explore the obvious paradoxes in that statement, or how it was undermined by Stalin’s network of spies. (SLEDGEHAMMER is not precisely described, and does not appear in the index.)

Here, I think, Boyes’s observation about ‘the German side’ has some merit. Marnham cites SOE: 1940-1945, the 1981 book by J. G. Beevor (who was an officer in SOE) to indicate that Hitler was persuaded that Allied invasion plans ‘had suffered a setback’, but uses an even older statement by Foot (1966) to suggest that von Rundstedt remained convinced that an assault in 1943 was likely. His thesis appears to be that STARKEY was (partially) successful because the Germans considered the invasion threat real, and may have concluded that they had been able to stifle it because the Paris Gestapo was able to destroy the guts of the French resistance. Yet, as he states, London considered it a failure: would a planned assault have been abandoned simply because of the effective German mopping-up operation? “In July,” Marnham writes, “the situation changed because the Sicily landings forced Hitler to fight on a real second front, and this took some of the pressure off the deception staffs.” This is a topic that deserves some deeper analysis.

Francis Suttill

Another area of imbalance is the purported equivalence of the Suttill-Moulin situations. Marnham asserts (p 226) that both Suttill and Moulin had been given the false impression, in the spring of 1943 that later landings ‘were likely, or at least possible’. Yet Suttill’s impressions were far stronger than Moulin’s. On page 96, Marnham states that, after his briefing in May 1943, Suttill had a new conviction in mind, namely ‘that the long-awaited allied landings were imminent’, and the entire Dansey plan revolves around that conviction. On the other hand, Moulin and General Delestraint (a rather mysterious figure, who is not fully fleshed out in Marnham’s account) were told in March that there was no plan to carry out landings before the end of the year, but that there remained ‘the possibility of establishing a bridgehead on French soil before the autumn of 1943’. Nevertheless, Marnham rather inconsistently presents Moulin, after his arrest, as harbouring ‘the misled belief that allied landings in Northern France might well be attempted within the following three months’, which is something of an overstatement, but also an equivocation. The levels of indoctrination were sharply differentiated, which prompts the reader to question the overall argument.

And, indeed, Marnham hints at an alternative motivation for the betrayal of Moulin. On page 221, Marnham suggest that the major reason for abandoning Moulin to the Gestapo wolves was the fact that he had become too successful and too powerful. He had successfully united the military and political arms of the Resistance movement into one body, and thus significantly increased the influence of the detested de Gaulle. He had also quashed the Communist element in the resistance, which the leftish SOE considered critical for the coming engagements. Therefore he had to be sacrificed. This may also have been a genuine ambition of Dansey’s, and thus does not undermine the overall story of his mischief, but it weakens Marnham’s major theme of a common military deception exercise directed through Suttill and Moulin.

Indeed, as the story progresses, it does become more difficult to track the cast of characters and their various roles, both official and in subterfuge, and their explanations of their activities. The task is not helped by a rather sparse Index, and the annoying lack of relevant page-numbers at the head of each Notes page. For example, I wanted to explore when it was that Bodington and Dansey (who engineered Déricourt’s entry to SOE, bypassing the normal channels when Déricourt had provided a false account of his escape to Britain) had first learned that he was working for the Germans. I wanted to go back and trace Déricourt’s recruitment by the Gestapo, and his various encounters with his handler, Karl Boemelburg. But ‘Gestapo’ has only one sub-entry under ‘Déricourt’, and there appear no sub-entries for ‘Boemelburg’. Thus the inquisitive reader has to go back, re-read whole chapters, and make his or her own annotations to develop a particular case-history. Likewise, too many events are left undated: Marnham presents a useful chronology at the front of his book, but the text itself could have been sharpened up in several places to make matters clearer.

I also believe that Marnham uses the terms ‘double agent’, and ‘triple agent’ a bit too carelessly. Any agent who starts to have regular communications with the enemy is essentially a lost resource. His or her allegiance remains not with a cause or, but solely to personal survival – such as with SNOW and ZIGZAG in Britain’s Double Cross operations. It is beyond the ability of most mortals to maintain consistent fictions with more than one master. And therein lies much of the hopelessness of Dansey’s mission, if indeed that was what it was. He may have believed that he was controlling Déricourt in support of his greater goal, and using him as a ‘double agent’. As I have explained elsewhere (http://www.coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/) , ‘double agents’ (or ‘controlled agents’) can be successful only when their masters have exclusive and complete control over their actions, movements, and communications.

But Déricourt was never a double-agent, as Marnham suggests he became in January 1943, after he renewed contact with Boemelburg (p 251): he was an out-and-out spy who infiltrated himself into SOE, and remained loyal to his cause. It was he who was controlling Bodington, and the proof of Bodington’s delusion was his willingness to appear at Déricourt’s post-war trial and state that he had essentially instructed Déricourt to stay in touch with the Germans, thus saving Déricourt from the hangman. On page 276, Marnham puzzlingly claims that Déricourt was ‘of course a classic candidate for a deception operation, a Gestapo agent unmasked on arrival in England’. I would say that he was nothing of the sort: SIS and SOE had no means of gauging his true loyalty, and they had no control over his communications. It consisted of a colossal misunderstanding of what ‘turning’ implied. It is not clear how or why MI5’s Double Cross committee, which was highly cautious in approving ‘controlled agent’ candidates, sanctioned the process.

Moreover, the psychology of the deception yearns for analysis. Bodington decided to advance Suttill’s work, and send him on another mission, even though he knew of Déricourt’s associations, and Suttill (who had suspicions about Déricourt) was under the impression that an invasion would follow soon. (Marnham informs us that it was Bodington who, before the war, actually introduced Déricourt to Boemelburg. Nigel West has pointed out, however, that this assertion, by Robert Marshall, is not verifiable.) Did Dansey and Bodington expect Suttill to collapse under torture, and betray the existence of a phoney attack? And were they thus thwarted by Suttill’s bravery? On the other hand, Norman, who tried to indicate that he was broadcasting under control, and omitted his security code, was rebuked by SOE in London, and thus brought to despair, agreeing to reveal the names in the network to the Gestapo. And what about Déricourt? Did he wonder why his meetings with the Gestapo were tolerated, and suggest to his masters that a clumsy deception campaign was under way, or was he completely amoral, ready to align himself with the probable winner (as Marnham intimates)? Did Déricourt ‘save Bodington’s life’ in 1943 (as Francis Suttill claimed) by insisting that the Gestapo let him escape?  Marnham records the facts of this extraordinary series of events, but they raise some serious psychological questions. Perhaps they are candidates for a deeper treatment by Tom Stoppard, or someone similar.

Gilbert Norman

There is much to admire in Marnham’s methodology. I found his criticisms of Foot incisive, but scrupulously fair. On two occasions (p 171 & p 259), he rightly calls Foot to task for displaying what I call ‘Professor Hinsley Syndrome’ – bringing up what is presented as a rumour (without explaining its source), and then blandly discrediting it without introducing a shred of evidence to show why that should be so. I can also appreciate from experience Marnham’s painstaking trawl through the archives, dealing with grossly weeded files, looking for loopholes, matching possible names to redacted references, integrating information from multiple sources, and drawing on his deep knowledge of surrounding events.

Overall, Marnham has produced an impressive and convincing, if not conclusive, account of a very murky business. He could have been a little more rigorous in his final analysis, I believe. Yet why Suttill and Perrin should have taken such an emotional objection to War in the Shadows, I cannot imagine. To categorize it as a ’novel’ is simply insulting, when both writers would have done better to study the details, applaud Marnham’s ability to exploit the archives, and then themselves make their contribution to an evolving work of history. Would Suttill have preferred the attribution of his poor father’s loss of life to simple incompetence, rather than to a malevolent spirit who was out of control? I do not know. It is all very strange.

Yet, as the regular reader of coldspur may already have concluded, my curiosity was rapidly ratcheted up. Colonel Dansey and Victor Farrell feature dominantly in my account of Sonia’s miraculous egress from Switzerland to the United Kingdom, and my assumption that Dansey believed that he could thereafter manipulate her. My original reactions were heightened and encouraged. Were these operations in some way related?

The Aftermath

I decided that I needed to get in touch with Mr. Marnham. Accordingly, I sent an email to his publisher, requesting that he pass on a message expressing my interest. I referred to my research on Dansey and Sonia, and gave him the coldspur url. I was very gratified to receive a prompt response, where the agent promised to forward my message.

The very next day, I received a very positive response from Mr. Marnham, which ran as follows:

I hope you are well and wish to thank you for contacting me about ‘War in the Shadows’.  I am very glad you were interested in my book.

I have been looking through the impressive research you yourself have published on ‘Coldspur’, and much regret that I was not aware of this when I was still at work.

The papers you have published are very extensive and I will be able to absorb your theories properly in the next few days.

The clear link and chain of command you have established between Dansey and Farrell, and the astonishing evidence of their role in the success of Agent Sonya, provides considerable support for my own more tentative theories. I was of course delighted to read it.

You seem to be in North Carolina at the moment but I do hope this will not prevent us from exchanging views and lines of enquiry. I am just completing work on revisions for the paperback edition of ‘War in the Shadows’ and with your permission would like to refer to some of your conclusions in an Afterword. 

I was naturally delighted with this response, and encouraged Mr. Marnham to use my research as he felt fit. We have communicated occasionally since then, and I eagerly await the appearance of the paperback version of his book. He has given me some comments on Francis Suttill’s account of Prosper, and I have subsequently ordered the book in the hope that I might better understand what Suttill’s particular concerns and grievances are, and why he disagrees so violently with Marnham’s analysis.

It is an extraordinary pattern of activity by Claude Dansey. The fact that he could meddle so influentially in so many places, all apparently under the strange belief that he could manipulate hostile agents (both German and Soviet) to Great Britain’s advantage, is something that the historians have overall overlooked. The connection with Archie Boyle is also particularly poignant. Boyle was responsible for overall security within SOE, and Marnham points out that Dansey and Boyle (who was an Air Commodore) had previously worked together. As Director of Air Intelligence, Boyle sat on the W Board, where Dansey sometimes deputized for Menzies. Keith Jeffery, in his authorised history of MI6 (to which Marnham briefly refers), wrote that Boyle had been the Air Ministry’s candidate for Chief of SIS in 1939, and that in September 1941 he and Dansey ‘took charge of the circulation of all information from SIS to SOE’. Using evidence from SIS files (which we common-or-garden historians are not allow to see), Jeffery claimed that ‘Boyle was respected and trusted in SIS and got on particularly well with Menzies, Dansey and Vivian’.

Air Commodore Archie Boyle

Moreover, Marnham attributes Boyle with a significant role in recruiting dubious candidates to SOE. He strongly suggests that Boyle had a hand in bringing Bodington into SOE (page 258), and on page 264 offers the following startling commentary: “An SIS ‘spotter’ at the LRC (London Reception Centre) quickly identified Déricourt as a German agent and turned him. His previous connection with Bodington was established and he was introduced into SOE (as Bodington had been) by Air Commodore Boyle or possibly by André Simon.” Yet this evidence must be questionable: apart from the unlikelihood of a German agent’s being casually ‘turned’ at the LRC, Marnham uses Jeffery (page 366) as a source for his claim, but while Jeffery states that an SIS spotter in May 1941 reported that he had recruited twenty-eight agents, and passed on five further names, Déricourt is not specifically identified.

‘Silver: The Spy Who Fooled the Nazis’

In my piece last month on coldspur, (Who Framed Roger Hollis?), I introduced readers to the strange case of George Graham, né Leontieff, who was mysteriously infiltrated into the SOE mission to Moscow, led by George Hill, at the end of 1941. I can detect a possible link between Dansey and this highly irregular recruitment (although Boyle claimed to be ignorant of Graham’s true identity when he spoke to Liddell in 1945). In his book Silver: The Spy Who Fooled the Nazis, Mihir Bose indicated that George Hill, who had been an SIS officer in World War I, was approached in 1939 by SIS, on Churchill’s request, to help out SIS. Menzies and co. must have been ignorant of the rumour that Hill had sold secrets to the Germans when under financial stress, which led to Menzies’s facilitating Hill’s entry into SOE. (That was the explanation reinforced by Len Manderstam, the head of the SOE Russian section.) Here the story enters even murkier waters that I am not (yet) prepared to plunge into – the tale of ‘Agent Silver’, the cryptonym for the native Indian named Bhagat Ram. Bhagat Ram has been classified by such as Dónal O’Sullivan (in Dealing with the Devil), as a ‘quintuple agent’, a highly imaginative soubriquet, and was eventually controlled (with the term perhaps being loosely applied) by none other than Peter Fleming.

The reason this story is fascinating is that Hill’s counterpart, Ossipov, had suggested to Hill that the two sides should share intelligence information. He revealed to the British that Bhagat Ram was actually spying for the Soviets and gaining intelligence on German plans – an extraordinarily open break from NKVD tradition. The Soviet Union’s need to repel the Germans outweighed its desire to oust the British from India. Moreover, Ossipov was looking for intelligence on the Chinese. When Hill found it difficult to reciprocate, he cabled London in frustration, but it was Menzies who replied to him! As O’Sullivan writes: “On 31 November 1942, ‘C’ [Menzies], while regretting the delay due to ‘our decentralised system’, ordered Hill to transmit the following message to the NKVD: “We have no information on the Siberian Chinese frontier. NKVD will realise that this area is outside our sphere of interest.” The content of the message is not as important as the reality of the communication. Menzies was bypassing the correct channels of command to give instructions directly to Hill as if he were an employee of SIS, not of SOE.

And, indeed, O’Sullivan’s citations from HS 1/191 at the National Archives (which I have not yet inspected myself) show an extended correspondence between Hill and SIS (nominally Menzies, but more probably Dansey). It provides inescapable evidence that the SOE mission in Moscow was in reality an outstation of SIS. It had been staffed by SIS, and was no doubt intended to fill the Secret Intelligence Service’s notable gap in intelligence-gathering in the Soviet Union. Hill went through the motions of liaising with Ossipov on SOE matters, but his superior interests were in intelligence-gathering, and working with Ossipov on Bhagat Ram, a case that he completely overlooks in his memoirs. I do not believe this anomaly has been studied properly anywhere.

This was an unholy mess. The NKVD made no distinction between SOE and SIS, regarding them both as ‘British Intelligence’– rightly so, as we can now understand. Hill was supposed to be representing an organisation dedicated to sabotage, and had no brief to discuss intelligence and counter-intelligence matters, but he did not want to disappoint his counterpart, and he maintained a confidential link with his true bosses in SIS. O’Sullivan conjectures that SIS may have concluded it had a dangerous and unreliable agent (Hill) on its books, but that assessment is surely at fault, as Hill was not officially responsible to SIS.  It is more probable that SIS, desperate to gain intelligence from inside the Soviet Union, was trying to insert its own spy under cover of Hill. SIS had probably facilitated the infiltration of the highly suspect George Graham, in the belief that he might be a useful asset, but it turned out that he was blown, and certainly exploited by the NKVD. Thus, without informing SOE, Menzies (or maybe Dansey) tried to take advantage of the Bhagat Ram opening to allow Hill to recruit a more experienced SIS officer to work for him in Moscow. Archie Boyle must have been in a total spin.

Moreover, another thunderbolt struck me as I was completing this piece towards the end of June. I have recently acquired a copy of Nigel West’s book Secret War (The Story of SOE), in a new imprint of 2019. I was not at all surprised that this volume appears to be a facsimile of the 1992 impression, unrevised (and thus very dated in its commentary *), and including all the original errors, since I had quizzed West about the republication of his books a year ago. (See Late Spring Round-up, of May 2020). I have not yet read the book cover-to-cover, but on scanning pages indexed by ‘Claude Dansey’, I discovered, on page 222, the following: “Whilst SIS and SOE must have realized the vast scope for overlap and misunderstandings during the invasion, with competing rival missions operating in the same territory, there was an added complication, namely SIS’s responsibility for running all of SOE’s double-agent operations. While this was a perfectly sensible arrangement, ensuring a single conduit for the dissemination of controlled information to the enemy, there were to be continuing suspicions concerning the sensitivity of the material being conveyed.”

[* Typical of the book’s superannuation is West’s description of the PICKAXE operations conducted by SOE for the NKVD, ‘which numbered nearly two dozen but are still shrouded in mystery’. (p 67)]

This was for me an extraordinary claim – as well as a very dubious judgment by West concerning the ‘sensibility’ of the arrangement. (SIS would clearly have had to be responsible after the Normandy landings, but not before June 1944. The ‘ownership’ of agents who crossed from imperial to non-imperial territory was a constant cause of friction between MI5 and SIS.) I have not yet found the place where West introduces the assertion, and thus have not been able to verify the source. I have peered inside three books by Foot, without reward. I plan to inspect Hinsley and Jeffery to seek a confirmation of this unlikely story. The use of double-agents (or ‘controlled enemy agents’) had to be authorised by the London Controlling Section, and managed by the W Board and the XX Committee, with primary delegation to MI5 (on UK soil). For SIS to have taken the initiative in managing such persons on behalf of SOE is an astounding phenomenon, and would have jeopardized the remainder of such subterfuges.

The security and integrity of the Double Cross Committee, and its control of double agent operations, have always been a point of pride with MI5. Yet, on a second reading of War in the Shadows, I encountered a claim that I had overlooked before. On pages 264 and 265, Marnham (partially) quotes J. P. Masterman’s observation from The Double-Cross System: “In particular the services, whatever their views may have been as to the share in control which belonged to the W. Board or to the Security Service, never questioned or adversely criticised the practical control and the running of agents by M.I.5 or M.I.6.” And Masterman praises the general harmony between MI5 and MI6 that prevailed on the Committee, especially after ‘the M.I.6 representative on the Committee was changed.’

But was the Committee fully informed about all of MI6’s ‘double-agent’ ventures, or that it was managing such operations on behalf of SOE? Masterman tantalisingly explains how ‘the bulk of the agents described were those in the British Isles’, but makes no reference to SOE at all in his book. That suggest that he was either unaware of such activities, or knew about them, but considered them better buried. None of the authorised (i.e. Howard) or unofficial (e.g. Macintyre) histories of deception refers to the role of SOE, Déricourt or Suttill in the STARKEY  operation, with all double-agent operations being ascribed exclusively to MI5’s B1A team. (William Mackenzie’s history does describe a role for SOE in STARKEY, but he could not acknowledge any double-cross operations at the time he wrote his work.) Yet one of Marnham’s significant achievements was to extract from Déricourt’s file a hand-written note by. T. A. Robertson that indicated that ‘GILBERT [Déricourt] was well-known to this officer during the war’. Does that claim appear to confirm that the Committee had approved of Dansey’s and Bodington’s intrigues with Déricourt, but thereafter preferred to delete any record from history? The matter screams out for further investigation.

It is difficult to assess exactly what Dansey was trying to achieve with all his vexatious meddling. Did he really believe he had been successful, as Marnham concludes on page 265? To whom was he accountable? Who was giving him instructions? And why did everyone put up with his destructive activity? Were they all scared of him? The only common driver in his policies would appear to be the delusion that he could control hostile agents (Déricourt, Delettraz, Ursula [SONIA] and Len Beurton, maybe Graham) and manipulate them to channel deceptive messages to adversaries – a vast misconception. As with any major failure of British Intelligence (e.g. with Klaus Fuchs), one has to judge to what degree the fault was one of Incompetence, Negligence, or Treachery. In Dansey’s case, it would appear to involve all three.

Postscript

I showed an earlier draft of this piece to Mr. Marnham, and he very graciously gave it some close attention. I have incorporated corrections to some errors, and revised some passages where I had overlooked parts of his argument, but I decided that the multiple elaborations and explorations around key items should be treated separately. One reason is that I want to complete my study of Nigel West’s book, read Francis Suttill’s account of his father’s demise as well as Robert Marshall’s All The King’s Men, and inspect the relevant files at the National Archives to bring me up to speed. I also want to re-examine Christopher Murphy’s Security and Special Operations, which has a weighty chapter on Déricourt that had been of only secondary interest when I read the book several months ago. I thus re-present Marnham’s other comments here (with minimal editing), without any response from me. It is appropriate that he have the ‘last word’ for a while.

On the last bizarre sentence of Suttill’s letter to the TLS:

In the last paragraph of his letter FJ Suttill inadvertently supports my argument.  He has abandoned the position stated in his book and now agrees with me that during that Paris trip Bodington betrayed his own radio operator, Jack Agazarian.  But Bodington did not sacrifice Agazarian to save his own skin.  He sent his radio operator into a trap to protect Déricourt, who, if he was to continue working as a deception agent, needed to provide regular information for the Gestapo.  Agazarian was eventually executed in Flossenburg, while Bodington returned to London and Déricourt stayed in France, where he could continue to inform and misinform German intelligence in the run up to D-Day.

On Perrin’s repeated misquotation in his letter to the TLS:

Two examples:   the ‘single memo’ I have uncovered linking Déricourt – an F section field agent – and the vice-chief of SIS, Claude Dansey, does not just ‘mention their names’ as Perrin claims. That is nonsense. The memo actually shows that Dansey was directly intervening in MI5’s long-running campaign to have Déricourt recalled.  Nor was my discovery ‘a single memo’.  It formed part of a six-month series which I have reconstructed, and which reveals that a second (unidentified) officer from SIS, in this case from Section V (counter-intelligence), was also intervening in the MI5 campaign. 

Perrin again massages the evidence when he refers to another document in the National Archive records that I publish for the first time.  This note – from T.A.Robertson, the former head of the XX (deception) Committee – does not ‘merely show’ (in Perrin’s words) that Robertson ‘knew about MI5’s investigation into Déricourt’.  In an initialled scribble Robertson warns a fellow MI5 officer that he has information about Déricourt ‘that will greatly supplement what appears in our files’.  Had Mr Perrin quoted the note correctly it would have saved him from making his next mistake – demanding to know why there is no mention in the XX Committee records of Déricourt giving information to the Paris Gestapo.

On Boyes’s assessment that Marnham had left the whole question of betrayal open:

Actually Boyes was wrong about this. I stated clearly that Prosper was betrayed as part of a deception operation. I distinguished this from the arrest of Jean Moulin, stating that I had failed to prove Dansey’s responsibility for this, but had established that he had the means and the motive to carry it out.

On my interpretation that Déricourt engineered the betrayal of the PROSPER network:

My argument is, to put it more precisely, that Déricourt did not so much ‘engineer’ their actual arrest as provide the SD with the necessary information to catch them, and then demoralize Prosper & Co. with Boemelburg and Kieffer’s knowledge of the secret messages Déricourt had passed on. See my pp .249-50

On my statement that the Double Cross Committee was aware of the deception:

They may well have had general knowledge of the first deception i.e. involving Prosper. They would not have been at all well informed about Dansey’s activities through Geneva.

On the attention I drew to the fact that Marnham’s historical references were somewhat dated:

My reference to this, a much stronger one, should have been ‘Michael Howard, British Intelligence in World War II: Vol. V (1990),  p.103.’ Of course all generals want bigger armies, but there is pretty strong evidence that von Rundstedt was properly alarmed by Starkey.

On my observation that Marnham stated that the Sicily landings took some pressure off the deception staff:

What I was hoping (but clearly failing) to convey was that another credible advantage of Starkey/Prosper/Moulin –was that when the Sicily landings took place, the OKW would have concluded that the alarm about the build-up of weapons in France had been a distraction from preparations for Sicily. At the same time, the Gestapo’s success in recovering a huge Resistance arsenal and in seizing so many important commanders would have safeguarded and increased Hitler’s confidence in the Paris Gestapo’s competence.  I agree, more thought needed.

On my questioning of the symmetry of the Prosper/Moulin deceptions:

I take your point and I explain this differentiation as follows: I do not think that there was a plan to betray Moulin as part of a deception operation in March 1943. I believe he was misled before his departure, as a precaution. So, if he was arrested, the precious (mis)information he held could – when ‘extracted’ from him – have become part of the deception. But by May 1943, when Suttill was misled, ‘Starkey’, and the need to alarm the OKW, had developed to a point where the penetration of Prosper could be disclosed to senior SOE officers (but not to F section). SOE’s leaders (Gubbins, Boyle and Sporborg) could then be informed that a decision had been taken ‘to exploit the situation’, see my p.264].

On my highlighting the political reasons for eliminating Moulin:

See my preceding note: to which I would add – Dansey was a loose cannon, accountable to ‘C’ (Menzies) for his ‘kosher’ activities in France via Commander Cohen and ‘Biffy’ Dunderdale, but accountable to no one when it came to operations via Geneva, where he was essentially running a pre-war, Z-style, parallel intelligence service. My other point is that by the time of his arrest, Moulin had so many enemies that more than one of them could have been involved in his betrayal. His enemies included – a. leaders of Combat in France, b. BCRA Gaullists in London, c. PCF (Communist) resistance leaders in France – but also the Chiefs of Staff in London, as well as Philby/Blunt in London who were priming the PCF via Moscow, see my p.297. I deal with a., b. and c. at length in my Jean Moulin book, and briefly in this book on pp.297-8.  The new possibilities I have investigated in this book include the clear line involving Dansey and Victor Farrell, which your own research has greatly strengthened. There is also the use by SIS (i.e., Dansey) of Colonel Groussard, a really sinister figure, and a really strong link to the betrayal of Moulin. In addition there is the potential involvement of both Philby and Blunt in deception planning (Blunt) and execution (Philby).

On my suggestion that Déricourt was more a traitor than a double-agent:

Thank you for the correction about ‘double agents’, and it may be that you are right and Déricourt was just a traitor. But if he was ‘just’ a traitor it is rather odd that he was welcomed back to London in January 1944, and subsequently paid a very large sum of money from British public funds. I think his correct ‘status’ depends on how soon he was identified after his arrival in September 1942. My line is that he was picked up almost at once by an SIS spotter. For me this is the only explanation for the way in which MI5 were kept in the dark, from the start, and throughout 1943.  The Security officers passed on warnings about Déricourt time and again and were consistently brushed aside. These warnings would normally have gone to Boyle’s security department, or would otherwise have been picked up by F’s deputy head, Bodington.  So, Déricourt was clearly being protected by another agency, and it was not SOE, and obviously not F section. There are it seems to me two possibilities: either he was ‘turned’, as I have written – rather sloppily, as you point out – or a British Intelligence master of deception realized that he could be used without being recruited or ‘turned’. In other words, we could both be right. Déricourt could have been sent back as a bona fide SOE officer to win the SD’s confidence by providing accurate information about F section activities, and in due course be fed false information about far more important matters (e.g. the date and locality of the D-Day landings) which he would also pass on. That fits the Déricourt story, and Bodington’s consistent protection of him into the spring of 1944, reasonably well.  But to devise that scenario you would need a senior SIS officer involved in deception, who had a total contempt for SOE, and was prepared to misuse its agents in the overriding national interest, as he calculated it. This officer would also need a large measure of autonomy. And in trying to identify him it would help if he also had a record of ordering the ‘elimination’ of untrustworthy agents – all of which Dansey had.  Anyway, that is what I was working towards when I wrote ‘Déricourt was ‘of course a classic candidate for a deception operation, a Gestapo agent unmasked on arrival in England’. Incidentally, the XX Committee would not have had to ‘sanction’ the destruction of Prosper.  As an MI5 outfit they were only responsible for double agents operating on British territory. Operations on foreign territory were strictly SIS. That note TA Robertson of MI5 wrote in 1946 (my page 284) could have referred to information he had acquired after the War, when evidence of Dansey’s misuse of F section emerged and was being energetically destroyed by SIS. Looking at this scenario from Déricourt’s point of view I am reminded of Trevor Roper’s observation that (I quote from memory) ‘the beauty of being a double agent is that you can defect either way’. The beauty of this plan from Dansey’s point of view is that it did not matter which side Déricourt eventually decided he was working for. The cosier he and Boemelburg felt about each other, the more effective Déricourt would have been as a tool of deception.

On my comments on the recruitment to SOE of Bodington and Déricourt:

I have since discovered new evidence about Bodington’s arrival in SOE, and a new rather sinister patron for him. It was not Boyle who recruited Bodington, it was probably Leslie Humphreys. And Bodington did not join SOE as his personal file shows (my p.61) on 18 December 1940. This was the date Humphreys (then head of F) switched Bodington into F from SOE’s planning department, where the ex-journalist had been working since at least 7 October 1940. (Source: David Garnett The Secret History of PWE (2002) p.52.) This correction will be in the paperback.

On my reporting of SIS using SOE’s George Hill as an SIS asset:

This is extraordinary.  You have uncovered clear additional evidence that SIS was using SOE as a reservoir of conveniently ‘deniable’ (keyword) possibilities.  And it was not just Dansey, it was ‘C’ as well.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

This exchange is, in my mind, an example of exactly how research should advance. I thank Mr. Marnham for engaging in discussions with me, and we plan to continue our investigations into the machinations of the mischievous Claude Dansey. Sadly, attempts are being made to silence Marnham. He spoke at the Chalke Valley History Festival last weekend, and one ill-mannered detractor, his chief antagonist, advertised on a hobbyist website that he would be attending to ‘attack’ Marnham. He was further encouraged by one of his sidekicks to ‘give him hell’. Moreover, this individual was supported in his plans by others who had not even read the book, but were confident in their scorn. Apart from the gaucheness of the announcement (rather like Eisenhower informing the Germans that the landings would take place in Normandy, in early June), such an approach is intemperate and unscholarly. Moreover, I detect a tactic of rubbishing ‘conspiracy theories’ on the grounds that such phenomena must be inherently and irredeemably flawed. Yet, if there is evidence of treachery, and that the authorities knew about it, but condoned it, or of plotting to endanger a colleague (something that Suttill explicitly admits), any intelligent observer has to try to develop a theory as to why such a conspiracy took place. I am very happy to provide space to counter such gross behaviour, and try to shed more light on the affair.

(New Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Geography, Management/Leadership, Politics

Who Framed Roger Hollis?

Who Framed Roger Hollis

Coming soon to a movie-theatre near you, starring

Donald Pleasance as Stewart Menzies

Tom Cruise as Kim Philby

Ronald Fraser as Roger Hollis

Bob Hoskins as George Hill

Anthony Hopkins as Guy Liddell

Ian Richardson as Dick White

Keira Knightley as Jane Archer

Beryl Reid as Milicent Bagot

Michael Caine as Peter Wright

Tom Courtenay as Arthur Martin

Vladek Sheybal as Igor Gouzenko

Christopher Plummer as Chapman Pincher

With a special guest appearance from Lotte Lenya as Luba Polik

‘It makes Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy look like Dad’s Army’ (Michel Foucault)

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

Contents:

1. The Story So Far and Dramatis Personae

2. Anomalies and Misconceptions:

a) The BSC Report and Roger Hollis

b) Peter Wright and VENONA Telegrams

c) Guy Liddell and the RCMP

d) Roger Hollis and Counter-Espionage

3. Background Clarification:

a) Stephen Alley

b) George Hill

c) George Graham

4. Guy Liddell’s Moves:

 a) Petrie and Sillitoe

 b) Security Issues

 c) The Voyage to the Americas

5. Conclusions:

1. The Story So Far:

In September 1945, a Soviet GRU (military intelligence) cipher-clerk, Igor Gouzenko, defected in Ottawa, bringing with him evidence of espionage in Canadian government institutions. William Stephenson, the head of British Security Coordination, the wartime intelligence unit in the United States, immediately took a keen interest in the matter. For various reasons, the growing news about Gouzenko’s revelations arrived in London at the desk of Kim Philby of MI6, who alerted his Moscow bosses via his handler, Krotov, and passed on the information with less than urgent dispatch to his colleagues in MI5. While the initial concern of MI5 was about the imminent departure for London of Alan Nunn May, the premier spy named by Gouzenko, the Security Service was also interested in the identity behind another person labelled as ‘ELLI’. ELLI was stated to have been a spy working within the intelligence services in the UK in 1942 or 1943, and had been revealed by Gouzenko’s colleague in Moscow at the time. MI5’s Roger Hollis, responsible for the surveillance of domestic subversives such as the Communist Party of Great Britain, returned from holiday to be sent immediately to North America to co-ordinate the handling of the Nunn May case, and the political fall-out from the defection. At the time he left, he almost certainly knew nothing of ELLI, and he did not see Gouzenko before returning after a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Guy Liddell, head of B Division, responsible for Counter-Espionage, ruminated on the possible candidates for ELLI, concluding from the meagre descriptions received thus far that he probably had been associated with SOE, the Special Operations Executive. During the period in question, SOE had had a representative in Moscow, George Hill, and it liaised with the NKVD representative in London, Colonel Chichaev. Roger Hollis returned to the Americas, and had a short interview with Gouzenko in November. Liddell then discussed possible security exposures with Archie Boyle, who had been head of Security for SOE during the war. Politicians dithered about detaining and prosecuting the suspects, not wanting to upset Stalin.

Dramatis Personae (status in November 1945, unless otherwise indicated):

Government:

Attlee                          UK Prime Minister

Dalton                         Chancellor of the Exchequer: Minister for Economic Warfare 1940-42

Bruce Lockhart          Deputy Under Secretary of State, Political Warfare Executive 1941-45

Findlater Stewart       retired: previously Chairman of Home Defence Executive

Mackenzie King         Canadian Prime Minister

Robertson                   Canadian Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

MI5:

Petrie                           Director-General (retired April 1946)

Sillitoe                         Director-General (appointed November 1945)

Harker                         Deputy Director-General (retired 1946)

Liddell                        Director of B Division

White                          Deputy-Director, B Division

Curry                           historian: previously Director of F division, then transfer to MI6

Hollis                           (Assistant) Director of F Division (Subversive Activities0

Alley                           E2 (Alien Control of Finns, Poles & Baltic States)

Rothschild                  B1C (Sabotage)

Blunt                           B1B (Diplomatic)

Wright                         joined in 1954

Orr                               Room 055, War Office

Mills                            Canadian representative: demobilized September 1945

Shillito                        F2B & F2C (Communism & Left-Wing Movements: retired August 1945)

Bagot                          F2B

Stewart                       active in 1972

MI6:

Menzies                      Chief

Cowgill                       head of Section V: retired in 1944

Philby                         head of Section IX

Archer                         Section IX (returned to MI5 in 1946)

Curry                           established Section IX in 1943: moved back to MI5

Dwyer                         representative in BSC

De Mowbray              joined in 1950

SOE (Special Operations Executive):            

Nelson                         chief 1940-42

Hambro                      chief 1942-43

Gubbins                      chief 1943-46

Senter                         MI5 liaison

Boyle                           head of security

Hill                              Russian section representative in Moscow until May 1945

Graham                       aide-de-camp to Hill

Truskowski                 assistant to Hill

Seddon                        head of Russian section 1941-44

Manderstam               head of Russian section 1944-45

Uren                            officer, spy; imprisoned

JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee):

Cavendish-Bentinck   Chairman

GCHQ:

Sudbury                      Russian cryptanalyst

RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police):

Wood                          Commissioner

Rivett-Carnac             head of intelligence (Commissioner 1959-60)

Gagnon                       deputy Commissioner

Harvison                     head of Criminal Investigation (Commissioner 1960-63)

Leopold                       deputy to Rivett-Carnac; first translator; chief of Intelligence Branch (October 1945)

Black                           second translator

McLellan                     Inspector (Commissioner 1963-67)

BSC (British Security Co-ordination):

Stephenson                 head

Dwyer                         MI6 representative: head of MI6 station (1945)

Evans                          colleague of Dwyer

FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation):

Hoover                         Director

Harvey                        counter-intelligence (moved to CIA in 1947)

Whitson                      expert in communism

Lamphere                   agent: espionage expert

OSS (Office of Strategic Services) & CIA (Central Intelligence Agency):

Angleton                     OSS counter-intelligence (chief of CIA counter-intelligence 1954)

GRU (Soviet military intelligence):

Zabotin                        Colonel, military attaché & head of station, Ottawa

Gouzenko                   cipher clerk

Kulakov                      cipher clerk

NKVD (or KGB, Soviet Security):

Ossipov                       Major-General, liaison to SOE in Moscow (Ovakimyan)

Chichaev                     [JOHN], Colonel, liaison to SOE in London (1941-45)

Krotov                         [BOB], controller of Philby (Krötenschield)

Gromov                       [VADIM], rezident in Washington since 1944 (Gorsky)

Kukin                          [IGOR], rezident in London, replaced Gorsky in 1944

Pravdin                       [SERGEY], officer in Washington (Abbiate)

Poliakova                    Lieutenant-Colonel (on loan from GRU)

Polik                            manager at the National hotel in Moscow

Journalists:

Worthington               Toronto Sun

Picton                          Toronto Star

Pincher                        Daily Express

2. Anomalies and Misconceptions:

My overall approach has been to step through these events in strict chronological sequence. Judging from some of the feedback I received after my first instalment, however, I sense it will be useful to comment on some of the anomalies and misconceptions that have been published, and echoed, in recent accounts of the Gouzenko affair, in order to crystallize how the events of 1945 have been consistently misrepresented. [With the goal of improving the independent coherence of this piece, I re-present some material from the previous article.]

‘How the Cold War Began’

a) The BSC Report and Roger Hollis:

One dominant story that has entered the mythology is that of Roger Hollis’s reputed interference in the investigation by creating a false trail. For example, Amy Knight, in her 2005 book How The Cold War Began (which is frequently cited as the ‘standard’ work on the subject), writes (p 237): “Gouzenko’s information about ‘Elli’ was first conveyed during his interview with MI5’s Roger Hollis (with the RCMP present), who visited Gouzenko shortly after the defection. According to the report from the British Security Coordination, written in mid-September 1945, presumably after Hollis’s visit,

            Corby [the codename for Gouzenko] states that while he was in the Central Code Section [in Moscow] in 1942 or 1943, he heard about a Soviet agent in England, allegedly a member of the British Intelligence Service. This agent, who was of Russian descent, had reported that the British had a very important agent of their own in the Soviet Union, who was apparently being run by someone in Moscow. The latter refused to disclose his agent’s identity even to his headquarters in London. When this message arrived it was received by a Lt. Col. Polakova who, in view of its importance, immediately got in touch with Stalin himself by telephone.”

Knight, rather mysteriously, here gives the source of this statement (from ‘the BSC Report’) as ‘Intelligence Department of the Red Army in Ottawa’, p 30. (On page 60, she indicates that that was actually the title of the BSC report.) The text is exactly the same as that identified by William Tyrer as coming from the Canadian National Archives, and Tyrer assumes that the message is numbered serial 2a in ELLI’s Personal File in London (as a reference to such a posting, but not the note itself, appears, in KV 2/1420, immediately after a September 15 report on the NKVD).

Yet Knight seems not to have inspected the archives in a disciplined fashion, instead relying too heavily (for example) on the account of Hollis’s activity provided by Dick White to his biographer, Tom Bower. She describes Hollis as MI5’s ‘point man’ for the Gouzenko case, and quotes Bower (The Perfect English Spy, pp 79 & 80) as follows: “MI5’s communist expert flew to Canada to meet Gouzenko on the shores of Lake Ontario”, adding: “Instead of tickling Gouzenko’s vanity and absorbing lessons about Soviet intelligence techniques, Hollis abruptly left the defector after just one hour and flew back across the Atlantic to chase Nunn May, now living in London.” As I shall show, this is pure fantasy. Knight’s ‘presumably’ reflects pure speculation.

Knight then inserts another observation, concerning an interview on October 29, conducted by the RCMP, and recorded only in handwritten notes, at which Gouzenko ‘elaborated’ on his story (p 238). He said (of ELLI) that it was ‘possible he or she is identical with the agent with a Russian background who Kulakoff [Kulakov, Gouzenko’s successor, who had recently come from Moscow] spoke of – there could be 2 agents concerned in this matter’. Knight’s account continues:

Corby handled telegrams submitted by Elli  . . . Elli could not give the name of the [British] agent in Moscow because of security reasons. Elli [was] already working as an agent when Corby took up his duties in Moscow in May 1942 and was still working when Kulakoff arrived in Canada in May 1945. Kulakov [sic] said agent with a Russian connection held a high position. Corby from decoding messages said Elli had access to exclusive info.

This is presented as an extension of Hollis’s account of his interview with Gouzenko.

The significance of these claims becomes apparent when Knight later turns to the later re-investigation of the ELLI story on page 243. She reports on the visit by Patrick Stewart of MI5 to Canada in the autumn of 1972. Armed with ‘the notes of the initial debriefing of Gouzenko’, which the RCMP had generously just handed to him, Stewart met the defector in Toronto, showing him a copy of the BSC report, as well as the notes from his interview with the RCMP shortly thereafter, ‘both of which had Gouzenko saying Elli was working in British Intelligence, MI6, not counterintelligence, MI5’. Knight then states:

“Gouzenko went into a fury and threw the papers across the room. He claimed that he had not said what was written in the BSC report, that someone had falsified his statements. As for the notes of the RCMP interview, which were in the handwriting of the translator, Mervyn Black, Gouzenko said they had been forged. He demanded, to no avail, that he be allowed to take the notes home so he could compare them with his copies of Black’s handwriting.”

Knight’s explanation for this outburst is that Gouzenko had been disappointed that the officer who interviewed him in September 1945 had granted him only a few minutes of his time, and did not seem interested in ELLI. When he later learned of that officer’s identity (Hollis), and that Hollis was suspected of being a mole, he believed that Hollis must have deliberately misrepresented his statements to conceal the fact that he was ELLI.

Knight was also basing her narrative on a 1984 compilation by John Sawatsky titled Gouzenko: The Untold Story. Chapter 20 of this book is titled The MI5 Interview, and various journalists, lawyers, broadcasters contributed to the investigation. These persons appear to confirm the following ‘facts’: an unnamed British fellow interrogated Gouzenko shortly after his defection; the meeting was brief; Gouzenko was asked very few questions, and he did not see the interrogator again; the Briton shielded his face; Gouzenko had identified a mole in British Counter-Intelligence [MI5]; Gouzenko was shown a thick report in the early 1970s by a different man from British intelligence; Gouzenko threw the report across the room as it contained ‘all lies’; Gouzenko had asserted that the British could not have a high-ranking mole in the Kremlin, ‘not when Philby was sitting as head of MI6’.

Several aspects of Knight’s account are very tangled. The story that she appears to tell all derives from her strong belief in Hollis’s meeting with Gouzenko in mid-September, and runs as follows, with my commentary in parentheses:

i) When Stewart arrived in Toronto, the RCMP showed him notes of the original debriefing of Gouzenko. (Why only then? Had MI5 never seen them before? How did they correspond to the reports sent over by Dwyer? Did they concern just a single debriefing, and in what way was it ‘original’? Knight suggested that the RCMP debriefing(s) occurred after the BSC interrogation.)

ii) Stewart showed Gouzenko ‘a copy of the BSC report and the notes from his interview with the RCMP shortly after’. (What was the ‘BSC report’? According to Knight, it was the account of the September meeting where Hollis was present. She confirms that the BSC report had been written ‘in mid-September’: yet she knew that Hollis did not fly out until September 16. Elsewhere (p 60), she describes it as having been written by Evans and Dwyer, and that it was based on interviews with Gouzenko and an analysis of his documents (C293177, September 23). Moreover, in a message from London on October 1, after his return from Canada, Hollis informed the RCMP that MI5 had made ‘an extra copy of the interim report produced by EVANS and also of the additional pages I brought back’, apparently confirming Evans’s authorship, and that he, Hollis, was only the messenger (see KV 2/1412, sn.31A). And were ‘the notes from his interview with the RCMP shortly after’ the record of the October 29 meeting, or did they correspond to the ‘additional pages’ that Hollis brought back at the end of September? She does not say.)

iii) Gouzenko introduced the name of ‘ELLI’ when he spoke to Hollis in mid-September. (Knight appears adrift over this issue on two counts. She confuses references to an as yet unnamed agent with a later example of direct usage of that name, and she presents a muddled story about when that latter event occurred. The first citation above – where ELLI is not mentioned  – is echoed on page 238, where she states that Hollis reported allegations about ELLI, ‘which is why they appeared in the BSC report’, after his ‘first’ meeting with Gouzenko, allegedly in September. She later quotes the RCMP report (above) of October 29, where Gouzenko talked about ELLI.  Elsewhere, however (on page 62), Knight states that ‘ELLI’ was first recorded in a November 1945 RCMP report. She then (page 238) refers to Hollis’s ‘second’ meeting with Gouzenko (in November), and then implies that Liddell responded at that time by looking into the ELLI matter, and sent a telegram to Ottawa about possible identification. Yet she notes that this telegram was dated September 23! It is an unpardonable mess.)

iv) Hollis spent an hour with Gouzenko (at Camp X) before flying back to London. (This flies in the face of what Gouzenko claimed about the shortness of Hollis’s interrogation, which lasted ‘three minutes’, according to John Picton’s testimony in Gouzenko; The Untold Story. Camp X was a long way from Ottawa, and Gouzenko was not moved there until late October. Hollis’s interrogation at the end of November was indeed short.)

v) The main message from these reports was that ELLI was working in British Intelligence, MI6, not Counterintelligence, MI5. (This is not only incorrect factually, but inherently useless  – a false contrast. Both MI5 and MI6 had counter-intelligence sections. In 1945, MI6’s counter-intelligence capabilities were stronger than MI5’s. Besides, Hollis’s report of November said no such thing. Interestingly, Genrikh Borovik, in The Philby Files, recorded that Gouzenko’s revelations pointed to a spy within SIS (MI6).)

vi) Gouzenko then went off the deep end, claiming that he had never said what was written in the BSC report, and that the statements were falsified. (Without knowing the exact text provided by Stewart, it is hard to inspect Gouzenko’s objections, but if the challenge was over the denial of the statement about a spy in Moscow, he was apparently wrong. The passage that Knight cites corresponds to what is available in the Canadian Archives, confirming that Gouzenko himself introduced this information. Yet I should note that, in his May 1952 testimony, Gouzenko made no reference to the existence of spies in Moscow, thus giving the denial from the Sawatsky book some merit.)

vii) Gouzenko challenged the notes of the RCMP interview ‘which were in the handwriting of the translator, Mervyn Black’, but he was not allowed to take them home to compare them with his copies of Black’s handwriting. (Black was most certainly not the translator at the time of the RCMP interrogation(s). Was this a simple mistake, with Stewart unaware of John Leopold’s role, and thus innocently misrepresenting the authorship? Or did Black’s name appear as the signatory, and had it been provided by MI5, in the belief that Black had been the translator in September, which would indicated dirty dealings?)

And what would Gouzenko have known about Philby in 1945? Of course Philby was never ‘head of MI6’, and he had a fairly junior role in MI6 in 1942-43. Gouzenko’s comment shows some retrospective imagination that failed to refute what he was claimed to have said at the end of the war. Sadly, Knight did not analyse any of these conundrums, but the distortions have reinforced some highly dubious mis-statements about the Gouzenko interrogations.

Chapman Pincher

For example, Chapman Pincher echoed Knight’s story faithfully in order to solidify his case against Hollis (p 243 of Treachery, where he reprised the account he had first laid out in Their Trade Is Teachery). Gouzenko was shown ‘a substantial typewritten report that was allegedly Hollis’s account of his original interview’, including the claim about a mole in the Kremlin, he claimed. (This assertion would again fly directly in the face of the accusation that Hollis held only a peremptory interview with Gouzenko.) Pincher continued: “Gouzenko said that the document attributed other false statements to him guaranteed to discredit him as a witness and create the impression that he was unreliable. He told Peter Worthington, then editor-in-chief of the Toronto Sun, ‘whoever wrote that report about a fake interview had to be working for the Soviets’. Worthington put his account on record in a letter to The Spectator on 2 May 1987.”

Earlier, even Nigel West (who favoured Graham Mitchell rather than Hollis as the mole known as ELLI) had got in on the act. In A Matter of Trust (1982), West had rather imaginatively written that William Stephenson had facilitated Gouzenko’s extrication to Camp X: “Here, on the outskirts of the town of Oshawa, Gouzenko was interrogated at length by Stephenson, Hollis, and the Mounties” – an assertion wrong on at least three counts. Later, without providing any sources, West described, in his 1987 book Molehunt (p 79), Patrick Stewart’s visit to Toronto, with Stewart, in the presence of three armed RCMP officers, reading Gouzenko a copy of Hollis’s original report [sic] dated September 1945. “Gouzenko denounced the report as a fabrication,” wrote West, “and insisted that the remarks attributed to him by the author were bogus and had been manufactured with the intention of discrediting him. When asked about the authenticated signatures, Gouzenko insisted that they were forgeries.” West then openly wondered whether the report represented more evidence of the duplicity of DRAT [the codeword for the mole], or simply constituted additional proof of Gouzenko’s paranoia.

Again, in Gouzenko: The Untold Story, the contributors (including Gouzenko’s widow, Svetlana) appeared to corroborate the assertion that the Stewart package was a forgery, clumsily assembled, and something of an embarrassment to the RCMP officers who attended the meeting. Svetlana Gouzenko declared that the report had been pasted together from several separate documents, with inconsistent handwriting. She and Igor had suspected that the words in Black’s handwriting, confirming that Gouzenko had made such and such a statement, were not his, and that is why they wanted to compare the document with what they had at home. She was supported in her objections by the reporter John Picton, who described how the Mounties snatched the report back from Gouzenko. All this gimcrackery was later ascribed to Hollis’s malevolence.

The arrival of Molehunt provoked a lively review by the author’s ex-employer Richard Deacon in The Spectator, and a correspondence to which the journalist Peter Worthington (as noted by Pincher, above), and others, contributed. Deacon attempted to debunk the ‘guilty Hollis’ theory on the basis that i) the allegation about  a mole in MI5 did not come up until a much later cross-examination of Gouzenko by the RCMP; ii) Norman Robertson, the Canadian permanent secretary for foreign affairs, came to London after Gouzenko’s defection, and briefed the heads of MI5 and MI6 on Gouzenko’s revelations, so Hollis’s obstructions would have been pointless; and iii) while Hollis was in Ottawa at the time of Gouzenko’s first interrogation, he spoke no Russian, and Nicholson of the RCMP (who was fluent in the language) conducted the interrogation. (The introduction of Nicholson has not apparently been endorsed by any other writer. Deacon’s ramblings did not help in any elucidation.)

This review prompted a spirited riposte by Worthington, who was convinced of Hollis’s guilt, basing his judgment on Gouzenko’s objection to the lies in the report ‘that had been made by the British intelligence officer who had interviewed and debriefed him in 1945 after he defected.’ Worthington especially drew attention to the claims made about the penetration of the Soviet system by British agents, and he reminded his Spectator readers that ‘the British security officer who came to Canada to interview Gouzenko in 1945 was Roger Hollis’. Worthington also boasted that Gouzenko had written, in 1952, ‘a special memorandum directed to British Intelligence’, which Worthington published in the Toronto Telegram 18 years later, and subsequently gave to Chapman Pincher in connection with his book Too Secret Too Long’, and which appears therein as Appendix A.

Yet, in their rush to jump on the band-wagon, all these writers seriously missed several vital points. Moreover, rather surprisingly, recent analysts, with a clearer canvas of archival material available, have failed to tidy up the mess. For example, two important articles that have been published in the intelligence press over the past few years have missed the opportunity to set matters straight. William Tyrer hinted at the confusion, but failed to come to grips with the problem in his rather convoluted coverage in ‘The Unresolved Mystery of ELLI’ (International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 29, 1-24, 2016). David Levy, in his article ‘The Roger Hollis Case Revisited’ (International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 32, 146-158, 2019) skated towards the paradox, but then avoided exploring it. Both writers were equivocal about Hollis’s contribution in September 1945.

Gouzenko in Ontario

The first point is that Roger Hollis did not interrogate Gouzenko in September 1945. The archive is quite clear that his September mission was to deal with the courses of action deriving from the exposure of Nunn May. Gouzenko had been secluded, for security reasons. He and his wife were moved at the beginning of October to a safe-house in Kemptville, and, after a couple of nights, to one at Otter Lake (about 100 miles from Ottawa), and, two weeks later, to Camp X, which was situated near Whitby, on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, about two hundred and fifty miles from Ottawa. No casual meeting would have been allowed, and even the MI6 members of the now resident BSC team (Dwyer and Evans) were not given an audience. Dick White’s testimony about Hollis interrogating Gouzenko ‘on the shores of Lake Ontario’ represents a dangerously naive attempt to add verisimilitude. Hollis’s first interview with Gouzenko was on November 21, and the report I cited in my March article (the one discovered by William Tyrer, dated November 23, 1945) constitutes the record of that interview, when Gouzenko was brought from Camp X to Ottawa. (The fact that that meeting took place is confirmed by a telegram from London to New York of May 23, 1946, visible at KV 2/1423-2, sn. 216A.) On the other hand, the information about an Allied agent in the Soviet Union (including the reference to Polakova/Poliakova) was provided on September 15, the day before Hollis left for Canada the first time.

(By the time he wrote Cold War Spymaster (2018), Nigel West had modified his stance. He corrected the chronology, although he wistfully reflected on his previous assertion in the following terms: ‘While there is no evidence that Hollis actually met Gouzenko in September 1945  . . .’.)

Thus the second fact ignored by the commentators is that Hollis did not introduce the notion of a British spy in Moscow. The name ‘ELLI’ was known by September 15, and the transcripts of the telegrams received by Liddell in September show very clearly that this idea was transmitted by Dwyer, based on the RCMP interviews with Gouzenko. The insight stimulated both Dwyer and Liddell to focus, separately, on possible SOE links. The October 29 evidence from Gouzenko confirmed the earlier ‘agent in Moscow’ story that he had supplied in September, but also severely muddied the waters before Hollis ever had a chance to meet him. Gouzenko was here relying on further hearsay evidence from another clerk, and thus possibly merging the details of two individuals, as well as casting doubts on the strength of the ELLI identification process. This recognition is confirmed by Liddell’s diary entry of November 5, well before Hollis’s interview with Gouzenko.  The passage cited above by Knight corresponds to the RMCP interrogations that must have occurred in September and October. All that Hollis’s report states about the agent in Moscow is to confirm the previously offered insight that the attaché in Moscow would not reveal the name of his agent.

A third distortion occurs in the authorship of the so-called ‘BSC report’. As this was compiled before Hollis arrived on the scene (as is now obvious), it was clearly written by Peter Dwyer and John-Paul Evans, the MI6 representatives attached to BSC, who flew to Ottawa as soon as the Gouzenko case broke. (Knight records this authorship.) Yet neither Dwyer nor Evans interviewed Gouzenko in person. The BSC report was based on information provided by RCMP officers. Moreover, by some vague process of ahistorical drift, it is represented by Pincher and Worthington as being written by Hollis, but Hollis did not compile any report on Gouzenko (as opposed to one on Nunn May) until he had seen the defector, in late November. What he did accomplish, as noted above, was to bring a copy of the Dwyer/Evans report with him when he returned to the UK at the end of September.  All of Knight’s analysis is based on the premise that the November 1945 interview that Hollis had with Gouzenko was his second exposure, and she thus presents earlier events (such as the RCMP interview on October 29) as elaborations on what she claims Hollis had discovered in September. Yet all information at that time came from the RCMP via Dwyer and Evans.

The fourth important matter overlooked by these writers is that Gouzenko was correct for the wrong reasons. He suspected forgery, but was let down by his faulty memory, and the wiles of MI5.It is somewhat astonishing that he could not distinguish, even twenty-seven years later, between the circumstances of his several interrogations at the safe house and at Camp X in September and October by RCMP officers (when John Leopold was the interpreter/translator), and his short interview with Hollis in November, which took place in Ottawa (by which time Mervyn Black had assumed the role). Gouzenko claimed to have been interviewed by an MI5 officer (presumably Dwyer, but certainly not Hollis!) in September, when, by all other accounts, not even Dwyer (of MI6) had direct access to him. Gouzenko failed to recall what he had told his RCMP interrogators, including the important intelligence about the British agent in Moscow, and mixed up those interviews with his encounter with Hollis. He rightly was suspicious of the document that Stewart showed him, but was in a muddle about what constituted British counter-intelligence (it could be MI5 or MI6), and allowed himself to be convinced that Hollis had concocted the whole mishmash. [Problems remain with Gouzenko’s testimony, which I shall analyze in a future report. And the possibility must not be discounted that the transcription of his earliest statements was in error, since he never signed off on it.]

In such a way do untruths accumulate. Amy Knight’s lack of chronological discipline causes her whole analytical scaffolding to collapse. Instead, the evidence all suggests a very clumsy attempt by MI5 to frame Roger Hollis, one that was abetted by Gouzenko’s erratic memory, and his strong suspicions of possible traitors around him.

b) Peter Wright and VENONA Telegrams:

Peter Wright

Strangely, Peter Wright, in Spycatcher, made no mention of the Patrick Stewart visit to Canada in 1972. In contrast (p 282), he described his own efforts to interview Gouzenko in the mid-1960s, but was told that by then ‘he was an irretrievable alcoholic.’ “I sent a request to the Canadian RCMP for permission to interview Gouzenko once more, but we were told that Gouzenko had been causing problems for the Canadian authorities through his alcoholism and badgering for money. They feared that further contact with him would exacerbate the problems, and that there was a high risk Gouzenko might seek to publicize the purpose of our interview with him.” It is not clear why the RCMP changed their minds a few years later. Chapman Pincher took pains (Treachery, p 248) to relate that whenever he spoke to Gouzenko, and at the time Stewart interviewed him, the defector was coherent and rational in all respects, and that ‘the previous conviction in MI5 that he was a hopeless drunk was an internal deception’. Pincher does not explain why the RCMP originated this slur: nor does he say why or when it became a ‘conviction’ in MI5 rather than perhaps an excuse by the RCMP for limiting visits.

On the other hand, Wright did throw fresh confusion in the works through his citation of VENONA telegrams as a factor in reinforcing the treachery of ELLI, and the claim that Hollis was the probable candidate. First, he recorded that the RCMP told him that the original notes of the debriefing had been destroyed (thus implicitly questioning the authenticity of what Stewart later presented). Yet, as Wright puzzled over the evidence in intelligence files, and pondered over the reasons why Hollis had been sent out to Canada, he focused on Hollis’s apparent attempt to have Liddell’s diaries destroyed, since those journals had speculated on the identity of ELLI. [No matter that the Diaries never betray any suspicion that Hollis was ELLI: in fact they would help the cause for Hollis’s innocence.]

Then Wright recorded a somewhat miraculous breakthrough in breaking out VENONA traffic. He introduced his story by referring to the famous VENONA message that constitutes the confirmation from the KGB about the GRU, but he misrepresented its essence. Wright strongly implied that Hollis was sent to Canada in September to interview Gouzenko, and based his text on that assertion. “We have it from VENONA, however, that the KGB was unaware of the existence of a GRU spy in MI5 when Hollis travelled to Canada and interviewed Gouzenko,” he wrote. As I showed in the previous article, this is a great distortion, one that was reinforced by Pincher. That telegram states no such thing: it was dated September 17, before Hollis arrived in Ottawa, and merely confirmed Philby’s information about GRU spies in Canada. Moreover, Philby’s report of November 18 (which is reproduced in full on pages 238 and 239 of Nigel West’s and Oleg Tsarev’s Crown Jewels, and appears in Vassiliev White Notebook p 27) deals exclusively with the Nunn May case, and its political fall-out, and makes no mention of ELLI or other spies within the intelligence services.

The breakthrough (according to Wright) came with the analysis of a week’s traffic from September 15. It began that day, ‘with a message to Krotov discussing, with no sense of panic, the precautions he should take to protect valuable argentura [sic: agentura] in the light of problems faced by the ‘neighbours’ in Canada’. Wright interpreted this to mean that the KGB had no reason to fear that any of its agents in Britain had been compromised by Gouzenko. Yet, by the end of the week, on September 22, ‘the tone of the messages is markedly different’. “The relaxed tone disappears, Krotov is given elaborate and detailed instructions on how to proceed with his agents. ‘Brush contact only’ is to be employed, and meetings are to reduced to the absolute minimum, if possible only once a month.”

Wright then asked GCHQ to conduct a search on the London to Moscow traffic – but it could not be read. The only significant message they could identify was a Moscow to London message sent on September 19-20 ‘which they could tell was a message of the highest priority because it overrode all others on the same channel’, and Wright concluded that its significance was obvious, as it had been sent the day after Philby had received the MI6 telegram containing Gouzenko’s description of ELLI in ‘five of MI5’. “Indeed,” he wrote, “when GCHQ conducted a group-count analysis of the message, they were able to conclude that it corresponded to the same length as a verbatim copy of the MI6 telegram from Canada which Philby removed from the files.”

Wright and Geoffrey Sudbury (his colleague at GCHQ then sat down made a determined attack on a high-priority message sent by Moscow in reply. It was sent at the end of the week (i.e. about September 22), and eventually they were able to break it out. According to Wright, it read: “Consent has been obtained from the Chiefs to consult with the neighbours about Stanley’s material about their affairs in Canada. Stanley’s data is correct.”

In many respects, this account looks like a farrago of nonsense. First of all, the Vassiliev Notebooks (Black, page 54) inform us that, in light of the increased local surveillance measures, a generic message for all stations (VADIM, SERGEY, BOB and IGOR) about the need for extra caution was despatched as early as September 10. It is worth citing the bulk of the message:

It is essential to carefully prepare for every meeting with agents; operatives should meet with agents no more than 2-3 times a week. Arrange work with agents in such a way that the work of the operating staff is indistinguishable from the work of other members of the Soviet colony. Select authoritative and confidential group handlers from among the local citizens and operate the agents through them. High level workers should meet with group handlers as rarely as possible and only for briefing and to go over assignments.

This message was not decrypted under VENONA.

Thus it would have been not only logistically impossible but also in contradiction of instructions for Philby to have received the message about ELLI, arrange a meeting with Krotov, have his handler send a message to Moscow, and the KGB then investigate the matter with their superiors and the GRU, and then send a message in return the next day. Moreover, we have it on record that the famed ‘confirmation’ message to Krotov (BOB) was sent on September 17, i.e. before Philby received the news about ELLI. Certainly, further warning messages were sent. A message dated September 21 (‘surveillance has been increased’: Vassiliev, Black, p 57) was directed at the USA (VADIM, in Washington) only, and identified agents operating in the USA. A similar message from Moscow to London on the same day (VENONA 34) includes the same precautionary language, and corresponds to the message identified by Wright above, but its main emphasis is on HICKS (Burgess). A further message that day (VENONA 64A) contains a specific warning about maintaining secrecy in meetings with STANLEY (Philby). Furthermore, according to the evidence, the phrase ‘five of MI5’ never appeared in any of the September reports: the indication of some association with ‘5’ in intelligence came in Hollis’s report at the end of November.

The conclusion must be that the precautionary messages had nothing to do with ‘ELLI’. In fact, Philby had requested an urgent meeting with Krotov on September 20 (using Burgess as a courier) in light of the Volkov news from Istanbul. Of course, Peter Wright was writing in 1987, long before Vassiliev got to work, and did not know then that the VENONA transcripts would eventually be published. He therefore thought he could get away with falsifying the record. He presented the confirmatory message about Philby as arriving several days later than it actually did, as if it had been provoked by an alert from Philby about ‘ELLI’ that in fact was never articulated.

c) Guy Liddell and the RCMP:

Guy Liddell

One of the dubious stories that has gained traction is Gouzenko’s claim that, when Guy Liddell visited Ottawa in 1944, this information was leaked by someone based in London. For instance, the claim can be found in the Spartacus profile of Gouzenko at https://spartacus-educational.com/SSgouzenko.htm. The source given is Philip Knightley’s Master Spy (1988), page 130. Yet no trace of that assertion can be found on page 130 of the book – nor on any succeeding page. Nevertheless, Chapman Pincher echoed this story (Treachery, p 24), where he (correctly) pointed out that Liddell did pay a visit in 1944 to advise the RCMP on German counter-espionage. Pincher quoted Gouzenko as suggesting that this leak meant that ‘Moscow had an inside track in MI5’.

Pincher’s opinions evolved through the creation of Their Trade is Treachery, Too Secret Too Long, and Treachery, as was only natural, given the paucity of archival sources in the early days, and the proliferation of rumours. Regrettably, instead of admitting that he did not know certain things, or that the information was ambivalent, Pincher would use every snippet to try to bolster his accusations against Hollis. (I shall investigate in depth, in a later article, Pincher’s interactions with Gouzenko.) The story about Liddell is just such an example. Gouzenko’s claim can be seen in the Report he submitted to Sergeant McLellan of the RCMP, after a request from MI5, on May 6, 1952. (As I indicated earlier, the whole report appears as Appendix A in Too Secret Too Long.)

Here Gouzenko described some ‘indirect, but possible evidence’. “In 1944, (the latter part, or maybe the beginning of 1945), in the embassy, Zabotin received from Moscow a long telegram of a warning character. In it, Moscow informed that representatives of British ‘greens’ (counter-intelligence) were due to arrive in Ottawa with the purpose of working with local ‘greens’ (R.C.M.P.) to strengthen work against Soviet agents, and that such work would definitely be stepped up.” After outlining the precautionary actions that were taken, Gouzenko commented: “Now it could be that Moscow just invented these representatives who were supposed to arrive in Ottawa, in order to make Zabotin more careful. On the other hand, it might be genuine, in which case it would mean that Moscow had an inside track in the British MI5.”

That is hardly the unqualified assertion as expressed by Pincher. Yes, Guy Liddell did pay a visit to Ottawa, in July-August 1944 (not at the end of the year). He was there to discuss with Cyril Mills a possible double-cross operation against the Germans, and advise the RCMP, which was in fact a police force, not a counter-espionage organisation. There is no evidence that MI5 recognised at that time a problem of Soviet agents in Canada, and Liddell travelled alone. Of course, Anthony Blunt (NKVD, not GRU) might have been the source of the information about Liddell’s visit. For example, on July 7, 1944, he provided Moscow with a full report on the Double-Cross system, and would have been very aware of Liddell’s movements.

Roger Hollis

d) Roger Hollis and Counter-Espionage:

Much has been made of the fact that Roger Hollis was MI5’s expert in Soviet counter-intelligence. Nominally, this might have been so, but, in truth, he was far from being able to fulfil that role. In September 1945, he was head of F Division, ‘Counter-Subversion’.  F Division had been split off from B Division in April 1941 by the new Director-General Petrie, as part of his ‘new broom’ reorganization, so that Liddell’s team could focus on the Nazi threat. John Curry had been its first chief, but had moved across to a staff position under Petrie in October of that year, allowing Hollis to take his place. In May 1943, Curry moved over to MI6 to help set up the service’s Soviet counter-espionage section (Section IX).

The mission of F Division was very much on constraining and defanging domestic ‘subversive activities’. When Hollis was placed in charge of F2 (‘Communism and Left Wing Movements’), he had Clarke watching over Policy Activities of the CPGB (F2A), a vacancy for the position managing ‘Comintern Activities generally, and Communist Refugees’ (F2B), and Pilkington representing ‘Russian Intelligence’ (F2C). By April 1943, when Hollis had taken over the Division, Hugh Shillito had replaced Pilkington, and was responsible for F2B and F2C. Thus F Division was very thin on experience with the Soviet espionage threat. In his in-house history, John Curry lamented the fact that the only officers who knew anything about Soviet espionage (Liddell, Harker and Archer) had all been diverted to activities directed against the war enemy.

A major part of the problem was that the movements of communist subversives did not respect the artificial boundaries that divided the responsibilities of MI5 and MI6 into the territories of the Empire, and foreign countries, and thus MI5 was totally reliant on the co-operation of MI6 when it came to providing information about the backgrounds of dubious characters trying to enter the UK, or any imperial territory. The protective policies of Felix Cowgill caused serious rifts during World War II, especially over ISOS (Abwehr ENIGMA) decrypts that revealed German analysis of the results from double-agents, and MI5 also clashed with SOE over escaped agents being too hurriedly allowed into the country without proper vetting. The officers in charge had no direct exposure to the decade of the ‘Great Illegals’ in the 1930s, and the lessons that Walter Krivitsky had provided were too easily overlooked.

Hugh Shillito seems to have made a game attempt to overcome the inattention, and he doggedly pursued the cases of Oliver Green and Sonia, while receiving discouragement from senior officers. In these endeavours, he was determinedly backed up by Milicent Bagot, who assuredly knew the history, but they were both greatly rebuffed in their inquiries. As Curry wrote: “The only palliative to this situation [the inferiority of MI6 records] was that F.2.b was in the hands of Miss Bagot, whose expert knowledge of the whole subject enabled her to find and make available a large variety of detailed information based on the records of the past.” By the autumn of 1945, Shillito (whom Hollis had more than once, probably unjustifiably, characterised as ‘idle’ and ‘ineffective’ in complaints to Liddell, but of whom Curry thought highly), had left the service. Bagot was also fed up, and wanted a transfer.

What is more, MI5 at that time lagged severely behind MI6 in developing structures to handle the Soviet threat. MI6’s Section IX had been set up in May 1943 by Curry, and Kim Philby had engineered his takeover of it by November 1944, when Curry retired from the job. The result was that MI5 dithered. Liddell knew implicitly that the problem had to be addressed by MI5, as his diaries constantly show through the winter of 1945-46. Yet, even though he was the expert on what the Soviets were up to, it was not in his power exclusively to solve the problem. F Division, Petrie’s creation, did not report to him. Hollis, who had at least shown some imagination over the Soviet threat, and written several monitory reports in his vantage point in F Division, obviously did not want his stature diminished by reporting through Liddell.

Hollis was known as somewhat of a plodder, one who preferred the quiet life. He was not temperamentally suited for the role of counter-espionage chief. He did not have a first-rate brain, showed little intellectual curiosity, and would have been bemused by the layers of deception inherent in spycraft. He knew no Russian, and had not been exposed to the structures and techniques of the NKVD and the GRU. He was not a practised or natural interrogator. As K. D. Ewing, Joan Mahoney, and Andrew Moretta wrote, with some equivocation, in their 2020 book MI5, the Cold War and the Rule of Law: “That in 1945 Liddell chose to describe Hollis as an ‘expert’ on counter-espionage was arguably an accolade which reflects [more] the dearth of knowledge about Soviet intelligence operations against the west than upon Hollis’ qualities as a Security Service officer” (note 25, p 454).

Thus it is not surprising that Liddell himself eventually sought an audience with Gouzenko. Amy Knight completely mis-represented Hollis’s role when she described him as MI5’s ‘point-man’ on Gouzenko, and it appears that Kim Philby himself wrote a tissue of lies in his report to the KGB (Should Agents Confess?) when he described setting up meetings with Hollis and lawyers immediately the news about Nunn May came though. Hollis was on holiday at the time. (Unless, of course, Liddell was lying, and Philby’s account is more reliable  . . .)

3. Background Clarification:

a) Stephen Alley:

Stephen Alley

Readers will recall, from my March posting, how Guy Liddell’s analysis of hints provided by Gouzenko through Peter Dwyer led him to discern an SOE connection in the person of ELLI. The fact that, under Operation PICKAXE, the Special Operations Executive had developed a liaison with the NKVD in Moscow and in London suggested to him that an indication of leakages hinted at by Gouzenko might involve security lapses at both ends. There is strong evidence that Stephen Alley, because of his fluent Russian, and his role within MI5, was the officer who shepherded Colonel Chichaev, the NKVD military attaché who represented Moscow in London. Liddell considered Alley as a possible candidate for ELLI before quickly rejecting the idea as absurd.

A close inspection of the conclusions of Dwyer and Liddell is provocative. As I described in March, Dwyer came up with Ormond Uren’s name as a candidate for ELLI. But Liddell instantly dismissed that hypothesis. On November 1, 1943, however, he had recorded in his diary that Uren had ‘divulged the complete lay-out of SOE’s organisation’. Thus something in the information provided by Gouzenko must have indicated to him either a) that there were corners of SOE’s organisation that were not known to Uren, or b) that the disclosures had occurred either before his recruitment to SOE (in 1942) or after his arrest (in July 1943), or c) that the additional hints about ‘Russian descent’ excluded Uren. The third alternative seems the most likely, and may have pointed him towards Alley. In addition, Uren was known to have worked by supplying secrets to Dave Springhall, not to a Soviet handler from the Embassy.

In my previous posting, I drew attention to the astonishing way in which Alley has been excised from the historical record. He makes three brief appearance in the published extracts from Liddell’s Diaries (Volume 1, pages 66, 158 and 245), but Nigel West does not judge him important enough to be listed in his introductory ‘Personalities’. Alley does not appear in the Index of Christopher Andrew’s Defend the Realm, nor does John Curry list him there in his in-house history of the Security Service. Similarly, Nigel West overlooks him in his account of MI5. Curry does show Alley in his organisation charts, however: for June 1941, as Major Alley, sharing responsibility with Mr. Caulfield for E2, a section of Alien Control that managed Nationals of Baltic, Balkan and Central European countries, and, in 1943, maintaining a similar role in that Division.

Yet Alley had a remarkable background. He was born in Russia, and thus had a stronger claim to have been ‘of Russian descent’ than any other candidate for ELLI. As Keith Jeffery recounts, Lieutenant Alley accompanied Captain Archibald Cumming as a member of the mission sent to Petrograd on September 26, 1914. By February 1917, Alley had been promoted to captain in MI1(c), and was responsible for controlling passengers travelling from Russia to England or France, for counter-espionage and the coordination of intelligence matters with the Russian Secret Service. Claims have been made, dependent on the verification for authenticity of a letter that Alley wrote to his colleague John Scale, that he was involved in the murder of Rasputin. Others suggest that he was party to the unsuccessful attempts to save the Romanov family from their execution. In his Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, however, Nigel West brings Alley’s colourful career down with a thud. After being evacuated in 1918, Alley ‘served in MI5 for three years and then moved to Paris, where he ran a business trading in commodities’.

[In my previous piece, I referred to Alley’s memoir, held by Glasgow University, which rather shockingly tells how Alley was dismissed from MI6 for declining to assassinate Stalin. I have succeeded in contacting the Librarian at the University, but, because of the Covid lockdown, the staff were not allowed into the archive to inspect the status of the memoir for me. A verification of this astounding item will therefore have to wait a while.]

An analysis of MI5 files at Kew, and especially Guy Liddell’s Diaries, shows that Alley was involved in several significant activities with MI5 during World War II. He was the officer who welcomed Walter Krivitsky ashore in January 1940, impressing the defector with his excellent Russian, and thereafter acted as translator for Jane Archer (Sissmore) during the interrogations. Liddell records him having a last confidential discussion with Krivitsky before he returned to the Americas. When the Poles planned to assassinate Rudolf Hess in June 1941, in the belief that such an action would avert peace talks, Alley was brought in to investigate, and produced a report for Liddell – all of which is reported in Nigel West’s Encyclopedia of Political Assassinations.

When Liddell first identified Colonel Chichaev, the NKVD officer liaising with SOE in Operation PICKAXE, in his diary entry for July 19, 1943, the name of the officer who was introduced to Chichaev by the Czech, Bartik, was later redacted, but it is highly probable that it was Alley. Chichaev’s background in Finland and Reval was mentioned, and it would need MI5’s premier (and maybe only) Russian speaker in MI5 to engage with him. It is apparent that the officer had had a lengthy interview with Chichaev in order to assess his character. Alley’s name fits in the redacted space, and Liddell wrote of this officer: “He thinks that provided the odds are not too much against him, he can handle CHICHAEV without making the slightest concession to the amour propre of the man himself or the country he represents.” The fact that Alley had a prominent role in handling Chichaev is confirmed by numerous items concerning Chichaev’s engagements that appears in his file at the National Archives. They have the rubric “No action to be taken on this report without reference to Major Alley” boldly displayed on them.

Alley is also mentioned several times in the period in which the Gouzenko affair unfolded. He had apparently been drawn in to try to help the Dutch set up a counter-intelligence department, and Alley negotiates with Liddell and Colonel Eindhoven over providing training, in order to pre-empt the American OSS from taking over. It can thus be safely concluded that Alley’s name was considered persona grata for most of the war. For some reason, a direct association with Chichaev was later considered a little too sensitive, drawing attention unwittingly to what must have been an embarrassment.

Finally, Alley was friendly with George Hill, which brings him more closely into the net of the ELLI business. Exactly what Alley’s political sympathies were at this time is impossible to gauge (yet), but the role of this vital, knowledgeable, and influential personality in the Gouzenko affair has clearly been overlooked in the accounts to date. Last month, I emailed Nigel West to ask him why he thought that Alley had been ignored in all the histories (including his own). He replied that his impression was that Alley was not well-liked, and was regarded with some suspicion, by other MI5 officers. Yet West did not answer my question directly. I would have thought that the perceived lack of trust in Alley on the part of his fellow-officers should provoke greater interest in his career and influence, not less.

b) George Hill:

George Hill

Far more has been written about Stephen Alley’s long-time fellow-agent and friend, and counterpart in the SOE Russian operation, George Hill. He wrote two published memoirs, Go Spy the Land (1932), and Dreaded Hour (1936), and an unpublished record of his WWII experiences, Reminscences of Four Years with N.K.V.D. (ca. 1967), is freely available from the Hoover Institution. As with any memoir, but especially those concerning intelligence matters, the material needs to be treated with caution. Furthermore, Peter Day has written a biography of Hill, Trotsky’s Favourite Spy (2017), which relies heavily on his subject’s memoirs, but also incorporates much archival and other material. Day informs us that, when Alley returned to Britain in 1919, he had ‘set up an unofficial lunch club for intelligence officers known as Bolo, short for the Bolshevik Liquidation Club, and George Hill had been a member alongside such as Sidney Reilly and Paul Dukes’. In Dreaded Hour, Hill describes how, in 1923, he bumped into his ‘old friend’, ‘Major Stephen Ally [sic], M.C. one time Assistant Military Attaché in Petrograd’ in London, whereupon the latter engaged him to help liquidate the Bulgarian branch of a huge British tobacco concern. Thus their anti-Bolshevik credentials had at that time been strong.

Hill’s appointment as SOE’s representative in Moscow was thus a controversial one, initially because the Foreign Office thought that his track-record in Russia would make him unacceptable to the NKVD, and on those grounds he had sceptics within SOE, too. After consulting Stafford Cripps, the ambassador in Moscow, Dalton was able to push though his nomination, and some have even stated that MI6 helped in the appointment – perhaps to weaken the unit. In January 1943, Menzies, who was a fierce critic of SOE, vented to Bruce Lockhart of the Political Warfare Executive about ‘the nomination of a hopeless adventurer like ‘Flying Corps’ Hill as their man in Moscow’, perhaps unaware that his underlings may have abetted the appointment.

More serious reservations emerged after Hill was installed, moreover. MI5 and others judged that he had become too easily manipulated by his Soviet counterparts, and feared that his character defects would lead him to be naturally exploited. He had been introduced to SOE through Lawrence Grand and D Section of MI6, and had actually shared training duties at Brickendonbury Hall and at Beaulieu with Kim Philby, who recalled Hill in his own memoir. The conflicts and disputes that endured over Hill’s time in Moscow are too complex to be covered in detail here, but can be summed up as consisting of the following: a) security exposures in the Moscow station; b) Hill’s indiscretions in getting too close to Ossipov, his NKVD counterpart, and giving him confidential information; c) Hill’s dalliance with the hotel manager, Luba Polik, who was surely under the control of the NKVD; and d) Hill’s evolving sympathies with his hosts’ politics, which drew him into a massive clash with the head of the Russian section of SOE, Len Manderstam, over the propaganda role of Soviet citizens forced to serve in the Wehrmacht.

For the purposes of the ELLI investigation, the claims about Hill running an agent in Moscow are of the most relevant. Recall the vital phrase from the BSC report: “The British had a very important agent of their own in the Soviet Union, who was apparently being run by someone in Moscow.” In his Reminiscences, George Hill describes how, in March 1942 he was accosted in his hotel by a man, Sergei Nekrassov, whom he did not recognize at first. When the man identified himself as Hill’s ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’, Hill realized who he was: ‘my best White Russian agent, 1919-1922. A Tsarist cavalry officer from a crack regiment, fearless, resourceful, who loathed the Reds, and went through their lines like a needle through a haystack.’

When Hill went to drink brandy in Nekrassov’s room, he quickly conjectured that Nekrassov had been sent as a provocation, and, overcoming the temptation to re-use Nekrassov as a source, he complained by telephone to Ossipov, who claimed to know nothing about Nekrassov. But before Ossipov arrived (at 5:30 in the morning), Hill wrote out a report on the incident, with one copy for Ossipov, and a second to the Foreign Office via the Embassy diplomatic bag. Thus, when Hill returned to the United Kingdom in the autumn of 1943, Liddell and White presumably had some knowledge of the incident. Part of Liddell’s diary entry for October 5, a long account of the discussion he had with Hill, alongside Dick White and John Senter (the MI5 liaison in SOE), accompanied by two other unnamed SOE members, runs as follows:

The Russians had sent him a man who had worked for him in 1920, and who had made suggestions about working for him again. Hill did not fall for this but immediately rang up the NKVD. The man was removed from the National Hotel where Hill stays with apologies. Three of four months later however he made another approach. Hill then became exceedingly annoyed. The man disappeared again and Hill was told that he had been severely dealt with. The whole thing was an obvious plant. It was however an interesting example of Russian distrust. Hill had never made any attempt to disguise his past activities in Russia which were of course well known to them owing to the publication of his book. He thinks he was accepted because he was regarded as a professional. The Russians have a liking for professionals and experts.

This passage is, I believe, significant in several aspects. First, it confirms what Hill wrote in his memoir, namely that he objected violently to the approach, and made his reaction known to Ossipov. (Whether that account is entirely true cannot be assessed, of course.) Second, Liddell was clearly familiar with the story of Hill’s encounter with an ‘agent’ in Moscow – although that figure was supposed to have been retired long before then – and appeared to accept Hill’s account at face value. Yet, in November 1945, Liddell was unable to associate this anecdote with the disclosure emanating from Gouzenko [see my March report]. Perhaps most startling, however, is the method by which the story could have been leaked – and possibly misinterpreted. Hill had sent a copy of his letter to the Foreign Office, and here, apparently, were two junior officers in SOE who were being regaled with the same information. Had Hill told them this story beforehand? It is not clear. Since Liddell also reported on the fact that Hill said that Chichaev ‘had received instructions from Moscow not to hold official conversations with U.35’ [‘Klop’ Ustinov, an MI5 agent: coldspur], it would seem a gross misjudgment by Liddell and White, on security grounds, to have Hill talking so freely on these matters.

In any case, it is perhaps easy to imagine how the story about Hill’s ‘agent in Moscow’ made the rounds, and became distorted in the process. If Alley was informed, he may have shared it with Chichaev, not even thinking that it was a confidential matter. Chichaev may not have understood the subtleties of the incident, but would have been bound to report such matters to his bosses in Moscow, with the inevitable result of alarm-bells ringing. Poliakova would have taken the news to the Kremlin, whereupon Ossipov would have smoothed matters over.

A question mark must remain over Hill’s honesty, as well as his judgment, however. Chapter XIV of his Reminiscences, purportedly written in 1945, starts off as follows:

“Uncle Joe”, had skilfully gained his aim. The Polish Provisional Government in London was powerless to prevent the Lublin Committee becoming the Lublin Provisional Government, and not much later the Government of Poland. Prime Minister Mikolajczyk due to pig headedness and failure to face realities and utter miscalculation of Mr. Churchill’s strength and the intention of dying President Roosevelt. Thus Poland as planned by Stalin became communist; a satellite of Moscow. General Mihailovic was out, Yugoslavia was to be governed by Marshall Tito, a satellite of Moscow. Bulgaria was communist, Comrade Vyshinsky saw to that. Czechoslovakia was still Democratic, but not for long. Truly those ‘Planners’ in London, drawn from the Foreign Office and State Department had made a mess of their task.

Yet in a report to his SOE bosses in January 1944, Hill had written the following:

All this means what I have endeavoured to point out in previous despatches that the moral leadership of the new Europe has passed to the Soviet Union in much the same manner as England had the moral leadership in the nineteenth century when Liberal movements were astir in Europe. The day has passed when this new movement should be considered in terms of ideologies. It is no longer a matter of communism versus capitalism or even socialism versus capitalism. It is rather a struggle of the peoples of Europe to free themselves of some of the vested interests of the past. These vested interests have been throttling the efforts of the people to attain that degree of political and economic security they feel will put an end to the miseries which have vitiated the lives of a whole generation. The peoples have been looking forward to the leadership of one of the great powers and in this way they have been finding it in the Soviet Union. It is up to the real democracies of the West not to lag behind but to keep in step with the progressive movements now preparing the way to a brighter future for the oppressed people of Europe. (from HS 4/338 at The National Archives)

This echoed a pitch he had given Bruce Lockhart in March 1943. It is pure Marxist propaganda, straight from the editorials of Pravda. Hill was a humbug, and a dangerous one at that. He had gone native. The efforts of ELLI pale beside this rampant example of ‘useful idiocy’. Yet, a third leg of the stool –  alongside Hill’s romantic dalliances, and his Stalinist sympathies – eclipsed any security threat that may have been posed by the obscure ELLI. And that concerned Hill’s aide-de-camp, George Graham.

c) George Graham:

Readers will recall, from my March posting, the meeting that Liddell had with Archie Boyle on November 16, 1945, where they discussed, among other concerns about the Moscow outfit, their suspicions about George Graham. When Hill travelled to Archangel, at the end of September 1941, on the minesweeper HMS Leda, the other two members of his team were on another ship of the convoy, and arrived at the same time after a difficult three-week voyage. The first member, Major Richard Truszkowski (‘Trusco’), had been foisted on Hill at the last moment, and Hill complained bitterly about him in his memoirs, as he was the son of a well-known Pole who had fought Russia ‘tooth and nail, in Tsarist days’. The Polish faction in SOE had demanded that they have a representative with the Polish forces in the USSR, and Frank Nelson and Hugh Dalton had given in. Hill thought his appointment would only arouse the NKVD’s suspicions. (Hill had himself been cleared, despite his similar background.)

About Graham, Hill said little, only that the Lieutenant was in the Intelligence Corps, and that Hill had selected him as his A.D.C.  Nevertheless, he relied upon him extensively. One of the items that the Hill party took with them to Moscow was a heavy Chubb safe in which to lock the codes and ciphers each night, but when the embassy was evacuated to Kuibyshev, soon after their arrival, because of the proximity of Hitler’s army, the safe had to be left behind. When an apartment had been found for the SOE office in Kuibyshev, Hill wrote in his diary: “We take care never to leave the flat alone; poor Graham is practically chained to it. Our files and codes are kept under lock and key when not in use. Not in a safe, deary – we ain’t got one – but in our largest suitcase, which is nailed to the floor.” [Much of Hill’s memoir derives from letters that he sent his wife.]

Yet a few months later, Graham and Hill were separated. When it was safe, after a few months, to return to Moscow, Ossipov went first, followed by Hill in early February. But Hill had to leave ‘Trusco’ and Graham behind, much to Hill’s chagrin. “I don’t like being separated from Graham, though, especially on account of coding,” he wrote. Trusco was scheduled to return to England in mid-February, so Graham would have sole responsibility for the flat. Before Hill left (by train), he had to write out orders for Graham, ‘covering every likely eventuality’. “Codes and cash we deposited with the Embassy, otherwise poor Graham would have been tied to the flat for keeps: he will do his coding at the Embassy”, he continued.

Hill’s chronology is annoyingly vague (and not much helped by Peter Day in Trotsky’s Favourite Spy), but it seems that Hill did not see Graham again until he returned to Kuibyshev in about July 1942, to renew his passport, as he had been recalled to London for discussions. Even (or especially) in wartime, strict diplomatic protocols had to be obeyed. Thus Graham had been left for several months without any kind of formal supervision. As a member of the Intelligence Corps, his credentials were presumably considered impeccable.

At some stage, concerns about SOE’s security in the Soviet Union must have been raised. Initially, this focused on physical security: SOE’s premises had been previously used by the Yugoslavs, and Soviet technicians must have placed bugs in them before Hill took over. Even Kim Philby knew about this. “A very belated security check of his conference room in Moscow revealed a fearsome number of sources of leakage”, he wrote in My Silent War, suggesting he knew about it at the time, or soon after. Yet the security problem did not stop there. And that is why the infamous Liddell diary entry for November 16, 1945, becomes so relevant. Archie Boyle, who was head of Security for SOE during the war, describes to Liddell the close relationship between Hill and Graham: “Archie says he cannot understand how a man like Hill can possibly be acceptable to the Russians unless they are getting some sort of quid pro quo, the more so since they banished his mistress to Siberia and then brought her back after a certain delay.”

Boyle also revealed something astounding. George Graham’s real name was Serge Leontieff, and he was a White Russian. Now, it would have been questionable enough for the Intelligence Corps to have recruited someone with such a history without a very careful background check, but to send him on a mission to Moscow, even under deep cover and an anglicised name, was surely irresponsible. If he truly was a White Russian (i.e. a person born in tsarist times, of probable aristocratic lineage, and against the revolution), the Soviets would be merciless, either rejecting him immediately, or accepting him in the knowledge that they would be able to suborn him by threats to surviving family members. And if he had arrived, apparently freely, from the Soviet Union at some later stage (perhaps in the early 1930s), that should have rung alarm bells about the circumstances of his escape, and the purpose of his arrival. No Soviet citizen was able to leave the country at that time without some ulterior motive on the government’s part.

Serge Leontieff’s Naturalization Certificate

A certain Serge Leontieff received his naturalization papers in London on December 20, 1933. He had been born in Peterhof, near Petrograd, on August 18, 1910, and his parents were given as Alexander Ivanovitch Leontieff and Olga Shidlovsky (formerly Leontieff), with Olga having British citizenship. Serge was single, gave his trade as Clerk (Journalist), and lived in Earl’s Court. The records suggest that his parents had been accepted to the UK some years before, but the circumstances of Olga’s second marriage are not clear. Nor is it explained how and why she alone took up British citizenship. A newspaper report (in the Winnipeg Tribune) shows that Alexander Leontieff, a former Colonel of the Imperial Guard, led the Old Moscow Balalaika Orchestra at a concert in London on May 30, 1931. Another short piece (in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) informs us that on November 10, 1934, Alexey Leontieff, a former colonel in the Czarist Army, and manager of a local machine supply office, faced a firing-squad in Novosibirsk, for failing to provide proper machinery to a nearby collective farm. Were Alexander and Alexey brothers? And did ‘Serge’ want to try to determine what happened to his uncle? Pure conjecture at this time. Yet Graham’s past would turn out to be more complicated.

4. Liddell’s Moves:

In this context of mismanagement and deception Guy Liddell faced the combined challenge of the ELLI threat, and the disturbing news about SOE security lapses in Moscow, as well as concerns about his own professional status in MI5. (For a more detailed analysis of Liddell’s career, and the events of this time, I recommend to readers that they turn to http://www.coldspur.com/guy-liddell-a-re-assessment/ ).

a) Petrie and Sillitoe:

David Petrie

Guy Liddell had a difficult time with his boss, David Petrie, during this period. Liddell admitted that he lost his temper with Petrie back in February, and threatened to resign, over what seemed to be a relatively minor matter concerning the Channel Islands, when Petrie interfered after forgetting what Liddell had briefed him on beforehand. When Petrie planned his retirement (his sixty-fifth birthday fell on September 9, 1945), and considered who should replace him, Liddell was not his recommendation. Jasper Harker, Petrie’s nominal deputy, was not yet sixty, but was not a candidate, and retired in 1946. Various accounts have been put forward as to why Liddell was overlooked at this time, but the influence of the Attlee government, and MI5’s reputation for being anti-socialist, must have contributed to the decision to bring in an outsider. Findlater Stewart, so busy in trying to define the future of the intelligence services, had wanted Petrie to stay on for a couple of years ‘to put MI5 on a good peace-time footing’ (as Howard Caccia told Liddell), but he was overruled.

Petrie’s behaviour was decidedly odd. John Curry gave hints of his enormous stress and disappointment at the end of the war, hinting at ‘tragedy’, as if Petrie would have been glad to get out of the hothouse. Yet he took an unconscionably long time in leaving, and botched the handover. Liddell found him very listless over the Gouzenko case: on October 18, he recorded a frustrating meeting he had with Hollis and Petrie after Hollis’s return from Canada, when the two officers were seeking some high-level directive on signals security. Petrie did not want to speak to the Prime Minister (Attlee) himself, and merely suggested that Liddell and Hollis talk the matter over with Menzies, and have him make the approach to Downing Street. Overall, it was a poor performance by Petrie: he neglected to solve the problem of Soviet counter-intelligence himself, he failed to give Liddell the authority to do so, and he protected his own broken structures, all while knowing that his successor would be bewildered by the challenge.

Percy Sillitoe

Moreover, Petrie did not have the guts to inform Liddell himself that the next Director-General would be a policeman, Percy Sillitoe, the Chief Constable of Kent. Liddell heard the rumour on December 10, when Desmond Orr, a member of Petrie’s staff, and the liaison with the War Office told Liddell that he had learned ‘on good authority’ that a policeman in the UK had been appointed. The story was relayed to Liddell more strongly on December 17, so Liddell went to Petrie’s office, where the news was confirmed. Petrie, rather uncomfortably, explained that the choice had been between Liddell and Sillitoe, but that (as Liddell recorded Petrie’s words) ‘the Committee possibly having thought that it might be better that I should have my hands free to deal with the Intelligence side of things’. This was a weaselly and sophistical excuse – what else was MI5, if not ‘Intelligence’? And Petrie hypocritically did not divulge to Liddell the recommendations he had made in a report submitted in 1943, which specifically called for an external career police officer to take over. Liddell had been invited to appear before the Whitehall interviewing committee, but his diary entry for the interview, on November 14, does not reflect a convincing and authoritative display. The committee had seen several other impressive candidates (e.g. Strong, Eisenhower’s intelligence chief,  and Penney, a senior military intelligence officer), and was perhaps going through the motions with Liddell. As confirmation of his shiftiness, Petrie did not want to make any formal announcement: he wanted the news to ‘leak out’.

Liddell was naturally very disappointed, and listed his reasons why choosing an outsider policeman was a bad idea, for practical considerations, and especially for morale. But then Petrie told him that he was going to stay on until April 1946, which left Liddell in a very invidious position. Petrie would be filling ‘Shillito’ (as Liddell’s secretary mis-spelled the newcomer’s name) with all the wrong ideas (such as separating Russian espionage from F Division, and inserting it in B), while Liddell and his team would have to perform the grunt-work of implementing new organisation and policies. Liddell eventually met Sillitoe – but not until February 8, his judgment being that he seemed ‘a pleasant person’. That had more the ring of Barbara Pym describing a new curate despatched to the parish by Lambeth Palace than a senior officer heralding a steely new director-general ready to take on the Gremlin from the Kremlin. MI5 needed more than leadership by a nice chap.

Yet one more clash with Petrie occurred. Liddell was keen to pay a visit to the United States – ostensibly to reinforce good relations with the FBI, but also for personal reasons. Rather than simply declare his intentions, he sought permission, and raised the matter with Petrie on February 4. Budgets must have been tight, and Petrie was not enthusiastic. Hollis had recently journeyed there, and Lord Rothschild also had a visit coming up. Petrie wanted to have Liddell around in March, when Sillitoe would be visiting regularly, and suggested he go in June instead. For reasons that will become apparent, that did not suit Liddell, and a compromise was suggested, whereby Liddell would pay half his passage if he insisted on leaving sooner. The next day, Liddell accepted those terms, but felt insulted by the way he had been treated. “I feel rather like a schoolboy who has been accused of wangling a day’s holiday on the excuse that he is going to his aunt’s funeral.” There was, however, a grain of truth behind that implicit grievance.

b) Security Issues:

In the previous piece, I left Liddell at the end of 1945 attempting to derive information from Stephen Alley, and pursuing military records in the quest for learning more about George Hill’s set-up in Russia. The follow-up with Alley is inconclusive: no entry in his diary refers to any explanation from Alley as to what the ‘ELLI’ reference might mean, but Alley still crops up, with regularity, and without any apparent suspicion expressed by Liddell. The visits by the Dutch counter-intelligence officers are mentioned. Alley wrote what must have been a controversial report on Polish organisations, destined for Cavendish-Bentinck at the JIC, and Cavendish-Bentinck has been told that he will receive ‘an expurgated edition’. Alley was also involved in checking out the activities of Poles recruited at sensitive government establishments. Part of Liddell’s entry for February 12 reads: “Alley has got a case of a Pole employed by RAE Farnborough. I understand that there are quite a number there always getting in touch with the pro-Russian group of Poles in this country. This may or may not be significant, but in any case there are over 80 British CP members in Farnborough through whom there is doubtless a complete leakage of information to the Russians.” A diary entry for February 21 shows that Alley had been tracking possibly illicit Polish use of wireless transmissions.

Thus it appears that Alley was a competent and well-respected member of the senior counter-intelligence staff, and one should perhaps conclude that Liddell had by then received a satisfactory explanation from the officer to the effect that the ELLI revelations had all been an unfortunate misunderstanding. If Alley had suggested otherwise to Liddell, but convinced Liddell that he himself was not ELLI, one might expect Liddell to have picked up the quest urgently elsewhere, and in his diary set to rest the suspicions over Alley.  Yet he does neither (unless the relevant comments have been redacted).  Moreover, questions he raises about ELLI’s identity later in the year, and, in 1951, when Kim Philby’s name is introduced as a possible ELLI candidate, suggest that Liddell was either very confused, very forgetful, or very negligent. As I shall explain in a future piece, he also does not appear to have shared his conclusions with Roger Hollis.

Moreover, the trail on military records, and the reliability of the Moscow staff, also goes completely cold. It is difficult to imagine that this is because interest in the case dissolved: it is much more likely that the findings were too embarrassing for Liddell to report. If Liddell had delved into the records (as I have done in recent weeks), he might have discovered some disturbing facts. Readers will recall that George Graham (born as Serge Leontieff) declared on his naturalization papers that his parents were Colonel Alexander Leontieff (b. 1887, d. in Hendon, 1957) and Olga Shidlovsky (b. 1892, d. in Tunbridge Wells, 1975). When he married Edith Manley Axten (1906-1980) in Amersham in April 1941, however, he gave his parents as Philippe Leontieff and Anna Grigorieva.  It must be the same Serge Leontieff, since the birthdate is the same (August 18, 1910), and his address from the 1939 census (31 Longridge Road, Earl’s Court) is the same as that appearing on the naturalization record. Serge’s trade/profession is given as Air Raid Precaution Warden.

Before Graham’s final return from Russia, he and Edith had a son, Christopher J., who was born in March 1945 in Amersham. Thus Serge must have been in the UK in June 1944: indeed, the archives of the Russian section of SOE show that Graham (D/P 103) arrived in London on leave on May 4. Graham (recently promoted to Major) was with Hill at the latter’s farewell dinner in Moscow in May 1945, and had apparently returned from a visit to London with him in March. The father could therefore have been present at the birth. The son is listed as Christopher J. Graham, thus confirming that Leontieff changed his name to Graham at some stage between his wedding and his departure for Archangel. Christopher died in Wycombe in December 1949. Moreover, at her death in 1980, in Horsham, Sussex, Edith’s name is given as Edith Graham. I cannot yet determine the date or location of Serge’s death, since a few candidates with the 1910 birth-year appear, and such a discovery will require further information about Graham (such as a second initial, perhaps, and an inspection of the death certificate).

It would appear that two examples of fraud are at work here. Serge misrepresented his parentage at his marriage ceremony (for all I know, those two people never existed). Was it perhaps a union of convenience, to help establish his bona fides? And George Hill certainly misled his bosses when selecting Serge as his ADC, unless other forces decided to pick him and give him a new identity. Records show that this ‘George Graham’ was never in the Intelligence Corps. If Archie Boyle was really ignorant of it all until 1945, might Hill have been blackmailed by the Soviets into bringing Serge in, and was the very odd suggestion, coming from Novosibirsk, of the imminent execution of Alexey Leontieff in 1934 a warning? At a time when millions of Soviet citizens were being killed for utterly specious reasons, it seems very odd for a very specific press release like this to be made available to the West.

Did Boyle and Liddell interrogate George Graham? That would have been the obvious response, if they could track him down. Yet, even if they had done so, and the outcome was as disastrous as the evidence suggests it could have been, Boyle and Liddell would not have been able to do much more than try to wrap a discreet veil over the whole business, maybe concluding that the quid pro quo that Boyle referred to back in November 1945 had some substance to it. And George Hill would have become persona non grata. The possibility of a furtive mole called ELLI still being active in British intelligence would have been thrown into the shade had George Hill actually been working for the Soviets. That is what Len Manderstam believed. In From the Red Army to SOE he wrote: “I was sure George Hill was a triple agent. There was, in my opinion, no other explanation for his conduct and for subsequent events than that he was feeding information to the British, the Russians and the Germans. Even when he was liaising with the NVD on an official basis, I believe Hill supplied to them a great deal of important information and received little in return. He had been promoted to the control of SOE’s Mission in Moscow through his pre-war connections with the SIS and helped by the grandiose claims which he made for himself”. And Manderstam knew nothing about the George Graham fiasco, it seems.

Meanwhile the CORBY case opened up. On February 5, Prime Minister Mackenzie King set up the Royal Commission (the Kellock-Taschereau Commission) to investigate Gouzenko’s allegations, and it began secret hearings soon afterwards. A telegram of February 14 reported to MI6 that Gouzenko had been making a good impression.  On February 6, Hollis had brought Liddell a transcript of a speech about Gouzenko made by Drew Pearson in the USA, thus breaking the silence, and the Gouzenko affair became public knowledge in the UK a week later. On February 20, Nunn May confessed to Commander Burt that he had indeed spied for the Soviets. The day before, Hollis had complained to Philby about his attempt to control the Gouzenko business, and he firmly requested that Philby relinquish it. On February 27, Liddell left on the boat-train with Victor Rothschild for Paris, and thence to Washington, courtesy of an RAF flight. Yet, partly because of inclement weather, he did not fly out of Paris until March 7.

c) The Voyage to the Americas:

Guy Liddell did not write up his diary entries for his visit to the Americas until he returned to the UK at the end of April. One of the most beguiling series of entries concerns his meetings with someone called ‘Gay’, whom he meets in the company of Carl Paulson, ‘a nice quiet type of American’ [yes, they do exist], on March 10. He sees her again in New York on March 16, and also the following day, and he would afterwards accompany her to Chicago and San Francisco. Yet this was not a conventional series of trysts. Liddell never identified ‘Gay’ in his diaries, but it is clear that she was his daughter, Elizabeth Gay.

Mrs. Calypso Liddell and the Liddell Children

Liddell had lost custody of his four children with Calypso (née Baring), and they had returned to the United States in 1941. Yet his elder daughter had obviously stayed in touch with him, and wanted him to meet her intended fiancé – even to give his approval to the match, perhaps, as she was not yet eighteen years old. Indeed, on April 5, 1946, the announcement was made that Elizabeth Gay Liddell, of Anselmo, California, was engaged to Ensign Carl G Paulson of the United States Naval Reserve, and they were married on May 4. Liddell was obviously not able to attend the wedding ceremonies, but the reasons for his hasty trip now become evident.

Not that he did not have important business affairs to deal with. He met members of the Security Council, discussing joint approaches to the Soviets, and then had a meeting with Lish Whitson and William Harvey of the FBI on communist matters. Liddell confided in his diary that ‘he was not au fait in any great detail about the Canadian case’, betraying his mental occupations elsewhere. He was much more comfortable on deception, and the Double-Cross System in WWII, and was able to explain to Colonel Sweeney in the Pentagon why a similar system against the Russians could not be effective in peacetime.  On March 15, he had his meeting with J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, who talked so much that Liddell missed his train to New York. Liddell took the opportunity to ask Hoover whether he would object if MI5 placed an officer in Passport Control in Washington. Hoover had none.

And next – to Ottawa. He was met by Rivett-Carnac and Gagnon of the RCMP, and on March 18 witnessed Mackenzie King speak in the House of Commons. He dined with Peter Dwyer and his wife, so was presumably updated on proceedings with Gouzenko, but had a further opportunity to be briefed when he had lunch with a distinguished group at RCMP headquarters. (“We discussed the espionage case.”) On the morning of March 20, he had a talk with Leopold (the Gouzenko translator), and with Gagnon, and with Mead. And in the afternoon, Liddell spent an hour with Gouzenko himself, whom he found alert and intelligent. Liddell’s report (from his Diaries, not from the Gouzenko archive) runs as follows:

He will not be drawn into making any statement about matters of which he has no first-hand knowledge. He is somewhat temperamental, though when I saw him he was much elated by the fact that MAY had not been given bail and by Mackenzie King’s statement in the House of Commons commending his (CORBY’s) action. I asked him how it was that Russia had been going on in its present state for 28 years and how it was that the Russian people fought so well. He said that if I had been brought up on Marxian dialectics from the age of 6, if I had heard nothing but Soviet press and radio telling me that conditions abroad were far worse than any conditions in Russia, in fact that the rest of the world was living in squalor and revolution, if I had known what it was to walk down a street with my best friend and feel I could not talk freely, and if I had no opportunity of comparing my standards with those of anybody else, I should have been thinking as he did before he came to Canada. The impact of Canadian conditions was so terrific that he had been completely converted and had realised that from his youth up he had been completely deceived. He said that although he was under guard day and night by 3 officers of the RCMP he had never felt freer. I had no idea what it meant to him to be able to go out and buy a bag of oranges and a pound of hamburger. As a matter of fact it meant quite a lot to me on this occasion.

            I then asked CORBY whether the Russians had deliberately let the Germans into their country in 1941. He said emphatically no. He was at the time at intelligence headquarters. The Russians were in fact running away and throwing away their arms to an alarming extent. It was only at Rostov on Don that anything like a halt was made. On this occasion Stalin put the NKVD behind the troops and gave them orders to fire on anyone running away. Subsequently there had been a tremendous wave of nationalist propaganda recounting deeds of Soviet heroism. In this way the tide had just been turned at Stalingrad.

Liddell had some further talks with RCMP officers, as well as Peter Dwyer, before returning to New York, and resuming the private part of his tour in the Americas – to Chicago and San Francisco with Gay.

I find this whole episode astonishing, for many reasons. The first is that no official record of the interview has been placed in the Gouzenko files, and the context of the experience that Liddell enjoyed has been completely overlooked. Did he not report on the encounter to Petrie and Sillitoe on his return? As an experienced officer, he would surely have followed protocol, and posted a memorandum on file. And there does not appear to be anything sensitive in his account that would require it to be weeded. It is all very bewildering. Christopher Andrew quotes a few sentences (pp 349-350), but appears not to grasp how bizarre the focus of the discussion was, given the recent revelations, the interrogations of the RCMP, the telegrams from Peter Dwyer, and the Hollis interview at the end of November 1945. Here was an opportunity for the head of British counter-espionage to ask searching questions of the defector who (according to the misguided beliefs of Amy Knight) was the person who provoked the Cold War, and who had provided alarming hints at Soviet spies in the fabric of British Intelligence, but Liddell failed to grasp the nettle. Instead he simply tried to satisfy his own intellectual curiosity.

There could be multiple explanations. Liddell could have invented the whole incident: yet, given the context, the ambience of the RCMP and the company of other intelligence officers, and the details in his report, that theory can be instantly discounted. More probable is that his account is incomplete. He probably did discuss – or broach –  other matters (such as ELLI), but did not want them recorded. And if there were more sensitive revelations, it is quite likely that, for similar reasons, any report that he did submit to the Gouzenko file was buried, or subsequently weeded. Yet it also possible that, by that time, Liddell considered the whole ELLI business dead and buried, as if Alley had convinced him that it was all a harmless misunderstanding.

One must also consider the situation from Gouzenko’s side: perhaps he had grown so dismayed by MI5’s representation by then that he was not willing to speak about any confidential matters with such an officer, and glided over the more incisive questions. The first sentence of Liddell’s entry could be interpreted as saying that Gouzenko kept his lips sealed about the claims that his colleagues had made to him, using that pretext as an excuse for not opening up before another MI5 officer. Yet Liddell must have used an interpreter, and an RCMP witness. Was there no RCMP record of the interview? Gouzenko’s behaviour would surely have been worthy of remark.

Thus Gouzenko’s apparent poor recollection of the interview is also extraordinary. In Gouzenko: the Untold Story there is no mention of Liddell’s interview in March 1946. It is inconceivable that Gouzenko did not know to whom he was talking. Indeed, in his submission to the RCMP in 1952, he described how ‘on two occasions representatives of MI5 talked with me in Ottawa during the Royal Commission investigation’. (And we should note the length of Liddell’s interview – one hour, exactly the duration White attributed to Hollis.) The first of these was the encounter with Liddell.  But by this time, Gouzenko had made up his mind. He was apparently convinced that ELLI was in MI5, and that the job of investigating him (or her) should thus have been entrusted to an outside agency, like Scotland Yard or the Army. ‘The result, even beforehand, could be expected as nil’ was how he characterized any outcome of the search for the agent. He must thus have decided to say little when Liddell appeared, and regarded the whole episode as inconsequential.

Conclusions:

This was no well-oiled intelligence machinery at work. It all began with the disastrous lack of vetting of George Hill and his aide-de-camp when the SOE operation in Moscow was set up. When the Gouzenko defection occurred, the RCMP was hopelessly unprepared to handle the situation, and MI5 had vacated its representation. No disciplined interrogation of Gouzenko took place. MI5 failed to control the project, and allowed Kim Philby and MI6 to keep a rein on communications. As the Canadian, US and British governments dithered out of a desire to appease Stalin, MI5 dithered over its implementation of structures to handle Soviet intelligence attacks. It should have immediately seconded Jane Archer from MI6, to be accompanied by Stephen Alley, so that the team that handled Krivitsky so well could have reprised its success in Ottawa. Hollis was not the right candidate for either handling the political fall-out of the Nunn May case or interrogating Gouzenko. Liddell or Petrie should have taken on the former task, with Hollis instructed to keep close tabs on the ELLI business in London. If Hollis had been required to interrogate Gouzenko, he should have been well briefed, and been given a precise agenda. Boyle and Liddell should have doggedly pursued the leads on SOE security, and ensured that the ELLI identification was either pinned, and disposed of, and the outcome well communicated, or an action plan outlined to resolve the issue. Liddell should not have approached his opportunity to interview Gouzenko so casually.

The open identification of ELLI had not been conclusively determined, and questions about the merging of the features of multiple agents remained. The ‘dubok’ reference would not suit Alley easily, for example. Yet, what all this muddle meant was that fertile ground had been prepared for sowing confusion later on, and for Hollis to be conveniently framed as ELLI. Twenty years later, when the ELLI business was resuscitated, the screenplay turned out to be not so much Who Framed Roger Rabbit as Murder on the Orient Express, with a cast of guilty characters that included Dick White, Arthur Martin, Peter Worthington, Maurice Oldfield, Patrick Stewart, Chapman Pincher, Peter Wright, Stephen de Mowbray, James Angleton and Robert Lamphere, with Igor Gouzenko even dragged in as an accomplice himself.

Further Research Questions:

1) What secrets did Stephen Alley leave behind? I hope to be able to track down Alley’s memoirs when the Glasgow University Archive opens up again, but has any coldspur reader inspected these pages? Do any of you live in the Glasgow area, and could you possibly visit in person?

2) Where did George Graham come from, and what happened to him? Graham, né Leontieff, appears to have disappeared from the scene without trace. Does anyone have any knowledge of him or his wife, Edith, living in Amersham after the war?

3) What are the facts of the burglary at the Chichaev residence? I believe I now have discovered the official account, but has anyone read the Russian version of George Hill’s memoir, referred to by Dónal O’Sullivan in Dealing with the Devil? O’Sullivan has not replied to my email messages to donal.osullivan@csun.edu (California State University, Northridge).

4) What is the full story behind the security problems in the Russian Section of SOE? I thought Christopher J. Murphy (author of Security and Special Operations) might have some answers, but my phone and email messages to him at the University of Salford have been ignored. Does anyone know how to contact him?

And much to report on in later bulletins: ELLI in 1946 and beyond; a detailed analysis of Gouzenko’s statements, including what Pincher claimed he said to him; the composition of the NKVD intelligence organisation in London, 1941 to 1945; and maybe more.

For a fascinating perspective from Igor Gouzenko’s widow, see: https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2672326221.

Sources:

Gouzenko files at TNA (KV 2/1419-1429)

Guy Liddell Diaries at TNA (KV 4/185-196; KV 4/466-475)

Operation Pickaxe files at TNA (HS 4/331-351)

Chichaev file at TNA (KV 2/3226)

The Vassiliev Notebooks

The VENONA Archive

The Unresolved Mystery of ELLI, by William Tyrer (in International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 29, 1-24, 2016)

The Roger Hollis Case Revisited, by David Levy (in International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 32, 146-158, 2019)

The CORBY case: the defection of Igor Gouzenko, September 1945, by Gill Bennett (from FCO publication From World War to Cold War)

How the Cold War Began, by Amy Knight

Defend the Realm, by Christopher Andrew

The Secret History of MI6, by Keith Jeffery

MI5, the Cold War, and the Rule of Law, by K. D. Ewing, Joan Mahoney and Andrew Moretta

Security and Special Operations, by Christopher J. Murphy

Intelligence, Security and the Attlee Governments, 1945-1951, by Daniel W. B. Lomas

The Crown Jewels, by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev

The Security Service 1908-1945, by John Curry

MI5, by Nigel West

MI5: 1945-1972, by Nigel West

Molehunt, by Nigel West

Cold War Spymaster, by Nigel West

Their Trade is Treachery, by Chapman Pincher

Too Secret Too Long, by Chapman Pincher

Treachery, by Chapman Pincher

Spycatcher, by Peter Wright

The Perfect English Spy, Tom Bower

The Private Life of Kim Philby, by Rufina Philby

My Five Cambridge Friends, Yuri Modin

The Philby Files, by Genrikh Borovik

Dealing With the Devil, by Dónal O’Sullivan

Churchill & Stalin’s Secret Agents, by Bernard O’Connor

From the Red Army to SOE, by Len Manderstam

Trotsky’s Favourite Spy, by Peter Day

Gouzenko: the Untold Story, by John Sawatsky

This Was My Choice, by Igor Gouzenko

My Silent War, by Kim Philby

To Spy the Land, by George Hill

Dreaded Hour, by George Hill

Reminiscences of Four Years with N.K.V.D., by George Hill

Master Spy, by Philip Knightley

The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, 1939-1965

Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, by Nigel West

Encyclopedia of Political Assassinations, by Nigel West

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On Radio-Active Decay

The Soviet ‘Tensor’ set, delivered in 1942

The time has come to try to tidy up five threads of my research concerning wartime wireless usage in Britain, namely Sonia’s Radio; Sonia and the Quebec Agreement; The Mystery of the Undetected Radios; HASP: Spycatcher’s Last Gasp; and Sonia & MI6’s Hidden Hand. The puzzle remains: why was Sonia’s wireless activity not detected? Central to the whole inquiry are the circumstances of a crowded island, in wartime, when the intelligence services had a heightened fear of German spies, one that was communicated to the public at large. In addition, a well-trained unit, the Radio Security Service, was charged with identifying illicit wireless traffic. The probability must therefore be extremely low that a German-speaking woman with a known shady and subversive past could have contrived to outwit the authorities for so long without even having to resort to the traditional practices of concealment and avoidance that wireless agents infiltrated into mainland Europe had to pursue.

Therein lies the paradox to be resolved. That is why it is necessary to inspect very closely the various claims that she (and others) made about the frequency and extent of her transmissions.

The primary conclusions from my previous research can be summarised as follows:

Sonia’s Radio: Sonia’s most important radio transmissions probably occurred from Kidlington, and then from Summertown, Oxford, during the critical period that she handled Klaus Fuchs (October 1942 to December 1943). From September 1943 (when she and her husband, Len Beurton moved to Summertown after his arrival from Switzerland), any wireless activity was probably a feint for what I speculated might have been Len’s more clandestine transmissions from Kidlington.

Sonia and the Quebec Agreement: Chapman Pincher referred to some unverifiable wireless traffic stored by the GRU that appeared to confirm the fact that Sonia transmitted by wireless details of the 1943 Quebec Agreement about atomic research cooperation. For evidential and logistical reasons, this theory should be discarded.

The Mystery of the Undetected Radios: The London Controlling Section and B1A of MI5 displayed a degree of folly in managing its double-cross agents that was matched only by that of the Abwehr in reacting to what was going on. The so-called ’double-agents’, especially GARBO, were, under control, allowed to communicate from stationary positions for absurd lengths of time during a period when the country was on heightened alert. Those officers in the Abwehr who doubted the reliability of their agents were essentially quashed because it suited the careerists to maintain the fiction, and the successor organisation, the RSHA, was unfamiliar with the background. The RSS’s capabilities for detecting illicit transmitters on home territory were much weaker than the authorities claimed at the time, or after the war.

HASP: Spycatcher’s Last Gasp: Peter Wright’s memoir contains a high degree of fabulizing. His account of the HASP traffic is incoherent, and his described search for the missing recordings of Sonia’s transmissions an exercise in self-delusion.

Sonia & MI6’s Hidden Hand: The escape to Britain by Sonia, and the eventual return of her husband, Len Beurton, to join her, were part of an elaborate plot by MI6 (with MI5’s connivance) to use the pair as some species of ‘double-agent’ – a scheme that went tragically wrong.

I thus inspect the conventional ‘journalist’s questions’ of How? What? When? Where?, supplemented by an analysis of Why?

  • What equipment did Sonia own in Britain?
  • How did she acquire it?
  • When and where did she use it?
  • Whither did she transmit?
  • Why did she need to communicate by wireless?
  • What did she transmit?
  • Why was she not detected?

1) What equipment did Sonia own in Britain? How did she acquire it?

What is notable is that, as Sonia’s career in illicit wireless transmission progressed, she revealed, in her memoir Sonya’s Report, less and less about the details of the experience. Her account runs as follows:

P 105 She learned to build transmitters, receivers, rectifiers and frequency meters in Moscow

Pp 119-120 In Shanghai, in 1934, Sonia and Ernst bought parts for a transmitter (not available in Mukden), and stowed them away in luggage. The transmitter parts consisted of smaller pieces and two valves the size of a milk bottle. There were no parts available to build a transformer, thus they needed to build a rectifier, in Mukden. Ernst went back to Shanghai, found one and hid it inside a heavy armchair.

P 125 shows a picture of their house in Mukden with two bamboos holding the aerials.

Sonia’s House in Mukden

P 126 They used the same type of transmitter that Max described in the book Dr Sorge signals from Tokyo by Julius Mader (1966). The transmitter could be constructed from receiver parts, though even these were not readily available. It was a Hartley transmitter with a three point system. “We did not however – as Max did three years later – omit the rectifier, with its component transformer that caused us so many headaches.” The equipment was of massive proportions: it could not be dismantled every time. It contained a heavy rectifier, large valves, coils made from heavy copper tubing. The coils took more space than the whole transmitter a decade later.

P 127 A year later Ernst fitted the transmitter into a portable gramophone. He bought an American textbook for radio mechanics. Sonia, however, was not as expert a builder of transmitters as Ernst was. The transmitter’s signal was weak, and the Vladivostok end frequently jammed.

P 128 Listening was a torture: 500 groups (of five-figure enciphered characters) might take half the night. ‘We could only select one of two frequencies because with our length of receiver aerial the transmitter only worked on a specific wavelength. It was called a Fuchs aerial.” Sonia expressed amazement that the station was never discovered with regular operation (3 or 4 times a week from the same location). Sonia left China in the autumn of 1935. Before she left,she had caused a short-circuit in a hotel room in Peking, bringing the whole hotel into darkness.

Pp 136-138 By early 1936 Sonia had been established in Poland. She set up the transmitter, which she had had to build on her own, in a suburb of Warsaw, in a ground-floor flat. Again, it was constructed in an empty gramophone case. Yet it worked: she received a reply at once. (Maybe distance had something to do with it.)

Pp 163-168  Sonia moved to Danzig, and needed the privacy of a detached house for her transmitter. Unfortunately, humming sounds made the signals inaudible, a noise that she traced to a nearby power station. Thus she had to move to another apartment block, whence she sent messages twice a week. Yet she gained another valuable lesson: her neighbour pointed out that she was experiencing interference on her radio, and informed Sonia that her husband suspected someone was making secret transmissions. Nevertheless, Sonia persisted, and went on the air once more. She foolishly did not change the transmission time to make it later (and thus reduce the detection risk, although it might have required co-ordination of her proposed schedules with Moscow), or move to a fresh location.

Pp 169-171 By March 1937, Sonia had moved back to Warsaw. She used two batteries each of 120 volts, and, on one occasion, she received a severe electric shock from her equipment. She wrote that her comrade Andrei had informed her that sunspots were causing interference with radio communications, although this might have been based on a misunderstanding of how sunspots affect optimum frequencies.

Pp 184-185 After a recall to Moscow (which she survived, in the middle of the worst purges), Sonia returned to Poland, where she had to help a young comrade by building his transmitter.  She transmitted only once a fortnight, and was recalled again in June 1938.

P 191 By September 1938, Sonia had been despatched to Switzerland, where she set up her transmitter. It had to bridge a distance of over 2,000 km. She constructed it in her linen cupboard, and started the schedule early: communication with Moscow was good.

Pp 204-207 By October 1939 (i.e. after war broke out, and amateur radio communications had been forbidden), she was using the transmitter two nights a week. She helped her colleague Hermann construct his, but they had to bury the transmitters when observation intensified. She dug it up again with Len Beurton, and a friendly carpenter made a closet for it. It was concealed in a one-and-a half-metre deep hole in a shed.

P 217 The transmitter was used to the full to help Radó (the leader of the Swiss cell), but

in December 1939 Hermann was arrested during radio work in Freibourg. Sonia thus stopped transmitting for a while

P 227 Now Sonia was transmitting from the Hamels’ kitchen, in Geneva.

P 228 Sonia left for the UK in December 1940.

P 240 She was short of money. Nevertheless, after a few weeks, she wrote: “I had already bought all the transmitter parts and worked on them between praying and playing cards in the Rectory. It could be in operation within 24 hours.”

Pp 242-243 Sonia claimed that she used her transmitter twice a week. Sergey (her contact from the Soviet Embassy) gave her a small parcel, 8 by 6 inches, which contained a small transmitter. It was reliable, handy and technically superior. She therefore dismantled her own transmitter, which was six times the size. Thereafter she transmitted from England for 5 or 6 years.

P 250 Amateur transmissions were forbidden. Sonia therefore had to count on her transmitter being discovered at some point. Thus she sought out ‘Tom’ as a back-up.

Sonia assuredly learned some lessons from her worldwide experiences. Having struggled early in her career, she gained in competence in both constructing and deploying wireless equipment. She was aware of the many problems: for instance, that signals could interfere with local domestic wireless reception, and that, similarly, local power sources could interfere with the quality of transmissions. She knew that transmitting from the same location was inherently dangerous, and she thus expected to be detected. She must have concluded that long-range transmission and reception were haphazard enterprises, although she reflected some misunderstandings about phenomena such as sunspots. And she learned that a well-disguised hiding-place was vital to elude the eyes of the authorities. Yet in one aspect, her account is very puzzling: she writes much about her transmitters, but never about receivers, which are much more complex items of equipment.

As for her account of her wireless work in Britain, she reflected a very careless attitude. Indeed, if one judged her radio-activity on the strength of the details on her equipment she provided, one might conclude her operation was meagre. Moreover, in her memoir she skated over a highly challenging part of her experience. How on earth was she able to buy the parts she needed, over the counter in wartime Britain, when the ownership of unauthorised wireless transmitters was illegal, and the challenges of constructing a receiver were substantial? To quote what my on-line colleague, Dr. Brian Austin, an expert in radiotelephony, has written on these matters: “A sensitive and selective receiver is a far more complex electronic device than a keyed power oscillator which is all a Morse code transmitter has to be.” Dr. Austin (in a review of Ben Macintyre’s Agent Sonya) went on to explain that none of the necessary components could have been purchased in the local hardware stores, especially in wartime, and continued: “Most vital of all, though they never received so much as a mention, were the quartz crystals that determined the transmitter’s frequency. To have used such a precise frequency as 6.1183 MHz, as Macintyre informs us, is only possible when a quartz crystal is the frequency-controlling element. And the ionosphere, so very frequency-dependent, never got a mention either. The antenna, as vital as anything, received no more than a fleeting comment.”

Yet it should be recalled that, according to the telegram sent by BRION (now believed to be Shvetsov) from the Soviet Embassy in London to Moscow on July 31, 1941 (see VENONA Documents – July 1941 (nsa.gov), Sonia, when she had a meeting with Apthekar (GRU cryptonym IRIS), claimed expenses of £105 on ‘radio and microdots’ purchases. It does not appear that she had been able to make any earlier claims, since one entry is for seven months’ salary, and thus, since she had described meeting Apthekar (known to her as SERGEY) in May, and informed him that she could have her transmitter in operation ‘within 24 hours’, one must assume that she had completed the exercise then. £105 presumably covered her total expenses. Dr. Austin very reasonably casts doubt not only on the fact of Sonia’s acquisition and assembly of the equipment, but also its deployment (which I shall address later). So what is the evidence that Sonia did in fact possess a transmitter/receiver, and how might she have obtained it?

The most famous is the police visit to Summertown in January 1943, when Detective-Inspector Rolfe reported to the Chief Constable, Charles Fox, that a visit to the Beurtons’ house in George Street, Summertown, Oxford had revealed that the occupants ‘had rather a large wireless set and recently had a special pole erected for use for the aerial’ (KV  6/41, sn. 55a). This had all been engineered quite openly, as Sonia had in fact asked her landlady, Mrs. Sissie Laski, the wife of Neville, for permission to erect the aerial (antenna) from the roof of their cottage, and link it to one of her landlady’s stables. Some commentators have suggested that this could have been presented as for reception only, but it was a flamboyant request, and should have merited deeper investigation than actually occurred by the Police Force or by MI5 – especially since the Beurtons were considered suspicious persons at that time.

Much of the evidence comes from her offspring. Thus Maik Hamburger, in his memoir of his mother, The German Riveter (see: https://www.eurolitnetwork.com/the-german-riveter-my-mother-sonya-by-maik-hamburger ), wrote, of the house called The Firs: “ Living in Great Rollright, a little village in the Cotswolds, Sonya achieved the apex of her career: she recruited the German-born physicist Klaus Fuchs, who lived in Birmingham and was employed in top-secret research work on the atomic bomb. Fuchs provided her with large quantities of classified information about the development of the bomb, which she duly passed on to her central office in Moscow. Whenever the material was too bulky or contained too many formulae for sending in Morse code, she deposited it in a secret letter-box in Great Rollright for a Russian agent to pick up.” Yet the occupation of The Firs took place after the war, and Maik’s testimony raises further serious questions [see below].

‘I am the Daughter’

Both Maik (Michael) and his sister, Janina, gave accounts of Sonia’s busy nights enciphering, transmitting to Moscow, and deciphering. Ben Macintyre reports (p 235) as follows: “By the end of 1942, Ursula was transmitting two or three times a week. Little Michael wondered why his mother often slept in the afternoons: She was frequently exhausted from working through much of the night.” And, indeed, Sonia explained that her sending Michael off to boarding-school in Eastbourne was largely to protect him from learning more about her nocturnal transmissions. In her memoir Die Tochter bin ich, Janina wrote (p 50), of the period when she returned to the house at Great Rollright from school:

            Manchmal schlief meine Mutter um dies Zeit. Das taten andrere Mütter im Dorf nicht, und ich dachte: Mich schickte sie Unkraut jäten, und sie will schlafen. Wir wußten ja nicht, dass sie nachts oft überhaupt nicht oder or zwei Stunden schlief. Sie mußte nicht nur den Sender bedienen and Funksprüche aus der Sowjetunion aufnehmen; die Funksprüche kamen in Zahlen an, und sie mußte sie gleich nachts nach einem Geheimcode entziffern and das Papier verbrennen.

[Sometimes my mother slept at this time. That wasn’t something the other mothers in the village did, and I thought: She sent me out to pull up weeds, while she insisted on sleeping. Of course we didn’t know that she managed only one or two hours’ sleep, if any, during the nights. Not only did she have to handle the transmitter and wireless messages from the Soviet Union; the messages arrived in bunches, and she had to do her enciphering according to a secret code, and then burn her worksheets.]

While not precisely dated, these observations would appear to describe some time in 1947 or 1948, as all three children were attending school, and working in the garden, and the time referred to was after the famed holiday in Wales, at Butlin’s. (Peter was born in November 1943.) While this timing of Sonia’s afternoon naps has significance [see below], it is, of course, amazing that the poor woman found any time to do any espionage. Moreover, I received a communication from Mr. Roy Vincent a couple of years ago. He had been a lodger with the Beurtons at Great Rollright in 1947-48 (and, as an important sign of verisimilitude, recalled Nina’s interest in Princess Margaret). He wrote to me as follows:

Her daughter Nina was there, and her son Peter came occasionally.  Peter told me that his mother had a radio in the basement, but of course to me the radio was just the normal kind – I never saw it, the door to the basement was always kept locked, but there was one occasion where it was left open, and regrettably I did not go down for a look.

I do remember though that there was a wire which came through the wall (or maybe behind some furniture) and went through a hole in the ceiling, which knowing what I do now was the radio antenna.

Mr. Vincent’s testimony is probably more reliable than that of Sonia’s son and daughter, however, or even Sonia herself. In his Introduction to Agent Sonya, Macintyre writes that she had ‘in the outdoor privy behind The Firs   . . .  constructed a powerful radio transmitter’, leaving it ambiguous as to whether she had built it there (as opposed to transporting it from its previous location), or had operated it there (not in the basement, then). One might also question why, since the miniature transmitter that Sergey had given her was, by Sonia’s account, able to replace her large, clumsy apparatus, she did not just use her new set . . .   Another gross error is the fact that Maik asserted that his mother recruited Klaus Fuchs while she was living at Great Rollright. The meeting with Fuchs, however, had been set up in October 1942, and Fuchs left for the USA in December 1943, so Maik’s memory is clearly at fault. His account of his mother’s dropping material in a hiding-place in Great Rollright is pure fantasy, and in contradiction to how his mother even described the process. And is there a possibility that son and daughter were coached to communicate the identical message about Sonia’s sleeping habits, separated by several years? As I shall explore later, it is difficult to imagine what could have occupied so much of Sonia’s time on the wireless in 1947-1948, and her own testimony indicates that she had lost contact with her controller by then.

‘The Firs’ at Great Rollright

Lastly, for this section, is the matter of electricity. The fact that there was no current to the house at Great Rollright was described by Sonia (p 267), and echoed by Janina (p 40). Why Sonia would have selected premises lacking electric current if she had important espionage reports to deliver by clandestine wireless was overlooked by the ace agent when she and the GRU compiled her ‘memoir’. This story was nevertheless picked up by Ben Macintyre without the author’s considering how a transmitter-receiver could have been operated so extensively on battery-power alone, or how such batteries would have been charged and the voltage converted. In successive sentences, Sonia described the lack of electricity as well as the potential problem of having tenants, which might impede her radio work. The paradox of such circumstances apparently did not occur to Janina, either. Roy Vincent, however, assures me that the house was electrified, as he recalls a power-cord in the bathroom. In fact Janina remarked (p 43) that it was not until a year after the war that the village was hooked up to the power network (‘Strom erhielt’).

Moreover, it is much more likely that Sonia’s equipment was provided to her by the Soviet Embassy. Such devices were often brought over in the diplomatic bag, which, after the Soviet Union entered the war in June 1941, was often helpfully ferried into Britain by American ‘Liberator’ aircraft. In her memoir, Sonia reports that her contact, Sergey, handed her a miniature transmitter, probably in July 1941, measuring 8 by 6 inches (and an unknown third dimension), and that she was able to dismantle her existing transmitter. She was then able to conceal the new device in a wall when she moved to the cottage in Summertown, but how this miniaturized device stored enough power for the transmission to Moscow was not explained. (What she did to conceal the receiver is not recorded.) Thus, if she did engage in long-distance radio transmission, it was highly probable that the Embassy provided her with her equipment, crystals and all.

The ‘Tensor’ transmitter

(Dr. Austin has recently shown me evidence that the Soviets had constructed a miniaturised three-piece set of receiver, power-supply unit, and transmitter, known as the ‘Tensor’, and delivered it to its agents in 1942. See  https://cryptomuseum.com/spy/tensor/index.htm , and I was able to verify such details in my copy of Meulstee’s and Staritz’s Wireless for the Warrior, Volume 4. This equipment is remarkable, as the receiver (on the right) has dimensions that closely resemble what Sonia described, but serious questions remain. Sonia indicates that she was supplied with her new transmitter in 1941, i.e. before this package was shipped. She never refers to the other two units, but the transmitter would have been useless without the power-supply component. It is not clear that she would have been able to operate such a new device without training. Moreover, I would judge that this equipment displays an unlikely degree of sophistication for 1942, at a time when Hitler’s armies were at the gates of Moscow, and Soviet factories were being dismantled and moved behind the Urals. The Soviet Union was also very dependent upon Great Britain and the USA for manufacturing materials. Intriguingly, the set’s inscriptions are in English. This topic will have to be studied elsewhere – and not by me – but it shows how complex the mythology behind Sonia’s wireless usage is.)

2) When and Where did Sonia transmit?

I next turn to the substance of her transmissions. We should recall that not a single verifiable transcript of any message that Sonia was reputed to have sent (or received) has been presented by any authority. The suggestive sources are as follows:

  • Evidence from VENONA (intercepted Soviet diplomatic and military intelligence traffic)
  • Sonia’s claims
  • Claims from the Soviet Ministry of Defence
  • Ben Macintyre’s claims
  • Chapman Pincher’s claims
  • Peter Wright’s claims
  • Bob King’s claims

Evidence from VENONA:

The most famous of the accounts of Sonia’s activity come from the telegram identified above, sent at the end of July, 1941, where BRION (Shvetsov) informed his bosses that Sonia had tried to contact Moscow on the immediately preceding four successive nights (July 26-29), without success. This phenomenon is vaguely echoed in Sonia’s memoir, but brought forward. She wrote (p 242): “After Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, several days went by without response to my call-sign, but then they came on the air again. I used the transmitter twice a week.” Since Barbarossa was launched on June 22, that would indicate that Sonia successfully made contact by the end of that month, and then settled into a regular and successful interchange of messages. Sonia indicated no interruptions of service during this period, stressing only the richness of the information she received from her brother, her father, Hans Kahle, and military contacts, which all resulted in her being able to compile four to six reports a month. So what was Shvetsov’s appeal all about? Was he simply reporting a failure that was never resolved? Was Sonia merely boasting?

Of course, if Sonia had failed to get through to Moscow, Sergey may have told her to abandon the idea, and simply use the miniature new set he had handed her to communicate with the embassy in London instead . . .

Sonia’s Claims:

Because of the contradictions and errors that Sonia and her children made about her wireless ownership and deployment, the claims that Sonia made about her level of busyness have to be processed with a certain degree of scepticism. She stated (Sonya’s Report, p 243) that she transmitted from England for five or six years (1941-1947, in that case).

Occasionally, she supplied examples of the content of messages that she sent. Hence (p 259), she claimed that, after a comrade ‘with worthwhile military information’ had turned to her brother, Jürgen, and the latter sought her advice. “I sent a coded message to Centre and received the reply that contact should be established. The name of this comrade, Klaus Fuchs”, she wrote. Frank Close, Fuchs’s leading biographer, has accepted Sonia’s account of this set-up completely, but why stress ‘coded’? Were other messages not ‘coded’? And it would have been poor spycraft if Fuchs’s name had been given to her by Moscow Central. After one of her trysts with Fuchs, she coded (so she wrote) Fuchs’s questions for Moscow, and decoded Centre’s replies for him. Centre twice acknowledged his messages with ‘important’ and ‘very valuable’ – which seems somewhat of a distortion, as, by all accounts (including that of Fuchs himself) they met only two or three times in total. The unlikelihood of the whole saga was reinforced by the fact that Sonia then stated that ‘about two years after we had started working together, Centre asked me to arrange a meeting for Klaus in New York.’ By all accounts, Sonia first met Fuchs some time between July and October 1942: he left for the USA in late November 1943. Unless a great new secret lies behind this disclosure, we must conclude that her sense of time was shaky.

Towards the end of the war, in the autumn of 1944, Sonia claimed that Jürgen asked her to gain approval from Moscow for his joining the Office of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. When it consented, and she was able to pass on the good news, Jürgen joined, and was able to give her reports, such as the estimates of current enemy arms production, which Sonia ‘passed on to Centre’. Not only is this behaviour quite out of character for Jürgen, why he simply would not have passed on such reports to his contacts at the Soviet Embassy is never explained. At the end of the war, Sonia ‘had no contact with Centre for several weeks’. In the summer or autumn of 1946, according to her account, Centre broke off contact with her. The Vassiliev archive, namely in Yellow Notebook Number 1, p 86, claims it was even earlier: “Since January 1946, S. has been inactive, and no personal contact with her is maintained.” (January 1946 would have been in the Days before Electricity, in any case.) And that means that Janina’s story about her mother’s exhaustion because of night-time wireless work in 1948 is pure hokum.

Claims from the Soviet Ministry of Defence:

I reproduce here, verbatim, two paragraphs from Chapter 8 of Sonia’s Radio:

The earliest indication of Sonia’s activity appears to be given by an entry in the files of the Soviet Department of Defence, if the transcripts of these documents, which have authoritative-looking identifiers, can be relied upon. (They have been provided to me by a source who prefers to remain anonymous: I suspect they derive from the possessions of a CIA agent, who acquired them by undisclosed means.) It records that ‘soon after Sonia arrived in Britain and established radio communications with Moscow Centre, Ivan Proskurov, then head of Military Intelligence, responded with a message of encouragement’, and two days later (the entries are sadly not dated) sent her detailed instructions. “The assignments on information remain the same. Pay special attention to obtaining information concerning Germany, its army and military economy.” The first message signed off with ‘Warm regards to you and your kids. Regards from Frank [the codename for her ex-husband, Rolf Hamburger].’

I see several reasons for questioning the authenticity of (many of) these documents. First of all, the language here is avuncular and unbusiness-like, very much out of character for normal communications between Moscow and its agents. Rudolf was at that time under detention by the Chinese, causing the Soviets to request his release in June, so was hardly in a position to send his ex-wife his regards. The documents are undated, but the ‘soon after’ (and I am not sure who made that clarification), suggests to me ‘weeks’ rather than ‘months’. Sonia arrived in the UK in early February 1941, but did not construct her transmitter until late May, and made her first contact with the Soviet Union in late June, apparently. It is not totally bizarre to imagine that, even during the time of the Nazi-Soviet pact, Moscow might be seeking dramatic new intelligence on Germany’s army and military economy, but it is absurd to suppose that Sonia, as a new arrival in Britain, would be in a position, from the Oxfordshire countryside, to identify, cultivate, and recruit agents with fresh knowledge in that domain. Moscow already had her brother, abetted by his father, openly giving information to the Soviet Embassy. I have to conclude the documents are fakes, disinformation designed to show, retrospectively, the honourableness of Soviet espionage aims at the time.

I have no reason to change my assessment.

Ben Macintyre’s Claims:

The author of Agent Sonya takes every opportunity to boost his subject’s wireless activity, faithfully reproducing the claims she made herself, and magnifying the importance of her ‘network of spies’. “In the course of a year the Sonya network expanded to include at least a dozen spies, providing a wealth of intelligence: military, political, and scientific”, he writes (p 235), while her brother and father ‘tirelessly hoovered up information and gossip’. This rich seam of ‘intelligence’ had to be processed. “All this intelligence had to be marshalled into reports, coded, and sent to Moscow.” By the end of 1942, Ursula was transmitting ‘two or three times a week’, observes our intrepid researcher.

Yet Macintyre shows a combination of vagueness and unjustifiable precision. He describes the content of the messages that Sonya received from Moscow Centre after Operation Barbarossa: “When she finally established radio contact, Ursula found the Centre avid for intelligence about Britain. What were the politicians and generals really thinking? How sincere were Churchill’s words? Would Britain support Russia?”, he dramatically declares. No source for these messages is given: Sonia’s memoir includes no such precise testimony.

The only occasion where Macintyre reproduces, apparently verbatim, a message from Moscow occurs during the negotiations over Klaus Fuchs. He writes that Jürgen had taken Ursula aside at a family gathering in Hampstead in July 1942, and told her ‘a physicist by the name of F. had lost contact with a representative of the Soviet Embassy’s military department, who called himself “Johnson”’. (JOHNSON was Simon Kremer, the military attaché, who had indeed returned to the Soviet Union that summer.) When Sonia returned to Kidlington that evening, she sent a message to Moscow requesting instructions. “The Centre responded: ‘make contact with OTTO’.” Macintyre’s source for this factoid is Frank Close’s Trinity. Close, in turn, cites the Vassiliev Yellow Notebook Number 1, p 86, which refers to a GRU memoir of Fuchs.

That passage can be verified, and runs as follows: “On 22.10.42. ‘Sonya’ informed our worker that her brother, J. Kuczynski, had told her that in July 1942, a physicist by the name of F had lost contact with a member of the Sov. Embassy’s military department who called himself Johnson. ‘Sonya’ also reported that at Kuczynski’s suggestion, she already established contact with F., received materials from him, and asks us to indicate whether she should continue to maintain contact with him and accept materials from him. On our instructions, Sonya continued to maintain contact with F  . . .” Chapman Pincher, incidentally, suggests that Fuchs attended the Hampstead gathering in July, and may have passed materials on at this encounter.

Careful readers will have noticed that there is no record, in the Notebooks, of Sonia’s rushing home to gain Moscow’s permission in July 1942, and certainly no confirmation of a ‘Make contact with OTTO’ message. In fact the item indicates that Sonia contacted Fuchs without any explicit permission from Moscow, and then informed her local contact (‘our worker’) by word of mouth of what she had done, rather than communicating by wireless. This is, in fact, the way that Pincher presented the events, with Jürgen, acting on GRU instructions, suggesting to his sister that she act as Fuchs’s courier, to which Sonia immediately assented, with Jürgen giving her details for a meeting in Birmingham. One might also wonder, if Moscow had given her sharp instructions to contact ‘OTTO’, why she had waited so long to make the assignment, or, if she attended to it promptly, why she took so long to report it. Wireless appears to have played no part in the project.

Macintyre categorises the secrets that Fuchs handed on as ‘one of the most concentrated spy hauls in history’ (p 232), but, nevertheless, still implies that Sonia transmitted a considerable amount by wireless. He appears to have accepted Maik Hamburger’s nonsensical ‘testimony’ at face value in this regard, ignoring the anomalies of time and space. “Much of this material was too complex and too technical to be coded and sent by radio”, he writes, thus declaring that Sonia still used the highly problematic medium for a sizable proportion of Fuchs’s material, even though she had a reliable channel to the Embassy established. I shall explore this apparent paradox later.

Chapman Pincher’s Claims:

When Chapman Pincher made his assertions about Sonia and the Quebec Agreement in Treachery, he claimed that ‘the Russian archives’ provided the evidence for Sonia’s leakage of ‘all the essential aspects of the Quebec Agreement’ (pp 16-17). This comprehensive report, laboriously encoded, enciphered, and transmitted, had, as ‘the GRU archives’ confirmed, impressed Stalin, as it went beyond what Roosevelt and Churchill had told him about their agreement in a personal message. No particular file or folder is identified, and Pincher did not provide an authorial source for these claims, although he did state that Dr. Svetlana Chervonnaya had, in July 2011, discovered a document confirming that Sonia had transmitted this information on September 4, 1943. Pincher then went on to write that Sonia had already transmitted at that time the list of the fifteen British scientists selected to move to America.

This is all bunkum, as I showed in my piece. Neither Fuchs nor Sonia could possibly have known the details of the Quebec Agreement at that time, nor which scientists had been chosen, and neither would Roger Hollis, Pincher’s prime candidate for the leakage, have been able to learn of such specific information.

Later, when discussing her interactions with Klaus Fuchs, Pincher played with the notion of Sonia’s role as ‘head of station’ to suggest that ‘Sonya’s Station’ represented her role as an ‘established operator with transmitting facilities’ – ‘Sonya’s Station’ (p 157). He reinforced this notion with a reference to the memoirs of Major General Petrov, a former chief of the GRU Radio-Communications Service, who apparently singled out Sonia’s transmitter as ‘Sonya’s Station operated by Ursula Hamburger.’ Yet Pincher sensibly indicated that the documents passed to her by Fuchs were so bulky, and so unsuitable for converting into Morse code (e.g. ‘100 pages of drawings and formulae’), that she had to take them by train to London ‘for onward passage to the Soviet embassy’. Pincher drew attention to the prominent aerial at the Laskis’ cottage, and rightly questioned why MI5 did not follow up the inspection (p 161), but he did not ascribe a role to it in the Fuchs business.

That was not to deny Sonia’s radio-activity, however. On page 138 of Treachery, Pincher wrote, of her time in Kidlington starting in April 1941: “It is now certain, from the identification of some of her radio traffic, that she was transmitting substantial amounts of material long before she would have had time to find and recruit any new sources of her own.” While this description is belied by Sonia’s own account of the time at which she started exploiting her equipment, Pincher provided no sources for what would be a breathtaking revelation of her traffic.

It seems that Pincher was relying largely on information fed to him by Chervonnaya, as well as three volumes published in Russian, Viktor Bochkarov’s and Alexander Kolpakidi’s Superfrau iz GRU, and Vladimir Lota’s Sekretny Front and GRU I atomnaia bomba. When I previously wrote about the Quebec Agreement, and Sonia’s dealings with Fuchs, I had not had access to any of these volumes. I have now acquired the first two, and can confidently report that the first book contains no reference to the Quebec Agreement, and relies heavily on Sonia’s memoir, while the second, while including photocopies of many useful telegrams from the spy-ring in Switzerland, has nothing on Sonia’s time in the United Kingdom.

Peter Wright’s Claims:

The author of Spycatcher made a number of speculative jumps in trying to persuade his readers that a large batch of Sonia’s transmissions sat somewhere on the planet waiting to be discovered (or re-discovered). It started with the so-called ‘HASP’ breakthrough, in which a lead from Sweden provoked the fortuitous unearthing of a book of trade statistics in the British Library, which in turn allowed a batch of messages sent by Simon Kremer and his meetings with Sonia to be decrypted. “They showed that Sonia had indeed been sent to the Oxford area by Russian Intelligence, and that during 1941 she was already running a string of agents.” Despite the claims made to Wright by GCHQ that she could have not been transmitting from her home between 1941 and 1943 without being detected, Wright was convinced that transcripts of her messages existed. He spent four years, between 1972 and 1976, travelling 370,000 kilometres round the globe trying to find that trove (or so he said).

No matter that the only message possibly concerning Kremer and Sonia that has survived in VENONA is the famous June 30, 1941 message actually sent by Shvetsov. No matter that this message describes a meeting that IRIS (Aptekar not Kremer) had recently had with Sonia. No matter that Kremer had previously acted as a cut-out for Fuchs, but had been withdrawn because Fuchs found him clumsy and furtive. No matter that Kremer has never been recorded as ever meeting Sonia, and was withdrawn from the Embassy in the summer of 1942. No matter that this sole surviving telegram reports on Sonia’s failure to make contact by wireless, rather than her success. Instead, Wright draws on this flimsy set of illogical connections to solidify the case against ELLI. “Once this was known I felt more sure than ever that Elli did exist, and that he was run by Sonia from Oxford, and that the secret of his identity lay in her transmission [sic], which inexplicably had been lost all those years before.”

No further questions, m’lud.

RSS Logsheet from December 1941

Bob King’s Claims:

Lastly, in this section, I re-present much of a commentary that I provided on the evidence of Bob King, which I reported on in May 2019.

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’”.

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.

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 [Voluntary Interceptors] 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.”

Chapman Pincher echoed aspects of this account when he wrote (in Treachery, p 141): “James Johnston [a direction-finder operator in RSS] recalled in letters to me that he and his colleagues had intercepted messages from an illegal transmitter in the Oxford area, which he later believed to be Sonia’s, and had submitted them to MI6 or MI5. ‘Our logs recorded her traffic, but they were returned with the reference NFA [No Further Action] or NFU [No Further Use]. This meant that the RSS was not required to send out its mobile detector vans’.”  Regrettably, no dates are given. No explanation is given as to how Johnston and his colleagues at the time learned about Sonia, and made the connection between the facts of unidentifiable – and not precisely located – signals and that of Sonia’s presence.

Mr. King has, sadly, since died. Of course, his testimony indicates not incontrovertibly that Sonia did or did not transmit, but proposes that, if she had, she would have been picked up, and thus, if nothing was done about it, it is because the RSS received instructions to ignore her messages. (Incidentally, he overstates the number of Voluntary Interceptors by about 50%.) Yet, in the light of what we know about the set-up at Great Rollright, his colleague’s placement of 1946 for picking up Sonia’s traffic is very dubious. King’s anecdote suggests that he was informed that Sonia had, on at least one occasion, been identified and ignored, but it is not at all clear how he was able to gain that knowledge. It all presents some further paradoxes, which I presented in my HASP piece last year, and which I shall re-examine in the section on Interception below. With the passage of time, Mr. King’s ability to recollect exactly what happened might have been impaired.  [I should point out that the Log Sheet that Mr. King provided is one recording an Abwehr signal transmitted from Berlin, and has nothing to do with Sonia.]

3) Whither did Sonia transmit?

In the early 1960s, I recall using my Bakelite wireless to tune into Radio Luxembourg, noticing on the dial, as I did so, such stations as ‘Hilversum’ or ‘Moscow’. Trying to pick up their signals was very much a hit-and-miss affair, but the names and possibilities intrigued me, as I skipped pass all those anonymous morse beeps that presumably came largely from Soviet agents calling home, so that I could settle down with Pete Murray and David Jacobs, and switch off mentally when Horace Batchelor tried to sell me his winning football pools technique. What might I have learned with a little perseverance and expertise?

How easy was it to make contact with Moscow by wireless in 1941? In his Introduction to Agent Sonya, Ben Macintyre writes that Sonia’s neighbours in Great Rollright ‘did not know that  . . . Mrs Beurton had constructed a powerful radio transmitter tuned to Soviet intelligence headquarters in Moscow’. Yet transmitting and receiving over a distance of nearly 2000 miles is not simply a process of moving a dial to ‘Moscow’ and pressing ‘Start’.

First of all, the vagaries of the ionosphere have to be dealt with. A journey that long will require more than one bounce off the ionised layer and back to earth. Long-distance transmissions are notoriously unreliable: interference occurs. Sender and transmitter would have to inspect the prospects for such phenomena as (helpful) sun-spot activity, and then select a range of day-time and night-time frequencies, and accompanying times, that would be most suitable for achieving contact (the ‘skeds’, or schedules). The agreement on such skeds required constant communication itself.

Second, precisely manufactured crystals for the frequencies selected would be required. They would not easily be acquired. Third, a powerful transmitter would be necessary. Whereas the sets used by Hitler’s LENA spies to communicate with Hamburg generated no more than about 5 watts (and were underpowered in the hope that that capacity would hinder groundwave detection), transmitting clearly to Moscow might require as much 50 watts of power.

Boosting the 240-volt mains supply of a residential property up to the larger wattage required for the transmitter would require a transformer, the parts for which (chokes and condensers) would have been extremely difficult to acquire in wartime. The miniaturized equipment would have required rectification of the mains AC (alternating current) to DC (direct current). Trying to operate without a mains supply (as Sonia and Maik claimed about operation at the Firs) would impose severe new constrictions for battery re-charging, presenting a practically insuperable challenge for Sonia. One thinks of the extremely heavy wirelesses and batteries that had to be borne by mules when SOE operators were parachuted into Yugoslavia, where there was no easily available mains supply, and the distances to be transmitted were long.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, was the effectiveness of the antenna. In order to transmit to Moscow, unlike the needs of a comparatively local broadcast, Sonia would have required an antenna that was elevated to a height of about 12.5 metres, and was aligned at right angles to the required direction of propagation. That would be distinctly more complicated than the simple horizontal antenna she reported using at Summertown, and much more conspicuous.

The combination of all these factors indicates that Sonia’s efforts to communicate with Moscow would have been extremely arduous, pushing several logistical limits, and would have immediately drawn attention to herself by the invasiveness of her electronic signals, both from her neighbours and from the RSS. If Sonia did transmit, it was more probably to the Soviet Embassy in London. The miniature transmitter that Sergey gave her would have been more suitable for such a distance.

Last is the question of detection. If Sonia was broadcasting to Moscow, the frequencies she would have had to use might have fallen outside the range that the RSS was concentrating on, since it was highly focused on illicit German agents transmitting to Germany (although, if Bob King’s claim is reliable, the service watched the entire spectrum). If she was broadcasting to a closer target, using a range of frequencies in the bands used by the Abwehr, however, it would have been more probable that her transmissions were picked up and noticed – and should therefore have sustained a greater chance of being followed up.

4) Why did she need to communicate by wireless? What did she transmit?

Sonia claimed that she operated her radio for about five to six years. It might be convenient to divide the duration of Sonia’s radio-activity (or non-activity) into four periods:1) Excitement (from June 1941 to about August 1942, in Kidlington); 2) Intensity (from September 1942 to November 1943, in Summertown); 3) Quiescence (from December 1943 to May 1945, in Summertown); and 4) Decay (from June 1945 to 1947, in Great Rollright).

In the first period, of Excitement, Sonia may have been trying to justify her salary. She was a trained wireless operator, of course, and, for whatever reason the GRU sent her to Britain, gathering intelligence and sending it back to Moscow would have shown proof of her commitment. The invasion of Soviet Russia by Hitler’s forces may have prompted a more intensive call for information about political intentions, and arms progress, by her bosses. Her claims of building a spy ‘network’, however, were exaggerated, as she relied on family members and friends to provide snippets of gossip and probably broadly available truths that could be packaged into simple reports that did not tax her resources unduly, or draw much attention.

Yet a recurring question appears. Why, if her brother was in constant touch with the Soviet Embassy, could he have not passed on such information, far more safely, and presumably just as quickly? Thereupon, GRU staff could surely have selected certain information for the diplomatic bag, and other for the dedicated station wireless. GRU-NKVD rivalry may have entered the picture, but even Chapman Pincher undermines his own theories in this regard, in discussing the role of Ambassador Ivan Maisky, who famously vacuumed up all the gossip he could find (or even invent). On page 127 of Treachery, Pincher wrote: “Kuczynski [Jürgen] was friendly with him [Maisky] and may have approached him for advice. Maisky, who allegedly hated the embassy’s KGB representative, Anatoli Gorski, may have then ensured that it was the embassy’s GRU man who acquired the promising new source [Fuchs].”

Furthermore, Pincher, moving ahead to the Gouzenko affair of 1945, then hinted at Sonia’s own relationship with GRU officers (p 139): “In view of the importance attached to Elli by the Kremlin, it is likely that most of his documents had to be passed by a courier to some GRU officer in the Soviet embassy, who would have had local responsibility for him. As has been proved by deciphered GRU cables [??], Sonia was in regular touch with GRU officers there, either directly on her occasional visits to London by train or through a cutout, who could conveniently have been her sister Brigitte, who visited her.”

So much speculation, and so many hypotheticals, but all pointing to the fact that busyness on the wireless would have been a dangerous complication, and that access to GRU resources in the Embassy was not difficult. Indeed, Bochkarov and Kolkapidi confirm the courier role of Brigitte (‘JOYCE’), who had helped recruit Allan Foote after Sonia had left London in 1938.

Sonia’s most productive period (‘Intensity’) was undoubtedly her time acting as courier for Klaus Fuchs. She indicated that she communicated with Moscow on Fuchs’s questions for Centre, and passed on their replies, as if this had been the bulk of her exchanges. She did acknowledge that one ‘thick book of blueprints’ required her to forward it quickly, thus necessitating a complex series of actions involving chalk signs on a pavement in London, and a subsequent meeting outside Oxford the same evening – which all sounds remarkably cloak-and-dagger and improbable. If her contact did not turn up, she had to return to the same location every evening until he did. She did claim that Moscow contacted her towards the end of 1943, asking her to help arrange a meeting-place for Fuchs in New York after his arrival in December.

As I have shown, Ben Macintyre asserts that much of the material that Fuchs gave her was encoded and enciphered, and hence transmitted to Moscow. Yet Sonia could presumably have simply called her brother on the telephone, given him a coded signal, caught the train to London, and handed over the complete package. Jürgen would have been able to walk into the embassy without an eyebrow being raised. Why would she stop and make decisions as to what needed to be transmitted by wireless, what with all the associated hassle, time, and risks? Why not let the GRU officer at the embassy make that determination, namely what should go in the diplomatic bag, and what was more urgent, and non-mathematical, and should be passed over the more secure embassy radio link? It does not make sense.

In 1944, the dispatch of Micha [Maik] to an expensive boarding-school in Eastbourne was attributed by Sonia to the problem of ‘concealing my nocturnal transmissions’ from him when ‘the workload increased, including more meetings in London’. But what were her sources and occupations in this period of Quiescence, after Fuchs had left? Some commentators have picked up on her relationship with Melita Norwood (TINA) as the reason for her occasional activity during this time.

David Burke, in The Spy Who Came in from the Co-op, attempted to unravel this rather tortured tale. First of all, drawing on Vasili Mitrokhin’s access to Norwood’s KGB file, Burke quoted that ‘she was controlled from 1941 to 1944 by an unidentified “head agent” codenamed FIR’, ‘who was also involved in the Klaus Fuchs case’. Burke suggested that the fact that Sonia’s address was ‘The Firs’ was a strong indication that FIR was indeed Sonia, conveniently overlooking the fact that Sonia did not move to The Firs until 1945. He then went on to cite an official history of the GRU, published in 2004 (an encyclopedia of Military Intelligence, apparently), which states that Norwood began passing information to her controller, who was ‘probably’ Ursula Kuczyinski, from September 1941. One might regret the lack of confidence with which such an authority could impart such insights, but let it pass. The history suggests that Norwood was then transferred back to the NKVD, under amicable circumstances, in 1944, when Sonia came under suspicion of being compromised.

Yet several holes in this theory appear. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, in The Sword and the Shield, unquestioningly picked up the idea that FIR was the NKVD’s name for Sonia, but could not explain why the GRU had adopted Norwood. The London NKVD residency was closed for most of 1940. ‘When reactivated in 1941”, they wrote, “she was for unexplained reasons handed over to SONYA of the GRU rather than to an NKVD controller.” And Burke shows some considerable confusion over these years. In Chapter 1, he declares that Sonia was Norwood’s controller between 1941 and 1944, but never explains how Norwood was assigned to Sonia. Suddenly, during the years 1941 and 1942 (p 126), Sonia was controlling both Fuchs and Norwood. At the end of 1943, however (p 129), we learn that Norwood left the British Non-Ferrous Metals Association (BN-FMRA) to have her baby. On page 132, Burke writes that, coincidentally, ‘as 1943 drew to a close, both Melita Norwood and Klaus Fuchs were taken away from the Kuczynski circle’, but he then echoes (p 134) the Mitrokhin story that Norwood was controlled from 1941 to 1944 by FIR.

Norwood was indeed active in 1945, as is confirmed by the Vasiliev Notebooks, which show (Yellow, Number 1, p 25) recommendations for starting work with Norwood. On June 22, IGOR reported that TINA had made her second removal of documents from her office. The BN-FMRA had been co-opted officially on to the Tube Alloys project in March, when Norwood had been asked to sign the Official Secrets Act. Burke does not identify her new controller, but states that she was meeting him ‘on a regular basis’.

Might the NKGB not have known of Norwood’s previous activity? Or did she perhaps not have access to anything critical beforehand (and thus had not had to sign the OSA)? The account is very sketchy, and confused. And the logistics of Sonia’s being her courier in that busy 1941-1942 period do not make a lot of sense. While occupied with Fuchs, would she have travelled to SE London to meet Norwood, returned home to digest what had been given to her, and then make further decisions as to what she should hand over by returning to London (having set up some special sign for a rendezvous), and then transmitted the rest? FIR was surely someone else.

Nevertheless, Macintyre authoritatively declares that Sonia was Norwood’s controller, though he transposes a 1945 incident concerning thefts from a safe to 1942. Pincher was also a proponent of the theory (while pointing out the problems of servicing Bexleyheath from Oxford), and claimed that Burke informed him that Norwood had told her biographer that Sonia had been her contact. Maybe Burke overcame his scepticism about the shaky etymology of FIR. Yet, after she had been exposed, in 2000, Norwood said that that person was now dead, before Sonia died later that year. Sonia had known Norwood in 1941, as their mothers were friendly, but there is no evidence that Norwood was a productive source before 1945, nor that Sonia acted as her courier before then. We find too many spies not telling the truth, and too many historians and journalists not applying much rigour to their analyses.

As for the period of Decay, no more needs to be written. No power at the house, no contacts to provide gossip or information, and communications broken off anyway. Simply more fabulizing from Sonia and her children. She lugs her wireless equipment from house to house, because it presumably aids her Walter Mitty-like illusions.

Why was Sonia not detected?

Irrespective of how active she was on her wireless, Sonia declared, very reasonably, that she would be detected at some stage. Yet she persisted in the regularity of her broadcasts (or so she claimed), and the permanence of her transmitting locations. That phenomenon might be cited as evidence that she knew she was under some kind of protection. Yet, even if that had been so, it does not explain fully the behaviour of the interception and detection services, who would not have been brought into any highly confidential secret owned and protected by MI5 and MI6.

Two prevailing stories have to be addressed: the official statements of the RSS (and subsequently, after the war, GCHQ), which strongly pointed out that it would have been impossible for Sonia to have evaded the RSS’s ‘detect, search and identify’ machinery; and the unofficial claims from Bob King (and espoused and amplified by Chapman Pincher) that Sonia’s wireless had been identified, but that the Discrimination Section of RSS had been advised that it should be ignored, with Pincher ludicrously bringing in Roger Hollis and Kim Philby as the intelligence officers who protected her. Yet, as I explained in http://www.coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-5/ , http://www.coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-8/ , and http://www.coldspur.com/hasp-spycatchers-last-gasp/, both these claims have to be explored and tested very stringently. (I recommend readers return to these pieces for a fuller discussion.)

In essence, the RSS was much more sluggish and inefficient in identifying possibly illicit transmissions than it claimed. It had started off with good intentions, under the vision of Simpson, and the administration of Gill, but, after the transfer to MI6 in May 1941, had become distracted under the leadership of Gambier-Parry, and the diversion of focus of interception activity to mainland Europe. While it may have been watching the whole radio spectrum, for a long time it maintained no complete registry of authorised transmitters (e.g. government departments, or units of governments-in-exile), and its ability to send out a rapid-response mobile force was embarrassingly meagre. Thus any wily illicit wireless operator could have outfoxed the authorities.

On the other hand, the claims made by Bob King, the young (17-year-old in 1941) Voluntary Interceptor who later joined the Discrimination Section also demand strict analysis. For the RSS to know that a probable illicit transmission from the Oxford area was assuredly Sonia’s it would have required knowledge that was not disclosed by King. I mercilessly reproduce the logic I used in HASP: Spycatcher’s Last Gasp to explain the flaws in both arguments.

“For GCHQ to be able to deny that Sonia had been able to broadcast would mean that it had 100% confidence that RSS had been able to detect all illicit traffic originating in the area, and that, furthermore, they knew the co-ordinates of Sonia’s residence at that time. Thus the following steps would have had to be taken:

  1. All illicit or suspicious wireless broadcasts had been detected by RSS;
  2. All those that could not have been accounted for were investigated;
  3. Successful triangulation (direction-finding) of all such signals had taken place to localise the source;
  4. Mobile location-finding units had been sent out to investigate all transgressions;
  5. Such units found that all the illicit stations were still broadcasting (on the same wave-length and with the identical callsign, presumably);
  6. All the offending transmitters were detected, and none was found to be Sonia’s.”

By the same token, it would have required such a visit for the RSS to have determined that the transmitter was indeed Sonia’s, and to pass that information on. Of course, had MI5/MI6 then gained that intelligence, it could have thereafter used the pattern of Sonia’s call-signs, fist, frequencies chosen – and maybe even decrypted text – to be able to alert RSS confidently of the characteristics of any future messages, and to advise the unit not to pursue. Indeed, one could interpret the January 1943 visit by the Oxford constabulary to Summertown as just such a follow-up, which confirmed the existence of wireless apparatus at Sonia’s residence.

Thus, unless Sonia did not broadcast at all (a theory that is not totally bankrupt, but then why did she make such a fuss about lugging that equipment around?), we have to face the fact that a portion of the interception story has been permanently withheld. It is more probable that a cat-and-mouse game did go on, where MI6 (and MI5) encouraged Sonia to broadcast, and that she played along, having worked out what was happening. She therefore transmitted only rarely, and sent politically harmless information, which GC&CS may or may not have been able to decipher.

Conclusions

Sonia was a trained wireless operator. Thus the KGB had to boost that reputation when she wrote her memoir, displaying a stunning but improbable track-record of virtuosity, in which the British intelligence services were outfoxed. If Sonia did not broadcast at all, then her memoir is a vast hoax, which has fooled all commentators and historians. If she did send any messages, then the failure to intercept and identify them was a massive embarrassment for the RSS. If they were intercepted and ignored for some reason, that represented an enormous lapse by MI5 and MI6.

If they were recognised and not acted upon, that would point to the game of connivance and manipulation to which I have continually hinted.

MI5 and MI6 were in a Morton’s Fork: if they ignored the story, and could not deny it, its veracity was accepted; if they tried to show they had been monitoring her, they would have to face the fact that Sonia had blindsided them in succeeding with the more conventional theft of secrets from Fuchs. It was a PR success for the KGB that has endured until today.

Exactly what Sonia used her wireless for, and how frequently, may never be known. Moreover, the puzzle of her husband, Len, and his activities at Kidlington, remains a mystery. My original theory was that Sonia had acted as a decoy for Len’s more serious broadcasts. Yet, if Sonia had struggled to contact Moscow, it must have been even harder for Len to do so.

Sonia’s overall account of her wireless activity is so inconsistent, and so full of holes, that the serious observer must question whether it ever took place at all.

[ I express my gratitude to Brian Austin and Ian Wraith for their advice on radio technology matters. Dr. Austin graciously reviewed an earlier version of this report. Any errors in the above analysis are my own.]

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On Philby, Gouzenko, and ELLI

Igor Gouzenko

I return this month to the matter of the disclosure by the defector Igor Gouzenko of the existence of ELLI, the mystery spy within one of Britain’s intelligence agencies, and Kim Philby’s possible passing on of this information to his masters in Moscow – all occurring in late 1945. Gouzenko was a cipher-clerk in the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, who dramatically escaped with sheafs of documents that incriminated a complex network of spies, and led, first and foremost, to the conviction of Alan Nunn May. The identity of ELLI has been one of the most absorbing of the ‘molehunt’ controversies of the past decades, and Chapman Pincher devoted a large portion of his later career to trying to prove that Roger Hollis, chief of MI5 from 1956 to 1963, was in fact the person behind the cryptonym. Peter Wright, the author of Spycatcher, was the main intelligence officer supporting this theory, which has developed a reputation that far exceeds the strength of the claims it makes.

Contents:

Introduction

1. The Vassiliev Notebooks

2. Odd Events in Canada

3. Menzies in Ottawa?

4. MI5’s Response

5. The News About ELLI

6. Philby’s Reactions

7. Liddell’s Reactions

8. Hollis’s Interview

9. SOE & Alley

10. Interim Conclusions

Introduction:

This topic is very complicated, and the archival material very fragmented. (I issue my customary health warning.) I believe the analysis calls for a very close attention to chronology and geography – part of the methodology sadly lacking in most of the literature I have read. I believe it is essential, however, that the proper groundwork be laid out in order for the inspection of the ‘ELLI’ story, as it evolved in the following decades, to be carried out properly. I thus restrict my study in this piece to the months of September to December 1945, when the ELLI hints were at their freshest, and shall pick up the subsequent interviews and examinations in episodes to come. Yet many unanswered questions remain.

My approach is as follows: I first discuss the unwitting assistance that Alexander Vassiliev’s annotations contributed to the (incorrect) notion that Kim Philby’s disclosures helped identify ELLI as a GRU asset. I then explore the situation in Canada at the time of Gouzenko’s defection that allowed MI6 – and Philby – to wrest control of the case away from MI5, and I explain why MI5 was so passive in its response, and describe the minor role in the ELLI investigation that the reputed villain Roger Hollis played. I move on to examining the way in which the few extant messages concerning ELLI were processed, and the difficult circumstances surrounding their interpretation, affected severely by Philby’s control of much of the material, and his extraordinary diversion to Istanbul at the peak of the investigation. I explore the hints that ELLI was an SOE * asset, describe the background to the relationship between the SOE and the NKVD, which leads to the way that the insight provoked Guy Liddell to search for possible wartime leakages, and some of his speculation as to who ELLI might be. That project appeared to be in full swing as the year wound down, and I draw some interim conclusions.

[* SOE, Special Operations Executive, was a sabotage organisation established in 1940. Its mission was in direct conflict with that of MI6, which was intelligence-gathering. MI6 and SIS are used interchangeably in this report.]

1. The Vassiliev Notebooks:

Alexander Vassiliev

I had discussed this topic last May, when I recognized the extraordinary sleuthing that William Tyrer had performed in winkling out further details about the interrogations of Gouzenko. Yet I detected some errors in Tyrer’s analysis, especially in his study of the KGB * reports concerning Philby, ELLI and Stalin. I had next attempted to make contact with Alexander Vassiliev, now domiciled in the United Kingdom, who had transcribed vital records in the KGB archives, but he had apparently not received my letter. I am happy to be able to report that I have now communicated with Vassiliev #, and want to clarify and expand my previous comments. I believe I raised some important questions, but I had not reflected accurately all the activity that was going on in September 1945. Something seemed incongruous to me at that time, but I had not placed my finger correctly on what it was.

[* The NKVD was the wartime name for what evolved into the NKGB, and the post-war KGB. For all intents and purposes, their names are interchangeable.]

[# Several weeks ago, a communicant overseas kindly gave me Vassiliev’s email address. I then immediately discovered that Vassiliev had in fact just posted this item on his own Wikipedia page.]

I shall, for the sake of clarity, repeat here some information that I have published beforehand. The first item of analysis is the famed reference to ELLI (actually ‘ELLY’) in the Vassiliev papers. These were transcripts of files created by Alexander Vassiliev from the KGB archives, containing information on the GRU, the Soviet Union’s military intelligence bureau, as well, and available on the Internet at https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/collection/86/vassiliev-notebooks .

Chapman Pincher presented the assertion that Gouzenko had betrayed the existence of ELLI in British intelligence as appearing in a report from Boris Merkulov, chief of the NKGB, to Stalin in November 1945, and William Tyrer echoed Pincher’s claim in his article about ELLI in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence: see https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08850607.2016.1177404) .

Yet the published Vassiliev letter states no such thing. It appears as follows (https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/112565) , first reproducing the salutation of Merkulov’s letter:

Comrade I. V. Stalin

Comrade V. M. Molotov

Comrade L. P. Beria

Vassiliev’s commentary next appears, in parentheses:

 [Summarizes the content of “S’s” message regarding Gouzenko and so forth. May is a Ph.D. in physics, a professor at Cambridge Univ., a GRU agent, information on atomic energy.] [Gouzenko reported on the GRU source in British intel. “Elly.”]

Inside Merkulov’s letter, the only direct citation of what Philby told his bosses runs as follows, (“S” standing for “STANLEY”, Philby’s cryptonym):

“Agent “S” reported: ‘In early November Bentley visited the Federal Bureau of Invest. (the FBI) and stated that World Tourists and the United States Service and Shipping Corporation were being used by Sov. intelligence for intel. work. What else Bentley told the FBI and which agents she knew were given up by her to the FBI, we don’t know yet. However, according to the information of agent “S”: “The FBI’s investigation of Golos’s network showed that his agents had penetrated deep into Amer. government agencies and the FBI believes that this network was controlled by the NKVD.’”

Thus the comment that “Gouzenko reported on the GRU source in British intel. ‘ELLY’” is not in the selected highlights of Merkulov’s report, but appears as an introduction in a separate pair of parentheses, looking as if it had been added by Vassiliev as editorial commentary, after the statement that informs us that what follows is a summarization of what Philby had told his Soviet handlers. If it is intended also to reflect the information received from ‘S’ that immediately precedes it, it is worth noting that the information attributed to Philby here likewise includes nothing about ELLI. Elizabeth Bentley, the subject of this report, did not defect until November 7, 1945, while Philby probably became aware of the existence of ELLI on September 13 (or soon after), and, as I shall explain, if Philby did pass on what he heard about ELLI, he would have done so almost two months earlier. The indication by Vassiliev that the letter ‘summarizes the content of “S’s” message regarding Gouzenko and so forth’is both vague and inaccurate.

Pincher also cites the comment as coming from Merkulov’s report, but uses the on-line version as his source. He is wrong. Tyrer reproduces the whole introduction in his article, but removes the parentheses. He is careless. Of course, it is very possible that Merkulov did write to Stalin about Gouzenko and ELLI, and that needs to be verified. Merkulov was, however, in the NKVD/KGB, not the GRU, and it seems implausible that he would want to lay any bad news concerning the GRU on Stalin’s plate. I cannot quickly see any other reference to the GRU in Merkulov’s communications, and Allen Weinstein and Vassiliev himself, in The Haunted Wood, suggest (note, p 105) that any reference to the GRU by Merkulov was an attempt to pass off some of the responsibility for Elizabeth Bentley’s defection to the GRU, who recruited her originally in 1936, and for whom she worked until 1938, when she was transferred to the NKVD.

Thus one might ask: if Vassiliev thought that the reference to ELLI was important enough to be highlighted, why did he not publish the original text that contained it? (I have checked the original Russian manuscript on the Wilson Center website: the texts are the same. Yet some pages are missing in all versions: the original scan of the manuscript, the Russian transcription, and the English translation). We should recall, also, that Vassiliev was not transcribing the texts surreptitiously: he had been given permission from the Association of Retired Intelligence Officers (KGB alumni) to inspect them, was well-briefed in western intelligence interests, and under no pressure. So that is why I decided to try to ask him what the significance of his commentary was.

Mr. Vassiliev kindly responded to my email, as follows:

Now, about the document. It looks like the phrase about ELLI comes from Merkulov’s letter. I used to write my comments on the margins of the pages.
There was an exchange of information between GRU and NKVD-KGB. I remember at least one document talking about someone from NKVD making enquiries in GRU. It doesn’t look like they were doing it every day due to the need-to-know principle. But in this case, before sending his letter to Stalin, Merkulov probably consulted GRU, or there was a constant exchange of information on the Gouzenko affair. And, as far as I understand, the initial info on ELLI came to NKGB from Philby
.”

I had to re-inspect the Gouzenko documents from The National Archives, and wrote to Vassiliev:

The more I looked at this, it seemed to me that it would have been very predictable for Philby to pass on what Gouzenko said about ELLI, but that it would have been the first time he had heard the name, and he would have had no contact with him (or her – since Akhmedov said that the London ELLI was female.) But he must have passed on that nugget much earlier.

I am still intrigued by the Merkulov submission. It appears (as you say) to be a summarization or paraphrasing of what Philby reported, but it is very much in the native idiom of a KGB officer (‘Bentley told us’, ‘ ‘we believe’, the renegade Budenz’, etc.), and Philby is introduced or quoted as an aside (‘However, according to the information of agent ‘S’ . . .’).

But there are these timing issues. The letter from Merkulov that you cite is dated November 24, but the Kew Gouzenko files (and Guy Liddell’s Diary) tell us that the news about ELLI arrived on September 13, and VENONA informs us that Philby’s initial report on Gouzenko was confirmed as early as September 17. 

Thus there must be an earlier report that does not appear in your White Notebook. The November 24 missive is almost entirely consumed with the Bentley case, after Bentley’s statement to the FBI on November 7, so ELLI would have been old news by then.

I should also add Philby’s trip to Turkey on September 26, on the VOLKOV case. I had not entered that into my Chronology. He was obviously distracted for a while, and so was Merkulov.

My conclusion: that Philby or Merkulov mentioning ELLI towards the end of November would have been superfluous.”

Indeed, Keith Jeffery’s authorised history of MI6 appears to confirm Philby’s earlier communication on Gouzenko. On page 657, Jeffery writes: “A signal on 17 September from Moscow to Krötenschield, Philby’s controller in London, confirmed that information from ‘Stanley’ (Philby’s Soviet cover name) about ‘the events in Canada . . .  does correspond to the facts’.” This was clearly VENONA traffic, as can be confirmed from the archive. Yet would Philby have been aware of ELLI that soon? Probably not. A further message, dated September 18 (a Tuesday) refers to ‘a meeting last week’, which would put it, at the latest, as Friday, September 14. If Philby received the news on the Thursday, he would have had to arrange, at very short notice, a rendezvous with Krötenschield (also known as KROTOV), which might have been a difficult task to accomplish unless he had some very efficient  – but risky – intermediary working for him. Could Philby have been receiving information from another source –  as Peter Wright in fact suggested? And why, in any case, was Philby the master of ceremonies in this business? To answer those questions, I shall have to examine the Chronology very carefully. But first: Philby’s inappropriate control of the situation.

2. Odd Events in Canada:

As a Dominion, and part of the British Empire, Canada fell under MI5’s bailiwick when it came to intelligence matters, not MI6’s. Yet, by a strange mix of ill luck, inattention, lack of forcefulness, and sheer incompetence, or possibly by virtue of a highly secret project, MI5 allowed MI6 – and Philby, as head of the latter’s new Section IX Counter-Intelligence division – to hijack the direction of the response to Gouzenko’s defection. The official historians have been extraordinarily negligent in reporting this anomaly. In his Secret History of MI6, Keith Jeffery wrote (p 657): “Philby was the principal point of contact for MI5, who naturally had a direct interest in the case.”  Christopher Andrew, in Defend the Realm (p 346) avoids the issue, but enigmatically explains Hollis’s being sent to Ottawa in the following terms: “The fact that Gouzenko had defected in a Commonwealth capital, rather than foreign territory, meant that the Security Service, rather than SIS, had the lead role in responding to it”. Yet he studiously avoids discussing the fact that MI5 did not take a ‘lead role’. He subsequently ignores the strife until he describes Roger Hollis’s eventual complaints about Philby’s meddling on February 19, 1946. Gillian Bennett, former Chief Historian of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, echoes Jeffery’s comment, rather lamely, and incorrectly, in her article The CORBY case: the defection of Igor Gouzenko, as follows: “Since British subjects were implicated in Gouzenko’s revelations, the case was of primary interest to the Security Service”.

Yet MI5 had more than ‘a direct interest’: it was primarily responsible for counter-espionage on Commonwealth territory. Its mission was, however, confounded by i) the absence of its regular representative in Ottawa; ii) the relationship between Canada’s Department of External Affairs and Britain’s High Commissioner and the Foreign Office; iii) the resourcefulness of Peter Dwyer, who represented MI6 (and secondarily, MI5) in Washington; iv) the energies and preferences of William Stephenson, the head of British Security Coordination in New York, and the highly secure communications links that he controlled, v) the inattention of various MI5 officers in London, and vi) the direct influence of Stewart Menzies, MI6 chief. Kim Philby was able to exploit all these factors.

MI5’s Representative:

MI5 had maintained a representative on Canadian soil in the person of Cyril Mills, an MI5 officer who had worked on the Double Cross team, handling GARBO. He had been sent to Ottawa in 1943 to manage Operation WATCHDOG, an attempt to turn a German spy into a double agent. Yet, as luck would have it, at the end of the war, he had been demobilized, and sailed from Canada at about the time that Gouzenko defected. Guy Liddell records his arrival in London on September 19. MI5 presumably had not planned to replace Mills with any other officer, thinking that, with the war over (and many of its personnel returning to civilian life), it could afford to retrench. It did not have its own representative in the United States at this time, for such matters as liaising with the FBI. Peter Dwyer represented both MI6 and MI5 until Dick Thistlethwaite was appointed in 1947.

Cyril & Bernard Mills

Cyril Mills had pointed out the deficiencies in RCMP intelligence to his bosses in London. Dean Beeby writes, in Cargo of Lies (p 195): “Since December 1942 he [Mills] had been a window on Canadian security for MI5 and MI6, and his reports were alarming. Canada’s intelligence services were in a desperate state, he warned, beginning with the RCMP (witness its clumsy handling of the Watchdog case) and extending through the three armed forces. Mills’ repeated warnings perhaps help explain the speed with which British intelligence officers arrived in Ottawa to ensure Gouzenko would be in capable hands.” Yet the facts show that they were not able to right the ship properly. Liddell had not taken Mills’s warnings seriously enough.

The Department of External Affairs:

Norman Robertson & Mackenzie King

Canada’s undersecretary for the Department was Norman Robertson, described by Amy Knight as ‘a close adviser’ to Prime Minister Mackenzie King. It was Robertson who, on the evening of September 6, brought the news that Gouzenko had presented himself to the Minister of Justice, and who suggested to an alarmed Mackenzie King, someone very anxious not to upset the Soviets, that the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) offer Gouzenko protection. Jeffery reports that, on September 8, Robertson decided to cable Alexander Cadogan, the British Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in a missive introduced as ‘strictly personal’. (Bennett echoes this version of the story, describing Cadogan as ‘Robertson’s counterpart’, which may have been strictly true, but was a relationship that did not pay homage to the protocols.) This message described Gouzenko, his defection, and the nature of the material he had exfiltrated, without identifying him. Yet the message was sent as originating in New York, and concluded, rather elliptically, that ‘the investigation is proceeding in consultation with Stephenson and F.B.I.’

This would all be highly irregular, if Robertson had not informed the High Commissioner for Canada, Malcolm Macdonald, and the FBI had been consulted before British intelligence were involved. Some historians have used this to suggest that Stephenson and an FBI representative were already in Canada, and the circumstances continue to be a subject of much controversy. The following day, however, Macdonald, writing ‘further to my telegram of September 8’, perhaps indicating that Robertson had admitted privately his error in protocol, and that he, Macdonald, had always been in charge, sent another cable to Cadogan, and was able to inform him that the cipher clerk worked for the GRU, and even to name the British atom scientist Alan Nunn May as an agent of Soviet military intelligence. It might not appear immediately obvious how or why this information was passed from Ottawa to New York so expeditiously: presumably the security of Foreign Office cables was not considered as secure as the New York-London channel, but an open telephone link between Ottawa and New York might have been regarded as safe As I shall show, however, BSC to London communications, which were used for all traffic, were able to take advantage of a highly convenient geographical location in Canada. In any case, the initial point of contact was Cadogan.

Peter Dwyer:

It was probably because of the vacuum in British intelligence in Canada that MI6’s representative in Washington, Peter Dwyer, was despatched to Ottawa. Yet even his involvement retains some measure of controversy. While Jeffery ignores Dwyer’s role completely, in Nigel West’s history of MI5, the author suggests that, owing to Mills’s departure, the news of Gouzenko’s arrest was sent to Dwyer in Washington (i.e., not New York), whereupon Dwyer immediately sent a message to his bosses in London, where it was routed to Philby. This appears not to have been the case, however.  Other sources indicate that Dwyer had promptly flown to Ottawa. William Tyrer (using David Stafford’s history of Camp X), claims that Dwyer flew to Ottawa ‘immediately’ after Gouzenko mentioned that ’British citizens were involved’ (thus on September 8 or 9, presumably), but that would mean that Robertson (or Macdonald) contacted Dwyer directly in Washington before informing anybody else, which sounds highly unlikely. Macdonald would have felt completely capable of handling the implications himself.

A far more mysterious picture emerges from Amy Knight’s How The Cold War Began, however, where she cites records that indicate that, on September 6, Robertson was conferring at his home with ‘an eminent officer of the British Secret Service’. Speculation centred on this identity referring to William Stephenson, or even Stewart Menzies. Knight more safely plumped for Peter Dwyer as the enigmatic figure. In her text, she refers to a telegram to London from Macdonald, dated September 10, which refers to one of Stephenson’s men ‘who has been here for the last three days and who knows all the facts’, identifying her source as a later item from September 25, in KV 2/145. Indeed, s.n. [serial number] 3A confirms this, but Knight initially leaves the question as to why Dwyer was in Ottawa on September 6 as simply a possible coincidence. (I shall investigate Knight’s story in more depth later in this piece.)

David Stafford’s Camp X reinforces the claim that Stephenson was already in Ottawa at the time of Gouzenko’s defection, and that he summoned Dwyer (from Washington) and his fellow officer Jean-Paul Evans (from New York) on Saturday September 7. They were then briefed by George Glazebrook, from the Canadian Department of External Affairs, in a highly clandestine manner at the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa.

I recommend that readers turn to Knight’s book for a discussion as to what might have brought Dwyer to the scene, and whether Gouzenko had had contact with British intelligence before he sought asylum. Since Gouzenko struggled initially on being heard, and only narrowly escaped being re-captured by Soviet Embassy officers, it raises all manner of questions as to why the RCMP was not better prepared to accept the fugitive. Yet, if Dwyer was indeed on the scene, it also poses questions about the prior involvement of MI6. (I shall explore these matters in the last part of this section, as well.)

William Stephenson:

William Stephenson

In any case, Stephenson took charge. He saw himself as a much more natural associate of MI6, whose interests he primarily represented at BSC during World War II, than of MI5. Bennett writes: “All the high level CORBY messages were transmitted through SIS channels, between Stephenson’s BSC headquarters in New York and the SIS Chief in London. Stephenson, a Canadian, determined to enhance his own position and provide valuable leverage in his dealings with Ottawa and Washington, insisted on this.” The implication, however, is that low level (detailed?) messages could be sent over other media, or outside Stephenson’s control. Indeed, a host of messages, for example the transcripts of the exchanges that Gouzenko brought with him, must have been too voluminous to be sent to New York (or wherever BSC’s transmission facility was situated: see below) for encryption and transmission, and were passed directly from Ottawa to London, presumably by air in the diplomatic bag.

The corollary of Stephenson’s action is how Cadogan responded to all this traffic. It surprises me that his first instinct was not to alert David Petrie, director-general of MI5, but to pass on the communications to Stewart Menzies, the MI6 chief, who reported nominally to the Foreign Office. Perhaps this again suggests that the Foreign Office and MI6 knew beforehand of something going on, and the outcome was that Menzies immediately delegated all responsibility to Kim Philby, his blue-eyed boy who headed Section IX. Andrew’s history contains no mention of BSC, Stephenson or even Cadogan in this strange breach of protocol.

3. Menzies in Ottawa?:

I believe I first read about the possibility of Stewart Menzies’s being in Ottawa at the time Gouzenko defected in Amy Knight’s book. Citing Canadian government archives, she wrote that, on the evening of September 6, Robertson was conferring at his home with an ‘eminent officer of the British Secret Service’. She briefly discussed the possibility that this could have been William Stephenson, but followed this up by quoting the diary of Mackenzie King, who very explicitly recorded, the same day: “The head of the British Secret Service arrived at the Seignory Club today. Robertson was going down to see him tonight.” The following day, King ‘noted that he had authorized Robertson to telephone Stephenson in New York’, and the day after he inserts the comment that ‘Robertson said that Stephenson and the FBI representatives would be here tonight’. Yet, despite this apparently unequivocal evidence, Knight rejected the notion that this mystery visitor could have been Stewart Menzies, concluding that ‘the top British intelligence officer in North America’, Peter Dwyer, was a more likely candidate. Yet even the plodding and unimaginative Mackenzie King would not have misidentified his visitor so poorly.

David Levy, in Stalin’s Man in Canada, is another author who has investigated these matters, and he even followed up the dossier that King had instructed Robertson to create, in order to verify (despite what King’s September 8 entry declared) whether the person was in fact Stephenson. In a later volume, Fred Rose and Igor Gouzenko: The Cold War begins, Levy backtracked somewhat, but then muddied the waters by asserting that Peter Dwyer (whom he incorrectly dubbed ‘an MI5 man’) was at that time ‘in faraway England’. Yet Levy appeared unconvinced that the personage could have been Menzies, and he may have been relying on what Keith Jeffery, the authorised historian of MI6, wrote to him, in an email in October 2010, that there was no record of Menzies travelling to North America ‘much before 1949’ – an odd way of formulating a response, it must be said. Thus Levy’s final judgment was to sit on the fence: “Could it have been something Robertson invented to get round the prime minister’s reluctance to hold onto Igor Gouzenko?”

Stewart Menzies

For some reason, both Knight and Levy, who cite John Bryden’s Best Kept Secret (1993) as a source for information on Menzies’s visit, dismiss what this Canadian journalist has written. I came to Bryden’s book late in the cycle, but it is quite a revelation. It informs us that Menzies was indeed a member of the Seigniory Club, ‘one of the most exclusive private resorts in North America’. Bryden provides evidence that a conference on HYDRA, the communications centre for BSC, which was situated at the nearby SOE training ground, Camp X, was about to be held, and that George Glazebrook, Canada’s security chief in Washington had written to his predecessor, Thomas Stone, on September 3, about the imminent meeting with Menzies. HYDRA had been a vital cog in the secret communications network of the Allies: as Bryden wrote: “These vast, overlapping networks were made possible by the direct telekrypton cable links between Ottawa, Washington, and London, backed by HYDRA, the British Security Coordination transmitter at Camp X, plus similar American and British transmitters in the Pacific.” Its future was to be discussed.

Thus not only is there a substantial reason for Menzies’s paying a highly secret visit to Ottawa, one can also understand how smoothly the secure communications between New York and London were able to be achieved. HYDRA was a powerful and flexible wireless receiver/transmitter that routed all confidential traffic between the Americas and Great Britain. Telekrypton (also known as Rockex) was specialized teletype equipment that enciphered and deciphered telegrams for MI6. BSC In New York used it to send messages to Berkeley Street in London, via Arlington, Virginia, and another telekrypton machine was located at Camp X, where an automated system for the transformation of wireless/teletype messages was created. (Hence the highly efficient exchange of information between New York, Ottawa and London.) In addition, Bryden writes that Peter Dwyer ‘sent his own reports back to London to Kim Philby rather than to BSC.’ (His source, however, is the not entirely reliable Peter Wright in Spycatcher.) In a note he adds, describing Stephenson’s part in the scheme: “He appears to have arrived on the scene several days later and then only to provide Dwyer with a telekrypton machine for secure communications with New York for onward transmission by BSC cable to London.” 

Yet the fact of an alternative conduit is confirmed by a remarkable entry in Liddell’s diary for September 11: “There is a serious [sic: ‘series] of telegrams running between Robertson of External Affairs and Cadogan, another between Security Coordination and SIS.” [my italics] Thus, if Dwyer were communicating privately with Philby, a whole bunch of messages must have existed that may never have seen the light of day, even though Liddell (and others, presumably) knew about their existence. And evidence exists that many messages were not only weeded from the archives (or not even submitted to them), as gaps in the telegram sequence numbers show, but were also concealed from MI5. Someone has annotated, on cable CXG832 from Menzies to Stephenson dated September 18, in reference to Menzies’s answers to Stephenson’s questions from CXG317 (not on file): ‘not available to MI5’.

(Parenthetically, an additional advantage of this set-up is that Gouzenko was taken into protective custody, and housed at Camp X. Thus, as he revealed information about Soviet code and cipher systems, it proved highly efficient for the passing on of such insights in a highly secure fashion to cryptanalysts in Arlington and to those at the Government Code and Cypher School, at Bletchley Park and at Berkeley Street.)

But how long was Menzies in Ottawa? Did he have an alibi? One consideration that should be entertained is the fact that Cadogan was the recipient of the first few messages, not Menzies himself. Robertson and Macdonald would have been advised by Menzies, if he had still been in Canada, that Cadogan was the appropriate addressee, as custodian of MI6 affairs until Menzies returned to the United Kingdom. And maybe Menzies did decide that he should hotfoot it back on one of the regular RAF flights that transported VIPs across the Atlantic at that time, so that he could take charge of matters from the correct location. On September 10, Macdonald is still contacting Cadogan.  On September 12, however, Stephenson is responding to a cable earlier that day from Menzies (CSS) himself, so the head of MI6 was by then back in his seat.

Yet another wrinkle in the affair occurs on September 10. In a telegram to Cadogan, jointly composed by Robertson and Macdonald, the latter write: “You will doubtless have seen telegram from Stephenson to ‘C’ reporting inter ALIA our present knowledge scientific side of espionage activities.” A handwritten annotation suggests that that message should be found at s.n. 6a, yet 6a contains a message from Menzies to Stephenson (CXG826), dated September 15, advising him of Hollis’s departure the next day, but referring to an earlier message of September 12 (CXG817), not on file, but to which Stephenson had replied the same day. As the interrupted sequence of telegram numbers shows, several messages have been weeded: perhaps some false information has been inserted. Maybe Stephenson sent a telegram to Menzies knowing that he would not yet be in his office to receive it. Moreover, it may be significant that, after September 14, messages between Cadogan and Macdonald were sent through Menzies, rather than directly to each other.

Liddell’s Diaries provide some clues as to Menzies’s whereabouts. He provides some fascinating entries about him in mid-September. Two occur on September 13 after he, Marriott and Philby draft a telegram, for Menzies’s approval, to be sent to Ottawa concerning Nunn May, recommending that the spy be allowed to leave Canada (so he could make his rendezvous with his Soviet controller in London). Curiously, Liddell adds the comment that Menzies agreed to the terms ‘over the phone’, which sounds a rather casual way of checking such an important document. The second reference runs as follows: “When I saw C the other day at the JIC he told me that it has been decided that he should be the co-ordinating authority between SIS and SOE.” Indeed, the entry for September 11 appears to confirm Menzies’s attendance at the meeting, but is couched, again, in extraordinary language: “C. who was present seemed to agree to our accepting responsibility for SIME [Security Intelligence Middle East].” Why on earth would Liddell bother to record that Menzies was actually ‘present’ at a meeting when he transcribed what he said? How could it be otherwise? And why did he not insert this conversation in his diary entry for September 11, rather than adding it as an unrelated item two days later?

Thus there remains a distinct possibility that Menzies did not return until September 12, and that Liddell and other senior officers in MI5 (and officials elsewhere) knew about his mission, and provided cover for him. If so, that would explain MI5’s collective lack of enterprise in the whole Gouzenko business, knowing that Menzies was intimately involved with the details of the case, and familiar with its cryptographic implications, and how it therefore let MI6 manage the more conventional aspects of it (e.g. the treatment of Nunn May) until it was too late. And all the highly secure Telekrypton processes could not keep the information out of the hands of the Soviets.

Perhaps Stephenson and Menzies were both in Ottawa already. There seems to be evidence of a deliberate attempt to muddy the waters, although the private testimony from the diary of the rather naïve Mackenzie King concerning the authorization to Robertson to telephone Stephenson in New York might be considered the most reliable factoid to work on. I leave it to more expert analysts to shed better light on this mystery.

4. MI5’s Response:

September 1945 was a fraught period for MI5 senior officers. Apart from the challenge of the exodus of many competent officers to civilian life, the charter of MI5 was coming under government inspection. The versatile civil servant Findlater Stewart was in the middle of another investigation, and his questioning occupied much of the time of Petrie, Liddell and others. Dick White was still in Germany, but was not immune to Stewart’s study, and he communicated with Liddell over the telephone on the implications of possible sharing of resources with MI6, and the latter’s growing ambitions.

During this period, the Director-General, Sir David Petrie, appears occasionally in Liddell’s Diaries. He was rather disillusioned, even demoralised, over Soviet infiltration by this time, as John Curry’s History suggests, and looking forward to retirement. No doubt he was preparing the ground for who his successor should be, but Liddell (head of B Division) did not get the nod: the announcement of the appointment of police officer Percy Sillitoe was made in November, in preparation for his arrival in early 1946. Liddell kept Petrie informed of the Gouzenko business, but Petrie did not react with authority. He was aware of the treachery of Alan Nunn May (whose identity was immediately revealed by Gouzenko’s disclosures), but rather curiously, on September 13, informed Liddell that he would rather ‘knock him off in Canada’ than bring him over to the United Kingdom. Certainly there is no evidence that Petrie protested to Cadogan, or Menzies, or even Attlee, that MI5 should be in control of the case.

Thus it was left to Liddell to handle affairs. Liddell, too cerebral, too contemplative, in his Diaries consistently betrayed his lack of drive by confiding in them what he ‘personally believed’ on controversial matters of policy, as if he did not have the courage of his convictions to try to persuade other persons and bodies of their correctness. He received the news of the Gouzenko defection with concern, but not alarm, and was certainly not provoked into trying to take charge. The situation was ‘murky’: he regrets that he no longer has any MI5 representative in Ottawa.  

Ironically, it is Philby himself who eventually presses Liddell to authorize Roger Hollis to travel to Canada to take over the case. Liddell wanted to send out Herbert Hart, since Hollis was on holiday, but Marriott and Philby were insistent that the mission belonged to the anti-communism expert. Petrie consented: Hollis returned from leave on September 14, left from Prestwick on September 16, and arrived in Montreal the following day, so he hardly had time to have his laundry done, let alone be briefed properly. Dick White did not return to the UK until mid-October, where he immediately jumped into the Findlater Stewart project. Moreover, White had wedding plans. He married the communist Jane Bellamy on November 28.

Yet Hollis was not the ideal choice. He managed F Division (‘Subversive Activities’), with Section F2 responsible for ‘Communism and Left-Wing Activities’. Hugh Shillito (F2B & F2C) had been the real expert (as the Sonia business showed), but in September 1945 he had left MI5, probably in frustration at the obstinacies of MI5’s senior management, and Hollis’s disparagement of his efforts. Jane Archer would have been an excellent candidate, but she still worked for MI6, and, as a woman, would have faced enormous challenges with the RCMP and Canadian intelligence. The situation reinforced the fact that the split of counter-espionage and domestic subversion that Petrie had introduced in 1941 had not worked well: he and Liddell were again discussing how to re-unify the functions while the Gouzenko business was going on. Liddell confided in his diary entry for September 26 that he ‘wanted to get a proper Russian section going as early as possible’, implicitly admitting the flaws in MI5’s Soviet counter-espionage set-up. Yet speed did not appear to be of the essence. On November 30, he recorded having a talk with Dick [White] and Hollis on the formation of a Russian section, ‘the necessity of which Roger is now convinced, subject to DG’s approval’. Since the section would be in Hollis’s F Division (as a subsequent December 6 discussion with Petrie disclosed), that was a strange reaction on Hollis’s part. The nucleus would be Marriott and Serpell. Liddell, as the senior officer responsible for counter-espionage, should have travelled to Canada himself.

So Hollis was rushed off to Canada. On September 19, when Liddell contacted Hollis chez the RCMP, reporting on Nunn May’s arrival, he did implore Hollis to establish direct communication through that channel, even requesting ‘discontinuance of use of any other channel’, as the present situation was ‘unsatisfactory and causes delay and uncertainty’. The phrase about ‘discontinuance’ has been crossed out, however. It was too little, too late, and poor Hollis did not have the clout to remedy the situation, as he implied in a telegram to White and Liddell on the same day. Thus, on September 20, Hollis’s messages were still being sent to Menzies, under Stephenson’s codename (48000). Hollis wrote (September 24) that he and Stephenson assumed that all ‘CORBY’ (the codename for Gouzenko) messages were being sent to MI5, and, if that were not the case, offered to copy them all, and re-send them, adding, however, ‘but this seems ridiculous waste of time and effort justifiable only if you are meeting insoluble obstruction in London’. This message was sent by One-Time Pad from the RCMP to MI5, so maybe MI6 never saw it.

MI5’s overall response was passive and weak, and it appears that that behaviour led to the agency’s experiencing ‘insoluble obstruction’. Whether this was simply in character, or whether it occurred because of other arcane knowledge is a debatable subject, but Liddell’s private observations are ambiguous. One important diary entry for September 25 is worth quoting in full, however, since it shows that Liddell was more comfortable confiding his grievances to his journal than he was about remonstrating in the right places:

            “I had a talk with Marriott & xxxxxx [Philby?]. Later on Marriott brought over a file of telegrams some of which were dated the 22nd Sept. and on which action was required. This is a typical example of inefficiency and the kind of thing that results when two offices are handling the same subject. I said that I did not wish to upset Stephenson or make Roger Hollis’s task more difficulty [sic] but that quite frankly I could see no possible reason why the Security Coordination should be having a finger in the pie at all. The matter was purely one between ourselves, RMCP and the FBI. If we wanted guidance on matters of higher policy we could get it ourselves from the F.O. In fact we had already done so. Stephenson is apparently kicking up the idea of our communicating direct with the RCMP and cites the British High Commissioner as supporting his view. This of course is typical of Stephenson. He came into the case through External Affairs and having set himself up as the Great Panjandrum does not now wish to be knocked off his perch. Everything that he does or does not do is a matter of personal prestige and the organisation has to suffer accordingly.”

It sounds, however, that Liddell was not aware of the possible presence of Stephenson in Canada when the scandal erupted. It is surprising that he complains here about BSC’s interference, but not about that of MI6.

5. The News About ‘ELLI’:

While the primary focus in the flurry of messages that week concerned Nunn May (and other agents, including, rather confusingly, another Ottawa-based agent named ‘ELLI’, namely Kate Willsher), the existence of an agent in London surfaced from what Gouzenko revealed to his RCMP interrogators. William Tyrer has pointed out that the first reference to ELLI seems to be September 13, since Liddell responded, on September 23, to a telegram of that date in the following terms: “Ref. your CKG 301 of 13.9.45 – do not consider that ELLI could be identical with UREN.” Tyrer points out that CKG 301 is missing from the Gouzenko file, and that its succeeding items (303 & 303) have had information on ELLI redacted. [Unfortunately, Tyrer provides a source for this item as s.n. 27A of KV 2/1425, when it is in fact to be found in KV/ 2/1421. As he rightly points out, the Gouzenko files are ‘a shambles’. They need someone to compile a register of them, tabulated by number and source, so that a proper assessment of the chronology could be more easily gained.]

Tyrer makes two rather problematic assertions in this section of his analysis. The first is that ‘the existence of ELLI would have been telegrammed to London’ at the same time that the activities of Nunn May were described (i.e. September 10). Yet there is no evidence that ELLI was mentioned at that time: that is pure speculation. Moreover, Tyrer then claims that the fact that ‘MI5 in London knew about ELLI on or before 13 September’ is indicated by Liddell’s telegram responding to the message of September 13. How MI5 could have learned the contents of a cable before it was even sent is not explained by Tyrer, and his account ignores the perennial delays that were occurring between thought and reception at this time. It is true that Liddell first saw ‘CORBY’ telegrams on September 11 (since he records Kim Philby’s bringing them over with him), but he regards them as ‘somewhat corrupt’, and his lengthy diary analysis concerns itself solely with Nunn May and the latter’s prospective meeting with his handler in London. There is no mention of ELLI. Nor is there any when he discusses the case with Marriott and Philby two days later.

Yet researchers are indebted to Tyrer for finding another important text in the Canadian National Archives that corresponds approximately to the timing of the dispatch of the ‘UREN’ message. It was dated September 15, and Tyrer reproduces it as follows:

            Alleged Agent in British Intelligence

            CORBY states that while he was in the Central Code Section in 1942 or 1943, he heard about a Soviet Agent, in England, allegedly a member of the British Intelligence Service. This agent, who, was of Russian descent, had reported that the British had a very important agent of their own in the Soviet Union, who was apparently being run by someone in Moscow. The latter refused to disclose his agent’s identity even to his headquarters in London.

            When this message arrived it was received by a Lt. Colonel POLAKOVA who, in view of its importance got in touch with STALIN himself by telephone.

Now this text raises some provocative questions. Who interrogated Gouzenko? Is what he told his interrogator the same message as was sent to Liddell on September 13? Did it go to both Liddell and Philby? What is the significance of the references to ‘British Intelligence Service’ and British agents in Moscow? Why was the hint not picked up with more urgency? If someone in Ottawa (presumably Dwyer) had two days earlier already made a link between ELLI and Uren, surely he must have been acting on more specific pointers to SOE and Uren, who was working for SOE when he was convicted of spying? Yet the most important conclusion to be drawn from this message is that a spy within the service had revealed to Chichaev (the NKVD-SOE representative in London )in 1942 or 1943 that George Hill (the SOE-NKVD representative in Moscow) maintained an agent in Moscow, and that, even though Hill’s bosses had requested that Hill identify him, Hill had refused. Yet Gouzenko does not name the agent as ELLI here.

The reference to POLAKOVA is highly significant, however. POLAKOVA – sometimes POLYARKOVA – was a major in the NKVD (with a GRU background) who instructed PICKAXE agents at the school at Kushnarenko, outside Moscow. * PICKAXE was the project shared by the NKVD and SOE for sending Soviet-trained subversive agents from UK soil into Nazi-occupied Europe (see below). If POLAKOVA received the message, it confirms that the informer was attached to SOE in some way.

[* Maria POLIAKOVA – known as ‘VERA’ – was a significant figure in Soviet espionage. She set up the Swiss section of the Rote Kapelle in 1937-38, handing over to SONIA. When Allan Foote was sent on his final mission (before ‘defecting’ back to the British), it was ‘VERA’ who gave him instructions, and it was Foote who informed MI5 of her identity. In 1945, therefore, the name would probably not have meant anything to Liddell & co.. She was presumably on loan to the NKVD for training of Soviet agents for SOE, and stood in for Ossipov, Hill’s opposite number in Moscow, when the latter was travelling. Why she would have been identified as masculine is puzzling.]

Tyrer assumes that this message is serial 2a in the Gouzenko file, noted, on page 30 of the report in KV 2/1420, as being extracted for placement in ELLI’s Personal File 66962, but I am unconvinced that we can rely on this.

i) First, an examination of the response indicates that it was sent by Liddell ‘for HOLLIS’, responding to CXG 323 of September 16, and Item 4 is the line that runs ‘Reference your CXG 301 of 13.10.45’. Yet Hollis did not arrive in Montreal until September 17, then moving on to Ottawa. The telegram is addressed to R.C.M.P, for Hollis’s attention. Thus someone with, or attached to, the RCMP sent the original.

ii) The message has been sent by use of the One-Time-Pad over MI5’s traditional link, and it has been annotated ‘Copy sent to SIS’, suggesting strongly that it was not sent directly to SIS for transmission, but that SIS was kept informed. Again, it indicates a more private correspondence between MI5 and the RCMP.

iii) The Canada-based representative, if coming to a conclusion that ELLI might be UREN, reveals a familiarity with British intelligence, if he came to the conclusion that the meagre hints provided by Gouzenko pointed to SOE, but he appears not to be addressing the substance of the September 15 message. Ormond UREN was an officer in SOE, of Scottish-Cornish background, who had been convicted in 1943 of passing secrets to ‘Dave’ Springhall of the CPGB. There was nothing ‘Russian’ in his background, and he would not have known about any SIS or SOE agents in the Soviet Union. Likewise, if Liddell had seen the message of September 15 at this time, he might have pointed out the obvious anomaly. Why, on September 23, would he not have referred to the September 15 information unless the reason was that it had not yet reached his desk?

The conclusion must be that a simpler statement, probably hinting at SOE’s wartime relationship with the NKVD, and perhaps the role of the Soviet military attaché, must have provoked the ‘UREN’ analysis. The sender specifically selected as a probable candidate an SOE officer whose espionage was known. Moreover, Liddell knew more than the Ottawa communicant did in order to be able to discount Uren, but had almost certainly not yet seen the September 15 message.

The CXG series of messages were sent care of BSC in New York to SIS, probably originated from Dwyer, and thus would have arrived on Philby’s desk first. It is highly unlikely, however, that Dwyer interviewed Gouzenko directly. In Molehunt (p 37), Nigel West claims that Gouzenko ‘made allegations . .  . to Peter Dwyer’ about ‘a valuable Soviet spy inside British counterintelligence’, and that his assertions were later ‘reexamined in extraordinary detail’, but later (p 75) West states that Dwyer and Jean-Paul Evans flew in to Ottawa, but ‘neither of them ever actually met Gouzenko face to face’. West’s account suggests that John Leopold translated their questions and then reported Gouzenko’s answers (with Mervyn Black some time later assuming Leopold’s role as translator). West has the substance of this message about ELLI’s background surfacing only in 1981, thus confirming the existence of the withheld document in the Canadian National Archives. Gouzenko then gave an explanation to the Times, but for some reason changed the notion of ‘British Intelligence’ to MI5.

Peter Wright is also unreliable.  He reports in Spycatcher (p 281) that, in 1965, he went over the Gouzenko transcripts again, and also describes the defector’s testimony as referring to what his co-worker in Moscow, Liubimov, told him, that there was ‘something Russian’ about ELLI, the use of a dubok, and the fact that the spy could ‘remove from MI5 the files which dealt with Russians in London’. Yet these two last ‘facts’ do not appear in the September 13 telegram. Liubimov was not named there. Wright then writes that Liubimov ‘showed him [Gouzenko] parts of the telegrams from the spy’, which cannot strictly have been accurate, as the information from ELLI would have been packaged by his handler, and not sent by ELLI himself (or herself).

It is presumably this telegram that Wright and Pincher refer to as the ‘Elligram’ (see Pincher, pp 205-206, & Wright, p 188), although Wright’s recall of it appears to draw from the September 15 telegram as well as new information appearing in Hollis’s message of November 23 (see below). Thus Pincher’s claim that Dwyer ‘quickly’ sent a fuller telegram ‘containing all the details about ELLI’ must be questioned. But then Pincher is wildly off the mark. He has Hollis at the centre of things when the Gouzenko story breaks, with his friend Philby conversing regularly with him. “By September 10, Hollis had known most of Gouzenko’s revelations”, he writes, next indulging in vague speculation about Hollis’ negligence in not taking the warnings about Nunn May’s rendezvous seriously enough, and his sorry attempts to divert suspicion from himself. Yet Pincher overlooks the fact that Hollis did not return from his holidays until September 14. He was completely out of the picture. Pincher’s account is pure fantasy.

The more careful Amy Knight also badly misrepresents Hollis’s involvement. She declares (p 137) that ‘Gouzenko’s information about “ELLI” was first conveyed during his interview with MI5’s Roger Hollis (with the RCMP present), who visited Gouzenko shortly after the defection’. Yet we know that references to ELLI appeared before Hollis’s return from holiday, and that he did not meet Gouzenko until late November (an encounter that Knight describes as his ‘second meeting’). She does, however, bolster the fact of the confused messages by citing papers from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that indicated that Gouzenko could have been referring to two separate agents in his depositions.

What seems conclusive, however, is that several messages about ELLI were sent from Ottawa to Philby, that not all of them reached MI5, and those that were forwarded often were subject to delay. What is also critical to note, however, is that, in September, the only published observation about ELLI that Liddell makes is on the ‘UREN’ one of September 13. Yet he does not mention this observation in his Diaries (there is no obvious redaction here), and he does not react to the content of the more detailed ‘Russian connection’ message of September 15 until over a month later. I shall analyse the phenomenon later in this piece.

6. Philby’s Reactions:

Kim Philby

One might suppose that what Gouzenko had to say about ELLI could have been contained in one statement, but it appeared that it came out in dribs and drabs. One might also conclude that Philby saw every message that was issued from Ottawa about ELLI, but we cannot assume that either. As early as September 11 (namely before the first identifiable message on ELLI), Philby was preparing a report for his boss, Menzies, who, in turn, had to give Prime Minister Attlee a briefing on September 13. This was the same day that Philby introduced the case to Liddell. Jeffery quotes from his report, using an unnumbered archive in the Foreign Office papers, but makes no reference to ‘ELLI’. At that stage, Philby was probably relying on the fairly high-level report from Robertson that did, nevertheless, contain details about Nunn May. It was in a covering note to this report where he recommended that an expert in Soviet espionage be sent out. [Jeffery rather ambiguously writes: “He suggested Jane Archer or Roger Hollis from MI5”, where the syntax is unclear. Archer was still working for Philby at this time.] Philby was presumably not then aware that Hollis was on holiday, as Liddell pointed out to him on September 14, unless, of course, his recommendation was made out of devilry, in the knowledge that Hollis had been out of the picture, and would thus not be a very efficient investigator.

Thus it is difficult to determine exactly what ‘facts’ Philby passed on to Moscow to allow a confirmation of his findings by September 17. Had hints to ELLI alarmed him, or was he merely passing on the threat from the initial Nunn May revelations? In The Philby Files (p 239), Genrikh Borovik quoted a report from September that included the following: “Stanley was a bit agitated himself. I tried to calm him down. Stanley said that in connection with this he may have information of extreme urgency to pass to us. Therefore Stanley asks for another meeting in a few days. I refused a meeting, but I did allow him to pass urgent and important material through Hicks [Burgess].” Given that September 13, when the longer telegram from Canada was composed, it seems highly unlikely that it would been received, decrypted, and sent to Philby in time for him to internalize it, and arrange a meeting whereby Krotov could have likewise composed and sent a telegram so expeditiously. Indeed, Amy Knight states with confidence that this was a separate message from later in the month. Yet, if Philby were ‘agitated’, it might have been because of the ‘UREN’ message, since Philby had a strong link with SOE, having set up with Burgess its training programme at Brickendonbury Manor.  He worked there for George Hill [see later], who had established the Russian section of SOE, after working in MI6’s D Section. Hill was sent out to Moscow as SOE’s representative to the NKVD in October 1941. The September 13 telegram, however, with its ‘Russian’ link might have been interpreted as drawing attention to someone else.

Tyrer (representing Wright’s opinions) also states that, after Philby received a telegram from Dwyer (that of September 13?), his communication, via Krotov, must have mentioned ELLI, and that when the KGB checked with the GRU to confirm what Philby had passed on, and sent the confirmation message on November 17, the existence of ELLI as a GRU spy was the subject of their response. The text runs as follows:

“The Chiefs have given their consent to the confirmation of the accuracy of your telegram concerning STANLEY’s data about the events in CANADA in the neighbours’ sphere of activity. STANLEY’’s information does correspond to the facts.”

There is no mention of ELLI: the facts may merely have described Nunn May and the associated network only. As I set out earlier in this piece, it would have stretched the limits of time and space for a message from Dwyer on ELLI to be created, encrypted, transmitted, decrypted, distributed, and analysed by Philby, and then a meeting set up with Krotov, whereafter a similar bureaucratic procedure occurred between London and Moscow, the KGB then checking with the GRU, gaining approval (presumably from Stalin), and lastly compiling its response for encryption, transmission and decryption  – all in the space of five days (September 13-17), with a weekend in the middle, and across multiple time zones!

By similar analysis, since he did not reply to the ‘UREN’ suggestion until September 23, Liddell might have known nothing about ELLI at the time Hollis left (September 16). Of course, Hollis might have quizzed Dwyer on his arrival in Ottawa, but his surviving messages circle exclusively around the Nunn May business, and its considerable political implications. Hollis assuredly did not have a chance of seeing Gouzenko himself during this visit, and he had returned to London by September 28. And it was during the last week of September that Liddell noticed that a thick file of telegrams on Gouzenko was not being processed in a timely fashion.

And then, astonishingly, Philby was taken out of the picture for a while. On September 19, he learned that a potential defector, Konstantin Volkov, had contacted the British Embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, and had far more damaging stories to tell than Gouzenko could ever have imagined. Philby immediately informed Krotov, was thus consumed with the case, and eventually flew out to Istanbul on September 26, the day after a highly sedated Volkov (and his wife) had been abducted by the KGB for torture and execution in Moscow. Philby returned to London on October 1. Whether Philby delegated any of the Gouzenko work to Archer is not clear: Jeffery does not even discuss the matter. The impression that Liddell gives, however, is that there was a breakdown in communications.

The outstanding conclusion from Philby’s involvement here is that there is no evidence that Moscow Centre confirmed ELLI’s existence as a GRU asset. That suggestion appears to have been inserted by Vassiliev, on the basis that, since Gouzenko worked for the GRU, then ELLI must have likewise have done so.

7. Liddell’s Reactions:

Guy Liddell

For a while, the dribble of information on ELLI not unaccountably dries up. The Gouzenko archive (KV 1421, s.n. 35a) then shows a cryptic and incomplete reference, dated October 16, in Telegram No 533, sent with some urgency (‘MOST IMMEDIATE’). Its text runs as follows:

A. CORBY states that cover name for ?all foreign ?intelligence or counter espionage services is ZILONE repeat ZILONE meaning green in Russian.

B. Agent referred to by CORBY in 534 was referred to as working in ZILONE.

Handwritten annotations indicate that a copy of this message has been placed in the ELLI file (s.n. 4a).

Again, this is enigmatic. First of all, the telegram number precedes the item that it refers to. Second, there is no record of No. 534 in the file. Third, the construction ‘ZILONE’ is rather inaccurately formulated. The Russian word for ‘green’ would more properly be transcribed as ‘ZELYONNY’, which makes one question the Russian – and maybe the English – credentials of the interpreter. Stafford questions the ability of both men who ran the RCMP’s intelligence network: its head was Inspector Charles Rivett-Carnac, and his assistant was one John Leopold, who was the only direct contact with Gouzenko, Unfortunately, Leopold may not have been very accomplished. Stafford writes: “But the Czech-born Leopold knew little about Soviet intelligence, and his Russian was far from perfect.” That may explain some of the early misunderstandings over what Gouzenko said. Moreover, Gouzenko suspected that Leopold was a Soviet agent, and thus may have been reticent to open his mind while Leopold was the only translator. At some stage, Mervyn Black was brought in to help with translation, but Amy Knight does not state when this occurred.

So why was the revelation that the agent that Gouzenko had identified worked in counterintelligence suddenly that urgent? Had that fact not been communicated in September? ZILONE could presumably refer to either MI5 or MI6 – but also to SOE, since the Soviets made no distinction between SOE and MI6, which may have been significant. It might seem that someone in London had raised a question, and that Gouzenko wanted to clarify that his ‘Central Code Section’ handled traffic from all British intelligence services.

In any case, further messages start to appear. On October 24, Liddell reports in his Diary that John Marriott has brought more messages over, including ‘a further telegram about the agent known as ELLI who is alleged to hold some high position in British Intelligence’. (This is the first reference to ELLI in the unredacted part of Liddell’s Diaries.) Tyrer reproduces the text, but suggests that these telegrams were sent during Hollis’s second visit to Canada. This cannot be true, since, a week earlier, Liddell had written that Hollis personally brought him in another telegram from Canada (which was not ELLI-related), and the two of them had visited Petrie on October 18 to discuss the case. It sounds as if Liddell is describing the infamous Telegram 534, as he cites the claims that ELLI was working for British Counter-Intelligence, with the now notorious reference to ‘5’, which, especially now that we know of Leopold’s deficiencies, are highly ambiguous. “As CORBY’s theories are only based on scraps of information picked up here and there there is not much to work on,” he wrote, continuing: “It is possible that in mentioning the figure 5 he is referring to the five people who formerly signed JIC reports”, and he goes on to suggest that, as with the KING case, ‘it does not follow that because information is high-grade it comes from a high-grade officer’.

Hollis in fact sailed out of Southampton for Halifax, Canada, via New York, on October 22, and, according to Liddell, was ‘still there’ on October 30, although, with a five-day cruise, and an overland journey to Ottawa, Hollis could not have arrived until October 28, at the earliest. The next incident occurs on November 5, when Marriott shows Liddell ‘some recent telegrams’ on the subject of ELLI. As did Tyrer, I quote the text of Liddell’s diary entry in full:

“CORBY has been re-interrogated and refers to an incident when the Soviet M.A. [Military Attaché] in London referred to information that he had received from ELLI relating to a British agent in Russia. As the only organisations that can possibly have been running a British agent in Russia are SIS, SOE or the British Military Mission, it seems unlikely that ELLI could have any connection with ourselves. Nobody in fact knows anything about any agent in Russia. I should doubt very much whether there was one. The above does not necessarily throw any doubts on the bona fides of CORBY who may have got the story wrong.”

We should note that no mention of Hollis appears in this Diary entry: the ‘recently’ is irritatingly vague, so it may have been coincidental, or even antedated Hollis’s arrival. Tyrer categorises Liddell’s comments as ‘perplexing’, since Gouzenko had reported this information earlier (the September 13 telegram), but it would more probably indicate that Liddell had not seen that original telegram, or even that what he referred to was indeed exactly the same text, unaccountably held over for a month, and explained away by Philby’s absence in Turkey. Yet it is a very important reference, because it introduces the role of the ‘Military Attaché’, and thus partially explains M5’s lack of enthusiasm for an aggressive follow-up, as well as serving to prompt some personal reflections by Liddell himself.

Again, it is possible that some information was garbled. When Hill made a visit to London in October, he informed Liddell and White that he had been subject to provocation in Moscow, when the NKVD tried to set him up by sending him a man who had worked for him in 1920 (see Liddell’s October 5 diary entry). Despite Hill’s complaint, and the man’s being removed from the National Hotel, he made another attempt, to Hill’s exceeding annoyance. Thus both the time and circumstances of Hill’s ‘agent-running’ may have become distorted and misrepresented – a confusion over the pluperfect tense, perhaps: ‘ran’ versus ‘had run’? (There is no pluperfect tense in Russian.) Might ELLI have informed Chichaev that Hill had once run an agent in Moscow, after which Chichaev told Moscow Centre that Hill ran an agent there?

On the other hand, Hollis was still profoundly occupied with the political ramifications of the Gouzenko case. He was moving in exalted circles. On November 9, Liddell wrote: “Roger is to meet the PM, the President and Mackenize King in Washington, if required”, with rather shocking discussions scheduled on the atomic bomb, ‘and its handing over to the Russians or to the Security Council’. Meanwhile, Liddell was still focussed on the SOE connection, and the possibility of leaks in Moscow. He met with Archie Boyle (who had been Director of Security for SOE) on November 16, to discuss the ELLI case, and SOE’s set-up in Russia, where the highly dubious George Hill had been sent as chief SOE representative in October 1941. Quite a long entry appears in the Diary, in which Boyle is recorded as expressing ‘his grave suspicions about George Hill, and also about one George Graham whose real name is Serge LEONTIEFF, a White Russian.’ “The two are very close and one always backs up the other. Archie says he cannot understand how a man like Hill can possibly be acceptable to the Russians unless they are getting some sort [of] quid pro quo, the more so since they banished his mistress to Siberia and then brought her back after a certain delay.” (These comments echo what Liddell had written in his diaries about Hill back in 1943.) Hill was now on the Control Commission, and had recently told Boyle that he was about to make a private visit to Russia.

George Hill

At least Liddell started to dig more deeply. “I am getting the personal files for all the representatives of the SOE mission. Neither Hill nor Graham of course really fit the bill since the only concrete piece of evidence by CORBY is that he deciphered two telegrams indicating that ELLI was in London and worked through the Soviet M.A.” Yet George Hill, despite his dubious past, had been approved as SOE’s representative in Moscow in September 1941, and in 1942 and 1943 (the years that Gouzenko had referred to), was responsible for the Soviet end of the collaboration, in which Britain and the Soviets were supposed to cooperate in planting Soviet saboteurs in Nazi-controlled Europe. In Stalin’s world, of course, all foreigners were considered ‘spies’. But Hill might seriously have been assisting the NKVD. In his memoir From the Red Army to SOE, Len Manderstam described Hill as a ‘triple agent’, and accused him of supplying ‘a great deal of important information’ to the NKVD. Hill wrote a shameful piece of Stalinist propaganda in favour of the control of eastern Europe in his final report from Moscow when his position was wrapped up. Moreover, there should have been some controversy over ‘George Graham’ of the Intelligence Corps, whom Hill declared he had selected as his aide, and who accompanied him to Moscow. It seems that Leontieff had taken British nationality in 1933, but, as a White Russian, he would have been treated with utter scepticism by the Soviets – unless they had possibly planted him in the UK, or thought that they could exploit him once he was in Moscow.

For some reason, Liddell appears much more concerned about security problems with the mission in Moscow (not his area of responsibility) than he is about breaches in London. The NKVD was reading all of Hill’s postal communications, and the mission had initially not been provided with encrypted wireless support! Even Kim Philby, in My Silent War, wrote about the leakages from the Mission in Moscow, and the Russians’ ‘delight’ with Hill, a disclosure that must be inspected at some future time. Yet Liddell should have been focusing on security exposures on British soil.

It should be remembered that the period from late 1941 to 1943 was characterised by some wary attempts by MI6 and SOE to exchange intelligence with the NKVD, and even engage in shared subversive operations, where Soviet saboteurs were trained by SOE, and then parachuted into various European countries (Operation PICKAXE). (Attentive readers of coldspur will recall that the Radio Security Service, RSS, detected illicit use of wireless by Soviet operatives at the SOE training-centre at Brickendonbury Manor.) The head of the NKVD mission in London was the flamboyant but demanding and ruthless Colonel Chichaev. By most accounts he arrived in London, in the spirit of a cooperating alliance, in November 1941, but others indicate that he had arrived much earlier, and was perhaps acting as Gorsky’s substitute during the 1940 recall. For instance, Barros and Gregor, citing Russian archives in Double Deception, assert that, on May 14, 1941, Chichaev reported on the interpretation that Kim Philby gave him of Rudolf Hess’s arrival in Scotland (i.e. when the Soviet Union was technically still in an alliance with Germany), even though Gorsky had returned to London in November 1940. Such a claim must be treated cautiously.

For most of the time, as The Storm and the Shield (the Mitrokhin archive) indicates, Chichaev, as a secondary legal rezident in London, worked in parallel with the NKVD’s Gorsky, who continued to handle Philby & co. until he was transferred to the USA in 1944, and was replaced by Krotov. Thus Chichaev, who, unlike Gorsky, declared his role openly to the British authorities, must also have been the Military Attaché cited in the telegrams. He performed a dual role in dealing with SOE (overtly) and communist informants within foreign government-in-exile (covertly). It would have been quite natural for British diplomatic and intelligence personnel to have been meeting him openly during the period when Gouzenko describes ELLI as being active. Liddell describes a meeting that an unnamed officer had with Chichaev in July 1943 (see below).

Colonel Chichaev

The vitally important aspect of Chichaev’s status, however, is that, despite being represented as the ‘military attaché’, he was appointed by, and communicated with, the NKVD, not the GRU. (He had no contact with Sonia, for instance). Thus any SOE asset who provided intelligence would have been approved and acknowledged by the NKVD in Moscow. Even though Gouzenko (of the GRU) heard about ELLI, and reported his existence, it did not mean that ELLI was a GRU spy. Intriguingly, Amy Knight, in a footnote (pp 331-332) concludes, using a reference in Nigel West’s and Oleg Tsarev’s Crown Jewels that stated that Philby had reported the existence of an MI6 spy in Moscow called ‘TEMNY”, that ‘If it were not for the fact that Gouzenko’s “ELLI” was a GRU agent with a Russian background, this piece of information would point us straight to Philby as the ELLI suspect’. With two possible agents at large, and the fact that ELLI was an SOE-NKVD spy, the whole question remains up in the air.

8. Hollis’s Interview:

Meanwhile, the RCMP applied pressure on Hollis to extend his stay in North America, and return to Ottawa. Chapman Pincher wrote that Hollis interviewed Gouzenko on November 7, but that cannot be correct. In mid-November, Hollis was still occupied in explaining to London the reasons for the delays in publicizing the Gouzenko case, and Elisabeth Bentley’s confessions to the FBI created fresh turmoil when she named Cedric Belfrage (of BSC) as one of her spies. It was not until November 21 that he returned to Ottawa from New York to have his first interview with Gouzenko. Again, we are indebted to William Tyrer for persuading MI5 to release the telegram that he sent on November 23 – and which presumably provoked Liddell’s flurry of meetings with Military Intelligence officers (see below).

The full text of that message may be read in Tyrer’s article in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, so I paraphrase its contents here. It was clearly Hollis’s first exposure to Gouzenko, who made a good impression.

            i) Gouzenko had himself deciphered two telegrams from London, one stating that ELLI was going over to the dubok method, and another that the attaché in Moscow would not reveal name of British agent there.

            ii) Gouzenko’s colleague Liubimov told him in 1943 that ELLI was a high-level counter-intelligence officer, and a member of an important committee. The number ‘5’ had an association.

            iii) Koulakoff told Gouzenko a high-grade agent was still working in the UK in 1945, but it may not have been ELLI.

            iv) Gouzenko told Hollis he was not aware that ELLI had reported two incidents of theft of papers from Military Attaché in London.

            v) Hollis asked Gouzenko about the nature of information ELLI provided: was it about German war dispositions, political matters? Gouzenko could not say.

What are we to make of this? It is all rather a muddle. If Leopold was still in charge of the interpretation process, it must have been a difficult encounter, and Hollis must have wondered what fresh advances he could bring to the proceedings. What does Point i) mean? That George Hill had told Chichaev that he was running an agent in the Kremlin, but would not reveal his name? That would be the height of irresponsibility. Point v) is revealing, however. It strongly suggests that Hollis had MI14 on his mind. MI14 was responsible for analysis of German military operations and Leo Long had joined the section late in 1941. In 1944, he and Anthony Blunt had been discovered removing ULTRA decrypts to give to the Russians, so Hollis might naturally have wondered whether Long was ELLI. (That, incidentally, was the conclusion that Christopher Andrew came to in Defend the Realm, under the ‘guidance’ of Oleg Gordievsky.)

Point iv) is superficially puzzling: where did this item come from (was the anonymous Military Attaché the victim of a theft?), and did Gouzenko really speak up only in response to something Hollis knew? Did matters get garbled in translation? Yet I believe that this is one of the most significant items in the telegrams, something that has not received its due attention until now, and one that helps explain Liddell’s concurrent and subsequent actions. The full paragraph runs as follows:

            “CORBY told me that he did not know that the two incidents of the theft of the papers from Military Attaché in London and attempt to Telephoto his office were reported by ELLI.

First of all, this is clearly information that Hollis provided to Gouzenko, although the wording is slightly ambiguous. (Gouzenko may have known that the theft incidents had been reported, but not that ELLI was the source.) The intelligence must have been communicated to Hollis recently, while he was in Canada, else he surely would have tackled it with more urgency. So why were Hollis and MI5 so confident that this leakage could be placed at ELLI’s door? How could they have verified that ELLI provided any information unless either a) they knew who ELLI was, and had interviewed him or her, or b) they had access to an insider on the Soviet side who could confirm that such information could be traced to ELLI? Because of the ambiguities of the transcript, we cannot be sure whether they assumed ELLI was the source because of the close connections between the Military Attaché that Gouzenko had pointed out beforehand (and noted by Liddell in his diary), or because ELLI had been directly identified by a source in Moscow. Yet Hollis and Liddell knew that ‘the theft’ had been reported, presumably because MI5 had been involved in the exploit.

So what were the circumstances of the theft? A vital clue may be found in the memoirs of George Hill, Maia Shpionskaya Zhizn (My Life as a Spy), published in Moscow in 2000. They are cited by Dónal O’Sullivan in Dealing With the Devil, who also indicates that the Hoover Archives at Stanford University in Palo Alto preserve a copy of Hill’s unpublished 259-page manuscript titled ‘Reminiscences of four years with the NKVD’. When writing about Colonel Ivan Chichaev, NKVD’s representative in London between 1941 and 1945, O’Sullivan writes: “According to Russian accounts [in fact an introduction provided by the Russian editors to what turned out to be a reprint of Hill’s 1933 memoir, ’Go Spy the Land’: coldspur], British Intelligence attempted a ‘burglary’ of his residence to discover secret documents but found nothing as Chichaev had deposited them in the Soviet Embassy’ (Hill, p 37). Chichaev, unusually for such a functionary, established a private residence at 54 Campden Hill Court in Notting Hill, so that it is surely the house that is being referred to. (Rather incredibly, Colonel Gubbins, the head of SOE, lived in the same building.) Yet, if they found nothing, had ‘a theft’ occurred?

Thus the sequence of events would appear to be as follows: MI5 believed that secret documents were being passed to Chichaev (or had, perhaps, even planted them on him). They broke into his house in an attempt to find them, and to catch him red-handed. Chichaev was warned by an inside source of the planned raid, and thus moved the documents into a safer haven, in the Embassy. Chichaev reported the incident, and ELLI’s contribution, to Moscow. That information reached Hill, who may have passed on the information to his bosses in SOE. Alternatively, he may have been the source of the suspicions of Chichaev’s espionage. When he made a visit to the UK in November 1943, and had a meeting with Liddell, the question of the surveillance of Chichaev came up, and Hill requested that any evidence of possible espionage be reported to him, so that he might advise the NKVD of such complaints.  Moreover, Anthony Blunt, assistant to Liddell, could conceivably have been an alternative, as responsible for the leakage.

MI5’s knowledge of Chichaev and the PICKAXE operation is worthy of a separate study. SOE employed an officer, John Senter, who was the liaison with MI5, so he surely kept Liddell at least partially informed of what was going on. Indeed, an entry in Liddell’s diary of August 14, 1942, rather provocatively states: “John Senter came to see me and brought with him an interesting document which had been extracted from the kit of one of the Russian parachutists sent over here”. It was probably a shoddily forged ID-card for one of the members of the COFFEE mission, characteristic of Soviet efforts. But at this stage, Liddell’s further comments show him not intimately familiar with the set-up under Chichaev, whose existence he first recognizes only at this late date. The archives show, as reported by Bernard O’Connor, that, when the COFFEE team struggled in its mission, unfit and ill-equipped, its members sought to defect, and on September 1, 1942, MI5’s Seddon and Wethered were brought in to consider the plea.

The complex relationships between Stephen Alley [see below], Chichaev and Hill – and indeed Philby, who worked with Chichaev, too, and the British Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Clark Kerr, who protected Hill – are too involved to explore here, and will have to be examined another time. Yet the conclusion must be that the Soviet Military Attaché in the ELLI incident was indeed Chichaev, that it involved SOE and SIS (between whom the Soviets made no distinction), and that, while Liddell was following the whole business closely, Roger Hollis had nothing to do with it.

Assuredly, this exchange would provoke some heated discussion over the years, which will be the subject of a later analysis. Suffice it to say that Hollis was a bit out of his depth at this stage. He had been focusing on high-level political strategy, dominated by the Allies’ vacillation over publicising the Gouzenko affair, and subsequently the fall-out from the Bentley revelations. He faithfully reported all that Leopold translated for him, but it cannot have made much sense to him. Knight cites some enigmatic handwritten notes written by the RCMP, summarizing the interview, that indicate possible confusion on Gouzenko’s part between information given to him in 1942 by Liubimov in Moscow and just recently by his successor Kulakoff in Ottawa, and which confirmed that there could be two agents described in his testimony. But the muddle may have been the fault of the interpreter/translator, and those who recruited and managed him.

Hollis had a reservation on the Clipper to return to the United Kingdom on November 26, and on his arrival was no doubt happy to pass the responsibility for Gouzenko over to Liddell, who, as has been shown, ran – and sometimes ambled – with the ball thereafter. As late as December 6, Petrie was still having discussions with Liddell about creating a new section in Hollis’s F Division to deal with Soviet espionage. At least, Liddell’s immediate meeting with the Director of Military Intelligence, de Guignand, [see below] showed some level of urgency. Because of this SOE story, however, and perhaps after speaking to Hollis immediately on the latter’s return, Liddell next indulges in some startling speculation.

9: SOE & Alley:

On November 16 Liddell had arranged to speak to one of George Hill’s closest friends and colleagues, a man called Stephen Alley. Nigel West’s Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence includes a short thumbnail sketch of Alley: “A veteran Russian-speaking Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officer, Major Alley was based in Paris between the wars and worked with Sidney Reilly. During World War 1, he had operated for SIS in St. Petersburg and had been evacuated in February 1918. After the war, he served in MI5 for three years and then moved to Paris, where he ran a business trading in commodities.” Yet the truth would turn out to be a bit more complex.

Stephen Alley

Liddell’s entry runs as follows: “I threw a fly * over Alley about George Hill. He said he had known him for many years and that he regarded him as a charlatan. He had in fact employed him on behalf of Imperial Tobacco in the Balkans but that he had been too expensive even for them. He had also used him in the old days to make contact with various MPs like Commander Kenworthy who seemed to be a spokesman for the Soviet Govt. in the House of Commons. There were periodical meetings in the form of luncheon parties which were arranged by Hill.”

[* This is presumably an angling term, used to indicate a lure being cast in the direction of a fish. I was not familiar with it, but it crops up regularly in Liddell’s Diaries.]

“The Commissar Vanishes’ (Stalin & Yezhov)

So what was Alley up to, so easily accessible by Liddell? It appears that he was still (or again) working for MI5 at this time. He does not appear in either West’s or Andrew’s account of MI5, as if he had been sanitized out of the picture, like Stalin’s commissar. John Curry’s internal history, however, shows him, in April 1943, as working in E Division, as E2, responsible for Alien Control of Finns, Poles and the Baltic States. Intriguingly, Liddell has a diary entry for July 19, 1943, where he records ‘that [XXXX] had made contact with Chichaev  . . .  who had considerable background in Finland and Riga’. The name of that redacted person could well have been Alley: the entry concludes by noting that XXXX is confident he can handle Chichaev.

In any case, it would appear that Alley had been a senior officer in MI5 throughout the war, and carried on afterwards. Another current Liddell diary entry, for September 11, 1945, recorded that Liddell had spoken to Alley about the arrival of Colonel Einthoven, who was the head of Dutch security in the Ministry of Justice. Alley was making ‘the necessary arrangements’: he was a loyal and trusted servant to Liddell. Richard Deacon records that Alley (unlike Dick White and Roger Hollis) attended Liddell’s funeral in 1958. Moreover, Alley had ‘something Russian in his background’. He had been born, in 1876, in a house at the Yusupov Palace in Moscow, and, after receiving his school education in Russia, he moved to King’s College in London, gained a degree in engineering at Glasgow University, before returning to Russia where (some claim) he was involved in the murder of Rasputin, and an attempt to rescue the Romanov royal family. Even more intriguing is the statement made by Michael Smith in Six (based on Alley’s unpublished memoir held at Glasgow University) that he was fired from MI6 because he refused to carry out an order to assassinate Joseph Stalin.

I have tried to contact the archivist at Glasgow University to determine whether this memoir can be made available, but, as so often happens with such inquiries, I have received no reply. The name and profile of Alley resonate, however. The close phonology, the Russian background, the presence in MI5 during the war, the connection with Hill and SOE in Moscow all make a lot of sense. So how does Liddell complete his diary entry? “ELLI=ALLEY is I think too fantastic to merit any serious thought.”

All those agents, or putative spies, with the double liquid consonant! Hollis, Mitchell, Ellis, Costello, Leo Long, Hill, Alley, Elliott – even Liddell himself, whom the author John Costello suspected, as he laid out in Mask of Treachery. And then Akhmedov said that ELLI was female – Evelyn McBarnet? Ray Milne, née Mundell? One longs for some traditional solid English names, like Hodgson or Winterbotham, who could immediately be dismissed from the inquiries because of the illiquidity of their surnames. It is, however, Liddell’s raising the possibility that Alley might be ELLI rather than his dismissal of the idea as preposterous that intrigues me more. It indicates that Alley at least fitted the profile of what could be deduced about the agent/informer. Did someone suggest it to him, or did he come up with it himself? Was the idea expressed outside his diaries? We may never know, but at least, for a while, MI5 officers were considering seriously whom Gouzenko might have been pointing towards.

Liddell was not finished yet. On November 21, he noted that he dined with Archie Boyle and Darton, and discussed the SOE Mission in Moscow. He added in parenthesis ‘See note in front of diary’, but that is not to be found. And then a very significant entry for November 27 needs to be cited in full:

Air Commodore Archie Boyle

“I saw the DMI [Director of Military Intelligence, Freddie de Guignand, who had replaced John Sinclair in September 1945] and told him about the ELLI case. He sent for the current files of telegrams between the British Military Mission in Moscow and London which only covered a period of 3 months. All back files are sent to the Record Office at Droitwich. He is sending for those covering the years 1942-43 so that we can go through them. There was nothing in the current files to show the Mission was running an agent. DMI also sent for a list of officers who had served on the mission during the relevant period. He found a Capt. Chapman, who he is going to see. He will merely ask him whether at any time the Mission had run agents and if so whether he recollects any request from London for the identity of such an agent. This seems to be as far as we can go at the moment.”

This exchange is puzzling. The mission in Moscow was designed as one of coordination with the NKVD over the running of saboteurs in Nazi-controlled territory: it was not an intelligence-gathering exercise (although the NKVD thought otherwise), and attempting to develop agents would only have incurred the additional wrath of MI6. De Guignand surely knew that. So had Hill really reported to his bosses in London that he was running an agent, but had concealed his identity? Or was it a bogus claim he made to Chichaev, to impress him? And how did ELLI learn that fact? George Hill should have been an obvious source to shed light on affairs.

In any case, Liddell followed up on December 28: “I spoke to Archie Boyle and told him that I had seen DMI to whom I had spoken about HILL. DMI was considerably worried and was anxious to know who backed HILL in WO [War Office]. Archie said that HILL’s file which would be with the Military Secretary, would give the answer. Archie saw no objection to my discussing the whole affair of HILL with the FO.” Furthermore, on January 4, 1946, Liddell had another meeting with de Guignand on the ELLI case. Someone called Jimmy Way was detailed to speak to Hollis and ‘arrange to get the names of all people who handled JIC and JIS as well as Military Mission documents, at the material time’. Such names would then be passed over MI5 records.

Thus 1945 came to a close. In mid-December, Liddell had learned that he had been overlooked as Petrie’s successor, and was obviously disappointed. He had to re-apply himself to the tasks at hand. What happened to his SOE inquiry in 1946? Was George Hill picked up for questioning? What was Alley’s relationship with Hill? What was going on with the White Russian George Graham, aka Leontieff? Why did MI5 start to think, in 1951, that ELLI might be Philby? And how was Gouzenko’s testimony picked up in later years? I shall inspect these questions in a later report.

10. Interim Conclusions:

  • ELLI was an SOE asset providing information to Chichaev, the unnamed Military Attaché, who worked for the NKVD. The appearance of Polakova, the PICKAXE trainer, is a strong reinforcement of this theory. Because ELLI’s story was revealed by a former Central clerk who was assigned to the GRU, it has been wrongly assumed that ELLI must have been a GRU agent. Vassiliev’s unintentionally misleading account has done much to reinforce this misconception.
  • MI5 was sluggish. It should have demanded control, sent out an expert dedicated to the case, and ensured that a qualified interpreter was used. The confusion over the translations and transcriptions is unpardonable.
  • Hollis was not central to the inquiry. He was on vacation at the time of Gouzenko’s defection, and his mission in North America was to handle the high-level political implications of Nunn May’s actions. He was not introduced to the ELLI case until late, and he was the wrong man for the job.
  • There is no evidence that Philby actually referred to ELLI in his messages, and no detected confirmation by Moscow Centre that ELLI was a GRU asset. Philby’s references to GRU were probably in relation to Gouzenko and Nunn May. He surely saw the information, but never thought it pointed to him.
  • ELLI might well have been Alley, who was active in 1942-43, and knew Hill well. He was still around in 1945. His role may have been exaggerated. ELLI’s name may have been changed after the events of 1945, or he/she may have been taken out of service. The anomalies of the dubok and the committee remain. Gouzenko (or his translator) may have confused multiple events and personalities. Feeble and obvious attempts have been made to excise Alley’s name from the record.
  • SOE had shown gross laxity in allowing Hill to appoint ‘George Graham’ as his aide de camp. This may have led to the security exposures in Moscow that Philby and Boyle refer to.
  • Pincher’s account is mainly fantasy. Hollis was out of the picture when the Gouzenko story broke, and he had no business dealing with Chichaev and the SOE. Amy Knight’s much respected work also gets the story wrong.
  • The analysis reveals the relative slowness of everything, compared to today, and the primacy of Chronology and Geography. Cross-Atlantic travel, even by air, was laborious, and wartime passage between London and Moscow (or Kuibyshev) especially arduous; notwithstanding the advances of HYDRA and Rockex, the process of the composition of messages, encryption, transmission, decryption, recryption, transmission, decryption, distribution, analysis, and further routing was long-winded; arranging contacts between spies and handlers had to be undertaken very cautiously; other business processes, such as arranging meetings, and gaining approval and signatures for decisions and messages, were much more challenging in in a pre-electronic age.

Sources:

Gouzenko files at TNA (KV 2/1419-1429)

Guy Liddell Diaries at TNA (KV 4/185-196; KV 4/466-475)

The Unresolved Mystery of ELLI, by William Tyrer (in International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence)

The CORBY case: the defection of Igor Gouzenko, September 1945, by Gill Bennett (from FCO publication From World War to Cold War)

How the Cold War Began, by Amy Knight

Defend the Realm, by Christopher Andrew

The Secret History of MI6, by Keith Jeffery

The Crown Jewels, by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev

The Security Service 1908-1945, by John Curry

The Secret History of SOE, by William Mackenzie

The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45, by Gilbert Highet, Tom Hill & Roald Dahl

MI5, by Nigel West

MI5: 1945-1972, by Nigel West

Molehunt, by Nigel West The Sword and the Shield, by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin

The Haunted Wood, by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev

Mask of Treachery, by John Costello

Treachery, by Chapman Pincher

Spycatcher, by Peter Wright

The Storm Birds, by Gordon Brook-Shepherd

The Philby Files, by Genrikh Borovik

Fred Rose and Igor Gouzenko: The Cold War Begins, by David Levy

Stalin’s Man in Canada, by David Levy

Best Kept Secrets, by John Bryden

Dealing With the Devil, by Dónal O’Sullivan

Sharing Secrets with Stalin, by Bradley F. Smith

Camp X, by David Stafford

Cargo of Lies, by Dean Beeby

Six, by Michael Smith

Double Deception, by James Barros and Richard Gregor

Churchill & Stalin’s Secret Agents, by Bernard O’Connor

From the Red Army to SOE, by Len Manderstam

Trotsky’s Favourite Spy, by Peter Day

My Silent War, by Kim Philby

To Spy the Land, by George Hill

The Greatest Treason, by Richard Deacon

Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, by Nigel West

(Recent Commonplace entries can be found here.)

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Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Geography, Management/Leadership, Politics, Technology

The Hoax of the Blunt Confession (Part 2)

Anthony Blunt after his exposure

This month, I conclude my analysis of the accounts of Anthony Blunt’s Confession, and describe what I think really happened, and what the lessons are.

Primary Sources:

1          Defend the Realm [The Defence of the Realm in the UK] by Christopher Andrew (2009)

2          The Prime Minister’s Statement to the House of Commons: November 21, 1979 (extract)

3          The Fourth Man by Douglas Sutherland (1980)

4          Their Trade is Treachery by Chapman Pincher (1981: paperback version 1982)

5          MI5: British Security Service Operations 1909-1945 by Nigel West (1981)

6          MI5: 1945-72, A Matter of Trust by Nigel West (1982)

7          After Long Silence by Michael Straight (1983)

8          Too Secret Too Long by Chapman Pincher (1983)

9          Conspiracy of Silence by Barrie Penrose and Simon Freeman (1986)

10        Molehunt: Searching for Soviet Spies in MI5 by Nigel West (1987)

11        Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer by Peter Wright (1987)

12        Mask of Treachery by John Costello (1988)

13        Seven Spies Who Changed the World by Nigel West (1991)

14        My 5 Cambridge Friends by Yuri Modin (1994)

15        The Perfect English Spy by Tom Bower (1995)

16        The Enigma Spy by John Cairncross (1995)

17        Anthony Blunt: his lives by Miranda Carter (2001)

18        Open Secret by Stella Rimington (2001)

19        Last of the Cold War Spies by Roland Perry (2005)

20        Triplex by Nigel West (2009)

21        CIA files on Straight (released March 2007)

22        The FBI Vault: Michael Straight

23        Treachery by Chapman Pincher (2012)

24        The Shadow Man by Geoff Andrews (2015)

25        FCO 158/129 – ‘Foreign and Colonial Office file on John Cairncross, 1953-1982’ (released 23 October, 2015)

26        Spymaster by Martin Pearce (2016)

27        CAB 301/270 – ‘John Cairncross, former member of the Foreign Office: confession to spying’ (released July 20, 2017)

28        Enemies Within by Richard Davenport-Hines (2018)

29        The Last Cambridge Spy by Chris Smith (2019)

30        Agent Moliere by Geoff Andrews (2020)

Secondary Sources:

The Historian as Detective: Essays on Evidence, edited by Robin W. Winks (1969)

With My Little Eye by Richard Deacon (1982)

The Secrets of the Service by Anthony Glees (1987)

The Haunted Wood by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev (1999)

The Art of Betrayal by Gordon Corera (2012)

The Secret World by Hugh Trevor-Roper (2014)

Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence by Nigel West (2014)

The Black Door by Richard J. Aldrich & Rory Cormac (2016)

A Question of Retribution? edited by David Cannadine (2020)

How Spies Think by David Omand (2020)

MI5, the Cold War and the Rule of Law by K. D. Ewing, Joan Mahoney and Andrew Moretta (2020)

I see four major topics encapsulating the study of the Hoax of the Blunt Confession: the circumstances of the encounter itself at the Courtauld Institute; the contribution made by Michael Straight; the details of Cairncross’s confession in Ohio; and the role and character of Arthur Martin. All these issues are coloured by the actions and objectives of Roger Hollis and Dick White.

The Courtauld Institute (in Portman Square)

The Events at the Courtauld Institute:

It must be borne in mind that all reports of the circumstances of Anthony Blunt’s confession derive from one source – Arthur Martin, who apparently carried out the project singlehandedly. The unnumbered and unidentifiable archival record that Christopher Andrew claimed to have seen must have been written by him. Martin was the source for the accounts adumbrated by Chapman Pincher, Nigel West, and Barrie Penrose and Simon Freeman, even though some of them they may have been channelled through Martin’s fellow officer, Peter Wright. All subsequent narratives rely on one or more of these five authors. Thus the analyst has to deal with the disquieting fact that Martin disseminated conflicting accounts of what happened, and I shall inspect later to what degree I think this aberration was due to artifice or to indiscipline.

To begin with, the encounter’s externalities clash. In the official record, Martin called on Blunt on the evening of April 23, as if on an unscheduled visit, in the hope of finding his quarry at home (1). Alternatively, it occurred in the mid-morning of April 22 (10), or perhaps in the morning of the following day (12). By all accounts, Martin carried out the interview alone (a fact which American intelligence officers found astounding (12)), although a report in the Washington Post of November 22, 1979 quoted Sir Michael Havers, the Attorney General, as informing the House of Commons that ‘When officials [sic] went to Blunt’s Home in April 1964 to question him for the 12th time  . . .they revealed new information implicating him’. The report in Hansard simply states that Blunt was interviewed ‘by the Security Service’.

Thereafter, the accounts diverge further. The authorised version runs as follows (1): Martin asked Blunt about Michael Straight, at which Blunt started to twitch. He disagreed over Martin’s account of Straight’s recruitment, at which point Martin offered the assurance of immunity should Blunt confess. A minute of silence followed, before Martin informed Blunt that he had recently put John Cairncross through such an exercise, and gained a confession. Blunt declared that he needed ‘five minutes to wrestle with his conscience’. He then left the room for five minutes, returning to pour himself a drink. He stood at a tall window for several minutes. Martin appealed to him again, whereupon Blunt came back to his chair and confessed.

Several aspects of this account are highly unlikely – or pure melodrama. The fact that Blunt apparently expressed no shock or surprise on learning of Cairncoss’s confession, and asked no questions about it, suggests that the claim was a later insertion to the archival record (as I have earlier suggested), or that Blunt already knew about the events in Cleveland, but fluffed his lines. Instead, he is reported to have made the ludicrous remark about his ‘conscience’ – an item in the screenplay that Alan Bennett would not have considered including even on an off day. To give the game away about having a guilty conscience before making the confession would have been an astonishing mis-step by someone who had successfully weathered almost a dozen interrogations beforehand. And what was the evidence from Straight that incriminated Blunt? That Blunt had tried to recruit him in Cambridge twenty-seven years ago, maybe acting on behalf of Guy Burgess? After all, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had said in 1979 that Blunt had come under suspicion ‘as a result of information to the effect that Burgess had been heard in 1937 to say that he was working for a secret branch of the Comintern and that Blunt was one of his sources’. The whole scenario seems like a bad comic opera.

One might also question the wisdom of a single junior officer’s being charged with such an assignment, especially since Blunt was allowed to leave the room for several minutes. Would he come back? Might he have done a runner, or even topped himself? Was a posse of Special Branch constables waiting outside to apprehend him should Plan B have been required, in the event that a saloon from the Soviet Embassy rolled up to steal him away? One cannot imagine the KGB goons indulging Oleg Penkovsky or Oleg Gordievsky with permission to leave the room for a few minutes while either gathered his thoughts. (‘Certainly, comrade. But don’t be too long, mind.’) Pincher very early on thought the whole performance was bogus (8), that Blunt had been pre-warned, and no plans had been made for the eventuality where he did not confess. Martin echoed this opinion to Costello (12): he may have thought that he was breaking fresh ground in having been granted the peachy assignment, and executing it so successfully, but the way that it developed make him think otherwise, and no doubt contributed to his frustrations.

Yet the evidence that Martin provided to other journalists added further wrinkles. In his first testimony to Pincher (4), Martin offered differing evidence (without mentioning Cairncross), describing a scenario where Blunt never left the room. According to Nigel West (6), Blunt took only a few seconds to confess. In Pincher’s next offering (8), he also echoed the point that Blunt capitulated too soon, and that Martin never articulated the conditions of the immunity deal. Moreover, Pincher introduced the fact of the tape-recorder as a substitute for any written record. One might think that Blunt would have reacted to such an obvious device with some alarm or mis-giving, but nothing appeared to faze him. He agreed to the recording, knowing that it would have no legal status. Penrose and Freeman (9) even state that Blunt ‘nodded in assent’ when the tape-recorder was presented.

The evidence of these latter two authors was dependent upon letters that Martin had conveniently supplied to them in 1985. In this deposition, Martin said he had ‘unequivocal evidence that Blunt had been a Soviet agent during the war’: the authors state that Blunt denied this, ‘as the assertion simply wasn’t true’. It is not clear whether they are expressing their own opinion, or Martin’s, but the fact is that the assertion was true (the business with Leo Long in MI14), but had been conveniently been buried. If Martin truly did have access to this information at the time, it could have appeared to him as more damning evidence than the stories Straight old, but White and Hollis had known about it, and tried to minimise its significance. No conceivable new source of this allegation is given, but perhaps Martin had been given this ammunition just beforehand. Since that gambit provoked no response, Martin next turned to his interviews with Straight, but Blunt was ‘expressionless’ (no ‘twitching’ then), walked to the window, poured himself a large drink (without leaving the room), and immediately admitted to Martin that it was all true. In this version, Martin played back the recording, so that Blunt could agree that it was an accurate record of the conversation. (How could it have been otherwise?) The meeting was over after twenty-five minutes.

According to West (10) and Wright (11), the events were collapsed to a shorter time-frame, with Wright indicating that Blunt admitted his espionage ‘almost immediately’. While gin has been shown to be the preferred tipple up till now (4), Miranda Carter suggests that Blunt ‘poured himself a large Scotch’ (17). In his last work on the subject (23), Chapman Pincher picked up from Penrose and Freeman the thread of Blunt’s wartime complicity and detection, but did not investigate the source of this new intelligence. He echoed the story that Martin had told Costello that Roger Hollis had warned Blunt about the coming confrontation.

The whole charade is a mess. Amid all these conflicting stories, however, one thread appears prominent: that Michael Straight had provided breakthrough evidence of Blunt’s guilt. And it was that external evidence, rather than MI5’s mismanagement of its suspicions, that had given the senior officers of the Security Service an alibi, and had provoked Blunt’s confession.

Michael Straight

Michael Straight & Anthony Blunt:

Michael Straight was a somewhat sad actor in this whole pantomime. His life and career were characterized by irresolution, privilege and lack of purpose. He was pliable and weak. Critics of his memoir have challenged him as to why he did not confront his own missteps earlier, instead of conniving at the activities of his erstwhile Cambridge colleagues in espionage. He vacillated, admitting his failings, but was also deceptive and misleading in his explanations. A review by a CIA officer of his memoir concluded: “As to Michael Straight himself, no semantic contrivances can avoid the conclusion to which he guides us; as both man and agent he was too gullible, too idealistic, too self-serving, and too long silent.”

For example, when Straight made his long-winded confession to the FBI in June 1963, he emphasised his contacts and friendships in Cambridge, and admitted his recruitment by Blunt, but minimised the level of espionage he had undertaken, and understated Blunt’s close association with Moscow (see below). He claimed tentatively that, during his assignments with his contact Michael Green (Akhmerov) in Washington, ‘he may have furnished Green with memoranda which he prepared from public material and his personal knowledge’. When Pincher broke the story of the investigations into Hollis in Too Secret Too Long in 1983, and pointed indirectly to Straight, Straight claimed to David Binder of the New York Times that he had declined Blunt’s 1937 invitation to spy. (Pincher may well have alerted the journalist. The column about Straight’s denial appears on the same page of the March 26, 1981 issue as the news on Hollis.) In After Long Silence, Straight admitted that he had ‘failed to reject Anthony’s scheme out of hand’, but again claimed that he had passed on to Akhmerov only papers he had written himself, or publicly available material.

Yet, reluctant spy that he claimed to have been, Straight was indeed persuaded to hand over important classified material. In The Haunted Wood (1999), Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, the latter having inspected relevant KGB archives, record the usefulness of agent NIGEL (Straight’s cryptonym). They write, for example, “Nevertheless, in June [1938], he finally delivered his armaments report to Akhmerov, and, the following month, the Russian noted that Straight had passed on a report from the American consul in London about British war reserves of raw materials.” While Straight’s contributions waned after the announcement of the Nazi-Soviet pact, his Moscow bosses still considered him an important ‘agent in place’, and obviously had a hold over him by then. The US authorities would surely have not have been as indulgent with Straight after his confession had they known the true extent of his treachery.

Commentators have asked: ‘What took him so long to confess?’ And ‘Why did he confess so much?’ After all, was it really necessary to introduce Blunt as his recruiter, given that all his espionage was carried out in the USA? Yet Straight was aware that his Communist affiliations in Cambridge were known by a few, and probably believed that, if he did not tell a comprehensive story, and then further unpalatable facts emerged, he would face fresh challenges. By 1963, however, the McCarthyite climate of the early nineteen-fifties had ameliorated, and previous communist sympathies would not have been so harshly treated. That does, however, provoke, a further question that I do not believe has been analysed: ‘Did Straight warn Blunt of his proposed confession?’ And if so, ‘how and when?’

Since there was a sort of childlike simplicity and decency in Straight, I believe that he would not have betrayed Blunt’s role without informing him of his intentions, and I thus suspect that the two of the must have prepared the ground before June 1963. They surely met some time after that as well, before the improbably late and apparently harmonious encounter in September 1964 that Straight describes in his memoir (7), on an occasion which is strongly referred to in the CIA and FBI records (21 & 22), and implied, with supporting evidence, by Perry (19). Moreover, we have the perplexing series of events described by Costello (12). Costello also believed that Blunt would have been given a warning, but presented messy evidence from various items of Courtauld correspondence. Lastly, we have Costello’s suggestion that Blunt made a late decision to travel to Pennsylvania for his summer lecture series (12), when published evidence confirms that the commitment with Blunt had been forged a year earlier.

The University of Pennsylvania

The timing of Straight’s confession, as articulated by the agent himself, is driven by his coming nomination to the Advisory Council on the Arts, and set in June 1963. But it is quite probable that he had considered such eventualities earlier than that. In his memoir, he tells how he had completed two novels in 1962, was looking for other ‘good causes’ to pursue, and that his mother-in-law had been trying to secure him a prominent position several times before he was approached about the position of Chairman of the Fine Arts Commission in May 1963. With his interests (he had been editor of the New Republic from 1948 to 1956, and on the board since), he would surely have heard about Blunt’s public invitation by the University of Pennsylvania, and Perry records his visit to the United Kingdom in April, where he stayed at Dartington Hall in Devon (‘his third trip inside a year’) and then spent time at 42 Upper Brook Street in London, ‘a short walk from Blunt’s flat in Portman Square’. Straight did not disclose this visit in his memoir: he conceded to Costello that he had been in the UK that April, but claimed that he had not visited the Courtauld.

If Straight was reconciled to making a (partial) confession at this time in the confidence that he would emerge without penalty, Blunt may also have felt emboldened. Philby had absconded to the Soviet Union from Beirut in January of that year, and Blunt had made a provocative and controversial visit to that city the month before. On November 18, 2013, the BBC posted a bulletin by George Carey (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-24803131), who pointed out that Blunt had gone to Beirut in December 1962, staying with his friend the British Ambassador (Sir Moore Crosthwaite), on a quest to find a frog orchid. But frog orchids apparently do not grow in the Lebanon, so Carey assumed that Blunt was lying. The conventional interpretation of this visit is that Blunt came to warn Philby about the imminent arrival of MI6 officer Nicholas Elliott, sent to unmask him at last, and that Blunt had been sent by his Soviet controllers.

Blunt had previously visited Philby there, some time in 1961. In Their Trade Is Treachery (p 142), Chapman Pincher relates how Blunt later admitted to helping Philby escape, describing how he had visited Philby in his flat, in an event that is undated. His host had said: “I have been asked by our friends to make contact with you, Anthony, but I have told them that you are not in a position to do anything useful”, an opinion to which Blunt gave his immediate assent. Yet this encounter seems incongruous to me. If Blunt took advantage of his presence in Beirut to look up Philby, why would Philby show the initiative by saying that their ‘friends’ (Moscow) wanted to re-establish contact with Blunt? Would that not have been simpler for the KGB to do in London, without drawing attention to an unusual rendezvous in Beirut? And, if Blunt had not been in contact with his KGB masters for a long time, while Philby apparently still was, how come that Blunt had been sent by them to warn Philby, when they could have relayed a message to Philby through their own networks? Moreover, 1961 would have been very early for aiding Philby in his escape plan, unless Blunt was conflating two visits into one.

It is thus plausible that Dick White, continuing to use Blunt as a ‘consultant’, knowing him to be tainted, but believing him to be far less dangerous than Burgess, Maclean and Philby, sent Blunt out to alert Philby of Elliott’s impending arrival. White knew that the best place for Philby was Moscow, rather than being repatriated for an embarrassing trial. After all, how would Blunt have learned of this highly secret mission? That would explain how Philby was prepared for Elliott’s visit, as he explained when he told his former fellow-officer that he had been ‘expecting him’ (10).

Be that as it may, and given that the evidence, like all other material in this investigation, is largely circumstantial, Blunt did not appear unduly embarrassed by Straight’s actions if he knew of them in the summer of 1963. The garbled statements from Mrs Jefferies about Blunt’s chagrin that Straight was ‘going to shop them’ are impossible to analyse properly unless the original letters surface (12). For instance, why is the letter dated August 1962? Moreover, it seems highly unlikely, to me, that Straight would have been allowed to visit the UK so soon after his interrogation, in July 1963, before the FBI and MI5 had discussed the case properly. After all, Sullivan asked him only that month whether he would be prepared to repeat his story to British intelligence!  And it also seems very improbable that Blunt would be able to make a decision to fulfil his commitments for a summer school in the USA as late as that, and then depart for a six-weeks adventure. (Of course, if all these events at the Courtauld did occur in 1962, it would bring an entirely new perspective to the discussion.)

Lastly, some commentators have pointed to Blunt’s probable irritation at the continuing deceit and subterfuge, and his fear that Guy Burgess might return to the United Kingdom and unmask him. Andrew Boyle raised this question in The Climate of Treason, suggesting that Blunt wanted to get his story out first, and control the narrative. Yet Burgess died on August 19, while Blunt was in the USA. Yuri Modin suggested that he confessed as a reaction to Burgess’s death (14), a counter-intuitive idea if one accepts the previous premise. In his review of The Climate of Treason in the Spectator on November 17, 1979, Hugh Trevor-Roper echoed this notion, since Burgess in Moscow had threatened to expose him, which, in the historian’s words, ’would have been fatal for Blunt’. Trevor-Roper overlooked the fact, however, that, if Burgess had successfully negotiated a guarantee of immunity, it would have had to be applied to Blunt (and others) as well, in the fashion that Blunt’s eventual deal was extended. Trevor-Roper then made the rather illogical statement that Blunt’s confession ‘may have been unnecessary, since Burgess then died in Moscow, having revealed nothing.’. Either the writer was pointing to an earlier confession (something clearly not indicated by the rest of his text), or he was confused by the chronology. It is all very strange.

William Sullivan & Edgar J. Hoover

The FBI & MI5:

Thus it seems more fruitful to start by inspecting the intentions of the FBI to inform their colleagues in MI5 of what had transpired with Straight. The assertions of a delay until January 1964 are made by Nigel West (6 & 7), on the grounds that Hoover did not trust MI5 with the material. He again attributes the lack of action to ‘petty inter-agency rivalry’ (13), presumably suggesting competition between the FBI and the CIA, though why that should be, given the clear territorial responsibilities, is not clear. Admittedly, J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s chief, never told the CIA anything. Carter (17) says that the FBI waited several months before telling Martin.  To select Martin as their target would have been highly irregular, as it would have bypassed the proper level of communication. Even if Hoover and Sullivan had trusted Martin more than they trusted Hollis, it would have been a crass political move.

Yet the FBI and MI5 appeared overall to enjoy a positive relationship. Roger Hollis went back with Hoover a long way. As the Liddell Diaries inform us, in the summer of 1945, Hoover had made repeated requests to MI5 Director-General Petrie for Hollis to visit the FBI to help them with plans for countering Soviet espionage. In 1950, during the Pontecorvo investigations, Hollis had felt impelled, when head of F Division, to tell George Strauss, the Ministry of Supply of the ‘special relationship’ between the two organisations. As Edward Perrin reported on November 9: “Roger Hollis of M.I.5 was present at the meeting with our Minister last Monday and he made it very clear that the utmost care should be taken to avoid release of this information [concerning BSC, RCMP, and US Embassy in London], particularly in view of a recent agreement reached between Sir Percy Sillitoe and Mr. Edgar Hoover of the F.B.I. to the effect that neither organisation would say anything about the other’s actions without consultation and agreement.” (FO 371/8437) (In the light of the Fuchs and Pontecorvo fiascos, Hoover may have been assuaged by the fact that he had just been awarded an honorary KBE.) And Richard Deacon, in his 1982 memoir With My Little Eye, wrote (p 226) that Hollis ‘had been on exceptionally good terms with the allegedly anti-British J. Edgar Hoover to be given a signed photograph and a set of golf clubs.’ Strangely, Andrew offers no analysis of the relationship between the FBI and MI5 between 1950 and 1963. Liddell refers frequently to Hoover’s temper, but it seems that the FBI director was much more concerned about his personal reputation and status than he was about relations with MI5.

There appear to be no available archival records of any early communications on the Straight business from the FBI to MI5. Andrew states, however, that Hollis flew out to Washington at the end of September, having been encouraged to do so by the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan (1). Hollis had been barraged by a cabal of MI5 officers (Wright, Martin, Winterborn, and one other), who each threatened to resign unless MI5 were open with the FBI about the Mitchell investigation – a worrisome lack of group judgment, as it turned out. Wright claimed in Spycatcher that Hollis faced opposition from his officers when he was more cautious about revealing MI5’s embarrassing inquiries to the Americans (11): it is not clear whether Andrew extracted this fact from Wright’s book, or had access to an alternative source, so readers should be naturally cautious. In any case, Hollis had been unnerved enough to have to consult with White over the visit, and then gain the approval of the Prime Minister. Since Macmillan had been required to inform President Kennedy of the possible exposure caused by the suspicions over Mitchell, and had been ‘humiliated’ by the experience, he was anxious that no more secrets be withheld from the Americans, and gave the nod.

For some reason, Martin followed a day later, to go into the details of which American intelligence sources might have been compromised (1). Yet, if Hollis did glower across the table at Martin, and say he would brief the Americans himself, he might have decided to do so in order to request of his counterparts that the rewards from the Straight confession not be shared with Martin when he followed. As West claimed, Hoover’s deputy, Sullivan, had been ordered not to reveal Straight’s existence (20). And, if Martin did indeed fly over the following day, Hollis could hardly have succeeded in convincing his team that he perform the briefing exclusively himself, since he was not familiar enough with the details.

Another version of the story has Dick White playing a more active, almost interfering, role. In this scenario (15), White recommends that Hollis inform the FBI and the CIA about the state of the Mitchell inquiry, at which Hollis ‘reluctantly’ flew out. If this is true, it shows that Hollis was even more under the influence of White, taking instructions from him on how to handle the situation. Hollis certainly would have bridled at revealing what had occurred to the arch-molehunter James Angleton of the CIA, but, since the latter would otherwise have been informed by Maurice Oldfield, White’s man in Washington, it was something he had to swallow.

In any case, it would seem hard to imagine that the meetings in late September would not have presented the perfect opportunity for Hoover and Hollis to discuss the Straight confessions. And, when he returned to the UK, Hollis surely shared what he learned with White, but probably with none of his subordinates in MI5 – certainly not with Martin. That is what Pincher surmised (8). The intelligence from Straight provided Hollis and White with a perfect opportunity to inform their political masters that proof of Blunt’s guilt had come from an outside source, thus distracting attention from their own fumblings. The two of them may then have decided that a further session with Blunt was called for, and prepared to invite Straight to come over to confront him.

That would explain the suggestion that Straight was in London in the October-November period (19), and what Straight himself admitted to the CIA (21), where he actually stated that he had a private fifteen-minute meeting with Blunt before the MI5 officers entered the fray. This visit was confirmed by what Straight ‘later’ told the FBI about confronting Blunt in London, claiming that his challenges to Blunt ‘broke’ him and made him admit his espionage (22). Pincher refers to a letter concerning Straight sent to the US Embassy in November (8), but does not present the details. It may have referred to Straight’s coming visit. Of course, the ‘confrontation’ may have been a staged act by the pair of them, but the event surely occurred. Straight may have lied to the FBI about the nature and extent of his own espionage, but it is hard to imagine why he should have deceived them over the external circumstances of this encounter.

As for the secrecy within MI5, Pincher wrote that Martin ‘was not informed about Straight in the November time-frame’ (8), which represents a very strong indication that an important meeting did occur then, but that events were not explained to Martin until some time in 1964, when Martin’s career crisis occurred. (Pincher declares that, at the time, in January 1964, Martin believed that the Washington encounter was the first occasion where MI5 had heard about Straight and his information.) The source for this assertion is, tantalisingly ‘the Straight-Martin correspondence’. *  Obviously, if Martin had been told about the November agreement at the time, he would not have been interested in listening to Straight in Washington in January. Correspondingly, Straight must have been sworn to an oath of secrecy about his visit to London: otherwise, he would have briefed Martin about it in Washington. It seems highly likely that Martin and Straight exchanged letters after April 1964, and Martin thereby learned the whole story. Pincher also makes the strange claim that Straight ‘was ignored by MI5 during the November visit’ (8), but that can be interpreted as the fact that he was overlooked by the rank and file because they were not aware of his presence in London.

[* In Too Secret Too Long (p 360), Pincher refers to ‘Correspondence Between Straight and Martin in 1982’, but his note suggests that Straight corresponded with Pincher in 1982, referring to earlier letters exchanged with Martin. These letters have not been located, so far as I know.]

The conclusion must be that the immunity agreement with Blunt was made at the end of 1963. The primary source evidence is scarce, admittedly, but no scarcer than that supporting the April 1964 confrontation, and the secondary indications are stronger and more consistent. Blunt presumably successfully sought immunity as well for Leo Long and John Cairncross (at least), who were the leading lights that he identified to his interrogators. Hollis and White were surely the only intelligence officers who knew about it, and Hollis hoped to keep it that way. Whether Dick White had any ulterior motives must be an issue for debate. Yet the situation was thrown into rapid turmoil through the fortuitous but unfortunate entry of Cairncross himself into the drama.

John Cairncross

Cairncross and His Visa:

John Cairncross’s appearance in London, probably in December 1963, can only be an extraordinary coincidence. The existence of the Graham Greene-Cairncross correspondence proves that Cairncross had approached the author as early as August 4, 1963 for a reference for the position at the Western Reserve University (30), so it is impossible that MI5 could have lured him from Karachi to be interrogated in London as a result of Straight’s involvement. Thus Cairncross’s appearance there, before travelling to Rome to pick up his paperwork, must have caused much embarrassment. First of all, Blunt had very recently named him as a fellow-conspirator, a fact that MI5 would have to address. Secondly, Cairncross had applied to the USA authorities for a visa. If MI5 concealed from US Customs and Immigration (via the FBI) what they had learned from Blunt, it would no doubt turn out to be a frightful indictment when the FBI found out about it later. If MI5 informed the FBI, Cairncross’s visa would surely be denied, and the publicity risk of preventing an apparently harmless citizen from pursuing his career would have to be faced. In fact, even without the recent unveiling of Cairncross, if he had been honest in any interviews he had with the US immigration authorities, his previous political sympathies should have excluded him, as the Foreign Office files suggest (25).

All this leads to explain the extraordinary shenanigans that were displayed by Cabinet Secretary Burke Trend and his colleagues (27). MI5 wanted the job appointment to go ahead, and to pursue the serious interrogation of Cairncross on foreign soil, where any testimony would have less standing. Thus they had to ‘fix’ the FBI. If we are to believe Pincher (23), Martin flew out to Washington in early January, presumably to explain the dilemma, and to convince the FBI to go along – at least temporarily – with the plan to indulge Cairncross. The Foreign Office files prove that Cairncross had applied for the visa some time before February 7, 1964, albeit with a degree of urgency. Martin must have performed his task effectively, because a later memo confirms that his visa had been granted (25).

Thus the conflict over Martin’s presence in Washington appeared to be quickly resolved. It was not as a follow-up to the ‘Mitchell inquiries’, as Pincher was led to believe early in the cycle (8). The need to talk to the FBI about Mitchell had evaporated, and nothing of that nature would have required such an extended stay. (Pincher’s claim that Hollis deputed the task of interviewing Straight to Martin, and then recalled him before the interview (8) is patently absurd.) It did not arise as a result of Martin’s accepting a long-standing invitation by Sullivan to talk to Straight (7). West asserts that Sullivan had been ordered by Hoover to be very discreet about Straight, and not reveal what had occurred (20). It is impossible to imagine that Martin would have been given permission by Hollis to visit Washington on such a pretext, and again, such a project would not have taken weeks. Martin had been sent to handhold the FBI through the Cairncross project.

Martin was in ignorance about the recent Blunt confession. As laid out above, Martin told Pincher that he did not know about the ‘November confession’ (8). He was assuredly also not told about the Cairncross interview that must have occurred, where Cairncross was instructed in the role he had to play. And then, when he arrived in Washington, Martin was told by Sullivan that he needed to meet an important person. This is the encounter that Straight describes in his memoir, expressing surprise that he had not been called ‘before January 1964’ (7). Where they met is a matter of dispute, though probably immaterial. Straight’s Daily Telegraph obituary says Martin ‘attended a lunch given by the FBI’s Bill Sullivan, where he met Straight, who volunteered to confront Blunt’. Nigel West has told me that Penrose and Freeman were wrong in indicating that the meeting took place at the Mayflower Hotel, and that the lunch was held at Straight’s club in Washington.

What is more important is why the encounter was arranged. One can believe that the molehunters in the CIA – enthusiastically led by Angleton – would by now have become extremely frustrated by the lack of follow-up on MI5’s part after Straight’s unmasking of Blunt. The meeting was surely set up without Hoover’s knowledge, and I have pointed out that Sullivan had been forbidden to mention his name to any MI5 officer. That, in itself, must have bred resentment. Martin had been working closely with Angleton ever since the arrival of the defector Golitsyn, and Martin disclosed that he had had to be discreet about Straight because Sullivan had been ordered not to reveal his existence (20). What is potentially ominous, however, is the possible involvement of Maurice Oldfield. In the memoir of his uncle, Martin Pearce makes the claim that Sullivan liaised with his ‘MI6 associate’, Oldfield, and that Oldfield ‘arranged for Arthur Martin to fly out to interview Straight’. This is a provocative statement, as the official lines of communication were MI6-CIA and MI5-FBI, and the FBI and the CIA were jealous enemies. Yet Martin had gained the confidence of Angleton, showing that the contacts were by now more flexible. I have not been able to gain a confirmation of this item from Pearce, but, for the multiple reasons given above, it sounds totally implausible that Dick White, notwithstanding his influence over Hollis, would have been able to arrange for Martin to fly out on such a mission.

Martin was no doubt astonished and energised about Straight’s revelations, thinking he had fallen on a scoop. Yet he did not immediately return home in excitement, contrary to what Penrose & Freeman, Bower and Perry all asserted (9, 15 & 19). Nor did he meet Straight after his interrogations of Cairncross, as West claims in his books on MI5 and in Molehunt (5, 6 & 10). Pincher distorts the events utterly (8 & 23). Whether Martin subdued his excitement until he returned home, or whether he sent a cable to alert his bosses, cannot be determined. If Sullivan warned him appropriately, he probably kept it to himself until his return. For Martin was to stay out in the United States for several weeks, as the Cabinet papers prove (27).

Finally, an analysis of Straight’s evidence is in order. Martin was impressed enough by what Straight told him to believe that it was the information that MI5 needed to nail Blunt. He was ‘elated’ (7). But what did Straight tell him? If he repeated to Martin what he had told the FBI, as he claimed, his account did not point to espionage on Blunt’s part, but to his role as a messenger. It referred to ‘anti-fascism’, ‘the Third International’, to an opinion that Straight was required to gather economic data in New York, that Straight’s ‘protests had been rejected’, and that Blunt was a ‘mild communist’, and was acting on behalf of Burgess (22). Yet in his memoir, Straight clearly indicates whence Blunt was getting his instructions, as the latter refers to the fact that Straight’s reluctance had been discussed in ’the highest circles of the Kremlin’.

Reliable information indicates that MI5 already knew that Blunt was not just an ‘intellectual communist’, and had direct links to Moscow. Professor Glees wrote an article for the Journal of Intelligence and National Security in 1992 (Volume 7, Number 3), titled War Crimes: The Security and Intelligence Dimension, resulting from an assignment with the British Government. In this piece, Glees wrote that, in 1952 (the Sillitoe era), MI5 had discovered from an Eastern European ex-Soviet intelligence officer that an ‘art adviser of HM the King worked for Soviet intelligence’. This is, to me, an astonishing revelation, indicating a far more serious indictment of Blunt than a casual supplier of military secrets to a wartime ally, which is how White and Hollis probably viewed him at that time. Even if, again, the evidence would not stand up in court, the direct identification would surely have been something that Blunt would have struggled to deny. Glees stated that this item would have been presented ‘to the very highest level in the Security Service’. *  Assuredly so, and Martin, and the other officers who repeatedly interrogated Blunt, were not made aware of it.

[ * The information did not apparently reach Guy Liddell, deputy Director-General in 1952. His Diaries show that he continued to seek Blunt’s advice over problematic communists in the summer of 1952, and even came to the spy’s defence when he was warned – probably by Goronwy Rees – about Blunt’s shady past. Did Sillitoe pass on the information to White on the latter’s accession in 1953? I imagine so.]

(Case) Western Reserve University

The Cairncross Confession:

The confession all happened very quickly. Andrews suggests that Cairncross had been ‘pleasantly surprised’ that MI5 had done nothing to stop his visa application, and confidently travelled to London to perform research at the British Museum and see his estranged wife, Gabi (30). Yet it was a while before the application was approved. In a rather breathless minute, Street in the Foreign Office reported, on February 18, that not only had Cairncross’s application been approved at last, but the subject had also already confessed! Cairncross had flown to New York on February 11, and had been notified by a Customs official that he would be needed for further questioning when he reached his destination. Martin had visited him at his hotel in Cleveland on Sunday, February 16, and apparently gained a confession immediately. The haste and efficiency of the whole operation were almost unseemly, and certainly suspicious.

Why had Cairncross confessed so rapidly? The explanations are hardly convincing. Cairncross’s own story is unreliable, primarily because he sets the event as occurring in April (16), presumably to grant the timing rather more credulity. In his version, an FBI officer arrives first, informing him that Arthur Martin will be calling shortly. When the MI5 officer declares that he believes that Cairncross has not told the whole story, Cairncross folds, out of a desire to ‘make an end to this cat and mouse game once and for all’. He guesses that someone has informed on him, and concludes that it must have been Blunt, a notion espoused by Costello (12), thereby giving ammunition to the theory that Blunt confessed first, as Geoff Andrews boldly indicates (24). West has a slightly different representation: the meeting was ’by appointment’, and Cairncross ‘attended’ because he was fearful about his job (20). That goes against the grain of Smith’s account, which states that Cairncross was ‘doorstepped’ (29), suggesting an element of surprise.

But what would one expect the normal reaction of a person in Cairncross’s position to be, as an innocent academic who has just been cleared for employment in the United States? He is warned at US Customs, but seems to express no alarm. When Martin and the FBI turn up, he does not reflect: why on earth did these people allow me to come all this way, and then immediately harass me about these long-ago events? When Martin approaches him with the soft-ball challenge that he may not have told him all before, why does he not send him away with a flea in his ear, and tell him he has nothing more to say? It must have been because he was primed for the whole episode before he left London, and it was explained to him that Blunt had confessed, and that he likewise would be given immunity from prosecution if he admitted everything on foreign soil.

So all the references to ‘a second bite of the cherry’ –  after twelve years (10), ‘D Branch retracing its steps’ (7), and Cairncross’s being ’thrown to the wolves’ by Blunt (29), must be discarded. So must any assertion that Cairncross received no immunity, and thus risked returning to London at his peril (30), although.in his book on Klugmann (24), Andrews singularly does state that Martin offered Cairncross an immunity deal. Claiming that Klugmann had been his recruiter, and thus distancing himself from Blunt, was part of that agreement. Now Hollis and Trend have to go through the machinations from the Cabinet Office (27), trying to establish what the FBI and the US Immigration Authorities will do, hoping to avoid publicity, and attempting to ensure that Cairncross finds a safe haven in a foreign country (Italy) where he will not be able to cause any trouble. And the FBI duly expels him in June – not to Cairncross’s obvious surprise, it seems.

As I have shown, Martin did not rush back after this interview. He had to stay while the panjandrums discussed what had happened, and decided what to do next (27). On February 19, Trend informed the Prime Minister of the confession. Douglas-Home convened a meeting, at which it was determined that gaining a statement under caution should be attempted. On March 2, Martin was thus instructed to return to Cleveland, and the news quickly came back (on March 4) that Cairncross had declined the invitation. So, probably in mid-March, Martin was able to return to London, and brief Hollis and White on the Straight breakthrough. According to Bower, White, in true Captain Louis Renault style, was ‘shaken’ by the news (15).

Hollis must have been furious, however. First of all, how and why could Sullivan of the FBI break the commitment that Hoover had given him about keeping the Straight business confidential? And why had Martin been snooping around in Washington, communicating with CIA people without instructions to do so, when he had been sent specifically to liaise with the FBI on Cairncross? Moreover, on his return Martin must have pressed for interrogation of Blunt, and prosecution. He was probably told that the evidence that Straight provided would not stand up in court, and that Blunt would continue to deny everything. Fresh from his triumph in Cleveland, however, Martin probably believed he was on firm ground. Even though Hollis was infuriated by Martin, he was probably encouraged by White to appease him, and that is where the rumour started that it was Martin’s idea that Blunt should be offered immunity (despite Martin’s lack of sympathy for the idea), and that Martin would be chosen to interview Blunt in his flat (4). And that is what led to the pantomime of late April, where the key players (except for Martin) repeated their roles from the previous November.

The Role of Arthur Martin:

Arthur Martin remains an enigmatic figure. Why was such an ordinary but volatile officer selected for such an important task? How much did he know? Why had he become such an enthusiastic acolyte of James Angleton? Why did Dick White recruit him after Hollis had suspended him? And, most intriguing of all, why did he spread such conflicting stories about the Blunt confession?

(A profile of him can be found at https://spartacus-educational.com/SSmartin.htm, but it contains several egregious errors, primarily on chronology.)

Martin had his champions. Michael Straight found him ‘sophisticated and urbane’, in contrast to FBI agents (7), and told the CIA that he was ‘the original for George Smiley’ (21)  – an unconvincing comparison.  According to William Tyrer (who accessed the Cram archive), Cleveland Cram, CIA officer and historian of the agency, may have been echoing what Straight told him when he observed that Martin was ‘generally agreed to have been the counterintelligence genius of the British services’, surely an over-the-top assessment. Penrose and Freeman, while characterising him as ‘unprepossessing, self-made, and down-to-earth’ (does the suggestion of plain speaking jibe with ‘sophistication and urbanity’?), went on similarly to portray him as ‘a creation of John le Carré; a brooding spycatcher’ (9). Furthermore, they wrote: “His mind was a constant blur of bluffs and double-bluffs and, although he never claimed to be an intellectual, he was quick-witted and open-minded.” (Martin may have helped promote that image himself.)

In his Guardian obituary, Richard Norton-Taylor referred to Martin’s ‘sharp, analytical mind’ (but that could surely be said of most intelligence officers worth their salt), and in his BBC piece, described him as ‘a hardened interrogator’. Cairncrosss described him as ‘one of the most effective intelligence officers I have ever met’ (16), yet, since Cairncross probably met few such animals, and doubtless wanted to provide a solid explanation as to why he had quickly confessed, he probably over-egged the pudding. And Nigel West offered Martin praise for his performance at the Courtauld, writing of ‘the carrot dangled skilfully’, which appears a bit of a travesty when the record is inspected carefully. Peter Wright claimed that Martin proved himself ‘a brilliant and intuitive case officer’ (11).

Yet Martin had his critics and detractors, too. His close associate, Peter Wright, was also one of the most outspoken, writing that he was ‘temperamental and obsessive’, and ‘never understood the extent to which he had made enemies over the years.’ Bower expressed some surprise at White’s ‘tolerance’ for Martin (15). White was told that Martin ‘had a chip on his shoulder’, a judgment echoed by Gordon Corera, but then White was overall too trusting of people until it was too late. Christopher Andrew depicted Martin as follows: ‘a skilful and persistent counter-espionage investigator . . . , but he lacked the capacity for balanced judgement and  a grasp of the broader context.’ (1) Andrew also considered him and Wright  ‘the most damaging conspiracy theorists’, one of the most damning dispensations the historian can deliver (see https://www.mi5.gov.uk/mi5-in-world-war-ii ), and this characterisation was echoed by John Marriott of MI5, who wrote in an earlier memorandum: “In spite of his undeniable critical and analytical gifts and powers of lucid expression on paper, I must confess that I am not convinced that he is not a rather small minded man, and I doubt he will much increase in stature as he grows older.” (1; 28)

Martin had worked for the Radio Security Service (RSS) in World War II, and then moved to GCHQ, where he was liaison officer to MI5. Andrew informs us that it was Kim Philby who recommended him to MI5 in 1946, having met him in his RSS days. (Martin was apparently disappointed to have been replaced by Elliott for the mission to Beirut to interrogate Philby, though why an MI5 officer would have been considered for the job is not clear. Gordon Corera claims that White believed that Philby would be more likely to confess to an old friend.) Martin’s Guardian obituary stated that he was the first to learn – from the CIA – that Klaus Fuchs was a Soviet agent. Yet this would appear to contain some grandstanding. Serial 260/9 in KV 6/134 shows that Maurice Oldfield communicated the breakthrough news to Martin on August 17, 1949, and that it resulted from the efforts of Dwyer and Paterson (the MI6 and MI5 representatives in Washington), working on research performed by Philp Howse of GCHQ. Thus the first symptoms of Martin’s vainglory appear. In his Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, Nigel West reinforces Martin’s contributions, but it is hard to identify any specific counterespionage feat he accomplished, apart from those placed in his hands by such as VENONA and the disclosures of defectors.

It was Martin’s encounter with the defector Golitsyn that set him on the trail of believing that the British intelligence services were infested with moles, and I turn the reader to Chapter 10 in Section D of Andrew’s Defend the Realm to learn more about his dogged efforts, and the obstacles and objections he faced in his pursuit of traitors (although the details of some events, such as the transfer of Cumming, and the reorganisation of D Division, are wrong). In the episodes when first Graham Mitchell, and then Roger Hollis, were suspected of being Soviet agents, Martin gained an inappropriately sympathetic ear from Dick White, who had been his mentor when Martin acted as White’s emissary in 1951. Then Martin had helped to plant hints on the CIA that Philby was the primary candidate for abetting the escape of Burgess and Maclean (see DickWhite’sDevilishPlot.) White, of course, had been a senior officer in MI5 at the time, and shifting the blame to MI6 helped him protect his position and career. In 1963 and 1964, from his vantagepoint as chief of MI6, White was now quite happy to suggest that MI5 was the leaky vessel, in order to achieve a similar goal.

Thus Martin was an unlikely choice to carry out a careful interrogation of Blunt. It was not that he had similar successes under his belt, unlike the experienced (but overrated) Jim Skardon, for instance. His noted successes with the Portland Spy Ring and Vassall cases were prompted by information from defectors rather than superlative sleuthing. Gordon Corera credits him with his persistence in trying to pin down Philby’s guilt, and convincing Dick White of the fact, but White himself had understood that back in 1951. The exercise was probably set up as a sop to his vanity: having believed that he was going to impress Hollis and White with his news from Straight, he was rebuffed by their lack of enthusiasm. Hollis and White had their hands forced, but would later be able to represent the faux confession as something imposed on to them by Straight’s revelations, when in fact they knew about the facts all along. They needed to try to keep Martin loyal. Martin had not been told of the November-December 1963 negotiations with Blunt (as his comments to Pincher indicate (8)), or the details of the Cairncross interviews in London, but he must have been informed of the requirements of the Cairncross case, as he was sent on a delicate mission to strategise with the FBI some weeks before Cairncross’s arrival in the United States.

And then he got into trouble with Hollis, becoming such a disruptive influence, frustrated that Blunt was continuing unpunished, demoralised that Cumming was moved into the D Division as his boss, and next having key personnel removed, that he had be suspended, and then dismissed. Corera writes: “Even his friends acknowledged that he lacked tact, but he became increasingly reckless, even self-destructive, in his single-minded pursuit.” (The Art of Betrayal, p 204) Yet for White to then hire him, in November 1964, was very controversial. As Aldrich and Cormac write in The Black Door (p 241): “Remarkably, Dick White, who had been director-general of MI5 and was now chief of MI6, was inclined to agree with Martin, and felt that suspicions lingered around his former colleagues Hollis and his deputy, Graham Mitchell.” The whole episode is redolent of what happened to Jane Sissmore, when Guy Liddell had to fire her in 1940 under dubious pretexts, whereupon she was picked up by MI6. White’s action was a monstrous insult to his protégé Hollis.

Lastly, what could Martin’s motivations have been, in adopting such a scattershot approach to leaking information to journalists and writers? Was he undertaking an official disinformation exercise? And, if so, was he simply chaotic and disorganised, with a faulty memory? I think not. In his 2020 poorly titled but overall engrossing study of how intelligence analysts should approach their tasks, How Spies Think, David Omand, former head of GCHQ, explains what is essential to detect a successful disinformation project. “The corollary is that to detect deception as many different channels should be examined as possible. It requires great skill to make the messages consistent on each channel and avoid errors. One inconsistency may be enough to reveal the deception.” (p 267) Thus, if an agency is going to peddle a Big Lie on any target audience, it has to have a watertight, well-conceived story – such as the legends developed by the Double Cross team in World War II.

Yet Martin’s (and Wright’s) stories are all over the place, riddled with inconsistences, conflicting chronologies and details, and unconvincing psychological portraits. I have come to the conclusion that Martin probably did this deliberately – to draw attention to the fact that a gross injustice had been performed, and a cover-up perpetrated, and to provide solid hints for the more intrepid and inquisitive of those who chronicled the events that the story was not as it seemed. Andrew Boyle got a portion of the way there, but the baton was scandalously dropped by every analyst afterwards. And one of his stories even reached the authorised history, thus receiving officially blessing.

Guy Liddell (with secretary Joan (?), Arthur Martin’s second wife)

Martin retired from MI5 in 1969, and took on a job as a clerk at the House of Commons. In 1984, he collaborated with Stephen de Mowbray in writing an Editor’s Foreword for their ghosting of Golitsyn’s New Lies for Old. He died in 1996, after expressing public doubts that Hollis had been a spy. As Anthony Glees records in the Secrets of the Service (p 316), Martin had written in the Times, on July 19, 1984, that only new evidence could shed light on an inconclusive case. His second marriage was to Guy Liddell’s secretary, Joan. According to West, both he and his wife ‘abhorred’ the notoriety that his doggedness over KGB penetration had brought him.

Summary:

Here follows my version of events.

Sometime in 1963, probably in April, Michael Straight and Anthony Blunt agreed to try to regularise relations with their respective intelligence authorities. In June, Straight confessed to the FBI, and the news was passed on to Roger Hollis, who kept it to himself and Dick White. In September, Hollis in person impressed upon Hoover the need for secrecy. Straight was invited over to the UK in October, where he briefed Hollis and White, and a highly confidential immunity agreement for Blunt was made with the help of Cabinet Secretary Trend, Home Secretary Brooke, and Attorney General Hobson. Blunt revealed the involvement in espionage of (at least) Cairncross and Long, and pointed the finger at several other dubious characters. Cairncross unexpectedly sprang on the scene in December, when he arrived in London in the process of trying to gain a USA visa to work in Ohio. MI5 convened a hurried session with Cairncross, where they explained to him the situation, promised him immunity if he would talk, and explained that they would prefer to interrogate him formally in Cleveland. MI5 started negotiations with the FBI for the approval of Cairncross’s visa.

Martin was sent on to Washington in advance, to finalise the visa arrangements, prepare the ground for Cairncross’s interrogation, and to alert the FBI of the sensitivity of the situation. With Oldfield’s assistance, Martin was immediately introduced to Straight, as Angleton and the CIA had grown impatient with the lack of evident action on the interrogation of Blunt. Cairncross arrived in the USA in February, and swiftly confessed, but Martin had to stay on to try to gain a statement from him under caution, which Cairncross not surprisingly declined. Martin returned to London, armed with the new evidence and expecting a hero’s welcome, but was chagrined at the lack of enthusiasm for interrogating Blunt. Hollis and White then decided to re-stage the confession, with Blunt’s obvious compliance. But Blunt remained not only unprosecuted but unscathed. Martin quickly realised that he had been hoodwinked, and started to make boisterous objections, which eventually cost him his job. He landed on his feet under Dick White in MI6, but the resentment lingered, and White became an enthusiastic supporter of his theories about a mole in MI5.

Conclusions:

I present five main areas of conclusion, on the essence of the hoax, on the policy of offering immunity, on Hollis’s lack of leadership, on White’s duplicity, and on the failures of authorised history.

The Hoax:

Some might argue that this was no hoax, since no obvious victim was deceived. Perhaps the events were just part and parcel of the cloak-and-dagger activities that are intrinsic to the business of the ‘Secret World’. Yet a large deception was undertaken. And why did MI5 plant a bogus document in the archives, unless they intended seriously to mislead someone? The authorized historian was deceived, swallowed the whole story, and everyone who followed him trusted what appeared in Defend the Realm.

In a partial sense, Blunt’s confession was a hoax. He committed to give a full confession, but prevaricated and dissembled, so that his interrogators never gained the full story. But the major hoax was that perpetrated by Hollis and White, in the deceptions they played against various agencies. They claimed to the Home Secretary and the Attorney General that that it was Straight’s testimony that proved Blunt’s guilt, when they already had powerful evidence of his traitorous activities that they had kept to themselves. They concealed from their own officers in MI5 the fact that a very private deal with Blunt had been concluded in December 1963. They prepared documentation for posterity that indicated that an authentic confession had been elicited from Blunt in April 1964, when the whole episode had been choreographed. In addition, in a supplementary plot where they tripped over themselves in the chronology, they suggested to the Foreign Office that Cairncross had confessed for the first time, in Cleveland, in February 1964, when they had in fact followed up Blunt’s revelations the previous December and interrogated Cairncross in London.

In The Historian as Detective: Essays on Evidence, edited by Robin W. Winks (1969), Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff made an important distinction between the genuine and the authentic. They wrote: “The two adjectives may seem synonymous but they are not: that is genuine which is not forged; and that is authentic which truthfully reports on its ostensible subject.”. In this scheme, the Hitler Diaries would be ungenuine and inauthentic, a counterfeit copy of a book would be ungenuine but authentic, and Arthur Martin’s description of the Blunt Confession would be genuine but inauthentic. It is that document – if it exists – that is the kernel of the hoax.

The Failure of Immunity:

Offering immunity from prosecution in exchange for full cooperation is not a strategy.

This policy might be called the Macmillan Doctrine, since the Prime Minister, when admonishing Roger Hollis for proudly informing him that MI5 had caught the spy John Vassall, declared: “When my gamekeeper shoots a fox, he doesn’t go and hang it up outside the Master of Foxhounds’ drawing room; he buries it out of sight”. Yet Macmillan overlooked the fact that, while dead foxes may tell no tales, pardoned spies usually have witnesses, who will frequently seek that fairness and equity be observed. As Ewing, Mahoney and Moretta remind us in their recent book on MI5, MI5, the Cold War and the Rule of Law, in 1961 Macmillan pressed for immunity to be granted to George Blake, in exchange for his full co-operation, but Dick White insisted that the business go to trial. Blake was sentenced to forty-two years, and the later comparison of the fate of Blake (a Dutchman with a Jewish father) with that of the aristocratic Blunt helped fan the flames of the protestors’ cause.

The problem is that the authorities will never know how much co-operation they are getting from their suspect. In his August 7, 2020 Times Literary Supplement review of A Question of Attribution (the British Academy and the Matter of Anthony Blunt), edited by David Cannadine, Richard Davenport-Hines wrote: “The compact between the Security Service and Blunt was broken by a novice prime minister fifteen years later.” Yet that is a perversely one-sided interpretation of what happened: the news had escaped through no fault of Margaret Thatcher, but Blunt remained unprosecuted. Blunt did not fulfil his side of the bargain, as his wishy-washy written ‘confession’ shows. Moreover, one condition of Blunt’s immunity deal, insisted upon by the Attorney General, John Hobson, was that he admit that he had not spied after 1945, as Miranda Carter reported (17). So what did Blunt do? He made that assertion to Martin, one which turned out to be untrue.

That does not necessarily mean that Blunt should have been prosecuted. A public trial – or even one held in camera – would have been very embarrassing, and even the Arthur Martins and Peter Wrights of this world would have recognized that. But, apart from the fact that he should never have been recruited by MI5, Blunt should never have been treated so leniently when he was found assisting Leo Long in espionage in 1944, should never have been trusted during the Burgess-Maclean fiasco, should never have been used as a ‘consultant’ in the Philby business, or by Liddell in further investigations of dangerous communists, and certainly should never have been sent to Beirut to warn Philby of Elliott’s impending arrival (as the evidence strongly suggests). He should have been asked to resign his posts, have his perks and privileges taken away, and found his own new niche – perhaps even a minor chair at Liverpool University, which he might have regarded as only slightly more appealing than exile to Moscow. And this should have been effected with a promise that he would maintain his silence. The secret might still have leaked out eventually, but at least the objections to his tolerant treatment would not have been so strong. (Contrary to what Professor Sir Michael Howard claimed in a letter to the Times, Blunt was never used as channel of disinformation to the Soviets: see http://www.coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/ for a debunking of this absurd notion.)

Thus the policy as executed for Leo Long and John Cairncross  – and maybe others unknown – and planned for Kim Philby, was a misguided show of passivity and evasion.

The Weakness of Roger Hollis:

Roger Hollis must be held accountable for much of this failure, since most of it occurred on his watch (1956-65). One must recall that, during this eventful year of 1963 (so far as the actions surrounding Blunt, Straight and Cairncross were concerned), Hollis also had to deal with the Profumo case. This had problematic outcomes: Stephen Ward had committed suicide, while John Profumo had been let off extremely lightly, considering the misdeeds and lies he undertook. Ewing, Mahoney and Moretta (see above) make a strong case that, even though Hollis was cleared by Lord Denning in the latter’s inquiry, Hollis had in fact acted very indolently in not informing the Home Secretary of what MI5 knew about Profumo, Ward, Keeler and Ivanov, and that he had avoided the truth that it was an issue of ‘defending the realm’.

Hollis clearly had more important matters on his mind. But that is no excuse: as the saying goes, ‘it came with the territory’. Hollis was yet another senior MI5 officer who let himself be taken aback by events, and had not worked out what the agency should do if unpleasant surprises came along. Maybe that was an outcome of MI5’s exact statutory footing’s being indistinct, but that had been clarified to a certain extent by the Findlater Stewart report at the end of the war, and the following Attlee and Maxwell Fyfe Directives. Hollis had enough time to attempt to resolve such issues, but preferred to keep his head down, and try to maintain a quiet life. Moreover, Hollis was apparently far too much under the influence of Dick White, with MI6 officers also appearing to be meddling in MI5 affairs far more than was suitable.

Thus the strategy over Blunt and Cairncross, of trying to keep the secret to as small a number of persons as possible, was bound to fail in the long run. It was one thing to conceal important facts from the incoming and possibly naïve Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home (where Hollis was abetted by the Cabinet Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Attorney General), but the policy of deceiving junior officers, with their natural inquisitiveness and interest in internal gossiping, did not inspire trust as the story went around. Perhaps it is surprising that the secret remained in the private sphere so long as it did. Hollis died in 1973, and thus did not live to see his handiwork unveiled.

The Duplicity of Dick White:

Dick White’s contribution to the whole affair is controversial, even sinister. He had recommended Roger Hollis as the officer who should succeed him when he was appointed head MI6 in 1956. And maybe Hollis looked for guidance from his mentor when he took over the reins as director general. In any case, White appeared to maintain a very active involvement in MI5 affairs. No doubt he kept in close touch with Arthur Martin, who had been a loyal servant to him during the machinations of the Burgess-Maclean business. It is White who encourages Martin to pursue the Mitchell inquiries, and Hollis is regularly consulting with White, for example when the information from Straight arrives. It is White who encourages Hollis to fly out to Washington to explain the details of the Mitchell case to the FBI and the CIA.

Yet White apparently did not have a high opinion of Hollis’s capabilities. Chapman Pincher, in Treachery (p 428), cites a letter that White wrote to Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre) in 1984: “Hollis was never interested in CE (counter-espionage) work, having one of those crabbed minds that prefer protective security measures to the fun of sniffing things out.” This was a highly unprofessional statement for White to make. Either he deliberately wanted MI5 to fail under the leader he had recommended, or MI5 had no other candidates who could have competed. But, if White had always had this opinion of Hollis (‘never interested’), it would have been incumbent upon him to recommend that someone be appointed from outside. (Cleveland Cram dubbed Hollis ‘the biggest dolt to come down the pike in years’.) After all, there had been two recent precedents for such a decision (Petrie and Sillitoe).

White had as much to lose in the Blunt business as anyone, having been the sole surviving officer in the agencies who had witnessed his recruitment in 1940, and he had been hoodwinked by him and his cronies ever since. White had believed that Philby was guilty back in 1950, or earlier, but had avoided MI5-M6 strife by channeling his accusations through the FBI. On taking over MI6, he had banished Philby, but the spy had managed to get back on the books as an unofficial contributor. Now Philby had disappeared, and it suited White to suggest that someone within MI5 (where the main molehunt was occurring) had been responsible for leaking the news of the impending visit by Nicholas Elliott. Gordon Corera writes (p 194) that ’it was Martin’s theory that his old foe had been tipped off that most intrigued the MI6 chef’, but, in light of Blunt’s visit to Beirut, it is safe to assume that White played along with Martin, and saw a great opportunity for camouflage.

So was White a serious believer in the presence of an ELLI in MI5, whether Mitchell, Hollis, or anyone else? I doubt it. Yet he very quickly turned against Hollis. When Hollis fired his troublemaker, Martin, White quickly recruited him. Shortly afterwards, Hollis’s deputy, Furnival Jones, after discussing the problem with Dick White, agreed that an inter-agency investigative committee needed to be set up, and White convinced a reluctant Roger Hollis that it was a good idea Thus the FLUENCY sub-committee, under Peter Wright’s chairmanship, was established, and it soon had to consider whether Hollis himself was a spy. The outcome was inevitably destructive, and may have contributed to Hollis’s early death in 1973.

White retired from MI6 in 1968, somewhat detached from the fray that he had set in motion. In 1974, however, after the less eventful tenure of John Rennie, a fresh anti-MI5 thrust emerged from MI6. As Professor Glees described in The Secrets of the Service, Stephen de Mowbray of MI6 (a member of the FLUENCY team) ‘broke his cover’ to write an article in Encounter magazine that revivified all the theories of Soviet subversion within MI5, and the probable guilt of Roger Hollis. The new head of MI6 was Maurice Oldfield, White’s molehunt facilitator from Washington.

Authorised History:

My final observations concern the phenomenon of authorised history – and specifically Christopher Andrew’s work. Readers who are swayed by my theories about the confessions will agree that the exposition in Defend the Realm is, in the coverage of Blunt and Cairncross, erroneous. It contains misrepresentations and oversights. Yet Andrew’s book is generally regarded as biblical in its authority, even to the extent that historians and biographers will ignore evidence before their own eyes that suggests an alternative story in favour of Andrew’s account. In May 2017, in my piece ‘Officially Unreliable’ (http://www.coldspur.com/officially-unreliable/), I laid out my objections to authorised histories in general, with Defend the Realm as one of my examples, and I withdraw nothing I wrote at that time. In fact my message is reinforced by the Blunt case.

In many respects Defend the Realm is an impressive work, with a masterful synthesis of complex issues. Yet it is deeply flawed, primarily in its indiscriminate use of dubious sources, and in its vast number of citations of anonymous archival records that cannot be verified independently. The passage describing Blunt’s confession is the latest notorious example. I see no reason why the document that is claimed to play such a major role in Andrew’s narrative, and those related to it, should not be released by MI5, so that independent historians could make their own assessment of their authenticity, and how they shed light on the events of 1963 and 1964. Moreover, I suspect that Andrew, and those who assisted him, may not have maintained a scrupulous cross-reference of documents and citations so that a full concordance could be constructed if and when the authorities see fit to make the archival material accessible. (It is not as if relevant Freedom of Information requests can easily be made, as there are no identifiers to refer to.) I made this point in my original script, and I know at least one distinguished historian who maintained such a system in his researches and writing.

The scope of Defend the Realm is surely too ambitious. So much released material exists that a new History could probably be divided up into volumes covering the stewardship of each Director-General. That would have to be complemented by a judicious and methodological treatment of other literature (memoir, biography, other government sources, etc.). I happen to believe that my own contributions in this area, covering such as Fuchs and Peierls, Agent Sonya, Dick White and the Burgess-Maclean affair, Liverpool University, the RSS and the Double-Cross System, the LENA spies, VENONA and HASP, the Portland Ring – and now Blunt and Cairncross – constitute a valuable corpus of material that should be used in any fresh enterprise.

Yet it is difficult to see how such a programme would evolve. For example, despite the best efforts of Professor Glees and me, it has been a struggle to gain serious attention over the hubbub of publicity given recently to Agent Sonya, and correct Ben Macintyre’s story. Serious historians do not seem to want to challenge the establishment history of MI5. A few years ago, the FBI gave serious airtime to the debate about ELLI and Roger Hollis (see https://fbistudies.com/2015/04/27/was-roger-hollis-a-british-patriot-or-soviet-spy/ ), but it fizzled out. I do not see any mechanism in the UK for performing a similar exercise on MI5 molehunts, but, if anyone decides that it should be pursued, I am very willing to contribute.

Late-Breaking News!

I have not yet received my copy of the February 26 Times Literary Supplement in the mail, but my on-line colleague Michael Holzman has just informed me that the following item appears on the back page:

‘Antony Percy writes from Southport, NC, to point out a near-enough coincidence: as we were quoting John le Carré (January 22) wondering if the future might bring about a “fairer, less greedy world” than the present (with its “jingoistic” England – “an England I don’t want to know”), Hunter Davies was recalling in The Times (January 21) how le Carré, fifty-odd years ago, “handed over £2.6 million to a tax avoidance schemer in the West Indies – and lost it all”. The top rate of tax at the time, Mr Percy omits to mention, was 95 per cent.’

What the columnist fails to consider is that, if John le Carré had been serious in wanting to contribute to a ‘fairer, less greedy world’, he would presumably (unlike me) have supported the government’s ‘progressive’ tax policies, as it obviously would have been far wiser in spending (ahem, ‘redistributing’) his hard-earned income than he himself was.

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The Hoax of the Blunt Confession (Part 1)

Anthony Blunt
Anthony Blunt

Dramatis Personae 1963-1964

UK Government:

Alec Douglas-Home (Prime Minister since October 1963)

Rab Butler (Foreign Secretary)

Henry Brooke (Home Secretary)

John Hobson (Attorney-General)

Bernard Burrows (Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee)

Howard Caccia (Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office)

Burke Trend (Secretary to the Cabinet)

MI5:

Roger Hollis (Director-General)

Graham Mitchell (deputy to Hollis, retired in September 1963)

Martin Furnival-Jones (head of D Division, transferred to deputy to Hollis in September 1963)

Malcolm Cumming (head of D Division, replacing Furnival-Jones)

Arthur Martin (head of D1, ‘Investigations’, former henchman of Dick White)

Peter Wright (joined D1 in January 1964)

Ronnie Symonds (working for Martin, compiler of report on Mitchell)

MI6 (SIS):

Dick White (Chief since 1956; former head of MI5)

Maurice Oldfield (White’s representative in Washington)

The Spies:

Guy Burgess (absconded to the Soviet Union in 1951)

Donald Maclean (absconded to the Soviet Union in 1951)

Kim Philby (absconded to the Soviet Union in January 1963)

Anthony Blunt (strongly suspected of being Soviet spy)

John Cairncross (forced to leave the Treasury in 1952)

Leo Long (detected spying in 1944, but not prosecuted)

James Klugmann (open CP member, and ex-SOE officer)

Michael Straight (American recruited by Blunt in 1937)

In the USA:

Edgar Hoover (Chief of FBI)

William Sullivan (Hoover’s deputy)

James Angleton (Head of CIA Counter-Intelligence)

Anatoli Golitysn (KGB defector)

Contents

Introduction

The Official Account

Had Blunt confessed before?

The Sources: Wave 1 – Conflicting Rumours

The Sources: Wave 2 – Digging Deeper

The Sources: Wave 3 – The Era of Biography

The Sources: Wave 4 The Archives Come Into Play

Introduction

When I set out on this project, I did not know whether it was important, or why it might be so. I did not even seriously believe that there could be significant doubts about the facts of Anthony Blunt’s confession. Yet I had a nagging suspicion that all was not right, and my impressions were that the official account was at loggerheads with other descriptions I had read. Thus, as my investigation continued, and I became more convinced that the official accounts were false, I asked myself: If the event had indeed been bogus (as Chapman Pincher suspected), why would Hollis and White go to such elaborate lengths to construct such a flimsy story, and why did they execute the misinformation exercise with such appalling clumsiness? The irony remains, however, that, despite the project’s ham-handedness, every historian, journalist and commentator has been taken in by what appears to be an absurdly clumsy attempt by Dick White, former head of MI5, and chief of MI6, to divert attention from his profound culpability over Anthony Blunt. This report lays out the historical evidence. Next month I shall interpret it all.

[Note: In my text, as a general rule, standard parentheses enclose natural asides. Square parentheses indicate editorial comment.]

The Official Account

Christopher Andrew

The anchor for the analysis of the confessions of Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross in early 1964 should probably be the account of the events by the authorised historian, Christopher Andrew, delivered in 2009. We should recall that MI5 had set out on its celebrated ‘Molehunt’ two years before the Blunt confrontation. In April 1962 the Soviet defector Anatoli Golitsyn had defected to the USA. On James Angleton’s invitation, Arthur Martin of MI5 had interviewed him, and Golitsyn later declared the existence of a ‘Ring of Five’ Cambridge spies. Burgess and Maclean were the obvious first two. Philby was not named, but was indirectly identified. The names of the last two were unknown. Philby, perhaps with MI6’s connivance, escaped from Beirut in January 1963. Cairncross and Blunt had apparently been interviewed by MI5 several times since the abscondence of Burgess and Maclean in 1951. Cairncross had been required to leave the Treasury in April 1952 when evidence of his espionage came to light.

The famous and much quoted passage in Defend the Realm runs as follows (pp 436-437):

“The decisive breakthrough in the Service’s investigation of Anthony Blunt came when the American Michael Straight admitted that Blunt had recruited him while he was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge. Arthur Martin called on Blunt at the Courtauld Institute on the evening of 23 April 1964 and asked him to recall all he knew about Michael Straight. Martin ‘noticed that by this time Blunt’s right cheek was twitching a good deal’ and ‘allowed a long pause before saying that Michael Straight’s account was rather different from his’. He then offered Blunt ‘an absolute assurance that no action would be taken against him if he now told the truth’:

He sat and looked at me for fully a minute without speaking. I said that his silence had already told me what I wanted to know. Would he now get the whole thing off his chest? I added that only a week or two ago I had been through a similar scene with John Cairncross who had finally confessed and afterwards thanked me for making him do so. Blunt’s answer was: ‘give me five minutes while I wrestle with my conscience.’ He went out of the room, got himself a drink, came back and stood at the tall window looking out on Portman Square. I gave him several minute of silence and then appealed him to get it off his chest. He came back to his chair and [confessed].

Andrew sources this passage as ‘Security Services Archives’.

Now, I do not doubt that Professor Andrew did find a document containing this information, but it is bewildering that it has not been released by MI5 to the National Archives for perusal by objective historians. It is not unknown for inauthentic documents to be inserted into an archive in order to indicate that things were other than they actually were. For the melodramatic event poses all sorts of pertinent questions. Andrew’s vagueness about dates (including in a predecessor passage where he describes Cairncross’s confession to Martin in Cleveland, Ohio) provokes some major challenges: the circumstances of Martin’s approaches to Blunt raise a few more. For example:

Straight confessed to the FBI in June 1963. Why did it take so long to confront Blunt?

Why was Cairncross interrogated in Ohio, when he had recently passed through London?

What was Martin’s real business in the USA in January 1964?

What made Cairncross confess, just when he had taken up a new academic post in Ohio?

Why did Martin visit Blunt alone? This was not normal investigative practice.

Why did Martin state that Blunt’s account ‘was rather different from’ Straight’s, when Blunt had apparently not said anything at that time?

Why did Martin’s claim that Cairncross had confessed not have any discernible effect on Blunt?

Why were Blunt’s revelations about Cairncross such a big issue if Cairncross had already confessed?

Why did Martin say that Cairncross’s confession had occurred ‘only a week or two ago’, when it had happened over two months beforehand?

How did Martin and MI5 expect to be able to establish whether Blunt told them ‘the truth’ or not?

I shall attempt to answer those questions by peeling away the various records and interpretations of the event in books and archival material published since Andrew Boyle’s unveiling of ‘Maurice’ in 1979, and Margaret Thatcher’s subsequent admission in the House of Commons that Anthony Blunt had been given immunity. The story displays a kind of ‘Rashomon Effect’, although the testimony of the scribes is rarely that of eye-witnesses, and those closest to the action appear to have the most at stake in distorting the facts of what actually happened. Perhaps it should be seen as more of a detective-story, where a Hercule Poirot-like figure interviews all the participants in order to establish the truth.

But first, the claims about an earlier Blunt confession.

Had Blunt confessed before?

Andrew Boyle

In one provocative paragraph in Climate of Treason, Andrew Boyle suggested that Blunt (‘Maurice’) had voluntarily approached MI5 to admit his connections with Burgess and Maclean. “Yet less than two years after the reappearance of Burgess and Maclean in Moscow [February 1956]”, he wrote, “‘Maurice’, the Fourth Man, belatedly called on the security authorities to confess all he knew about the past links between himself and his fellow conspirators.” Boyle went on to describe how Blunt gained the equivalent of a ‘Royal Pardon’ for disclosing what Blunt claimed was ‘a secondary role’ in the ‘nefarious exploits of Burgess, Maclean and, to a lesser degree, of Philby’.

Boyle offers no source for these assertions. And it is easy to grant this event (if it occurred) more substance than it merits. After all, Blunt apparently did not admit to grand espionage on his own account, but merely to abetting the real traitors. Moreover, such revelations would not have come as much of a surprise to Dick White and Roger Hollis (who had succeeded White as head of MI5 on the former’s transfer to MI6 chief in 1956), since Blunt’s behaviour at the time of the abscondence of Burgess and Maclean had been well-noted, and Blunt’s collaboration with Leo Long at MI14 in 1944 was still fresh in their minds. 1958 seems rather early in the cycle, yet, if Blunt was anxious to get his account out before Burgess spoke up and distorted the story (in Boyle’s thinking), one might have assumed that Blunt would have spoken up even earlier.

Other writers, however, have brought up stories in a similar vein. In her 2001 biography of Blunt, Anthony Blunt: his lives, Miranda Carter reports a claim made by Michael Taylor, an undergraduate at the Courtauld in the early sixties (pp 438-439). In a letter to Carter of February 8, 1996, Taylor had written:

I knew MI5 had offered him immunity if he would confess, that he had got up, walked over and poured himself a drink and gone over and gazed out of the window for a while before turning around and admitting he was a spy. I knew he had been questioned a number of times over the years and had proved too clever to be trapped. And I knew that the car of the last of the three had been finally located in the carpark of the Courtauld Institute galleries  . . . To me this was common knowledge and it was told to me by a fellow undergraduate in 1961 (or perhaps 1962).

This anecdote may betray a confusion of memories: how would Taylor have known of the drink-pouring incident? He may have recollected it from another account, as I shall show later. Carter goes on to claim that Blunt’s guilt was ‘canteen gossip at MI5’ in the early 1960s. She shows that there were frequent declarations made among the denizens of the art world that their resident expert on Poussin had been a Soviet spy. Yet all these denunciations could be indicative only that senior officers at MI5 believed that Blunt was a spy, and were happy to have their suspicions broadcast. They do not necessarily point to the fact that Blunt had made a confession, and agreed to some form of an immunity deal.

Carter also identifies the story in Private Eye, in the issue of 28 September 1979 (i.e. before Blunt was officially unmasked) that named Blunt as the interested party, after a leak from the practices of Blunt’s lawyer, Michael Rubinstein. One of the statements that the magazine made was that Blunt ‘had confessed in 1957’.

‘Open Secret’

Other indications of an earlier confession have surfaced. In his 2019 biography of John Cairncross, The Last Cambridge Spy, Chris Smith informs us (p 154) that Dame Stella Rimington (Director-General of MI5 from 1992 to 1996), when a junior officer, had interviewed Cairncross in 1973, and noted that he had claimed that Blunt was MI5’s source on Cairncross’s guilt. Was she perhaps just parroting what Cairncross said? Indeed, in Cairncross’s memoir The Enigma Spy (p 141) the author declared, in describing Martin’s arrival in Cleveland, Ohio, and the subsequent interview, that ‘his informant was again Anthony Blunt, the man who had organized my recruitment without appearing on the scene himself.’ Moreover, in Open Secret, her 2001 memoir, Dame Stella appears to make a far more authoritative declaration (p 119): “He [Cairncross] had been exposed as a spy for the KGB by Anthony Blunt, and had been interviewed by, amongst others, Peter Wright, to whom he had made some limited admissions.” In other words, Blunt confessed before Cairncross.

It must be daunting for any biographer new to this sphere to sort out such conflicts. Thus, instead of analyzing this valuable item of evidence from a highly authoritative source, and considering its implications, Smith has to resort to trusting ‘the archival evidence’ (which of course he has not seen, as it has not been shown to any writer except Christopher Andrew). “Yet, the archival evidence conclusively shows that Martin had interviewed Cairncross by 18 February 1964. They cannot have been interested in Cairncross because Blunt tipped them off”, Smith writes. The evidence is, however, not conclusive at all. So what does a researcher do: accept the judgment of the authorised historian that an authentic and reliable document exists, or trust the word of a director-general of MI5, who was there at a critical interview? Of course, you must do neither. You have to accept that there is a conflict, and dig more deeply yourself.

My method here is thus to study in depth the publications that cover the Cairncross-Blunt confessions, to determine what source material they relied upon, and thus to attempt to establish how some of the mythology took hold. Next month I shall propose what a more likely explanation of events might be. This study may be very laborious for some: for true aficionados I hope (and believe) that it will be as compelling to read as it has been for me to compile it. I know no other way of dismantling the scaffolding of untruths that has concealed the structure behind it.

The Sources: Wave 1 – Conflicting Rumours

Margaret Thatcher

The Prime Minister’s Statement to the House of Commons: November 21, 1979 (extract)

“The defection of Burgess and Maclean led to intense and prolonged investigations of the extent to which the security and other public services had been infiltrated by Russian intelligence.

At an early stage in these investigations Professor Blunt came under inquiry. This was as a result of information to the effect that Burgess had been heard in 1937 to say that he was working for a secret branch of the Comintern and that Blunt was one of his sources. Blunt denied this. Nevertheless, he remained under suspicion, and became the subject of intensive investigation. He was interviewed on 11 occasions over the following eight years. He persisted in his denial, and no evidence against him was obtained. Of course, until his confession, the authorities did not know the extent of his involvement with the Russians or the period over which it lasted.

It was early in 1964 that new information was received relating to an earlier period which directly implicated Blunt. I cannot disclose the nature of that information but it was not usable as evidence on which to base a prosecution. In this situation, the security authorities were faced with a difficult choice. They could have decided to wait in the hope that further information which could be used as a basis for prosecuting Blunt would, in due course, be discovered. But the security authorities had already pursued their inquiries for nearly 13 years without obtaining firm evidence against Blunt.

There was no reason to expect or hope that a further wait would be likely to yield evidence of a kind which had eluded them so far. Alternatively, they could have confronted Professor Blunt with the new information to see if it would break his denial. But Blunt had persisted in his denial at 11 interviews; the security authorities had no reason to suppose that he would do otherwise at a twelfth. If the security authorities had confronted him with the new information, and he still persisted in his denial, their investigation of him would have been no further forward and they might have prejudiced their own position by alerting him to information which he could then use to warn others.

They therefore decided to ask the Attorney-General, through the acting Director of Public Prosecutions, to authorise them to offer Blunt immunity from prosecution, if he both confessed and agreed to co-operate in their further investigations.”

‘The Fourth Man’

The Fourth Man by Douglas Sutherland (1980)

Quick off the press after Boyle was Douglas Sutherland, who had written a book with Anthony Purdy titled Burgess and Maclean in 1963, and now felt encouraged to make more explicit what he had hinted at earlier. The Fourth Man is a paradoxical work, since it starts out by criticizing MI5 and other government agencies for being in their employment practices too tolerant of Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Blunt, but concludes that it did not really matter, since they all achieved very little in the line of espionage, and that Cairncross was an unfortunate victim of spy fever. Of course, these latter assumptions were all made in ignorance of the secrets later revealed in the Moscow archives.

His coverage is relevant for this discussion of the challenge he threw down to Blunt in 1962. He writes (p 18): “In 1963, when Anthony Purdy and I published our book Burgess and Maclean, we had known with complete certainty that the shadowy figure now known in the popular numbers game as ‘The Fourth Man’ was Sir Anthony Blunt.” Sutherland thus invited Blunt to a meeting at the Travellers’ Club, and confronted him, listing the reasons he thought he was implicated. Blunt was visibly shocked, but Sutherland spoiled his opportunity by making a weak claim that allowed Blunt to wriggle free. “Unfortunately I did not realize at the time just how the last minute tipoff to Maclean had been contrived and wrongly accused Blunt of using his MI5 contacts to tell Maclean on Friday that he was to be interrogated on the Monday after his flight. This, it now emerges, was not the case. My inadvertent disclosure that my information was not entirely accurate seemed to rally Blunt. He stopped shaking and mumbling, told me in a comparatively firm voice that I would hear from his solicitors immediately if his name appeared anywhere in connection with the case, and beat a hasty retreat.”

Sutherland used this experience, however, to suggest that Blunt, over the eleven interrogations that the Prime Minister stated had occurred, could well have been broken, and he also expressed his belief that MI5 might have brought Blunt in from the cold and asked for his cooperation. Thus Sutherland is another who doubted the solemn implications of a stagey April 1964 melodrama, and, in his own style, he anticipated the Stella Rimington story. Yet he showed his own inconsistencies. On page 162, he claimed that Blunt held back on what he admitted because of the demands of the Official Secrets Act, and on the next, indicated that Blunt made a ‘full confession’ in 1964. He overlooked the obvious irony.

‘Their Trade is Treachery’

Their Trade is Treachery by Chapman Pincher (1981: paperback version 1982)

When Pincher issued the first edition of Their Trade is Treachery, he was prevented, on legal advice, from naming some of the figures in the drama, such as Michael Straight, Leo Long, and Jack Jones, and instead had to deploy vague coded language. Straight, for instance, was described as ’a middle-aged American belonging to a rich and famous family’. But by the time the paperback version was published the following year, Straight had been flushed out by an enterprising journalist (Pincher), and admitted his role. In this revised edition, Pincher described how he had been able to interview Straight: he and Straight became close friends, and met several times before the paperback version was published. Pincher was free to name names.

Peter Wright was the source for the story. He had been introduced to Pincher by Victor Rothschild, and was seeking monetary reward to compensate for the fact of his pitiful £2000-a-year pension. Pincher had travelled to Australia to see Wright, and had made detailed notes from his conversations with him in Tasmania and from his inspection of the chapters that Wright had written. (Wright would not hand over his manuscript.) In his 2014 autobiography, Dangerous To Know, Pincher said he wrote the book in four months on his return to England. And sometimes it shows.

Pincher’s account runs as follows: Straight was asked by President Kennedy, late in 1963, shortly before he was assassinated, to be chairman of the National Council for the Arts. Concerned about what a security check might bring up, Straight met with the FBI, and admitted that he had been recruited in Cambridge by Blunt,’ whom he knew to have been a Soviet agent’, and was willing to give evidence against Blunt, if necessary. The FBI gave the news to MI5, and senior MI5 officers ‘discussed the situation for several weeks before taking any action’. Pincher continued by making a rather brazen observation: “It was agreed inside MI5 that the main purpose of confronting Blunt with the evidence was to induce him to talk in the hope that he would give a lead to the still unknown Fifth Man, to others he and his friends might have recruited, and to the identities and methods of the Soviet intelligence officers who had been involved.”

It was (according to Pincher) Arthur Martin who came up with the idea of offering Blunt immunity, and the Attorney-General approved the idea. After an intense discussion in April, Martin was chosen to interview Blunt in his flat. When the testimony from Straight was described to him, Blunt denied it, but, after Martin, in a huge bluff, indicated there was further evidence, and then made the offer of immunity, Blunt poured himself a stiff gin, and confessed that he had been a long-serving KGB agent. No written confession was made. Hollis suspended Martin almost immediately after the confession, an indication, in Pincher’s mind, that Hollis was himself a Soviet agent.

I see several problems with this account. The first is the date given for Kennedy’s offer of a job to Straight. Working backwards, Pincher must have assumed that it occurred just before Kennedy was killed, as the news would surely have been passed quickly to MI5. Moreover, Pincher claimed to have interviewed Straight. As Straight’s testimony, and the FBI files show [to be analyzed in this piece later], the events happened in June 1963. Why did Straight not make this clear? Thus the ‘several weeks’ for which MI5 sat on the information are highly problematical. And the fact that MI5 decided to interrogate Blunt in order to determine who the ‘Fifth Man’ was fairly comprehensively suggests that the Security Service had already concluded that Blunt was the ‘Fourth Man’. Had this realization happened before the Straight incident? Moreover, the description of the interrogation departs from the version appearing in the Authorised History. There is no mention of the recent interrogation of Cairncross, or of the way that the latter’s confession was used as an opening to encourage Blunt to do the same. And it is highly unlikely that Martin, an avid molehunter, would have been the person who came up with the idea of offering Blunt immunity. Martin was head of D1 at the time, a relatively low-level officer in the hierarchy.

It is difficult to pin down why this account was so sloppy – especially as Straight had been interviewed. Did Straight dissemble? Did the interview even take place? Was Wright simply confused, as he had not been close enough to the action? Or had Pincher made a number of transcription errors during his time in Tasmania? Some of these issues would get reconstructed in the coming years.

‘MI5’

MI5: British Security Service Operations 1909-1945 by Nigel West (1981)

The first instalment of Nigel West’s history of MI5 presents some historiographical problems. The project fell into West’s lap because of Dick White’s annoyance that Prime Minister Thatcher had cancelled the publication of Volume 4 of the British Intelligence in the Second World War series. Drawing on a conversation he had with Sir Michael Howard, White’s biographer, Tom Bower, described White as being ‘furious’ about her veto, and went on to write: “  . . .White encouraged a new writer, Rupert Allason, alias Nigel West, to write the history of MI5  up to 1945. With his assistance, West would be introduced to Tar Robertson and the MI5 officers who had rune the double-cross operation.” White was also upset that John Masterman (of Double-Cross fame) had been gaining all the glory.

West rather disingenuously recorded White’s contribution in his Introduction to MI5, where he wrote: “When I began my research I was told by a former Director-General of the Security Service that the task was virtually impossible, especially for an outsider.” Since three of the four previous DGs with deep knowledge of the period in question were deceased (Petrie, 1961; Sillitoe, 1962; and Hollis, 1973), the finger was pointed fairly squarely at Dick White. And West became an insider.

MI5 was first published in 1981, hard on the heels of Their Trade Is Treachery, and its ambit is clearly up to the end of World War II. Yet, at some stage, West added a Postscript that refers to Pincher’s book, and searches on West’s text suggests that the Postscript was added as early as 1982. It shows enough knowledge to indicate the role of Michael Straight, but is vague enough on the details to indicate that his precise testimony had not been examined. In his Postscript, West refers to Chapman Pincher’s Their Trade is Treachery, stating that it ‘caused such a furore early in 1981’, a choice of phrase that suggests it was a recent year, and not the same year in which MI5 originally appeared.

The story West tells is rather odd. Unfortunately, he displays a haphazard and imprecise approach to chronology. Cairncross is introduced into the story before the Straight incident. Without providing any context or timing, or explanation of what made Cairncross suddenly change his tune, West blandly declares: “Cairncross underwent a further interview in the United States, where he was lecturing, and made a full statement on his role as a Soviet agent. Although he was able to fill in a number of gaps about Burgess, he was unaware of Blunt’s talent-spotting and thus failed to name Blunt as a suspect. Cairncross wisely decided not to return to England and went to live in Rome when the American Department of Immigration declined to renew his visa.” But was this interview further to one he had submitted to recently, or further to his confession of 1952?

The temporal flow of West’s account suggests that the Cairncross confession occurred before Straight’s admissions to the FBI. West offers no date apart from ‘1963’ for the episodes involving Straight, and the passing on of Straight’s information to Hollis. Likewise, the sequence of events concerning the formal immunity from prosecution, and Blunt’s agreement to co-operate, is undated. West was probably uncomfortable with Pincher’s description of events, but was fed another leaky story by White and his cohorts, and was not ready to try and synthesize from all these half-baked stories exactly what happened, when.

‘A Matter of Trust’

MI5: 1945-72, A Matter of Trust by Nigel West (1982)

Soon after the publication of MI5 came Nigel West’s second instalment, not without controversy. On October 12, 1982, Her Majesty’s Attorney-General, Sir Michael Havers, QC, MP, successfully applied to Mr Justice Russell for an injunction against publication, as West’s work contained much secret information, including names of MI5 officers. After some negotiation, and the removal of some fairly innocuous names in organisation charts, the Court Order was discharged, and the book was published in November of that year.

MI5:1945-72 went through several impressions in the 1980s (my paperback copy is from the sixth impression in 1987), so it is not easy to determine whether subtle changes were made in the text concerning Cairncross and Blunt. In his Introduction, West volunteered the information that the Stephen Ward case had caused some major revisions, while making the claim that ‘this final version of A Matter of Trust is the most detailed account of MI5’s work ever published, or ever likely to be.’ Well, West could probably not imagine an authorised history coming out in 2009: his work held the stage for over twenty-five years.

In any case, it does not appear that A Matter of Trust took advantage of other works published during the mid-1980s. In fact, West’s account is singularly obtuse over the 1963-64 events. He identifies the trigger for the interrogation of Cairncross, after Blunt had repeatedly declined to co-operate, with D Branch’s decision to ‘retrace their steps’ and arrange an interview with Cairncross, ‘who was then lecturing at the University of the North-West in Cleveland, Ohio.’

Accordingly, Martin flew to Cleveland late in March 1964 ‘to talk over the situation with Cairncross’. [We know now that those dates are false.] For some reason, ‘the years abroad had mellowed him and he appeared ready to admit his espionage for the Russians.’ [The mellowing had presumably taken place in Pakistan or Italy, not the USA, as Cairncross had only just arrived in his post there.] West does not attempt to analyze why Cairncross would suddenly jeopardise his new career by owning up to something for which there was no fresh evidence.

West’s informer was no doubt Arthur Martin: no written record of Cairncross’s ‘confession’ has come to light. Cairncross was apparently able to reveal how he had been recruited by Guy Burgess in 1935, and he confirmed the awkward situation in 1951, when MI5 had tried to set him up with a rendezvous with his handler, Yuri Modin, during which only the Soviet officer’s quick-wittedness prevented a compromising meeting. Satisfied with his meeting with Cairncross, Martin prepared to return to London, travelling through Washington, where he was surprised to find that his opposite number in the FBI, William C. Sullivan, had some news for him. (Sullivan was assuredly not Martin’s ‘opposite number’.)  He was told that Sullivan’s boss, Edgar Hoover (whom Sullivan loathed) ‘knew all about the communist cells at Cambridge because the FBI had its own special source on the subject’. That source was, of course, Michael Straight, and Martin had a meeting with him the following day. The story again came out: Hoover, apparently, had not trusted MI5 with the information. The given interval, however, between the end of March, for Straight’s revelations, and the date of Blunt’s confession [as we now know, dated on April 22] seriously belies Pincher’s assertion that MI5 officers ‘discussed the situation for several weeks before taking any action’.

Martin reportedly flew promptly back to London [an event we now know not to be true], and informed his boss, the head of D Division, Martin Furnival-Jones. West collapses the events concerning the agreement, and Martin’s interview with Blunt, into a few short sentences. Blunt took only a few seconds to consider the promise of immunity from prosecution, and then admitted that he had been recruited in 1936. Later, he admitted talent-spotting for Burgess, and recruiting Cairncross, which went rather against the grain of Cairncross’s claim that he had been recruited in 1935, as well as West’s assertion in MI5 that Cairncross was not aware of Blunt’s activities as a talent-spotter, and denial that he had been effectively recruited by him. The overall conclusion from this account, however, is that Arthur Martin was a professional liar who could not even construct a solid legend about his activities.

West does add some commentary on Martin’s subsequent suspension by Hollis, although his description of the conflict is undermined by his listing of Malcolm Cumming as Martin’s boss of D Division, since the organization charts provided by West show that Furnival Jones held that position until Hollis’s retirement in 1965. If indeed Cumming had been appointed head of D Division, Martin might well have resented it. [I shall cover this later.] In explaining Martin’s suspension, however, West strongly counters Pincher’s assertion that Hollis was the prime mover behind the act. He states that the decision was made by the Security Service Directorate (i.e. the six Directors alongside the DG and the Deputy DG). Lastly, West adds the laconic but portentous sidenote: “In his [Martin’s] absence, Peter W. took over Blunt’s debriefing.”

‘After Long Silence’
Michael Straight

After Long Silence by Michael Straight (1983)

The last book from this exploratory period is Michael Straight’s own confessional work, which laid out for the public to read the whole saga of his recruitment as a Comintern spy in Cambridge. He describes how Blunt, about two weeks after the news of the death of Straight’s hero and friend, John Cornford, in Spain had reached the colleges of Cambridge (mid-January 1937), explained that ‘their friends’ had plans for him. By exploiting Cornford’s sacrifice, Blunt persuaded Straight that he could not turn down his assignment to move back to the USA and work on Wall Street, providing economic appraisals ‘of Wall Street’s plans to dominate the world economy’. Straight’s obvious distress at Cornford’s death would form a first-class cover for his breaking away from Cambridge.

Straight then covers his not very subversive career in espionage until June 1963, when he was invited to the White House to see Arthur Schlesinger, who showed him J. F. Kennedy’s plans for creating an Advisory Council on the Arts. Straight’s membership of that body would not have been problematic, but when he was recommended as chairman of the administrative arm of the new agency, the National Endowment of the Arts, he had to reconsider. Prior to his appointment, Straight would have to undergo an F.B.I. check.  He decided he could not risk it. He told Schlesinger the whole story, and was set up with an interview with William Sullivan, the deputy director of the F.B.I. He told his whole story again.

In July, Sullivan asked Straight if he would repeat his story to the British intelligence authorities, and he willingly agreed to do so. For some reason, however, he was not called again until January 1964. Straight attributed this lack of exchange of information to the distrust and suspicion that lingered with the F.B.I after the Burgess/Maclean fiasco of 1951. Nevertheless, Sullivan called Straight in January 1964, saying that a friend of his was flying in from London. It was, of course, Arthur Martin, and he had a long discussion with the MI5 officer. He told Martin that he believed that Burgess had been behind the plot to send him back to America. He said he thought Leo Long had been brought into the network as well. Martin was elated at the breakthrough, and asked Straight if he would be prepared to confront Blunt if the latter declined to confess. Straight said he would, and the two parted.

Straight does not describe any other events of 1964 until he flew to London in September to be with his mother. Martin debriefed him, explaining that Blunt had confessed (though why Straight could not have been informed of this before is not analysed). “He had, in the course of many interrogations, named his Russian and his British colleagues; he had described the material that he had turned over to the Soviet government; he had provided the intelligence services with a great deal of information.” Yet Straight appears incurious about Blunt’s fate. He has a long chat with Blunt, who appeared to bear no grudges. Straight forgot most of what they discussed, but added that ‘the question of immunity from prosecution was never mentioned”. One might imagine that a person in Straight’s position would have shown greater interest in why a confessed spy was apparently being allowed to survive unscathed and unprosecuted.

This memoir adds some valuable facts that are probably reliable: the confession in June, the role of Sullivan, the meeting with Martin in January 1964 [which will be confirmed later in the course of historiography]. But it thus sheds a lot of doubt on the testimony of Martin himself, when telling West that he did not meet Straight until the end of March, on his way back from Cleveland, and it raises some thorny questions about the six-month hiatus when the FBI and MI5 apparently never discussed Straight’s extraordinary testimony.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

Thus the first wave concludes with some conflicts in dates, as well as in evidence. How much of this was due to misunderstanding or mistranscription, and how much to forgetfulness or even active disinformation?

The Sources: Wave 2 – Digging Deeper

‘Too Secret Too Long’

Too Secret Too Long by Chapman Pincher (1983)

Chapman Pincher was first to return to the fray, with a weightier volume, Too Secret Too Long, published in 1983. The publication of Their Trade Is Treachery had resulted in a groundswell of communications to the author from around the world, and Pincher exploited his many contacts in government and the civil service to flesh out his story. He contacted Michael Straight, and befriended him, and Straight in turn showed him his communications with Arthur Martin. Pincher harvested many useful items from Parliamentary proceedings, published in Hansard. Some of his information sources, however, had to be masked as ‘Confidential’, indicating that certain civil servants knew they were betraying secret information. He was able to access F.B.I. papers on the Straight confessions. And he started to construct a more rigorous chronology of events, while neglecting to follow it up in a truly disciplined manner.

The first major breakthrough that Pincher brought to the table was an illumination of the movements of the key players in 1963. He shows how Blunt was himself in the USA, at Pennsylvania University [sic], while Straight’s debriefing was being completed in August of that year. He points out that Roger Hollis had been in Washington in September, in an attempt to explain to Edgar Hoover of the F.B.I. the rationale behind the inquiry into Hollis’s deputy, Graham Mitchell, and that Arthur Martin followed close behind. He states that John Minnick, the legal attaché at the U.S. Embassy in London (and also the resident F.B.I. officer) delivered a letter from Hoover carrying the Straight-Blunt information – but only in November 1963. Pincher correctly draws attention to this astonishing delay, and surmises that Hollis did perhaps get briefed by Hoover in September, but decided to keep the information to himself.

Yet Pincher then breaks down in his own details. He goes on to write: “Whatever the extent and reasons for the long-time gap, Hollis decide to introduce a further delay. He allotted the case to Arthur Martin who was already in Washington pursuing the Mitchell inquiries and could easily have seen the F.B.I. about Blunt. Hollis, however, told Martin nothing, insisting that he must first return to London for discussions before either the F.B.I. or Straight could be approached.” This analysis is illogical, and in contradiction of Pincher’s own facts. If Hollis had truly been trying to keep things quiet, the last thing he would want to do would be to let loose an officer with a reputation for skulduggery in Washington, digging up secrets. There were no ‘Mitchell inquiries’ to be pursued in Washington. Moreover, this sequence of events flies completely in the face of what Straight had published in After Long Silence, where Martin in early 1964 was flown out to the U.S.A. on a mission (to interrogate Cairncross, as other accounts would soon confirm), and had a surprise encounter with Straight engineered by Hoover’s deputy, Sullivan.

But then Pincher corrects himself. He uses the Straight-Martin correspondence to show that Martin was not permitted to see Straight until early January, 1964, and cites Martin (who ‘recalled the situation to an informant recently’) as confirming that he had not been told about Blunt in the November time-frame, and that it was Sullivan who approached him about it when he was in Washington ‘for another purpose’. Pincher writes; ‘He seems to believe that the information he then received from Straight, in January 1964, was the first that MI5 had ever heard about it, implying that the F.B.I. had delayed for almost eight months before sharing its knowledge. This does not accord with my information from other MI5 sources.” Pincher then posits an arrangement between Hoover and Hollis (who apparently got on well) to set up the Straight-Martin meeting, so that Martin could return in triumph, and cover Hollis’s clandestine knowledge since November. But what would Hollis have hoped to gain through that intrigue?

The main thrust of Pincher’s case is, however, that Blunt’s confession was essentially bogus. [Chapter 37 of his book should be re-inspected by those readers who need to see his full analysis.]  Pincher considers that Blunt must have been pre-warned about the proposed immunity offer: there was no planning for the eventuality that Blunt would not confess; the meeting did not take long; Blunt capitulated too soon; Martin never outlined to Blunt the conditions agreed on for the deal itself; there was no written record of the event; Martin tape-recorded it, and asked Blunt to agree to the proceedings, but Blunt knew that it could have no status in law. Moreover, Pincher now states (in contradiction of what he claimed in Their Trade Is Treachery) that Martin made no attempt to bluff Blunt. “The circumstances of Blunt’s confrontation by Martin would be rejected by an author of spy fiction as too wildly improbable a scenario”, was how Pincher summed it up.

Pincher’s natural instinct is by now to blame Hollis for everything. In this assessment he completely ignores any role for Dick White, but I think that is a gross oversight. Hollis and White were surely in the plot together. White had ensured that Hollis succeeded him as D-G of MI5, and White had far much more to lose than Hollis did, given White’s leading part in MI5 when Blunt had been recruited, his treachery later discovered and then condoned, and then his advice sought in the Philby affair. Martin had been White’s henchman in the 1950 business to mislead the F.B.I and the C.I.A. (see Dick White’s Devilish Plot), and it is possible that the strife immediately after the Blunt engagement of April 1964, whereafter Martin joined his former boss in MI6, was a ruse to isolate Hollis.

There are two further gems in Pincher’s account. He informs us that Straight visited London in September 1964 and with Hollis’s assent confronted Blunt, ‘having been ignored by MI5 during a visit in the previous November’ [my italics]. I believe this is sensational. Pincher cites ‘Letters from Michael Straight’ as his source. Yet Straight had carefully elided over any intermediate visits to Britain – and possibly to Blunt – in After Long Silence. Why? Was he now trying to provide a hint to Pincher? As will be shown later, Straight’s biographer added some flesh to this particular journey. Yet Pincher’s reinforcement of his hints from MI5 insiders that the FBI had contacted MI5 earlier in the cycle is important.

The last revelation is Pincher’s treatment of Cairncross, in Chapter 40. He goes over the now familiar story of Cairncross’s career and partial confession in 1952, and stresses that one of the first fellow-spies whom Blunt named was Cairncross, that he had talent-spotted him, and arranged for him to be recruited by James Klugmann. Next, however, as part of the prevailing doctrine that Cairncross’s confession followed that of Blunt, Pincher writes: “MI5 had no option but to take some action and in 1964 Martin travelled to Rome to interrogate Cairncross who could, of course, have simply refused to be interviewed.” Cairncross apparently made a full confession to Martin.

As we know now, this is hogwash. And Pincher should have realised that a massive disinformation campaign was under way, as Nigel West had written in 1982 about Martin’s interrogation of Cairncross in Cleveland earlier in the year, before the date of Blunt’s reported confession. Martin was feeding stories to West and Pincher, but tripping over himself by not getting a watertight story together first. Pincher then absolved him by stumbling over his own details, and focusing exclusively on Hollis. He spotted that the Blunt confession was a sham, but was not imaginative enough to propose an alternative scenario. Martin was turning out to be a liar, and not a very good one. Enough evidence was around in 1983 to explode the whole façade that Hollis and White had been constructing.

‘Conspiracy of Silence’

Conspiracy of Silence by Barrie Penrose and Simon Freeman (1986)

The hardback version of Conspiracy of Silence came out in 1986: energized by the Spycatcher Trial, an expanded paperback edition with a lengthy new postscript was issued in 1987 [the version I own]. Penrose and Freeman were journalists on the enterprising Sunday Times team, and they had been spurred into action by the death of Blunt in 1983. The subtitle of their work is The Secret Life of Anthony Blunt, yet it covers much more.

Penrose and Freeman had shown the skills of some old-fashioned sleuthing in flushing out Cairncross and Leo Long in the wake of Andrew Boyle’s book. In December 1979, following up on a clumsy hint from Sir John Colville, Winston Churchill’s sometime private secretary, Penrose had landed on Cairncross’s name and tracked him down to Rome, where they interviewed him, and it was Arthur Martin himself who told the reporters that Straight had informed him about Long. In this regard, the role of Martin in Penrose’s and Freeman’s story is quite remarkable. He is cited generously, having granted the authors off-the-record interviews in 1985, at a time when the Government was attempting to tighten up on unauthorized disclosures by retired intelligence officers (such as Peter Wright). These interviews provide the bulk of Penrose’s and Freeman’s account of Blunt’s confession. Was Martin being encouraged to string West, Pincher, Costello and others on with conflicting stories, just to sow confusion?

On pages 431 and 432, the authors offer as flattering a profile of Martin as you will find anywhere else: ‘unprepossessing, self-made, and down-to-earth’.  He had enjoyed an unconventional entry into MI5, and had headed D1, the service’s ‘elite section’ responsible for Soviet counter-espionage since 1960. Penrose and Freeman portray him as ‘a creation of John le Carré; a brooding spycatcher’. “His mind was a constant blur of bluffs and double-bluffs and, although he never claimed to be an intellectual, he was quick-witted and open-minded”, they go on to write. [This goes entirely against the grain of how his close colleague Peter Wright would describe him in Spycatcher.]

Yet Martin was not sharp enough to construct his own legend carefully, since, right off the bat, he records a series of events that counters what he has told before. Perhaps the ‘constant blur’ of his impostures had destabilised him. Martin relates how, when he arrived in Washington, on his way to interview Cairncross, he found a message from Sullivan to meet him at the Mayflower Hotel that afternoon. There he met Straight, who told him about his recruitment by Blunt, alongside Leo Long. He then claimed that he returned from the USA a few days after his meeting with Straight. The authors add that ‘the trip had gone better than Martin had dared hope. John Cairncross had, or so Martin believed, confessed to having passed information to the Soviets.” Yet Penrose and Freeman offer no explanation of the timeline of the Cairncross interview, and do not question Martin’s newest account, which directly contradicts what he told Pincher and West.

Thus the three of them dig a deeper hole. “There was a delay of several months between Martin’s return from the States and his crucial meeting with Blunt when he presented Straight’s evidence”, they write, and then have to fall into useless contortions trying to explain why there was such a delay. Thus they offer a long digression into the Profumo affair, before returning to the main plot. “Martin and Hollis spent weeks debating how to handle the Straight material”, even though Martin was a member of the anti-Hollis faction, the ‘Young Turks’, and Martin has to offer his interlocutors a crust that maybe the anti-Hollis group was wrong about him.

The emphasis that Penrose and Freeman make on Martin’s and Hollis’ intense collaboration on a strategy for Blunt rather goes against the grain of Hollis’s abrupt suspension of Martin a few weeks later. According to Martin, he and Hollis came to concur on the need to offer Blunt immunity from prosecution. The authors then go on to describe the negotiations with the Home Secretary, the Attorney-General, and the Queen’s private secretary, before describing the fateful meeting of April 23, 1964. And this is the story that has been picked up as the ‘official’ account by various writers since.

The key ‘facts’ are as follows. Martin asks Blunt if he would mind his using a tape-recorder. Blunt nods in assent. Martin says he has unequivocal evidence that Blunt had been a Soviet agent during the war, something that Blunt denies, as the assertion simply wasn’t true. Martin then introduces his meeting with Straight, and outlines the allegations Straight made. Blunt is expressionless, so Martin decides he has to use the immunity card. Blunt walks to the window, pours himself a large drink, and turns to Martin, saying ‘It is true’. Martin plays back the tape, so that Blunt can agree it was an accurate record of the conversation. Martin reminds Blunt that ‘total co-operation’ is the price of immunity. Blunt nods: the meeting, lasting twenty-five minutes, is over.

There is much bogus about this story. If readers recall the description by Andrew at the beginning of this bulletin, they might wonder why Martin made no mention of Cairncross in this account. Blunt ‘left the room’ in the authorised version: not so here. The business with the tape-recorder is absurd: first of all, the real meeting could have been only about ten minutes if the total length included the playback, and yet in the authorised version Blunt requests five minutes to ‘wrestle with his conscience’. (Did Martin turn the tape-recorder off during this time?) And how would Blunt have been able to challenge the accuracy of what had just been recorded? Martin’s quickness in switching to the offer of immunity is clumsy and unrealistic. Why did he not exploit the Cairncross episode more imaginatively?

One might conclude that the version supplied by Andrew was an attempt to ‘correct’ what was a transparently spurious record on file, since other evidence would show that Cairncross had provided a full ‘confession’ only weeks before Blunt was given the same treatment. Yet the argument is full of holes, and should have been picked apart at birth.

Conspiracy of Silence was recognized as having benefitted from the indiscreet, and surely unlawful, revelation of information from present and past intelligence officers. According to Hansard, on November 19, 1986, Mr. Campbell-Savours (Member of Parliament for Workington) asked the Attorney-General whether he would prosecute Russell Lee, Christopher Harmer, William Luke, T. A. R. Robertson, Lord Rothschild, Leo Long, Andrew King, William Skarden [sic], Stephen Demoubray [sic], Lord Dacre, George Carey-Foster, Nigel Burgess, Constance Burgess, John Cairncross, Malcolm Muggeridge, Sir Robert Mackenzie, Sir Ashton Roskill and Lord Clanmorris under the Official Secrets Act of 1911. Arthur Martin – whose name appears most prominently in the book – was not listed.

‘Molehunt’

Molehunt: Searching for Soviet Spies in MI5 by Nigel West (1987)

By 1987, Nigel West felt confident enough to claim, as he did in his Introduction to Molehunt, that “The molehunts have now ended, and are of only historical importance, so at last the full, bizarre story can be told.” I recommend readers return to West’s book, published as the Spycatcher trial was concluded, but before Wright’s book came out, to assess how comprehensively West’s judgements should be accepted, and to learn the fate of ELLI, and Graham Mitchell, West’s bête noire for the role of chief mole in MI5, before determining whether they agree with West’s opinions.

Where was West looking for his authority? His text is irritatingly imprecise, his chronology customarily haphazard, and his sources generally feeble. In his chapter 3, Operation Peters, which covers the events of interest to me here, the only sources he lists are Straight’s After Long Silence, Goronwy Rees’s A Chapter of Accidents, and a World in Action programme featuring Peter Wright. Yet the text is littered with evidence that could have come only from Arthur Martin. And, immediately, new variations on the significant visit to the USA in 1963 appear.

West introduces Martin’s activities in the context of the FLUENCY Committee, chaired by Peter Wright, that had been set up in late 1964 to take over the investigation into moles. Operation PETERS, which had looked into Graham Mitchell as a candidate, had been wound down. West salutes Martin’s success with Cairncross and Straight in the following terms: “ . . . Arthur Martin had scored an important success during his visit to America to explain the outcome of the Peters inquiry to the FBI.” West thus explains Martin’s visit to Cleveland as an incidental opportunity, a by-product of his briefing, rather than the main purpose of his assignment. Hereby Martin conflates two visits, or West has got his wires crossed over what he was told. “Since Martin was already in the United States, he decided to have a second bite at the cherry.” This is all nonsense, as we know that Cairncross was recently in London, and could have been interviewed there, and that Martin had expressly been sent out to interview Cairncross.

The next event is Martin’s return to Washington, where he apparently ‘briefed William Sullivan of the FBI on the latest development’, and then was introduced to Straight. West next travels over the now familiar Straight confession. “Armed with this valuable information, Martin returned to London and informed Hollis of this remarkable development.” Yet West is very terse about the build-up to the confrontation at the Courtauld, where ‘all that remained to be done was to obtain his [Blunt’s] co-operation.’ Then we receive a modified version of the engagement, given by West as April 22, not the 23rd, and described as taking place ‘in midmorning’, not in the evening, as Andrew claims. The Straight experience is related (but not the Cairncross meeting), and the offer of immunity given. “Blunt slowly got up from his desk, walked over to a tray of bottles and poured himself a stiff gin, apparently deep in thought. As he did so he turned and said, simply: “It’s true.”

What are we to make of this? That Martin would discuss with Sullivan the Cairncross confession before he had even spoken to his bosses at MI5 is simply absurd. That would have been extremely irresponsible – and highly unlikely, if the F.B.I. truly had withheld their information on Blunt for six months. Why does Martin now push back his meeting with Straight and Sullivan to the end of his visit(s) to Cleveland? And why are all those details about the Courtauld meeting such a mixture of the precise (‘he poured himself a stiff gin’), and the erratic (Blunt’s leaving the room in one account, and walking over to the window in another). The whole imbroglio is simply farcical.

West takes up the ‘bluff’ angle again, and is generous in his praise of Martin’s performance. “The trump card had been the offer of immunity from criminal prosecution.” But, if Martin thought he had sufficient information from Straight to prove Blunt’s guilt (which he did, although it would not stand up in court), it wasn’t a bluff at all. Just a ruse to get Blunt to talk without all the embarrassing business of a trial. West’s conclusion runs as follows: “If self-preservation was to be a factor in Blunt’s motivation, the carrot dangled so skilfully by Martin contained everything he might be seeking: no embarrassing police involvement; no public humiliation; no obvious betrayal of friends.” But what did MI5 and Martin gain from this? A ‘cooperation’ that allowed Blunt to be as secret and reclusive as he wished.

Molehunt is thus a rather sad and inadequate display of sleuthing. West allows Martin to get away with an alarming number of untruths, and it is merely further evidence that these chroniclers, as they obtained their ‘insider’ information, naively believed that they were the sole receivers of the actualités. And the simplest of facts are not cross-checked.

‘Spycatcher’

Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer by Peter Wright (1987)

Spycatcher is an unreliable memoir. I have drawn attention to some of its flabby arguments in HASP: Spycatcher’s Last Gasp, and it is likewise a very shaky source for the events of 1963 and 1964. There are no footnotes, no sources or references quoted, and thus the reader frequently cannot discern how Wright knew about events at which he was not present, or on whom he relied for information. The approach to chronology is chaotic: one might alight on an interesting event, but then have to step back for several pages to determine which year the author is writing about, as he weaves around, skipping from topic to topic.

Yet there are diamonds in the rough. On more neutral topics, where it would appear that Wright has no reason to dissemble, some important facts emerge. He provides (undated) insights on Hollis’s decision to move Furnival Jones from his position as head of D branch to C Branch, in preparation for his appointment as Deputy-Director on Mitchell’s retirement. Furnival Jones was replaced by Malcolm Cumming, an old and not very imaginative hand, and Wright claims that Arthur Martin expected to get the job himself. Mitchell retired in September 1963, so West’s account of Martin’s return to inform Furnival Jones of the Straight interview is wrong. Further ammunition for Martin’s resentment, and Hollis’s distaste for Martin’s disruptive tendencies, is provided, yet, if Martin did work closely with Hollis on the Blunt plan, it would appear that Cumming had been considered superfluous by that time. What should also be noted is that Wright himself drew attention to Martin’s faults, dubbing him ‘temperamental and obsessive’, and noting that he ‘never understood the extent to which he had made enemies over the years.’

Wright also adds details on the activities of summer 1963, where Hollis, facing opposition from his officers on disclosing the fruits of the Mitchell inquiry to the Americans, ‘glowered at’ Martin across the table when he announced, that he would visit the USA himself, to keep the F.B.I. informed. Wright then states how Hollis left for the United States ‘almost immediately’, but, since the controversial meeting where Hollis’s voice had been outnumbered is undated, we cannot pin an exact time on his departure. ‘Shortly after’, Martin followed him. Thus there exists strong evidence that Hollis and Martin were in a position where they could have, and should have, been briefed about Straight. Yet Wright was almost certainly not at that meeting himself: he started working for Martin only in January 1964. He also provides details about the scientist/officer, Hal Doyne Ditmass, whom Hollis tried to remove from D3 in May 1964, at a critical time of negotiations with the Americans. That was another event – accompanying the failed promotion – that riled Martin.

The most astonishing revelation, however, is made when Wright introduces the Blunt case. “It brewed up in late 1963”, he writes, “when MI5 were informed by the FBI that an American citizen, Michael Whitney Straight, had told them that Blunt had recruited him for the Soviets while they were both at Cambridge in the 1930s.” This awareness of a much earlier disclosure forces Wright to re-draft the reason for Martin’s visit to Washington. “Arthur Martin flew over to interview Straight, who confirmed the story, and agreed to testify in a British court if necessary.” Thus, in one short sweep, Wright annuls all the previous leaks that the meeting with Straight was the first time that MI5 heard about the Straight-Blunt imbroglio, that it was a coincidental encounter, engineered by Sullivan, and that Martin’s chief purpose in visiting the States had been to interview Cairncross. Wright does not even mention Cairncross in this situation. It is an extraordinary proof that MI5 had lost control of the legend.

Wright is lapidary about the events leading up to the meeting at the Courtauld. His account runs as follows: “. . . Blunt was confronted by Arthur Martin and almost immediately admitted his role as Soviet talent spotter and spy.” Yet he has not finished yet. After a diversion about the impact of the Blunt confession on Victor and Tess Rothschild, he tells how Blunt swiftly named Leo Long and John Cairncross as fellow spies, and how they both then confessed. “Long, informed by Arthur that a prosecution was most unlikely provided he cooperated with MI5, swiftly confessed, as did Cairncross, who was seen by Arthur in Rome.” Wright was either completely uninformed about what really happened, or very stupidly tried to cast a web of deceit around events in the belief that he would not be smoked out. Cairncross had already confessed, according to the official line. Dick White, for one, must have been horrified when he read Spycatcher.

In summary, therefore, we have a rather ingenuous admission that MI5 did learn about Straight from the FBI in November 1963, which makes a lot of sense, and then a naïve attempt to explain the outcome in a way that belies nearly every account of the story. What Christopher Andrew made of all this is a mystery: he lists Spycatcher as one of his sources in his authorised history, but he does not investigate the claim about the November debriefing at all.

‘Mask of Treachery’

Mask of Treachery by John Costello (1988)

The final study in this section is John Costello’s Mask of Treachery, bearing the rather convoluted sub-title Spies, Lies, Buggery & Betrayal, The First Documented Dossier on Anthony Blunt’s Cambridge Spy Ring. It is an extraordinary work, reflecting the author’s dedicated search to discover all the facts about the treachery of Blunt and his cronies. He digs far and wide. Yet it is also a highly flawed creation, as if Costello imagined that, by assembling all the information in one place, a confident hypothesis about the moles inside MI5 would magically appear. His conclusion? Remarkably, that Guy Liddell was the obvious flake in MI5’s management ranks, a suggestion that distances himself from the dominant theories of West (Mitchell), and Pincher, Martin and Wright (Hollis).

The major problem with Costello’s record is that he drags in all manner of possibly relevant details, but omits to apply any rigorous methodology in his approach, not attempting to define the reliability of all evidence he cites, and leaving many matters of chronology unsettled. Very typical is his handling of the Straight business. He echoes the accepted fact that Straight went to the Justice Department, and then the F.B.I., on June 7, 1963, but then hypothesizes that ‘it would not be surprising if he had not considered himself under an obligation to give Blunt the same sort of warning in 1963 that he had given Burgess twelve years earlier.’ Costello then assembles the following weird paragraph:

“Straight had several weeks in which he could have alerted Blunt that an impending Presidential appointment would require FBI clearance and would raise the possibility that the Cambridge connection would be uncovered. According to Stella Jefferies, an administrative secretary at the Courtauld, Straight appeared unannounced at the institute one day that summer. She says Blunt ‘was not keen to see him’. Later, she heard Blunt telling someone ‘he –  meaning Straight – was going to shop them.’ Jeffries claims the incident stuck in her mind because it occurred shortly before the director himself went off to America – at short notice.” Blunt, rather suddenly, decided to spend six weeks in the United States.

But then Costello immediately adds: “Straight has admitted that he was in England that April, but he insists that he did not visit the Courtauld.” That is, however doubly irrelevant. Straight did not know about his appointment, and the need to confess, back in April, and thus not visiting the Courtauld at that time merely casts suspicion on his testimony. So when did the encounter occur? Costello adds a Footnote that claims that Mrs. Jeffries said it was in July 1963, but the letter from Blunt she presents is dated August 1962! Pincher claimed that Straight was still being debriefed by the F.B.I. in August. And if Blunt heard about Burgess’s death in Moscow on August 19 while he was at Pennsylvania, probably at the end of his six-week engagement, it leaves no time for Straight to have warned Blunt – unless he contacted him through other means, and arranged to talk to Blunt while he was at the university. The whole cavalcade is a mess, with much possibly irrelevant detail being introduced without analysis.

What makes this testimony even more dubious is that Blunt had been invited by Pennsylvania State University the previous year to lecture at the summer school in 1963 (as an announcement in the Art Journal in 1962 proves), and thus the idea that he made a sudden decision is patently false. And, since his invitation had been well publicized, Michael Straight would certainly have learned about it. Thus we have to face the possibility that Straight and Blunt did in fact meet in April 1963, despite Straight’s denial.

Lastly, Costello covers the Straight-Martin encounters. Yes, Sullivan did not approach Straight until January 1964, when he arranged for him to meet Martin at the Mayflower Hotel, where Straight told Martin all. “Straight did not know that Martin had just finished interviewing John Cairncross at Northwestern University”, he writes. He might just as well have written that Straight did not know that Martin was on his way to interview Cairncross. He then presents an uncontroversial account of the events leading up to the immunity deal, but then introduces an insightful observation: “Considering what was at stake in Blunt’s confession, it is astonishing that Arthur Martin was sent alone to confront Blunt on the morning of April 23, 1964. (American counter-intelligence officers have assured me that the standard practice calls for at least two officers to be present.) Martin still believes that Blunt had been forewarned and held out for the immunity deal.”

Thus we have a third timing of the event, the morning of the 23rd, as opposed to Andrew’s evening of that day, and West’s mid-morning of the 22nd. And Martin surely knew that he was involved in a staged set-up, in which he and Blunt were equal players. Costello continues by tersely stating that Blunt and Cairncross were unmasked by Blunt, and that they ‘confessed on the understanding that they would not be prosecuted either’. So what was going on between Martin and Cairncross in January, Mr. Costello? There is no answer.

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This wave of studies shows an extraordinary lack of discipline. The authors must surely have felt themselves in competition, yet one can detect a large amount of collaboration behind the scenes. None of them, however, applied any amount of rigour when evidence turned up that clearly contradicted other evidence they cited. And yet, until now, I do not believe they have properly been called to account.

The Sources: Wave 3 – The Era of Biography

A strange hiatus settled on the investigations between 1988 and 2005. For example, Christopher Andrew’s and Oleg Gordivesky’s KGB: The Inside Story (1990) has only a couple of sentences on the events of 1964. Matters picked up again with the release of a number of biographies and memoirs, the first of which was Tom Bower’s profile of Sir Dick White. But first, Nigel West’s gallery of spies.

‘Seven Spies Who Changed the World’

Seven Spies Who Changed the World by Nigel West (1991)

Nigel West selected Blunt as one his Seven Spies (the others being Popov, Schmidt, Buckley, Blake, Powers, and Wynne). Whether his title is meant to signify that these seven ‘changed the word’ (while others did not), or whether the author just happened to choose these seven for some special reason (since all spies change the world, just as all non-spies do, too), or whether the title is simply one foisted on West by his publisher, is not clear. In his Introduction, however, West does state: “All these men, to a greater or lesser degree, have made a remarkable contribution, either positive or negative, to the course of history, and most have been known to me personally.”

West’s caption for Blunt’s photograph is unfortunate. “Anthony Blunt, a long-term Soviet asset who penetrated MI5 and then switched sides in return for an immunity from prosecution. His confession ruined the careers of a dozen top civil servants, but MI5 eventually concluded that he had duped his interrogators and remained loyal to the KGB.” ‘Switching sides’, eh?  Receiving an immunity deal, not specified in writing, in return for promising to ‘co-operate’, is hardly descriptive of the process of realigning one’s skills to the cause of the erstwhile enemy – especially when he could not help whatsoever with espionage against the Soviets.

The story of Blunt is a fascinating one, but marred by West’s irritating practise of providing references for many well-thumbed and familiar incidents, while inserting highly provocative assertions that do not carry any supporting evidence whatsoever. [They are surely feeds from the highly unreliable Martin.] For example, he writes (without identifying Martin): “This [review] resulted in an inconclusive statement from Cairncross, then lecturing at Northwestern University, who reluctantly named James Klugmann as his recruiter at Cambridge.” No source; no date; no explanation of ‘inconclusive’; no indication of why Cairncross admitted something ‘reluctantly’, or why he admitted to anything at all. He then goes on to write, about Straight’s confessions, that ’Petty inter-agency rivalry, exercised by J. Edgar Hoover, had prevented the FBI from sharing this crucial information with MI5.’ Another bold and cryptic statement that does not disclose a source, nor provide strong evidence.

The description of Blunt’s confession is likewise weak. West discloses nothing about the intriguing that went on, and repeats his notion of Blunt’s ‘switching sides’, only a few lines later equating this act with ‘a decision to collaborate with MI5’. When he identified his fellow conspirators, ‘among the first were John Cairncross, who was already known to MI5, and Leo Long, who had never previously been a suspect.’ Well, of course Cairncross was known to MI5, not solely because of the confession that West had revealed on the previous page, but was that all that there was? Leo Long, moreover, had been known a suspect, having been caught in the act of espionage in MI14 in 1944. West appears as muddled as he was in MI5.

‘My Five Cambridge Friends’

My 5 Cambridge Friends by Yuri Modin (1994)

Yuri Modin was the controller of the Cambridge Five at the end of WWII and into the 1950s. His memoir has some useful facts about his dealings with the spies (especially John Cairncross), but his access to reliable information is naturally flawed. He offers some problematic ideas about the confessions of Blunt and Cairncross that need to be recorded as they constitute part of the mythology.

On Cairncross, he writes that ‘some people say he was finally exposed by MI5 in 1964. I think he confessed, but well before that date, in 1951 or possibly 1952’. He goes on to state that he is convinced that ‘Cairncross told everything he knew in the early 1950s, in exchange for a promise of immunity.’ Of course, Cairncross did make a very constrained confession in 1952, but the evidence thereafter confirms that it was only after Blunt’s confession that he extended his story, but even that failed to do justice to his complete record of espionage, which was revealed in KGB archives.

As for Blunt, Modin tends to overstate Blunt’s attachment to Guy Burgess, and interprets Blunt’s desire to confess as a reaction to Burgess’s death in August 1963. He introduces yet a new date (early 1964, ‘soon after’ Blunt’s death) for the timing of Blunt’s confession, and describes it as follows: “All the same, he prepared and refined the actual content of his confession with the greatest care, and delivered it only when he had received the assurance of the Attorney-General that he would be immune to prosecution if he revealed the truth about his dealings with the Soviets.”

Where Modin gained this intelligence is not clear. There is no doubt a measure of truth about Blunt’s carefully honed confession, but to suggest that he was in control of the whole process does not bear close analysis.

‘The Perfect English Spy’

The Perfect English Spy by Tom Bower (1995)

Tom Bower took over from Andrew Boyle the project of writing Dick White’s biography, since Boyle had died in 1991. Boyle had gained White’s confidence for a while, but had also annoyed him by pressing too hard on some sensitive matters. Nevertheless, the very wary response Boyle received from White on the Blunt case proved to him that this was a sore subject with the only man to have been head of MI5 and MI6.

The Perfect English Spy is a bit of a muddle, written without a lot of precision, and relying too much on volumes like Spycatcher, and unattributable or undocumented conversations Bower had with various figures in intelligence. Yet it has enough substance to provide another dimension to the Molehunt – the fact that White, having held a prominent role in MI5’s counterespionage operations from the day Blunt joined in 1940 to the day White retired in 1956, had even more at stake in protecting his own reputation, and that of the Service, than did Hollis himself. White’s involvement in the action thus explains a lot of the successful cooperation between the CIA and British Intelligence, with Maurice Oldfield (White’s representative in Washington) and White himself acting as go-betweens to Arthur Martin and Hollis in MI5 (Martin having been White’s loyal sidekick in the Burgess/Maclean/Philby deception of 1951: see DickWhite’sDevilishPlot).

Thus Bower starts off by emphasizing Martin’s close relationship with White, and the reinforcing to him of Angleton’s persistent declarations about Soviet penetration. White shows a lot of trust in Martin, and encourages him, in early 1963, to approach Hollis on the need for a proper investigation, even following up by speaking to Hollis about the requirement for Graham Mitchell to be surveilled. At the same time, Angleton of the CIA is applying pressure on Oldfield on the Golitsyn testimony, and encourages Oldfield and Martin to invite the defector to Britain that summer, where he causes some havoc. Hollis acts unreasonably: White is clearly in charge of the investigation. The rather ineffective Martin Furnival Jones has been moved in a position within MI5 to head the investigation, and the even less impressive Cumming takes over as Martin’s boss in D Division.

It is here that Bower calls out White for being overimpressed by Martin, whom Bower categorises as ‘not a trained intelligence officer nor a skilled interrogator; hardworking but with no understanding of the history of espionage’. Readers should bear this in mind when they consider why Martin was selected as the officer most likely to obtain, working on his own, a confession from Blunt in April 1964.

When the Mitchell affair petered out, an important meeting was held in September 1963, at Hollis’s house (Bower does not record who else was there), where White strongly recommended that MI5 inform the CIA and the FBI about the state of the case, and their ongoing concerns. In Bower’s account, Hollis ‘reluctantly agreed ‘to fly to Washington to do just that. [This is in contrast to the description by Peter Wright (see above) of what was perhaps a meeting with his officers immediately afterwards, where Hollis grabbed the reins and told his subordinates that he was going to Washington.]  Hollis apparently received a derisory reception there, especially from Angleton and the CIA, although Hoover and Sullivan of the FBI were also fairly contemptuous. Bower then writes: “Martin heard about Hollis’s humiliation from Angleton. At the same time, Angleton invited Martin to consult with him in Washington.” No dates, or items of correspondence identified, and Bower does not specifically say that Martin had flown out in Hollis’s wake (a fact we have learned elsewhere). Yet, while Martin (of MI5) dealing with the CIA’s Angleton was highly irregular, it does provide a clue as to how the CIA, behind Hoover’s back, and surely with Oldfield’s assistance, was able to engineer the meeting between Straight and Martin in January 1964. And it adds another wrinkle to the question of Martin’s primary mission in visiting the Unites States at that time.

The narrative thins out after that. Straight repeats his story to Martin, who returns to Britain excited by the disclosure [patently untrue, and an echo of Martin’s dissemblance marked earlier]. He gives his report to Hollis, and they meet with White, who was apparently ‘shaken’ by the revelation. Accusations against Blunt had been common in Leconfield House, but White claimed to have been ignorant of the whole business. White thus had to face the dilemma of protecting the Queen and the Government from embarrassment, and pursuing the right cause, which would be prosecution. He consults Trend, who advises him of the political realities. White tells Hollis that sufficient evidence would never be found to prosecute any of the Cambridge Five, so the plan to trap/entice Blunt with a pardon goes ahead.

Apart from Hollis and White, Bower indicates that only Burke Trend, the Home Secretary (Brooke) and the Attorney-General (Hobson) were in on the deal.  Now Bower uses Penrose and Freeman as his source for the event of April 23, 1964. How much Martin knew, going in to the Courtauld that day, is not clear. In any case, he soon got incensed by the lack of aggression in going after Blunt, and Blunt’s less than comprehensive revelations., and incurred the wrath of Hollis and Cumming. He was thus suspended, and later transferred to MI6, to work under his old mentor, Dick White, As Bower shrewdly observes, at this time White appeared to express more sympathy for Martin and Wright than he did for Hollis.

‘The Enigma Spy’

The Enigma Spy by John Cairncross (1995)

Cairncross’s posthumously published memoir had a chequered history. The author Nigel West apparently had some agreement with Cairncross and his wife, Gayle, before John died in October 1995, and was the chosen ‘ghost-writer’ to compile an autobiography from various jottings, letters, etc. But Gayle Cairncross developed other ideas, tried to buy West out of his contract, and engaged Ronnie Challoner to take over as ghost-writer. The result was a highly-sanitised account of Cairncross’s espionage, which cast him in a much better light than he deserved.

Thus The Enigma Spy cannot be treated as a reliable source, since events are distorted or overlooked to minimise Cairncross’s culpability. Yet, as so often happens with such works, the larger issues are falsely represented, but minor observations (and omissions) betray much more about the author’s integrity and intentions. Cairncross’s account of the events of 1963 and 1964 starts with the job offer from Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, enabled through Professor Raymond Picard. While he was working in Karachi at the time, his visa application had to go through the American Consulate in Rome, since that was where he had last resided. No problems arose, and, in Cairncross’s words: “On my return from Pakistan to London I therefore had to fly to Rome to make my visa application.” This is an important detail: Cairncross was in London while his visa request was being processed.

The academic’s first few months in Cleveland are described with enthusiasm by Cairncross, but he then implodes his whole story by describing a knock on the door of his room at the Hotel Commodore in mid-April. (Would he not have had to find lodgings by then?) It was a member of the FBI who informed him that Arthur Martin of MI5 ‘would be calling on me shortly’. Martin duly turned up, and, without giving any indication at first that he had fresh evidence, pressed Cairncross to tell him the full story. We know from other sources that the initial interview with Cairncross had been in February, and that Martin had gone back in March to determine whether Cairncross would be willing to return to the UK to give a confession under caution. Cairncross collapses the episode to one event, and gets the date woefully wrong.

Yet Cairncross was apparently clever enough to assess, solely from Martin’s claim that he had not told the whole story, that ‘the remark was enough to convey to me that someone had spoken.’ He adds in parentheses that ‘His informant was again Anthony Blunt, the man who had organized my recruitment without appearing on the scene himself.’ Why did Cairncross present this so cagily? Did he want to pretend that he discovered that Blunt had been an informer much later? Why did he not express any annoyance at this betrayal? And another extraordinary giveaway occurs: “The other point on which Martin questioned me was my connection with the four members of the Cambridge Group.” Not three – four. If reliable, Martin’s aside would undoubtedly point to the fact that Blunt had already been identified as the Fourth Man, which was directly antithetical to the way MI5 preferred to represent its conclusions at this time.

The spy then chooses to describe how he intended to ‘make an end to this cat and mouse game once and for all’. Yet there is no discussion of a pardon, or the risk of his being extradited and prosecuted. “Finally, however, I decided to take a strong whisky [Were large whisky – or even whiskey – bottles available in Cleveland hotel rooms in 1964? I doubt it.] and make a full confession of my association with the KGB.” He and Martin covered the usual ground – including the claim that James Klugmann recruited him – and Cairncross offered spontaneously to sign a statement at the end of the interrogation. “To my complete amazement, Martin said that a great many people had been mixed up in the affair, by which he clearly meant that no such gesture on my part was called for, and that it was planned to keep everything under wraps.” This exchange will have to be assessed carefully, given how vitriolic Martin was later reported to be when Blunt and Cairncross were allowed to go free.

The narrative trails off rather incoherently after this. The FBI apparently warned Cairncross that he would be arrested if he set foot in London again: Cairncross does not explain why this advice differed from Martin’s, or why even the FBI should be the source of such guidance. He adds, however, that he expected to be shipped back to England to face trial. He did have to make a statement to the FBI, which must have hastened the relinquishing of his professorship in Cleveland. At the end of the semester, he left for Paris, and then Rome, where Martin (and Peter Wright) again put him through an interrogation. The fact that he was invited to provide testimony against Klugmann in London implicitly confirmed that such cooperation carried immunity from prosecution with it. Otherwise, silence reigned for almost seven years.

‘Anthony Blunt: his lives’

Anthony Blunt: his lives by Miranda Carter (2001)

One might expect an elegantly-written, well-researched, prize-winning biography of the spy to produce some new insights on Anthony Blunt’s treachery and the immunity he was granted. Miranda Carter’s work fails to do so – not for want of trying, but because she lacks an insight into the multi-layered deceptions of the intelligence world. She conducted interviews with well over one hundred named sources in her research, with many more who wished to remain unidentified, but it would have been a miracle if a sustainable image of Blunt had arisen from such a multitude of voices.

Her broad research leads her to some highly original observations, but she lacks the inquisitiveness to drive more deeply. At the beginning of this piece, I listed her citations of evidence that Blunt may have confessed beforehand: she does not know to handle the contradictions, falling weakly on the statement ‘Blunt would not confess until 1964.’ Similarly, when introducing the Straight anecdote, and describing how he decided to ‘unburden himself’, Carter merely comments: “The FBI, for its own reasons, waited for several months before telling Arthur Martin . . .” Those reasons, and whether they were in fact genuine, beg for further examination, but it was a challenging topic that could have derailed Carter for years. There was little information to go by apart from all the doubtless conflicting testimonies of those chattering experts which became, as Carter put it ‘the marrow of this book’.

Thus Carter relies on those old mainstays, Penrose & Freeman, and Peter Wright, for most of her narrative of the events surrounding the April 1964 confrontation between Blunt and Martin. As for Cairncross, she defers to Wright in reporting how Leo Long and Cairncross were brought in for questioning, and ‘confident that they like Blunt, must be safe from prosecution, confessed their involvement’. The fact that she had earlier reported that the reason why Martin was in America was to interview John Cairncross is soon forgotten. Did she not ask any of her distinguished interlocutors whether they detected any contradiction in these events?

One last comment. Carter states that the divisions of opinion, within MI5, over communist infiltration, were heightened because of educational matters. “The divisions were all the more bitter because Martin and Wright were perceived, and perceived themselves, as outsiders in the public-school-dominated world of MI5.” Wright was educated at Bishop Stortford’s, the same school that Dick White attended, and he then went on to St. Peter’s, Oxford. There may be a highly insightful and educational lesson to be given here, but this is not it.

‘Last of the Cold War Spies’

Last of the Cold War Spies by Roland Perry (2005)

Roland Perry is an Australian investigative journalist who has produced works that display some dogged research, but lack a guiding methodology. I tried to contact him a few years ago, with questions about his rather sloppy biography of Victor Rothschild, The Fifth Man, which raised some challenging theories, but left whole parts of Rothschild’s life unexplored. I never received a reply. In his biography of Michael Straight, Last of the Cold War Spies, Perry shows some of the same traits: a willingness to drive down into some overlooked details, but also a naïve susceptibility in believing that members and ex-members of intelligence services are going to tell him the truth. As he writes in his Acknowledgments: “Other contemporary and retired employees of several spy agencies – notably the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the CIA, the U.S. National Security Agency, the KGB (RIS), French intelligence, MI6 and MI5 – were all essential sources in establishing solid information and facts, and certain theories.” The FBI must have been very miffed at being left out, and not being given the chance to spin its particular view through such a valuable outlet.

What Perry does bring to the table is a close analysis of Michael Straight’s movements. Thus he introduces 1963 by informing us that Straight visited Dartington in April (‘his third trip inside a year’), and while in London, stayed at 42 Upper Brook Street. ‘It was a short walk from Blunt’s flat in Portman Square.” Yet this leads to a combination of valid supposition and a stretched hypothesis.  “The odds are that these two now mature intriguers would have met, using their long-time skills at avoiding the watchers from MI5. The topic of Golitsyn, which was presently hot within British intelligence circle, would have been discussed. Perhaps this was the time when they decided – at the next propitious moment –  to make a deceptive confession.”

Or maybe it was not the time. Straight had not yet been offered the job by President Kennedy, he was certainly not practised at avoiding MI5 surveillance teams, and it is difficult to imagine Anthony Blunt dodging around London Underground Stations in order to meet Straight in some dingy suburban park or pub. The idea that Straight and Blunt might have felt the need to act first to pre-empt Golitsyn does have some merit, however, and Perry makes an astute observation about Golitsyn’s return to the US in August 1963, having had an opportunity to study British intelligence files. Straight could afford to relax a bit: he had handled his FBI interrogators well, and they seemed rather clueless about events in Britain.

In September, Straight had an important meeting with Richard Nixon, when they discussed Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. He then appeared in Britain again. Perry’s examination of Dartington Hall’s Visitors’ Book reveals that Straight and his wife stayed there from October 11-14, 1963, before flying on to Greece. If there were a more pivotal time to discuss matters with Blunt, this would have been it. Might Straight have contacted Blunt by letter, or even the telephone? Perry avoids the opportunity, however, and says nothing about the FBI’s apparent sluggishness in informing MI5 about Straight’s confession before describing Martin’s surprise encounter with Straight in Washington.

And then Perry falls into the role of gullible insider-led investigator. “ . . . Martin and MI5 were excited. They seemed to have concrete leads at last, Martin hurried back to England, thrilled by his ‘coup’”. The Conspiracy of Silence melodrama is next invoked, except this time we gain the fresh insight that Blunt poured himself a large Scotch. Martin then accepted Blunt’s claim (necessary for the immunity deal) that he had not spied after 1945. Once again, the author, having correctly described the reason for Martin’s mission to the USA in February 1964, records that Blunt divulged Cairncross’s name, and that Cairncross made similar admissions when Martin visited him in Rome. “Once more it was suggested he would not face prosecution if he confessed,” he writes.

‘Triplex’

Triplex by Nigel West (2009)

West’s compilation focuses on the reproduction of documents passed by some of the Cambridge Five (Blunt, Philby and Cairncross) to the NKVD, with translations back to English of the texts that had formerly been translated from the English to the Russian. It is remarkable in this context for a statement West makes in his Introduction: “Cairncross, implicated inadvertently by documents left behind by Burgess, resigned from his post in the Treasury in 1951 and finally confessed to a joint MI5-FBI interrogation team in the United States in 1963.”

What is going on here? Cairncross was never in the United States in 1963. He underwent serial, separate interrogations by Arthur Martin, and the FBI, from February 1964 onwards. If a joint ’team’ (which suggests more than one officer from MI5) was at work, it must have been in London, in December 1963, when Cairncross made his visa application, and travelled to Italy via London. Thus a vigorous hint towards FBI-MI5 collaboration over Cairncross has appeared, but it lacks any kind of verifiable source. I thus wrote to Nigel West, asking for details on his source, and how he now interpreted the data.

Mr. West responded promptly, and was generous with his time. He admitted that the year should have been 1964, but after that we spoke somewhat at cross-purposes. He did not address my question about a ‘joint MI5-FBI team’, saying only that the FBI witnessed Martin’s interrogation of Cairncross. He claimed that the idea of ‘a second bite at the cherry’ meant that the first bite had been back in 1952, an association I found not a little incongruous. He said that ‘Martin had to be discreet about his introduction to Straight as Bill Sullivan had been ordered not to reveal his existence’. West added: “Martin’s appointment with Cairncross in Cleveland was by appointment, and it was agreed that the FBI would observe, but not participate. Cairncross attended because he was anxious about his job and thought his visa would be cancelled if he failed to cooperate with MI5.” He didn’t think that Freeman and Penrose had ever met Martin.

Part of my response ran as follows: “It is difficult for me to see how an interview described as a ‘second bite at the cherry’ could refer to one given twelve years before hand as the assumed ‘first bite’. It was surely difficult for Martin to be ‘discreet’ after his introduction by Sullivan. After all, what did Sullivan expect would happen? That Martin would be able to carry out an investigation back in London without Hollis knowing? My suspicion is that Hoover had a secret deal with Hollis, whereby both agreed to bury Blunt and Straight, and then Angleton got involved, annoyed that was nothing was happening after the Straight confession. Oldfield, White’s man in Washington, had been grooming Angleton, and Martin was White’s old sidekick from the 1951 events. So Sullivan (who disliked Hoover considerably) was used to effect the introduction. Hollis was naturally annoyed when Martin came back with the news, but couldn’t do anything since he was in White’s pocket. He then suspended Martin, and Martin went over to MI6.’ I continued:

“Penrose and Freeman’s Chapter 18 is almost entirely dependent upon interviews they claimed they had with Martin in 1985, including the description of the Martin-Blunt encounter at the Courtauld, which has been used by multiple writers as a reliable source since. Of course, in 2009, Andrew revealed the real ‘document’. Isn’t it strange how the recent interview with Cairncross is suddenly added to Martin’s narrative, while Blunt appears to show no reaction whatsoever?”

Mr. West did not reply to this message.

The Sources – Wave 4: The Archives Come Into Play

CIA files on Straight (released March 2007) (https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP88-01070R000100570002-1.pdf)

This item is at least dated – a transcript of a conversation between Michael Straight and Fred Fiske on the WAMU station in Washington on January 26, 1983, following the publication of After Long Silence. The dialogue is overall unremarkable, but it does contain a few gems that contribute to the debate. It appears that Fiske and Straight must have had some preliminary discussions to lubricate the interchange. Very early on (p 2), Fiske throws Straight a leading question:

FISKE: You had a 15-minute private meeting with him [Blunt] before the British intelligence people came in, and he thanked you for it. He said he was expecting the other shoe to drop for a longtime and he was relieved.

            Now if he thanked you for it, who’s criticizing you?

Straight does not deny Fiske’s assertion, nor does he directly answer his interlocutor’s question. Yet the suggestion of a private meeting before Blunt’s confession is startling. It cannot be the well-publicized visit in August 1964 (described in After Long Silence), since Blunt had confessed four months beforehand. It cannot be the publicized date of the confession, in April, as there are no records of Straight’s being in England at that time. It could, however, have taken place in those days in the middle of October, 1963, when Straight was shown to have been in England. Yet the formality of it all is bewildering: that he should then be allowed some time with Blunt ’before the British Intelligence people came in’ indicated a high degree of collaboration, as well as pointing to a late 1963 confession by Blunt.

Straight gives away some other clues. On page 9, he is outspoken in saying that he recognized that Blunt was a member and spokesman of the Communist International, not just an anti-fascist group, as he had hinted at before. Without identifying Martin, on page 15, he characterises him as follows: ‘The British Intelligence officer who interrogated me at great length and who on the basis of this information that I gave him confronted Blount [sic] and forced Blount to confess was the original, I think, for George Smiley in this series we’ve all watched and admired.” [An advancement on Penrose’s and Freeman’s analogy, outlined above.] Apart from the dubious correlation of the deceitful and unpractised officer, Martin, with the subtle and principled Smiley, one has to marvel at Martin’s sudden achievement in forcing Blunt to confess. After all, the accounts we have read indicate that Martin’s contribution was amateurish and ham-fisted. Moreover, if Straight had spoken to Blunt, and convinced him to confess, before the MI5 contingent trooped in in, what was there left for Martin to do?

This is another significant item of evidence that has not been granted the attention it deserves.

Defending the Realm by Christopher Andrew (2009)

Christopher Andrew’s authorised history is the dominating influence in this section. I have covered it earlier, but remind readers now that Andrew’s rendering of the unidentifiable document from the Security Service’s Archive introduces the sentence: “I added that only a week or two ago I had been through a similar scene with John Cairncross who had finally confessed and afterwards thanked me for making him do so.” Why has the reference to Cairncross been omitted from all the accounts to date? Could it be that some shrewd censor at MI5, in reviewing Andrew’s copy, observed that it would be very odd if the transcription of the meeting failed to recognize the fact of Martin’s recent encounter with Cairncross? Perhaps that sentence was thus inserted – into the archive, and into the history. Yet no one stopped to think: if Martin had really informed Blunt of Cairncross’s confession, would Blunt not have displayed some reaction of note?

Another highly significant feature of Andrew’s account consists in his coverage of Martin. He indicates that Martin (now reporting to Malcolm Cumming) flew out to Washington a day later than did Hollis, at the end of September 1963. Cumming had immediately become suspicious of Martin when he discovered his ‘dirty tricks’ in feeding bogus ‘barium meal’ intelligence to Mitchell through himself, and judged Martin to have serious character defects. In the US, the CIA, the FBI and the RMCP were all very sceptical about the case against Mitchell. Yet Andrew goes on to write: “By the time Martin flew to Washington, the direction of the PETERS case (the investigation into Mitchell) had been taken out of his hands. The investigative part of his section, D1, was split off as D1/Inv, whose head became increasingly doubtful about the case against Mitchell, partly as a result of the scepticism of the CIA and FBI.” Andrew also records that the new head of D1/Inv complained to Hollis in the summer of 1964 that Martin was undermining his authority.

This passage throws up a few anomalies:

  1. How could the decision have already been made, based partly on the scepticism of the FBI and the CIA, if it occurred before the briefing that Hollis reluctantly agreed to perform?
  2. If Cumming had already decided that Martin needed to be discouraged, why did he not consult with Hollis, and even recommend that Martin not be sent as an emissary to support Hollis with the details of the investigation? Did Hollis know about his decision before he left?
  3. Why did Martin fly out the day after Hollis did? Would it not have been useful for them to confer on the flight? Did Hollis need to consult with Hoover privately before Martin’s arrival?
  4. If PETERS was no longer in Martin’s hands, and Martin was considered a liability, why was he entrusted with a further mission to the US in January 1964, ostensibly to interrogate Cairncross?
  5. Furthermore, why was Martin, with all the antagonism he had caused, and with no successful experience in interrogation, chosen to confront Blunt?

Some of these questions may have been addressed by Peter Wright. In Spycatcher, he indicates that the reorganization of D Branch was initiated by Hollis in October 1964, over a year later. Since Andrew, as is habitual, does not provide a specific identifiable source for his claim, we cannot inspect it. Moreover, Wright states that the head of D1, Ronnie Symonds (who had compiled the report on Mitchell), complained to Cumming and Hollis about Martin’s behaviour soon after the reorganization, which led to Martin’s dismissal in November. Malcolm Cumming was the officer who recruited Dick White to MI5, and Arthur Martin was White’s sidekick in the Burgess-Maclean affair. Cumming also recruited Peter Wright. Is it possible that White was still pulling the strings from his base in MI6?

The FBI Vault: Michael Straight (https://vault.fbi.gov/michael-straight)

The timing of the records released by the FBI is not given, but they were presumably made available to the public around this time. A comprehensive report on the interview that Straight had with FBI agents in June 1963 can be seen from page 134.

Yet pages 41 and 42 tell a more startling story. In June 1965, Straight was interviewed in depth about Americans who had attended Cambridge University at the time he was there. He was further interviewed on June 6, 1966. In a follow up letter to the Director of the FBI, dated June 14, which appears to have been written during an investigation into Philby, the anonymous author writes:

During interview STRAIGHT related about five years ago he had been interviewed by an officer of MI-5 who came over to this country for the interview and had furnished his recollections of Britons who were involved in communist activities during his days at Cambridge University.

            STRAIGHT mentioned later he had gone to England and confronted Professor ANTHONY BLUNT with his allegations concerning BLUNT with the result that BLUNT had broken and admitted his involvement in Soviet intelligence.

Apart from the shaky syntax of Straight’s statement (it appears that the MI5 officer had been doing the ‘furnishing’), what does this tell us? First, the timing. Straight said ‘about five years ago’, which would put the event in June 1961. It is difficult to imagine how vague Straight could have been in recollecting dates, but the actual distance of three years is presumably acceptable. But the astonishing item of information is the claim that he had gone to England, and confronted Blunt. This must have been in the latter months of 1963, and suggests that Blunt made a confession soon after in response to Straight’s approaches, and not to the clumsy negotiations of Arthur Martin. This is another extraordinary item of evidence that appears to have been completely overlooked.

After this, the account of Straight’s confession, dated June 25, 1963, appears rather bland. He described the Communist group (outside the Communist Party) at Cambridge, that was led by Cornford and Klugmann, and led from that in to the now famous meeting between him and Blunt, which resulted in his moving to Wall Street, as a sacrifice similar to that of Cornford’s, who had died in Spain. He suspected that Guy Burgess was behind Blunt’s approaches to him.

‘Treachery’

Treachery by Chapman Pincher (2012)

Treachery is something of an anomaly in this set. Pincher was not renowned for his scrupulous use of sources, but the recent publication of Andrew’s history propelled him – quite justifiably – to point out the neglect of so many verifiable incidents by the authorised historian. Yet Pincher misses an opportunity to ground in solid facts his argument that Hollis was the arch-fiend within MI5, and in fact his obsession with Hollis leads him into some embarrassingly conflicted analysis.

Pincher stumbles over the Straight incident, having apparently forgotten much of the reports that had been written since Too Secret Too Long. He refers to the ‘chance event’ in Washington in June 1963, but then, avoiding all the stories about FBI jealousies, and probable meetings between the FBI and MI5, simply goes on to write: “Straight was not interviewed by MI5 until January 1964 . . .”.  Martin presented the news to Hollis and White, who were both ‘dreadful[ly] embarrassed’. Pincher then describes a delay in questioning Blunt that was ‘imposed by Hollis’, but, since Martin had returned from the USA only at the end of March, this was hardly a delay of significant proportion. Pincher finesses the whole issue of why the FBI information did not get to Hollis earlier. He boasts of the fact that it was he who eventually exposed Straight publicly, and the conducted several interviews with him, but they were clearly a wasted opportunity.

Overall, Pincher greatly overstates the influence that Hollis had on the pact with Blunt. He hardly mentions White’s role in the affair, and completely ignores Burke Trend, the Cabinet Secretary, who was intimately involved in the processes, even to the extent of agreeing not to inform the Prime Minister. He presents Hollis as a friend of Blunt, and suggests that Hollis may have secretly approached him before the deal, to discover the terms on which he was prepared to admit his guilt. White had been much closer to Blunt, and had felt personally betrayed, and to ignore his role shows a strong measure of obtuseness on Pincher’s part.

And then we have Pincher’s version of the 23rd April event. This differs from Andrew’s version. “Arthur Martin visited Blunt’s apartment and wasted no time in telling him that MI5 had acquired proof that he had been a Soviet spy during the war. He said that he had been authorised by the attorney general to offer him immunity from prosecution.” No mention of Straight. No mention of Cairncross. No attempt to get Blunt to confess before the immunity offer is drawn out of the bag. No source is given for Pincher’s informant. He then reports that Martin had informed Costello that he was convinced that Hollis had warned Blunt in advance that he had been blown by Straight.

Pincher is inherently sceptical about the legitimacy of the confession, and how it was staged, but cannot divert himself from the Hollis-campaign to consider how he may have been hoodwinked by his informants. “As both Hollis and White [with a rare deference to White’s involvement] desperately wanted Blunt to agree, it would be surprising if he had not been instructed in some detail how to behave when confronted”, he writes. Pincher gets very close to the truth, but cannot conceive that maybe Blunt had already confessed several months ago.

Martin’s goose was cooked. Pincher suggest that after consulting White [my italics], Hollis called a meeting of his directors, and ‘seized the opportunity to get rid of him’, his rebellious officer, Martin. Moreover, Martin was offered a transfer to MI6, ‘where White was keen to acquire him’. It is further evidence that White was in charge of the whole business: Martin had performed his job, and could move on to bolster the team investigating the Moles.

Lastly, Pincher displays a very haphazard knowledge of the Cairncross affair. He starts his description of Cairncross’s role with the absurd sentence: “For a short spell, Cairncross was in America, teaching at Cleveland University, where Arthur Martin warned him to get out, as he was about to be expelled from the US following action by the FBI.” This statement contains so many obvious and blatant errors or misinformation that I shall not bother to list them. Yet Pincher has a hunch that things are not quite right (has he forgotten the accounts of Cairncross’s confession?), as he goes on to write that, after he moved to Rome, ‘he was questioned by Martin and Wright, who secured a further [my italics] confession containing details of his recruitment’. Further to his unrecognized confession in Cleveland? Or further to his confession in 1952?

A summary of Cairncross’s Enigma Spy is then presented, but Pincher cannot even bring himself to mention Cairncross’s wildly erroneous date for his confession to Martin in Cleveland. The more one inspects Pincher’s prose, the more unreliable and fantastic his stories become. The coverage of Straight, Blunt and Cairncross is another stunning example.

‘The Shadow Man’

The Shadow Man by Geoff Andrews (2015)

Andrews’s biography of James Klugmann has much historical value: in respect of Cairncross, it carefully lays out how Klugmann, the open member of the Communist Party, was able to recruit Cairncross to the cause when Blunt and Burgess had failed.

Yet in his coverage of the affairs of Straight, Blunt and Cairncross, Andrews is lost at sea. First of all he fumbles over the date of the visit by Arthur Martin in Cleveland – ‘just two months after taking up his appointment’. He then goes on to make the following remarkable assertion: “On this visit, helped by information from Blunt – who had, by now, confessed, though this was not made public for another 12 years – and the ongoing investigations into Philby’s disappearance in 1963, succeeded in extracting a confession from Cairncross about his own espionage.”

Well, it was actually fifteen years before Blunt’s confession was made public, but no matter. The extraordinary dimension to this statement is that Andrews makes a confident claim that Blunt had already confessed, i.e. before Andrews’ implicit date of March 1964, and implicitly before the actual date of mid-January 1964. Andrews must surely have been conscious of the prevailing intelligence (he cites Defence of the Realm in his sources, and quotes a passage from it in this very chapter), but can quite blithely declare that Blunt’s information helped Martin in extracting the confession.

Yet Andrews is not finished in his caprices. He continues: “Cairncross was told that the matter was treated ‘very seriously’, had been discussed by the British cabinet, and he should be in no doubt that there would be big headlines if the news got out. It was made clear that as things stood he would be arrested if he returned to Britain, with the prospect of a long sentence, something that was confirmed to him by the FBI. However, Martin told him that his confession would not be made public on the understanding that he would not return to England permanently.” It is not clear where Andrews gained his information, which even includes a quotation, as if from some document. He provides no sources. The mixture of clumsy veiled threats by Martin to Cairncross, while all the time MI5 was desperately trying to keep the lid on things (whom did they think those headlines would embarrass most?), combined with threats about prosecution, and advice on staying out of Britain, is quite ridiculous.

Andrews completes his coverage of these events with the information that, after Cairncross was duly required to leave the USA ‘only a couple of months after arriving’ (not true), he received another visit from Martin in Rome, this time accompanied by Peter Wright. In his stumbling way, Andrews shines fresh light on the fact of the late 1963 confession by Blunt.

FCO 158/129 – ‘Foreign and Colonial Office file on John Cairncross, 1953-1982’ (released 23 October, 2015)

This file constitutes firm evidence that the Foreign Office was being hoodwinked by the cabal of Hollis and White, Burke Trend, the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General. The items within it are very fragmented, often with only one side of a correspondence included, and it is therefore difficult to string together a coherent narrative. The dominant themes can be represented as follows:

The proceedings begin with a letter from ‘MRS’ of MI5, dated February 7, 1964 writing to Street in the Foreign Office. This announces that Cairncross has applied for a US Immigration Visa ‘and has been the subject of correspondence between us and the Americans under reference PF.72,493/c3D/2.’ This unreleased file strongly suggests that MI5 and the FBI have been in intense discussion about the visa application, and how to respond to it. Yet very quickly, the story gets tangled. Street writes to his superiors the very same day, including Sir Bernard Burrows, who appears to have been sharing the post of Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office with Howard Caccia, but was also Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee from 1963 to 1966. It appears that Street has since talked to Cumming, the head of D Division, on the telephone. He tells them that Cairncross has applied ‘urgently’ for the visa.

Street then reveals the scheme that MI5 had been cooking up, and unwittingly betrays the lies that MI5 has started spinning. He writes: “The Security Service have felt for some time that they never got the full truth out of Cairncross and when they first heard of his visa application it occurred to them that in the United States, Cairncross might be prepared to talk more freely, where he would be outside the jurisdiction. It happens that Mr. Arthur Martin, the head of the Soviet Counter-Espionage Section, is in the United States and could talk to Cairncross if this were thought appropriate.” This is a very tantalising suggestion. Either Street received a true notice from MI5 – that Martin had indeed travelled to the USA on other business (perhaps to meet Straight?) – or MI5 was trying to make it appear a fortunate circumstance that Martin would be able to interrogate him.  Whatever the truth, MI5’s goal becomes immediately clear: they want to extract information from Cairncross, but they do not want to prosecute him.

The contortions that MI5 was now wrapping itself in are displayed. The FBI has told MI5 that they think the US Immigration Service should be given the full security facts on Cairncross. So far, all they appear to know is that he had been a Communist in the 1930s. But, if MI5 gives the full story, the visa application would probably be refused, and that would cause embarrassment, as the news would get out that a British citizen had been rejected, and the public would want to know why. MI5 might be justified in withholding information for a short visit, but for a long-term employment opportunity, it would be difficult to approve such a policy

Burrows thinks the type of visa is irrelevant. It is important (he writes) not to give a chance for any US authority to say the British have withheld information. It would cause great embarrassment if the visa request were withheld from a British citizen because of information given to the US authorities by Her Majesty’s Government. He recommends giving the CIA authority to inform the US Immigration Service, but adding the strong request that, if the visa were refused, it should not be attributed to information from the British government. Harrison, “C”, and Carrington all agree. The Foreign Office is now compliant in the plot.

By February 18, Street reports that the visa has been granted, and that Cairncross has already confessed to Martin! This news causes Burrows and Caccia alarm, as now Cairncross may be deported, and they wonder whether the ‘alert procedure’ should be brought into play. These two senior civil servants want Cairncross brought to justice. They now have an inkling of what is going on, but disapprove of the actions taken. Here Caccia makes his insightful statement about MI5’s manœuvrings: “At the same time I am bound to say I think MI5 are taking a lot on themselves in deciding without any reference not to pursue such cases at some time (in this instance in Rome, Bangkok, and U.K.) and then to go ahead at others (here in USA). The political implications of this decision do not appear to have been weighed: only those of the mystery of spy-catching. However effective this may now have been proved, it is apt to leave us with a number of difficult questions to answer.” He hit the nail on the head.

There follow a few ancillary comments and resolutions: Guidance for the Press, Trend’s weaselly accounts of the meetings at 10 Downing Street [which I shall cover later], in turn echoed by Hollis, some exploration of US deportation law, and how Cairncross might be affected by it, and the approaches to Cairncross to determine whether he would be prepared to make a statement under caution, even suggestions that Cairncross’s brother, Alex, a financial adviser to the Foreign Office, may have come under suspicion. There is a report by Hollis, which raises the possibility that Cairncross was a member of Golitsyn’s Ring of Five. And right at the end, is a humorous entry by Street, who records on August 12, 1964 that he had encountered Arthur Martin. “I asked Mr. A. S. Martin today whether anything of interest to the Foreign Office had emerged from his interrogation of John Cairncross. He said that Cairncross had admitted to having been recruited by the R.I.S. shortly after he entered the Foreign Office in 1936. Otherwise nothing of interest.” Very droll.

‘Spymaster’

Spymaster by Martin Pearce (2016)

One would not expect a biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield to carry much of relevance to the Straight episodes, but Martin Pearce (who is a nephew of the late Sir Maurice) in his 2016 work introduces a provocative incident. Richard Davenport-Hines was generous enough to offer a blurb: “An exemplary biography . . .I cannot think of a better biography of a spy chief”, a plaudit that may reflect the paucity of biographies of spy chiefs, a subtle disdain for Bower’s Perfect English Spy and Cave- Brown’s “C”, the regrettable fact of Davenport-Hines’s fading memory, or possibly a combination of all three explanations. It cannot be because of the book’s Sources, since these are sketchy at best.

Pearce sets up a plausible set of circumstances for Oldfield’s involvement – in the wake of the Philby disaster he had been sent over by White to ‘ingratiate him with the CIA, and with James Angleton in particular’, a job he did very well – and, according to Pearce, Martin flew to Washington to join Oldfield and James Angleton to discuss Golitsyn’s theories. So there was a history of collaboration between Martin and Oldfield. The key passage appears when Pearce describes Straight’s approach to the FBI, when the case is passed to Bill Sullivan.

“Sullivan liaised with his MI6 associate Maurice Oldfield, and Oldfield arranged for Arthur Martin of MI5 to fly out to interview Straight.” Where did this anecdote come from?

Pearce’s sources for the chapter (‘Mesmerised by Moles’) are the predictable list of ‘Molehunt’ books, as well as ‘National Archive material’, but he does not identify any direct source for this statement, or for any other. Now this series of connections is in some sense quite plausible, reflecting the reputation that Oldfield had won in Washington, the regard in which Dick White held him, and White’s and Oldfield’s closeness to Arthur Martin, but it leaves a lot unexplained. Sullivan’s association with British intelligence was through MI5, not MI6, Oldfield could not have ‘arranged’ for Martin to be sent out without Hollis’s authority, and the absence of any dating of these events leaves them in a highly speculative state.

I thus wrote to Pearce just before Christmas 2020, via his press agent, of course, asking about the authority for these remarks, and was informed that no emails would be processed until the New Year. I have not yet received a reply.

CAB 301/270 – ‘John Cairncross, former member of the Foreign Office: confession to spying’ (released July 20, 2017)

For those cold-blooded individuals who are apt to classify all ‘conspiracy theorists’ as undisciplined fantasists, CAB 301/270 should provide a dramatic wakening-up call. This collection of Cabinet papers, containing communications over Arthur Martin’s visit to Cleveland to interrogate John Cairncross, is vivid proof that Burke Trend, the Secretary to the Cabinet, was orchestrating a careful plot to deceive the Prime Minister, the Foreign Office and the public – through manipulation of the Press.

We should remember that Sir Alec Douglas-Home had been appointed Prime Minister only a few months before, in October 1963, and was no doubt overwhelmed with what was going on with his intelligence services. And on February 19, 1964, Trend has to break the news to him that Cairncross has confessed, under interrogation of a representative from MI5, in Cleveland. Anticipating the Prime Minister’s querying why Cairncross could not have been interrogated on British soil (since he had passed through the UK on his way to the United States), Trend observes, in the typically passive voice that indicates no single person shall be held responsible for dubious decisions, that ‘it was thought that an interrogation in the United States might secure better results.’ He happily adds that a full report is awaited, and that the FBI are pleased, and co-operating.

Trend warns the PM that there could be embarrassment, over the failure to interrogate Cairncross in the UK, and the knowledge of his links beforehand. “Was the link between him and Maclean (if this is disclosed?) followed up with sufficient vigour?” He then, rather cryptically, offers two options. Number One is ‘Should Cairncross be discreetly encouraged to leave the US and settle elsewhere (but not UK)?’: Number Two is ‘Should we ask and if necessary put pressure on US authorities to deport him for further interrogation to the UK?’. Trend presumably expected Douglas-Home (who did not have the wary instincts of his predecessor, Harold Macmillan) not to see through the illogicalities of these arguments. Why would MI5 not wish to bring Cairncross back and prosecute him? Why would they want him to settle elsewhere? Why, having assisted the FBI and the Department of Immigration in gaining Cairncross a visa, would the Home Office suddenly want to put pressure on them to deport him? Why would the FBI be pleased that, having just been encouraged to grant a dubious alien a visa, it turns out that the subject has confessed to spying for the Soviet Union for fifteen years?

A busy exchange of memoranda follows. The attitude of the US Immigration authorities cannot be foreseen: ‘we cannot connive at his evading UK conviction, or appear reluctant to have him back in the UK’. (The charade is admitted.) The confession in the US had been volunteered in return for certain inducements; therefore Cairncross’s evidence is inadmissible. Thus a suggestion is made to send a police officer to Cleveland, to see whether Cairncross will repeat his confession ‘under caution’. ‘The best solution would be for Cairncross to decide to leave for a third country’, implying that the government offices will not have to deal with this mess any more. Minuting a meeting held at Number 10 on February 20, Trend makes the absurd statement that they were justified in deciding not to interrogate Cairncross in the UK as ‘we had known virtually no more about him than we had known before’.

The cabal are now in a bind with the FBI, since they do not want it seen that they are applying pressure on the FBI not to return Cairncross, or that they are reluctant to prosecute him, and they certainly do not want it to come out that the British government was applying pressure by suggesting that Cairncross was an undesirable. The Cabinet and Foreign Office make furtive attempts to discern what US deportation policy is. On March 6, they learn that Cairncross has rejected the offer to make a statement under caution (surprise! surprise!). They do not want to refer the whole business to the Security Commission, which would mean bad publicity, and there is a precedent (Philby) for not taking such a move, as opposed to the cases of the Portland Spy Ring, George Blake, and John Vassall. On March 9, Douglas-Home decides that no further action should be taken. The matter is in the hands of the FBI and the US Immigration Service. Maybe it will all blow over.

There is no mention of the Martin-Straight interview in these records.

‘Enemies Within’

Enemies Within by Richard Davenport-Hines (2018)

Richard Davenport-Hines, perhaps the self-appointed authority on the impact of the Cambridge Spies (his book is subtitled ‘Communists, the Cambridge Spies and the Making of Modern Britain’) arrived with an ambitious agenda, a broad knowledge, a breath of fresh air, and some dubious theories. He is overall very critical of the Molehunters (Wright and Martin), and explains how their pursuits eroded the confidence of MI5 for decades. Yet his conclusions rely less on any fresh sources than on his wide knowledge of British society and literary history, and he claims to have discovered underlying trends in educational opportunities, in recruitment into the civil service and Intelligence that have’ transformed the social and political temper of modern Britain’.

That may be, but Davenport-Hines does not dig deeply into the Blunt-Cairncross confessions. He trusts what the conventional authors (Andrew, Wright, Deacon, Costello) tell him. He reminds us that the Straight evidence was concealed from Sir Alec Douglas-Home, but chooses to demean Arthur Martin’s molehunts, seeing him as ‘ominously under the sway of Golitysn’. He cites an internal assessment of Martin, given by John Marriott, who had noted thar despite ‘his undeniable critical and analytical gifts and powers of lucid explanation on paper’, Martin was ‘a rather small-minded man, and I doubt he will much increase in stature as he grows older’. Far from the wily Smiley character portrayed by others.

Thus Davenport-Hines fails to spot the anomalies in Cairncross’s confession occurring before Blunt’s, or the circumstances of their pardons. He specifically did not exploit the relevant archives recently released at Kew.

‘The Last Cambridge Spy’

The Last Cambridge Spy by Chris Smith (2019)

The first biographer of John Cairncross is a devotee of the archives. In his Introduction, Chris Smith lists the only four files on Cairncross that have been released for public inspection, yet he includes in this inventory a Home Office file, heavily redacted, which he obtained via a freedom of information request. In his Notes, he indicates that the latter is titled HO 532/4, although he fails to include CAB 301/270 here, while nevertheless registering it in a very comprehensive and useful Bibliography section.

HO 532/4 is listed in the National Archives catalogue as ‘Espionage activities by individuals: John Cairncross’, where it is described as being ‘retained by a Government department’. It covers Cairncross’s activities up to his death in 1995, but Smith appears to exploit it only once, when he describes the anxiety that beset the Foreign Office whenever Cairncross showed intentions of returning to the United Kingdom, as a known Soviet spy, but one who was not going to be prosecuted. The file therefore probably contains some further embarrassing incidents the importance of which Smith was not able to discern. [I have recently been able to communicate with Dr. Smith, and he has generously shown me the file. It does not contain anything startling.]

Smith takes his guidance on the interrogation of Cairncross mostly from the probably less reliable FCO 158/129, thereby relegating the more central CAB 301/270 to second fiddle. He echoes the ’second bite at the cherry’ idea (without crediting West), and reinforces the controversial claim that Martin ‘just so happened to be in the United States at that time and could simply drop by’. (Cleveland is about 400 miles from Washington, roughly the same distance as Edinburgh from London.) Smith notes that interrogating Cairncross ‘outside the jurisdiction’ had its advantages, and shrewdly questions why the USA was so different, when MI5 had had opportunities in Italy, for example. Yet he does not follow up: “The answer to this question remains unclear.”

The plot, however, is unfortunately lost when Smith, after describing Martin in glowing terms, informs us that ‘in April he [Cairncross] was doorstepped by an FBI agent who had called to let him now that Martin would be dropping in to talk to him.” Smith seems to have been inveigled by Cairncross’s declaration of the timing, since by April Martin was back in the UK preparing to interrogate Blunt. [Dr. Smith has expressed to me his regret over his overlooking of the plain evidence in CAB 301/270 about the timing of Cairncross’s interrogation.] ‘Doorstep’ is an unusual term, since it suggests a journalist pestering one’s home, but it would tend to counter the various writers who have claimed that Cairncross was interrogated in his hotel in Cleveland.

Smith then picks up the Chapman Pincher claim that Cairncross was ‘thrown to the wolves’ by Anthony Blunt, and dismisses it because Cairncross had already been interrogated (now in February, in contrast to his earlier assertion). As I have explained above, Smith rejects any claim that Blunt could have led MI5 to Cairncross because of the ‘archival evidence’ that Blunt did not confess until April 1964. He thus argues that Cairncross could thus not have known about the tipping-off. He sums up as follows: “He was convinced that it was Blunt who had given him up and this was only confirmed by the likes of Wright and Pincher. Blunt became for Cairncross a convenient scapegoat character, one upon whom he could pour a lifetime’s worth of anger and blame. Cairncross was wrong.”

In the matter of believing that he had been shopped by Blunt Cairncross was surely not wrong, despite all the other misrepresentations he made. But I believe that Smith is in error in attributing all this bile to his subject. Cairncross was no doubt told by his interrogators that he would be offered a deal similar to Blunt’s. Smith’s understandable confusion over the precise chronology, complemented perhaps by a flawed assessment of the possible deviousness of the intelligence services, may have caused him to underestimate the questionable character of Cairncross’s ‘confession’.

‘Agent Moliere’

Agent Moliere by Geoff Andrews (2020)

Last year, Geoff Andrews switched his attention from James Klugmann to John Cairncross. Among the new source material for his study he introduced Cairncross’s personal papers and correspondence maintained in the Special Collections section of Cambridge University Library. One startling reference is to an FBI file on Cairncross, presumably derived from its questioning of Cairncross in Cleveland. Andrews annotates this file, in Box 11 of the CULMC papers, as follows (Note 24, Chapter 13): “FBI file 65-68525. The FI file was released after request made by Richard Norton-Taylor.”  [I am attempting to gain a photocopy of the relevant documents. I have also been in touch with Andrews, but his description of the contents of the relevant file was very sketchy.]

Andrews also exploits the considerable correspondence between Cairncross and Graham Greene. Thus we can easily date the time when Cairncross approached Greene for a reference for the post at the Western Reserve University (August 4, 1963) which safely places Cairncross’s desire to move to the USA outside the Straight-Blunt discussions. Andrews writes: “He worried initially that the US authorities would be aware of his previous difficulties with MI5 and block his visa application. However he was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case and had sufficient confidence in the prospect of a new career that after returning from Karachi he made a brief stop in London to do some research at the British Museum before heading back to the American Consulate in Rome to finalize the paperwork.”  While this claim is unsourced, and no dates of Cairncross’s movements, such as his visa application, his arrival in London, his time spent at the British Museum, and seeing his estranged wife, or his return to Rome to pick up his visa, appear in Andrews’s narrative, it does appear to confirm the fact that Cairncross spent some time in London on his way from Karachi to Cleveland via Rome, and thus could have been interviewed by MI5. [I have asked Andrews for any dates he can supply to fix these events, but he has not replied.]

Cairncross arrived in Cleveland in February 1964, and Andrews describes a couple of happy months during which Cairncross enjoyed his stimulating new life. After a discursion on mole-hunting and Philby, Andrews returns to the moment when Cairncross’s ‘past caught up with him’. We are given an exact date and flight-number for Cairncross’s arrival (PAA103 on February 11). Andrews does not give a source for this detail, but it is a very significant event. For, if Cairncross flew out only on February 11, and Martin travelled to the USA expressly to interrogate Cairncross, some time in January (as most of the histories suggest), and was surprised by the introduction to Straight, what was Martin doing in all those weeks in Washington? Even if the encounter had been set up remotely, Martin surely did not need all that time. And we should recall that Chapman Pincher stated that Martin had arrived in early January, and was in Washington ‘on the Mitchell business’. (Martin had simply told him ‘other business’.) How could he possibly have spent so many weeks discussing a closed case? Wright, it will be recalled, said that Martin had flown out, on Sullivan’s invitation, for the purpose of interviewing Straight. That sounds equally unlikely, given how long the process would have taken. It seems much more probable that Martin was carrying out some careful discussions with the FBI as preparation for the Cairncross interrogations.

Thereafter Andrews portrays a fairly conventional story. He recognises that Cairncross lied about the interrogation date in his memoir. He refers to the collaboration between the FBI and MI5. He reports that Cairncross suddenly decided to ‘get it off his chest and confess to Martin’ without any analysis of what motivated him to do so. Despite his acceptance that Cairncross was a liar, he accepts the explanation that the spy gave in his memoir. Strangely, Andrews then jumps to the Blunt confession of April 1964 (when ‘Cairncross was fielding questions from the FBI in Room 309 at the Commodore Hotel in Cleveland’) before returning to the Prime Minister’s meeting on February 20, and what Cairncross was up to with the FBI in Cleveland. He then echoes the possibly misleading evidence provided in FCO 158/129, but fails to make any breakthrough observations about what was going on, or why such obviously hypocritical statements about the wish to prosecute Cairncross were being made.

Things were not going well for Cairncross with the FBI, apparently. In another passage that presumably relies on the Cambridge archive, Andrews writes: “The FBI told him that he must leave the United States by 29 June and so, two days before the deadline, he took a flight from Cleveland to New York, where the FBI escorted him on an Air France flight to Paris that had been chartered for the use of French assistants and teachers.” Amazingly, the British Press did not hear about it. “Suspected British Red Diplomat in Secret Deportation Drama” did not hit the headlines of the Daily Mail.

Yet, MI5 was ready for him. Cairncross underwent another ‘debriefing’ (just to make sure he had the story straight?) by Martin and Wright in Paris. He was now doing his best to co-operate, and apparently there followed several further sessions in Rome. There were a combination of threats and enticements: Cairncross was allowed to return to the UK, unthreatened, for further interviews, and for an unsuccessful attempt to gain a confession from James Klugmann.  Andrews’s final judgment is that ‘unlike Anthony Blunt, Cairncross was never given confirmation of immunity from prosecution in exchange for his cooperation’. That is, however, highly unlikely. Blunt would have been sure to gain such a promise for his conspirator before shopping him.

*                *                      *                      *                      *

That is the analysis. Readers can probably predict what my conclusions will be. If any of you can recommend sources I have overlooked, or have comments on the evidence, please contact me. I shall deliver my theory for what really happened next month.

Lastly, this is not the launching of a ‘conspiracy theory’. We know there was a real conspiracy to conceal the immunity deals negotiated with Blunt (and Cairncross) because Margaret Thatcher admitted them in 1979. But the even darker aspect of the conspiracy was to divert focus on the cause of the agreements away from internal mismanagement to an unavoidable outside agency.  It occurred when the CIA’s Angleton poked his nose in, extending the knowledge of the plot to a broader audience, and leading Hollis and White to distort the facts of the confessions.

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

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

Special Bulletin: Denis Lenihan – In Memoriam

I recently heard the sad news that Denis Lenihan had died of Covid-19 on December 29 in London.

I never met Denis: we started corresponding in September 2019, after I tracked him down from an article of his that I had read. Yet we soon realised that, in our interest in intelligence matters, we had a common enthusiasm for treating ‘official’ history with a quizzical eye, for patiently inspecting archival records, for reading broadly and deeply, and for recording what we found as honestly and plainly as we could. Denis became an eager supporter of coldspur, contributed a few pieces, and always very calmly challenged my conclusions when he judged they were not watertight.

We enjoyed a very fruitful email correspondence over fifteen months. He was still doggedly going through the Petrov archives when he was taken ill, and, in his last message to me before Christmas, when he was about to be admitted to hospital, he told me how much he was looking forward to picking up the Molehunt research in the New Year.

I shall miss him greatly, and offer my sincerest condolences to his family. If I learn more about Denis’s career and life, I shall post them here. I hope all coldspur readers stay healthy in these dark times.

Update on January 20

I heard more from Denis’s daughter, Siobhan, who provided me with a bio of Denis, and details of his funeral service.

He was born in Invercargill, New Zealand, in 1937, and moved to London, the residence of his second wife, Bridget, in 2009. I cite two paragraphs verbatim:

“Except for a little while at the start and at the end of his career, Denis was a Commonwealth public servant (that is, a person working for the Australian Government). He worked in education, with some of the earliest international university students; immigration, including a wonderful period as Counsellor (Migration), Scandinavia, when he and his family lived in Stockholm as diplomats (harder work than you might think, but rewarding and the experience of a lifetime); and on various royal commissions and other bodies investigating organised crime. He was the founding CEO of the National Crime Authority. Somewhere in here lies the seed of his consuming interest in espionage and its practitioners in Australia and New Zealand.

He was kind, funny, clever, gregarious, ethical, devout, generous and modest. He enjoyed people, books, newspapers, travelling, golf, rugby union, food, wine and cognac, cryptic crosswords and bridge. He read non-stop. (Both his wives marvelled at how he could spend ‘all day’ reading the newspaper.) Faith, vocation, family and accident combined gave him NZ, Australian and Irish loyalties, strongly reflected in his interests and reading. He took to the internet as a duck to water, relishing the communication and information it afforded and keeping in contact with a wide international circle of family and friends. He became a researcher later in life, exercising his interest in solving puzzles in a different way and making a new group of friends and contacts. He loved his family and we loved him and will miss him for ever.”

While I cannot match Denis in moral qualities, the list of his interests mirrors mine almost exactly. We discussed golf and rugby, but for some reason never touched bridge or cryptic crosswords. What a distinguished life he led, and I am sorry I never had the pleasure of meeting him.

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Year-End Wrap-up – 2020

At the end of this dreadful year, I use this bulletin to provide an update on some of the projects that have occupied my time since my last Round-Up. I shall make no other reference to Covid-19, but I was astounded by a report in the Science Section of the New York Times of December 29, which described how some victims of the virus had experienced psychotic symptoms of alarming ferocity. Is there a case for investigating whether traditional paranoiacs may have been affected by similar viral attacks, harmed by neurotoxins which formed as reactions to immune activation, and crossed the blood-brain barrier?

The Contents of this bulletin are as follows:

  1. ‘Agent Sonya’ Rolls Out
  2. The John le Carré I Never Knew
  3. The Dead Ends of HASP
  4. Anthony Blunt: Melodrama at the Courtauld
  5. Trevor Barnes Gives the Game Away
  6. Bandwidth versus Frequency
  7. ‘History Today’ and Eric Hobsbawm
  8. Puzzles at Kew
  9. Trouble at RAE Farnborough
  10. End-of-Year Thoughts and Holiday Wishes

‘Agent Sonya’ Rolls Out

Kati Marton

Ben Macintyre’s biography of Sonia/Sonya received an overall very favourable response in the press, and it predictably irked me that it was reviewed by persons who were clearly unfamiliar with the subject and background. I posted one or two comments on-line, but grew weary of hammering away unproductively. Then Kati Marton, a respectable journalist who has written a book about one of Stalin’s spies, offered a laudatory review in the New York Times (see: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/15/books/review/agent-sonya-ben-macintyre.html?searchResultPosition=1)  I accordingly wrote the following letter to the Editor of the Book Review:

Re: ‘The Housewife Who Was A Spy’

Even before Ben Macintyre’s book appears, enough is known about Agent Sonya to rebuff many of the claims that Kati Marton echoes from it.

Sonya was neither a spy, nor a spymaster (or spymistress): she was a courier. She did not blow up any railways in England: the most daring thing she did was probably to cycle home from Banbury to Oxford with documents from Klaus Fuchs in her basket.

A ‘woman just like the rest of us’? Well, she had three children with three different men. Her second marriage, in Switzerland, was bigamous, abetted by MI6, whose agent, Alexander Foote, provided perjurious evidence about her husband’s adultery. As a dedicated communist, she went in for nannies, and boarding-schools for her kids (not with her own money, of course). Just like the rest of us.

She eluded British secret services? Hardly. MI5 and MI6 officers arranged her passport and visa, then aided her installation in Britain, knowing that she came from a dangerous communist family, and even suspected that she might be a ‘spy’. The rat was smelled: they just failed to tail it.

Her husband in the dark? Not at all. He had performed work for MI6 in Switzerland, was trained as a wireless operator by Sonya, and as a Soviet agent carried out transmissions on her behalf from a bungalow in Kidlington, while her decoy apparatus was checked out by the cops in Oxford.

Living in a placid Cotswold hamlet? Not during the war, where her wireless was installed on the premises of Neville Laski, a prominent lawyer, in Summertown, Oxford. Useful to have a landlord with influence and prestige.

A real-life heroine? Not one’s normal image of a heroine. A Stalinist to the death, she ignored the horror of the Soviet Union’s prison-camp and praised its installation in East Germany after the war. Here Ms. Marton gets it right.

It appears that Mr. Macintyre has relied too closely on Sonya’s mendacious memoir, Sonjas Rapport, published in East Germany at the height of the Cold War, in 1977, under her nom de plume Ruth Werner. And he has done a poor job of inspecting the British National Archives.

(For verification of the true story about Sonya, see https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8467057/Did-staggering-British-blunder-hand-Stalin-atomic-bomb.html and http://www.coldspur.com/sonia-mi6s-hidden-hand/ )

My letter was not published.

As I declared in my Special Bulletin of December 8, I was, however, able to make my point. Professor Glees had introduced me to the Journal of Intelligence and National Security, recommending me as a reviewer of Macintyre’s book. Agent Sonya arrived (courtesy of the author) on October 8. By October 16, I had read the book and supplied a 6,000-word review for the attention of the Journal’s books editor in Canada. He accepted my text enthusiastically, and passed it on to his team in the UK. Apart from some minor editorial changes, and the addition of several new references, it constituted the review as it was published on-line almost two months later. It will appear in the next print edition of the Journal.

The team at the Journal were all a pleasure to work with, and they added some considerable value in preparing the article for publication, and providing some useful references that I had thought might be extraneous. But the process took a long time! Meanwhile, Claire Mulley had written an enthusiastic review of the book in the Spectator, and picked it as one of her ‘Books of the Year’. Similarly, the Sunday Times rewarded Macintyre by picking the production of one of their in-house journalists as one of the Books of the Year. I have to complement Macintyre on his ability to tell a rattling good yarn, but I wish that the literary world were not quite so cozy, and that, if books on complicated intelligence matters are going to be sent out to review, they could be sent to qualified persons who knew enough about the subject to be able to give them a serious critique.

Finally, I have to report on two book acquisitions from afar. It took four months for my copy of Superfrau iz GRU to arrive from Moscow, but in time for me to inspect the relevant chapters, and prepare my review of Agent Sonya. The other item that caught my eye was Macintyre’s information about the details of Rudolf Hamburger’s departure from Marseilles in the spring of 1939. I imagined this must have come from the latter’s Zehn Jahre Lager, Hamburger’s memoir of his ten years in the Gulag, after his arrest by the British in Tehran, and his being handed over to the Soviets. This was apparently not published until 2013. I thus ordered a copy from Germany, and it arrived in late November. Yet Hamburger’s story does not start until 1943: he has nothing to say about his time in Switzerland.

His son Maik edited the book, and provided a revealing profile of his father. Of his parents’ time in China, when Sonia started her conspiratorial work with Richard Sorge, he wrote: “Als sie nicht umhinkann, ihn einzuweihen, ist er ausser sich. Nicht nur, dass er sich hintergangen fühlt – sie hat die Familie aufs Spiel gesetzt.“ (“Since she could not prevent herself from entangling him, he is beside himself. Not just that he feels deceived – she has put the whole family at stake.”) When Sonia decided to return to Moscow for training, the marriage was over. And when she published her memoir in 1977 Maik noted: “Hamburger ist über diese Publikation und die Darstellung seiner Person darin hochgradig verärgert.“ (“Hamburger is considerably annoyed by this publication, and the representation of his character in it.”) Indeed, Maik. Your father suffered much on her account.

The John le Carré I Never Knew

John Le Carre

I noted with great sadness the death of John le Carré this month. I imagine I was one of many who, during their university years, read The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, and was blown over by this very unromantic view of the world of espionage. Perhaps it was that experience that led me into a lifelong fascination with that realm. He was a brilliant writer, especially in the sphere of vocal registers. I wrote an extensive assessment of him back in 2016 (see Revisiting Smiley & Co.), and do not believe I have much to add – apart from the inevitable factor of Sonia.

In our article in the Mail on Sunday (see: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8467057/Did-staggering-British-blunder-hand-Stalin-atomic-bomb.html , Professor Glees and I had characterized Sonia’s story as real-life confirmation of le Carré’s verdict that ‘betrayal is always the handmaiden of espionage’ , and I concluded my detailed explanation of the saga (see: http://www.coldspur.com/sonia-mi6s-hidden-hand/ ) with the following words: “What it boils down to is that the truth is indeed stranger than anything that the ex-MI6 officer John le Carré, master of espionage fiction, could have dreamed up. If he ever devised a plot whereby the service that recruited him had embarked on such a flimsy and outrageous project, and tried to cover it up in the ham-fisted way that the real archive shows, while all the time believing that the opposition did not know what was going on, his publisher would have sent him back to the drawing-board.”

I had rather whimsically hoped that Mr. le Carré would have found these articles, and perhaps reached out to comment somewhere. But my hopes were dashed when I read Ben Macintyre’s tribute in the Times (see: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/john-le-carre-the-spy-who-was-my-friend-svr8tgv82 ). This is a typical item of Macintyrean self-promotion, as he encourages the glamour of le Carré to flow over him (‘Oh what prize boozers we were! How we joked and joshed each other!’), while the journalist attempts to put himself in a more serious class than his famous friend: “We shared a fascination with the murky, complex world of espionage: he from the vantage point of fiction and lived experience, whereas I stuck to historical fact and research.” Pass the sick-bag, Alice.

And then there was that coy plug for his book on Philby, A Spy Among Friends. “On another long ramble, between books and stuck for a new subject, I asked him what he thought was the best untold spy story of the Cold War. ‘That is easy,’ he said. ‘It is the relationship between Kim Philby and Nicholas Elliott,’ the MI6 officer who worked alongside the KGB spy for two decades and was comprehensively betrayed by him.’ That led to another book, ostensibly about the greatest spy scandal of the century, but also an exploration of male friendship, the bonds of education, class and secrecy, and the most intimate duplicity. Le Carré wrote the afterword, refusing payment.” Did ELLI not even touch the Great Man’s consciousness? What a load of boloney.

Thus, if le Carré really believed that the Philby-Elliott relationship was the best untold story of the Cold War, I knew we were on shaky ground. And, sure enough, a discussion on Sonya followed. “We met for the last time in October, on one of those medical toots, in the Hampstead house. A single table lamp dimly illuminated the old sitting room, unchanged over the years. Having read my latest book [‘Agent Sonya,’ for those of you who haven’t been paying attention], he had sent an enthusiastic note and a suggestion we meet: “You made us over time love and admire Sonya herself, and pity her final disillusionment, which in some ways mirrors our own. What guts, and what nerve. And the men wimps or misfits beside her.”

Hallo!! What were you thinking, old boy? Macintyre had hoodwinked the Old Master himself, who had been taken in by Macintyre’s picaresque ramblings, and even spouted the tired old nonsense that Sonya’s disillusionment ‘in some ways mirrors our own’. Who are you speaking for, chum, and what gives you the right to assume you know how the rest of us feel? What business have you projecting your own anxieties and disappointments on the rest of us? ‘Loving and admiring’ that destructive and woefully misguided creature? What came over you?

It must be the permanent challenge of every novelist as to how far he or she can go in projecting his or her own emotional turmoils into the world of outside, and claiming they are universal. As le Carré aged, I think he dealt with this aspect of his experiences less and less convincingly. And there have been some very portentous statements made about his contribution to understanding human affairs. Thus, Phillipe Sands, in the New York Times: “David [not King Edward VIII, by the way, but oh, what a giveaway!] was uniquely able to draw the connections between the human and historical, the personal and the political, pulling on the seamless thread that is the human condition.” (Outside Hampstead intellectuals, people don’t really talk like that still, do they?) With le Carré, one was never sure if he believed that the intelligence services, with their duplicities, deceits, and betrayals, caused their operatives to adopt the same traits, or whether those services naturally attracted persons whose character was already shaped by such erosive activities.

I believe the truth was far more prosaic. MI5, for example, was very similar to any other bureaucratic institution. In the war years, recruits were not subjected to any kind of personality or ideological test. They received no formal training, and picked up the job as they went along. Rivalries developed. Officers had affairs with their secretaries (or the secretaries of other officers), and sometimes they married them. Plots were hatched for personal advancement or survival. (White eased out Liddell in the same way that Philby outmanoeuvred Cowgill.) What was important was the survival of the institution, and warding off the enemy (MI6), and, if necessary, lying to their political masters. The fact is that, as soon as they let rogues like Blunt in, did nothing when they discovered him red-handed, and then tried to manipulate him to their advantage, White and Hollis were trapped, as trapped as Philby and his cronies were when they signed their own pact with the devil. Only in MI5’s case, these were essentially decent men who did not understand the nature of the conflict they had been drawn into.

On one aspect, however, Macintyre was absolutely right – the question of le Carré’s moral equivalence. With his large pile in Cornwall, and his opulent lunches, and royalties surging in, le Carré continued to rant about ‘capitalism’, as if all extravagant or immoral behaviour by enterprises, large or small, irrevocably damned the whole shooting-match. Would he have railed against ‘free enterprise’ or ‘pluralist democracy’? He reminded me of A. J. P. Taylor, fuming about capitalism during the day, and tracking his stock prices and dividends in the evenings. And le Carré’s political instincts took on a very hectoring and incongruous tone in his later years, with George Smiley brought out of retirement to champion the EU in A Legacy of Spies, and, a couple of years ago, Agent Running In The Field being used as a propaganda vehicle against the Brexiteers. (While my friend and ex-supervisor, Professor Anthony Glees, thinks highly of this book, I thought it was weak, with unconvincing characters, unlikely backgrounds and encounters, and an implausible plot.)

I could imagine myself sitting down in the author’s Hampstead sitting-room, where we open a second bottle of Muscadet, and get down to serious talk. He tells me how he feels he has been betrayed by the shabby and corrupt British political establishment. It is time for me to speak up.

“What are you talking about, squire? Why do you think you’re that important? You win a few, you lose a few. Sure, democracy is a mess, but it’s better than the alternative! And look at that European Union you are so ga-ga about? Hardly a democratic institution, is it? Those Eurocrats continue to give the Brits a hard time, even though the two are ideological allies, and the UK at least exercised a popular vote to leave, while those rogue states, Hungary and Poland, blackmail the EU into a shady and slimy deal over sovereignty, and weasel some more euros out of Brussels! Talk about moral dilemmas and sleaziness! Why don’t you write about that instead?  Aren’t you more nostalgic, in your admiration for the ‘European Project’, than all those Brexiteers you believe to be Empire Loyalists?”

But I notice he is no longer listening. I catch him whispering to one of his minions: “Who is this nutter? Get him out of here!”

I slip a few uneaten quails’ eggs into my pocket, and leave.

(A product of coldspur Syndications Inc. Not to be reproduced without permission.)

The Dead Ends of HASP

Professor Wilhelm Agrell

I had been relying on two trails to help resolve the outstanding mysteries of the so-called HASP messages that GCHQ had acquired from Swedish intelligence, and which reputedly gave them breakthroughs on decrypting some elusive VENONA traffic. (see Hasp & Spycatcher). One was a Swedish academic to whom Denis Lenihan had introduced me, Professor Wilhelm Agrell, professor of intelligence analysis at the University of Lund in Sweden. Professor Agrell had delivered a speech on Swedish VENONA a decade ago, and had prepared a paper in English that outlined what he had published in a book in Swedish, unfortunately not (yet) translated into English. The other was the arrival of the authorised history of GCHQ by the Canadian academic, Professor John Ferris. It was perhaps reasonable to expect that the VENONA project would undergo a sustained analysis in this work, which was published in October of this year.

Professor Agrell’s work looked promising. His paper, titled ‘The Stockholm Venona – Cryptanalysis, intelligence liaison and the limits of counter-intelligence’, had been presented at the 2009 Cryptologic History Symposium, October 15 and 16, 2009, at Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, MD. His annotations indicated that he had enjoyed extensive access to Swedish Security Police files, as well as some documents from the military intelligence and security services. Moreover, his analysis had benefitted from declassified American, German and British intelligence, along with some recently declassified Swedish files. His references included two useful-sounding books written in English, Swedish Signal Intelligence 1900-1945, byC.G. McKay and Bengt Beckman, and the same McKay’s From Information to Intrigue. Studies in Secret Service based on the Swedish Experience, 1939-1945. I acquired and read both volumes.

The experience was very disappointing. The two books were very poorly written, and danced around paradoxical issues. I prepared some questions for the Professor, to which he eventually gave me some brief answers, and I responded with some more detailed inquiries, to which he replied. He had never heard of HASP outside Wright’s book. He was unable to provide convincing responses over passages in his paper that I found puzzling. Towards the end of our exchange, I asked him about his assertion that ‘GCHQ has released agent-network VENONA traffic to the National Archives’, since I imagined that this might refer to some of the missing SONIA transmissions that Wright believed existed. His response was that he was referring to the ‘so called ISCOT material from 1944-45’. Well, I knew about that, and have written about it. It has nothing to do with VENONA, but contains communications between Moscow and guerilla armies in Eastern Europe, decrypted by Denniston’s group at Berkeley Street. At this stage I gave up.

In a future bulletin, I shall lay out the total Agrell-Percy correspondence, and annotate which parts of the exchange are, in my opinion, highly important, but I do not think we are going to learn much more from the Swedish end of things. The Swedes seem to be fairly tight-lipped about these matters.

I completed John Ferris’s Behind the Enigma on November 30, and put its 823 pages down with a heavy thud and a heavy sigh. This book must, in many ways, be an embarrassment to GCHQ. It is poorly written, repetitive, jargon-filled, and frequently circumlocutory. The author is poor at defining terms, and the work lacks a Glossary and Bibliography. Ferris has an annoying habit of describing historical events with modern-day terminology, and darts around from period to period in a bewilderingly undisciplined manner. He includes a lot of tedious sociological analysis of employment patterns at Bletchley Park and Cheltenham. One can find some very useful insights amongst all the dense analysis, but it is a hard slog tracking them down. And he is elliptical or superficial about the matters that interest me most, that is the interception and decipherment of Soviet wireless traffic.

One receives a dispiriting message straight away, on page 4. “This history could not discuss diplomatic Sigint after 1945, nor any technicalities of collection which remained current.” Yet this stipulation does not prevent Ferris from making multiple claims about GCHQ’s penetration of Soviet high-grade systems, and promoting the successes of other apparent diplomatic projects, such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Cuba. For example, he refers to Dick White’s recommendation in 1968 that more Soviet tasks be handed over to the US’s NSA (p 311), but, not many pages later, he writes of the Americans’ desire not to fall behind British Sigint, and their need to maintain the benefit they received from GCHQ’s ‘power against Russia’ (p 340). On page 355 we learn that GCHQ ‘ravaged Soviet civil and machine traffic’. I do not know what all this means.

It seems that Ferris does not really understand VENONA. His coverage of MASK (the 1930s collection of Comintern traffic with agents in Britain) is trivial, he ignores ISCOT completely, and he characterizes VENONA in a similarly superficial fashion: “It [GCHQ] began an attack on Soviet systems. Between 1946 and 1948, it produced Britain’s best intelligence, which consumers rated equal to Ultra.” (p 279). He fails to explain how the project attacked traffic that had been stored from 1943 onwards, and does not explain the relationship between the USA efforts and the British (let alone the Swedes). His statement about the peak of UK/USA performance against Soviet traffic as occurring between 1945 and 1953 (p 503) is simply wrong. VENONA has just four entries in the Index, and the longest passage concerns itself with the leakage in Australia. He offers no explanation of how the problem of reused one-time-pads occurred, or how the British and American cryptologists made progress, how they approached the problem, and what was left unsolved. Of HASP, there is not a sign.

It is evident that GCHQ, for whatever reason, wants VENONA (and HASP) to remain not only secrets, but to be forgotten. All my appeals to its Press Office have gone unacknowledged, and the issue of Ferris’s History shows that it has no intention of unveiling anything more. Why these events of sixty years and more ago should be subject to such confidentiality restrictions, I have no idea. It is difficult to imagine how the techniques of one-time pads, and directories, and codebooks could form an exposure in cryptological defences of 2020, unless the process would reveal some other embarrassing situation. Yet I know how sensitive it is. A month or two back, I had the privilege of completing a short exchange with a gentleman who had worked for GCHQ for over thirty years, in the Russian division. He said he had never heard of HASP. Well, even if he had, that was what he had been instructed to say. But we know better: ‘HASP’ appears on that RSS record.

Anthony Blunt: Melodrama at the Courtauld

Anthony Blunt
Anthony Blunt

Every schoolboy knows who murdered Atahualpa, and how in April 1964 the MI5 officer Arthur Martin elicited a confession of Soviet espionage from Anthony Blunt. Yet I have been rapidly coming to the conclusion that the whole episode at Blunt’s apartment at the Courtauld Institute was a fiction, a sham event conceived by Roger Hollis and Dick White, in order to conceal Blunt’s earlier confession, and to divert responsibility for the disclosure on to an apparently recent meeting between MI5 officer Arthur Martin and the American Michael Straight, after the latter’s confession to the FBI in the summer of 1963. By building a careful chronology of all the historical sources, but especially those of British Cabinet archives, the FBI, and the CIA, a more accurate picture of the extraordinary exchanges MI5 had with Blunt, Straight and the fifth Cambridge spy, John Cairncross, can be constructed.

The dominant fact about the timing of Blunt’s confession is that all accounts (except one) use Penrose and Freeman’s Conspiracy of Silence as their source, which, in turn, refers to a correspondence between the authors and the MI5 officer Arthur Martin in 1985. Only Christopher Andrew claims that an archival report exists describing the events, but it is identified solely in Andrew’s customarily unacademic vernacular of ‘Security Service Archives’. The details are vaguely the same. On the other hand, several commentators and authors, from Andrew Boyle to Dame Stella Rimington, suggest that Blunt made his confession earlier, though biographers and historians struggle with the way that the ‘official’ account has pervaded the debate, and even use it as a reason to reject all the rumours that Blunt had made his compact some time beforehand.

This project has been several months in the making. I was provoked by Wright’s nonsense in Spycatcher to take a fresh look at the whole search for Soviet moles in MI5. I re-read Nigel West’s Molehunt, this time with a more critical eye. Denis Lenihan and I collaborated on a detailed chronology for the whole period. I reinspected the evidence that the defector Anatoli Golitsyn was supposed to have provided that helped nail Philby. The journalist James Hanning alerted me to some passages in Climate of Treason that I had not studied seriously. I was intrigued by David Cannadine’s rather lavish A Question of Retribution (published earlier this year), which examined the furore over Blunt’s ousting from the British Academy after his role as a spy had been revealed, and I pondered over Richard Davenport-Hines’s misleading review of Cannadine’s book in the Times Literary Supplement a few months ago. I went back to the source works by Boyle, Andrew, West, Costello, Pincher, Penrose and Freeman, Wright, Bower, Straight, Cairncross, Perry, Rimington, and Smith to unravel the incongruous and conflicting tales they spun, and acquired Geoff Andrews’s recent biography of John Cairncross. I inspected carefully two files at the National Archives, declassified in the past five years, that appeared to have been misunderstood by recent biographers.

The dominant narrative runs as follows: Golitsyn created interest in the notion of the ‘Cambridge 5’, and helped to identify Philby as the Third Man; Michael Straight confessed to the FBI that he had been recruited by Blunt at Cambridge; the FBI notified MI5; MI5 interviewed Straight; MI5 could not move against Blunt (the Fourth Man) simply because of Straight’s evidence; MI5 concocted a deal whereby Blunt would essentially receive a pardon if he provided information that led to the ‘Fifth Man’; Blunt revealed that he had recruited John Cairncross; at some stage, MI5 interrogated Cairncross who, on similar terms, confessed; Cairncross’s evasions deflected suspicions that he could have been the ‘Fifth Man’; other candidates were investigated. Blunt’s culpability, and the fact of a deal, remained a secret until, in 1979, Andrew Boyle revealed the role of ‘Maurice’ in Climate of Treason, Private Eye outed ‘Maurice’ as Blunt, and Margaret Thatcher admitted the unwritten compact that had been agreed with Blunt. Yet a muddle endured.

The archives show that this was not the actual sequence of events. The timing does not make sense. And it all revolves around Arthur Martin’s two interrogations of Cairncross in Cleveland, Ohio, in February and March 1964, i.e. before the date claimed for Blunt’s confession to Arthur Martin. Wright’s Spycatcher is perhaps the most egregious example of a work where the chronology is hopelessly distorted or misunderstood, and the author is shown to be carrying on a project of utter disinformation. All other accounts show some manner of delusion, or laziness in ignoring obvious anomalies. The fact is that Hollis, White, Trend & co. all hoodwinked the Foreign Office, and withheld information from the new Prime Minister, Alec Douglas-Home.  In my report at the end of January 2021 I shall reveal (almost) all. In the meantime, consider these priceless quotations (from a FO archive):

“It is desirable that we should be seen to be doing everything possible to bring him [Cairncross] to justice.’  (Sir Bernard Burrows, Chairman of the JIC, February 20, 1964)

“At the same time I am bound to say I think MI5 are taking a lot on themselves in deciding without any reference not to pursue such cases at some time (in this instance in Rome, Bangkok, and U.K.) and then to go ahead at others (here in USA). The political implication of this decision do not appear to have been weighed: only those of the mystery of spy-catching. However effective this may now have been proved, it is apt to leave us with a number of difficult questions to answer.” (Howard Caccia, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, February 20, 1964)

“It is essential that I should be able to convince the F.B.I. that we are not trying to find a way out of taking action but, on the contrary, that we are anxious to prosecute if this proves possible.” (Roger Hollis to Burke Trend, February 25, 1964)

“We must not appear reluctant to take any measures which might secure Cairncross’s return to the United Kingdom.” (Burke Trend to the Cabinet, February 28, 1964)

The tradition of Sir Humphrey Appleby was in full flow.

Trevor Barnes Gives the Game Away

Trevor Barnes

Regular Coldspur readers will have spotted that I frequently attempt to get in touch with authors whose books I have read, sometimes to dispute facts, but normally to try to move the investigations forward. It is not an easy task: the more famous an author is, the more he or she tends to hide behind his or her publisher, or press agent. Some approaches have drawn a complete blank. I often end up writing emails to the publisher: in the case of Ben Macintyre, it got ‘lost’. When Ivan Vassiliev’s publisher invited me to contact him by sending a letter for him to their office, and promised to forward it to his secret address in the UK, I did so, but then heard nothing.

With a little digging, however, especially around university websites, one can often find email addresses for academics, and write in the belief that, if an address is displayed publicly, one’s messages will at least not fall into a spam folder. I am always very respectful, even subservient, on my first approach, and try to gain the author’s confidence that I am a voice worth listening to. And I have had some excellent dialogues with some prominent writers and historians – until they get tired of me, or when I begin to challenge some of their conclusions, or, perhaps, when they start to think that I am treading on ‘their’ turf. (Yes, historians can be very territorial.). For I have found that many writers – qualified professional historians, or competent amateurs – seem to prefer to draw a veil of silence over anything that might be interpreted as a threat to their reputation, or a challenge to what they have published beforehand, in a manner that makes clams all over the world drop their jaws at the speed of such tergiversation.

In this business, however, once you lose your inquisitiveness, I believe, you are lost. And if it means more to you to defend a position that you have previously taken, and on which you may have staked your reputation, than to accept that new facts may shake your previous hypotheses and conclusions, it is time to retire. If I put together a theory about some mysterious, previously unexplained event, and then learn that there is a massive hole in it, I want to abandon it, and start afresh. (But I need to hear solid arguments, not just ‘I don’t agree with you’, or ‘read what Chapman Pincher says’, which is what happens sometimes.)

Regrettably, Trevor Barnes has fallen into that form of stubborn denial. When I first contacted him over Dead Doubles, he was communicative, grateful, open-minded. He accepted that the paperback edition of his book would need to reflect some corrections, and agreed that the several points of controversy that I listed in my review were all substantive. But when I started to quiz him on the matter of the disgraced MI5 officer (see Dead Doubles review), he declined to respond to, or even acknowledge, my messages. (And maybe he found my review of his book on coldspur, since I did take the trouble to point it out to him.) The question in his case revolves around a rather clumsy Endnote in his book, which, instead of achieving the intended goal of burying the topic, merely serves to provoke additional interest.

Note 8, to Part One, on page 250, runs as follows:

“Private information. James Craggs is a pseudonym. The name of the case officer is redacted from the released MI5 files. The author discovered his real identity but was requested by MI5 sources not to name him to avoid potential distress to his family.”

The passage referred to is a brief one where Barnes describes how David Whyte (the head of D2 in MI5), swung into action against Houghton. I reproduce it here:

“He chose two officers to join him on the case. One was George Leggatt, half-Polish and a friend, with whom he had worked on Soviet counter-espionage cases in the 1950s. The case officer was James Craggs, a sociable bachelor in his late thirties.”

That’s it. But so many questions raised! ‘Private information’ that ‘Craggs’ was ‘a sociable bachelor’, which could well have been a substitute for ‘confirmed bachelor’ in those unenlightened days, perhaps? (But then he has a family.) What else could have been ‘private’ about this factoid? And why would a pseudonym have to be used? Did ‘Craggs’ perform something massively discreditable to warrant such wariness after sixty years? Barnes draws to our attention the fact that the officer’s name is redacted in the released file. But how many readers would have bothered to inspect the files if Barnes has simply used his real name, but not mentioned the attempts to conceal it, or the suggestion of high crimes and misdemeanours? By signalling his own powers as a sleuth, all Barnes has done is invite analysis of what ‘Craggs’ might have been up to, something that would have lain dormant if he had not highlighted it.

For ‘Craggs’’s real name is quite clear from KV 2/4380. Denis Lenihan pointed out to me that the name was apparent (without actually identifying it for me), and I confirmed it from my own inspection. The MI5 weeders performed a very poor job of censorship. Indeed, ‘Craggs’s’ name has been redacted in several places, in memoranda and letters that he wrote, and in items referring to him, but it is easy to determine what his real name was. On one report, dated May 25, 1960, Leggatt has headed his report: “Note on a Visit by Messrs. Snelling and Leggatt  . . .”. Moreover, on some of the reports written by Snelling himself, the initials of the author and his secretary/typist have been left intact in the bottom left-hand corner: JWES/LMM.

So, J. W. E. Snelling, who were you, and what were you up to? As I suggested in my review of Dead Doubles, the most obvious cause of his disgrace is his probable leaking to the Daily Mail journalist Artur Tietjen the details of Captain Austen’s testimony on Houghton’s behaviour in Warsaw. Yet it seems to me quite extraordinary that the institutional memory of his corruption could endure so sharply after sixty years. If there is no other record of what he did, the weeders would have done much better simply to leave his name in place. I can’t imagine that anyone would otherwise have started to raise questions.

Snelling is not a very common name, although, in an extraordinary coincidence, a ‘Freddie Snelling’ also appears in Dead Doubles. He was an antiquarian book-seller friend of the Krogers. From an inspection of genealogical records, however, it does not appear that the two could have been related. I performed some searches on ‘J. W. E. Snelling’, and came up with a couple of intriguing items. The name appears in the St. Edmund Hall Magazine of 1951-52 (see https://issuu.com/stedmundhall/docs/st_edmund_hall_magazine_1951) , and the Statesman’s Yearbook of 1966-67 shows that he was a First Secretary in the British Embassy to South Africa (see https://books.google.com/books?id=DdfMDQAAQBAJ&pg=PA1412&lpg=PA1412&dq=j+w+e+snelling&source=bl&ots=8Pd9Dd0J97&sig=ACfU3U3DEgUt_KnJ2KZn_gbi9MbtoEjL8Q&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjxjsmI06rtAhXFjVkKHf6pAmoQ6AEwCHoECAgQAg#v=onepage&q=j%20w%20e%20snelling&f=false).  I wrote to the Librarian at St. Edmund Hall, asking for further details on Snelling. She acknowledged my request, but after several weeks the Archivist has not been able to respond.

Can any reader help? Though perhaps it is over to Trevor Barnes, now that he has opened up this can of worms, to bring us up to date. Moreover, I do not understand why Barnes was working so closely with MI5 on this book. Was he not aware that he would be pointed in directions they wanted him to go, and steered away from sensitive areas? In this case, it rather backfired, which has a humorous angle, I must admit. Intelligence historians, however, should hide themselves away – probably in some remote spot like North Carolina – never interview anybody, and stay well clear of the spooks. Just download the archives that are available, arrange for others to be photographed, have all the relevant books at hand and put on your thinking-cap. I admit the remoteness of so many valuable libraries, such as the Bodleian and that of Churchill College, Cambridge, represents a massive inconvenience, but the show must go on.

Bandwidth versus Frequency

Dr. Brian Austin

My Chief Radiological Adviser, Dr. Brian Austin, has been of inestimable value in helping me get things straight in matters of the transmission, reception and interception of wireless signals. Sometime in early 2021 I shall be concluding my analysis of the claims made concerning SONIA’s extraordinary accomplishments with radio transmissions from the Cotswolds, guided by Dr. Austin’s expert insights. In the meantime, I want to give him space here to correct a miscomprehension I had of wireless terminology. A few weeks ago, he wrote to me as follows:

Reading your July 31st “Sonia and MI6’s Hidden Hand”, I came across this statement:


“Since her messages needed to reach Moscow, she would have had to use a higher band-width (probably over 1000 kcs) than would have been used by postulated Nazi agents trying to reach . . . ”

This requires some modification, as I’ll now explain.  The term bandwidth (for which the symbol B is often used) implies the width of a communications channel necessary to accommodate a particular type of transmitted signal. In essence, the more complicated the message (in terms of its mathematical structure not its philological content) the wider the bandwidth required. The simplest of all signals is on-off keying such as hand-sent Morse Code. The faster it is sent, the more bandwidth it requires. However, for all typical hand-sent Morse transmissions the bandwidth needed will always be less than 1000 Hz.   On the other hand, if one wishes to transmit speech, whether by radio or by telephone, then the bandwidth needed is typically 3000 Hz (or 3 kHz).  Thus, all standard landline telephones are designed to handle a 3 kHz bandwidth in order to faithfully reproduce the human voice which, generally speaking, involves frequencies from about 300 Hz to 3300 Hz meaning the bandwidth is B = 3300 – 300 = 3000 Hz or 3 kHz.

By contrast, TV signals, and especially colour TV signals, are far more complicated than speech since even the old B&W TV had to convey movement as well as black, white and grey tones. To do that required at least a MHz or so of bandwidth. These days, a whole spectrum of colours as well as extremely rapid movement has to be transmitted and so the typical colour TV bandwidth for good quality reproduction in our British Pal (Phase Alternating Line) system is several MHz wide.  As an aside, the North American system is called NTSC. When Pal and NTSC were competing with each other in the 1960s for world dominance, NTSC was known disparagingly by ourselves as meaning Never Twice the Same Colour!

So your use of the term band-width above is incorrect. What you mean is frequency.  It is related to wavelength simply as frequency = speed of light / wavelength.  And it is also more common, and more accurate, to specify a transmitter’s frequency rather than its wavelength. All quartz crystals are marked in units of frequency. The only occasion Macintyre took a leap into such complexities in “Agent Sonya” was on p.151 where he indicated that her transmitter operated on a frequency of 6.1182 MHz. That sounds entirely feasible and it would have been the frequency marked on the particular crystal issued to her (and not purchased in the nearby hardware shop as BM would have us believe).

You are quite correct in saying that to communicate with Moscow required a higher frequency than would have been needed for contact with Germany, say. But it would have been considerably higher than the 1000 kcs you mentioned. 1000 kcs (or kHz in today’s parlance) is just 1 Mcs (MHz) and actually lies within the Medium Wave broadcast band. Such low frequencies only propagate via the ground wave whereas to reach Moscow, and indeed anywhere in Europe from England, will have necessitated signals of some good few MHz.

In general the greater the distance the higher the frequency but that is rather simplistic because it all depends on the state of the ionosphere which varies diurnally, with the seasons and over the 11-year sunspot cycle. Choosing the best frequency for a particular communications link is a pretty complex task and would never be left to the wireless operator. His or her masters would have experts doing just that and then the agent would be supplied with the correct crystals depending on whether the skeds were to be during daylight hours or at night and, also, taking into account the distance between the transmitting station and the receiving station. In my reading about the WW2 spy networks I have not come across any agent being required to operate over a period of years which might require a frequency change to accommodate the change in sunspot cycle that will have taken place.

An example from the world of international broadcasting illustrates all this rather nicely.  The BBC World Service used to operate on two specific frequencies for its Africa service. Throughout the day it was 15.4 MHz (or 15 400 kHz) while at night they would switch to 6.915 MHz (or 6 915 kHz). The bandwidth they used was about 10 kHz because they transmitted music as well as speech and music being more structurally complicated than speech needs a greater bandwidth than 3 kHz.

Thank you for your patient explanation, Brian.

Puzzles at Kew

The National Archives at Kew

I have written much about the bizarre practices at the National Archives at Kew, and especially of the withdrawal of files that had previously been made available, and had been exploited by historians. The most famous case is the that of files on Fuchs and Peierls: in the past three years, Frank Close and Nancy Thorndike Greenspan have written biographies of Klaus Fuchs that freely used files that have since been withdrawn. Then, in my August 31 piece about Liverpool University, I noted that, over a period of a couple of days where I was inspecting the records of a few little-known scientists, the descriptions were being changed in real-time, and some of the records I had looked at suddenly moved into ‘Retained’ mode.

My first reaction to this event was that my usage of Kew records was perhaps being monitored on-line, and decisions were being made to stop the leakage before any more damage was done. I thus decided to contact one of my Kew ‘insider’ friends, and describe to him what happened. He admitted to similar perplexity, but, after making some discrete inquiries, learned that there was an ongoing project under way to review catalogue entries, and attempt to make them more accurate to aid better on-line searchability. Apparently, I had hit upon an obscure group of records that was undergoing such treatment at the time. It was simply coincidence. (Although I have to point out that this exercise did not appear to be undertaken with strict professional guidelines: several spelling errors had in the meantime been introduced.)

A short time ago, however, another irritating anomaly came to light. I had been re-reading parts of Chris Smith’s The Last Cambridge Spy, when I noticed that he had enjoyed access to some files on John Cairncross which showed up as being ‘Retained’, namely HO 532/4, ‘Espionage activities by individuals: John Cairncross’. This sounded like a very important resource, and I discovered from Smith’s Introduction that, among the few documents on Cairncross released to the National Archives was ‘a Home Office file, heavily redacted’, which he ‘obtained via a freedom of information request.’ I asked myself why, if a file has been declassified by such a request, it should not be made available to all. It was difficult to determine whether Smith had capably exploited his find, since I found his approach to intelligence matters very tentative and incurious. I have thus asked my London-based researcher to follow up with Kew, and have provided him with all the details.

Incidentally, Denis Lenihan has informed me that his freedom of information request for the files of Renate Stephenie SIMPSON nee KUCZYNSKI and Arthur Cecil SIMPSON (namely, one of Sonia’s sisters and her husband), KV 2/2889-2993 has been successful. The response to Denis a few weeks ago contained the following passage: “Further to my email of 14 October 2020 informing you of the decision taken that the above records can all be released, I am very pleased to report that, at long last, these records are now available to view, albeit with a few redactions made under Section 40(2) (personal information) of the FOI Act 2000. The delay since my last correspondence has been because digitised versions of the files needed to be created by our Documents Online team and due to The National Archives’ restricted service because of the Coronavirus pandemic, this has taken the team longer to complete than it normally would. However the work is now compete [sic].”

This is doubly interesting, since I had been one of the beneficiaries of a previous policy, and had acquired the digitised version of KV 2/2889 back in 2017. So why that item would have to be re-digitised is not clear. And yes, all the files are listed in the Kew Catalogue as being available – and, by mid-December, they were all digitised, and available for free download.

Lastly, some business with the Cambridge University Library. On reading Geoff Andrews’s recent biography of John Cairncross, Agent Moliere, I was taken with some passages where he made claims about the activities of the FBI over Cairncross’s interrogations in Cleveland in early 1964. I could not see any references in his Endnotes, and my search on ‘Cairncross’ in the FBI Vault had drawn a blank. By inspecting Andrews’s Notes more carefully, however, I was able to determine that the information about the FBI came from a box in the John Cairncross papers held at Cambridge University Manuscripts Collection (CULMC) under ref. Add.10042. I thus performed a search on those arguments at the CULMC website, but came up with nothing.

My next step was thus to send a simple email to the Librarian at Cambridge, asking for verification of the archival material’s existence, whether any index of the boxes was available, and what it might cost to have some of them photographed. I very quickly received an automated reply acknowledging my request, giving me a ticket number, and informing me that they would reply to my inquiry ‘as soon as they can’. A very pleasant gentleman contacted me after a few days, explaining that the Cairncross boxes had not been indexed, but that he would inspect them if I could give him a closer idea of what I was looking for. I responded on December 17. Since then, nothing.

Trouble at RAE Farnborough

RAE Farnborough

Readers will recall my recent description of the remarkable career of Boris Davison (see Liverpool University: Home for Distressed Spies), who managed to gain a position at the Royal Aeronautical Establishment at Farnborough, shortly after he arrived in the UK, in 1938. I wondered whether there was anything furtive about this appointment, and my interest was piqued by a passage I read in Simon Ball’s Secret History: Writing the Rise of Britain’s Intelligence Services (2020). As I have suggested before, this is a very strange and oddly-constructed book, but it does contain a few nuggets of insider information.

On page 199, Ball introduces a report on Russian (i.e. ‘Soviet’) intelligence written in 1955 by Cedric Cliffe, former assistant to Cabinet Secretary, Sir Norman Brook. Its title was ‘Survey of Russian Espionage in Britain, 1935-1955’, and was filed as KV 3/417 at the National Archives. Ball explains how Britain suffered from penetration problems well before the Burgess and Maclean case, and writes: “The most notable UK-based agents of the ‘illegal’ [Henri Robinson] were two technicians employed at the time of their recruitment in 1935 at the Royal Aeronautical Establishment, Farnborough. They had been identified after the war on the basis of German evidence, but no action was taken because one was still working usefully on classified weapons and the other one was a Labour MP.”  But Ball does not identify the two employees, nor comment on the astonishing fact that a spy’s role as a Labour MP presumably protected him from prosecution. Who were these agents?

Then I remembered that I had KV 3/417 on my desktop. Only I had not recognized it as the ‘Cliffe Report’: the author’s name does not appear on it. (That is where Ball’s insider knowledge comes into play.) And in paragraph 96, on page 24, Cliffe has this to say:

‘Wilfred Foulston VERNON was also [alongside one William MEREDITH] an aircraft designer employed at Farnborough. He was active in C.P.G.B. activities from about 1934 onwards and visited Russia twice, in 1935 and 1936. From 1936 onwards he was, like MEREDITH, passing secret information through WEISS, first to HARRY II and later to Henri Robinson. He was probably present when MEREDITH was introduced to WEISS by HARRY II. In August 1937, a burglary at VERNON’s residence led to the discovery there of many secret documents. As a result, VERNON was suspended from the R.A.E., charged under the Official Secrets Acts, and fined £50 – for the improper possession of these documents, it should be noted, and not for espionage, which was not at this time suspected.’

Cliffe’s report goes on to state that, when Vernon’s espionage activities first became known, he was the Member of Parliament for Dulwich, which seat he won in 1945 and retained in 1950, losing it the following year. It was thought ‘impracticable to prosecute him’, though why this was so (parliamentary immunity? not wanting to upset the unions? opening the floodgates?) is not stated. Cliffe closes his account by saying that Vernon ‘admitted, under interrogation, that he had been recruited by Meredith and had committed espionage, but he told little else.’ An irritating paragraph has then been redacted before Cliffe turns to Vernon’s controller, Weiss.

This man was clearly Ball’s ‘Labour MP’. So what about his confession? MI5’s chunky set of files on Vernon can be inspected at KV 2/992-996, and they show that, once he lost his parliamentary seat in October 1951, MI5 was free to interrogate him, and he was somewhat ‘deflated’ by Skardon’s approach. After consulting with his sidekick, Meredith, he confessed to spying for the Soviets, and giving information to his controller. In 1948, Prime Minster Attlee had been ‘surprised and shocked’ to hear that MI5 had evidence against Vernon. Now that the Labour Party had lost the election, the case of Vernon & Meredith seemed to die a slow death. Vernon became a member of the London County Council. He died in 1975.

Little appears to have been written about the Weiss spy-ring. (Nigel West has noted them.) Andrew’s Defending the Realm has no reference to Cliffe, Weiss, Meredith, Vernon, or even the RAE. The Royal Aeronautical Establishment was obviously a security disaster, and a fuller tale about its subversion by Soviet agents, and the role of Boris Davison, remains to be told.

Eric Hobsbawm and ‘History Today’

Eric Hobsbawm
Eric Hobsbawm

Over the past six months History Today has published some provocative items about the historian Eric Hobsbawm. It started in May, when Jesus Casquete, Professor of the History of Political Thought and the History of Social Movements at the University of the Basque Country, provided an illuminating article about Hobsbawm’s activities as a Communist in Berlin in 1933, but concluded, in opposition to a somewhat benevolent appraisal by Niall Ferguson quoted at the beginning of his piece, that ‘Hobsbawm ignored entirely the shades of grey between his personal choice of loyalty and became blind to genocide and invasion, and the other extreme.’

The following month, a letter from Professor Sir Roderick Floud headed the correspondence. “As Eric’s closest colleague for 13 years and a friend for much longer”, he wrote, “I can testify to the fact that Casquete’s description of him as ‘a desperate man clinging to his youthful dreams’ is a travesty.” Floud then went on to make the claim that Hobsbawm stayed in the Communist Party because of his belief in fighting fascism, and claimed that Hobsbawm ‘did not betray his youthful – and ever-lasting – ideals’. Yet the threat from fascism was defunct immediately World War II ended. What was he talking about?

I thought that this argument was hogwash, and recalled that Sir Roderick must be the son of the Soviet agent Bernard Floud, M.P., who committed suicide in October 1967. I sympathize with Sir Roderick in the light of his tragic experience, but it seemed that the son had rather enigmatically inherited some of the misjudgments of the father. And, indeed, I was so provoked by the space given to Sir Roderick’s views that I instantly wrote a letter to Paul Lay, the Editor. I was gratified to learn from his speedy acknowledgment that he was very sympathetic to my views, and would seriously consider publishing my letter.

And then further ‘arguments’ in Hobsbawm’s defence came to the fore. In the August issue, Lay dedicated the whole of his Letters page to rebuttals from his widow, Marlene, and from a Denis Fitzgerald, in Sydney, Australia. Marlene Hobsbawm considered it an ‘abuse’ to claim that her late husband was ‘an orthodox communist who adhered faithfully to Stalinist crimes’, and felt obligated to make a correction. He did not want to leave the Party as he did not want to harm it, she asserted. Fitzgerald raised the McCarthyite flag, and somehow believed that Hobsbawm’s remaining a member of the Communist Party was an essential feature of his being able to contribute to ‘progressive developments’. “He was not to be bullied or silenced by Cold Warriors” – unlike what happened to intellectuals in Soviet Russia, of course.

So what had happened to my letter? Why were the correspondence pages so one-side? Was I a lone voice in this debate? Then, next month, my letter appeared. My original text ran as follows:

“I was astonished that you dedicated so much space to the bizarre and ahistorical defence of Eric Hobsbawm by Professor Sir Roderick Floud.

Floud writes that Hobsbawm ‘stayed in the Communist Party’ after 1956 ‘because of his belief in fighting fascism and promoting the world revolution, by means of anti-fascist unity and the Popular Front’. Yet fascism was no longer a threat in 1956; the Popular Front had been dissolved in 1938, to be followed soon by the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939, which Hobsbawm and Floud conveniently overlook. Even though Stalin was dead by 1956, Khrushchev was still threatening ‘We shall bury you!’

Floud concludes his letter by referring to Hobsbawm’s ‘youthful – and ever-lasting ideals’, having earlier described the statement that Casquete’s description of him as ‘a desperate man clinging to his youthful dreams’ is ‘a travesty’. Some contradiction, surely.

Like his unfortunate father before him, who was unmasked as a recruiter of spies for the Soviet Union, and then committed suicide, Floud seems to forget that communist revolutions tend to be very messy affairs, involving the persecution and slaughter of thousands, sometimes millions. If Hobsbawm’s dreams had been fulfilled, he, as a devout Stalinist, might have survived, but certainly academics like Floud himself would have been among the first to be sent to the Gulag.”

Lay made some minor changes to my submission (removing references to the suicide of Floud’s father, for instance), but the message was essentially left intact. And there the correspondence appears to have closed. (I have not yet received the November issue.) I was thus heartened to read the following sentence in a review by Andrew Roberts of Laurence Rees’s Hitler and Stalin in the Times Literary Supplement of November 20: “That these two [Hitler and Stalin] should be seen as anything other than the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of totalitarianism might seem obvious to anyone beyond the late Eric Hobsbawm, but it does need to be restated occasionally, and Rees does so eloquently.”  Hobsbawm no doubt welcomed George Blake on the latter’s recent arrival at the Other Place, and they immediately started discussing the Communist utopia.

End-of-Year Thoughts and Holiday Wishes

Tom Clark

Towards the end of November I received a Christmas Card signed by the editor of Prospect magazine, Tom Clark. The message ran as follows: “Thank you for your support of Prospect this year. Myself and the whole team here wish you a very happy Christmas.” I suppose it would be churlish to criticize such goodwill, but I was shocked. “Myself and the whole team  .  .” – what kind of English is that? What was wrong with “The whole team and I”? If the editor of a literary-political magazine does not even know when to use a reflexive pronoun, should we trust him with anything else?

I have just been reading Clive James’s Fire of Joy, subtitled Roughly Eight Poems to Get By Heart and Say Aloud. I was looking forward to seeing James’s choices, and his commentary. It has been a little disappointing, with several odd selections, and some often shallow appreciations by the Great Man. For instance, he reproduces a speech by Ferrara from My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning, which contains the horrible couplet:

            But to myself they turned (since none puts by

            The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

This is not verse that should be learned by heart. To any lover of the language, the phrase ‘They turned to me’, not ‘to myself’, should come to mind, and, since ‘but’ is a preposition, it needs to be followed by the accusative or dative case, i.e. ‘but me’. How could James’s ear be so wooden? Yet syntax turs out to be his weakness: in a later commentary on Vita Sackville-West’s Craftsmen, he writes: ‘. . . it was a particular focal point of hatred for those younger than he who had been left out of the anthology.’. ‘Him’, not ‘he’, after ‘for those’, Clive.

Of course, another famous ugly line is often overlooked. T.S. Eliot started The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock with the following couplet:

                Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

It should be ‘Let us go then, you and me’, since the pair is in apposition to the ‘us’ of ‘Let us go’. Rhyme gets in the way, again. What a way to start a poem! What was going through TSE’s mind? So how about this instead?

Let us go then, you and me,

When the evening is spread out above the sea

But then that business about ‘a patient etherized upon a table’ doesn’t work so well, does it? Poetry is hard.

It’s ROMANES EUNT DOMUS all over again.

Returning to Clark and Prospect, however, what is this ‘support’ business? Does Clark think that his enterprise is some kind of charity for which his subscribers shell out their valuable shekels? I recall our very capable and inspiring CEO at the Gartner Group offering similar messages of gratitude to our customers, as if he were not really convinced that the product we offered was of justifiable value to them. I shall ‘support’ Prospect only so long as it provides insightful and innovative analysis, and shall drop it otherwise. Moreover, if Clark persists with such silly and pretentious features as ‘the world’s top 50 thinkers’ (Bong-Joon Ho? Igor Levit?, but mercifully no Greta Thunberg this year), it may happen sooner rather than later. I was pleased to see a letter published in the October issue, as a reaction to the dopey ’50 top thinkers’, where the author pointed out that there are billions of people on the planet whose thinking capabilities are probably unknown to the editors. The letter concluded as follows: “I know it’s a ‘bit of fun’, but it’s the province of the pseudo-intellectual pub bore to assert a right to tell us who the 50 greatest thinkers are.”

I wrote to Clark, thanking him, but also asked him how many people were involved in constructing his garbled syntax. I received no reply. Probably no Christmas card for me next year.

I wish a Happy New Year to all my readers, and thank you for your ‘support’.

December Commonplace entries can be found here.

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Special Bulletin: Review of ‘Agent Sonya’

On December 8, the Journal of Intelligence and National Security published on-line my review of Ben Macintyre’s ‘Agent Sonya’, and it may be seen at https://www.tandfonline.com/action/showAxaArticles?journalCode=fint20 . Those readers who have institutional access to the Journal may read the whole article there: for others, since the terms of the Agreement entitle me to re-publish the review on my personal website, I present it here.

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