Two readers have separately informed me that they found my last blog too exhausting. I have thus decided to offer health warnings in future. So, if you are not already utterly absorbed by the untold stories of the Ultra secret, and the saga of Sonia’s Radio, I alert you now that this month’s episode may send you to sleep. Please do not read it while operating agricultural machinery!
(In this installment, I analyse the backgrounds and possible motivations of the contributors to the ‘revisionist’ theory of Ultra dissemination, namely that it was fed to Soviet intelligence in Switzerland by SIS – probably via Alexander Foote. All these claims were then magisterially denied by the official historian. For the full story so far, please see Sonia’sRadio.)
The leading German cryptologist from WWII, Wilhelm Flicke, who in the late 1950s committed suicide in mysterious circumstances, wrote that ‘the Rote Drei’s source of information remains the most fateful secret of World War 2’. Echoing this opinion, Nigel West has told me that he has for a long time held the view that ‘the precise source of Lucy’s material is the last great secret of the war’. West’s crisp assessment of the conundrum can be read in his 1985 work Unreliable Witness: Espionage Myths of World War II (published in the USA as A Thread of Deceit). He has also recently suggested to me that ‘nothing much has changed since then’. Yet a flurry of material was declassified in the first decade of this century that must surely be taken into consideration when re-inspecting the mystery of the Lucy ring. Furthermore, many writers have coolly suggested, despite Professor’s Hinsley’s curt denial in the official history of British Intelligence, that there is no longer any mystery behind the distribution of Ultra material to Stalin via the Communist network in Switzerland. It continues to happen. For example, as I pointed out in last month’s blog, in 2013 Peter Matthews wrote, in his SIGINT: The Secret History of Signals Intelligence 1914-1945, that Alexander Foote was working for SIS in Switzerland, and passing on to the Soviets the valuable Ultra information. Yet no controversy seems to exist: an astounding lack of intellectual curiosity on the part of professional historians is evident, with no protestations, no debates, no critical reviews. This chapter of ‘Sonia’s Radio’ tracks the progress of the revisionist theory over the past fifty years, and inspects the credentials and possible motivations of its proponents.
Malcolm Muggeridge was the first to make an open statement about Alexander Foote’s possible role as an emissary, in the January 8, 1967, issue of the Observer. In this piece, presented as a review of Accoce and Quet’s The Lucy Ring, Muggeridge claimed to have first met Foote when the latter was installed, in some kind of sinecure, at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in the early 1950s. Without explaining how the facts of Foote’s position within an ostensibly Comintern-controlled network had come to the attention of the British authorities, Muggeridge indicated that the ‘Intelligence Department concerned with code-breaking’ faced the challenge of imparting information gained by breaking German codes. (Muggeridge did not use the term ‘Ultra’, nor did he identify Bletchley Park by name, at this time.) “A ready and convenient solution would have been to feed the information to the Russians through one of their own clandestine intelligence set-ups”, he wrote, implying that the Lucy ring was in fact largely a creature of British Intelligence. The availability of radio communications and diplomatic bag, according to Muggeridge, complemented by the country’s neutrality, made Switzerland, and Roessler, an obvious choice for the dissemination of Ultra secrets. In passing, Muggeridge trashed Accoce’s and Quet’s book for its ‘unresisting imbecility’.
Muggeridge was careful not to implicate Foote in this admission ̶ somewhat oddly, as Foote had reportedly been dead for more than ten years. (It should be remembered, however, that the ex-SOE and SIS officer Ronald Seth in 1965 claimed that Foote was still alive.) “I put the suggestion to Foote, who looked faintly startled and then abruptly changed the subject,” wrote Muggeridge. The broadcaster and journalist known as ‘St. Mugg’ was either being very disingenuous, or he knew more than he admitted. While it might not have been obvious from this article, Muggeridge had in fact worked for SIS during the war. (More than that, apparently. In a blurb on the cover of Read’s and Fisher’s Operation Lucy [q.v.], he boasted that he was involved ‘in wartime clandestine Intelligence duties and in handling Ultra material.’) In an earlier Sunday Telegraph essay, The Case of Kim Philby, (1963) he had, in his customarily waspish way, explained that he had worked for Philby when on assignment in Mozambique. He found Philby congenial company, but considered him too ‘unstable and farouche’ to advance to the top of his career. Nevertheless, expressing some surprise at Philby’s advancement in SIS, he declared: “My own impression at the time was that the foolish and the phonies, not to mention the occasional rogues, were almost invariably preferred to the more honest, straightforward and perceptive.” It is clear that Muggeridge’s experiences with SIS soured him: in an even earlier Spectator article (1961), Public Thoughts on a Secret Service, he had scoffed at the pretensions of the British Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence services, concluding that the contradictions between security and freedom in a liberal democracy made their efforts largely pointless, offering along the way the sardonic observation that ‘Intelligence services are unfortunate in that the more suitable a person is for recruitment to them, the more disastrous he is likely to prove.’
How close was Muggeridge to the action, though? It is quite possible that he had taken advantage of access to information from Ultra insiders, for example his friend Edward Crankshaw, covered later in this piece. Nevertheless, it was Muggeridge, the irresolute counter-spy (he had considered suicide while on duty on the beaches of Mozambique) who broke fresh ground by hinting directly at a) a successful program of intercepting and deciphering vital German traffic, and b) the existence of a country-house where the project had been executed. He had probably offended the Official Secrets Act in such revelations, but no ‘D’ notice had been sent to his newspaper editors, and the response to his article was largely unremarkable. The week following his piece, the Observer published three letters. The author Len Deighton, ignorant of Ultra, seriously missed the point, and stressed that the war in the Soviet Union was won by Russian blood and sacrifice rather than boffins in an English country house. A second correspondent, Alfred Fields, pointed out that Arthur Koestler (in The Invisible Writing) had recorded that Roessler had been one of the main wartime contacts of Admiral Canaris, head of the Abwehr. This letter hinted vaguely at a whole new dimension of intelligence co-operation: whether Canaris had in fact been working throughout his war with British interests in mind, a fascinating question that is beyond the scope of this investigation
The third letter is the most engrossing. One Charlotte Haldane, writing as a friend of Foote, explained how the confidences that Foote had shared with her indicated that he did not know where Lucy had gained his information, but at the same time she suggested that Foote’s experiences in being interrogated by both Soviet and British Intelligence would have deterred him from admitting anything. Haldane rather over-egged the pudding, however, by claiming that Foote ‘repeatedly [sic] told her that he had no idea, either at the time or later, where or how “Lucy” obtained his information, except that it came straight from the inner councils of the OKW’, as if she hadn’t wanted to accept his simple denial the first time. But why was she so interested in this matter, and why would she not accept Foote’s initial answer, but instead pester him so with her continual questioning? Haldane added that Foote was so puzzled about the origin of the intelligence that ‘he intended to revisit Switzerland to seek further information’. “The Swiss authorities, however, refused him entry owing to his former conviction and imprisonment”, she noted. Was this woman simply a very enterprising reporter?
Ms. Haldane’s role and interests were not revealed at the time. She had in fact been a member of the Communist Party well into the 1940s, and between 1926 and 1945 had been married to Professor J. B. S. Haldane, who was a Communist spy bearing the cryptonym INTELLIGENTSIA, as the VENONA transcripts show. She and her husband had been very active in helping the International Brigades reach Spain, so she had probably met Foote at that time. Indeed Foote recalled seeing her husband on the front line, waving a pistol at the advancing Franco troops: “Luckily for science, we managed to repel the Rebel attack and the professor was spared for his further contributions to world knowledge”, he wrote. Charlotte Haldane was also a close friend of the communist Hans Kahle, a co-conspirator with Jürgen Kuczynski, Sonia’s brother: Kahle became part of Sonia’s network. Shortly after the time of Foote’s interrogation by MI5, Charlotte claimed in a memoir (Truth Will Out) to have cut her ties to the Communist Party some years before, after which she had worked at the Talks Department of the BBC, replacing George Orwell. Her disenchantment was evidently more with Stalinism than with Communism, and she may well have maintained her contacts in the CPGB. She might have been given the mission by Moscow to ascertain the truth of Foote’s involvement with SIS: she never mentioned in her letter her past enthusiasms, or their shared involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Her credentials to comment objectively on the matter were thus somewhat dubious. Foote, knowing her history and allegiances, would have been very guarded in dealing with her.
The statement about his imprisonment needs clarifying, as well. Foote had indeed been imprisoned ̶ but in no great discomfort ̶ in Switzerland between November 1943 and September 1944, primarily as a gesture to assuage the Gestapo’s spy-hunters, but also to cover up possible misdeeds by Swiss intelligence. He had sensibly declined to return for a possibly more serious trial in October 1947, and was in absentia sentenced to thirty months in prison, a fine of 8000 francs, and fifteen years’ expulsion. The likelihood of his wanting to journey there on an idealistic mission to investigate Lucy’s sources, when leaving the UK would have exposed him to Soviet assassins, or, preferably but still unpleasantly, a probable spell in a Swiss prison, was extremely thin. It can safely be concluded that he was thus acting out his charade with Haldane. Foote’s file at the National Archives indicates that he hoped to show the manuscript of his Handbook for Spies to Charlotte before publication, in February 1949, as she wanted to use it for a BBC talk. A certain Copeman apparently talked him out of it, warning him of Haldane’s unreliability, but Foote was still in touch with Haldane in February 1952, considering a sequel. As is frequently the case with double-agents, the behavior is ambiguous: Foote might have been showing his true colours, but it is much more likely that he had been engaging in subterfuge to maintain his legend. He clearly impressed Ms. Haldane, who trusted his story, and declared him ‘one of the bravest men I have known’. She doubtless held a romantic notion that Foote was an idealistic communist who had served the cause, and then seen the light, as had she. That is the outcome she wanted to occur, and Foote projected it for her.
The appearance of the gentleman named Copeman sheds a startling new light on the intrigue. For the individual was almost certainly Frederick Copeman, an ex-Communist of some repute who had been a prominent member of the Invergordon Mutiny. In his memoir, Foote indicated that Copeman, as ‘an old ‘friend’, had in 1938 recruited him for the dangerous assignment abroad. Copeman was a leading CPGB member who had headed the British Battalion of the International Brigades in Spain: that other communist apostate, Charlotte Haldane, attested to his courage and leadership, attributes that the archive now shows to be under question. Moreover, records recently released to the National Archives indicate that Copeman had abandoned his Communist allegiance in 1941, and was even awarded the MBE in that year for fire-fighting services. MI5 appeared to be aware of his recantation – and no doubt, too, was Moscow Centre. Copeman’s being introduced as some kind of external consultant to MI5 on dealing with the CPGB suggests that, around the time of Barbarossa, he probably informed the Security Service of Foote’s recruitment. And Moscow Centre would also have learned then that one of their prime agents had defected, perhaps without massive concern now that Britain was an ally of the Soviet Union. But the relationships between Foote, Copeman and Haldane demand further investigation.
A comparison of Copeman’s 1948 memoir, Reason in Revolt (1948), with Foote’s Handbook for Spies (1949) sheds some important light on their respective political situations. The staging posts of Copeman’s initial mission to Spain closely match those of Foote. Foote left Dover on December 23, 1936, while Copeman sailed on January 1, 1937. They both assembled in Albacete, and were then drafted into the British battalion at Madriguerras (Madriguerus, according to Copeman), which they both stated was led by William Macartney, with Douglas Springhall as political commissar. Yet, while Foote asserted that almost half of the thousand or so British who served with the International Brigade were killed in Spain, and later characterised Copeman as ‘an old friend’ who was acting on behalf of Springhall in recruiting him for the Comintern, Copeman never mentioned Foote in his narrative. Foote felt free to write: “Later, of course, Copeman split with the Party and joined the Oxford Group [of moral rearmers, not spies, it should be added]”, but Copeman clearly wanted to conceal his role in recruiting Foote, and was sensitive to the latter’s precarious position in 1948. In fact, Copeman was somewhat of a surprising choice to help in Foote’s recruitment, as he was at that time already under a cloud with the CPGB because of his criticism of Communist brutality in the British battalion in Spain. If Moscow Centre had indeed learned of Copeman’s role in the hiring of Foote, it might have been doubly concerned about leakages to British intelligence over Foote’s mission in Switzerland. While all of this information was public at the time, none of these considerations appear to have been picked up after Charlotte Haldane’s contribution in the Observer.
Two weeks after Muggeridge’s article appeared, Accoce and Quet were given their chance to respond to his critique. They went on the offensive with some ill-focused bluster, but were on weak ground. Indeed, they admitted later that they had invented part of their story, which cast doubts on anything they wrote, despite their claims to extensive interviewing. (Witnesses do not always tell the truth.) Thus Muggeridge (on January 29) was able to demolish their riposte quite easily, though he did concede that his theory was ‘only a suggestion’. (Did someone have a quiet word with him in the interim?) Moreover, he made the rather strange observation (given that in his original piece he had described Foote’s Handbook for Spies as ‘excellent’, and had noted its 1964 republication without identifying the obvious anomalies) that ‘though Messrs Accoce and Quet make a slighting reference to Alexander Foote, they seem to me to have drawn heavily on his Handbook for Spies in compiling their own, in my opinion, far flimsier and more credulous account of the Lucy set-up.’ Thus, despite his equivocal judgment on the merits of Foote’s book, for a while Muggeridge had the last word ̶ maybe a protest against a cover-up that he deemed pointless, and one that had condemned his friend Foote to a miserable and lonely life. A few years later, however, Muggeridge did go two steps further: hiding behind the protection of an American magazine, Esquire, in the September 1968 issue he went so far as to name ‘Bletchley’ as the location where the cryptographic work was done, and then asserted, more confidently, that ‘the Russians did get all relevant Bletchley material, routed to them via the ‘Lucy’ setup in Switzerland, whence it was transmitted to Moscow as having come from dissident German staff officers’. The seed had been cast, but appeared not to have landed on fertile ground.
Yet a few more years later, perhaps emboldened by other accounts starting to leak out, Muggeridge even identified the source of his information as Foote himself. In Volume 2 of his autobiography, Chronicles of Wasted Time, titled The Infernal Grove (published in 1973), Muggeridge repeated many ideas and phrases he had used in his Observer piece, but now explicitly quoted Foote as his source for the intelligence that Stalin was receiving ‘the requisite Bletchley material’ via the Lucy Ring in Switzerland. No one appeared to challenge this assertion, maybe not wishing to draw attention to the troublesome matter. Why Muggeridge, having admittedly protected Foote from any breach of secrets in 1967, would now claim that the Comintern radio-operator had revealed the whole story to him, has, however, not been addressed. Was it a harmless oversight? Or had he out of necessity been over-careful about Foote’s situation in 1967? It seems that no one pointed out this inconsistency to him.
Alarms and Diversions
Between the publication of Muggeridge’s Observer piece, and that of his autobiography, however, some significant events had occurred. It should be pointed out that all employees at Bletchley Park had signed the Official Secrets Act, and had thus promised to remain silent about their work, and even the existence of Bletchley Park itself. As Christopher Andrew wrote: “At the end of the Second World War, most of those who had been ‘indoctrinated’ into Ultra believed that it would never be revealed.” Thus it was no doubt insulting to all of them that Muggeridge, as a former officer of SIS, would be allowed to refer to a centre dedicated to decryption, and even to name it, without any sanctions. However, when the work of a proven spy was published the same year (1968), identifying the Government Code and Cypher School, and describing the process of intercepting foreign traffic, the shock in many quarters must have been intense. For that is what Kim Philby revealed in his My Silent War, as Chapter 4 of Sonia’s Radio explained.
Philby’s escape to Moscow in 1963 had been a great embarrassment to the head of wartime SIS, Stewart Menzies, who, as Trevor-Roper reported, when challenged tried to downplay the significance of Philby’s role in SIS. But too many people knew the extent of Philby’s influence. Menzies had retired in 1952, but now had to endure the scandal of the fact that he had been responsible for recruiting, nurturing, protecting and promoting perhaps the most dedicated of the ‘Cambridge Spies’. Jeffery’s history of SIS contains the facsimile of a letter written by Menzies to the Foreign Office explaining how such an ‘able man’ as Philby could not possibly be released from working for SIS. Moreover, Menzies was not universally admired. Cavendish-Bentinck (the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee during the war) famously described him as ‘neither strong nor intelligent’, and opined that had he not had the fortune to be in charge of GC&CS after the death of his predecessor, Admiral Sinclair, in 1939, he would not have survived as head of SIS. Menzies died before Philby’s book was published, but, as his biographer Anthony Cave-Brown informed us, he had before his death been able to examine the proofs, with notable dismay.
Thus it is reasonable to assume that, once the cat was out of the bag, many officers who had been close to the cryptological events of World War II might have believed that a broader exposure was desirable: to set the record straight, to correct the unbalanced reputation of Menzies (and enhance their own for posterity, no doubt), by not just helping the veil to be lifted from the activities at Bletchley Park, but even to allude to the special project that, so they might have believed, helped win the war – the sharing of Ultra secrets with the Russians. But one thing at a time. The world did not yet know about Ultra, the secret of which was not declassified until the mid-1970s. That process, however, was no doubt facilitated by the gradual leaks of information that emanated from those who believed that their efforts demanded greater public credit, and thought to even the balance of bad publicity that had accrued to SIS and GCHQ from Philby’s acts and revelations. Other scholars put out tempting hints about collusion: the renowned chronicler of German intelligence, Ladislas Farago, in his 1971 book The Game of the Foxes, issued only one sentence on the Lucy Ring, but it hinted at sharing of agents: “It was there [Berne], too, that the British and Soviet secret services gained access to the operations plans [sic] and tactical dispositions of the Wehrmacht, through Alexander Foote and Rudolf Roessler, . . .”. Even though Farago finessed the issue of the source, Foote was in this way explicitly identified as an agent of the British.
This story was soon amplified. Richard Deacon (the author of A History of the British Secret Service, published in 1969) was not a scholarly historian. His real name was Donald McCormick, he had worked for naval intelligence during World War II, and he had many contacts in the intelligence world, including Ian Fleming, from whom he gleaned his stories. His motivations appear to have been more for the journalistic main chance when he made his revelations. He openly claimed that Russian agents had been forewarned by spies within British institutions of Krivitsky’s disclosures, thus hastening the defector’s death, and he also trashed the theories of Accoce and Quet about the communications of multiple traitors within the German military machine: moreover, the information (so he pointed out) had arrived too regularly to have come from spies in Germany. The facts were quite clear, in his account. British Intelligence had cracked German military codes at Bletchley Park, with the aid of cipher machines captured from German submarines; neutral Switzerland was the ideal place for disseminating material to the Soviets; the Lucy Ring was an instrument of the British Secret Service; Roessler was known by the Czechs through the shadowy figure of van Narvig, and had spied for them; and Alexander Foote had for a long time been an agent of SIS and thus performed a patriotic service for his country.
In retrospect, if the accounts also leaked to Read and Fisher are to be believed, Deacon was right on the mark. And his book must have caused a few feathers to be ruffled in Whitehall. As British mandarins discussed the thorny problem of how to reveal the Bletchley Park story to the world at large, further accounts seeped out. Barton Whaley was an American academic who focused on deception and counter-deception – not just in military fields. His 1973 work, Codeword Barbarossa, inevitably concentrated on Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, but his insights are provocative, since, based on his research and interviews, he concluded that Foote and Roessler had indeed been active in 1941, warning Stalin through the Lucy Ring about Hitler’s intentions, a theory that goes much against the conventional grain that Lucy himself was not introduced until 1942. Whaley was also a champion of Muggeridge, and made the following telling observation: “Muggeridge’s hypotheses drew immediate favorable attention in Germany, where any allegation of treason in the OKW [Oberkommando der Wehrmacht] is still excitedly rationalized away in many circles. More recently, Muggeridge has raised his original tentative speculation [i.e. in the Observer in 1963] to outright assertion [i.e. in Esquire in 1968], although he gives no evidence for this change in status.” (Maybe because Foote was really dead by then?) Yet, even though Whaley directly pointed out the links between the Swiss and British Intelligence (his contact, Puenter, known as PAKBO, the main source of information on German plans, was said to be working with SIS’s John Salter), he was not confident enough to go the whole way, and thus describe the Lucy Ring as an agency of British Intelligence, and he still gave credit to the assumption that several Nazi informers were providing the material.
The Ultra Secret Is Revealed
Explanations for the eventual decision to allow the Ultra secret to be exposed tend to overlook the pressure applied by Muggeridge and Philby, and frequently cite works published in other languages, such as Gustave Bertrand’s Enigma, which appeared in 1973. The story of Bletchley Park and Enigma decryption was officially released in 1974, when F. W. Winterbotham’s The Ultra Secret was published, albeit with some reluctant approval. Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor claimed in his Introduction to the book that he had been trying for twenty years to get the ban lifted, and admitted how the prohibition had inhibited any comprehensive writing of military history. Winterbotham’s entry in the Dictionary of National Biography betrays the reluctance of the government: ‘. . . he had had the text of his book vetted by the authorities, who finally allowed him to publish it, although they did not endorse it.’ In his autobiography, The Ultra Spy, published in 1989, Winterbotham revealed that, in 1972, he had approached Admiral Denning at the Ministry of Defence after an unidentified journalist had come to pick his brains about Ultra. He eventually managed to convince Denning that a ‘proper account of the Ultra secret should be published as soon as possible’. As is characteristic of such accounts, the claims of Winterbotham and Slessor do not gel neatly, and Winterbotham starts to display a pattern of self-promotion. Richard Aldrich, in his history of GCHQ, attributes the decision to desires by the government to balance the negative publicity arising from Philby’s absconding with positive PR: moreover, it could not control the stories about code-breaking coming out in the United States. On the other hand, Cave-Brown identifies Alistair Denniston’s son, Robin, as the agent who pushed through the publication of The Ultra Secret, as well as that of Philby’s memoir, as acts of retribution for the slight on his father.
Winterbotham was a respectable choice as chronicler, since he had set up the first Scientific Intelligence Unit in SIS in 1939, and had been a vital part of the project at Bletchley. He had worked directly for Menzies, establishing Hut 3, which took control of the interpretation and packaging of raw decrypts with the help of intelligence officers recruited from the services, setting up the shadow OKW, and arranging for the secure distribution of Ultra material to allied commanders and intelligence officers who ‘needed to know’. But his book contained many errors, primarily because of the author’s lack of understanding of cryptology (which was an aspect of the whole Enigma story that Denning demanded should not be covered): the authorities allowed them to stand. Moreover, covering the project of releasing the material to the Soviets was not part of Winterbotham’s charter. He also received much criticism, primarily from those who had taken their vow of silence very seriously, for spearheading the disclosure of the Ultra secret, but also for some self-aggrandisement. In the 1993 publication Codebreakers: the Inside Story of Bletchley Park, Edward Thomas (who had worked in Hut 3) set out to clear up one of the ‘many mis-statements’ that Winterbotham made about Bletchley, namely that he had established it and staffed it with German-speaking officers. Thomas claimed that none of such a group had been recruited, implying thereby that Winterbotham had in his account attracted renown to himself instead of a Captain Saunders.
Winterbotham made one important statement, however, that demands close analysis, and represents some evidence for his later surreptitious disclosures. On page 92, he wrote: “I was never told by Menzies the real reason for the takeover, but gradually pieced together the facts that the Foreign Office and the directors of Intelligence of the armed services became alarmed at the power that Ultra had placed in Menzies’ hands, so that the Foreign Office decided to place control of this vital source of information in the hands of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which was given a Foreign Office chairman (Cavendish-Bentinck). It had been considered advisable to put all the departments at Bletchley under one director, Commander Travis, who was put in to replace Commander Denniston, the real founder of Ultra, now posted back to London on other cryptographic duties.”
The ‘takeover’ that Winterbotham referred to was the handing over (in July 1942) of Winterbotham’s ‘shadow OKW’ to the General Administration at Bletchley, a transfer over which Winterbotham declared some veiled resentment. Yet this is at first glance a somewhat puzzling observation, since the new leader Travis still reported to Menzies, and the loss of one responsibility undergone by Winterbotham was compensated by his increased activities managing the Special Liaison Units that managed the secure distribution of Ultra to the field, adding now responsibilities to the US command. By all accounts, he executed this task with flair and skill, which makes his 1943 award of a mere CBE somewhat surprising. In this role, moreover, he would have been intimately familiar with the communication facilities being set up by Gambier-Parry of SIS’s Section VIII between Britain and offices abroad, including Switzerland, yet he obviously judged this change of assignment as something of a demotion. In his autobiography, he claimed that Menzies was too weak to resist the encroachment of the naval Commander in charge of cypher-breaking at Bletchley, who had decided ‘he wanted my Hut 3’. But was this the whole story?
Perhaps one can read a different message between the lines. Winterbotham’s respect for Denniston (‘the real founder of Ultra’) is clear, and maybe Denniston, who was very concerned about the security of Ultra, had complained about Menzies’s proprietary approach to the traffic, and his personal delivery of the messages to Churchill’s office, when it needed to be owned and assessed by the official Joint Intelligence Committee. It could have been that such insubordination had put Denniston in bad odour, resulting in his demotion. Maybe Denniston, Winterbotham, and Cavendish-Bentinck had all conspired to wrest control of Ultra away from Menzies, whom none of them respected very much, and this was Winterbotham’s coded method of explaining how they had attempted to undermine Menzies’s authority. In the mid-nineteen-seventies, however, they needed help in getting their message out.
It is not easy now to discern the factions involved in the disputes over control of Ultra in 1941 and 1942. Jeffery explicitly states that Menzies twice had to fight off attempts by the directors of intelligence in the three armed services to wrest control away from him. These three were authorised recipients of Ultra, and thus intimately familiar with it, but Goodman informs us that Cavendish-Bentinck, the very effective chairman of the JIC (but a civilian among military men) was incredibly not permitted to see the transcripts until well after the war started. Yet Cavendish-Bentinck had a good sense for security, and for trust in information sharing. He did not consider that Churchill should have access to information that had not been properly assessed by the JIC. Churchill was wont to trust raw Ultra data too credulously: sometimes he held it close to his chest away from his own officers, but at other times, as Peter Calvocoressi observed in Top Secret Ultra, he had to be restrained from telling too much. There were clearly tensions between the suppliers and the customers of intelligence – a not unprecedented phenomenon. But there was also strong rivalry between the Navy and the RAF’s Coastal Command in the battle against submarines, and the Navy, with its traditional leading role in intelligence, won out. Winterbotham blamed Ian Fleming, who, it should be emphasised, was also a source of ‘information’ to some of the 1970s chroniclers. Winterbotham and Cavendish-Bentinck were natural allies.
Then again, Nigel West implies that Denniston, while struggling with the pressures of growth at Bletchley Park, possibly received too much blame for the administrative problems, and, indeed, disputes over Denniston’s merits and failings carried on in correspondence into the 1980s. At the outset of the war, the Government Code and Cypher School was in fact managed by a Joint Committee of Control that included members of Bletchley Park (Travis and Tiltman) as well as officers from SIS (Winterbotham and Gambier-Parry) under the leadership of Menzies’s personal representative, Captain Hastings. Yet Denniston clearly had problems with relationships. Welchman’s biographer, Joel Greenberg, reports that Travis and Denniston could not stand each other, and that Travis had threatened that he would leave if Denniston were not dismissed. Denniston was also a sworn enemy of Richard Gambier-Parry of the Radio Security Service. This was clearly a personnel and bureaucratic mess. In addition, much of the tension arose because of the insertion of armed service experts into the centre, who had ideas about interpretation that went against the grain of the civilian staff who had developed good objective practices for assessing the traffic that came in to their hands. Thus it is probable that Winterbotham got himself embroiled in the controversy, struggling with dual allegiances. Menzies (because of his reputation, and also due to his personality) was not strong enough to set down any firm policy, and thus resorted to the tactic of a temporising ‘inquiry’. When Hastings completed his report in the spring of 1942, Travis and the Directors of Intelligence came out of the episode rosily, while Winterbotham and Denniston suffered. Denniston was a natural third aggrieved party.
Rivalries and Resentments
I return to the literary chronology. In the year following Winterbotham’s revelations, in 1975, a new twist to the Ultra story appeared in a work by Charles Whiting. Whiting, a Briton, was a prolific author of thrillers who, although born in 1926, managed a varied experience with the Army in Europe at the end World War II. He developed an academic career, gaining his degree at Leeds University, as well as studying in several European universities. In his book Spymasters (as explained in Chapter 4 of Sonia’s Radio) Whiting openly acknowledged several high-powered names who had helped him in his researches, including R. V. Jones, Kenneth Strong, Hugh Trevor-Roper and Alexander Denniston, as well as Winterbotham himself. While it was not always clear which luminary had provided assistance in what areas (and thus no one could claim that Whiting’s thesis was unanimously approved by all those he acknowledged), in certain places he was very explicit. He emphasized the fact that Winterbotham had reportedly pressed upon Menzies that security over Enigma should be tightened, and thus the concept of the shadow OKW had come into being – initially for the purposes of keeping Allied personnel (not the Soviets) in the general dark as to sources. Yet Whiting echoed the bold breakthrough assertion that SIS was feeding this information to Foote in Lausanne: Menzies and Winterbotham ‘cooked up’ a plan to get the messages to Stalin when the official channel via Moscow (and Kuibyshev) was not working. Whiting also claimed that Dansey had boasted to Philby about the security of his carefully-built Lucy spy-ring, while adding that he did not believe that Philby understood the totality of the deception, even though the spy was aware of the interception process at the time.
Whiting’s confidants were clearly hard on the heels of the authorities in wanting the full story told. It was Whiting who first hinted at some of the stresses and rivalries at the time, which may have encouraged some officers harmed by Menzies to try to gain retribution for their mistreatment – even though Menzies was no longer alive. Whiting declared that Menzies ‘settled scores’ for past slights. He suggested that it was Denniston’s success at Bletchley Park that had gained him powerful enemies, ‘in particular Menzies’. Admitting that Denniston was sometimes his own worst enemy, ‘impatient, secretive, and quarrelsome’, Whiting stated that he fell out not only with Whitehall but also many of his colleagues. Menzies cruelly demoted Denniston, denied him the knighthood he deserved, and, after the war, unable to live on a pension of £591 a year, Denniston had to take up teaching again.
As for Winterbotham, he was reportedly left completely pensionless, and, after some time spent at BOAC, was, according to Whiting, left penniless. Yet this can hardly be true: Winterbotham was able to leave BOAC in 1952, and with his third wife, Petrea, left Effingham in Surrey to buy an eighty-acre farm in Devon. His distresses were probably less to do with money than with lack of recognition. It is revealing to note that Slessor observed in his Introduction to Winterbotham’s work that ‘it is a curious reflection on our system of Honours and Awards that he should have finished up after the war as a retired Group Captain with a CBE on a quiet farm in Devon’, hinting, perhaps, at unpublishable slights. Winterbotham himself contributed a fresh insight in his autobiography: one incident that pushed him over the edge and leave SIS, he wrote, was his re-assignment, at the end of the war, as a low-grade permanent civil servant by the Air Ministry, who claimed not to know what Winterbotham had been doing during the war, a snub that must certainly have soured him. Again, one suspects that this improbable incident is not the whole story. Maybe the authorities disapproved of his romantic life: as his autobiography discloses, he was a ladies’ man of some repute, and had been divorced twice by 1946. (He deftly ignores his second marriage in his autobiography.) Might some of these dalliances have made him a security risk? And, as has been shown, Winterbotham may have misrepresented his whole contribution.
Yet it must also be pointed out that Winterbotham’s professional exploits before the war, when on behalf of SIS he had negotiated with German Air Intelligence behind the back of the Foreign Office, did not endear him to its mandarins, and, indeed, Winterbotham’s account, in his Nazi Connection (1978), of what occurred at that time may not be wholly reliable. Some have claimed that Winterbotham had nurtured sympathies for the fascists in the mid-1930s, provoked by a profound hatred of communism, but that resentment may have been engendered by some of his bogus reports, part of a subterfuge to mislead his German contacts, that were misinterpreted by the Foreign Office. In any case, it appears he developed enemies. The hypocrisies and jealousies of the British diplomatic and intelligence establishment will be explored later, when the tribulations of Victor Cavendish-Bentinck are examined, but for the moment, I merely observe that those with an axe to grind over Stewart Menzies, or how pettily they had been treated after the war, believed they could regain some integrity by telling the truth: they did not need to spread any untruths.
One can see echoes of such frustrations elsewhere. The desire for greater openness about intelligence matters was apparently broad in the 1970s. For example, the writer of espionage thrillers and ex-SIS officer, John Le Carré, has recently written that Philby’s confidant, the officer who interrogated Philby in Beirut just before he absconded, Nicholas Elliot, explained to him how he was at that time obstructed from going public with his experiences. (Elliott, incidentally, took over Dansey’s agent-ring in Switzerland after the war.) “He was frustrated by our former Service’s refusal to let him reveal secrets that in his opinion had long ago passed their keep-by date. He believed he had a right, indeed a duty to give his story to posterity.” (The Pigeon Tunnel, p 177) Thus it is safe to conclude that the continued secrecy was resented by many who believed that the public had a right to know more about what had been, to them, honourable and successful operations. Le Carré omits, however, to mention Elliott’s highly entertaining 1993 ‘memoir’ With My Little Eye: unfortunately, Elliott did not disclose there much that was secret and pertinent to this story, limiting his formal disclosures to fresh observations on the disappearance of Commander Crabb, the diver who in 1956 died in Portsmouth Harbour while investigating a Soviet vessel, the Ordzhonikidzhe.
But it is not always easy to distinguish disclosures from disinformation. One curious contribution to the genre (which I have encountered only since I wrote Chapter 5) is that by a certain R. A. Haldane, whose 1978 book, The Hidden War, gave voice to Muggeridge’s claims, and highlighted the role of Lucy. Haldane nevertheless argued that ‘the theory that we fed the information via Lucy – who would thus have been no more than a cut-out – does not wash. What we fed to the Russians was fed direct’. To support this hypothesis, Haldane shrewdly pointed out the very vital fact (as I explained in Chapter 4) that the detailed requests that the Soviets made would have required an analytical capability stronger than information provided passively by intercepted messages. Without clarifying which particular agency, in what location, via which medium effected this transaction, Haldane’s elliptical comments do suggest that the message-passing occurred in Switzerland. It is obvious that passing Soviet requests for enhanced analysis via Roessler (who could not even operate a wireless set) would have been logistically pointless, and frustratingly slow. But the British believed that maintaining the façade of Lucy and his links was essential to keeping the trust of the Soviets.
The outcome was that Haldane discounted the role of subterfuge that Lucy gave to the whole operation, and which turned suspicion towards leaks in the German High Command. Thus, despite his analysis about the probability of a direct link between the Soviets and British intelligence, his conclusion surprisingly backed off from any tentative hypothesis, and treated the whole matter as a mystery. Moreover, he treated Foote’s memoir with a respect (‘it is entirely genuine’) that was unmerited when coming from an insider in MI5 who should have known the sordid history behind its creation. (He claimed that Foote purposely misidentified Roessler because the latter was still alive, but failed to record that Foote used the name of another real person, Sedlacek, rather than picking a pseudonym, as was used for other characters.) And why was Haldane not more demanding of the evidence behind the claims of Muggeridge and Calvocoressi, instead of pretending that there was probably no one still alive who knew the answer (p 116)? His argument is simply illogical.
Indeed, one has to wonder what the precise experience and qualifications of Haldane, who otherwise wrote a very competent and insightful book, really were. The flyleaf of the volume says that he was ‘a former intelligence officer and son of the Assistant Director of the M.I.5’. [From one hint in his book, and some elementary searches on Google, I have established that R. A.’s father was one Lt.-Col. M.M. Haldane, one of the first officers appointed to the future MI5 in 1914. R.A. was in fact a third cousin of the spy J.B.S.: R. A. was probably unaware of the irony of this relationship. The renowned Viscount Haldane was a cousin of M.M.] In his ‘Author’s Note’, Haldane said that, after cipher work, he moved to Home Security War Room, and in late 1941 was appointed Personal Intelligence Staff Officer to Brigadier-General C. C. Lucas, Director of Intelligence, Home Security, and a member of the Home Defence Committee. A gentleman of that name and rank did indeed exist, but a Google search elicits little, apart from the fact that Lucas was an aide to General French in WWI, and that he wrote a foreword to a book on how to ride side-saddle in 1938 – hardly the calibre of a man entrusted with Ultra secrets. Moreover, no such entity as the Home Defence Committee appears to have existed at that time; the Home Defence Executive, which was set up on May 10, 1940 ‘to coordinate the anti-invasion preparations of all the Service and civilian departments’ (Hinsley), was chaired by Findlater Stewart.
As for Haldane’s career, the author apparently wrote other books, on encipherment and business fraud, and was active after the war with the Nature Conservancy, but has otherwise sunk without trace. I have not come across The Hidden War in any bibliography. The book does indicate some expertise, and an experience in intelligence close to the major deception projects undertaken, but the purpose of its coverage of Enigma and Ultra is questionable. Four major aspects of his narrative, namely i) his use of an apparent cover organisation to conceal his role; ii) his disingenuousness over Foote’s memoir, iii) his highly ambiguous argument about Britain’s role in releasing Ultra to the Soviets, and iv) his failure to follow up research with Muggeridge and Calvocoressi (at least), suggest that his publication might have been part of a public relations exercise on behalf of MI5 and SIS.
The next major event in the saga (the publications of Radó, the CIA and Moravec having been covered in Chapter 5) was arguably the arrival of Operation Lucy, by the journalists Anthony Read and David Fisher, in 1980. It is difficult to review critically this volume, as it lacks any references apart from the confidences that are attributed to some of its advisers during the course of the text. It has a superficially impressive list of Acknowledgments, including such obvious heroes as the now familiar cast of Peter Calvocoressi, Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Ronald Lewin, and F. W. Winterbotham. Yet some scoundrels also appear here: Jürgen Kucynski, the famous subversive and active Communist, brother of the spy Ursula, aka Sonia; Sándor Radó, now graced with the title ‘Professor’, as if that gave him more credibility, as well as a host of not immediately familiar characters whose authority and counsel are uncertain. Did the authors implicitly trust everything these people said to them, without questioning their motives? It is not clear. Whatever the methodology (if it can be called that), the message arriving from the Read/Fisher book is unfailingly clear. The Lucy Ring was a creature of Colonel Dansey and his Z Organisation; Foote had been recruited by Dansey back in 1936; the use of wireless links between London and Foote was a perfect mechanism for passing Ultra information to the Soviets; Sedlacek was in parallel receiving such information from his Czech bosses via the Woldingham transmitter; the information was presented as if it had been leaked from the German OKW to Roessler; and the Soviets began to rely exclusively on Lucy for their knowledge of the Nazi order of battle at Kursk and elsewhere.
At key points, Read and Fisher invoke their informants by name. For example, Cavendish-Bentinck: “When we talked to Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, wartime head of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee, the overseer and co-ordinator of all Intelligence activity, he indicated Foote as one point of access and control. Foote was the obvious way in for Ultra material, particularly as he had his own transmitter/receiver – which could be used to contact Britain just as easily as Moscow – and his own personal cipher, which was unknown to Radó. There was no way that Radó or anyone else in the network could have checked what Foote was sending to Centre. In any case, Foote also had his own sources of intelligence in Germany and Switzerland, and so could be expected to send additional material to Moscow. He always remained semi-autonomous in the network.” And Winterbotham: “However, it would have been very rash for the British to have relied solely on Foote. The very fact that he was an obvious choice for use by London made it dangerous both to the security of Ultra and to Foote’s own cover as a genuine Soviet agent. In any case, such simplicity and directness were not Dansey’s way of doing things. He always favoured complexity, choosing twisting back alleyways in preference to the broad highway. The author of the first book on Ultra, Group Captain F. W. Winterbotham – who also confirmed that Britain controlled the Swiss network throughout the war – told us that this was typical of the way Dansey operated, and that he revelled in the pleasure of being able to ‘get one up’ on his rivals in the SIS.” (both on p 99) (Winterbotham divulged to his journalist friends far more than he ever committed to paper himself.)
Perhaps it is wiser to introduce here a contemporaneous critique of the book, by Edward Crankshaw, in the Observer of October 12, 1980. Crankshaw had good credentials: in 1940 he had joined SIS from the Army, where he had been a Signals Intelligence officer, and was sent to Moscow in 1941 to represent that function, to communicate the fruits of Ultra to his Soviet peers, and to try to gain captured documents from the Russian in exchange. As Calvocoressi wrote: “Attached to the British military mission in Moscow was a single officer – Major Crankshaw, already mentioned – who represented BP, Broadway, Military Intelligence and also the Admiralty. He was a complex node of intelligence in his own person and he reported to the ambassador who in turn passed on personally whatever secret intelligence London decided to vouchsafe.” (Crankshaw was educated at Bishop’s Stortford, the same school that produced Dick White and the Spycatcher officer, Peter Wright.) So he was undoubtedly an authority on the Ultra distribution program, and witnessed at first hand the breakdown of co-operation between the British and the Soviets in his time in Russia. The switch to using the Lucy network occurred before Crankshaw was re-assigned, in 1943, to Bletchley Park as liaison officer on matters Soviet.
Crankshaw’s Observer piece was titled ‘Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all’ (playing off the fact that the mysterious Sedlacek, also known as Selzinger, and owning a British passport in the name of Simpson, provided by SIS, was known by all as ‘Uncle Tom’), and Crankshaw crisply endorsed the main planks of Read’s and Fisher’s case, which he described as ‘a hilarious read’, while conceding that the authors may not have realised just how comical their concoction was. “So Lucy in Switzerland was built up into a legendary secret agent with sources in the German High Command and used as the main channel for telling the Russians what Hitler was going to do next and when and how”, he explained, adding: “The authors get into their stride and tell this absurd, enthralling, sometimes moving and formidably complicated tale so admirably that one forgets the huge unanswered questions”. While Crankshaw identified several inaccuracies in the story, he credited the authors with having attained as close and correct an account of the liaison (‘if that is the word’) between British and Soviet Intelligence as was humanly possible. So why would Crankshaw deceive about such a serious matter as this? His experience and evidence speak for themselves.
In fact Crankshaw may have been Muggeridge’s informer. In the Introduction to his 1940 work, The Thirties, Muggeridge explained that he had completed his manuscript in December 1939 ‘in a barrack hut at Ash Vale, near Aldershot’, when he was a member of the embryonic Intelligence Corps. On one occasion (probably early in 1940), he had been instructed to meet an officer from the War Office at the local railway station. After the customary salute, he accompanied the officer in the staff car, with Muggeridge sitting next to the driver, and the officer viewable in the driving-mirror, at which point the two recognized each other. The officer was Edward Crankshaw. “To the consternation of our driver, we began to fall about in the car in a condition of hopeless mirth at the unconscious deception we had practiced on one another. I believe I never took the war, certainly not the army, quite seriously again,” he wrote. Either Muggeridge and Crankshaw engaged in a conspiracy over the distribution of Ultra, or they shared a less than utterly respectful regard for the solemn self-delusions that accompany the exercise of intelligence and counter-intelligence. The latter explanation is the more likely.
Scandal and Controversy
Meanwhile, Victor Cavendish-Bentinck provided more solid testimony. Cavendish-Bentinck (later Lord Portland) has been generally regarded as a highly competent Director of the Joint Intelligence Committee, a post he held throughout the Second World War. Michael S. Goodman is expansive with praise for him in his official history of the JIC. Major-General Kenneth Strong wrote, in his Men of Intelligence, that ‘when Bill Cavendish-Bentinck came upon the scene in October 1939 the British Intelligence community was confused and seeking leadership,’ and that he turned out to be ‘an excellent chairman, tactful, relaxed, and good-tempered’. Cavendish-Bentinck was a shrewd judge of political and military opportunities and risks: he quickly pointed out the hazards associated with the launch of SOE, he was one of the few who took seriously Hitler’s threats to invade the Soviet Union, and he was one of the first to recognize that the Soviet Union might be a post-war threat (as Percy Craddock records), before that was an acceptable opinion in the Foreign Office.
As has been explained, in the reorganization tribulations of GC&CS in early 1942 overall responsibility had been placed under the custodianship of the Joint Intelligence Committee, giving Cavendish-Bentinck an intimate role in guiding the use of Ultra. This was clearly a point of contention between Menzies and Cavendish-Bentinck. It was also something that irked Winterbotham, who could not hide his sense of disappointment with Menzies in both his books. Lastly, there is confirmation of the leads which Cavendish-Bentinck apparently fed to Read and Fisher, in the 1986 biography of him written by Patrick Howarth, Intelligence Chief Extraordinary. On page 164, Howarth casually recorded what Cavendish-Bentinck had obviously told him: “In practice one of the methods adopted for conveying information of strategic importance to the Soviet Union was to leak it through SIS to known Soviet agents in neutral countries, particularly Switzerland. This served incidentally to enhance the credibility, and also the post-war reputations, of the Soviet agents involved.”
Did Cavendish-Bentinck harbour a grudge, as well? He was well exposed to the foibles of Menzies. He was involved in two committees that analysed SIS’s role and organisation. The first was initiated by the Foreign Office’s Permanent Under-Secretary Alexander Cadogan in 1943, when Cavendish-Bentinck served under Nevile Bland. The second was set up in June 1945, with Cavendish-Bentinck himself as chairman, to consider the post-war shape of SIS, which had generally been regarded as an organisational disaster throughout the war, as Philip Davies has vigorously asserted in his MI6 and the Machinery of Spying. Menzies admittedly had inherited a broken structure in 1939, after Sinclair’s death. Sinclair had even merged Dansey’s Z Organisation, which had been established as a back-up command in the event that SIS outstations were destroyed – as happened when Hitler swiftly invaded most of Europe ̶ with SIS, which defeated the purpose of the set-up. Yet Menzies, as critics like Jeffery and Davies have pointed out, failed lamentably to create an efficient structure throughout the war, appointing effectively two vice-directors in Vivian and Dansey, who could not stand each other, and sustaining a much too flat management hierarchy, with lack of any proper delegation. For similar incompetence, Menzies had demoted and humiliated Denniston, but, instead of undergoing the same treatment himself, he exploited his knowledge of how Whitehall worked, and his individual relationship with Churchill, to protect his throne. Jeffery has categorised Menzies‘s treatment of Denniston (and others) as ‘unsentimental’, but a better epithet might be ‘unfair’ or ‘vindictive’: Menzies’s treatment by his employers was certainly more generous.
Moreover, Cavendish-Bentinck was considered as a leading candidate to replace Menzies as head of SIS in 1949, after he had been recalled from his position as Ambassador to Poland in less than honourable circumstances, with pressure coming from Communist sympathizers in the Labour government. Yet this consideration was plagued with controversy. Jeffery relates how William Hayter (head of the Services Liaison Department in the Foreign Office), and Howard Caccia (Cavendish-Bentinck’s short-termed successor on the JIC) both considered him an excellent choice to succeed Menzies, despite the fact that Cavendish-Bentinck had been denied the Ambassadorship to Brazil in 1947 on policy grounds. External circumstances hurt Cavendish-Bentinck. Shortly beforehand, details of his marital problems had appeared in the newspapers: his wife had refused him a divorce, and he had made several admissions of extra-marital affairs in his testimony, and had had to resign from the Diplomatic Service. Thinking perhaps that such rules did not apply to the still Secret Service (the existence of which was not even admitted publically), Hayter and Caccia pressed their case, but were overruled by the veto of the Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin.
Goodman’s Official History of the Joint Intelligence Committee (2014) makes no mention of the SIS appointment, but does add some colourful detail. In a scenario eerily reminiscent of how the wife of MI5’s leader of counter-espionage Guy Liddell, a lady named Calypso (née Baring), had left her husband for the United States when war broke out, Cavendish-Bentinck’s wife, an American heiress called Clothilde Quigley, had also departed across the Atlantic with their children at the start of the war. Wishing to re-marry, Cavendish-Bentinck had started divorce proceedings at the time he moved to Warsaw. Yet, as Goodman reminds us, ‘under F. O. rules of the time, no one in the diplomatic service was permitted to re-marry without the permission of the Secretary of State’, that individual no doubt being an impeccable judge of public probity and private morals. The outcome was that Cavendish-Bentinck’s political career came to an end, and his pension rights were terminated.
The same rules did not apply to heads of intelligence services so strictly. Menzies himself had gained a divorce in 1931, after his wife of thirteen years, Lady Avice Sackville (who became the model for George Smiley’s wife, Lady Anne, in John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) left him for another man. Yet such was the scandal of divorce that Menzies had had to resign from his regiment, and exert special influences to keep his job. And, as Goodman adds, there had been a precedent in the Foreign Office: Cavendish-Bentinck’s predecessor, Ralph Skrine Stephenson, had been allowed to re-marry. Cavendish-Bentinck’s error had been allowing the messy details of his private life to enter the columns of the press. Moreover, one of his most vigorous champions was Lord Beaverbrook, whom Bevin could not stand. With a classic touch of restrained sardonicism, Cavendish-Bentinck wrote to Bevin’s secretary: “The one matter on which I have strong feelings is that I should receive my pension, as I do not consider that an unfortunate divorce suit should be placed in a lower category than idleness or incompetence, and I understand that those who have to resign for these reasons are granted pensions.” But his fate was sealed.
The ‘revisionists’ can be said to fall into two camps. Muggeridge and Crankshaw were temporary intelligence officers, a touch cynical about the vanity and self-delusion that accompanied intelligence work, who believed that the façade needed to be undermined. Muggeridge was also obviously affected by the plight of his friend Foote, abandoned and abused, a traditional pawn in an unwritten novel by John Le Carré. Denniston, Winterbotham and Cavendish-Bentinck, on the other hand, were professionals who all harboured a strong belief in the importance of proper security for Ultra, whether it was to ensure that the right persons received it after proper assessment, or whether it was driven by the conviction that it should be kept from the eyes of those who might abuse it. It is not clear that they wanted the true story to come out because they were proud of the way that the information had been massaged and sent to Stalin, or because they were disgusted at the risks that the breach of security might have entailed. Yet it must have been particularly irksome for the three of them that, having instituted extremely tight procedures for distributing Ultra information to military commanders, they learned that GCHQ, SIS and MI5 all turned out to be leakier than the proverbial sieve. It seems inarguable that they agreed that Menzies’s reputation had been allowed to be swelled disproportionately, and that the revelation of the truth would no longer harm any national security interests.
Cavendish-Bentinck’s biography appeared in the mid 1980s, as a late sally in the war of words. By then, of course, Hinsley had issued his famous denial (“There is no truth in the much-publicised claim that the British authorities made use of the ‘Lucy’ ring”), effectively declaring that all of what I have listed above was merely tittle-tattle. But why was there no protest? No inquiry? No interview? Why were Hinsley and Winterbotham not brought together in a studio? Why did BBC Panorama’s Ludovic Kennedy (who had survived the Arctic convoys, and whose sister was married to Peter Calvocoressi’s cousin) not take up the challenge? Why did Bruce Page and the Sunday Times’s renowned Insight team not delve into the murky controversy? Perhaps they were warned off. After all, in 1979 both Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross had been unmasked, two more spies (to add to Philby) who had been on the authorised list of Ultra recipients.
It clearly would not have helped the reputation of the British authorities if the world learned that the exercise to put Ultra into Stalin’s hands had been a complete waste of time because the corridors of power were riddled with his spies who were handing the stuff over in such quantities that they taxed the cipher clerks and radio operators in the Soviet Embassy. And the story of Leo Long in MI14 was yet to be revealed. It would not be surprising if British media leaders were advised that any further promotion of the alternative version of history would be harmful to the nation’s security interests, and were required to drop their attentions from the matter. Cavendish-Bentinck’s insertion is a rare example of plain speaking in the 1980s, and Winterbotham’s otherwise highly engaging autobiography – published a year before he died ̶ was reticent and respectful in the extreme. Either what Winterbotham had divulged earlier was untrue, or he had been muzzled.
Lastly, what of Alexander Foote? Not much was added about his career in these works. Nigel West is of the opinion that Foote did not fit the mould of those that Dansey regularly hired for his Z Organisation, and cites Dansey’s deputy, Kenneth Cohen, as stating that he was ‘adamant that Foote had never been an MI6 agent’. Yet Cohen, by his own admission, did not join the group until 1937, while Foote had been recruited in 1936. [* – see below] In their biography of Dansey, Colonel Z, Read and Fisher assert that Dansey kept his groups well compartmentalised, so Cohen might well not have known about Foote. Moreover, Cohen was in charge of French operations during the war, and never responsible for Switzerland. Read and Fisher also assert that Foote was not alone: Dansey had selected other deep agents ‘with suitable qualifications to infiltrate communist spy rings’, although no others have apparently come to light. Maybe they did not survive the Spanish Civil War, or could not build a convincing enough cover to be accepted by Moscow.
[ * Kenneth Cohen’s son, Colin, informs me in January 2018 that his father’s memory was at fault. Commander Cohen was actually recruited by Dansey in 1936. Coldspur]
Yet it must be stated that, overall, hard evidence for Foote’s recruitment is thin, and tantalisingly provocative. The authors of Colonel Z claim Kenneth Cohen, Malcolm Muggeridge, Cavendish-Bentinck (a great admirer of Dansey), Frederick Winterbotham and Nigel West among the experts who provided them information for their story. Did they all see the final text, on which they could not possibly have agreed? Or was Cohen perhaps not telling the truth? That is one of the problems of books with an impressive list of sources and advisors, but where the claims made in the text are not directly linked to each individual contributor. Yet it would be unpractical to think that illuminating new sources will become available, unless an unexpected trove of SIS files is found and declassified.
In summary, the totality of the statements from the various revisionist officers still comprises a weighty message. So many distinguished men, who performed honourably for their country, were prepared to promulgate statements that together made coherent sense, and helped resolve a longtime puzzle, while Professor Hinsley was allowed – or forced – to deny them in a shabby dismissal. The extraordinary outcome is that the contrarian view has entered the mainstream of public consciousness, but the claims of the authorised historian have remained unchallenged and unamended. Is it not time for an arbiter, wise and unbiased, to make a judgment on this timeworn debate?
SIGINT: The Secret History of Signals Intelligence, 1914-45 by Peter Matthews
The Official History of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Volume 1 by Michael S. Goodman
The Ultra Secret by F. W. Winterbotham
Men of Intelligence by Kenneth Strong
Intelligence at the Top by Kenneth Strong
The Hidden War by R. A. Haldane
The Hidden World by R. A. Haldane
The Pigeon Tunnel by John Le Carré
The Game of the Foxes by Ladislas Farago
The Thirties by Malcolm Muggeridge
The Nazi Connection by F. W. Winterbotham
The Ultra Spy, by F. W. Winterbotham
Unmasked! The Story of Soviet Espionage by Ronald Seth
VENONA: the Greatest Secret of the Cold War by Nigel West
The Philby Affair by Hugh Trevor-Roper
The Illegals by Nigel West
Truth Will Out, by Charlotte Haldane
With My Little Eye, by Nicholas Elliott
Gordon Welchman: Bletchley Park’s Architect of Ultra Intelligence by Joel Greenberg
Reason in Revolt, by Fred Copeman
This month’s Commonplace entries can be found here.
This posting was updated on May 12 to correct a fact about Charlotte Haldane, to add an explanatory paragraph about Frederick Copeman, and to expand a statement about Alastair Denniston after I read Greenberg’s biography of Gordon Welchman. After reading Copeman’s autobiography, I added a further paragraph on Copeman and Foote on May 30. Coldspur