Category Archives: Geography

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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Camp 020R at Huntercombe

Lt.-Colonel Stephens Inspecting the Guard

One of the pleasures of running coldspur is the fact that so many interesting people stumble across it, and contact me. Apart from the dozens of professional and amateur enthusiasts of intelligence and espionage matters, a number of individuals with intriguing backgrounds have written to me: for example, a retired counter-intelligence officer overseas; a man who lodged with Agent SONIA in Great Rollright as a boy; a grand-daughter of the MI5 officer Michael Serpell; the son of the FBI’s representative in London during the Fuchs events; a son of the Communist spy Dave Springhall, who only recently learned who his father was; and, recently, the grandson of a soldier who guarded interned spies at a Home Office internment camp in World War 2.

It is the last whose story I want to highlight in this month’s feature. I believe that Pete Mackean owns a startling set of photographs from Camp 020 in its four incarnations, at Latchmere House, Huntercombe Park, Diest and Bad Nenndorf, some of them showing notable figures involved in the administration of the camps that have not been published before. They deserve a wider audience. When Pete shared them with me, I immediately suggested that coldspur might be a good place to showcase them, and he graciously agreed to let me use them.

Lieutenant Mackean of the Staffordshire Regiment

Yet I wanted to place them in a solid context. I was familiar with Latchmere House at Ham in Surrey, partly because I had played golf in the grounds next to it. I had also encountered the history of Camp 020 (as it became to be called) from the work issued in 2000 by the Public Record Office (as it then was), Camp 020: The Official History of MI5’s Wartime Interrogation Centre, compiled from the accounts of Lieutenant-Colonel R. W. G. Stephens and his assistants Lieutenant-Colonel G. Sampson and Major R. Short, and edited with an introduction by Oliver Hoare. Camp 020, otherwise known as Latchmere House, is a well-known landmark in counter-espionage literature. During World War II, it was used as a detention and interrogation centre for suspected German spies (most of whom, incidentally, were not German citizens), as well as, for a short time, a place to intern obvious domestic subversives, such as Oswald Mosley. It was led by the celebrated Lieutenant-Colonel R. W. G. Stephens, known as ‘Tin-Eye’ because of his monocle.

But Huntercombe, the alternative and back-up partner to Camp 020, which was dubbed Camp 020R, was much of a mystery to me, and I wanted to research its provenance and development in more detail. It was intended by Stephens and MI5 that there should not be any sharp distinctions made between the Camp 020 and Camp 020R. Yet a study of the files at the National Archives (specifically, KV 4/102 & /103) reveals that Huntercombe took on an identity and life of its own, and was not just an extension, or potential replacement, for Camp 020. (The ‘R’ stood for ‘Reserve’.) Its story has been largely overlooked.

Huntercombe merits only one paragraph (and a very occasional reference) in Stephens’s history: Christopher Andrew ignores it completely in his authorised history of MI5, Defence of the Realm, while John Curry briefly records, in his official history of MI5, that Camp 020 and 020R were in fact a ‘joint establishment’. Hinsley and Simkins, in Volume 4 of British Intelligence in the Second World War, merely cite, in an Appendix, when it was opened, as a reserve camp, in January 1943. In MI5, Nigel West suggests that ‘a long-term detention centre was hastily sited at a quiet spot on Lord Nuffield’s estate, Huntercombe Place, Nettlebed, near Henley’, an assessment that turns out to be incorrect on several counts. Guy Liddell, in his Diaries, makes one or two references to Huntercombe specifically, but his generic mentions of ‘Camp 020’ could be intended to designate either of the two.

As background reading, I heartily recommend A. W. Brian Simpson’s In The Highest Degree Odious (1992), a magisterial account of the slide into aggressive detention policy in the first years of the war. (Its major defect for me was an abundance of Footnotes, a tide that became highly distracting. Most of them should have been packaged as Endnotes. I also believe that Simpson is a little harsh on MI5, since his criticisms of it cover exactly the time that it was essentially leaderless, under Lord Swinton’s Security Executive, from May 1940 to March 1941.) Hinsley and Simkins give an overall solid account of the legislative muddles that accompanied the establishment of Camp 020, although they cover very superficially the implications of the Treachery Act. Helen Fry’s London Cage (2017) is a very useful guide to the string of prisons and detention centres where German prisoners-of-war were interrogated.

As a final observation on the slimness of official accounts, I have found no single place where all the Camps referred to in the literature (001- Dartmoor, 011- Bridgend, 020 – Ham, 020R – Huntercombe, 186 – Colchester, L – Isle of Man, WX – Stafford Prison, and then the Isle of Man, X – Canada, Z – Aldershot) are listed and described. A sentence on the Kew website runs as follows: “Those classified in Category A were interned in camps being set up across the UK, the largest settlement of which were on the Isle of Man though others were set up in and around Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Bury, Huyton, Sutton Coldfield, London, Kempton Park, Lingfield, Seaton and Paignton. Other documents indicate that there was not a direct correspondence between identified camps and named prisons: for example, Camp001 was the isolated hospital wing at Dartmoor.

The Background – Dealing with Hostile Elements:

Great Britain, primarily represented by the Home Office, struggled with the challenge of controlling and defanging undesirable elements in the first year of the war. The problem was multi-dimensional. In one category were British citizens who held unreliable opinions – the Fascist sympathisers, such as Oswald Mosley’s British Union, and The Link; communists driven into a hostile position by the demands of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, who might undermine the war effort; pacifists who, out of different convictions, might spread similar disaffection. In the second category were aliens, including German (and other) citizens who had fled from Nazi-controlled territories before the war, refugees escaping from territories that had succumbed to Nazi invasions in the first half of 1940, as well as unfortunate Germans and Austrians who had settled unobtrusively in the country during the last decade or two. The Home Office had no confident means of distinguishing between those fiercely opposed to Hitlerism, those who may have been infiltrated as spies or subversives, and those essentially apolitical beings who had switched their national loyalties. (This problem became more absurd when Italy entered the war in June 1940.) In the third category were true spies, who entered the country illegally or clandestinely (or, later in the war, were picked up on territories abroad), were not protected by any military uniform, and presented a unique challenge since no appropriate laws had been set up for their treatment, and, because of MI5’s peculiar interest in them, presented some problems for any open prosecutorial process.

The problem of handling subversive citizens had been addressed by some clumsy amendments to general Defence Regulations, most notoriously Amendment 39A, and a new paragraph 1a to 18B, which was introduced in May 1940. This allowed detention of any persons who were found to be furthering the objectives of the enemy, and resulted in many prominent citizens (such as Oswald Mosley) being detained in prison. As Simpson wrote, anyone to whom the Home Secretary took exception could be locked up for an indefinite period. Yet the policy took on a sharper focus in the summer of 1940. Mass internment of persons of German origin began after the Fifth Column scare of early June, 1940, and special camps, such as on the Isle of Man, were set up to hold such groups. Since the centuries-old Treason Act required special rules of evidence and procedure (and foreign spies, unlike those who has sought asylum, could hardly be accused of treasonable behaviour against a country to which they owned no allegiance), a Treachery Bill was quickly formulated, and passed on May 23. It likewise demanded the death penalty, but it could be commuted.

The outcome of this combination of respect for legal procedure, and somewhat panic-driven haste, was that a mixture of irritating but probably harmless ruffians, possible traitors sympathetic to Germany, suspicious but maybe innocent foreigners, and certifiably dangerous spies and saboteurs sometimes found internment in the same location. Ascot Racecourse was one internment camp, as were the Oratory Schools: Wandsworth and Holloway jails were also used. In January 1941, the Royal Victoria Patriotic Schools building in Wandsworth was set up as a general reception function (the London Reception Centre) for all manner of aliens, under the responsibility of the Home Office, but with MI5 conducting the interrogations, and the Army providing the guards and sentries. In mid-July, 1940, Latchmere House opened, and as Professor Hinsley wrote, ‘accepted its first batch of enemy aliens, British fascists, and suspects arriving from Dunkirk’. Yet the awareness of habeas corpus, and the inability of the government to hold suspects for more than twenty-eight days, led to vociferous complaints by the British citizenry among this group, declaring their entitlement to a fair trial, meant that a change of policy occurred. The crux of the matter was that internees could be interrogated, but those prosecuted could not.

As Hinsley went on to write (Volume 4, p 70): “Latchmere House had been opened as an interrogation centre for suspect Fifth Columnists in July, but in October MI5 decided that it should be used only for more serious cases among aliens, for example where espionage was suspected, and that British subjects should be taken there only in very exceptional circumstances. And from early in November the place was entirely reserved for captured agents, including some of the double-cross agents, arrangements being made by which MI5 reported to the Home Office every month the names of those detained, the reason for their detention, and the length of time they had been there.” Early the following year, as the double-cross operation gained momentum, the danger of leakage about the whole process impelled the authorities to decide that Latchmere House could not be used as a holding-place for short-term interrogation. It gained the nomenclature of ‘Camp 020’ in December 1941, and was by then assigned to the permanent detention of captured agents and dubious refugees, even though many were sent on to other secure areas, such as Dartmoor Prison (Camp 001), or Camp WX on the Isle of Man.

Since one of the primary functions of Camp 020 was to weed out dedicated Nazi agents, with the possibility of ‘turning’ suitable candidates to work for the British, it took on a highly secret nature, since, if an agent was detained, and then found not be suitable for turning, or betrayed that trust, MI5 could not risk any inkling of that attempt to leak out to the enemy. The initial policy for Camp 020 was to hold detainees incommunicado: that was one of the key differences between internment and imprisonment. (In September 1941, a potential disaster was averted after the failed double-agent JEFF had been sent to Camp WX, next to Camp L, on the Isle of Man, where Nazi German internees were held.) Moreover, complications were caused by the fact that, if any such victim were sent to trial, officers at Latchmere House would be called upon to give evidence. Proceedings and interrogations were documented in secrecy: if a formal statement were required, officers would have to send the subject to one of the prisons. Permanent detention was thus preferred to open prosecution. Permanent detainees could be housed in conventional prisons, but run-of-the-mill offenders could not be detained indefinitely in Camp 020.

The Regimental Sergeant-Major with Stephens and Sampson

Rumours about the prolonged interrogation and detention in 1943 would cause questions in high places to be posed about whether MI5 was under proper ministerial control. Indeed, up till then, Camp 020 had been running in an extra-legal fashion, much to the embarrassment of the Home Secretary, John Anderson. Nigel West points out that it was omitted from the list of camps submitted to the Red Cross, and thus was protected from inspection. MI5 survived that investigation, and several probable spies – though many who had been captured overseas could not be convicted of offenses against Great Britain, and had to wait until the end of the war to be repatriated – remained in detention for years. As Hinsley wrote: “Once a man’s case was completed, if he was not executed, released as innocent, or released to B1A to act as a double-agent. life in Camp 020 was far from intolerable.” (Hinsley overlooks the fact that some prisoners were despatched to other camps.) And that was the fate of the overwhelming majority of those sent to Camp 020.

From various comments in his Diaries, Guy Liddell betrays some of the tensions experienced in trying to keep the lid on the activities at Camp 020, away from the prying eyes of diplomats and bureaucrats. The main objective seemed to be to ensure that no whisper of information about the Double Cross initiatives – especially of those who had been initially considered, and exposed to the scheme, but then turned out to be unreliable – must be allowed to travel outside. Hence the emphasis on keeping prisoners incommunicado, and not releasing them for trial. Liddell makes references to more candidates who were offered the chance, but then failed the test. They had to be locked away. Moreover, MI5 took big risks with Agent ZIGZAG, Edward (Eddie) Chapman, who was brought back to Camp 020 for interrogations after undertaking missions abroad.

The Idea Behind Camp 020R:

The sense of awkwardness about Camp 020R may have been due to the fact that it had become an expensive white elephant. It was originally conceived as a back-up in the event that Latchmere House were bombed. A minor aeronautical raid in January 1941 had exposed the establishment, as if the Germans knew what was going on there. Stephens wrote as follows: “In consequence the Commandant was instructed to plan a duplicate camp at Nuffield. Thus Huntercombe, or Camp 020R, came into being. Primarily it was intended as a reserve camp. It was large enough to absorb Ham in time of crisis and to provide for the future commitments of a long-term war. It included a hostel at Wallingford where some 80 female staff could be accommodated. The decision was wise, but the cost, about £250,000, was high, and it is for consideration whether M.I.5. should not have a permanent lien on the place. In the event, Huntercombe was never put to full use as the Germans were good enough to leave Ham alone. The camp, however, did become the oubliette *; the place where enemy spies, no longer of interest, were allowed to vegetate until the end of the war.”

[* Oubliette: ‘a dungeon with no opening except in the roof’ (Chambers Dictionary, from the French ‘oublier’, to forget. Obviously a very un-English form of punishment)]

A study of KV 4/102 & 4/103 at the National Archives tells a rather more complicated story. Brigadier Harker had been discussing with Lord Swinton, the Chief of the Security Executive, as early as December 1940, the acquisition of ‘another complete establishment in the country’, concurrently with plans to construct new cells near the existing Latchmere House building. Early in 1941, waves of fresh German spies were expected. Army GHQ was concerned about the location and exposure of Ham, and the War Office began pressing Lord Swinton for an ‘alternative Latchmere’ in February. Swinton concurred: Latchmere had almost been hit again that month.

Thus negotiations began. The Home office and the Ministry of Works had to be involved. A March 10 memorandum to R. S. Wells at the Home office by D. Abbot states: “So far as the area of search [for premises] is concerned we must be guided by Home Forces. For our part we would like to be somewhere well outside London, and if possible in the general direction of Oxford. Or perhaps more broadly speaking within a sector bounded by lines drawn due West and N.N. West from London.” The search began. The Ministry of Works recommended a site, The Springs, North Stoke, in Oxfordshire, but it was deemed unsuitable.

The Selection of a Site:

By May 1, however, a more attractive site (for what was then called ‘Latchmere R’) had been found, and the Post Office was asked to be involved, as it would need setting up the same listening equipment that existed at Camp 020. Here we also find a mention of a ‘Home for Incurables’, suggesting that some diehard prisoners might be accommodated on the new premises, and require special handling in a facility some 200 or 300 yards from the main building. The site is not yet identified, but a report says that ‘the present owner, who is anxious to get rid of the place, has offered it for sale for £25,000, but the Ministry of Works  . . . would requisition it under their present powers probably at a rental of £200 or £300 per annum.’

The site is soon identified as Huntercombe Place, owned by Sir Francis Maclean. Maclean had been a WWI air ace, and was now Sheriff of Oxfordshire. He was famous for an aviation feat on August 10, 1912, when he flew his biplane through Tower Bridge, and under several other bridges on the Thames (see https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/10-august-1912/ ) Sir Francis wanted to stay in the Mansion House until the end of the year, but he was told that the outbuildings would need to be possessed immediately.

Initial Sketch for Camp 020R

Stephens visited the site in the middle of June, and was impressed with the location, the seclusion it offered, and the general amenities. But he was not so happy with the emerging plans for replicating Latchmere House, and the amount of personnel it would take to guard the place properly. On June 23, he wrote to Richard Butler (of the MI5 Secretariat) that his plans would turn out to be cheaper than those of the Ministry of Works: his suggestion can be seen alongside that of the Ministry. Lord Swinton chipped in at the end of the month, indicating that the back-up site was more urgent than the ‘Home for Incurables’, and stressing the need for speed.

Yet, despite all the apparent urgency, obstacles started to appear for what was now being called ‘Nuffield Camp’. The War Office was under the impression that the shadow camp would be occupied only if Ham were evacuated, and therefore no new guard personnel would be required. Stephens had to somehow finesse the problem that the separate oubliettes required by MI5 and SIS would come into operation immediately, while the shadow Prison block for Latchmere House would come into operation when Latchmere House was irretrievably ‘blown’, which went very much against Lord Swinton’s view of things. Moreover, the Ministry of Works was dragging its feet, and the optimum building season was, by July, passing by.

Stephens had a clash with the ‘pessimist’ Russell, of the Ministry of Works, who was slow visiting the site. They disagreed about the availability of labour, and Stephens was impelled to write a letter to Butler, complaining about the delays, saying that ‘the completion of Latchmere “R” ten months hence [i.e. May 1942] will be of little use to the Security Services’, when Swinton had hoped for completion by October 1941. Stephens was still referring to the need for the ‘reserve’ camp in terms of Latchmere House’s staff and prisoners moving ‘in the event of an invasion, or if it should again suffer from enemy action’. Yet he must have known by then, what with Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June, that both threats were drastically reduced.

Lord Swinton Intervenes:

And then a further blow occurred. There had obviously been rumblings about who should pay for the construction, and it was agreed in mid-September that it had to be out of MI5’s budget, on the secret vote, and not appear as a War Office expenditure. In that way, as a memorandum in November 1941, stated, ‘no inquisitive persons or committees will be able to investigate it’. Yet, as early as September 1941, a Ministry of Works letter to Abbot drew attention to the fact that the Prime Minister had asked the Production Executive to perform a drastic curtailment of any marginal projects. The official (a Mr. E. Batch) went on: “It is felt here . . . that it is doubtful whether we should proceed with Huntercombe Place”.

Relaxing at Huntercombe Place

Lord Swinton was able to intervene, however, and the work that had started in late September continued. Batch was summarily taken care of. Construction, and especially the electrical installations, required sentries to guard the property: Latchmere overall was taking on a new existence, and on December 1, David Petrie, the Director-General of MI5, had to rule that the establishment would be separated from B.1.E. on the grounds of its discrete characteristics of Policy, Intelligence, Administration and Army Administration. Furthermore, he declared that “in the interests of Security it is desired that in future Latchmere House, and the Country establishment at Nuffield, shall be referred to in all connections as Camp 020 and Camp 020, R. respectively.’

The Nuffield reference is a fascinating one, in its own right. Nigel West’s suggestion of a larger Nuffield estate, of which Huntercombe Place was a portion, cannot be true. Lord Nuffield (who as William Morris, founded Morris Motors) moved into his house, which was formerly known as Merrow Mount, only in 1933, when he renamed it. One map in the archive shows ‘Merrow Mount’ as a mansion on the right of the entrance road to Huntercombe Place and its much more expansive property. Furthermore, the name of ‘Nuffield’, apart from giving away the location of the new camp, was possibly of some embarrassment, for Lord Nuffield had been a prominent member of the pro-German society, The Link (and is actually listed as such on page 167 of West’s book).

Plan showing Merron Court (Lord Nuffield’s Residence)

The bills started coming in. An expenditure of £26,500 was marked for the period up to the end of February 1942. The archive is strangely silent for the summer of 1942, but, in August, Lt.-Col Stephens started raising new security concerns, primarily because of the proliferation and extension of USA air-bases in the area. He specifically wanted Huntercombe (and Latchmere) to be declared a ‘Prohibited Area’, where any aliens would be excluded, writing in stark tones: “The fact is that Camp 020 and the reserve establishment 020R are not only contre-espionage [sic] centres, but also prisons where spies who richly deserve the death penalty under the Treachery Act are kept alive for active Intelligence purposes.”

At this point, Stephens made a more exacting demand, suggesting that the camps be handed over to the War Office for administration: “  . . . to discard the appellation ‘Internment Camp’ in each case, and to invite the War Office, from an Army point of view, to administer Camp 020 and 020R definitely as War Office units rather than the responsibility of London District and South Midland Area, by which uninformed and uneven treatment is not unnaturally at times received. Precedents exist in support of this proposal. The first is ‘Camp Z’, which was kept off official lists altogether, and the second is the series of M.I. 19 Intelligence Camps Nos. 10, 20 and 30, which are not only kept off official lists, but are administered by the War Office direct rather than the Military Districts in which they are situated.” This language is rather puzzling – and provocative – as it seems to draw attention to the fact that the legality of Stephens’s establishments may have been questionable.

The irony was that even the MI5 Regional Control Officer, Major M. Ryde, did not know what was going on, and rumours were starting to fly around about the new ‘P.O.W. camp’. The police had taken an interest, but had been refused entry. Even though the place had been requisitioned from the Sheriff of Oxfordshire, the Chief Constable did not know why his officers had been refused admittance. In addition, Stephens had to write about the ‘vast extension’ of the aerodrome at Benson, three miles north, and the erection of a camp for 4,000 US servicemen at Nettlebed, one and a half miles south, which, he believed, would ‘render Intelligence work by special apparatus quite impossible’. Yet he still used the threat of further air bombardment at Ham, and the threat of invasion, as arguments for protecting the ‘reserve’ site.

In the short term, Stephens managed to win this particular battle, it seems, and was able to turn to the problem of staffing. In this he was beset by the problem of whether Camp 020R was going to be complementary to Camp 020, or whether it would still have to absorb all the latter in an emergency. He produced a paper that stressed how important it was to remove the more dangerous ‘old lags’ from Latchmere to Huntercombe. Camp 020 was operationally full in September 1942. Stephens looked forward to Camp 020R opening ‘in the near future’: “I would move there the old lags, split disturbing elements between 020 and 020R, and possibly accommodate some XX prisoners under better conditions.”  Who these reformed ‘XX prisoners’ were is rather mysterious, as it hints at several previously unknown spies who could neither be executed nor turned, and Stephens’s desire to house them in better conditions shows a rapid shift in humanitarian impulses from the commandant. In any case, in October, Stephens prepared for the influx. He arranged for Butler to appeal to the War Office that Huntercombe Farm, planned as a domicile for American troops, should be assigned to the Camp ‘for additional accommodation’. Brigadier Harker added his weight to the case in December. New maps of the protected territory were drawn. Another year had passed.

Diagram of Camp 020R (September 1942)

A Change of Mood:

While demands on rural space did not go away, Stephens’ tone continued to change. He softened his objections to low-flying aircraft from R.A.F. Benson. On January 26, 1943, he noted that ‘the threat of a comic Nazi invasion recedes’. Yet now a new bureaucratic challenge emerged – the Home Office, who may have been prodded into action by Stephen’s outburst from August. When MI5 started planning for the transfer of prisoners to Camp 020R in February 1943, it discovered that it had neglected to inform Sir Alexander Maxwell, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, even of the idea of the camp. Since Maxwell was very concerned about issues of welfare and fair treatment, Stephens had to prepare a grovelling report, submitted under Petrie’s signature, that stressed how superior the conditions were to those at Latchmere.

Stephens’ words ran as follows: “The conditions at Camp 020 R are more advantageous to the prisoners than at Camp 020 itself. More space is available out of doors, constant association is possible when desirable, while wireless, papers, games, cigarettes and other privileges are provided free of charge. Rations are somewhat better than received elsewhere as we are able to supplement the prescribed scale by produce form the ground.” This was far from the notions of ‘oubliettes’ and ‘prisoners being kept alive’: a concern now focussed on prisoners’ welfare. It sounded as if the ‘country establishment at Nuffield’ was taking on the characteristics of a country club, or health farm.

Moreover, the emphasis is no longer on ‘reserve’, even though the two camps are to be considered as one entity. Stephens told Maxwell that the camp was to be used ‘primarily as a place to which we can send prisoners whose intelligence investigations have been completed at Camp 020 and who, because of the espionage nature of their case, cannot, for security reasons, be transferred to any ordinary internment camp, or other place of detention.’ He was no doubt thinking of agents who had not been successfully turned, and thus knew too much about the Double-Cross System, such as SUMMER. Yet SUMMER had had to be re-confined well before Camp 020R was ready to accept prisoners.

The Home Office Wakes Up:

Standing orders were issued for the reception of internees on November 10, 1942, and prisoners started arriving in January 1943, it seems. (On the other hand, documents in KV 4/103, such as those referring to unauthorised lending of library-books between prisoners [!], indicate that detainees were already being held there.) Soon some ‘incident’ must have occurred, probably of maltreatment, since Harker had to intervene, but possibly an attempt at suicide by one of the detainees. The full documents have been removed, but the Register holds a memorandum from the Deputy Director-General, who had to seek a meeting with Maxwell to ‘explain what had happened’. “I further made it quite clear to Sir Alexander Maxwell that Mr. Milmo was in no way responsible for what had occurred, and I feel sure that his position will not be imperilled in any way by reason of any premature action”. But what had ‘Buster’ Milmo done? Liddell went on to write that Maxwell confirmed Milmo’s view that ‘the persons transferred to 020(R) are illegally detained’. A flurry of activity resulted in a report for Maxwell’s benefit.

The legal basis for the camps thus had to be investigated, and was eventually determined. In an instrument dated March 20, 1943, Camp 020 was ‘formally authorised as a place of detention for persons held under Articles 5A and 12(5A) of the Aliens’ Order’, and the Home Secretary then signed an equivalent order for Camp 020R (thus, incidentally, undermining the argument that the two camps should be seen as one unit.) But the Home Office also found a loophole: there was no formal authorisation for those detained under D.R.18B and 18BA, namely arrested spies, and the Home Secretary had to sign an order with retroactive effect, to cover this situation. Sampson informs us that Home Secretary John Anderson had given Swinton a ‘verbal’ [he should have written ‘oral’] approval during a telephone call in 1940, but had clearly not discussed the matter with his civil servants.

At Huntercombe Place

[Lt.-Col. Sampson second from left. Is that a senior RAF officer in the centre, maybe visiting from R.A.F. Benson? Looks a bit like the future Marshal of the R.A.F. Arthur Tedder, but then perhaps all Air-Marshals looked like Tedder.]

Apparently the transferred prisoners were not happy with their lot, as they started sending in petitions to the Home Secretary in the summer of 1943. Whether the more comfortable conditions at Camp 020, and the availability of books, had contributed to their sense of entitlement, or whether they had been put up to it by some champion for them, is not clear, and the record is sparse. But in August 1943, Milmo (B1B) had to respond to a complaint from the Home Office, which was obviously perturbed by the volume of petitions coming to it. “As has been pointed out”, he wrote, “the amenities at Camp 020R leave nothing to be desired, and are of an exceptionally high standard, being more reminiscent of a modern hotel than an internment camp.” He went on to explain the comforts, freedom of movement and association, no forced work, gardening optional, free tobacco, etc. etc. , and concluded: “We are quite satisfied that these manifestoes are the result of something in the nature of  a conspiracy, and this is borne out by the fact that there were no signs of unrest or disturbance of any kind at the camp.”

When Maxwell held a meeting, on July 29, to discuss the administration of Camp 020R, Petrie himself attended, confirmed the fact that both Dr. Dearden and a local practitioner were available for medical attention.  (Here also is the first indication that Camp 020R had its own commandant, a Major Gibbs.) The last item informs us that ‘such matters as attempts at, or actual, suicide would be so reported’, thus confirming the ‘incident’. Petrie followed up, somewhat sluggishly, on November 29, by inviting Maxwell to visit Camp 020R, so that he might investigate working conditions for himself. He reminded Maxwell that a ‘considerable number’ of ‘detainees’ had been transferred to Camp 020R, and that he expected several more in the coming months. Some jocularity was now called for: “I think you will also be interested in the ‘amenities’ which are provided at Stephens’ ‘country’ residence!”.

Petrie had visited the camp just before he sent this letter, and a memorandum from Butler to Stephens, dated December 1, reminds the latter that he and Petrie were both keen that ‘more books and games’ should be made available for the prisoners, and that money was on hand to address this need. The ensuing flurry of memoranda shows the earnestness with which this project was pursued, and also informs us that ’well over 100’ internees were now present there, of which half knew little English. Maxwell, meanwhile, was highly occupied, and replied on December 16 that he would not be able to accept the invitation until January.

So yet another year passed. Maxwell visited Camp 020R on January 5, and wrote promptly to Petrie the next day. In a somewhat starchy and headmasterly way, he requests Petrie to make sure that the Home Office receives a copy of any report made after a prisoner complaint. He is evidently concerned that he is ultimately responsible for the treatment of the prisoners, but has not been kept properly informed. Stephens’ instructions to Butler, a few days later, indicate that Milmo has been following the book over such cases, and the problem was probably due to civil servants in the Home Office suspecting that facts were being withheld. Stephens takes the time to remind Butler that Maxwell was otherwise very impressed.

The final note in the first file on Camp 020R shows that Maxwell has bought into the idea that Camp 020R was ’not an ordinary internment camp’. In a memorandum to Petrie, Butler reports on a meeting he had with Maxwell, where the latter ‘entirely agreed that it was extremely important that as few people as possible should know the details of the cases at Camp 020 and Camp 020R, or indeed of their existence. In the preparations for D-Day it was essential that no leakage of information about the so-called ‘double agents’ should occur.

Stephens’ assessment of Camp 020R was somewhat mournful: “There the prisoners learnt much about the British Constitution; they whiled away their time by writing petitions to the King, to the Home Secretrary and to the Judges. Sometimes they gave good advice to Mr Churchill and Mr Anthony Eden. Occasionally they tried to escape. In the end it became a soulless camp, and much sympathy is due to the officers and men who carried out their dreary task so conscientiously and well for so long a time.” Peter Mackean has pointed out to me how these obligations endured for several years after the war.

Camp 020R in Operation:

The second file, KV 4/103, covers Camp 020R after it opened for business at the beginning of 1943. It is not very revealing. It is replete with standing orders, such as the posting of sentries, fire precautions and orders, inspections, and instructions for distributing newspapers and cigarettes, bathing protocols, cell cleanliness, exercise, and the procedures for escorts and vehicle searches. The Home Office is clearly very interested in the welfare of the internees, who are now granted rights that one might deem over-indulgent for such a group of desperadoes. “Complaints, couched in respectful language, will be in writing and will be handed by prisoners to the Orderly Officer of the day at breakfast rounds only”, runs one edict.

Group Guard Portrait: Mackean at back left

By early 1944, the permanent secretary at the Home Office, Sir Alexander Maxwell, has visited the camp, and is overall satisfied, but he is concerned about extra medical supplies, and wants the chief prison Medical Officer, Dr. Methven, and Sir John Moylan (who appears to be responsible for handling petitions) to visit the camp at Huntercombe. Stephens is concerned about security and disruption. Maxwell seeks extra milk for prisoners having medical problems, a concern that Stephens has to address himself, and informs Milmo back in Head Office. Petrie is involved in the question of extra nourishment that ‘may be required for medical grounds’. One wonders: did these gentlemen not know that there was a war on?

Despite all this attention to their wellbeing, prisoners still planned escapes from their Colditz-in- the-Cotswolds, as a letter of February 21, 1944 confirms. The detainees involved were Stephens, K. C. Hansen, Pelletier, Hans Hansen, Oien, Olsen, Robr, Ronning, Steiner [sic], and Lecube – not all of whom, somewhat mysteriously, appear in the list maintained, and later distributed, by the camp authorities. But Stephens was on top of it, and wrote to Richard Butler on February 23: “I am not in the least troubled by the situation at Camp 020R. the men involved are determined to escape and the authorities concerned are equally determined that they will not succeed.”

Another year passed, apparently peacefully, and at the end of May 1945, Stephens planned to liquidate both Camp 020 and Camp 020R at once. He was alert to the constitutional challenges, and firmly believed that, no matter how ill-prepared their native countries might be, the prisoners should be repatriated at once. He wants some detainees at 020R to be sent to Camp 020, and sets a target of June 15 for Camp 020R to be closed. All prisoners were in fact moved to Ham by July 3, and the property was handed over to the Ministry of Works later that month, and its closure formally declared on September 5. Those German prisoners captured towards the end of the war who had been brought initially to Ham (such as Karl Heinz Kraemer, who played a very significant role in Stockholm) were transferred to Diest in Belgium, and then Bad Nenndorf, camps which were managed by the Ministry of War, not MI5. Camp 020 was disbanded in December, although Petrie did report to Maxwell that ‘a small residue’ of detainees were still in Beltane Schools [sic: a school originally for German Kindertransport children, in Wimbledon], awaiting repatriation.

Diest Prison
Mackean at Bad Nenndorf

After the war, Camp 020R became a Borstal prison. In 1983, it became a cellular prison for young juveniles. It has since (according to Wikipedia) taken a role for holding foreign national offenders awaiting deportation – an echo of its wartime role. Huntercombe Hall, which was used for administration, and as a recreational and residential facility, is now Huntercombe Hall Care Home, owned by Oxfordshire County Council, which offers ‘residential, nursing, and dementia care for up to 42 elderly residents’.

Thus the installation has come full circle, and acts as a stark reminder of the legal and constitutional challenges facing a security service and police force that today have to protect the democracy from hostile elements planning mayhem, but who may have not committed any act that can confidently be prosecuted.

The Prisoners:

Stephens’s commentary in his history, and a Kew file (KV 2/2593), combine to give us a good description of those who were moved to Camp 020R. I list them here, with a brief thumbnail sketch of those for whom information exists.

Stoerd Pons                 Only member of his LENA spy squad to escape execution

Gosta Caroli                SUMMER: reneged, tried to escape by overpowering his guard

Kurt Goose                  Double-agent who tried to smuggle message to German Embassy

Albert Jaeger              

Otto Joost                    LENA spy who was spared

Gunnar Evardsen        LENA spy who was spared

Cornelius Evertsen      Dutch captain who tried to land agents in Fishguard

Arie Van Dam             Member of Belgian sea-mission in London; denounced

Theophil Jezequel       Cuban from Spain recruited by Abwehr; brought in by Evertsen

Juan Martinez                                                  ditto          

Silvio Robles                                                  ditto       

Pedro Hechevarria                                          ditto

Kurt Hansen

Gerard Libot

Wilhelm Heinrich

Hugo Jonasson            Swedish skipper recruited by Abwehr in Brest

Francis de Lee

Jan de Jonge                Dutchman arrested in Gibraltar making inquiries about convoys

Jose del Campo           Cuban arrested in British port, confessed

Karl Hansson

Johan Strandmoen      Norwegian arrested in Wick on ‘fishing’ expedition

Bjarne Hansen                                                ditto

Hans Hansen                                                   ditto

Henry Torgesen                                               ditto

Edward Ejsymont       Pole form Gdansk who made misleading statements

Helmik Knudsen

Edward Balsam           Polish Jew who shadowed Ejsymont; made false claims?

Abraham Sukiennik                                        ditto

Eigil Robr                   Norwegian traitor spirited into UK by military attaché in Stockholm

Leopold Hirsch           Crook who tried to bribe Germans captured in Trinidad

Oscar Gilinsky                                                ditto   

Gustav Ronning

Martin Olsen

Thorleif Solem            Norwegian in pay of Germans arrested in Shetland Islands

Sigurd Alsaeth                                                ditto

Cornelius Van der Woude

Florent Steiner            Belgian seaman denounced by Verlinden

Piet Schipper               Dutch seaman engaged by Abwehr

Jean Pelletier

Gottfried Koch

Erich Blau

Hans Sorensen

Carl Meewe

Hilaire Westerlinck     Belgian doctor denounced by Verlinden

Tadeus Szumlicz         Polish refugee recruited by Germans in Paris

Jens Palsson

Leon Jude                   Belgian airline pilot recruited by Germans    

Robert Petin                Frenchman in air force who retracted his confession

Alfred Lagall

Jose Manso Barras

Sandor Mocsan           Hungarian employed by German in Brazil: radio interception

Janos Salomon                                                ditto

Sobhy Hanna              Egyptian groomed by Abwehr, arrested in Dar-es-Salaam

Pieter Grootveld

Pierre Morel                Demobilised French pilot, employed by Germans: evasive story

Serrano Morales

Juan Lecube                Mulish Spaniard, arrested in Trinidad: radio interception

Jose Moreno-Ruiz

Vincente Fernandez-Pasos

Gabriel Pry                  Belgian mathematician: offered services to Abwehr, arrested in Lisbon

Ernesto Simoes           Portuguese spy in UK who contacted Germans by secret ink

Dos Santos Mesquita  Portuguese journalist captured in Lourenço Marques

De Ferraz Freitas        Portuguese radio operator on fishing-fleet: radio interception

Garcia Serrallach         Petty Argentinian crook captured in Trinidad

Andres Blay Pigrau                                         ditto

Homer Serafimides     Greek seaman, swindler: handed over to British in Durban

Torre de la Castro

Frank Stainer               Belgian crook Abwehr planned to infiltrate, captured in Lisbon

This is a mixed bag of scoundrels. Clearly some of them deserved the death penalty, but MI5 was reluctant to invoke the Treachery Act, as it would mean public trials, and secrets coming out that the service would prefer remain hidden, followed by an obligatory death sentence if the accused had been found guilty. There might be further information to be gained by interrogation, and, if too long a time passed, questions would be asked why there had been a delay. A few were failed ‘double-agents’ who knew too much. Some of the accused had been denounced, and motives might have been suspect; the identity of others had been gained by interception of Abwehr radio signals (ISOS), and clearly had to be kept quiet. Lastly, many of those detected had been arrested on foreign soil. The jurisdiction that the UK security service had over such probable criminals was uncertain, and many such persons had therefore to be detained until the end of the war, when they were repatriated to their home countries so that they could receive native justice. At least one (Stainer) was executed under such circumstances.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Now that the Presidential election is over and decided (pending last-minute judicial challenges), we have to look forward to the period of transition. We thus need to build a word-ladder from TRUMP to BIDEN.

A word-ladder is a set of words that incorporates a change of one letter at a time to transform the subject word into the object word, where no proper names are used. Thus MOAT can become HILL by a sequence such as MOAT-MOOT-HOOT-HOLT-HILT-HILL.

I have discovered a ladder of 14 steps to take TRUMP to BIDEN (i.e. thirteen intermediate ‘rungs’). And I have created another 14-step ladder to transform TRUMP to PENCE, as the Republican chief in waiting. However, if we want to project the transition to my favourite for the 2024 Republican presidential nominee, Nikki Haley, I have plotted another 14-step campaign for TRUMP-HALEY. On the other hand, sketching the 2024 handover from BIDEN to HALEY is a 6-step breeze. I am offering an extended free tour of my library to anyone who can offer a combined array shorter than these, a 48-step total. And I can promise that my library is far more interesting than the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library ever will be, as the latter will probably contain just bound volumes of Playboy, and signed copies of The Art of the Deal. Please send your answers to antonypercy@aol.com. (Travel and accommodation arrangements are the responsibility of the winners.)

New Commonplace entries can be found here.

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The Mystery of the Undetected Radios (Part 8)

A dummy tank used in Operation Bodyguard

“These got a further boost when, just after midnight on 9 June, CATO [the German codename for GARBO] spent two full hours on the air sending a long and detailed report to his spymaster, Kühlenthal. The risk of capture was enormous when an agent transmitted that long, for it gave the direction-finding vans plenty of time to locate him. But this very fact impressed the Germans with the importance of his signal.” (Hitler’s Spies, by David Kahn, p 515)

“If the receivers of this vast screed had paused to reflect, they might have registered how unlikely it was that a wireless would have been able to operate for more than two hours without detection. But they did not.” (Double Cross, by Ben Macintyre, p 324)

“Garbo still ranked high in the esteem of his controller, but if Kühlenthal had thought coolly and carefully enough, there was one aspect of that day’s exchange of signals that might have made him suspicious. Garbo had been on the air so long that he had given the British radiogoniometrical stations ample time on three occasions to obtain a fix on his position and arrest him. Why was he able to stay on the air so long? Did he have a charmed life? Or was he being allowed to transmit by the British for the purpose of deception? These were questions that Kühlenthal might well have asked himself. But instead of being suspicious, he sent a message to Berlin. In it he recommended Garbo for the Iron Cross.” (Anthony Cave-Brown, Bodyguard of Lies, pp 676-677)

“The Abwehr remained remarkably naïve in thinking that in a densely populated and spy-conscious country like England an agent would be able to set up a transmitter and antenna without attracting attention. Moreover, it seems not to have smelled a rat from the fact that some agents, notably GARBO, were able to remain on the air for very long periods without being disturbed. It did have the good sense to furnish agents sent to Britain with only low-power sets that would cause minimal interference to neighbors’ receivers and would be more difficult for the British to monitor – though they also afforded less reliable communication. Once again, GARBO was an exception. Telling the Germans that he had recruited a radio operator with a powerful transmitter, he sent his messages at 100 watts from a high-grade set. Even this did not raise the Abwehr’s suspicions.” (Thaddeus Holt, The Deceivers, pp 142-143)

“And so, with Eisenhower’s authorization, Pujol transmitted, in the words of Harris, ‘the most important report of his career’. Beginning just after midnight, the message took two hours and two minutes to transmit. This was a dangerously long time for any agent to remain on air.” (Operation Fortitude, by Joshua Levine, p 283)

“GARBO’s second transmission lasted a record 122 minutes, and hammered home his belief that the events of the past forty-eight hours represented a diversionary feint, citing his mistress ‘Dorothy Thompson’, an unconscious source in the Cabinet Office, who had mentioned a figure of seventy-five divisions in England.” (Nigel West, Codeword OVERLORD, p 274)

“The length of this message should have aroused suspicion in itself. How on earth a real secret agent could stay on the air transmitting for so long in wartime conditions was unbelievable. British SOE agents operating in Europe were told to keep transmissions to less than five minutes in order not to be detected. However, this was not questioned.” (Terry Crowdy, Deceiving Hitler, p 270)

“We are sure that we deceived the Germans and turned their weapon against themselves; can we be quite sure that they were not equally successful in turning our weapon against is? Now our double-cross agents were the straight agents of the Germans – their whole espionage system in the U.K. What did the Germans gain from this system? The answer cannot be doubtful. They gained no good from their agents, and they did take from them a very great deal of harm. It would be agreeable to be able to accept the simple explanation, to sit back in the armchair of complacency, to say that we were very clever and the Germans very stupid, and that consequently we gained both on the swings and the roundabouts as well. But that argument just won’t hold water at all.” (The Double-Cross System, by John Masterman, p 263)

“Masterman credited only his own ideas, fresh-minted like gold sovereigns entirely from his experiences on the XX Committee. The wonder of it is, with the exception of the sporadic pooh-poohing from the likes of maverick Oxford historian A. J. P. Taylor and veteran counter-intelligence officer David Mure, The Double-Cross System came to be swallowed whole. Farago’s book was essentially forgotten; Masterman’s became celebrated.” (Fighting to Lose, by John Bryden, p 314)

“Yet, when all is said, one is left with a sense of astonishment that men in such responsible positions as were those who controlled the destinies of Germany during the late war, could have been so fatally misled on such slender evidence. One can only suppose that strategic deception derives its capacity for giving life to this fairy-tale world from the circumstance that it operates in a field into which the enemy can seldom effectively penetrate and where the opposing forces never meet in battle. Dangers which lurk in this terra incognita thus tend to be magnified, and such information as is gleaned to be accepted too readily at its face value. Fear of the unknown is at all times apt to breed strange fancies. Thus it is that strategic deception finds its opportunity of changing the fortunes of war.” (Fortitude, by Roger Hesketh, p 361)

“Abwehr officials, enjoying life in the oases of Lisbon, Madrid, Stockholm or Istanbul, fiddling their expenses and running currency rackets on the side, felt that they were earning their keep so long as they provided some kind of information. This explains why for example Garbo was able to get away with his early fantasies, and Tricycle could run such outrageous risks.” (Michael Howard, British Intelligence in the Second World War, Volume 5, p 49)

“However, the claim that the Double Cross spies were ‘believed’ in ‘Berlin’ needs some amplification. Even if the information was swallowed by the Abwehr, that is not to say that it was believed at OKW or that it influenced overall German policy. Part of the problem is that the Abwehr was not a very efficient organisation. Nor was it involved in significant analysis of its intelligence product: on the contrary, the Ast and outstations tended to pounce on any snippet of potentially useful information and, rather than evaluate its intelligence value, pass it on to Berlin as evidence of their ‘busyness’ and as justification for their salaries and expense accounts.” (David Kenyon, Bletchley Park and D-Day, p 163)

“We have succeeded in sustaining them so well that we are receiving even at this stage . . . an average of thirty to forty reports each day from inside England, many of them radioed directly on the clandestine wireless sets we have operational in defiance of the most intricate and elaborate electronic countermeasures.” (Admiral Canaris, head of the Abwehr, in February 1944, from Ladislas Farago’s Game of the Foxes, p 705)

“A fundamental assumption they [the Germans] made was logically simple: if they were reading parts or all of different British codes at different times, and no mention of any signal was ever found that referred to any material transmitted by the Germans in an Enigma-encoded message, then the system had to be secure.” (Christian Jennings, The Third Reich is Listening, p 261)

GARBO and D-DAY

The Story So Far

(Readers looking for a longer recap may want to inspect the concluding paragraphs of The Mystery of the Undetected Radios, Part VII)

By 1943, the Radio Security Service, adopted by SIS (MI6) in the summer of 1941, has evolved into an efficient mechanism for intercepting enemy, namely German, wireless signals from continental Europe, and passing them on to Bletchley Park for cryptanalysis. Given the absence of any transmissions indicating the presence of German spies using wireless telegraphy on British soil, the Service allows its domestic detection and location-finding capabilities to be relaxed somewhat, with the result that it operates rather sluggishly in tracking down radio usage appearing to be generated from locations in the UK, whether they are truly illicit, or simply misguided. RSS would later overstate the capabilities of its mobile location-finding units, in a fashion similar to that in which the German police units exaggerated the power and automation of its own interception and detection devices and procedures. RSS also has responsibilities for providing SIS agents, as well as the sabotage department SOE (Special Operations Executive), with equipment and communications instructions, for their excursions into mainland Europe. SOE has had a very patchy record in wireless security, but RSS’s less than prompt response to its needs provokes SOE, abetted by its collaborators, members of various governments in exile, to attempt to bypass RSS’s very protocol-oriented support. RSS has also not performed a stellar job in recommending and enforcing solid Signals Security procedures in British military units. Guy Liddell, suspicious of RSS’s effectiveness, knows that he needs wireless expertise in MI5, and is eager to replace the ambitious and manipulative Malcom Frost, who is eased out at the end of 1943. It thus takes Liddell’s initiative, working closely with the maverick RSS officer, Sclater, to draw the attention of the Wireless Board to the security oversights. Towards the end of 1943, the plans for OVERLORD, the project to ‘invade’ France on the way to ensuring Germany’s defeat, start to take shape, and policies for ensuring the secrecy of the operation’s details will affect all communications leaving the United Kingdom.

Contents:

NEPTUNE, OVERLORD, BODYGUARD & FORTITUDE

Determining Censorship Policy

The Dilemma of Wireless

Findlater Stewart, the Home Defence Security Executive, and the War Cabinet

Problems with the Poles

Guy Liddell and the RSS

‘Double’ or ‘Special’ Agents?

Special Agents at Work

The Aftermath

NEPTUNE, OVERLORD, BODYGUARD & FORTITUDE

Operation Bodyguard

My objective in this piece is to explore and analyse policy concerning wireless transmissions emanating from the British Isles during the build-up to the Normandy landings of June 1944. This aspect of the war had two sides: the initiation of signals to aid the deception campaign, and the protection of the deception campaign itself by prohibiting possibly dangerous disclosures to the enemy that would undermine the deceits of the first. It is thus beyond my scope to re-present the strategies of the campaign, and the organisations behind them, except as a general refreshment of the reader, in order to provide a solid framework, and to highlight dimensions that have been overlooked in the histories.

OVERLORD was originally the codeword given to the assault on Normandy, but in September 1943 it was repurposed and broadened to apply to the operation of the ‘primary United States British ground and air effort against the Axis in Europe’. (Note that, on Eisenhower’s urging, it was not considered an ‘invasion’, a term which would have suggested incursions into authentic enemy territory.)  NEPTUNE was the codeword used to describe the Normandy operation. BODYGUARD was the overall cover plan to deceive the enemy about the details of OVERLORD. BODYGUARD itself was broken down into FORTITUDE North and FORTITUDE South, the latter conceived as the project to suggest that the main assault would occur in the Pas de Calais as opposed to Normandy, and thus disguise NEPTUNE.

I refer the reader to six important books for greater detail on the BODYGUARD deception plan. Bodyguard of Lies, by Anthony Cave Brown (1975) is a massive, compendious volume, containing many relevant as well as irrelevant details, not all of them reliable, and the author can be annoyingly vague in his chronology. Sir Michael Howard’s British Intelligence in the Second World War, Volume 5 (1990), part of the authorized history, contains a precise and urbane account of the deception campaign, although it is rather light on technical matters. Roger Hesketh, who was the main architect of FORTITUDE, wrote his account of the project, between 1945 and 1948, but it was not published until 2000, many years after his death in 1987, as Fortitude: The D-Day Deception Campaign. (In his Preface to the text, Hesketh indicates that he was given permission to publish in 1976, but it did not happen.) Hesketh’s work must be regarded as the most authoritative of the books, and it includes a large number of invaluable, charts, documents and maps, but it reflects some of the secrecy provisions of its time. Joshua Levine’s Operation Fortitude (2001) is an excellent summary of the operation, lively and accurate, and contains a highly useful appendix on Acknowledgements and Sources. Nigel West delivered Codeword Overlord (2019), which sets out to cover the role and achievements of Axis espionage in preparing for the D-Day landings. Like many of West’s recent works, it is uneven, and embeds a large amount of source material in the text. Oddly, West, who provided an Introduction to Hesketh’s book, does not even mention it in his Bibliography. Finally, Thaddeus Holt’s Deceivers (2007) is perhaps the most comprehensive account of Allied military deception, an essential item in the library, very well written, and containing many facts and profiles not available elsewhere. It weighs in at a hefty 1000+ pages, but the details he provides, unlike Cave Brown’s, are all relevant.

Yet none of these volumes refers to the critical role of the Home Security Defence Executive (HSDE), chaired by Sir Findlater Stewart, in the security preparations. (Findlater Stewart receives one or two minor mentions in two of the Indexes, but on matters unrelated to the tasks of early 1944.) The HSDE was charged, however, with implementing a critical part of the censorship policy regarding BODYGUARD. The HSDE was just one of many intersecting and occasionally overlapping committees performing the planning. At the highest level, the Ops (B) section, concerned with deception under COSSAC (Chief of Staff to Supreme Allied Commander), was absorbed into SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) in January 1944, when General Eisenhower took over command, expanded, and split into two. Colonel Noel Wild headed Ops (B), with Jervis Read responsible for physical deception, while Roger Hesketh took on Special Means, whose role was to implement parts of the deception plan through controlled leakage.

In turn, Hesketh’s group itself was guided by the London Controlling Section (LCS), which was responsible for deciding the overall strategy of how misinformation should be conveyed to the enemy, and tracking its success. At this time LCS was led by Colonel John Bevan, who faced an extraordinary task of coordinating the activities of a large number of independent bodies, from GC&CS’s collection of ULTRA material to SOE’s sabotage of telephone networks in France, as well as the activities of the ‘double-agents’ within MI5. Thus at least three more bodies were involved: the W Board, which discussed high-level policy matters for the double-cross system under General Davidson, the Director of Military Intelligence; the XX Committee, chaired by John Masterman, which implemented the cover-stories and activities of both real and notional agents, and created the messages that were fed to the Abwehr; and MI5’s B1A under ‘Tar’ Robertson, the group that actually managed the activities and transmissions of the agents. Lastly, the War Cabinet set up a special group, the OVERLORD Security Sub-Committee, to inspect the detailed ramifications of ensuring no unauthorised information about the landings escaped the British Isles, and this military-focussed body enjoyed a somewhat tentative liaison with the civilian-oriented HDSE through the energies of Sir Findlater Stewart.

When Bevan joined the W Board on September 23, 1943, the LCS formally took over the responsibility for general control of all deception, leaving the W Board to maintain supervision of the double-agents’ work solely. Also on the W Board was Findlater Stewart, acting generally on behalf of the Ministries, who had been invited in early 1941, and who directly represented his boss, Sir John Anderson, and the Prime Minister. The Board had met regularly for almost three years, but by September 1943, highly confident that it controlled all the German agents on UK soil, and with Bevan on board, held only one more meeting before the end of the war – on January 21, 1944. It then decided, in a general stocktaking before OVERLORD, that the XX Committee could smoothly continue to run things, but that American representation on the Committee was desirable. As for Findlater Stewart, he still had a lot of work to do.

Determining Censorship Policy

The move to tighten up security in advance of NEPTUNE took longer than might have seemed appropriate. At the Quebec Conference in August 1943 Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed on the approximate timing and location of the operation, but it needed the consent of Stalin at the Teheran Conference at the end of November, and the Soviet dictator’s commitment to mount a large scale Soviet offensive in May 1944 to divert German forces, for the details to be solidified. Thus Bevan’s preliminary thoughts on the deception plan for OVERLORD, sketched out in July, had to be continually revised. A draft version, named JAEL, was circulated, and approved, on October 23, but, after Teheran, Bevan had to work feverishly to prepare the initial version of the BODYGUARD plan which replaced JAEL, completing it on December 18. This received feedback from the Chiefs of Staff, and from Eisenhower, newly appointed Commander-in-Chief, and was presented to SHAEF in early January, and approved on January 19. Yet no sooner was this important step reached than Bevan, alongside his U.S. counterpart Bauer, was ordered to leave for Moscow to explain the plan, and convince the Soviets of its merits. Such was the suspicion of Soviet military and intelligence officers, and such was their inability to make any decision unless Stalin willed it, that approval did not arrive until March 5, when the delegates returned to London.

Yet Guy Liddell’s Diaries indicate that there had already been intense discussion about OVERLORD Security, the records of which do not seem to have made it into the HDSE files. Certainly, MI5 had been debating it back in December 1943, and Liddell refers to a Security Executive meeting held on January 26. At this stage, Findlater Stewart was trying to settle what travel bans should be put in place, and as early as February 8 Liddell was discussing with his officers Grogan and (Anthony) Blunt the implications of staggering diplomatic cables before OVERLORD. The next day, he met with Maxwell at the Home Office to discuss the prevention of the return of allied nationals to the country (because of the vetting for spies that would be required).

More surprisingly, on February 11, when reporting that the Chiefs of the General Staff had become involved, and had made representations to Churchill, Liddell refers to the formation of an OVERLORD Security Committee, and comments drily: “The committee is to consist of the Minister of Production, Minister of Aircraft Production, Home Secretary and Duncan Sandys, none of whom of course know anything about security.” This committee was in fact an offshoot of the War Cabinet, which had established a Committee on OVERLORD Preparations on February 9, part of the charter of which was ‘the detection of secret enemy wireless apparatus, and increased exertions against espionage’, perhaps suggesting that not all its members were completely au fait with the historical activities of RSS and the W Board. It quickly determined that it needed a further level of granularity to address these complex security matters. Thus the Sub-committee on OVERLORD Security was established, chaired by the Minister of Production, Oliver Lyttleton, and held its first meeting on February 18, when Liddell represented MI5. Oddly, no representative from MI6 attended. Liddell continues by describing the committee’s  charter as considering: 1) the possibility of withdrawing diplomatic communications privileges; 2) the prevention of export of newspapers; 3) more strengthened surveillance of ships and aircraft; 4) the detection of secret enemy wireless apparatus and increased precautions against espionage. Findlater Stewart is charged with collecting relevant material. In what seems to be an overload of committees, therefore, the HDSE and the War Cabinet carry on parallel discussions, with Findlater Stewart a key figure in both assemblies.

The primary outcome of this period is the resistance by the Foreign Office to any sort of ban, or even forced delay, in diplomatic cable traffic, which they believed would have harmful reciprocal consequences abroad, and hinder MI6’s ability to gather intelligence (especially from Sweden). This controversy rattled on for months [see below], with the Cabinet emerging as an ineffective mechanism for resolving the dilemma. Liddell believed that, if the Foreign Office and the Home Office (concerned about invasion of citizens’ rights) had not been so stubborn and prissy about the whole thing, the Security Executive could have resolved the issues quickly.

Thus the impression that Findlater Stewart had to wait for Bevan’s return for seeking guidance before chairing his committee to implement the appropriate security provisions is erroneous. Contrary to what the record indicates, the critical meeting on March 29 was not the first that the HDSE Committee held. Yet, when Bevan did return, he might have been surprised by the lack of progress. He quickly learned, on March 10, that the Cabinet had decided not to withdraw facilities for uncensored communications by diplomats, as it would set an uncomfortable precedent. That was at least a decision – but the wrong one. Bevan had a large amount of work to do shake people up: to make sure that the rules were articulated, that the Americans were in line, and that all agencies and organizations involved understood their roles. “Only under Bevan’s severe and cautious direction could they perform their parts in FORTITUDE with the necessary harmony”, wrote Cave Brown. Bevan clearly put some urgency into the proceedings: the pronouncements of LCS were passed on to Findlater Stewart shortly afterwards.

The history of LCS shows that security precautions were divided into eight categories, of which two, the censorship of civilian and service letters and telegrams, and the ban on privileged diplomatic mail and cipher telegrams, were those that concentrated on possible unauthorised disclosure of secrets by means other than direct personal travel. The historical account by LCS (at CAB 154/101, p 238) explains how the ban on cable traffic was imposed, but says nothing about wireless: “The eighth category, the ban on diplomatic mail and cipher telegrams was an unprecedented and extraordinary measure. As General EISENHOWER says, even the most friendly diplomats might unintentionally disclose vital information which would ultimately come to the ears of the enemy.”

What is significant is that there is no further mention of wireless traffic in the HDSE meetings. Whether this omission was due to sheer oversight, or was simply too awkward a topic to be described openly, or was simply passed on to the War Cabinet meetings, one can only surmise. When the next critical HDSE meeting took place on April 15, headlined as ‘Withdrawal of Diplomatic Privileges’, it echoed the LCS verbiage, but also, incidentally, highlighted the fact that Findlater Stewart saw that the main threat to security came from the embassies and legations of foreign governments, whether allies or not. Well educated by the W Board meeting, he did not envisage any exposure from unknown German agents working clandestinely from British soil.

The Dilemma of Wireless

It is worthwhile stepping back at this juncture to examine the dilemma that the British intelligence authorities faced. Since the primary security concern was that no confidential information about the details of the actual assault, or suggestions that the notional attack was based on the strength and movement of illusionary forces, should be allowed to leave the country, a very tight approach to personnel movement, such as a ban on leave, and on the holidays of foreign diplomats, was required, and easily implemented. Letters and cables had to be very closely censored. But what do to about the use of wireless? Officially, outside military and approved civil use (railway administration, police) the only licit radio transmissions were being made by Allied governments, namely the Americans and the Soviets, and by select governments-in-exile, the French, the Poles and the Czechs (with the latter two having their own sophisticated installations rather than just apparatus within an embassy). It was quite possible that other countries had introduced transmission equipment, although RSS would have denied that its use would have remained undetected.

Certainly all diplomatic transmissions would have been encyphered, but the extent to which the German interception authorities (primarily OKW Chi) would have been able to decrypt such messages was unknown. And, even if the loyalty and judgment of these missions could be relied upon, and the unbreakability of their cyphers trusted, there was no way of guaranteeing that a careless reference would not escape, and that a disloyal employee at the other end of the line might get his or her hands on an indiscreet message. (Eisenhower had to demote and send home one of his officers who spoke carelessly.) Thus total radio silence must have been given at least brief consideration. It was certainly enforced just before D-Day, but that concerned military silence, not a diplomatic shutdown.

Yet the whole FORTITUDE deception plan depended on wireless. The more ambitious aspect focused on the creation of dummy military signals to suggest a vast army (the notional FUSAG) being imported into Britain and moved steadily across the country to assemble in the eastern portion, indicating a northern assault on mainland Europe. Such wireless messages would have appeared as genuine to the Germans – if they had had the resources and skills to intercept and analyse them all. Thus the pretence had to be meticulously maintained right up until D-Day itself. In August 1943, the Inter-Services Security Board (ISSB) had recommended that United Kingdom communications with the outside world should be cut off completely, and Bevan had had to resist such pressure. As Howard points out, most involved in the discussion did not know about the Double-Cross System.

As it turned out, both German aerial reconnaissance and interception of dummy signals were so weak that the Allies relied more and more on the second leg of their wireless strategy – the transmissions of its special agents. Thus it would have been self-defeating for the War Cabinet to prohibit non-military traffic entirely, since the appearance of isolated, illicit signals in the ether, originating from British soil, and remaining undetected and unprosecuted, would have caused the Nazi receivers to smell an enormous rat. (One might add that it strains credibility in any case to think that the Abwehr never stopped to consider how ineffectual Britain’s radio interception service must be, compared with Germany’s own mechanisms, if it failed completely ever to interdict any of its own agents in such a relatively small and densely populated territory. And note Admiral Canaris’s comments above.) Of course, the RSS might have wanted to promote the notion that its interception and location-finding techniques were third-rate, just for that purpose. One might even surmise that Sonia’s transmissions were allowed to continue as a ruse to convince the Germans of the RSS’s frailties, in the belief that they might be picking up her messages as well as those of their own agents, and thus forming useful judgments about the deficiencies of British location-finding.

We should also recall that the adoption of wireless communications by the special agents was pursued much more aggressively by the XX Committee and B1A than it was by the Abwehr, who seemed quite content to have messages concealed in invisible ink on letters spirited out of England by convenient couriers, such as ‘friendly’ BOAC crewmen. Thus TREASURE, GARBO and BRUTUS all had to be found more powerful wireless apparatus, whether mysteriously acquired in London, from American sources, or whether smuggled in from Lisbon. The XX Committee must have anticipated the time when censorship rules would have tightened up on the use of the mails for personal correspondence, even to neutral countries in Europe, and thus make wireless connectivity a necessity.

In conclusion, therefore, no restrictions on diplomatic wireless communication could allow prohibition completely, as that would leave the special agents dangerously exposed. And that policy led to some messy compromises.

Findlater Stewart, the Home Defence Security Executive, and the War Cabinet

Sir Findlater Stewart

It appears that the War Cabinet fairly quickly accepted Findlater Stewart’s assurances about the efficacy of RSS. A minute from February 28 runs: “We have considered the possibility that illicit wireless stations might be worked in this country. The combined evidence of the Radio Security Service secret intelligence sources and the police leads to the firm conclusion that there is no illicit wireless station operating regularly in the British Isles at present. The danger remains that transmitting apparatus may be being held in readiness for the critical period immediately before the date of OVERLORD – or may be brought into the country by enemy agents. We cannot suggest any further measures to reduce this risk and reliance must therefore be placed on the ability of the Radio Security Service to detect the operation of illicit transmitters and of the Security Service to track down agents.” Thus the debate moved on to the control of licit wireless transmissions, where the HDSE and the War Cabinet had to overcome objections from the Foreign Office.

The critical meeting on ‘OVERLORD Security’ – ‘Withdrawal of Diplomatic Privileges’ was held on the morning of April 15, under Findlater Stewart’s chairmanship. This was in fact the continuation of a meeting held on March 29, which had left several items of business unfinished. That meeting, which was also led by Findlater Stewart, and attended by only a small and unauthoritative group (Herbert and Locke from Censorship, Crowe from the Foreign Office, and Liddell, Butler and Young from MI5) had considered diplomatic communications generally, and resolved to request delays in the transmission of diplomatic telegrams. After the Cabinet decision not to interfere with diplomatic cable traffic, Petrie of MI5 had written to Findlater Stewart to suggest that delays be built in to the process. A strangely worded minute (one can hardly call it a ‘resolution’) ran as follows: “THE MEETING . . . invited Mr. Crowe to take up the suggestion that diplomatic telegrams should be so delayed as to allow time for the Government Code and Cypher School to make arrangements with Postal and Telegraph Censorship for particularly dangerous telegrams to be delayed or lost; and to arrange for the Foreign Office, if they agreed, to instruct the School to work out the necessary scheme with Postal and Telegraph Censorship.”

It would be difficult to draft a less gutsy and urgent decision than this. ‘Invited’, ‘suggestion’, ‘to make arrangements’, ‘if they agreed’, ‘to instruct’, and finally, ‘particularly dangerous telegrams’! Would ‘moderately dangerous telegrams’ have been allowed through? And did GC&CS have command of all the cyphers used by foreign diplomacies? Evidently not, as the following discussion shows. It is quite extraordinary that such a wishy-washy decision should have been allowed in the minutes. One can only assume that this was some sort of gesture, and that Findlater Stewart was working behind the scenes. In any case, as the record from the LCS history concerning Eisenhower, which I reproduced above, shows, the cypher problem for cable traffic was resolved.

When the forum regathered on April 15, it contained a much expanded list of attendees. Apart from the familiar group of second-tier delegates from key ministries, with the War Office and  the Ministry of Information now complementing Censorship, the Home Office, and the Foreign Office, Vivian represented MI6, while MI5 was honoured with the presence of no less than seven officers, namely Messrs. Butler, Robertson, Sporborg, Robb, Young, Barry – and Anthony Blunt, who no doubt made careful mental notes to pass on to his ideological masters. [According to Guy Liddell, from his ‘Diaries’, Sporborg worked for SOE, not MI5.] But no Petrie, Menzies, Liddell, White, Masterman, or Bevan. And the band of second-tier officers from MI5 sat opposite a group of men from the ministries who knew nothing of Ultra or the Double-Cross System: a very large onus lay on the shoulders of Findlater Stewart.

The meeting had first to debate the recent Cabinet decision to prohibit the receipt of uncensored communications by Diplomatic Missions, while not preventing the arrival of incoming travellers. Thus a quick motion was agreed, over the objections of the Foreign Office, that ‘the free movement of foreign diplomatic representatives to this country was inconsistent with the Cabinet decision to prohibit the receipt of uncensored communications by Foreign Missions in this country’. After a brief discussion on the movement of French and other military personnel, the Committee moved to Item IX on the agenda: ‘Use of Wireless Transmitters by Poles, Czechs and the French,’ the item that LCS had, either cannily or carelessly, omitted from its list.

Sporborg of MI5/SOE stated that, “as regards the Poles and the Czechs, it has been decided after discussion with the Foreign Office –

  • that for operational reasons the transmitters operated by the Czechs and the Poles could not be closed down:
  • that shortage of operators with suitable qualifications precluded the operation of those sets by us;
  • that accordingly the Poles should be pressed to deposit their cyphers with us and to give us copies of plain language texts of all messages before transmission. The Czechs had already given us their cyphers, and like the Poles would be asked to provide plain language copies of their messages.”

Sporborg also noted that both forces would be asked not to use their transmitters for diplomatic business. Colonel Vivian added that “apart from the French Deuxième Bureau traffic which was sent by M.I.6, all French diplomatic and other civil communications were transmitted by cable. There were left only the French Service transmitters and in discussion it was suggested that the I.S.S.B. might be asked to investigate the question of controlling these.”

Again, it is difficult to make sense of this exchange. What ‘operational reasons’ (as opposed to political ones) could preclude the closing down of Czech and Polish circuits? It would surely just entail an announcement to targeted receivers, and then turning the apparatus off. And, since the alternative appeared to be having the transmitters operated by the British – entrusted with knowledge of cypher techniques, presumably – a distinct possibility of ‘closing down’ the sets must have been considered. As for Vivian’s opaque statement, the Deuxième Bureau was officially dissolved in 1940. (Yet it appears in many documents, such as Liddell’s Diaries, after that time.) It is not clear what he meant by ‘French Service transmitters’. If these were owned by the RF Section of SOE, there must surely have been an exposure, and another wishy-washy suggestion was allowed to supply the official record.

The historical account by LCS says nothing about wireless. And the authorized history does not perform justice to the serious implications of these meetings. All that Michael Howard writes about this event (while providing a very stirring account of the deception campaign itself) is the following: “ . . . and the following month not only was all travel to and from the United Kingdom banned, but the mail of all diplomatic missions was declared subject to censorship and the use of cyphers forbidden”, (p 124, using the CAB 154/101 source given above); and “All [the imaginary double agents] notionally conveyed their information to GARBO in invisible ink, to be transmitted direct to the Abwehr over his clandestine radio – the only channel open after security restrictions on outgoing mail had been imposed.” (p 121) The irony is that Howard draws attention to the inconvenience that the withdrawal of mail privileges caused LCS and B1A, but does not inspect the implications of trying to suppress potentially dangerous wireless traffic, and how they might have affected the deception project’s success.

Problems with the Poles

The Polish Government-in-Exile

Immediately after the critical April 15 meeting, the War Office began to toughen up, as the file KV 4/74 shows. The policy matter of the curtailment of diplomatic privileges was at last resolved. Findlater Stewart gave a deadline to the Cabinet on April 16, and it resolved to stop all diplomatic cables, couriers and bags, for all foreign governments except the Americans and the Russians. The ban started almost immediately, and was extended until June 20, even though the Foreign Office continued to fight it. Yet it required some delicate explaining to the second-tier allies. Moreover, the Foreign Office continued to resist it, or at least, abbreviate it. They even wanted to restore privileges on D-Day itself: as Liddell pointed out, that would have been stupid, as it would immediately have informed the enemy that the Normandy assault was the sole one, and not a feint before a more northerly attack at the Pas de Calais.

Brigadier Allen, the Deputy Director of Military Intelligence, who had been charged with following up with the ISSB on whether the British were controlling French service traffic to North Africa, drew the attention of the ISSB’s secretary to the importance of the proposed ban. The record is sketchy, but it appears the Chiefs of Staff met on April 19, at which a realisation that control over all diplomatic and military channels needed to be intensified. The Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee was instructed to ensure that this happened, and a meeting was quickly arranged between representatives of the ISSB, MI6, SOE, the Cypher Policy Board and the Inter-Service W/T Security Committee, a much more expert and muscular group than had attended Findlater Stewart’s conference.

While the exposure by French traffic was quickly dismissed, Sir Charles Portal and Sir Andrew Cunningham, the RAF and Royal Navy chiefs, urged central control by the Service Departments rather than having it divided between SHAEF and Allied Forces Headquarters, and invited the JISC committee “to frame regulations designed to prevent Allied Governments evading the restrictions imposed by the War Cabinet on diplomatic communications, by the use of service or S.O.E. ‘underground’ W/T channels for the passage of uncensored diplomatic or service messages.” This was significant for several reasons: it recognized that foreign governments might attempt to evade the restrictions, probably by trying to use service signals for diplomatic traffic; it recommended new legislation to give the prohibitions greater force; and it brought into the picture the notion of various ‘underground’ (not perhaps the best metaphor for wireless traffic), and thus semi-clandestine communications, the essence of which was barely known. This minute appeared also to reflect the input of Sir Alan Brooke, the Army Chief, but his name does not appear on the document – probably because the record shows that he was advocating for the shared SHAEF/AFHQ responsibility, and thus disagreed with his peers.

The outcome was that a letter had to be drafted for the Czechoslovak, Norwegian and Polish Commanders-in-Chief, the Belgian and Netherlands Ministers of Defence, and General Koenig, the Commander of the French Forces in the United Kingdom, outlining the new restrictions on ‘communications by diplomatic bag and cipher telegrams’ (implicitly cable and wireless). It declared that ‘you will issue instructions that no communication by wireless is to be carried out with wireless stations overseas except under the following conditions’, going on to list that cyphers would have to be deposited with the War Office, plain language copies of all telegrams to be submitted for approval first, with the possibility that some messages would be encyphered and transmitted through British signal channels. A further amendment included a ban on incoming messages, as well.

Were these ‘regulations’, or simply earnest requests? The constitutional issue was not clear, but the fact that the restrictions would be of short duration probably pushed them into the latter category. In any case, as a memorandum of April 28 makes clear, Findlater Stewart formally handed over responsibility for the control of wireless communications to the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), reserving for himself the handling of ‘mail and telegrams’ (he meant ‘mail and cables’, of course). By then, the letter had been distributed, on April 19, with some special annexes for the different audiences, but the main text was essentially as the draft had been originally worded.

The Poles were the quickest to grumble, and Stanisław Mikołajczyc, the Prime Minister of the Polish Government-in-Exile, wrote a long response on April 23, describing the decision as ‘a dangerous legal and political precedent’, making a special case out of Poland’s predicament, and its underground fight against the Germans. He promised to obey the rules over all, but pleaded that the Poles be allowed to maintain the secrecy of their cyphers in order to preserve the safety and security of Polish soldiers and civilians on Polish soil fighting the German. “The fact that Polish-Soviet relations remain for the time being unsatisfactory still further complicates the situation,” he added.

It is easy to have an enormous amount of sympathy for the Poles, but at the same time point out that their aspirations at this time for taking their country back were very unrealistic. After all, Great Britain had declared war on Germany because of the invasion of Poland, and the Poles had contributed significantly in the Battle of Britain and the Italian campaign, especially. The discovery by the Germans, in April 1943, of the graves of victims of the Katyn massacre had constituted a ghastly indication that the Soviets had been responsible. Yet Stalin denied responsibility, and broke off relations with the London Poles when they persisted in calling for an independent Red Cross examination. Moreover, Churchill had ignored the facts, and weaselly tried to placate both Stalin and the Poles by asking Mikołajczyc to hold his tongue. In late January, Churchill had chidden the Poles for being ‘foolish’ in magnifying the importance of the crime when the British needed Stalin’s complete cooperation to conclude the war successfully.

Yet the Poles still harboured dreams that they would be able to take back their country before the Russians got there – or even regain it with the support of the Russians, aspirations that were in April 1944 utterly unrealistic. The file at HW 34/8 contains a long series of 1942-1943 exchanges between Colonel Cepa, the Chief Signals Officer of the Polish General Staff, and RSS officers, such as Maltby and Till, over unrealistic and unauthorized demands for equipment and frequencies so that the Polish government might communicate with all its clandestine stations in Poland, and its multiple (and questionable) contacts around the world. Their tentacles spread widely, as if they were an established government: on December 9, 1943, Joe Robertson told Guy Liddell that ‘Polish W/T transmitters are as plentiful as tabby cats in the Middle East and are causing great anxiety’. They maintained underground forces in France, which required wireless contact: this was an item of great concern to Liddell. Thus the Poles ended up largely trying to bypass RSS and working behind the scenes with SOE to help attain their goals. The two groups clearly irritated each other severely: the Poles thinking RSS too protocol-oriented and unresponsive to their needs, RSS considering the Poles selfish and too ambitious, with no respect for the correct procedures in a time of many competing demands.

The outcome was that Churchill had a meeting with Mikołajczyc on April 23, and tried to heal some wounds. The memorandum of the meeting was initialled by Churchill himself, and the critical passage runs as follows: “Mr. Churchill told Mr. Mikołajczyc that he was ready to waive the demand that the Polish ciphers used for communication with the Underground Movement should be deposited with us on condition first, that the number of messages sent in these ciphers was kept down to an absolute minimum; secondly, that the en clair text of each message sent in these ciphers should be communicated to us; thirdly, that Mr. Mikołajczyc gave Mr. Churchill his personal word of honour that no messages were sent in the secret ciphers except those of which the actual text had been deposited with us, and fourthly, that the existence of this understanding between Mr. Mikołajczyc and Mr. Churchill should be kept absolutely confidential; otherwise H.M.G would be exposed to representations and reproaches from other foreign Governments in a less favourable position.”

Thus it would appear that the other governments acceded, that the Poles won an important concession, but that the British were able to censor the texts of all transmissions that emanated from British soil during the D-Day campaign. And Churchill was very concerned about the news of the Poles’ preferential treatment getting out. Yet the JIC (under its very astute Chairman, Victor Cavendish-Bentinck) thought otherwise – that the news was bound to leak out, and, citing the support of Liddell, Menzies, Cadogan at the Foreign Office and Newsam at the Home Office, it requested, on May 1, that the Prime Minister ‘should consider the withdrawal’ of his concession, and that, if impracticable, he should at least clarify to Mikołajczyc that it ‘related to messages sent to the underground movement in Poland and not to communications with other occupied or neutral countries’.

Moreover, problems were in fact nor restricted to the Poles. De Gaulle, quite predictably, made a fuss, and ‘threatened’ as late as May 29 not to leave Algiers to return to the UK unless he was allowed to use his own cyphers. The Chiefs of Staff were left to handle this possible non-problem. Churchill, equally predictably, interfered unnecessarily, and even promised both Roosevelt and de Gaulle (as Liddell recorded on May 24) that communications would open up immediately after D-Day. Churchill had already, very naively, agreed to Eisenhower’s desire to disclose the target and date of NEPTUNE to France’s General Koenig. The Prime Minister could be very inspiring and insightful, but also very infuriating, as people like Attlee and Brooke observed.

And there it stood. Britain controlled the process of wireless communication (apart from the Soviet and US Embassies) entirely during the course of the D-Day landings, with a minor exposure in Polish messages to its colleagues in Poland. The restrictions were lifted on June 20. And B1A’s special agents continued to chatter throughout this period.

Guy Liddell and the RSS

Guy Liddell

Guy Liddell, deputy director-general of MI5, had been energized by his relationship with Sclater of the RSS, and, with Malcolm Frost’s departure from MI5 in December 1943, he looked forward to an easier path in helping to clean up Barnet, the headquarters of the Radio Security Service. In the months before D-Day, Liddell was focused on two major issues concerning RSS: 1) The effectiveness of the unit’s support for MI5’s project to extend the Double-Cross System to include ‘stay-behind’ agents in France after the Normandy landings succeeded; and 2) his confidence in the ability of RSS to locate any German spies with transmitters who might have pervaded the systems designed to intercept them at the nation’s borders, and who would thus be working outside the XX System.

Overall, the first matter does not concern me here, although part of Liddell’s mission, working alongside ‘Tar’ Robertson, was to discover how RSS control of equipment, and its primary allegiance to MI6, might interfere with MI5’s management of the XX program overseas. Liddell had to deal with Richard Gambier-Parry’s technical ignorance and general disdain for MI5, on the one hand, and Felix Cowgill’s territoriality on the other (since a Double-Cross system on foreign soil would technically have fallen under MI6), but the challenges would have to have been faced after D-Day, and are thus beyond my scope of reference. In any case, the concern turned out to be a non-problem. The second matter, however, was very serious, and Liddell’s Diaries from early 1944 are bestrewn with alarming anecdotes about the frailties of RSS’s detection systems. The problems ranged from the ineffectiveness of Elms’s mobile units to the accuracy of RSS’s broader location-finding techniques.

I shall illustrate Liddell’s findings by a generous sample of extracts from his Diaries, as I do not believe they have appeared in print before. Thus, from January 26:

Sclater gave an account of the work by the vans on an American station which had been d.f.d by R.S.S. The station was at first thought to be a British military or Air Force one as it was apparently using their procedure. The vans went out to the Horsham area where they got a very strong signal which did not operate the needle. Another bearing caused them to put the Bristol van out, which luckily found its target pretty quickly. The point of this story is that it is almost impossible to say more than that a wireless transmitter is in the north or south of England. Unless you can get into the ground-wave your vans don’t operate. To get into the ground-wave you may need to be very close to their target. There is still no inter-com between the vans and they cannot operate for more than 8 hours without having to drive several hundred miles in order to recharge their batteries. Not a very good show. Sclater is going to find out who is responsible for American Army signal security.

While this may not have been a perennial problem for units that were repeatedly broadcasting from one place, it clearly would have posed a serious exposure with a highly mobile transmitting agent. Moreover, at a meeting on February 17, MI6/SIS (in the person of Valentine Vivian, it appears) had, according to Liddell, admitted some of its deficiencies, stating, in a response to a question as to how its General Search capability worked: “S.I.S. did not think that an illicit station was operating in this country but it was pointed out that their observation was subject to certain restrictions. They were looking for Abwehr procedure, whereas an agent might use British official procedure, which would be a matter for detection by Army Signals, who were ill-equipped to meet the task.” Did Vivian not know what he was talking about, or was this true? Could an agent using ‘British official procedure’ truly evade the RSS detectors, while the Army would not bother to investigate? I recall that Sonia herself was instructed to use such techniques, and such a disclosure has alarming implications.

The minutes of the War Cabinet Sub-committee on February 17 confirm, however, that what Vivian reported was accepted, as an accompanying report by Findlater Stewart displays how the vision for wireless interception embraced by Colonel Simpson in 1939 had been allowed to dissolve. (In fact, as Liddell’s Diaries show, a small working-party had met on the morning of the inaugural meeting to prepare for the discussion.) In a report attached to the minutes, Stewart wrote the following (which I believe is worth citing in full):

“As a result of their experience extending over some four years the Radio Security Service are of opinion there is no illicit wireless station being worked in this country at present. Nevertheless it must be borne in mind that by itself the watch kept by the Radio Security Service is subject to some limitations. For example, the general search is mainly directed to German Secret Service communications and if an agent were to use official British signal procedures (there has already been some attempt at this), it is not likely to be picked up by the Service, and no guarantee that such stations would be detected should be given unless the whole volume of British wireless traffic, including the immense amount of service signal traffic, were monitored. This ‘general search’, however, is not the only safeguard. The danger to security arises from the newly arrived German Agent (on the assumption that there are no free agents at present operating here), but the art of tracking aircraft has been brought to such a point that the Security Service feel that in conjunction with the watch kept by the Radio Security Service even a determined effort by the enemy to introduce agents could not succeed for more than a few days. Admittedly if the agent were lucky enough to be dropped in the right area and obtain his information almost at once serious leakage could occur. But there is no remedy for this.”

I find this very shocking. While the RSS was justifiably confident that no unidentified spies were operating as its interceptors were monitoring Abwehr communications closely, it had abandoned the mission of populating the homeland with enough detective personnel to cover all possible groundwaves. Apparently, the sense of helplessness expressed in Stewart’s final sentence triggered no dismay from those who read it, but I believe this negligence heralded the start of an alarming trend. And the substance of the message must have confirmed Liddell’s worst fears.

Liddell and Sclater intensified their attention to RSS’s activities. Sclater also referred, later in February, to the fact that RSS had picked up Polish military signals in Scotland, but the Poles had not been very helpful, the signals were very corrupt, as picked up, and it was not even certain ‘that the messages were being sent from Gt. Britain’. Liddell also discovered that RSS had been picking up messages relating to Soviet espionage in Sweden, and blew a fuse over the fact that the facts about the whole exercise had been withheld from MI5 and the Radio Security Intelligence Committee, which Dick White of MI5 chaired. Thus, when he returned from two weeks’ leave at the end of March, his chagrin was fortunately abated slightly, as the entry for April 16 records:

During my absence there have been various wireless tests. GARBO, on instructions from the Germans, has been communicating in British Army procedure. He was picked up after a certain time and after a hint had been given to Radio Security Service. He was, however, also picked up in Gibraltar, who notified the RSS about certain peculiarities in the signals. This is on the whole fairly satisfactory. TREASURE is going to start communicating blind and we shall see whether they are equally successful in her case. Tests have also been taking place to see whether spies can move freely within the fifteen-mile belt. One has been caught, but another, whose documents were by no means good, has succeeded in getting through seven or eight controls and has so far not been spotted.

This was not super-efficient, however: ‘hints’, and ‘after a certain time’. At least the British Army procedure was recognised by the RSS. (Herbert Hart later told Liddell that ‘notional’ spies dressed in American military uniforms were the only ones not to get caught.) But the feeling of calm did not last long. Two weeks later, on April 29, Liddell recorded:

The Radio Security Service has carried out an extensive test to discover the GARBO transmitter. The report on this exercise is very distressing. The GARBO camouflage plan commenced on 13 March but the Mobile Units were not told to commence their investigations till 14 April. From 13 March to 14 April GARBO’s transmitter was on the air (and the operator was listening) for a total of twenty-nine hours, and average of one hour a day. On 14 April the Mobile Units were brought into action and they reported that the GARBO transmitter operated for four hours between 14 and 19 April inclusive. In fact, it operated for over six and a half hours, and it would seem that the second frequency of the transmitter was not recorded at all. On 15 April, GARBO transmitted for two whole hours. This incident shakes my confidence completely in the power of RSS of detecting illicit wireless either in this country or anywhere else. It is disturbing since the impression was given to Findlater Stewart’s Committee and subsequently to the Cabinet that no illicit transmissions were likely to be undetected for long. Clearly, this is not the case.

The irony is, of course, that, if the Abwehr had learned about RSS’s woes, they might have understood how their agents were able to transmit undetected. Yet this was a problem MI5 had to fix, and the reputation of the XX System, and of the claim that MI5 had complete control of all possible German agents in the country, was at stake. Liddell followed up with another entry, on May 6:

I had a long talk with Sclater about the RSS exercise. Apparently the first report of Garbo’s transmitter came from Gib. This was subsequently integrated with a V.I. report. The R.S.S. fixed stations in N. Ireland and the north of Scotland took a bearing which was well wide of the mark, and although the original report came in on March 13th it was not until April 14th that sufficiently accurate bearings were obtained to warrant putting into action of the M.U.s. They were started off on an entirely inaccurate location of the target somewhere in the Guildford area. Other bearings led to greater confusion. Had it not been for the fact that the groundwave of the transmitter was then ranged with the Barnet station it is doubtful whether the transmitter would ever have been located. The final round-up was not done according to the book, i.e. by the 3 M.U.s taking bearings and gradually closing in. One M.U. got a particularly strong signal and followed it home.

By now, however, Liddell probably felt a little more confident that homeland security was tight enough. No problematic messages had been picked up by interception, and thus there were probably no clandestine agents at large, a conclusion that was reinforced by the fact that the ULTRA sources (i.e. picking up Abwehr communications about agents in the United Kingdom) still betrayed no unknown operators. Nevertheless, Liddell still harboured, as late as May 12, strong reservations about the efficacy of RSS’s operations overseas, which he shared with the philosopher Gilbert Ryle at his club. At this time, MI5 was concerned about a source named JOSEFINE, sending messages that reached the Abwehr via Stockholm. (JOSEFINE turned out to be the Swedish naval attaché in London, and his associates or successors.) But then, Liddell expressed further deep concerns, on May 27, i.e. a mere ten days before D-Day:

I had a long discussion with TAR and Victor [Rothschild] about RSS. It seemed to me that the position was eminently unsatisfactory. I could see that the picking up of an agent here was a difficult matter. If he were transmitting on ordinary H.F. at fairly frequent intervals to a fixed station on the continent in Abwehr procedure we should probably get his signals. If he were transmitting in our military procedure it was problematic whether we should get his signals. If he were transmitting in VHF it was almost certain that we should not get him. I entirely accept this as being the position but my complaint is that the problem of detecting illicit wireless from this country has never been submitted to a real body of experts, and that possibly had it been given careful study by such a body at least the present dangers might have been to some extent mitigated. Victor agreed that it might be possible to work on some automatic ether scanner which would increase the chances of picking up an agent. There might also be other possibilities, if the ground were thoroughly explored. So much for picking up the call. The next stage is to D.F. the position of the illicit transmitter. Recent experiments had shown both in the case of GARBO and in the case of an imaginery [sic] agent who was located at Whaddon, that the bearings from the fixed stations were 50-60 miles out. This being so, the margin for error on the continent would be considerably increased. We have always been given to understand that fixed stations could give a fairly accurate bearing. The effect is that unless your vans get into the ground-wave they stand very little chance of picking up the agent. The D.G. is rather anxious to take this matter up; both TAR and I are opposed to any such course. I pointed out to the D.G. that the Radio Security Committee consisted of a Chairman who knew nothing about wireless, and that he and I had no knowledge of the subject, and therefore we would all be at the mercy of Gambier-Parry who could cover us all with megacycles. The discussion would get us no where and only create bad blood. He seemed to think however that we ought to get some statement of the position particularly since I pointed out to him that if an agent were dropped we should probably pick him up in a reasonable time. The fact is that unless the aircraft tracks pin-pointed him and the police and the Home Guard did their job, we should be extremely unlikely to get our man. Technical means would give us little if any assistance. By the time a man had been located the harm would have been done.”

Some of this plaint was misguided (VHF would not have been an effective communication wavelength for a remote spy), but it shows that, despite all the self-satisfied histories that were written afterwards, RSS was in something of a shambles. Fortunately there were no ‘men’ to be got: the Abwehr had been incorporated into the SS in the spring of 1944. Canaris was dismissed, and no further wireless agents were infiltrated on to the British mainland. Liddell was probably confident, despite RSS’s complacent approach, that no unknown wireless agents were at large because intercepted ISOS messages gave no indication of such. He made one more relevant entry before D-Day, on June 3:

TAR tells me that since 12 May RSS have been picking up the signals of an agent communicating in Group 2 cypher. They have at last succeeded in getting a bearing which places the agents somewhere in Ayrshire. The vans are moving up to the Newcastle area. Two hours later, TAR told me that further bearing indicated that the agent was in Austria. So much for RSS’s powers of D.F.ing. My mind goes back to a meeting held 18 months ago when G.P. [Gambier-Parry] had the effrontery that he could D.F. a set in France down to an area of 5 sq. miles.

Did someone mishear a Scottish voice saying ‘Ayrshire’, interpreting it as ‘Austria’? We shall never know. In any case, if Liddell ever stopped to think “If we go to the utmost to ensure there are no clandestine agents reporting on the real state of things here, wouldn’t German Intelligence imagine we were doing just that?”, he never recorded such a gut-wrenching question in his Diaries.

‘Double’ or ‘Special’ Agents?

Before Bevan left London for Moscow, he attended – alongside Findlater Stewart – that last meeting of the W Board before D-Day. They heard a presentation by ‘Tar’ Robertson, who described the status of all the double agents, confirmed that he was confident that ‘the Germans believed in TRICYCE and GARBO, especially, and probably in the others’.  Robertson added that ‘the agents were ready to take their part in OVERLORD’, and offered a confidence factor of 98% that the Germans trusted the majority of agents. The concluding minute of the meeting was a recommendation by Bevan that the term ‘double agents’ be avoided in any documentation, and that they be referred to as ‘special agents’, the term that appears in the title of the KV 4/70 file.  A week later, Bevan was on his way to Moscow.

The reason that Bevan wanted them described as ‘special agents’ was presumably the fact that, if the term ‘double agent’ ever escaped, the nature of the double-cross deception would be immediately obvious. Yet ‘special agents’ was not going to become a durable term: all agents are special in some way, and the phrase did not accurately describe how they differed. Liddell continued to refer to ‘DAs’ in his Diaries, John Masterman promulgated the term ‘double agents’ in his influential Double Cross System (1972), and Michael Howard entrenched it in his authorised history of British Intelligence in the Second World War – Volume 5 (1990).

Shortly after Masterman’s book came out, Miles Copland, an ex-CIA officer, wrote The Real Spy World, a pragmatic guide to the world of espionage and counter-espionage. He debunked the notion of ‘double agents’, stating: “But even before the end of World War II the term ‘double agent’ was discontinued in favor of ‘controlled enemy agent’ in speaking of an agent who was entirely under our own control, capable of reporting to his original masters only as we allowed, so that he was entirely ‘single’ in his performance, and by no means ‘double’.” The point is a valid one: if an agent is described as a ‘double’, he or she could presumably be trying to work for both sides at once, even perhaps evolving into the status of a ‘triple agent’ (like ZIGZAG), which applies enormous psychological pressure on the subject, who will certainly lose any affiliation to either party, and end up simply trying to survive.

Yet ‘controlled enemy agent’ is, to me, also unsatisfactory. It implies that the agent’s primary allegiance is to the enemy, but that he or she has been ‘turned’ in some way. That might be descriptive of some SOE agents, who were captured, and tortured into handing over their cyphers and maybe forced to transmit under the surveillance of the Gestapo, but who never lost their commitment to the Allied cause (and may have eventually been shot, anyway). Nearly all the agents used in the Double Cross System had applied to the Abwehr under false pretences. They (e.g. BRUTUS, TREASURE, GARBO, TRICYCLE) intended to betray the Germans, and work for the Allied cause immediately they were installed. Of those who survived as recruits of B1A, only TATE had arrived as a dedicated Nazi. He was threatened (but not tortured) into coming to the conclusion that his survival relied on his operating under British control, and he soon, after living in the UK for a while, understood that the democratic cause was superior to the Nazi creed. SUMMER, on the other hand, to whom the same techniques were applied, refused to co-operate, and had to be incarcerated for the duration of the war.

Thus the closest analogy to the strategy of the special agents is what Kim Philby set out to do: infiltrate an ideological foe under subterfuge. But the analogy must not be pushed too far. Philby volunteered to work for an intelligence service of his democratic native country, with the goal of facilitating the attempts of a hostile, totalitarian system to overthrow the whole structure. The special agents were trying to subvert a different totalitarian organisation that had invaded their country (or constituted a threat, in the case of GARBO) in order that liberal democracy should prevail. There is a functional equivalence, but not a moral one, between the two examples. Philby was a spy and a traitor: he was definitely not a ‘double agent’, even though he has frequently been called that.

I leave the definitional matter unresolved for now. It will take a more authoritative writer to tidy up the debate. I note that the highly regarded Thaddeus Holt considers the debate ‘pedantic’, and he decided to fall back upon ‘double agent’ in his book, despite its misleading connotations.

Special Agents at Work

The events that led up to the controversial two-hour message transmitted by GARBO on June 9, highlighted in the several quotations that I presented at the beginning of this script, have been well described in several books, so I simply summarise here the aspects concerning wireless usage. For those readers who want to learn the details, Appendix XIII of Roger Hesketh’s Fortitude lists most of the contributions of British ‘controlled agents’ on the Fortitude South Order of Battle, and how they were reflected in German Intelligence Reports. Ben Macintyre’s Double Cross gives a lively account of the activities of the agents who communicated via wireless – via their B1A operators, in the main.

TATE (Wulf Schmidt) was the longest-serving of the special agents, but the requirement to develop a convincing ‘legend’ about him, in order to explain to the Abwehr how he had managed to survive for so long on alien territory, took him out of the mainstream. In October 1943, Robertson had expressed doubts as to how seriously the Germans were taking TATE, as they had sent him only fourteen messages over the past six months, and in December, the XX Committee even considered the possibility that he had been blown. Their ability to verify how TATE’s reports were being handled arose mainly because communications were passed to Berlin from Hamburg by a secure land-line, not by wireless (and thus not subject to RSS/GC&CS interception.) Indeed, Berlin believed that the whole ‘Lena Six’ (from the 1940-41 parachutist project, and whose activity as spies was planned to last only a few weeks before the impending German invasion!) were under control of the British, but the Abwehr, in a continuing pattern, were reluctant to give up on one of their own. The post-war interrogation of Major Boeckel, who trained the LENA agents in Hamburg, available at KV 2/1333, indicates that Berlin had doubts about TATE’s reliability, but that Boeckel ‘maintained contact despite warnings’. TATE provided one or two vital tidbits (such as Eisenhower’s arrival in January 1944), and by April, the XX Committee judged him safe again. In May, he was nominally ‘moved’ to Kent, ostensibly to help his employer’s farming friend, and messages were directed there from London, in case of precise location-finding. But TATE’s information about FUSAG ‘operations’ did not appear to have received much attention: TATE’s contribution would pick up again after D-Day.

The career of TREASURE (Lily Sergeyev, or Sergueiev) was more problematical. In September 1943 she had had to remind her handler, Kliemann, that she was trained in radio operation, and that she needed to advance from writing letters in secret ink. Kliemann then improbably ordered her to acquire an American-made Halicrafter apparatus in London, and then promised to supply her one passed to her. He let her down when she visited Madrid in November, so the XX Committee had to start applying pressure. They engineered a March 1944 visit by TREASURE to Lisbon, where she was provided with a wireless apparatus, and instructed on when and how to transmit, with an emphasis that the messages should be as short as possible. She returned to the UK; her transmitter was set up in Hampstead, and her first message sent on April 13. There was a burst of useful, activity for about a month or so, but, by May 17, a decision was made that TREASURE had to be dropped. She confessed to concealing from her B1A controllers the security check in her transmissions that she could have used to alert the Germans to the fact that she was operating under control: she was in a fit of pique over the death of her dog. Robertson fired her just after D-Day.

TRICYCLE (Dusko Popov) had formulated a role that allowed him to travel easily to Lisbon, but the Committee concluded that he need to communicate by wireless as well. Popov had engineered the escape to London of a fellow Yugoslav, the Marquis de Bona, in December 1943, who would become his authorized wireless operator, and Popov himself brought back to the UK the apparatus that de Bona (given the cryptonym FREAK) started using successfully in February. Useful information on dummy FUSAG movements was passed on for a while, but a cloud hung over the whole operation, as the XX Committee feared, quite justifiably, that TRICYCLE might have been blown because Popov’s contact within the Abwehr, Johnny Jebsen (ARTIST) knew enough about the project to betray the whole deception game. When Jebsen was arrested at the end of April, TRICYCLE and his network were closed down, with FREAK’s last transmission going out on May 16. TRICYCLE explained the termination in a letter written in secret ink on May 20, ascribing it to suspicions that had arisen over FREAK’s loyalties. Astonishingly, FREAK sent a final message by wireless on June 30, and the Germans’ petulant response indicated that they still trusted TRICYCLE. After the war, MI5 learned that Jebsen had been drugged and transported to Berlin, tortured and then killed, but said nothing.

The career of BRUTUS (Roman Czerniawski) was also dogged by controversy, as he had brought trouble on himself with the Polish government-in-exile, and the Poles had access to his cyphers. Again, fevered debate over his trustworthiness, and deliberation over what the Germans (and Russians) knew about him continued throughout 1943. His wireless traffic (which had been interrupted) restarted on August 25, but his handler in Paris, Colonel Reile, suspected that he might have been ‘turned’. Indeed, his transmitter was operated by a notional friend called CHOPIN, working from Richmond. By December 1943, confidence in the security of BRUTUS, and his acceptance by the Abwehr, had been restored: the Germans even succeeded in delivering him a new wireless set. Thereafter, BRUTUS grew to become the second most valuable member of the team of special agents. A regular stream of messages was sent, beginning in from February 1, culminating in an intense flow between June 5 and June 7, providing (primarily) important disinformation about troop movements in East Anglia.

Lastly, the performance of GARBO was the most significant – and the most controversial. According to Guy Liddell, GARBO had made his first contact with the Abwehr in Madrid in March 1943. GARBO had also claimed to have found a ‘friend’ who would operate the wireless for him. The Abwehr was so pleased that it immediately sent him new cyphers (invaluable to GC&CS), and, a month later, advised him how to simulate British Army callsigns, so as to avoid detection. A domestic crisis then occurred, which caused Harmer in MI5 to recommend BRUTUS as a more reliable vehicle than GARBO, but it passed, and, by the beginning of 1944 GARBO was using his transmitter to send more urgent – as well as more copious – messages. GARBO benefitted from a large network of fictional agents who supplied him with news from around the country, and his role in FORTITUDE culminated in the epic message of June 9 with which I introduced this piece.

The Aftermath

BODYGUARD was successful. The German High Command viewed the Normandy landings as a feint to distract attention from the major assault they saw coming in the Pas de Calais. They relied almost exclusively on the reports coming in from the special agents. They did not have the infrastructure, the attention span, or the expertise to interpret the deluge of phony signals that were generated as part of FORTITUDE NORTH, and they could not undertake proper reconnaissance flights across the English Channel to inspect any preparations for the assault that they knew was coming. Interrogations of German officers after the war confirmed that the ‘intelligence’ transmitted by the five agents listed above was passed on and accepted at the very highest levels. This phenomenon has to be analysed in two dimensions: the political and the technical.

The fact that the Abwehr (and its successor, the SS) were hoodwinked so easily by the substance of the messages was not perhaps surprising. To begin with, the Abwehr was a notoriously anti-Nazi organisation, and the role of its leader, Admiral Canaris, was highly ambiguous in his encouraging doubts about the loyalty of his agents to be squashed. He told his officer Jebsen (ARTIST) that ‘he didn’t care if every German agent in Britain was under control, so long as he could tell German High Command that he had agents in Britain reporting regularly.’ Every intelligence officer has an inclination to trust his recruits: if he tells his superiors that they are unreliable, he is effectively casting maledictions on his own abilities. Those who spoke up about their doubts, and pursued them, were moved out to the Russian front. The Double Cross System was addressing a serious need.

When the ineffectiveness and unreliability of the Abwehr itself was called into question, and the organisation was subsumed into the SS, the special agents came under the control of disciplinarians and military officers who did not really understand intelligence, were under enormous pressures, and thus had neither the time nor the expertise to attempt to assess properly the information that was being passed to them. They had experienced no personal involvement with the agents supposedly infiltrated into Britain. What intelligence they received sounded plausible, and appeared to form a pattern, so it was accepted and passed on.

Yet the technical aspects are more problematic. Given what the German agencies (the Sipo, Gestapo, and Abwehr) had invested in static and mobile radio-detection and location finding techniques (even though they overstated their capabilities), they should surely have asked themselves whether Great Britain would not have explored and refined similar technology. And they should have asked themselves why the British would not have exercised such capabilities to the utmost in order to conceal the order of battle, and assault plans, for the inevitable ‘invasion’ of continental Europe. Moreover, Britain was a densely populated island, homogeneous and certainly almost completely opposed to the Nazi regime, and infiltrated foreign agents must have had to experience a far more hostile and obstructive environment than, say, SOE agents of French nationality who were parachuted into a homeland that contained a large infrastructure of Allied sympathisers. Traces of such a debate in German intelligence are difficult to find. Canaris defended his network of Vertrauensmänner, and referred to ‘most intricate and elaborate electronic countermeasures’ in February 1944, but his motivations were suspect, and he was ousted immediately afterwards. Why was GARBO (especially) not picked up? How indeed could anyone transmit for so long, when such practices went against all good policies of clandestine wireless usage?

Even more astonishing is the apparent lack of recognition of the problem from the voluminous British archives. Admittedly, the challenge may have been of such magnitude that it was never actually mentioned, but one might expect at some stage the question to be raised: “How can we optimise wireless transmission practices so that it would be reasonable to assume that RSS would not be able to pick them up?” That would normally require making the messages as brief as possible, switching wavelengths, and changing locations – all in order to elude the resolute mobile location-finding units. That was clearly a concern in the early days of the war, with agent SNOW, when B1A even asked SNOW to inquire of his handler, Dr. Rantzau (Ritter) whether it was safe for SNOW always to transmit from the same place. Rantzau replied in the affirmative, reflecting the state-of-the-art in 1940. But progress had been made by the Germans, especially in light of the arrival of SOE wireless agents, and the XX Committee must have known this.

Yet, four years later, all that the XX Committee and B1a appeared to do was allow GARBO to emulate British military traffic. And they showed a completely cavalier attitude to the problem of time on the air by allowing GARBO to compose his ridiculously windy messages. After all, if they were sharp enough to ensure that signals emanated from a location roughly where the agent was supposed to be, in case German direction-finders were on the prowl, why would they not imagine that the Germans were contemplating the reciprocal function of RSS?  It was even more comprehensively dumb than the Abwehr’s credulous distancing from the problem.

Did MI5 try to communicate to the Abwehr the notion that RSS was useless? Guy Liddell confided his doubts about the apparently feeble tracking of GARBO only to his diary, so, unless the Abwehr had a spy in the bowels of RSS, and a method of getting information back to Germany, that would have been an impossible task. Perhaps some messages from the special agents indicating that they were close to being hunted down, but always managed to escape, would have given a measure of verisimilitude, indicating the existence of a force, but a very ineffective one. The behaviour of B1A, however, in reusing transmission sites, while paying lip-service to the location-finding capabilities of the foe, but allowing absurdly long transmissions to take place, simply denies belief. The utterly unnecessary but studied non-observance of basic protocols was highly unprofessional, and should have caused the whole scaffolding of deceit to collapse. It is extraordinary that so many historians and analysts have hinted at this debacle, but never analyzed it in detail.

In conclusion, the mystery of the Undetected Radios was not a puzzle of how they remained undetected, but of why both the Abwehr and MI5 both considered it reasonable that they could flourish unnoticed for so long, and behave so irresponsibly. Findlater Stewart’s 1946 history of RSS – which helped set the agenda for the unit during the Cold War – proves that he did not really understand the technology or the issues. What all this implies for the Communist agent Sonia’s transmissions (around which this whole investigation started) will be addressed in a final report that will constitute the concluding chapter of Sonia’s Radio and The Mystery of the Undetected Radios.

(New Commonplace entries can be found here.)

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Sonia & MI6’s Hidden Hand

[This report lays out the detailed arguments behind the recent article in the ‘Mail on Sunday’ that featured research by Professor Glees and me. We claimed that MI6 had engaged upon a reckless exercise to try to manipulate Sonia as some kind of ‘double-agent’, but had been fooled completely by Sonia’s working as a courier for the atom-spy Klaus Fuchs. This piece reproduces and recapitulates some of my earlier research on Sonia, but also presents some new analysis.]

Sonia’s Home in Switzerland

Background and Sources

The story starts – probably – in the summer of 1939. One has to qualify many of the Switzerland-based events in this saga with ‘probably’ because so much of the evidence is provided by Ursula and Len Beurton themselves, who, in their testimonies to British immigration officials, told so many lies that it is difficult to trust anything they said. Moreover, Ursula (agent SONIA) then compounded the mendaciousness in her GRU-controlled memoir, Sonjas Rapport. We can recognise the first set of untruths because the statements are often self-contradictory, and easily refuted through an examination of the archival record. Many of Sonia’s claims in her book have been shown to be false by simple inspection of time and space, or by other records that have come to light that show persons she talks about were simply not where she said they were at the time, or by knowledge of the modus operandi of her employer, the GRU. Yet Sonia’s account has been cited by numerous historians as if it were a reliable version of what happened.

The primary source for assembling the story is a rich set of files at the UK National Archives – not just on Sonia, but on her family, the Kuczynskis, and her husband Len Beurton, on the senior International Brigader she recruited for her team in Switzerland, Alexander Foote, and on other Communist agents such as Oliver Green, whose exploits reflect usefully on the policies and practices of MI5. The files on the primary spy for whom Sonia acted as courier, Klaus Fuchs, are also very relevant, as are, to a lesser extent, the Diaries of Guy Liddell, the head of counter-espionage at MI5 at this time. (I have taken one hundred pages of notes from the on-line Diaries, without recording a single reference to Ursula, Kuczynski, Hamburger, or Beurton. The absence of nocturnal canine latration, whether because of redaction or by Liddell’s choice, is highly significant.) MI6 files are regrettably not available, but correspondence between, and memoranda to and from, officers of the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service are scattered among the files, as are occasional items from the Home Office and the Foreign Office. These records are complemented by a variegated set of files concerning the Radio Security Service (RSS), which was responsible for wireless interception in WWII.

More recently, some analysts have been promoting the value of files held in Russian archives, although nearly all of these derive from KGB (State Security) records rather than those of the GRU (Military Intelligence), for whom the Beurtons worked. William Tyrer and Svetlana Chervonnaya (see www.documentstalk.com ), have cited items of relevance, yet the existence of actual documents is hard to verify. What Chervonnaya shows are primarily American, not Soviet documents, and her focus is on American history. Moreover, her website appears to have fallen into disuse in recent times. The Vassiliev Papers, again focussing on KGB matters, are a highly reliable source, and show some important facts about Sonia, at a time when the KGB was exerting more control over the GRU.  They also reveal some interesting information about Sonia and her brother after they escaped to East Germany.

Solid literature on Sonia is sparse. Alexander Foote’s memoir, Handbook for Spies, brings some psychologically convincing insights into his time with Sonia in Switzerland, as well as plausible observations on Sonia’s marriage to Len, but we have to recall that the book was ghost-written by MI5’s Courtenay Young. John Green’s 2017 study of the Kuczynski clan, A Political Family, is a useful compendium in some ways, drawing much from Kuczynski family memoirs and interviews, and helping with a few facts, but it contains many errors, and is too adulatory of the family’s ‘fight against capitalism’, thereby side-stepping any awkward anomalies in the records. (For example, he writes of the family’s ‘overall achievements and its contribution to our humanistic legacy’, a statement straight out of the Felix Dzerzhinsky playbook.) I have started to inspect one or two books in Russian: Vladimir Lota’s book on the GRU (cited in last month’s coldspur post) provides convincing proof of the communications of the Rote Drei in Switzerland (although nothing of Sonia’s), and presents photographs of decrypted GRU telegrams. I ordered V.V. Beshanov’s book on Sonia, Superfrau iz GRU on May 3 of this year, but it has not yet arrived: I hope to be able to report on it in a later bulletin.

What is certain is that Sonia was stranded in Switzerland in the summer of 1939. She had moved from Poland, where her daughter Janina, by her lover in China, Johannes Patra, had been born in 1936, but the affair had damaged her marriage to Rudolf (Rolf) Hamburger. Sonia’s visa was due to expire at the end of September: she and Rolf had acquired Honduran passports, but they were of dubious stature. If Sonia were to be extradited to her German homeland, she would almost certainly face death as a Jew and Communist. She had recruited the International Brigaders Alexander Foote and Len Beurton as wireless operators, but they were working as spies in Germany during the summer, and were not withdrawn until just before war broke out.

Exactly what happened in those months is difficult to determine. Sonia’s account is illogical and inconsistent, and John Green skirts around that period, as if he didn’t trust her version of events, but also didn’t want to draw attention to the deceits. I gave an account in Sonia’s Radio: Part 2, but it is worth delving a little more deeply now, as the subterfuges hint strongly at strings working behind the scenes. The anomalies point strongly to the first plottings by the MI6 representative in Switzerland, Victor Farrell. What is certain is that Claude Dansey, the head of the shadow Z Organisation within MI6, and the deputy to the new Director-General, Stewart Menzies, had established its base in Geneva at the beginning of the war, and that Dansey himself was around to watch as these intrigues progressed, including Sonia’s divorce from Rolf Hamburger. Dansey did not return to Britain until November 1939.

In Handbook for Spies, Alexander Foote indicates that at this time Sonia’s husband, Rolf (identified as ‘Schultz’) was ‘incarcerated in a Chinese jail for Communist activities’. In Foote’s version of the story, therefore, Rolf never appears in Switzerland, and Foote records his visit to Sonia’s chalet, where she lived singly with her two children and the nurse. Foote then collapses the whole story of Sonia’s divorce and marriage as follows: “Sonia was increasingly dissatisfied with the life and work and wished to return [sic: she had never stayed there for long] to England. The main obstacle, apart from Moscow’s views, was of course her German passport. Therefore, in order to get British nationality, she managed to persuade Bill [Len Beurton] to agree to marry her if she could get a divorce from Schultz. She managed to obtain a divorce in the Swiss courts early in 1940, and straight away married Bill and was thus entitled to a British passport.” He adds that, throughout this whole exercise, ‘she had no intention of being unfaithful to Schultz’, but the charade of a mariage de convenance fell apart when she and Len fell in love. This is all nonsense, of course, because of her affair with Patra, and Foote’s suggestion that Sonia was feeling useless and ‘homesick’, with Moscow resisting her plans to withdraw from espionage. Sonia would have done what she was told.

Ursula Beurton (Sonia)

In Sonya’s Report, the author imaginatively has both her husband and her lover in Switzerland at the same time that summer, but the chronology is gloriously vague. “In the early summer of 1939, as the danger of war increased daily, an expired German passport was useless to an emigrant. My Honduras passport did not give me real security either. Centre asked what possibilities there might be of obtaining another passport for me. We proposed that, before Rolf left Europe, we should start divorce proceedings and I would enter into a pro-forma marriage with an Englishman.” Apart from the somewhat premature series of activities described, Jim [Foote] won the lottery, since his age was closer to Sonia’s: Rolf came to see Sonia for the last time. “When his return to China had been approved, Centre enquired whether he would be prepared to work under Ernst [Patra]. Generous and principled as he was, Rolf had a high opinion of Ernst and agreed.” The display of lofty unselfishness is comical: the notion that Soviet agents would have the freedom to accept or decline Centre’s instructions is absurd.

Sonia then compounds the unlikelihood of this domestic drama by having Ernst visit Switzerland, to see his daughter for the first and only time, and she then (apparently in about July 1939) sees off her husband and her lover from the train station in Caux. (Green informs us that Sonia and Patra did not see each other between 1935 and 1955.) Helpfully, Rolf, before he left, had written a letter to facilitate the divorce proceedings, which Sonia ‘ever since the spring’ had been trying to finalise. (So much for Sonia’s suggestion to ‘start divorce proceedings’ in early summer.) Why Rolf could not have more actively contributed by playing his part while in Switzerland is not explained. But then Foote tries to back out of the arranged marriage, claiming some difficulties with a girl in Spain, and a possible breach of promise. Why he had not thought of that earlier is likewise not explained, but Foote then recommends Len to take his place, and Len gallantly accepts the assignment, with Sonia saying that she will divorce him as soon as required. By February 1940, Sonia had collected all the documents she needed in order to marry.

When Foote was interrogated by MI5 and MI6 officers in late 1947, however, a different story emerged. In a report distributed by Percy Sillitoe (from KV 2/1613-1, pp 23-28), Foote’s first testimony claimed that Sonia’s divorce had been put through without Hamburger’s knowledge, ‘Foote providing the principal false evidence of Hamburger’s misconduct in London’. Later, however, Foote was shown information at Broadway (MI6’s head office) suggesting that Hamburger had been in Switzerland in 1939, indicating that the Security Intelligence Service was already keeping close tabs on the extended members of the Kuczynski clan. Foote was shown a photograph of Hamburger but was apparently ‘quite unable to identify it’.

When challenged later, Foote revealed even more to the MI5 officers Hemblys-Scales and Serpell, the latter writing the report: “Foote replied blandly that he had been the sole witness in the case. It was on his false testimony that Sonia obtained her divorce from Rudolf Hamburger and Foote made no bones at all about the perjury he had committed in the Swiss courts. When I asked him what was the false evidence he had produced, he said that it had been a story of Rudolf Hamburger’s adultery with one of Sonia’s sisters in a London hotel. I asked which sister was selected for this episode and Foote replied, Mrs. Lewis. After these revelations, I can no longer feel surprised at the anxiety shown by the Beurtons over the Hamburger divorce during their conversations with Mr. Skardon and myself at Great Rollright.” And, if Foote’s testimony were truthful, he would obviously have had to tell the Geneva court that he knew what Hamburger looked like. In fact, he had committed obvious perjury, as he now confessed.

Lastly, we have the records from Moscow acquired by William Tyrer, although his story contains its own contradictions. In a personal communication to me, he claimed that Sonia and her husband lived with Honduran documents after she and Rolf went to the Honduran consulate in Geneva, some time in mid-1939. Tyrer then, somewhat implausibly, suggests that, with her Swiss mission completed, she set her sights on going to Great Britain, where she would be more useful, and moreover closer to her family – but that this desire awoke only after August 1940! He then cites a reliable-sounding but undated document (Tsa MO RF, Op. 23397, delo 1, l. 33-37: The Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense of RF, op. 23397, file 1, pp. 33-37) that purports to record a wireless message from Sonia to Moscow Centre in late August 1939. It is remarkable in many dimensions, not least because it suggests that the thought of divorce has only just occurred to her, directly contradicting what she wrote in her memoir, and because it also asserts that Rolf is already working in China, a fact of which Moscow Centre would clearly have been aware, if it were true, and about which it would thus not have to be informed.

The text of the message (the name of the translator is not given, but it could be Chervonnaya, since the English is choppy) runs as follows: “In case of war, I will be sent to Honduras, where I won’t be able to work on your assignments. In this connection, I have the following suggestion. The idea is, that I divorce officially with Rolf and marry “Jim” or “John”. The marriage would be fictitious, but it would help me to obtain a permanent British passport, with which I’d be able to travel around the European countries without any obstacles and would be able to go to Britain at any time.

     … At present, I am still on a firm footing in Switzerland – my husband works as an architect in China, myself with two kids, I am unable to travel to join him, because China is in war. Waiting for my husband’s arrival, I am taking a rest with the kids at a mountain resort. With the help of my father, I am maintaining ties with some officials of the League of Nations, which also helps to improve my credibility.”

Fortunately for Sonia, Moscow Centre went along with her plan. For some reason, they did not point out to Sonia that, in the event of war, she would not be able to gad around Europe purely on the basis of a British passport. But why, if she was proposing to divorce Rolf, would she lament that she was unable to join him in China? (Note that Sonia here, in September 1939, first recommends the idea of divorce, while claiming in her memoir that Rolf had left the previous month, having already agreed to it. That the divorce was ‘unofficial’ beforehand is evident.) And how would she know, having just seen Rolf off at the train-station in Caux, that he was already working there as an architect? Even more incredibly, why would she be waiting for her husband’s arrival in late August 1939, if they had agreed to split? And, if Moscow had just approved Rolf’s return to China, why would he be on his way back again?

The conclusion must be that this document is a clumsy fake, inserted into the archive at some unspecified time, and forgotten when the GRU helped Sonia write her memoir. It is much more likely that Moscow approved the divorce plans much earlier, ordered Rolf to return to China so that he was out of the way and thus could not mess up the legal process, and then engaged in orchestrating Sonia’s new British citizenship and infiltration into the United Kingdom as a courier. And it is at this stage that MI6 starts to consider the possibilities of using the opportunity to manipulate Sonia.

Step One: Facilitating Sonia’s divorce and re-marriage

The marriage certificate of Len and Ursula Beurton

There is no doubt that Alexander Foote had been recruited by MI6. The file KV 2/1613-1 specifically records how in 1947, after his desertion and return to Britain, MI5 warned Foote not to talk about his intelligence experiences, using the claim that he had been a deserter from the R.A.F. as a threat hanging over him. One does not have to buy in to the argument that he was eventually used as a medium for passing on packaged ULTRA secrets to the Soviets (as I do) to conclude that he had been infiltrated into the Swiss network in order to gain insights into its wireless techniques. Indeed, one might assume that he started passing on the practices described in Handbook for Spies to his controllers in Berne as early as 1940, when he became the leading operator for the Rote Drei.

Thus, when faced with the prospect that Sonia intended to marry Foote when she had gained her divorce, MI6 would have been appalled at the plan. It would not have helped them to have Foote repatriated to the United Kingdom as soon as he had become effective. Yet the notion of potentially manipulating Sonia was attractive: Len Beurton would be proposed as the replacement candidate to marry Sonia. Foote would then come up with a bogus explanation as to why he could not go through with the marriage, and would instead provide false evidence against Rolf Hamburger, since the Swiss courts were apparently rather sticky when it came to granting divorces against absent spouses. Whether Rolf actually provided the letter that was supposed to grease the wheels is dubious: apparently it was not enough to convince the authorities.

So how did MI6 hope to use Sonia at this stage of the war? Of course, the Soviet Union’s pact with Nazi Germany was in effect: in principle, she might have been able to inform them of strategic intelligence. Yet her utility in Britain would have been very constrained. Any activity on UK soil – including contacts with as yet undiscovered sources – would transfer to MI5’s area of responsibility, and the Security Service would therefore have to be party to the plot, and take over the supervision and surveillance of Sonia. Perhaps they thought that she would lead them to other GRU agents in Europe, and would repay her new masters for their kindness in saving her from persecution in Germany. I suspect, however, that the real agenda was to use her as some kind of ‘double agent’ *, perhaps to feed her disinformation that she would be bound to transmit to Moscow Centre, and thereby gain further insights into her encipherment techniques. When her messages were intercepted (so went the plan), the fact that she had been passed texts that she would encode would provide an excellent crib for assisting in decryption – a technique that mirrored what RSS and GC&CS were performing with transmissions performed by the Abwehr.

(* ‘Double-agent’ is not really the appropriate term, as it suggests a continuing dual role. ‘Controlled enemy agent’ is the preferred description. I shall explore this phenomenon further in the coming final chapter of ‘The Mystery of the Undetected Radios’.)

According to her marriage certificate, Sonia received her divorce on December 29, 1939 (not in October, as she for some reason told UK immigration officers later), and was married to Len Beurton on February 23, 1940. Yet one further action hints at the connivance of MI6.

The anecdote appears in both Foote’s and Sonia’s narratives, although the details and motivations differ slightly, and it involves Olga Muth, Sonia’s nanny. Muth had been hired shortly after Nina’s birth in April 1936, and accompanied Sonia to London, back to Poland, and then to Switzerland. Sonia presents Olga as becoming distraught over the prospect of being separated from Nina, Sonia’s daughter, and, in the knowledge that Sonia had a wireless transmitter, goes to the British consulate in Montreux to denounce her as a spy. Foote states that Olga was distressed by Sonia’s disloyalty to Rolf in not just marrying Len, but subsequently falling in love with him.

In Foote’s account, Olga rings up the Consulate to denounce Sonia and Len as Soviet spies, telling them where the transmitter was hidden. In both versions, her broken English was incomprehensible, and she was thus ignored. During his interrogation in London, Foote additionally claimed (KV 2/1611-1) ‘that Ursula and Beurton were considered by Moscow to have been compromised by the action of Olga Muth, and it was the basis of their return to England.’ This is quite absurd: if they had been rumbled in Switzerland by the British, they would hardly have been allowed to settle in Britain. MI5’s Serpell sagely made a note, questioning why Sonia and Len would have been denounced to the British authorities rather than the Swiss? One might thus ask: Had the whole business been a ruse concocted to suggest distancing of the Beurtons from MI6 in Switzerland?

Step Two: Providing Sonia with a Passport

Milicent Bagot

On March 11, 1940, Sonia visited the British Consulate in Geneva to apply for a British passport, based on her marriage to Beurton (who was known as ‘Fenton’ in the MI5 files). She records that the reaction of the Consul was ‘distinctly cool’, Victor Farrell no doubt affecting a lack of enthusiasm for the whole venture. Mr. Livingston passed her application on to the Passport Office in London, adding the annotation that the purpose of her marriage was probably to confer British nationality on her, and then he rather provocatively appended the strange observation: ‘Husband is understood to be under medical treatment, and intends to return to Switzerland after escorting the applicant to England.’ Why Beurton, if he had recovered enough to make the arduous journey across Europe to Britain in war-time, would jeopardise his health, and then want to repeat the ordeal by returning to Switzerland for medical treatment instead of seeking it in the UK, is not evident.

I have described the events that took place next in Sonia’s Radio: Chapter 2, and Chapter 8, but it is worth summarizing them here. The application was processed quickly, before Milicent Bagot, who was very familiar with the Kuczynski family, could advise against it. Sonia’s brother Jürgen had actually been interned as a dangerous communist, collaborating with another noted incendiary, Hans Kahle, in organizing espionage, but was conveniently released at about the same time that Sonia’s passport application was approved, in May. Len Beurton was on the C.S.W. (Central Security War) Black List, and thus not a person whose re-entry was to be encouraged. Cazalet in MI5 too late pointed out the anomalies, but stated that Sonia’s passport should be issued for limited duration, and should not be used for travel.

One bizarre item in the KV 6/41 file shows that Sonia, perhaps concerned that the application was not moving fast enough, actually sent a letter to her father (addressed mystifyingly as ‘Renée’: his forenames were Robert René) requesting local pressure on the Passport Office. In this missive, she curiously refers to herself in the third person (‘Maria’), and informs her family that ‘Maria’s husband’ (aka ‘Georgie’) has just written to the Office to advance his claim. As it happened, the passport had been approved the day before: it is not clear how Len’s personal approach would have helped his suit, unless he perhaps thought that making an overt breach from his chequered past would somehow make the Passport office look on his submission with more favour. Len’s letter has not survived, but it was not necessary.

Thus it is apparent that MI6 was able to bulldoze through the application, even though Sonia was known to be one of a dangerous Communist family, with lower-level officers in MI5 speaking strongly against the award, at a time when the Soviet Union was supporting Nazi Germany in the war effort against Great Britain. It is quite extraordinary that, during a period when any German refugees were looked at with great suspicion, and as rumours of a dangerous ‘Fifth Column’ of hostile aliens were gathering momentum, MI6 would go to strenuous efforts to facilitate the entry into the United Kingdom of a known German-born revolutionary. Laconically, Sonia reported in her memoir: “In the late autumn of 1940, Centre suggested that Len and I move to England”, as if the thought had just occurred to them. (This is presumably the sentiment that Tyrer echoes in his notes.)

Step Three: Exploiting Len’s Extended Presence in Switzerland

Len Beurton

Len’s status in 1940 is a little perplexing. We know from the infamous ‘Geneva Letter’ (see The Letter from Geneva) that Farrell must have engaged him for some intelligence-gathering purposes, with the Falkenberg connection providing a vital insight into how prominent German minds against Hitler might be thinking. Yet it surely cannot have been MI6’s intention to prevent his leaving with Sonia, as it would draw undue attention to her situation, and would make her passage more hazardous. Was the statement about his returning to Switzerland a blind, when they knew that he would struggle to gain a transit visa, and might be even less welcome in the UK than Sonia was?

Sonia wrote that ‘as a former member of the International Brigade, Len could not travel through Spain and had to stay in Geneva until we [Moscow? The British Consulate?] could find a different route for him.’ Yet she presents this observation very late in the cycle, after she and Len had received instructions from Moscow towards the end of 1940. It is difficult to imagine that they could have been so uninformed at this stage. She confirmed the fact when she was interviewed by customs officials in Liverpool on February 4, 1941, saying (after lying about how long she had been in Switzerland) that her husband had been unable to leave Switzerland as he could not obtain a Spanish visa.

The untruths about Len’s poor health (and other matters) start here. There are two interrogation reports on Sonia on file: one dated February 8, from Security and Immigration, and the other February 15, from the Home Office. In the former report, she is quoted as saying that Len had been in Switzerland for about two years ‘for health reasons’. She cannot give a date for when she first met him, but claims she went to Switzerland for the last time ‘just before the outbreak of war’, and that Len had paid visits to Germany during the previous nine months in an attempt to secure money owed her. She married Beurton in February 1940, ‘having secured a divorce from her former husband’. Fortunately, Len had now recovered from his tuberculosis, but had not been able to acquire a Spanish visa necessary for reaching Portugal, because of his membership of the International Brigades. Yet, despite Len’s ‘recovery’, she still cites his ill-health as an counter to the Spanish government’s obduracy, suggesting that his inability to fight should remove their concern.

The Home Office Report gives a slightly different story. Now Sonia claims that she had been in Switzerland since February 1940, thus eliding the circumstances by which she had been able to acquire her divorce papers. She was presumably not questioned as to where she had been prior to her arrival. She again says that Len had gone to Switzerland for health reasons, but now embroiders the reason why she had to leave Switzerland without him – that she was, as she coyly admitted, ‘afraid to stay any longer owing to her connection with a well-known anti-Nazi family’. That family was of course the Kuczynskis, to which she was rather tightly bound, not simply ‘connected’. She does not indicate here that Len has recovered, and thus leaves the argument that he was unfit to be a fighting man in place.

The report goes on to say that the Spanish visa ‘has been refused by the Spanish authorities as he is still of military age and when it was pointed out to them that he was medically unfit they said that the grounds for refusal were that he was an engineer and therefore as valuable as a fighting man.’ It is not clear whether the officials derived this information from Sonia herself, or another source, but it does confirm that Len’s invalidity has already been raised as a reason for letting him depart. Sonia rather ingenuously concluded her statement by indicating that ‘Mr. Beurton would attempt to leave France by a cargo boat from Marseilles’. A simple cross-check between different statements to customs officials and Livingston’s passport application would have turned up an enormous contradiction about the supposed frailty of Len’s health and his desire to join his wife in England as soon as possible, as well as a cavalcade of lies about their movements in Europe. MI5 and MI6 were simply not interested

In any case, Len surely did face a challenge in trying to pass through France and Spain because of his history as an International Brigader, and this fact would consume some more of MI6’s devious energies later. Meanwhile, he made himself useful. In Handbook for Spies, Foote stated that Len gradually extricated himself from the Soviet organisation, and that contact ceased after March 1941 (when Sonia was safely ensconced in Oxfordshire). This was the period when Farrell presumably nurtured him, believing him also to be an ally, and indebted to the British authorities, and used him for intelligence-gathering purposes. Some time after his return to the United Kingdom, Len apparently tried to revive his career with MI6. In the Alexander Foote archive, in KV 2/1612-2, can be found a statement that Beurton ‘gave information about his work with KWEI, Z.156 [presumably von Falkenberg] and Rolf SUESS which was of little value, and he tried to obtain employment with British intelligence. This offer was refused, and in July 1943 he asked for help in joining the R.A.F. on the strength of “having rendered valuable assistance in Switzerland”’.

The exact sequence and timing of events is uncertain, but K 6/41 tends to undermine the ‘intelligence’ application in favour of the ‘R. A. F’ story. There, Colonel Vivian of MI6 confirms the approach, informing Shillito on August 17, 1943 that Beurton presented himself at the War Office with an introductory letter, asking for an interview with (name redacted). (But why else would Vivian have been involved?) Yet Beurton waited a long time to make this approach, as if he was not certain whether he was working for the GRU, or MI6, or both. He must have been getting rather desperate. Shillito had picked up the case again, and was busy asking questions at this time. Perhaps the combination of Farrell’s reminder in March, the imminent birth of his and Sonia’s baby, and his failure to find employment were making Len a bit desperate. MI6 in London were obviously quite aware of his services to the Swiss station, but had no wish to recruit him. If they were interested in taking him on, they would surely have acted soon after his arrival.

Step Four: Arranging the passage of Sonia and her children to Lisbon

The Grande Hotel, Estoril

Refugee literature informs us how arduous was the trek across France and Spain to the relative safety of Portugal. For a lone woman travelling with a nine-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter, it must have been especially difficult. Yet Sonia’s children (Maik and Janina) almost did not make it. The original passport application had specified that Sonia wanted her children added to the passport, but it seems that this inclusion did not guarantee their ability to travel, presumably since they had been born as German citizens, and had not been naturalized. This discovery occurred very late in the day. Sonia did not notice the dilemma until shortly before she left, apparently, or may have assumed that their status as appendages to her passport gave them right of entry. Else she may have considered that perhaps the original plan was for her to travel alone, leaving the children in Len’s (or somebody else’s) care. Sonia ignores the whole issue of her children’s approval process, merely stating that she planned to leave at the end of December.

Yet KV 6/41 shows that an urgent plaintext telegram was sent from Geneva to London on November 21, 1940, reflecting the recognition that the children might be turned away on attempting to land. (The question of whether they would have got past the Embassy in Lisbon is not raised.) Extraordinarily, the cable states, even at this late stage, that the children would be accompanied by their parents [sic, plural], and throws in the name of Sonia’s father, (“Doctor Kuczynski of London University’), as if that impressive academic touch would seal the deal. Mystifyingly still, Cazalet’s response of December 10 misses the point entirely, stating that MI5 (to whom the request was addressed) ‘have no objection to the names of Mrs. Ursula BEURTON’s children being added to her passport and the children accompanying their mother to this country’. His memo to Stafford of the Passport and Permit Office, dated December 4, clearly indicates that the problem was due to the fact that they were ‘German born children’.

Once she and her children arrived in Lisbon, Sonia faced multiple challenges in planning her transit. This section of her memoir is probably one of the more reliable parts, in the bare outline of their movements. She wrote a letter to her parents in which she described the horrendous journey, the unheated bus through France, the icy cold in which they stood waiting at customs houses, alleviated by a more comfortable train ride from Barcelona to Madrid, and then a more stressful passage to Lisbon, where they arrived on December 24, 1940, with all three of them ill. The British consulate explained that Sonia was ‘about the most insignificant person on the long list’, so she moved, somewhat incongruously, to a comfortable hotel up the coast in Estoril (the ‘Grande’, “once the setting for the European aristocracy to spend its summers”), using monies from Moscow Centre’s account. “After about three weeks, the consulate informed me that we would be taken to England by ship”, she wrote. Yet the letter she wrote to her family on January 4 indicates that she already knew then that the waiting-time would be ‘about three weeks’ – not a bad prospect for someone so lowly on the pecking-order. She had been granted a Category ‘C’ endorsement (no internment required) on January 10. It appeared that MI6 had primed the consulate: Sonia gave the game away again.

Moscow also helped with the expenses involved in transporting Sonia and her family across Europe. While funding was tight in Switzerland, and caused special stresses, Foote informed his interrogators that ‘Albert’ (Radó) managed to send $3,500 to her in Portugal. This was obviously essential for Sonia’s living expenses while staying at the Grande Hotel. Sonia admitted this contribution in her memoir. Yet she was clearly indebted to MI6 for working behind the scenes to advance her priority up the queue of desperate refugees waiting to gain a spot on one of the ships bound for Liverpool. No questions were apparently asked about her source of funds or her lavish accommodation.

Step Five: Helping Sonia Settle in Britain

‘The Wake Arms’ in Epping

In two respects, MI6 helped Sonia with her accommodation and trysting arrangements in England. In one extraordinary item of testimony, Foote told his interrogators (KV 6/43-243A) that, before Sonia left Switzerland, she asked Foote to send a message to Moscow giving the address in Essex where her GRU contact was to meet. Foote’s notebook revealed that Sonia was to ‘meet with the Russians on 1st & 15th of every month at 3pm GMT at Wake Arms in Epping’. This location has an especial interest, since some of the items of correspondence intercepted at the Summertown address in September and October 1942 came from Epping. It would nevertheless not have been an easy place to travel to and from for a mother with two young children resident in Oxford. Yet Epping had its enduring attractions. In 1944, Sonia consequently decided to send Nina, aged seven, to a ‘boarding school in beautiful rural surroundings near Epping Forest’, Micha having already won a scholarship to a boarding school in Eastbourne, Sussex. Nannies and boarding-schools: those are the emblems of the truly dedicated Communist with important work to do.

What is astonishing about this item is how Sonia must have gained the intelligence. Unless the claim was a gross invention by Foote (which seems unlikely, given its detail, and the context), we have to consider the alternatives for the source of a message that was to be sent to Moscow. It therefore could not have originated from Moscow, but we also have to consider why Moscow would need this information. Did Sonia believe that Moscow would have to pass it on to her GRU contact in London, so that she and her handler could meet successfully? Surely not: Moscow was in constant touch with London. Or was she simply confirming what her GRU contact had told her already? Yet, even if she had been able to contact the GRU in London, by wireless, or possibly by coded letter to her sister or father, there would have been no need for her to inform Moscow, as her relatives must have derived the data from the local GRU residency.

Thus we have to assume that the address was given to her by Farrell in MI6. The implication that MI6 was in communication with GRU officers in London about the plan to bring Sonia to Britain, and aiding the process of setting up her treffs, is too scandalous and impossible to consider. I suggest one tentative interpretation. What probably happened is that Sonia had been able to inform Moscow that MI6 was going to recommend a suitable meeting-place (presumably with the objective of surveilling it closely), and, at the last minute before she left, it gave her the times and location for Epping. Her message thus constituted a warning to her bosses that this place was not to be used. There is no other evidence that she travelled regularly to Epping, which would have been an arduous journey from Oxford, although much easier from Hampstead, if that is where MI6 believed she would probably take up residence.

The fact that Foote had to inform Moscow of the arrangement must mean that the GRU was aware that Sonia was negotiating with MI6. That was in principle also a dangerous path, as such collaboration was severely frowned upon. In late 1943, Radó received a royal carpeting when he suggested to Moscow that he and Foote seek shelter in the British consulate in Geneva when the Gestapo started applying pressure to the Swiss, and mopped up the Rote Drei network. Sonia must have wisely told Moscow everything, and gained their approval for going along with MI6’s game, as it represented the best chance of gaining the foothold in Britain that they all desired.

The other instance where MI6 helped her was in her attempt to learn where her destination in England would be. I laid out in Sonia’s Radio: Chapter 8 how she sent a desperate letter from Lisbon to her father’s address in London, which was redirected to the address in Oxford that she would later give, as her destination, to the immigration officer in Liverpool. Whether Oxford was chosen as part of a deep strategy by the GRU, as a sensible idea by MI6, or out of a firm preference from the Kucyznski family is unclear. It may well have been the latter, as Jürgen Kuczynski had expressed dismay that Sonia was coming to Britain, where she might draw undue attention by MI5 and Special Branch to his own subversive activities on behalf of the Party. The anguish in her letter shows that Sonia must have known already that she was not welcome in London, and would be directed elsewhere. Yet Sonia did learn what this address was before she arrived in Liverpool. Some emissary from MI6 must have provided this information care of the Consul in Lisbon: there is no other reasonable explanation. In Chapter 8 I put forward one speculative notion.

The voyage to Liverpool took three weeks: the Avoceta arrived on February 4. After the interrogation(s) (in which she was now able to provide a destination address), Sonia managed to find a hotel to stay in, and after an air-raid interrupted night, the next morning travelled smoothly by train to Oxford. Thereafter, her account does not ring true. She claimed that her parents were staying with friends at the Oxford address (78 Woodstock Road, as the MI5 files tell us: they followed her there), but that they had to return to London ‘because their room was needed by their friends’ relatives’. Implausibly, Sonia states that, because house-hunting in Oxford was ‘hopeless’, she tried to find something in the bombed cities, but that was impossible too. (Did she travel to Portsmouth? Coventry? Liverpool? She does not say.)  ‘At last’ she found a furnished room, but had to send the children away, as the landlady insisted on only one renter. So she found a room at the vicarage in Glympton, near Woodstock, settled down, and started her fortnightly visits to London.

If one were not aware of her brother’s objections, one night ask why on earth she didn’t move to the bosom of her family in London, so she would have grandparents to look after her children, and be able to carry on her trysts so much more easily? Apparently ‘moving in with them was out of the question’, as her parents were staying with friends in an overcrowded house’. In April 1941, she conveniently found the furnished bungalow in Kidlington, with no landlady, and the ability to keep her children with her. What she also omitted to mention, however, was that, during these hectic weeks, she was actually residing with her sister, Barbara, Mrs Taylor, at 97 Kingston Road, Oxford, as the constabulary report of February 24 informs us. Barbara’s husband, Duncan Burnett Macrae Taylor, was a trainee wireless operator in the R. A. F., and thus may well have been the officer Sonia claimed to have developed as an informer (‘James’) when she boasted of her ‘network’ in her memoir. Moreover, the report says that her parents are still living at 78 Woodstock Road. It is no wonder that Sonia fails to describe this part of her life in Oxford in any detail.

Step Six: Allowing Sonia to Carry On Unsurveilled

Kidlington Airport

What is clear from the archives is that a minimal surveillance of Sonia was undertaken, but it was of the generic kind of instructing the local constabulary ‘to keep an eye on her’, as if they might surprise her in the act of planting a bomb somewhere. It extended to intercepting her mail, but specifically did not track her movements. The problem is that much of the initiative came from younger officers, like Hugh Shillito, who were trying to do their job, but had clearly not been filled in on the bigger picture. Shillito (B.10.e) wrote to Major Ryde in Reading (the Special Branch representative) on February 7, suggesting that Sonia might want to ‘be kept under observation’. Yet he gives no indication that she is a communist, and related to subversives who have been interned. He merely states that she ‘clearly comes from an entirely different social stratum, and it appears that the marriage was one of convenience’. He says that Len’s ‘present whereabouts are unknown’. It is obvious that he has not been briefed properly, has not spoken to Milicent Bagot, has not read the immigration reports, and is completely unaware of the Communist group that Sonia was part of. He ends his request with the statement: ‘I shall be very interested to hear the result of any enquiries you may make’, but one could hardly expect Major Ryde to jump into action on the basis of this weak letter.

Shillito in fact copied his letter to the Oxford Constabulary, and Ryde did send it on to the Oxford City Police. Acting Detective-Sergeant Jevons did make enquiries, and discovered the facts about the Taylors, and also that Sonia’s father held ‘strong Communist views’, facts that he reported to Shillito on February 24. The very next day, Hyde sent a letter to Shillito, enclosing a copy of the Beurtons’ marriage certificate. This is shocking and absurd: Why did these dedicated civil servants have to educate an MI5 officer about the details of the case? I have noticed that MI5 officers often seemed remarkably ignorant of the marital status of Len and Sonia: when Sonia’s application for a passport came through in March 1940, Cazalet had even indicated that they thought Len was in Germany, in February 1940, which would have been a ridiculous supposition if he had married Sonia the previous month.

Thus Shillito appears to have been kept in the dark, deliberately. His response to Ryde of March 1 suggests that the marriage is all news to him. In any case, at that point Shillito effectively signs off, deeming no further action required, and again expresses the perennial hope that ‘an eye can be kept’ on Sonia. The file is passed to B4, as it appears to be a Communist Party matter. Thereafter, Sonia and Shillito disappear from the archival radar, the case not taking on new life until her husband’s repatriation in July 1942, by which time Shillito has been heavily involved with the business of Oliver Green, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and a spy who had been convicted and imprisoned, not for espionage, but for forging petrol coupons. In the reorganization of July 1941, after Petrie’s arrival, Shillito had been moved into the new F Division, tracking CP members, and was given a new assignment.

According to Sonia’s account, the hounds (if that is how these tentative inquisitors must be characterized) must have been called off at about the time she first met with her controller in London, in May, after several abortive attempts. She travelled up to London every couple of weeks, to speak to her father, and colleagues like Hans Kahle. She stayed with her parents, or one of her sisters, presumably leaving her children behind. She never explains how they were taken care of. It was in 1941, of course, that Peter Wright claimed that she maintained ‘a nest of spies’, something that surely should have gained the attention of any agency chartered with ‘keeping an eye on her’. As readers of these bulletins will know by now, I largely discount Wright’s allegations, although it is possible that Sonia developed contacts in important scientific research organisations in Oxford.  And yet, throughout the rest of 1941, no one apparently noticed any of her journeys and absences, or pondered how a mother was able to leave her kids behind so regularly.

The political environment changed in 1941, of course. The Battle of Britain was over; the threat of invasion receded; the search for parachuted German agents waned; Hitler turned his attention eastwards and invaded the Soviet Union on June 22. With Churchill’s immediate message of support to Stalin, and signals from the Y Board and the Foreign Office that counter-intelligence operations against the Soviet Union should be wound down, Sonia would have been seen in a different light. What possible harm could a lone and disconnected housewife perform to the cause of the war?

MI6’s need for insights into Soviet decryption techniques, however, did not go away, and GCHQ never completely abandoned its plans for attacking Soviet traffic. It was in the summer of 1941 that Sonia, having assembled her wireless transmitter at Glympton, began transmitting regularly to Moscow, and the only surviving message concerning her wireless activity (not from her directly, but from the Soviet Embassy) dates from July of this year. As I have outlined, her attempts to contact her bosses at that time were made from Kidlington, and were (apparently) never picked up. Thus it would appear that MI6 fell into a fallow period with Sonia, not certain what to do with her, and perhaps frustrated in noticing that, having installed herself as a competent wireless operator in Oxfordshire, she stubbornly refused to co-operate by sending any messages that could be intercepted.

The circumstances surrounding Sonia’s broadcasts in 1941, and the apparent failure of RSS to pick them up, are still perplexing. 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 Hamburg, or enemy wireless operators working on the Continent. Such signals should have immediately drawn attention, but they would have been harder to pick up at that wavelength, and it is probable that the Voluntary Interceptors (VIs) had not been instructed to perform General Searches in this range. We can only speculate as to how well MI6 understood the technicalities of waveband selection for the cuckoo they had transplanted into their nest, or how reluctant they would have been to divulge too much about her presence to RSS officers who were supposed to detect her.

We do know that, by early 1942, a VI picked up such a signal from the Soviet Embassy, but location-finding techniques still had great difficulty in tracking it down. It may be that, not until MI6 took over the fixed direction-finding stations from the Post Office in late 1941, and built new ones, and connected them all, was the RSS able to include in its ambit a greater range of frequencies, and pass some of them to the VIs. One RSS officer, Bob King, assured me that the complete spectrum of wavelengths was monitored, and, moreover, that Sonia’s transmissions were picked up, and instructions received to ignore them, but the dating of such events suggests they were post-war. I shall pick up this fascinating aspect of the story in the conclusion to my series The Mystery of the Undetected Radios.

The final anomalous oversight of this period was Sonia’s momentous meetings with Klaus Fuchs. Yet those encounters properly belong to the time after Beurton’s arrival back in the United Kingdom, which was an important scheme by MI6 in its own right. It would be Len’s controversial arrangements for rejoining his wife that would gain Hugh Shillito’s attention again.

Step 7: Orchestrating Len’s Repatriation

Eleanor Rathbone

One extraordinary aspect of the whole project concerning Len’s repatriation is the extreme lengths that MI6 went to. When far more-deserving candidates, such as escaped prisoners-of-war, were struggling to gain passage back to England, Beurton, a known communist, agent in a Swiss spy network, and member of an official Black List, benefitted from the provision of false papers, and the advantage of an aircraft return to Poole, Dorset instead of the dangerous and slow sea journey that most refugees had to endure. (The busy MI9 route out of Gibraltar also used aircraft.) It is difficult to imagine that MI6 would go to such extreme lengths purely because of the pressure applied by leftist friends of the Kuczynskis, and for the office of the Foreign Secretary to become involved only draws attention to the anomaly.

Readers will recall that, when Sonia arrived in Liverpool in early February 1941, one of the accounts that she gave of Len’s absence was that he had gone two years ago to Switzerland for treatment for tuberculosis, that he had recovered and was thus fit to travel, but that the failure of the Spanish to grant him a transit visa had prevented his accompanying her. (And that this intelligence was in contradiction of what the passport application from Geneva had indicated.) Unsurprisingly, the testimonies now differ. Sonia reported that Radó had applied pressure on Len, saying that his work in Switzerland was more important, and Len had been influenced by him. But when he asked Moscow what he should do, they told him to ‘do as Sonya says’ – an extremely unlikely interchange.

Foote described it differently: “Bill [Len] then pulled out of the organisation, and though he remained in Switzerland until 1942 he had no more official contact with us after March 1941. Moscow allowed him to try to make arrangements to leave at the end of 1941 and even assisted him in obtaining a British passport by getting a leading British politician to intervene on his behalf. The politician concerned acted, I am sure, quite innocently in this as worked through a number of cut-outs, and the person in question would probably have been horrified at the thought of assisting a Russian spy.” Probably a more accurate account, and a useful commentary by the MI5 ghost-writer, to be sure. Radó echoed Foote’s account in Codename Dora, indicating that ‘John’ [Len] stayed on to provide training (‘at Central’s request’) but then observed that Len was able to leave the country by the spring of 1941. Even if Radó was mistaken over the date of Len’s derparture, it strongly suggests that Len was not occupied with the Rote Drei any longer.

Sonia made much of Len’s struggles to gain any priority with the consulate in the queue of escapees trying to reach Britain, and she said she then contacted Hans Kahle, who, in turn invoked the support of Eleanor Rathbone, the left wing MP, who pleaded on the basis of Len’s eagerness to join the British Army. It might have suited MI6 to keep Len in place for a while, since he was providing useful information on anti-Nazi thinking from his association with General von Falkenhausen, but someone obviously concluded that he would be of more use back in Britain. Events then took some extraordinary turns, involving some barefaced lies that apparently did not concern the authorities, who were, after all, responsible for some of them.

For example, Sonia wrote that Rathbone must have asked a question in Parliament, along the lines of : “Why is a British citizen and anti-fascist with military experience in the Spanish Civil War, who is abroad and wants to volunteer for the British Army, not being given the support of His Majesty’s Government in order to return to his home country?” She overlooked the obvious paradox that, in order to gain a transit visa necessary for repatriation and then enlisting, Beurton had to be declared unfit for military service in Geneva. A veritable Catch22. [I cannot find, in the 1942 Hansard records, this question from the MP for the Combined Universities, but Miss Rathbone was a vigorous and regular critic of government policy.]

When Rathbone wrote to Alexander Cadogan, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, on February 18, 1942, she explained that Beurton had gone to Switzerland before the war for health reasons, and then underwent a serious ski-ing accident that prevented him from leaving. For good measure, the International Brigade Association secretary, Mr Jack Brent, threw in (orally) that Beurton probably had tuberculosis as well, and would therefore be unfit for military service, thus undermining Rathbone’s appeal. This submission conveniently reinforced the ‘legend’ that Sonia had built up about Len’s affliction, yet rather over-egged the pudding with the details of Len’s misfortunes while ski-ing. Of course, the myth that Len was unfit for military service was necessary in an effort to convince the Vichy French and Spanish authorities that Len could not contribute to the war effort, but it rather undermined the urgency of the reasons why the British authorities would be eager to repatriate a tubercular, crippled Communist subversive. Did they perhaps not recall that Klaus Fuchs’s brother Gerhard had arrived by aeroplane in the UK from Switzerland in July 1939, but had been denied entry, and had been forced to return, because he had tuberculosis?

In any case, the Foreign Office wisely pointed out that Beurton would probably need to be pronounced unfit by an impartial medical board in order to gain transit visas from the French and Spanish authorities. On June 3, Livingston, of the Geneva consulate, informed Sir Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, that Beurton had been trying to leave for two years (some slight exaggeration), but he was able to supply the good news that, in April, the doctor attached to the French consulate had declared him unfit for military service. Thereafter, they had applied for French and Spanish visas. The Spaniards, not smelling a rat (or possibly receiving some form of encouragement), had granted the visa, but the French were still delaying things. Yet what Livingston did not state at this juncture was that Beurton had already, on March 9, been issued with a false passport in the name of John William Miller. This fellow must have been a really important asset.

The final visa was issued on July 8, Beurton left Geneva on July 13, and Livingston reported his departure on July 20. There is no record of his journey on file, but Beurton apparently was given VIP treatment, not taking the regular MI9 route for escaped POWs and agents from occupied Europe via Madrid to Gibraltar, but enjoying instead the diplomatic route, and the comfort of a quick plane from Lisbon. He arrived at Poole Airport on July 29, hale, but a little peeved that the he had to undergo an interrogation, as he felt that the authorities in Lisbon should have warned immigration about his arrival. He confidently declared that his passport was a forgery, denied that he had gone to Switzerland for health reasons, indicated that he had gone to Germany in January 1939 to retrieve property owned by Rudolf Kuczynski, and intimated that he had an affair with the latter’s daughter, Ursula. He boasted that he had survived on a $20,000 legacy that he had been carrying round in cash. Furthermore he stated that he and Ursula were married in May 1940, and that they did not leave Switzerland at the beginning of the war as they were waiting for his wife’s divorce papers to come through. He was, however, quick to mention his contact from the League of Nations, L. T. Wang.

A more incriminating farrago of lies would have been difficult to concoct. On August 5, Vesey (B4A) wrote to MI6 expressing surprise that the Passport Control Officer would have issued a false British passport to man whose history must have been known. MI6 replied to Vesey that he had been given a faked passport as he had been refused a transit visa in his own name, adding that the PCO in Geneva was ‘of course’ not aware of the ‘individual circular’ concerning Beurton, who had in the meantime approached the ‘Passport Control’ (i.e. MI6 itself) to join the Armed Forces. MI6 was meanwhile very interested in Wang and Kwei. Vesey and a representative from MI6 would interrogate Beurton in October about the questionable legacy and his actions with Sonia’s friend Marie Guinzberg at the UN in gaining a Bolivian passport. Yet interest in all these suspicious activities was buried.

Step 8: Suppressing Leads on Sonia’s and Len’s Activities

Klaus Fuchs

I have written at length on the apparent confusion surrounding MI5’s surveillance of the Kidlington and Summertown addresses, and the Beurtons’ telephone and mail (see http://www.coldspur.com/special-bulletin-response-to-denis-lenihan/, of March 19, 2020). Sonia claimed that she and Len had to move out of the Kidlington house very soon after Len’s arrival, but was fortunate in finding accommodation in the annex to the house owned by Neville Laski and his wife. Sonia was careful in picking landlords of impeccable standing: Laski was a notable jurist, and may have acted as a solicitor for MI5 at some stage. When the Beurtons moved to The Firs at Great Rollright after the war, they rented from Sir Arthur Salter, the Member of Parliament for Oxford University from 1937 to 1950.

My main conclusion was that Hugh Shillito, having been emboldened by a successful investigation of Oliver Green’s espionage activities, shifted his attention back to the Beurtons soon after Len’s arrival in July 1942, but was firmly discouraged by senior MI5 officers from pursuing the leads too energetically. For example, the apparent failure to follow up on the provocative batch of letters listed on file is perplexing. Just after the time (November 1942) when he had gained the enthusiastic support of Director-General Petrie, and his immediate supervisor Roger Hollis, for his prosecution of the Green case, Shillito made the outlandish suggestion that Sonia and Len were probably Soviet spies. Yet this was information that some senior officers did not want to hear.

It would be quite plausible that Liddell and White had been drawn into the plot by MI6 at this stage, but that Petrie and Hollis (who had replaced his former boss, John Curry, as head of F Division in November 1941), had not. F2 was responsible for ‘Communism and Left-wing Movements’, but Sonia and Len were not associated with the Party, or visibly part of any ‘movement’, so they, along with many other free-flowing communists (such as Jürgen Kuczynski and Fritz Kahle) were allowed to behave unhindered. Perhaps a case was made on those lines that the Beurtons should be ignored. As late as July 1943, however, when the very disgruntled but severely anti-communist Curry had been transferred to MI6, Shillito was still grumbling to his former director that he thought the Beurtons were Soviet agents.

Yet it is the Fuchs business that dominates this period. Sonia had been introduced to Fuchs through her brother, Jürgen. From Sonia’s account, one would get the impression that she cycled out to the Banbury area a dozen times or more, sometimes meeting Fuchs in person, sometimes leaving a message in a shared ‘letterbox’ to arrange a subsequent meeting. When Fuchs passed her a hundred-page book of blueprints, she had to travel to London to inform her handler (by a secret chalk sign) that they would meet outside Oxford, and she then had to pedal out to the junction of the A34 and the A40 to hand over the formulae and drawings. Frank Close echoes the account of these idyllic trysts, even quoting what Sonia later told the local Oxford newspapers: “During the final months of 1942, and throughout 1943, Fuchs and Sonya met at regular intervals near Banbury, always at weekends. She would come from Oxford by train in the morning, Fuchs arriving from Birmingham in the afternoon. One meeting was in Overthorpe Park, two miles east of Banbury, and within easy reach by bicycle or on foot.”

One can already see the contradictions. Did Sonia bike the whole thirty miles to Banbury, or did she take her bicycle to the train station, and then ride out to Overthorpe Park? Remember, most of these adventures would have occurred in the windy and rainy English winter of 1942-1943: moreover the Beurtons’ son, Peter, was born in September 1943, which would have hindered Sonia’s cycling excursions in the latter part of this period. Fuchs would not have been able to make regular forays to duboks in North Oxfordshire just to inform Sonia when the next meeting should be. Sonia promoted the notion that they walked around arm-in-arm, as if they were lovers, to throw off any suspicions. Yet most of this must be fantasy.

Sonia probably met Fuchs for the first time in a café near Birmingham railway station, in late summer 1942, and on that occasion they probably only checked each other out. The Vassiliev Papers record that she had reported that Fuchs had already passed papers to her by October 22 (and they also inform us that Fuchs’s previous handler, Kremer, had returned to the Soviet Union in August 1942). MI5 later claimed that such meetings occurred only every two or three months (echoing what Fuchs told them in his confession), and lasted only a few minutes, which would appear to make more sense, with Fuchs needing to be careful about absenting himself from Birmingham. If Sonia had indeed been taking her bike to Oxford station at regular intervals, surely ‘keeping an eye on her’ would have quickly led to her being stopped, and interrogated about her business? And what happened if her bicycle had broken down and she had secret plans in her basket?

Sonia’s handling of Fuchs lasted only one year. They had their infamous ‘Quebec Agreement’ meeting in mid-August 1943, and a final tryst in November. So, even allowing for MI5’s possible distortions to cover their ineptitude, she and Fuchs probably met only about three or four times before, which, logistically, makes much more sense. More poignantly, this period happened to coincide almost exactly with Len’s presence, and idleness, before being enlisted in the R. A. F. on November 18, 1943, as a trainee wireless operator. Len had expressed to Vesey, in October 1942, his annoyance at being turned down by the Air Force, whom he was keen to join, for health reasons. But his ill health was a myth. Had MI6 been working behind the scenes to disrupt his application? And what about the support of Rathbone, Cadogan and Eden for getting this man into the fight against the Nazis? Did Rathbone conveniently forget about the vociferous appeal she had made on behalf of the valiant British fighting-man?

That there might be significance behind the apparent coincidence of Fuchs’s productivity and Len’s wireless activity is too horrendous to consider, but Beurton had surely taken over the operation of the radio in Kidlington from Sonia. Was that what MI6 conceived as his role? Unless they were interested purely in improved marital relations for Sonia and Len, MI6 must have had plans for him. Yet he could not be used for intelligence purposes in the UK, and he could possibly be a danger if used in the Armed Forces, as his later problems in being accepted reveal. Farrell’s letter of March 1943 remains puzzling, but could have been a coded reminder that Len needed to re-commit to the cause of British Intelligence, and advice from his new-found ‘friend’ would be timely.

Whether Sonia actually used her apparatus to transmit from the new address in Summertown is mainly speculation. The discovery of her set in January 1943 has been analysed studiously. Certainly she claimed that she transmitted regularly, and that her children confirmed her nocturnal activities, but the evidence is sparse. GCHQ, on behalf of RSS, claimed very unscientifically to Peter Wright that she could not have transmitted undetected, but of course her messages might have been intercepted, and decisions made to leave Sonia untouched and uninterrupted. Wright himself wrote vaguely of Sonia’s lost messages, and scoured the globe for them. William Tyrer’s dossier contains a number of unverifiable, mostly undated, messages from Moscow to Sonia, but they are largely very unbusinesslike and novelettish, and mostly predate the Fuchs era or are placed after the war. If she did transmit anything from the Summertown address, it would have been relatively harmless material, and used as a distraction to draw attention away from Kidlington.

With her knowledge and experience from direction-finding in Poland, however, it would have been career suicide for her to transmit repeatedly from a single address in densely populated England, and expect not to be detected. Thus one must assume that either a) if she had been a genuine, freely-operating spy, she would not have used her apparatus (maybe surprised that the authorities did not investigate her equipment), but would have taken advantage instead of Len and the Soviet Embassy to ensure that her secrets reached Moscow; or b) if she had been aware of MI6’s attempts to control her, she would have transmitted only her variant of ‘chicken-feed’, which would be enough to keep her watchers busy, but would never reveal any information that might cast doubt on her ‘new’ loyalties, even if GC&CS were able to decipher her messages. In any case, MI6 were stuck with the cuckoo in their nest, and, at the peak of Great Britain-Soviet Union ‘co-operation’ in 1942-43, had to sit back and let things take their course. Even though the extent of Sonia’s espionage may have been overstated, she certainly duped British Intelligence in her coup with Fuchs.

Step 9: Keeping the Lid On, 1944-1946

‘The Firs’ at Great Rollright

After Fuchs’s departure for the USA in December 1943, and Len’s enlistment in the R. A. F., Sonia’s espionage activities waned. She claimed that she maintained her contacts, and continued to use her wireless, even stating that she sent her son, Micha, and daughter, Nina, to boarding-schools in Eastbourne and Epping respectively so that they would not notice her nocturnal transmissions. How the financially strained Beurtons found the money to pay for private education is never explained, although MI6 has been known to help out in this manner for well-deserving cases. Certainly Sonia helped Erich Henschke and other anti-fascists in the OSS project to drop agents into Germany, in late 1944, but since her brother Jürgen was actually engaged by the American OSS at the time, her actions would not have been regarded as suspicious.

She also had some contact with Melita Norwood (TINA) who was probably of even more use to the Soviets than was Fuchs, but this lasted only for a short time in 1945. Melita’s mother was on friendly terms with Sonia’s mother, and Sonia and Melita had met shortly after Sonia’s arrival in 1941. It would not have been efficient for Sonia, based in Oxfordshire, to have couriered for Norwood, who was, after all, a KGB agent. The Vassiliev Papers (Yellow Notebook No. 1: File 82702) tell us that, even though Norwood had been recruited by the OGPU as far back as 1935, the receipt of papers from her in June 1945 was only the second batch she handed over. Moreover, she had left her job at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association in 1943 to bear her child, and was out of action for over a year. Thus the claim that David Burke makes in The Spy Who Came In From the Co-Op (p 14), that Sonia ‘was Melita Norwood’s controller between 1941 and 1944’ should be quickly dismissed.

MI5, in the person of Shillito, continued to dig around, noticing the anomalies in Beurton’s sickness record.  Shillito also noted that Sonia’s first husband Rudolf had been arrested as a spy in Persia, which resuscitated his suspicions about Sonia. Sargant of O.D.3a had to respond to Air Ministry questions about Len’s dubious story concerning money and health. It was apparent that the Service was now having a difficult time keeping up consistent appearances of the plot to which it had colluded, and struggled to explain why Beurton had been given a fake passport. The rumours even reached the US Embassy, who in August 1944 were anxious to track down Rudolf Hamburger’s wife and family. Roger Hollis himself was called upon to respond to an inquiry from M. J. Lynch. In a letter dated August 10, 1944, Hollis made the best fist he could, admitting that the Beurtons had ‘communist sympathies’, and had probably been funded by the Soviets, adding, however, that MI5’s enquiries had come to nothing, and that neither Mr or Mrs Beurton had been noticed performing anything nefarious. He clearly hoped the problem would go away.

In any case, Moscow Centre at this time decided to loosen its ties with Sonia, although it articulated this message via the Embassy, which had become a much safer way of exchanging vital information by this time. One of the more convincing messages cited in William Tyrer’s dossier, dated January 15, 1945, and sent to Sklyarov in London, runs as follows:

“For your personal information. In the mountain country [Switzerland] Sonia was in contact with Albert [Rado] and his wife. The counterintelligence in your country knows about Albert’s activities in the mountain country and his work for us. There are grounds to suppose that to some degree the counterintelligence may learn about Sonia’s work during her stay in Albert’s country.

     In this connection:

     1. Any personal contact with Sonia should be ceased and not to be resumed without our authorization.

     2. To forbid Sonia to be engaged in our work. She should lead the life of a model mother, wife and housekeeper. Report on the execution. Direktor.”

Moscow was apparently alarmed by the break-up of the Swiss Ring, and the fact that Alexander Foote and Radó might have betrayed information about Sonia’s past activity. Yet there is a trace of disingenuousness here: how could they have imagined that British counter-intelligence was ignorant of Sonia’s career? Nevertheless, the pressure increased, with Gouzenko’s defection in Canada in September 1945 causing panic, and the closing down of multiple agents. The Vassiliev Notebooks (Yellow Notebook, No, 1, p 86) confirm that Moscow cut off all contact with Sonia in January 1946. When Fuchs returned to the UK in 1946, he had to seek out a new go-between. Thereafter, while Sonia was said to communicate occasionally (the language is ambiguous and puzzling), her sister Renate was used as an intermediary to get funds to her. Sonia claimed that she still used her wireless set at this time, having moved to The Firs in Great Rollright, and Bob King of the Discrimination Section of RSS reported to me that he was certain that her messages were picked up by the RSS interceptors, but buried by senior officers.

Before the dramatic defection in July 1947 of Alexander Foote, back to the British, and his subsequent interrogation by MI5, one last twist in the story occurred, revealing the awkwardnesses of MI5 officers having to explain the situation. In April 1946, the FBI, still trying to establish the whereabouts of Rudolf Hamburger, through J. Cimperman, contacted MI5 to determine whether they might approach Ursula Beurton. This time, it fell upon John Marriott (him of the XX Committee, now F2C), and he shared the remarkable information that a letter from the FBI of July 13, 1945 had referred to an address in Geneva (129 Rue de Lausanne), reportedly the address through which Hamburger could be contacted, which was the same address where Mrs. Beurton had last stayed in in Switzerland. Furthermore, she had indicated in 1941, when he arrived, that she thought her husband was still resident there.

One might imagine that an astute officer would either have concealed this information from the Americans, or, alternatively, shown great enthusiasm in following up this extraordinary coincidence. Marriott used it, however, to suggest to Cimperman that the relationships between the two men and Mrs. Beurton made it ‘undesirable’ to approach the lady. Yet he did promise to make further enquiries. The wretched Hamburger meanwhile had been taken back to Moscow from Persia, cruelly interrogated on the suspicion of being a spy, and sentenced to a long stay in a labour-camp. Peter Wright claims in Spycatcher that Hamburger had been an MI6 spy, although John Green comments that this story has never been corroborated.

Maybe foolishly (why would he think that Hamburger still had a link with Geneva?), Marriott agreed to follow up, and turned to the MI6 office responsible – Kim Philby. The same day, he wrote to Philby, explaining the situation, and asking him to make enquiries about the address, and provide, if possible, information on the whereabouts of Hamburger. Marriott revealed his discomfort about Cimperman’s approach directly to Philby, stating: “For a variety of reasons I do not feel able to comply with this request,. . .”, hinting at a tacit, awkward understanding between the two. Two weeks later, Philby, having initiated the appropriate search, responded with a very enigmatic explanation, also confirming that his contact was trying to establish whether Beurton was still living at that address. Continuing to play his role of the simpleton, he added that ‘we have no knowledge of the present whereabouts of HAMBURGER’. Marriott was soon able to enlighten Philby that Beurton was now a Guardsman with the 1st Battalion of the Coldstream Guards in the B.A.O.R. He then sent a very useless and bland letter to Cimperman, which did nothing to shed light on the mystery of the shared address. Apparently nobody followed up with Len or Sonia to learn more about what may have been a Soviet safe-house. Philby clearly wanted to bury the story.

Step 10: Foote and Fuchs: Allowing Sonia and Len to Escape

Alexander Foote

Two challenges remained for the Beurtons – the defection of Alexander Foote, and the arrest of Klaus Fuchs.

The GRU had always harboured its suspicions about Foote’s loyalties, because of his relationship with the British consulate in Geneva, and especially when he encouraged Radó to take cover with him there in November 1943. After Foote was released from prison in November 1944, he made his way to Paris, where he made the extraordinarily bold decision to travel to Moscow to face the music, arriving in mid-January 1945. During the next couple of years, MI5 and MI6 communicated desultorily on Foote’s fate. Foote, meanwhile, was undergoing intense interrogation, and his brazenness in afforming his loyalty must have impressed the Soviets. He was sent to spy school, and on March 7, 1947, left Moscow for Berlin, with a new identity, and a mission to operate as a Soviet agent in South America. On July 2, he defected to the British authorities in Berlin. Claude Dansey did not see his hero return: he had died, discarded, disliked and dejected, on June 11.

Foote was initially interrogated by MI6, and quickly revealed, as is evident from the first Interrogation Report of July 14, that he had worked alongside ‘Sonia’ in the Rote Drei, and that ‘Sonia’ was the alias given to her by the Russian Secret Service, her real name being Ursula KUTSCINSKI’ [sic]. MI5’s Serpell (who had replaced an exasperated Shillito by then) was sent out to interrogate Foote, who immediately voiced his concerns about Sonia’s probable espionage in Britain.  Foote was brought back to the UK, under an assumed name, and arrived at Northolt on August 7. All this must have been a little embarrassing for MI6, who know saw matters spiralling out of control, with officers who had not been ‘indoctrinated’ in the case, including the new Director-General, spreading the news around. Percy Sillitoe contacted the Canadians about the Gouzenko connection; Serpell excitedly got in touch with the American Embassy. Foote, meanwhile, had a crisis of conscience: Sonia had, after all, been his collaborator and tutor, and he sent her a furtive message via Fred Ullmann, another International Brigader who had originally helped recruit him, that she and Len should be on their guard.

This news re-awakened MI5, with the familiar Marriott (now B1b) seeking information on the Beurtons’ whereabouts, since they had lost track of Len since his discharge in August 1945.  He immediately requested a Home Office Warrant check put on the Beurton’s correspondence, as it had apparently just come to his notice that they had both been Soviet spies in Switzerland during the early part of the war. Further revelations from the interrogation of Foote came to light: “Foote suggested that another symptom of SONIA’s continued link with MOSCOW after she reached England was contained in a message he had from Moscow in 1941 about the efforts to get BEURTON back to the U.K. The message said that ELEANOR RATHBONE and others were helping.”

Marriott treated the deluge of Foote’s divulgements as if they were all news to him, and wrote, apparently without irony: “It is not clear why Ursula Beurton left Switzerland as she did at the end of 1940 to proceed to this country, but on the evidence of Foote she did so with at least Russian concurrence and the possibility therefore cannot be excluded that she came here with a  mission.” (Indeed. Had he not read the files in the Registry?) On August 18, he disingenuously tried to finesse the issue by noting that ‘the circumstances of the issue of this latter passport are known to me, and are not relevant to my inquiries.’ The outcome was that Serpell, accompanied by William Skardon, went to The Firs on September 13, to interrogate Sonia and Len.

This extraordinary encounter has been thoroughly reported on, by such as Chapman Pincher and John Green. It seemed the intention of Serpell and Skardon was to put Sonia at her ease, by assuring her that they knew that she had not engaged in any espionage activity in Britain, but instead indicating that they wanted to learn more about what had happened in Switzerland. Yet Sonia had been prepared for the visit by Foote. While Serpell’s continued references to her marriage unnerved Sonia, she realised that if she stuck to her guns, and remained silent, no ill could come out of the exercise. After all, British Intelligence had as much to lose from the truth coming out as she did.

While the focus of the questions seemed to be on events in Switzerland (and Marriott’s notes had indicated that questions concerning Len Beurton’s passport were uppermost in his mind), Serpell and Skardon seemed singularly uninterested in Len, who joined the gathering later, and even indicated that he thought that he was on their side (which, of course, he had been, for a while). The behaviour of the officers in this encounter bewildered Sonia: it was as if MI5 had been trying to catch her out, but they performed with total clumsiness. Serpell and Skardon revealed events in Switzerland that could only have been communicated by Foote. Certainly, the visit confirmed that any espionage activity by her and Len would have to cease at that stage, but Moscow had already decreed that outcome. Or was it a subtle indication that MI5 knew all about her, and that she and Len should make their escape while the going was good? That is an interpretation that John Green hypothesizes. Remarkably, the Home Office Warrant letter checks on not only Sonia, but on other members of her family, were withdrawn immediately after this encounter. So life carried on smoothly for a couple of years.

The arrest of Fuchs, on February 3, 1950, was more alarming. Sonia feared that he would reveal everything under interrogation, and, indeed, as early as February 20, J. D. Robertson (B2A) remarked that Sonia might be induced to talk because of the announcement of his arrest, although it is not clear what prompted him to make that connection. Fuchs had indeed spoken of a female contact he had had encounters with in Banbury, which should have set some MI5 pulses beating faster. Sonia herself wrote that ‘when the press mentioned that Klaus had been meeting a foreign woman with black hair in Banbury I expected my arrest any day’. Frank Close, in his biography of Fuchs, Trinity, reports that ‘the files record enigmatically that she was “touch not”’, but indicates that a pencilled annotation explained that this should be “tough nut”. Quite so: I have not been able to verify this, but the message is clear.

In any case, Sonia jumped the gun, and escaped with her two youngest children to East Germany on February 27, while Fuchs’s trial was under way. The extraordinary gaffe in this exercise was that no effort at preventing her departure was made, despite the obvious recognition that MI5 had shown (such as in Robertson’s note) that she might have been connected to the case. It was obviously easier to have her out of the way. She was untouchable.  As Sonia herself wrote: “Either it was complete stupidity on the part of MI5 never to have connected me with Klaus, or they may have let me go with it, since every further discovery would have increased their disgrace.”

Sonia’s departure must have been recorded, yet many MI5 officers remained in the dark. They even expressed the desire for bringing her and Len in for questioning. Fuchs continued to reveal more. On June 16, Robertson reported that Jürgen Kuczynski was the person who had originally put Fuchs in touch with the Russians.  On June 22, a letter was sent to the GPO, requesting a Home Office Warrant for Sonia, as ‘we have recently received information which indicates that Ursula Beurton has not relinquished her connection with Soviet espionage since her arrival in the U.K.in 1941’. Even Director-General Sillitoe was on the act, asking Rutherford on July 25 about the whereabouts of Sonia and her husband. On June 27, Len Beurton, who had been recovering from a broken leg sustained in a motorcycle accident, was also allowed to leave the country untouched. On August 22, Robertson at last learned that Sonia had flown the coop. Not until November did Fuchs, obviously having been informed that Sonia and Len had safely left the country, admit that Sonia was his contact, and on December 18 he recognized her in a photograph. All through 1950, Liddell made no comment in his diaries about the Kuczynski link – or, if he did, the passages have been redacted. When Sonia was at last identified, his chagrin, and that of all senior officers in MI5 and MI6, must have been immense.

Conclusions

Claude Dansey

What started out as an imaginative opportunity for MI6 turned into a nightmare. It enabled the entry into Britain of a spy dedicated to the communist cause, one who helped her masters acquire secrets that would have been used to destroy the pluralist democracy. No doubt encouraged by the fruitful achievements of the emerging MI5 operation of developing double-agents (at that time, SNOW), Claude Dansey, the deputy to Stewart Menzies, alighted upon the availability of Ursula Hamburger to implement a similar project for Soviet spies. He was in Switzerland from September to November 1939, as Sonia’s divorce proceedings culminated. His man, van den Heuvel, and Farrell, the Passport Control Officer who was van den Heuvel’s deputy, became the instruments to make the plan a reality. In believing that they were saving Sonia’s life by abetting her escape, MI6 succumbed to the illusion that she and Len would be permanently beholden to them.

Yet managing so-called ‘double-agents’ is a hazardous business. It requires both very tight operational security, restricting knowledge of the project to as few persons as possible, and maintaining exclusive control over the agents’ movements and communications. The handling agency can never be sure that the person assumed to having been turned has made an ideological about-face, and switched his or her loyalties. Thus, unless a very tight rein is held over the agents’ behaviour, there is always the risk that, in their communications, they will betray the fact that they are being manipulated, or even arrange unsurveilled meetings where they will be able to describe what is going on. That is why they are properly called ‘controlled enemy agents’. MI5 knew this; the Abwehr knew this; the CIA, in its enthusiasm for transplanting the Double-Cross techniques to their own theatre of operations after the war, were slow to recognize the truth. For some reason MI6 did not think through the implications of bringing Sonia and Len into their fold.

The brunt of the burden fell upon MI5, who were responsible for domestic security against subversion and espionage. And the archive shows clearly how the service was divided over how to handle Len and Sonia once they arrived in Britain. The senior officers (Liddell and White, but not the Director-General) were surely complicit with MI6 in the scheme. Junior officers and recruits (such as Shillito, Cazalet, Reed, Vesey, J. D. Robertson, Bagot, Serpell) were kept in the dark, and left to stumble around, pursuing leads, until they became too energized in their suspicions, recommended some kind of interrogation or prosecution, and had to be gently talked out of it. (At a high-level meeting on January 25, 1950 between Lord Portal, Roger Makins, Liddell and White at the Ministry of Supply, this uncomfortable truth was even admitted.) The middle ranks (such as Marriott, Hollis, and Curry) were no doubt brought, at least partially, into the subterfuge, and were delegated the unpleasant tasks of dealing with other organisations, such as the Foreign Office, MI6 and the FBI. As can be seen, primarily in Marriott’s anguished correspondence, they struggled dismally with explaining away the inexplicable. The complexities of the project and its intelligence ramifications were clearly too deep to be entrusted to the Directors-General, one a soldier (Petrie) and the other a policeman (Sillitoe), although Petrie’s anti-communist vigour would mean that he probably had to have things explained to him after the Green case.

Above all, the exercise shows how improbable the theory must be that Roger Hollis single-handedly, as a Soviet mole, managed to protect Sonia (and Len) from the attention and prosecution that they obviously deserved. This theory has taken root so deeply that new historical works and biographies regularly appear that take it for granted that the assertions of Chapman Pincher and Peter Wright should be accepted unquestionably. Hollis’s guilt is affirmed purely on the basis that he must have protected Sonia (Len is rarely mentioned). The mass of detail that shows how Sonia and Len were nurtured, supported, assisted, recruited, even lied for – and then deliberately ignored, and allowed to escape – proves that it could not have been because of Hollis’s skills in throwing a blanket of ignorance around the couple with the outcome that they were thus able to remain unmolested. Even if Hollis had possessed the power and authority to insist that they were harmless, the widespread knowledge about their background, the illicit marriage, the recruitment of Len by MI6, the phony stories about ex-husbands, tuberculosis, and ski-ing injuries, about forged passports, dubious medical certificates, and unlikely inheritances would have made his protestations a laughing-stock.

In the English edition of her memoir, Sonia wrote: “I know no Fifth Man, and I must also spoil the speculation or, as some writers state, ‘the fact’ that I ever had anything to do with the one-time director of MI5, Roger Hollis”. That may be one of the few true statements she made in her book. Later in life, however, she wryly admitted that she mused over the possibility that someone in MI5 was protecting her. Indeed, madam.

As for the GRU, Sonia’s penetration of British atomic research was a coup, although perhaps not as astounding as the mythology has made it. Fuchs was her source for only a year, and modern assessments indicate that, as far as the United Kingdom was concerned, Engelbert Broda and Melita Norwood were probably far more valuable contributors to the Soviet’s purloining of weapons secrets. Sonia’s connection with Norwood has often been overplayed. Yet Sonia’s achievements were a significant blow to the prestige of British Intelligence, which had held a worldwide reputation now revealed to be unmerited. In the first couple of decades after the war, the Soviet Union and East Germany openly denied the activities of their spies, wanting to impress their citizens that their scientific achievements were attributable to Communist ingenuity.

Only when the spy scandals were rolled out in the United States and Great Britain did the mood change to one of pride in how their intelligence services had outfoxed the West’s. Then they lauded openly the achievements of their ‘atomic spies’, promoting memoirs like Sonia’s. President Putin, relying on his public’s fragile connection with history, after a brief fling promoting Soviet spy exploits (see the case of Svetlana Lokhova and The Spy Who Changed History, at http://www.coldspur.com/four-books-on-espionage/ ) seems now to want to return to the Cold War status quo ante, reinforcing the idea that the Soviet Union’s success with nuclear weaponry owed more to Russian skills than it did to underhand espionage and the theft of the discoveries of former allies.

One has to assume that the GRU in Moscow knew exactly what was going on at the time, and took a back seat while MI6 floundered. Immediately Sonia or Len was first approached by MI6 with any sort of feeler, each would have reported it to Moscow. Thus all further moves would have been passed on as well. Anthony Blunt was keeping his bosses informed, and relayed to them the lukewarm attention that Hugh Shillito paid to CP and GRU spies. The GRU must have wondered exactly what MI6 was up to, if it believed the opposition’s service could manipulate Soviet agents with such naivety. Indeed, around this time, the GRU’s sister service, the NKGB (as the NKVD-KGB was known at that time), was so dumbfounded by the fact that British Intelligence could allow the Cambridge Ring to flourish that it issued an internal report suggesting that the whole exercise was one of disinformation. Referring to the Double-Cross (XX) Committee as one of the vital institutions involved, Elena Modrzchinskaya, the head of the Third Department of the NKGB’s First Directorate, published the report in November 1942: it took almost two years for the suspicions to be disproved, and credibility in the sources re-established.

Yet, if MI6 and MI5 showed an alarming amateurishness about the whole process, the GRU’s agents likewise put on a dismal display of tradecraft. Before placing ‘illegals’ in the western democracies, the GRU and OGPU/NKVD invested an enormous amount of time in creating solid ‘legends’ for their agents, where, supported by false passports, individuals of indeterminate central and eastern European origin were allowed to establish convincing identities and occupations in the cities from which they operated. The GRU could not have exerted any influence on the stories that Sonia and Len concocted before embarking on their journeys to Britain, yet they – especially Sonia – should have been well indoctrinated into the necessity of maintaining a coherent narrative about their previous travel, objectives, sources of funds, business activities, and disabilities.

Sonia and Len behaved, however, completely amateurishly. Their accounts to the immigration authorities were absurd. It was as if they did not even discuss what their separate stories should be if they were interrogated, and how these rigmaroles would mesh together. The resulting narrative was so ridiculous that it should immediately have been discredited, and the suspects hauled in. We now know, of course, why that did not happen. Perhaps the Soviets, and Len and Sonia in particular, were so sure of MI6’s game-plan that they felt that they did not need to bother. But that assumption would have been based on granting the fragmented and pluralistic British intelligence services a discipline and unity that may have existed in the Soviet Union, but simply was unrealistic in a democratic society.

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.

This month’s Commonplace entries can be found here.

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Late Spring Round-Up

‘Dave’ Springhall’s Headstone

Dum spiro, conspiro

I was intending to publish this month the final chapter in the series The Mystery of the Undetected Radios, but was inhibited from doing so by the closure of the National Archives at Kew. I had performed 90% of the research, but needed to inspect one critical file to complete my story. Since my doughty researcher, Dr. Kevin Jones, will not be able to photograph it until we get the ‘All Clear’, the story will have to remain on hold. Instead, I use this month’s bulletin to sum up progress on a number of other projects.

Contents:

  • Sonia and Len Beurton
  • Ben Macintyre
  • Prodding Comrade Stalin
  • The National Archives and Freedom of Information
  • Professor Frank Close at the Bodleian
  • The BBC and Professor Andrew
  • Nigel West’s new publications, and a look at ELLI
  • The Survival of Gösta Caroli
  • Dave Springhall and the GRU
  • ‘Superspy Daughter in Holiday-camp Tycoon Romance Drama!’ (exclusive)
  • China and the Rhineland Moment

Sonia and Len Beurton

I published the recent bulletin, The Letter from Geneva, because I believed it was important to get this story out before Ben MacIntyre’s book on Sonia appears. The fact that Len Beurton, Sonia’s bigamous husband, had acted as an agent-cum-informant for SIS in Switzerland seemed to me to be of immense importance for Sonia’s story, and the way that she was treated in the United Kingdom. Sonia herself wrote in her memoir that, when Skardon and Serpell came to interview her in 1947, they treated Len as if he were opposed to communism, rather than being an agent for it, abetting his wife as a recognized but possibly reformed spy or courier for Moscow, and the contents of the letter helped to explain why.

I wanted to have my conclusions published in a respectable medium, so as to have a more serious stake placed in the ground. I could not afford to wait for the more obscure journals on intelligence matters (and then perhaps get a rejection), and instead considered that the London Review of Books might be suitable. The editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers, could conceivably have a personal interest in the story (she is an Eitingon, and has written about her grandfather’s cousin Leon, who managed the project to kill Trotsky). The LRB frequently runs long articles on off-beat subjects (in fact, it runs so many earnest leftish political pieces that one sometimes forgets what its mission is supposed to be), and it could presumably turn round my piece quickly. I thus sent my bulletin, as an exclusive, to Ms. Wilmers, with a covering letter explaining the appeal it could have to her readers, the opportunity for a scoop, and describing how I would re-work my article to make it a suitable contribution for her periodical.

After a week, I had heard nothing – not even an acknowledgment. (Coldspur 0 : The Establishment 1) So I made a similar approach to the Times Literary Supplement, with obviously different wording in the cover letter. The Editor, Stig Abell (who had, after all, commissioned a review of Misdefending the Realm a couple of years ago), responded very promptly, and informed me he was passing my piece to a sub-editor to review. A couple of days later, I received a very polite and appreciative email from the sub-editor, who offered me his regrets that he did not think it was suitable for the periodical. That was it. I thus decided to self-publish, on coldspur. (Coldspur 1 : The Establishment 1)

I have since been in contact with a few experts on this aspect of Sonia’s and Len’s case, and have discussed the puzzling circumstances of the letter, why Farrell chose that method of communication, and how he must have expected its passage to be intercepted. Why did he choose private mail instead of the diplomatic bag? Would the diplomatic bag have taken the same route as airmail, and would the German have opened that, too? Why did he not send an encrypted message over cable (although the consulate had probably run out of one-time pads by then), or wireless to SIS in London? Presumably because he did not want Head Office to see it: yet this method was just as risky. And what kind of relationship did he possibly think he could nurture with Len in those circumstances? No convincing explanation has yet appeared.

Ben Macintyre

Meanwhile, what about Ben Macintyre’s forthcoming book on Sonia, Agent Sonya, subtitled variously as Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy, or as Lover, Mother, Soldier, Spy? The publisher indicates that it is ‘expected on September 15, 2020’, yet Mr. Macintyre himself seems to be lagging a bit. His US website (to which I was directed at http://benmacintyre.com/US/ ) shouts at us in the following terms: ‘The Spy and the Traitor Arriving September 2018’, but even his UK website needs some refreshment, as it informs us that the paperback edition of his book on Gordievsky will be published on May 30, 2019 (http://benmacintyre.com/about-the-author/ ), and lists events in 2019 where the author will be signing copies of the same book. Wake up, Benny boy! This is 2020.

So, back to the publisher of Agent Sonya, where we can find information at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/612487/agent-sonya-by-ben-macintyre/ . The promotional material includes the following passage: “In 1942, in a quiet village in the leafy English Cotswolds, a thin, elegant woman lived in a small cottage with her three children and her husband, who worked as a machinist nearby. Ursula Burton was friendly but reserved, and spoke English with a slight foreign accent.” This is all rather disturbing, however. Sonia’s husband, Len, returned from Switzerland only in July 1942, and they lived in Kidlington for a short time before moving to Summertown, in Oxford. Her third child, Peter, was not born until 1943. Len did not work as a machinist at that time, since he was unemployed until called up by the R.A.F. in November 1943. And their name was not ‘Burton’ but ‘Beurton’. Still, ‘thin’ and ‘elegant’ might, with a little imagination, conceivably be accurate, and she surely spoke English with a foreign accent. Not a promising start, however.

Macintyre has updated his blurb, apparently. The Waterstone’s site (https://www.waterstones.com/book/agent-sonya/ben-macintyre/2928377041403?utm_source=wsnfpreorderA230520&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=preorders ) tells a different story. The year has been corrected to 1944, where Sonia is pedalling her bicycle to ‘gather secrets from a nuclear physicist’. The only problem with this scenario is that Klaus Fuchs had left for the United States in December 1943.

So what is ailing our intrepid journalist? I hope things improve from here onwards. I shall place my advance order, and await the book’s arrival, as expectantly as the publisher itself. In fact, I heard from my sources earlier this month that Macintyre has started ‘tweeting’ about his new book. Meanwhile, I believe I have taken the necessary initiative by posting my analysis first. (Coldspur 2 : The Establishment 1)

Prodding Comrade Stalin

Neo-Keynesian Stalin?

It continues to dismay me how Stalin’s pernicious influence casts a depressing and inaccurate shadow over the history of the twentieth century. We can now read how President Putin attempts to resuscitate the days of the Great Patriotic War, emphasising Stalin’s role as a leader, and minimising events such as the Nazi-Soviet pact or the massacres of the Katyn Forest. At the end of last month, the New York Times carried a story that described how the Russian authorities have tried to discredit an amateur historian who discovered mass graves of Stalin’s victims in Sandarmokh in Karelia, near the White Sea. The State Military society is arguing that ‘thousands of people buried at Sandarmokh are not all Stalin’s victims but also include Soviet soldiers executed by the Finnish Army during World War II’, which is palpable nonsense.

Thus my disgust was intense when I read an article by one Lionel Barber in the Spectator of April 4. It included the following passage:

“Covid-19 is indeed the Great Leveller. Conventional wisdoms have been shattered. But crises offer opportunities. Wise heads should be planning ahead. FDR, Churchill, and, yes, Stalin lifted their sights in 1942-43 as the war against Nazi Germany began to turn. Prodded by gifted public servants like Keynes and others, these leaders thought about the future of Europe, the balance of power and the institutions of the post-war world.”

The idea that Stalin could have been ‘prodded’ by ‘gifted public servants’ is a topic to which perhaps only Michael Wharton (Peter Simple of the Daily Telegraph) could have done justice. I can alternatively imagine a canvas by Repin, perhaps, where the wise Stalin strokes his chin as he listens to a deputation from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, as if saying: ‘You make a strong point there, Alexey Dimitrovich. Maybe world revolution is no longer necessary. I shall change my plans immediately.’ I was propelled into sending a letter to the Editor of the magazine, which ran (in part) as follows:

“I wonder whether the Stalin Mr. Barber refers to is the same Joseph Stalin who incarcerated and killed millions of his own people, and then, after the war, enslaved eastern Europe, killing many of its democratic leaders and thousands of those who defied him, as he prepared for the inevitable collision with the ‘capitalist’ west? I doubt whether the despot Stalin was ‘prodded’ by anyone, except possibly by a distorted reading of Marx and Lenin, and certainly not by ‘gifted public servants’, whether they were Keynesian or not. The ‘future of Europe’, especially that of Poland, was a topic that, after Yalta, caused a sharp rift between the Allies, and led to the Cold War. Where did Mr. Barber learn his history?”

The Editor did not see fit to publish my letter. I do not know what is the saddest episode of this exercise: 1) The fact that Lionel Barber, who was Editor of the Financial Times from 2005 until January of this year, and is thus presumably an educated person, could be so desperately wrong about the character and objectives of Stalin; 2) The fact that the Editor of the Spectator was not stopped in his tracks when he read this passage, and did not require Mr. Barber to modify it; 3) The fact that no other Spectator reader apparently noticed the distortion, or bothered to write to the Editor about it; or 4) The fact that the Editor, having read my letter, determined that the solecism was so trivial that no attention needed to be drawn to it. (Coldspur 2 : The Establishment 2)

To remind myself of the piercing insights of Michael Wharton, I turned to my treasured copy of The Stretchford Chronicles: 25 Years of Peter Simple, and quickly alighted on the following text, from 1968:

                                                            Poor old has-beens

“The Soviet Government,” said a Times leader writer the other day, “has become hopelessly outdated and out of touch with contemporary movements at home and abroad.”

So the Soviet Government is hopelessly outdated, is it? It has just imposed its will on the Czechs and Slovaks by force. And this is supposed to be hopelessly outdated in an age which, thanks to perverted science (a highly contemporary movement if there ever was one), has seen and will see force repeatedly and successfully applied on a scale undreamed of by the conquerors of the past.

So force is outdated. Treachery is outdated. War is outdated. Pain is out dated. Death is outdated. Evil itself is not only outdated but out of touch with contemporary movements at home and abroad.

That a writer, presumably intelligent, certainly literate and possibly able to influence the opinions of others, can believe these things is positively terrifying. If the Russian Communist leaders, as we are told day in day out, are now cowering in the Kremlin in a state of extreme terror here is some little comfort for them.

When Soviet tanks are on the Channel Coast, shall we still be telling ourselves that the Soviet Government is outdated and out of touch? As we are herded into camps for political re-education or worse, shall we still go on saying to each other, with a superior smile: ‘This is really too ridiculously outdated for words. I mean, it’s quite pathetically out of touch with contemporary movements at home and abroad.’?”

There was as much chance of Brezhnev and his cronies paying heed to ‘contemporary movements at home and abroad’ in 1968 as there was of Stalin being prodded ‘by gifted public servants’ in 1946. Pfui!

As a final commentary on this calamity, a few weeks ago I read Norman Naimark’s Stalin and the Fate of Europe, published last year, which explained how duplicitous Stalin was in his dealings with western political entities, and how he restrained European communist parties until the Soviet Union successfully tested the bomb in August 1949. One of the books cited by Naimark was Grigory Tokaev’s Stalin Means War, published in 1951. I acquired a copy, and read how, in 1947, Colonel Tokaev had been commissioned by Stalin to acquire German aeronautical secrets, by any means necessary, including the kidnapping of scientists, to enable the Soviet Union to construct planes that could swiftly carry atomic bombs to New York. Thus would Stalin’s plans for world revolution be enforced.

‘Stalin Means War’

I do not think this book is a hoax. Tokaev managed to escape, with his wife and young daughter, to the United Kingdom at the end of 1947, where he had a distinguished academic career, and managed to avoid Moscow’s assassins. He died in 2003, in Cheam, in leafy Surrey, just a few miles from where I was born and grew up. I wish I had had the honour of shaking his hand. His book provides undeniable evidence that Stalin was not listening to gifted civil servants, and musing about the peaceful organisation of the world’s institutions. He wanted war.

The National Archives and Freedom of Information

In my recent piece on Rudolf Peierls (The Mysterious Affair  . . . Part 2) I drew attention to the increasing trend for archival material that had previously been released to be withdrawn and ‘retained’. Further inspection, prompted by a deeper search by Dr. Kevin Jones, reveals that an enormous amount of material is no longer available, especially in the ‘AB’ (records of the Atomic Energy Authority) category. I have counted 43 files alone in AB 1, 2, 3, & 4, mainly on Rudolf Peierls, including his correspondence, as well as multiple reports on Pontecorvo, and including Fuchs’s interview by Perrin. For instance, if you look up AB 1/572, you will find a tantalising introduction to the papers of Professor Peierls, described as ‘Correspondence with Akers, Arms, Blackman [Honor?], Blok, Bosanquet [Reginald?], Brown . . .’, from the period 1940-1947: yet the rubric informs us that ‘This record is closed while access is under review’.

I suspect some of these files may never have been made available, but it is hard to tell unless one has been keeping a very close watch on things. For example, the file on Perrin’s interviews with Fuchs (AB 1/695) has been well mined by other researchers, and the fact that the statement ‘Opening Date: 16 July 2001’ appears below the standard message would suggest that this file has indeed been withdrawn after a period of availability. But does the lack of any such date indicate that the file was never released, or is the absence merely the inconsistent application of policy? Several months ago, I referred to another provocative file, HO 532/3 (‘Espionage activities by individuals: Klaus Fuchs and Rudolf Peierls’),which has a different status of ‘Closed or Retained Document: Open Description’, where the rubric reads ‘This record is retained by a government department’, and has never been sent to the National Archives. It puzzles me somewhat as to why the Home Office would even acknowledge the existence of such a controversial file, as an open description without delivery just encourages speculation, but I suppose that is how bureaucracy works, sometimes.

Dr. Jones (who has made it his speciality to find his way among prominent archives) offered me his personal interpretation, which may be very useful for other researchers. He wrote to me as follows:

  • “Where a file is stated to be ‘closed while access is under review’, but has ‘Open Document’ in the ‘Closure status’ field (e.g. AB 1/572), then the file has always been available, until its ‘disappearance’.
  • Similarly, as with AB 1/695, if there is a specific ‘Record opening date’ the previously retained file was made available from that date, again until its ‘disappearance’.
  • With the likes of HO 532/3, where it is stated ‘Retained by Department under Section 3.’”, the file has indeed never been available.
  • Many of these ‘Retained’ files do reveal the file’s title (the ‘Open Description’) to tantalise the researcher, but many such files are listed in the catalogue with no title/description.
  • Where a specific government department is named in a retained file entry (e.g. FO, MOD, etc.), it is obliged to process a FoI request, though don’t expect a quick response, especially if they are composing various forms of waffle to justify not releasing the file! When the ‘government department’ is not named (as with HO 532/3), there is good chance it is retained by MI5/MI6, both of which are exempt from the FoI Act (well, certainly the latter, which also holds the retained SOE files; not 100% sure about MI5). In any instance, click the ‘Contact Us’ button and the TNA’s FoI team will inform you of the good/bad news.”

Occasionally, therefore, the researcher is invited to submit an FoI (Freedom of Information) request, as an attempt to challenge the status of the censored file. I performed this over the above Espionage file, on the grounds that no conceivable reason could be justified for withholding it now that the subjects (and their offspring) are all dead, but received just an acknowledgment. My colleague Denis Lenihan had approached GCHQ concerning the HASP file (referred to by Nigel West and Peter Wright), which was claimed to contain transcripts of Soviet wireless messages intercepted in Sweden during WW II. Denis requested its release, as no conceivable aspect of British security could be damaged through its publication, but his request was rejected by the GCHQ Press Office (as if it were simply a matter of PR).

Denis then brought my attention to another statutory body whither appeals could be sent – the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. I had just read an article in the Historical Journal of March 2014, by Christopher J. Murphy and Daniel W. B. Lomas (‘Return to Neverland? Freedom of Information and the History of British Intelligence’), which very quickly explained that ‘the intelligence and security services fall outside its provisions, in marked contrast to the comparable legislation in the United States  . . .’ I thus wondered why we bothered, and under what circumstances any of the security services (MI5, SIS, GCHQ) would feel they should have to even consider such requests. But, after all, Kew does advertise the facility: is it an exercise in futility?

Denis wrote to me as follows: “While they’re right about the FOI legislation, the security agencies react in odd but sometimes helpful ways. I remember Pincher saying somewhere that the Romer Report (re the Houghton/Molody/Kroger case) was obtained from MI5 by someone who applied under FOI. I once sought a document from MI5 and got the classic Sir Humphrey response: ‘while MI5 is not subject to the FOI Act, it has been decided to treat your application under that Act. It has been unsuccessful’.” That was rich – so generous! Then Denis went on to say that the authors of the article appeared not to be aware of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, to which he had turned with the HASP material. (On his recommendation, I made a companion request, referring to the fact that a reference to HASP was evident on some of the RSS records, and that it was thus in the public interest to make the material available. I have since conducted some deep research into the HASP phenomenon: I shall report in full in next month’s coldspur.)

I followed up Denis’s valuable lead to Chapman Pincher’s Dangerous to Know. Pincher’s account of the application, and its rejection, can be seen in the chapter ‘The Elli Riddle’, on pages 318 and 319. An official of the Intelligence and Security Committee suggested that Pincher complain to the Tribunal about MI5’s lack of action on a ‘missing’ report on Gouzenko made by Roger Hollis. The Tribunal had been set up in 2000, under the Human Rights Act, to consider complaints about the public authorities, but Pincher had, surprisingly, never heard of it. It took notice of Pincher’s request (would it have paid heed to submissions by those of lesser standing, without a platform in the media?), and required MI5 to respond on the status of the Hollis report.

MI5 sent two items of correspondence to Pincher, stating that ‘despite an extensive search of the Service’s archives ‘it had to conclude that no record of the important interview was ever made’. And that appeared to be the end of the affair – until William Tyrer, through an astonishing display of terrier-like determination, managed to extract a copy from MI5, having first discovered a reference to a vital telegram in the Cleveland Cram archive. Tyrer wrote up his conclusions in 2016, in an article in The International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence (see https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08850607.2016.1177404), and Denis Lenihan has analysed Tyrer’s findings in Roger Redux: Why the Roger Hollis Case Won’t Go Away.

As the Tribunal’s website (https://www.ipt-uk.com/ ) explains, the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 did strengthen provisions for the public to make appeals, but it is not clear to me that the withholding of files really fits into what the IPT declares its mission, namely ‘a right of redress for anyone who believes they have been a victim of unlawful action by a public authority using covert investigative techniques’. That sounds more like heavy-handed surveillance techniques, or officers and agents masquerading as person they were not in order to infiltrate possibly dissident groups. And the organisation has a very bureaucratic and legalistic methodology, as the recent decision on an MI5 case shows (see: https://www.ipt-uk.com/judgments.asp, and note that the Tribunal cannot spell ‘Between’). It is difficult to see how the body could sensibly process a slew of failed FoI requests. And what about the Home Office, retaining aged documents? That doesn’t come under the grouping of security services.

Yet all of this fails to grapple with the main question: why has the Government suddenly become so defensive and concerned about records dealing with matters of atomic power and energy, most of them over seventy years old, and many of which have already been dissected in serious books? In the articles to which I provided links beforehand, Michael Holzman and Robert Booth say it all. The lack of a proper explanation is astounding, and the blunderbuss approach just draws even more attention to the fact that the civil service is out of control. Did Peierls’s letters to Blok and others betray some secrets that would be dangerous for the country’s foes to get hold of? I cannot imagine it. Maybe all will be revealed soon, but the furtive and uncommunicative way in which these files are being withheld just induces more distrust of the authorities, and their condescending attitude to the public. (Coldspur 2 : The Establishment 3)

Professor Frank Close at the Bodleian

Professor Frank Close

My status as Friend of the Bodleian entitles me to attend events staged by that institution, and a couple of months ago I received the following invitation: “Our first video by Professor Frank Close, available exclusively to the Friends, can be viewed here. In this talk, ‘Trinity: Klaus Fuchs and the Bodleian Library’, Professor Close uses the Bodleian’s collections to describe an extraordinary tale of Communist spies and atomic bombs.” I viewed the presentation on YouTube, but I don’t believe that it is available solely through subscription, as the above link appears to function properly.

It does not appear that Klaus Fuchs ever visited the Bodleian Library, but Professor Close uses Bodleian resources, such as the correspondence of Rudolf Peierls, and the photographic collection of Tony Skyrme, another Trinity College, Cambridge man, and contributor to the Manhattan Project (see https://archives.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/3424 ) to weave a fascinating story about Fuchs. Skyrme accompanied Fuchs and the Peierls family on a ski-ing holiday in Switzerland in 1947, and produced a riveting set of photographs of that adventure, some of which Close reproduces in Trinity, his biography of Fuchs. Close also makes some fascinating linkages between the dates that Fuchs claimed vacation days from his work at Birmingham, and the timings of wireless messages to Moscow reporting on the communication of his latest secrets. He does, however, avoid any possible hint of controversy over Peierls’s career, ignoring what I have written about him, even though his final message was a very pertinent one about the relationship between Fuchs and those who ‘adopted’ him, and how he eventually betrayed them.

Since I have read Close’s book, and am familiar with the overall story, the pace of his presentation was a little slow for me. Yet I could see that Close is a very gifted lecturer, and must have truly energized his students when he was a working physics don. I accordingly sent an email congratulating him on his performance, at the same time asking a question about the source of some of his data. I never received a reply. Apparently I have fallen out of favour with the learned professor, who was so eager to communicate with me a few years ago. (Coldspur 2: The Establishment 4)

The BBC and Professor Andrew

Readers may recall my last Round-up, in November 2019, where I left with the optimistic projection that, having been able to speak to Mr Brennan’s Personal Assistant, and hearing from her that she would commit to follow up on my letter, I might be able to make some progress on my complaint about Professor Andrew’s high-handed, even contemptuous, behaviour towards the listeners to the ‘Today’ show. (This concerns a letter written by Eric Roberts to a friend which Andrew categorized as ‘the most extraordinary intelligence document’ that he had ever seen, but of which he later claimed to have no memory.)

Well, I heard nothing. So, early in January, I tried to call the lady at Broadcasting House. (I had to explain who I was to get past the switchboard.) And there was no reply. I thus tried asking the switchboard operator if he could give me her email address, telling him, quite truthfully, that I was following up a previous conversation with her. And, believe it or not, in what was probably a gross breach of institutional policy, he gave it to me. I was thus able to write to her, as follows:

Dear Xxxxxxxx,

You may recall that we spoke several weeks ago about my correspondence with the BBC, specifically with Bob Shennan. You were familiar with my letter, and told me that it had been passed to Audience Services. You also said that you would personally ensure that I received follow-up.

Well, I have heard nothing since, and felt it was time to make contact again. Could you please explain to me what is happening, and why I have not yet received a reply to my letters?

Thank you.

Sincerely, Tony Percy.

Six days later, I received the following reply:

Good evening Mr Percy,

I am very sorry I have just picked up this email, which was sitting in my Junk inbox.   I will again try and find out where your original correspondence is and why it hasn’t been responded to, I know you offered to resend me a copy, may I please take you up on this.

Apologies again for the non response and I will come back to you as soon as I can.

Regards,

Xxxxxxxx

EA to Group Managing Director.

‘Be patient now  . . .’  I thus responded:

Thanks for your reply, Xxxxxxxx.

The reason I was not able to send you the letters beforehand was that I never received any email from you giving me your address! Only when the kind switchboard operator offered it to me when I called last week (explaining that I had spoken to you before: otherwise he probably would not have handed it out), was I able to contact you.

Anyway, here are the two letters we discussed. I would really appreciate your tracking down whoever is tasked with giving me a response. You will notice that it is now over three months since my original letter  . . .

Best wishes, Tony.

I didn’t hear from Xxxxxxx again, but on January 21st, I received the following message:

Dear Antony Percy,

Reference CAS-5759257-M8M4X9


Thank you for your letters and we apologise for the time it has taken to respond.

I have discussed your request with Sanchia Berg whose report you refer to on the Today Programme. While we appreciate your frustration, the decision whether or not to release the document rests with the family and not with the BBC. Sanchia has confirmed that this was a private family document which Eric Roberts’ family shared with her and later with Rob Hutton. The family did not want to publish it in full but agreed to certain extracts being made public. It was only with their consent that she shared it with Christopher Andrew. I understand Sanchia did suggest that you look at Rob Hutton’s book, as he’d published more of the letter than Sanchia had made available in her reports. Nor is it the case that Sanchia was being evasive. Rather she was respecting the family’s wishes.

I am afraid too that we can’t really comment on what Christopher Andrew has said. He obviously views an awful lot of documents, so it’s not that surprising he cannot remember in detail a long document he read four years ago. He is not the only historian the BBC talks to about MI5 – but he is their official historian, so it’s logical that we should go to him fairly frequently.

I have asked Sanchia to contact the family on your behalf and will let you know if she is successful. However, we would make it clear there is no guarantee they will be back in touch. I am sorry I am not able to give you any further help and once again I apologise for the time it has taken to respond to your concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Sarah Nelson
Editorial Adviser, BBC News


BBC Complaints Team 
www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

I tried one last gasp:

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your reply. It was worth waiting for.

I appreciate your asking Sanchia to approach the family on my behalf. Since the family approved her showing the document to Christopher Andrew and Rob Hutton, I assume that they were comfortable with greater publicity. (Rob Hutton did not reply to my inquiry.) I await the outcome with great interest.

But I must admit that I do not find your distancing the BBC from Andrew acceptable. After all, it is on the BBC website that his comments still appear (see https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33414358). Do you not accept some responsibility for this highly provocative opinion, and do you not agree that it would be appropriate for the BBC to contact him, remind him of what he said, point out the information on the website, and request a clarification from him, instead of members of the public (like me) having to chase around for months trying to gain an explanation from the corporation? Why does Andrew’s role as MI5’s ‘official historian’ allow him to use the BBC to promote himself and to provoke public interest, but then to evade his professional responsibilities by concealing facts concerning MI5?

Sincerely,

Tony Percy.

But that was it. I heard no more.  The BBC is in such disarray, and the ‘Today’ editors have now moved on. I am not going to gain anything else. For a moment, I thought I might score a goal, but I suppose it is a draw of some sorts. (Coldspur 2 – The Establishment 4)

Nigel West’s New Publications

As I was flicking through one of the book catalogues that I receive through the mail, I noticed two startling entries, one advertising a new edition of Nigel West’s MI5 (originally published in 1981), the other his MI6 (1983), published by Frontline. Now this was exciting news, as I needed to learn what the “Experts’ Expert” (Observer, 1989) was now writing about the two intelligence services after an interval of over thirty years. I was half-minded to order them immediately at the discounted prices of $37.95 and $26.95, but thought I should check them out on-line first. Thus Casemate Publishers can be seen to promote the books, at https://www.casematepublishers.com/mi5-british-security-service-operations-1909-1945.html#.XrLLhSN_OUk , and the overview for MI5 includes the following: “In this new and revised edition, Nigel West details the organizational charts which show the structure of the wartime security apparatus, in what is regarded as the most accurate and informative account ever written of MI5 before and during the Second World War.”

This was encouraging, and I thought I might get a glimpse of the new Contents by gaining a Google Snippet view, before committing myself. Yet the text, as displayed by that feature, indicated that the Contents of the book had not changed, and the number of pages had not increased. Was that perhaps merely a procedural mistake, where Google had not replaced the former text? I decide that the only way to find out was to ask the author himself. Now, I have not been in touch with Nigel for a few years. I have since tweaked his nose a bit on coldspur, especially over his superficial yet contradictory treatment of Guy Liddell, and I wondered whether he would reply. Maybe he had not seen what I had written, but, if he had, he might not want to communicate with me.

Anyway, I sent a very polite message to him, in which I explained how excited I was at the prospect of reading his new versions, and the very next morning he replied very warmly, and included the following revelation: “The four wartime titles recently republished (MI5; MI6; The Secret War: The Story of SOE and The Secret Wireless War: GCHQ 1900 -1986) are simply corrected new editions of the four books previously published.”

Is this not shocking, even a gross misrepresentation of goods sold? Apart from the fact that, if I were a historian with a chance to revise an earlier book in these circumstances, I would take the opportunity to refresh it with all the research uncovered in the meantime, such as a host of files from the National Archives, and Christopher Andrew’s authorised history, I would be very careful in arranging how the book was presented to the public. But not just one! Four titles? I think this is highly irregular, and I hereby warn anyone who was thinking of acquiring any of these four volumes that the information they get will be very outdated, and that I doubt that all the multiple errors in them have all been addressed. (Coldspur 3 : The Establishment 4)

Meanwhile, I have been scouring other Nigel West books. His latest, Churchill’s Spy Files: MI5’s Top Secret Wartime Reports (2018), exploits the KV 4/83 file at Kew (although the reader is pushed to find the source, since it does not appear until a footnote to the very last sentence of the book). Beginning in April 1943, Director-General Petrie of MI5 sent a regular summary report, delivered to Churchill and for his eyes only (the copy was taken by the emissary), outlining the activities and achievements of MI5. It seems that West produces the reports in full, although I cannot yet verify that, as the files have not been digitized, and he adds some very useful (as well as some very dense and impenetrable) commentary gained from study of the relevant MI5 files at Kew, such as on the Double-Cross System, and on MI5’s major success against Soviet espionage in World War 2, the successful prosecution of Dave Springhall.

Yet it is another weird West concoction, akin to his recent book on Liddell (see http://www.coldspur.com/guy-liddell-a-re-assessment/ ), on which my colleague Denis Lenihan has recently posted an invigorating article (see https://www.academia.edu/43150722/Another_Look_At_Nigel_West_s_Cold_War_Spymaster_The_Legacy_of_Guy_Liddell_Deputy_Director_of_MI5 ). The author’s sense of chronology is wayward, he copies out sheaves of material from the archives, the relevance of which is not always clear, and he overwhelms the reader with a host of names and schemes that lack any proper exegesis. Moreover, the Index is cluttered, and highly inaccurate. I saw my friend General von Falkenhausen with a single entry, but then discovered that he ranges over several pages. Indeed, West describes, through rather fragmentarily, the SIS scheme to invoke Falkenhausen in 1942-43, which is very relevant to my discoveries about Len Beurton. I immediately downloaded from Kew the relevant files on the very provocative HAMLET, taking advantage of the current free offer. I shall return to comment on this volume when I have completed my reading of it.

West does highlight the role of Anthony Blunt in editing the reports for Churchill, which brings me back, inevitably I suppose, to ELLI, the spy within MI5 (or SIS) called out by the defector Gouzenko in 1945. I have studiously avoided making any statement on ELLI in my reports so far, but Denis Lenihan has been writing some provocative pieces, and I must catch up with him eventually. I had happened to notice, in Chapman Pincher’s Treachery (2012 edition, p 78), that the author quoted the file KV 3/417 as confirming that ELLI was a spy working for the GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence) in London in 1940. He gave the source as the GRU defector, Ismail Akhmedov, whose work In and Out of Stalin’s GRU, I had quoted in Misdefending the Realm. So I went back to that file, resident on my PC, and found the reference, in paragraph 104. The writer indeed states that Akhmedov was indeed the source, but that the defector claimed that ELLI was a woman! Why did Pincher not include that in his account – was that not rather dumb? And how come nobody else has referred to this anomaly? Professor Glees has pointed out to me that no male given a cryptonym by Soviet Intelligence ever received a female name. Apart from Roessler (LUCY, after Lucerne, which is a special case) and DORA (an anagram of Alexander RADÓ), I think he is overall correct, although I have to add the somewhat ambiguous IRIS, who was Leo Aptekar, a ‘chauffeur’, Sonia’s handler at the Soviet Embassy.

I have thus started a fresh project on digging out the various sources on ELLI. First of all, I re-read Molehunt, Nigel West’s account of the hunt for Soviet spies in MI5. This is a very confusing world, what with Pincher staking his reputation and career on Hollis’s culpability, based on what Peter Wright told him, John Costello pointing the finger at Guy Liddell (before succumbing to a mysterious and untimely death himself), Nigel West, using the substance of Arthur Martin’s convictions behind the scenes, making the case that Graham Mitchell was the offender, and Christopher Andrew pooh-poohing the lot of them as a crew of conspiracy theorists while allowing himself to be swayed by Gordievsky’s assertion that ELLI was, improbably, Leo Long. West’s book is very appealingly written, but his approach to chronology is utterly haphazard, he is very arch in concealing his whole involvement in the process, and he makes so many unverifiable assertions that one has to be very careful not to be caught up in the sweep of his narrative. For instance, he identifies the failure of British double-agent manoeuvres with Soviet spies as a major item of evidence for stating that MI5 had been infiltrated. But he never explores this, or explains what these projects were. Apart from the attempt to manipulate Sonia (and Len) I know of no documented case of such activity, and, as I have repeatedly written, such projects are doomed to fail as, in order to be successful, they rely both on discipline by a very small and secure team as well as exclusive control of the double agent’s communications.

Ismail Akhmedov

I also went back to Akhmedov, to re-acquaint myself with how he described his lengthy interviews with Philby in Ankara in 1948. His conclusion was that, even though a stenographer was present, and he suspected the safe-house had been bugged, Philby reported only a small amount of the material that he passed on, which certainly included a description of the GRU’s set-up in London. (He does not mention ELLI here.) But he also wrote that he knew this because of his contacts with American intelligence afterwards.  “Many years later I learned that Philby had submitted only a small part of the reams of material obtained from me to the British and American intelligence services”.  That indicated to me that a fuller record exists somewhere, and that Akhmedov was shown Philby’s report. Akhmedov also said that, a year later (in 1949) he was thoroughly debriefed by the FBI, CIA and Pentagon officials in Istanbul. So I assumed that CIA records were a good place to look.

And, indeed, the CIA archives display quite a lot of information that Akhmedov supplied them about GRU techniques and organisation, but in secondary reports. (I have not yet found transcripts of the original interviews.) Moreover, literature produced more recently points to a critical role that Akhmedov played in unmasking Philby. One account (Tales from Langley by Peter Kross) even states that Akhmedov informed the CIA in 1949 that Philby was a Soviet spy (how Akhmedov discovered that is not clear, since he obviously did not know that for a fact in 1948, although he claimed he partly saw through Philby’s charade at the time), and that Philby was presented with Akhmedov’s testimony when he was recalled from Washington immediately after the Burgess-Maclean escapade. Unfortunately, Kross provides no reference for this assertion, but Akhmedov’s informing the CIA at that stage would be an astonishing revelation: it would put Philby’s presence in Washington under a harsh new light, frame White’s ‘devilish plot’ in a dramatic new context, and even explain why Eric Roberts was faced with an astonishing new reality when he spoke to Liddell in 1949. Is that what Andrew was hinting at? I am going to claim an early goal, before VAR gets in. (Coldspur 4 : The Establishment 4)

Another anomaly I have noticed 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 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 Merkulov to Stalin in November 1945, and William Tyrer has echoed Pincher’s claim in his article about ELLI.

Yet the published archive states no such thing. 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 has given them. If it is intended to also reflect the information received from ‘S’ [STANLEY = Philby] that immediately precedes it, it is worth noting that Philby’s report likewise includes nothing about ELLI.

Pincher 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: original scan of manuscript, Russian transcription, and 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 I decided to try to ask him what the import of his commentary was. I know he is hiding somewhere in England (maybe holed up with Oleg Gordievsky in an especially leafy part of foliate Surrey), so on May 18 I sent a message to his publisher to inquire whether they could pass on a question to him. I was brushed off with a message saying I should look on Vassiliev’s social media, or write a letter to the publisher. I doubt whether Vassiliev is seeking any attention, or wanting to give clues to his whereabouts, so I shall take the latter course.

There is no doubt ELLI existed. But ELLI was almost certainly a woman, and the information on her is so sparse that she was probably a minor player, and was not an informant for long. Thus the quest for identifying ELLI has to be separated from the generic search for traitors within MI5. If there was evidence of leakage on certain projects, MI5 should have investigated it, traced it back to those officers who were privy to the information, and then tried to discern how they might have passed it to a member of Soviet intelligence. Instead, they listened to the emotional appeals of Angleton and Golitsyn, and started examining (and sometime interrogating) Mitchell, Hollis, Liddell, Hanley, even White.

In Spycatcher, Peter Wright tried to list the strongest reasons for suspecting a major source of treachery within MI5, narrowing his search for ELLI to Hollis and Mitchell.  I noticed that, after the Gouzenko revelations broke out, he even consulted Akhmedov to discuss the arrival of ‘ELLI’s telegrams’ [sic] in Moscow. But the two of them apparently did not discuss ELLI’s gender! It is all very mystifying. And if there was an endemic failure to protect against communist subversion (as L’Affaire Sonia shows), it makes even less sense to pretend that the rather dim Roger Hollis had the power and influence to stop all his smarter colleagues from performing their jobs properly. Every time I go back to Pincher, I am stunned by the ham-handed way he overstates his case against Hollis. Any decent defence-lawyer would submerge his case within minutes. Nevertheless, I am not yet ready to claim the winning goal.

The Survival of Gösta Caroli

Gosta Caroli

When I wrote about Jan Willem ter Braak, the German agent who apparently escaped undetected for several months in Cambridge in the winter of 1940-1941 (see http://www.coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-3/  and http://www.coldspur.com/two-cambridge-spies-dutch-connections-2/ ), I referred to the claim that Nicholas Mosley had made about another agent parachuted in, Gösta Caroli, in his book The Druid. Mosley reported that Caroli had in fact been hanged in Birmingham prison, contrary to Nigel West’s reports that he had been repatriated to Sweden after the war.

Now, if that were true, it would have been an alarming course of events, with the Security Service arranging an extra-judicial killing, given that there was no account of a trial, even in camera, to be found. The biography of Caroli’s colleague Wolf Schmidt (TATE) was written by two Swedes, and mentioned Caroli, but it apparently gave no details about his incarceration and subsequent return to Sweden. So I left the issue hanging.

Now I can report that the intrepid Giselle Jakobs (the grand-daughter of Josef Jakobs, who was indeed executed as a spy) has tracked down the biography of Caroli, written by the same two authors, in Swedish, which they self-published in 2015. She has arranged for enough portions of it translated to prove that Caroli, while his health had been damaged by the fall on his landing in England, did recuperate enough to live for thirty more years. It includes a photograph of Caroli after his marriage. Giselle’s extraordinary account of his life, and of her admirable efforts to present the information for posterity, can be found at https://www.josefjakobs.info/2020/04/the-apres-espionage-career-of-gosta.html and at http://www.josefjakobs.info/.

While this is good news, removing one black mark against the occasionally dubious application of the law by the British authorities when under stress in 1940 and 1941, it does not materially change anything of my suggestion that the death of ter Braak was not a suicide. I expect this matter to be resuscitated before long. My on-line colleague Jan-Willem van den Braak (actually no relation, as Ter Braak’s real name was Fukken) has written a biography of Ter Braak, in Dutch. It is now being translated into English for publication next year, and Mr. van den Braak has invited me to offer an Afterword to present my research and theories.

Dave Springhall and the GRU

In April last year, I was investigating hints provided by Andrew Boyle about the possible recruitment of Kim Philby by the Communist Douglas (‘Dave’) Springhall, and wrote as follows:

“Springhall is problematical. On my desktop computer, I have twenty-seven bulky PDFs from his files at the National Archives, which I have not yet inspected properly. They provide a fairly exhaustive account of his movements, but Special Branch did not appear to track him having a meeting with members of the Soviet Embassy in 1933. (Springhall did make a request to visit Cambridge in March of that year, however.) I suppose it is possible that Liddell had an interview with the communist activist at the time of his conviction in 1943, but it is improbable that a record of such a conversation has lain undiscovered. Somewhere in that archive (according to Springhall’s Wikipedia entry) is a suggestion that Springhall was working for the GRU from 1932 onwards, but locating that record is a task that will have to wait – unless any alert reader is already familiar with the whole of KV 2/2063-2065 & KV 2/1594-1598 . . .”

Douglas ('Dave') Springhall
Douglas (‘Dave’) Springhall

Well, I have at last had enough time on my hands to go through the whole of that archive, and take notes. The evidence of a strong connection between ‘Springy’ (the comrades referred to each other thus, with Len Beurton responding to his MI5 interviewers about ‘Footie’ – Alexander Foote – as if they were members of the England cricket team) and Soviet military intelligence is thin. It derives from an SIS report concerning a translation of a Russian request for information on Indian Army capabilities from the Intelligence Directorate of the Staff R.K.K.A. to the Military Attaché in Berlin, in which Springhall’s name is brought up (KV 2/1594-2, p 40, August 20, 1931).

Yet Springhall was very much a naval/military figure. Even though he missed the Invergordon Mutiny (he was occupied in Moscow at the time), he was a regular commentator on military affairs. He was head of anti-military propaganda in England, he gave eulogistic descriptions of life in the Red Army, and busied himself with secret work at Woolwich Arsenal. And his eventual arrest, in 1943, for extracting secrets on radar defensive measures (WINDOW) from Olive Sheehan, was obviously for trying to transfer facts to Soviet military experts. MI5 never determined, however, who his courier was, despite the close watch that was kept on him. I noticed in his MI5 that Nigel West suggested that Gorsky of the KGB was his contact at the Soviet Embassy, but in the same author’s recent Churchill’s Spy Files, he indicates that it was a GRU officer, and that the courier was someone called Peppin. (Somewhere in the Springhall archive, I got the impression that the courier might have been Andrew Rothstein.) So I wrote to West about it, and he confirmed that it must have been a GRU contact, but he could no more about the courier.

This is a vast archive: I wouldn’t be surprised if someone is writing a book about Springhall at the moment. West’s book provides a good introduction, but there is so much more to be explored, and I shall certainly return to the archive when I come to write about Slater and Wintringham. I shall thus say little more here, but merely make a few important observations on three aspects: 1) The role of Anthony Blunt (as introduced above); 2) The immensity of the surveillance of Springhall; and 3) Springhall’s trial.

One of the remarkable features of the monthly reports to Churchill on MI5’s activities, starting in March 1943, was that Guy Liddell, to whom the task was delegated by Petrie, in turn brought in Anthony Blunt to perform much of the editorial work. Thus here was additional proof that most of the service’s ‘secrets’ were being passed on to Moscow before you could say ‘Andrew Rothstein’. Thus one has to interpret the prosecution and sentencing of Springhall (conducted in camera) in a completely new light. The CPGB (the head office of which, in King Street, had been bugged comprehensively by Special Branch) was shocked and disgusted at the fact that Comrade Springhall had been involved in espionage, and thus was guilty of bringing the Communist Party into disrepute. Moscow was, of course ‘appalled’, and denied anything untoward had taken place.

Yet, if Moscow had known what was going on throughout the Springhall investigation because of Blunt, they would not have been surprised at the outcome. They would have to make the necessary melodramatic denials, but were perhaps not completely unhappy that all the attention was being paid on an expendable, somewhat irresponsible, open member of the Communist Party, while their unmasked agents were gathering information on the atomic bomb. In that way, MI5 would continue to imagine that the Party was the major source for subversive activity (with Ray Milne in MI6, and Desmond Uren in SOE being minor casualties dragged in by Springhall), and their moles in the intelligence services would be able to carry on unhindered. ‘Springy’ was not sprung.

The second noteworthy aspect is the sheer volume of material that was collected about Springhall, hundreds and hundreds of pages of notes on his career in the Navy, his visits to the Soviet Union, his published articles in the Daily Worker, his girl-friends, his associates and friends, his meetings at Communist Party headquarters, his speeches exhorting revolution at rallies – and of course on his espionage, his arrest, his trial, his sentencing, his time in prison, and his release before dying in Moscow of cancer in 1953. MI5 and Special Branch must have an expended an enormous amount of time trailing and surveilling him, yet the service was mostly powerless in doing anything at all – until Springhall so clumsily tried to extract the secrets from the communist flatmate of a loyal citizen, Norah Bond, who shared what she overheard with her RAF boyfriend, Wing-Commander Norman Blackie.

In a way, I suppose, Springhall’s being caught red-handed justified all the effort, and it enabled MI5 to move the traitor Ray Milne quietly out of SIS, and Raymond Uren out of SOE. Yet so much other surveillance was going on that one has to conclude that it was all rather wasted energy. ‘Keeping an eye’ on suspicious characters became a literal watchword, in the vain hope that such an activity would lead to larger networks of subversive ne’er-do-wells. But what next? So long as the Communist Party was a licit institution, its members could make calls for revolution, even during wartime, without any fear of prosecution, and the Home Office seemed far too timid as to how the factories might be adversely affected if too energetic moves were made against the comrades of our gallant ally, the Russians. Meanwhile, most government institutions were infected with Communist moles, agents of influence, and fellow-travellers who separated themselves from links with the Communist Party itself.

Lastly, the Trial itself. Files KV 2/1598-2 & -3 from Kew contain a full record of ‘Rex v Douglas Frank Springhall, at the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey, 20th July Sessions, 1943’, before Mr Justice Oliver. It represents a transcript of the shorthand notes of George Walpole & Co. (Shorthand Writers to the Court). The Solicitor-General, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, K.C. and Mr L. A. Byrne appeared on behalf of the Prosecution, with Mr J. F. F. Platts-Mills appearing on behalf of the Defence. I think it is an extraordinary document.

From the first lines of the transcript, where the portentous Justice Oliver rather patronisingly puts the Rumpolean Maxwell-Fyfe in his place, and the Solicitor-General deferentially responds ‘If your Lordship pleases’, we can see a classical court-room drama take place. Oliver then treats Platts-Mills in the same peremptory manner, and, when the prosecuting council start their questioning of Olive Sheehan (who had passed on to Springhall secrets about ‘WINDOW’), Oliver interrupts them freely, as I am sure he was entitled to. He rebukes Platts-Mills, rather pettily, for referring to the Air Ministry as Sheehan’s ‘employers’: “Now, Mr Platts-Mills, this court has not become a theatre of politics.”  Platts-Mills has to adapt to his Lordship’s pleasure.

I shall comment no more now than to remark how different this court was from those administered by Roland Freisler or Andrey Vyshinsky. Yes, it was in camera, but this was not a show-trial where the defendants knew they were already guilty and were facing inevitable execution. Britain was at war, and had caught a spy declaring allegiance to a foreign power, stealing secrets that could have seriously harmed the war effort if they had passed into the wrong hands, and calling for revolution, but Springhall received a fair trial. It concludes with Springhall making a rather eloquent but disingenuous speech about wanting ‘to arouse the country behind the government headed by Mr Winston Churchill’. The jury took fifteen minutes to consider the evidence before returning a verdict of ‘Guilty’ on almost all counts, and Springhall was sentenced to seven years’ penal servitude.  A very British trial.

‘Superspy Daughter in Holiday-camp Tycoon Romance Drama!’

(“I wanted to marry him”, confesses distraught schoolgirl)

‘I am the Daughter’

A while back, I acquired a slim volume titled ‘Die Tochter bin ich’ (‘I am the Daughter’), by one Janina Blankenfeld. It was published in Berlin in 1985, and is a brief memoir by a schoolteacher who was the daughter of someone who will be familiar to all readers of this website – Ursula née Kuczynski, aka SONIA. Janina was actually Sonia’s daughter by her lover, Johannes Patra (cryptonym ERNST), conceived in China, born in Warsaw in 1936, and spending much of her childhood years in Switzerland and England. Janina did not learn who her real father was until 1955, when Sonia’s first husband, Rolf, returned to Berlin, and Sonia felt she ought to break the news to her. I bought the book because I thought it might shed some light on Sonia’s movements in the UK, and even explain how Janina was able to attend an expensive boarding-school in Epping.

Unfortunately, it gives little away, sheltering under her mother’s memoir, published a few years beforehand. Janina gives the impression that money was very tight, and she says nothing about the private school. For a while, the idea of a holiday was impossible, but Janina wrote that, six months after her grandmother’s death (which occurred in June 1947), Sonia found an inexpensive room on the Welsh coast, in Criccieth, which was a revelation for Janina, as she enjoyed the coastline and the ruined castles. (Criccieth is a bit too close to the University of Aberystwyth, to my liking.) But “Das schönste Erlebnis für mich war unser Bummel durch Butlins Holiday Camp.” (‘The best experience for me was our stroll through Butlin’s Holiday Camp’.) She revelled in the string of bungalows, and the loudspeakers playing all day, and the dances and merry-go-rounds in the evenings. “Der Glanzpunkt war die Wahl der schönsten Urlauberin. Schöne Beine and ein hübsches Gesicht – mehr war nicht gefragt.“  (“The climax was the election of the most beautiful holidaymaker. Fine legs and a pretty face – nothing more was asked for.”)

I am not sure what the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation leaders would have thought of all this frivolity, with no time spent on propaganda lessons and correct ideological thinking, and far too much attention paid to superficial bourgeois pastimes like beauty contests, but Janina’s memoir managed to get through the censors. And it all made a strong impression on the twelve-year-old girl. “Seit diesem Besuch hatte ich neue Träume – ich wollte so gern Herrn Butlin heiraten, ganz reich sein and jedes Jahr meinen Urlaub in solch einem Feriencamp verbringen. ” (Ever since this visit I had fresh dreams – I wanted to marry Mr Butlin so much, to become quite rich, and to spend my holiday every year in such a Holiday Camp.”) Instead, eighteen months later, she had to leave for good her idyllic life in the Cotswolds and Wales, exchanging it for Walter Ulbricht’s holiday-camp of East Germany.

China and the Rhineland Moment

I have been thinking recently of China’s gradual expansion, and reactions to threats to its growing power (e.g. concerning Taiwan, the South China Sea, the Uighurs, industrial espionage, Hong Kong), and reminded myself that, if the first response to a bully is to refrain from challenging him, and biffing him on the nose, he will continue in the knowledge that his adversaries are really too cowardly, afraid of ‘provoking’ him more, and that he can thus continue unimpeded with his aggressive moves. I thought of the piece I wrote on Appeasement a few months ago, and how I judged that Hitler’s invasion of the Rhineland in 1936 was the incident marking the opportunity for the dictator to have been stopped.

Then, on May 30, Bret Stevens wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times titled ‘China and the Rhineland Moment’ (at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/29/opinion/china-hong-kong.html, inside the paywall). His piece started off as follows: “Great struggles between great powers tend to have a tipping point. It’s the moment when the irreconcilability of differences becomes obvious to nearly everyone. In 1911 Germany sparked an international crisis when it sent a gunboat into the Moroccan port of Agadir and, as Winston Churchill wrote in his history of the First World War, ‘all the alarm bells throughout Europe began immediately to quiver.’ In 1936 Germany provoked another crisis when it marched troops into the Rhineland, in flagrant breach of its treaty obligations. In 1946, the Soviet Union made it obvious it had no intention of honoring democratic principles in Central Europe, and Churchill was left to warn that ‘an iron curtain has descended across the Continent’.”  After making some recommendations as to what the USA and Great Britain should do, Stevens concluded: “If all this and more were announced now, it might persuade Beijing to pull back from the brink. In the meantime, think of this as our Rhineland moment with China — and remember what happened the last time the free world looked aggression in the eye, and blinked.”

This month’s Commonplace entries can be seen here.

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On ‘Wilmington’s Lie’

‘Wilmington’s Lie’ by David Zucchino

I interrupt this bulletin to note the deaths of two significant persons related to the world of intelligence that have been recorded in NYT obituaries in the past ten days, reminders of the feverish days of World War II.

On April 2, Walentyna Janta-Polczynska died in Queens, New York. She was appointed personal secretary to General Wladyslaw Sikorski, the prime minister of the Polish government-in-exile, in 1939. She translated and prepared reports by Jan Karski, who brought the first eyewitness accounts of atrocities against the Jews in Warsaw. In 1943 she assisted in Sikorski’s funeral arrangements after his plane crashed after takeoff from Gibraltar. She was born in Lemberg (Lvov, now Lviv): her father ‘hailed from an English family that had initiated oil exploration in eastern Poland’. Ms. Janta-Polcynska was 107.

On April 7, Henry Graff, historian, died in Greenwich, Connecticut, aged 98. In November 1943 [date probably wrong], he translated part of a message sent by Hiroshi Oshima, the Japanese ambassador in Berlin who had regular discussions with Hitler, and passed on encrypted summaries of what he learned. In this case, Oshima described German plans for countering the expected D-Day invasion. Nine months later [sic], shortly after Hiroshima, Graff translated a message from Japan to the Soviet Union, for some reason directed at Bern in Switzerland, asking for help extricating Japan from the war. [I informed the ‘New York Times’ of these anomalies, but have not received a reply, and, as yet, the publisher has not issued a Correction.].

Wilmington, NC and the Beautiful Blue Danube . . . I mean the Cape Fear River

Next, four anecdotes . . .

  1. Soon after we retired to Southport, North Carolina, at the beginning of August 2001, I made a trip into Wilmington, a town about thirty-five miles away, a port city on the Cape Fear River. I wanted to explore it, to familiarize myself with its layout, find out where the libraries and bookshops were, and, while I was about it, to get a haircut. I found a barber’s shop in a quiet street, went in, and sat down, waiting for my turn. I was then horrified when I heard the man I believed to be the owner, snipping away at a customer’s hair, say: “Of course the blacks were much happier when they were slaves.”

I had come across some casual racism in my time in the United States, mainly in the South, but not exclusively there, and had even experienced some ‘ethnic’ hatred directed at me, but I had never heard such a blatant example of stupid, ugly, patronizing, disgusting, ignorant speech before. How dare this redneck put himself in the minds of his fellow citizens, and make a facile conclusion about them and their ancestors of almost two centuries ago? I would not call it ‘prejudice’, because this insect had clearly thought about the matter before coming up with his well-exercised opinion. And the fact that he was ready to speak up openly about it, in the presence of a stranger, made the expression of his opinion even more frightful and alarming than it would otherwise have been.  Was this a common feeling among ‘white’ Wilmingtonians?

I felt like standing up and biffing the perpetrator on the nose, but thought that causing an affray so soon after my arrival in South-Eastern North Carolina might not be a good idea. The barber might claim that I had misheard him, after all, or that it was a joke taken out of context. But I knew it was not. I simply stood up and walked out of his establishment, and found a proper hairdresser in the centre of town. Maybe that was a shabby exit, not confronting evil when it pushes its voice into your face, but it was all a bit overwhelming at the time.

I have since discovered that sentiments like the barber’s are not that uncommon, and that even though Wilmington has overall become more civilized by the arrival of Yankees and others in its population, and joining its media outlets, etc. (much of it resented by some locals, I should add), a combination of resentment that the Civil War was lost, and regret over the decline of ‘white’ supremacy, can still be found in many pockets of New Hanover County and its surrounding rural areas.

2. Early in 2000, about eighteen months before we left Connecticut for good (we have not been back in almost twenty years), I read in the New York Times about a photographic exhibition being held at a small gallery in New York City. It concerned records of lynchings that has been carried out in the United States in the twentieth century, with some of the photographs taken after I was born (in 1946). These had apparently not been shown before. I had reason to make a business trip to New York – about an hour away by train – so I decided to make time to visit this gallery. I am not somebody who chases down the grisly out of some perverse pleasure, but I believed that this might be a once-only opportunity to become educated about a horrific aspect of American history about which I had only vague understandings.

It was an experience both moving and horrifying. I had read about the British soldiers who discovered Belsen, and were so shocked by what they found that it made them physically sick. I had a similar reaction – not quite so physical, but creating that roiling in the stomach. To see a ‘black’ man strung up on a tree, and ‘white’ families celebrating as if it were a public holiday (which is how they probably treated it), was nauseating. What made it even worse –  although this is a specious argument – was that it had taken place in my lifetime. One thinks of ‘medieval’ practices, but all this happened frequently in the first part of the twentieth century, in a country that made all manner of claims about human liberty, and ‘making the world safe for democracy’.

‘Kolyma Stories’ by Varlam Shalamov (no photograph of Kolyma does justice to the horrors)

After all, this was not Stalin’s Gulag, where in fact the horrors were far worse in number. I have just read Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma Stories, covering a largely contemporaneous period (1937-51) when Shalamov spent most of his incarceration working as a slave in or around the notorious goldmines of Kolyma. The death rate there was truly monstrous, and dwarfed the assaults on humanity represented by the lynchings. Yet the photographic record of Kolyma is scanty: the world knows little about the broken bodies, the mutilations and executions. Shalamov’s vignettes provoke similar feelings of disgust, but the Gulag reflected a different kind of cruelty – the abomination of State-run terror run amok. Prisoners were sentenced to ten years in Kolyma for being members of the Esperanto Society, for expressing a hope for the return of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for praising the exiled poet Ivan Bunin, for complaining about the length of the queue for soap, or on the false denunciation of a neighbour, and few would survive. The lynchings were private vigilante operations, and took place in a supposedly democratic society run by the rule of law. How can one compare them? A few hundred lynchings in twentieth-century America, six million dead in the Holocaust, over a million in Kolyma alone? Every brutal death was an individual calamity.

Notes taken after seeing the ‘Witness’ Exhibition

(Amazingly, I was able to dig out, on the afternoon after I wrote the above two paragraphs, my clippings file on the exhibition, and related topics. I had forgotten that I had composed a brief memorandum immediately afterwards, which I present here, in its unimproved form. As is evident, one or two of the references are incomplete, but I believe it sums up well my immediate disgust. I recall now that the main reference I left unfinished was the final passage of Emanuel Litvinoff’s searing Faces of Terror trilogy, where Peter Pyatkov is taken down to the cellars of the Lubianka:

            ‘Cold metal against the nape of his neck. His moment.

            “Who am – ? . . .’

I also reproduce in this page some clippings from The New York Times of that time. A warning: they are discomforting to look at.)

It was at that time that I understood there was something much darker and more pervasive going on. I had rather naively imagined that the absurd colour barriers and divisiveness had broken down in the ‘Great Society’ of the 1960s. I knew that it had been illegal in North Carolina, up until 1965, for a marriage between a ‘white ‘ person and a ‘black’ one to take place (which would have meant that Sylvia and I could not have wed), but thought that these absurd racial categories were gradually being eroded. Other political trends, however, were in fact re-emphasising this false science.

3. A few years after we moved down her, Sylvia, Julia and I made a visit to the Orton Plantation. This was one of the few private estates that are open to visitors in this neck of the woods – or even across the whole of the country. It is attached to the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson Historic Site, half-way between Southport and Wilmington, on the west side of the Cape Fear River. Brunswick Town was a port that was destroyed by the British in 1776, but never rebuilt, while Fort Anderson was constructed on the ruins, as a fort in the Civil War. There is not much to see there, especially for those familiar with the variety of castles that can be inspected in Great Britain, but it is of great historic interest, and a compulsory target for any tourist or resident of the area.

The Orton Plantation

Near the historical site lies the Orton Planation, of which the jewel is the antebellum country house, considered to be one of the best of its kind. It has apparently been used in many movies and TV shows (none of which I profess to have seen: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood somehow escaped my attention), as the following link explains (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orton_Plantation) . We were able to walk around the park, and survey what had been the rice plantations, worked by hundreds of slaves, that led down to the Cape Fear River. We were reminded of how many of England’s fine country houses were constructed with the wealth derived from the exploitation of slaves, only in their case not in their back yard, but mostly thousands of miles overseas, such as in St. Vincent, where Sylvia was born.

The house itself was not open to the public, but as we walked near it, an elderly gentleman saw us, and approached us, and, perhaps after learning where we were from, invited us to take a look round. I don’t recall much of the details (there was a billiard-table in good condition), but it was charming house, and we considered ourselves very fortunate. The gentleman gave his name as ‘Sprunt’: I worked out later that he was probably Kenneth Murchison Sprunt, whose name appears in the Wikipedia entry. In 2010, the Sprunts sold the whole property to Louis Moore Bacon, a hedge fund manager, and descendant of the house’s original owner and builder, Roger Moore. The grounds have not yet been re-opened.

4. Earlier this month, Sylvia and I filled out the US 2020 Census forms, on-line this time. It was quite a simple operation: we were asked for birthdate information for the three of us, and whether we rented or owned the house, and whether we had any mortgage. What business was it of theirs, we asked ourselves? And then we came to the bulk of the form, which was about ‘ethnicity’. The first part required us to state whether we were ‘Hispanic’ or not – and did not allow this binary question to be ignored! At the same time, it reminded us that ‘Hispanics’ or ‘Latinos’ could be of any race.

How in heaven’s name were they going to use this information? Deciding what federal aid should be given to each State, I suppose, but how could they verify whether anybody really understood the question, or could even be relied upon to tell the truth on the form? And how would such information affect the government’s decisions? I thought of a root of my maternal-grandfather’s family, the Robinis, who were Huguenots escaping via Guernsey, and suddenly felt a surge of Italianate fervour. And then there was my unexplained partiality to Neapolitan ice-cream and pizza margherita. Were such features part of my ‘identity’? H’mm. But there was no way out. We decided to say ‘No’, and move on.

The last section concerned ‘race’, and in this area the Census Bureau believed they were on firmer ground. The first option was ‘White’, but if you rejected that, it offered a whole host of exotic categories to choose from, including ‘Pacific Islander’ (about which I have written before here). Why it believed that, in 2020, American citizens would universally want to define themselves in such terms is absolutely beyond me, but it keeps many Census Bureau people in employment, and helps to foment those minor distinctions that can breed resentment, and feelings of entitlement, and which accompany the notions of ‘identity’ which the sociological professors get so excited about. Fortunately, the very last option was to tick off ‘Other’, and Sylvia and I happily entered ‘Human’ in the box, and were gratified that our submission was not rejected. But should we expect a visit from the Census Police, to verify that we are indeed so?

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

I shall get round to ‘Wilmington’s Lie’ soon, but I need to digress over some science, and some definitions. As readers may have noticed, in this text I have used ‘black’ and ‘white’ in quotation marks. Since all reputable scientists have concluded that ‘race’ is a sociological construct, and that the genetic differences between human beings of different pigmentation are smaller than those found within any one particular ‘ethnic group’, I struggle with what language to use in this discussion. American institutions have for a long time advised us that anyone born with a drop of ‘black’ blood should be defined as ‘black’, which is obviously nonsense. Yet using some term is inescapable in this discussion. Selecting the term ‘Negro’ is disdained these days; ‘colo(u)red’ is a ridiculous hangover from South African categorisations, although it endures in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; ‘African-American’ is simply inaccurate (what about Egyptians?), and some famous Americans, such as Colin Powell, have objected to it (his parents came from Jamaica), since they do not regard themselves as having ‘roots’ in the African continent.

To remind readers of the stubbornness of some sectors of government and the academic world to recognize the facts about race, I present the following paragraphs. I picked them out of a book review from the Listener of 13 November, 1935. For some reason, I had acquired a few years ago a bound copy of the issues of that magazine from September to December 1935: they present a fascinating perspective of the world seen from a variety of educated viewpoints as the totalitarian states of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia started to exert an eerie hold over the democracies’ attentions. The review is titled Racial Problems in Europe, and it comprises a critique of We Europeans, by Julian Huxley, A. C. Haddon, and A. M. Carr-Saunders, written by A. S. Russell.

“‘In a scientific age’, say the authors, ‘prejudice and passions seek to clothe themselves in a garb of scientific respectability; and when they cannot find support from true science, they invent a pseudo-science to justify themselves’. There is today a pseudo-science of ‘racial biology’ which has been erected to justify political ambitions, economic ends, social grudges, and class prejudices. ‘Race’ and ‘racialism’ are regarded by the authors as almost blasphemous terms, and it is against the fallacies associated with these vague and mischievous ideas that the principal part of the book is directed.

People who talk about pure races nowadays do not know what they are talking of. You cannot judge a man’s race accurately from externals. You can be certain of a man’s racial purity only when you know his ‘genetical constitution’. The discovery of the gene, thousands of which go to the physical make-up of an individual, has revealed how immensely more complex inheritance in the physical sense is than was thought of in old days, when the characteristics of a child were considered to be a mere blending of those of the parents.  It was convenient at one time to make a rough classification of Europeans into the Nordic, the Alpine and the Mediterranean ‘races’; the first exemplified in the tall, ‘long-headed’, fair-haired Swede; the second in the ‘round-headed’ Russian peasant of medium height; the third in the dark, ‘long-headed’, small inhabitant of southern Italy. Actually these types, like every other in Europe, are just different mixtures; they aren’t in any sense pure races. Everybody in Europe is of mixed race as evidenced by his or her ‘genetical constitution’. And the reason for this is plain.  For tens of thousands of years man has been on the move in every part of the world inter-breeding and inter-breeding. There might have been pure races at one time; sections of mankind might have got isolated geographically from the rest for thousands and thousands of years and evolved so as to become adapted to their climactic environment; but those days are long past and it is in the highest degree unlikely they will ever recur.”

One might observe that even Wallace didn’t quite get it, what with his references to ‘racial purity’ and ‘inter-breeding’. Yet the challenge to the monstrous racial theories of Hitler is clear. Nevertheless, in what could be considered a provocative commentary on Hitler’s dogma, later in the review, Wallace questions the authors’ application of their research into the identity of the Jews (“  . . . the authors assert the Jews are of mixed origin and no more different from the mass of Europeans than ourselves or the Germans” – a judgment that would anticipate what Schlomo Sand wrote recently in his engrossing and controversial Invention of the Jewish People). Wallace concludes by accepting that nations of ‘inter-marriage’ are based purely on sentiment and tradition. I could point to dozens of articles that I have read over the years that would reinforce the assertions of Huxley and co.  They got it right eight-five years ago, but too many people still resist those notions. For example, I marvel at the unscientific way that certain liberal arts critics misrepresent how genetics works. My latest offering: “Whether they have been hard-wired into a Jewish genetic make-up after centuries of the singular Jewish experience it’s impossible to prove, but Lebrecht’s passion is persuasive”, from Mark Glanville’s review of Norman Lebrecht’s Genius and Anxiety, in the TLS of February 28.

And now to Wilmington’s Lie. I had been vaguely aware of the murky secret that the city of Wilmington had tried to hide. I have another clipping, from the New York Times of December 19, 2005, showing a report by John DeSantis headed ‘North Carolina City Confronts Its Past in Report on White Vigilantes’. His second paragraph sums up the event very succinctly: “Only scant mention is made, however, of the bloody rioting more than a century ago during which black residents were killed and survivors banished by white supremacists, who seized control of the city government in what historians say is the only successful overthrow of a local government in United States history.”

What prompted the attention then to the happenings of November 10, 1898 was the release of a draft of a 500-page report ordered by the state legislature. In what may come as a surprise to many European readers, after the Civil War, the government of Wilmington, which had been ruled by the Democratic Party, was replaced by a coalition that was dominated by Republicans, and contained many ‘blacks’. (It was the Republican Abraham Lincoln who had resisted the Southern States’ rights to continue slavery, and the switch of party allegiances around civil rights and white supremacism would come much later.) The growing power and influence of those persons whom reactionary Democrats considered as inferior to them, and responsible for diminishing their prosperity, caused a mass of resentment that broke out murderously before Election Day of November 9, 1898. A mob of white vigilantes invaded ‘black’ businesses, most notably the printing-press of The Daily Record, and shot ‘black’ men in the streets of Wilmington. The report estimated that up to a hundred ‘black’ deaths were recorded, and hundreds fled from the city.

The Wilmington 1898 Memorial

I regret not getting hold of the full report, which, according to de Santis, was to be delivered the following year. There was some controversy over its release, as many felt that the ‘mistakes’ of over a hundred years ago should be buried. In 2008, however, a Memorial Park was opened in Wilmington, although the City still seems very ambivalent about promoting and describing it. A link on the City’s webpage, indicating the website of the memorial, leads to a Facebook Page: a full description can be seen at https://docsouth.unc.edu/commland/monument/842/. I have visited the memorial, and was moved by it, but was sorry it had been placed somewhat off the beaten track, and found the symbology puzzling. The monument itself consists of six 16-feet tall paddles, which, according to a plaque nearby, refer to the role of water in ‘the spiritual belief system of people from the African continent’. Why the memorialists would want to generalise all the religions of the African continent in that stereotypical way, especially when almost universally those who suffered at the time of the events (and those who come to honour them today) were and are devout Christians is one of those weird dimensions of ‘identity’ and ‘heritage’ that dominate discussions of such topics today.

And then, earlier this year, David Zucchino’s account of the incidents, Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, was published. Zucchino gained his Pulitzer Prize for feature-writing in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1989: he has also published Thunder Run and The Myth of the Welfare Queen. His book provides a very thorough history of the events that led up to what he characterises as the 1898 ‘coup’: the action was, however, not so much the directing ousting of a governing body as the terroristic oppression of those citizens who would democratically elect that group, but the result was the same. Zucchino uses the official report (available at https://digital.ncdcr.gov/digital/collection/p249901coll22/id/5842, released on May 31, 2006, which I have not read), as well as an account by LeRae Umfleet, the principal researcher on the project, A Day of Blood, which I have also not looked at. So I regret I cannot compare Zucchino’s account with Umfleet’s. Zucchino has also trawled through an impressive list of books, unpublished memoirs and diaries, articles, theses, dissertations, and government publications and documents.

The Wilmington Coup, 1898

Zucchino takes his readers painstakingly through the background that led to the vigilantism of 1898. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Wilmington became the largest city in North Carolina, and freed slaves flocked to it for the opportunities in trade and exports that it provided. In the author’s words, ‘it was a bustling port city with a burgeoning African American middle class and a Fusionist government of Republicans and Populists that included black aldermen, policemen and magistrates.’ The Ku Klux Klan had made an attempt to roll back Reconstruction in 1868, but had been driven out of town. Abraham Galloway (of ‘mixed race’) had been the vigorous senator who had encouraged the locals to defend their right, and when he died in 1870, the cause was taken up by Alexander Manly, the publisher of the Daily Record. “Manly”, Zucchino writes, “could easily have passed as white, the preferred option of so many so-called mulattoes.”  Manly spoke up for Negro rights, and pointed out the hypocrisy that occurred when ‘white’ supremacists spoke up for the virtue of their women intermingling with ‘black’ males, while they themselves had affairs with ‘black’ women. He thus became the prime target of the frustrated Democrats.

In 1897, several lynchings occurred in Georgia. ‘White’ leaders could not imagine that a sexual act between a ‘white’ woman and a ’black’ man could be consensual, and vigilante justice was frequently the outcome. After a Mrs. Felton defended the practice of lynching, Manly wrote an editorial that pointed out the hypocrisy, and ridiculed the insecurity and self-delusion that lay at the heart of the hatred of Southern ‘white’ men. Thus the office of the Daily Record became the prime target of the rebels. Two days after voting took place for the state legislature on November 8, 1898, over two thousand Red Shirts (as they were called), heavily armed, piled into Wilmington looking for victims. Buildings were burned, and at least sixty ‘black’ men were killed in the streets.

Zucchino reports how the Wilmington Messenger published the lyrics to ‘Rise Ye Sons of Carolina’ on November 8, 1898.

“Proud Caucasians one and all . . .

Hear your wives and daughters call  . . .

Rise, defend their spotless virtue

With your strong and manly arms  . . .

Rise and drive this Black despoiler from your state.”

It is a message that anticipates Hitler. A shocking and nauseating refrain, blatantly ignoring the fact that the forbears of these ‘black despoilers’ had been brought to those shores against their will, in utterly cruel conditions, when, if they had survived, they were forced into slavery. What demagogues, preachers or teachers had embedded this sort of thinking? How could anyone today not denounce such ugliness?

I shall not relay all the details of the coup. Readers can pick up the book. Zucchino has performed an absolutely vital task of chronicling the details of this ghastly event, one that remained buried for so long. Yet Wilmington’s Lie is not very easy reading: not because of the grisly subject-matter, but because the author lacks a good narrative sweep, and moves around without a clear chronology. Events outside Wilmington are sketched very thinly, so we do not gain a good understanding of, for example, why federal or state officials were so reluctant to intervene. He leaves the meatier issues for the Epilogue, almost as an afterthought, such as the way that Wilmington became an example for ‘white’ supremacists in other states to pick up on voter suppression, and vicious attacks on ‘blacks’. He has nothing to say about the culture and political battles that encouraged such cruelty, or how the fundamentalist Josiah Nott, who had Gobineau’s dangerous writings on the Aryan race translated, exerted such a swift and penetrative effect on the Southern states and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Where did they learn about ‘Caucasians’? This, for me, was an extraordinary omission.

The Dawes Severalty Act

Moreover, Zucchino makes no references to the expulsion of indigenous Americans of a couple of generations before, which these horrors echoed, or even the infamous Dawes Act of 1887, which applied different racial principles to the treatment of indigenous American tribes.  The author makes a link between the events of 1898 and current attempts to implement voter ID laws: such initiatives may or may not be stirred by similar impulses, but Zucchino does not examine the case. He skims over in one paragraph the bouleversement in Party allegiances (when minority rights became a Democratic plank of policy) that was caused by the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, noting that in 1972 North Carolina elected its first Republican US senator for seventy-four years – the notorious Jesse Helms. And lastly, he appears to be a prisoner of his own cultural milieu – talking about ‘white blood’ and ‘black blood’ as if they were realities, and never analysing seriously the pseudo-science behind these notions. (As I was completing this piece, I encountered the following quotation from the NYT obituary of Abigail Thernstrom, a stolid opponent of affirmative action, a woman who had grown up in a communist household: “Race is the American dilemma. It is race that, you know, keeps this country in agony. It is our most serious domestic problem. And therefore, we want to think specially hard about anything that involves sorting people out on the basis of one drop of blood of this or that.”)

I noticed one poignant aspect. The captain general of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina in 1868 was a Colonel Moore, who led the attempt to terrorize ‘blacks’ in April 1868, was then repulsed, and was left licking his wounds inside Thalian Hall. Thirty years later, no longer Klan leader, he was still active in Wilmington, and had been elected to the County Board of Commissioners in the corrupt elections of 1898. Yet he was outsmarted by another political rival, Colonel Alfred Waddell, who led the attack on Manly’s newspaper offices. After the killings of November 10, one of the businessmen who tried to persuade Waddell to allow the ‘blacks’ who had been chased out of town, since he needed them for loading the seven steamships backed up at the port, was a James Sprunt. Sprunt ‘told a reporter he was confident that the city’s blacks would be reassured by Mayor Waddell’s public declarations of equal treatment for both races’. He had been born in Glasgow, was British vice-consul, and later became renowned for his philanthropic work in Wilmington, and his dedication to local history.

Colonel Roger Moore was a descendant of Roger Moore, a brother of Maurice. Maurice Moore sold the Orton Planation to Roger when the latter moved into the area from South Carolina, in 1725, and together they founded Brunswick Town. Roger Moore had to deal with unfriendly native Americans, who destroyed his first house, but then set up the rice plantation with slave labour. The gentleman whom we met at the Orton Plantation, Murchison Sprunt, was a grandson of James Laurence Sprunt, who, with his wife, Luola, purchased the property in 1904, on the death of his father-in-law, Colonel Kenneth MacKenzie Murchison, a Confederate military officer. In May 2010, as I described earlier, the Sprunt family sold the Plantation to Louis Moore Bacon, who informs us that he is a direct descendant of the first Roger Moore. (How he might be related to the notorious Klansman Roger Moore, I do not know.)

Thus are the fortunes and careers of North Carolinians – like those of everyone, I suppose –intertwined. Allowing for about ten generations since 1725, Louis Moore Bacon could also claim that he was the direct descendant of about one thousand other people. Yet, like many others, he favours a single lineage with a name that endured, and a known family history. Likewise, there are probably thousands of other persons who could claim ‘direct descendancy’ from Roger Moore, but who did not have the money, the genealogical insights, or the personal interest, to want to bid for the Orton Plantation, and invest in it. That is the way the world works.

Back to today’s Wilmington. It is easy for someone like me to sit back, and proclaim that all these racial categories are absurd, when such loftiness in fact could show an insensitivity to the realities of the stories of humiliation passed down, and the daily insults that continue. Whenever I walk around in Wilmington, I am especially careful, say, to open the door for any ‘black’ person coming into the Post Office, and offer them a friendly ‘Take your time, sir!’, or ‘Have a good day, madam!’, perhaps to balance the affronts or rudenesses they may have encountered from persons who share my skin pigmentation, and I deliver such politesses a little more enthusiastically than I might do to anyone else. Maybe it is condescending behaviour, but I trust it helps. Because I can hope for the day when these categories will be meaningless (and I think of our beautiful Anglo-Irish-Italian-French-German-West Indian-Vietnamese grand-daughters – ignoring, for now, the Persky branch from Minsk), but have to accept that reality is different. So long as census-takers, white supremacists, affirmative action lawyers, ethnic studies professors, fundamentalist preachers, racial activists, identity politicians, Dixie whistlers, sociologists, psephologists, pseudo-historians, eugenicist neo-confederates, Marxist academics, cultural appropriation specialists, self-appointed ‘community’ spokespersons, and general grudge-grinding journalists have a job to hold on to, the distinctions will continue. And, after all, if the New York Times says that a ‘Latinx’ community exists, it must be so, right?

My gestures are a kind of reparation, I suppose. And thereby lies one final dilemma, as the irrepressible and overexposed Ta-Nehisi Coates has promoted, urging that ‘blacks’ should receive money for the injustices performed against them (or their forebears). Yet not all those who would have to pay are guilty, nor are all those who would be remunerated necessarily victims. None of us automatically inherits the sins or the virtues of our forebears, and each us should be free to reject the indoctrination of parents, school or religious institution.

I made light of this at my seventieth birthday party a few years ago, attended by a few dozen of my closest friends, at which I made a speech (see Taking the Cake). At one point, I took out a piece of paper from my jacket pocket, and told the assembled diners that it was a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice. I proceeded to read it: “Dear Mr. Percy . . . blah, blah, blah,  .  .  . We have to inform you that, according to recent legislation, you, as a descendant of colonialist oppressors, are hereby ordered to make the following reparations payments to victims of such injustices. (Pause.) Mr. Tiger Woods: $5,000. Mrs. Sylvia Percy: $10,000. And to Mr. Douglas Hamilton (not his real name, but a prosperous ‘black’ friend of mine sitting at Table 4): $50,000!”

Yet so long as that barber, and persons like him, are around, it is no laughing matter.

(Recent Commonplace entries can be found here. This month’s collection includes a special not-to-be-missed feature on Gavin Ewart and light verse.)

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