Declassified files shed light on 1956 disappearance of MI6 agent

Lionel CrabbA set of newly released files from the archives of the British Cabinet Office shed light on the mysterious case of a highly decorated combat swimmer, who vanished while carrying out a secret operation against a Soviet ship. The disappearance happened during a historic Soviet high-level visit to Britain in 1956. In April of that year, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev, and Nikolai Bulganin, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, arrived in Britain aboard Russian warship Ordzhonikidze, which docked at Portsmouth harbor. Their eight-day tour of Britain marked the first-ever official visit by Soviet leadership to a Western country. But the tour was marred by a botched undersea operation led by Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known commonly as MI6. The operation, which aimed to explore the then state-of-the-art Ordzhonikidze, ended in the disappearance of MI6 diver Lionel “Buster” Crabb. The body of Crabb, one of several MI6 operatives involved in the operation, was never recovered.

Now a set of documents released by the Cabinet Office, a British government department tasked with providing support services to the country’s prime minister and senior Cabinet officials, show that the operation had been mismanaged by MI6 from the start. According to The Daily Telegraph, the documents show that miscommunication between the British Foreign Office and MI6 caused the latter to believe that the operation to target the Ordzhonikidze had been authorized by the government, when in fact no such thing had ever occurred.

Moreover, MI6 had housed Crabb and other operatives in a Portsmouth hotel, where the agency’s handler had provided the front-desk clerk with the real names and addresses of the underwater team members. The documents also reveal that several of Crabb’s relatives and friends had been told by him that he would be diving in Portsmouth on the week leading up to his death. Those who knew included one of Crabb’s business partners, with whom he operated a furniture outlet. The partner apparently told the authorities that he was contemplating “consulting a clairvoyant, Madame Theodosia”, in an effort to discover the fate of his missing business partner.

After Crabb disappeared, British government officials were convinced that he had been abducted or killed by the Soviets and that the KGB was in possession of his body. Should the Soviets decide to disclose the existence of the MI6 operation to the world, there would be “no action that [MI6] could take [that] could stave off disaster”, said one British government memo. As intelNews has reported before, n 2007, Eduard Koltsov, a retired Russian military diver, said he killed a man he thinks was Crabb, as he was “trying to place a mine” on the Soviet ship.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 October 2015 | Permalink

Cambridge spy’s last years in Russia are detailed in new biography

Guy BurgessThe life of Guy Burgess, one of the so-called ‘Cambridge Five’ double agents, who spied on Britain for the Soviet Union before defecting to Moscow in 1951, is detailed in a new biography of the spy, written by Andrew Lownie. Like his fellow spies Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross, Burgess was recruited by the Soviets when he was a student at Cambridge University. He shook the British intelligence establishment to its very core when he defected to the USSR along with Maclean, after the two felt that they were being suspected of spying for the Soviets.

A few years after his defection, Burgess wrote to a close friend back in the UK: “I am really […] very well and things are going much better for me here than I ever expected. I’m very glad I came”. However, in his book, entitled Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess, Lownie suggests that Burgess’ life in the USSR was far from ideal. After being welcomed by the Soviets as a hero, the Cambridge University graduate was transported to the isolated Siberian city of Kuybyshev. He lived for several months in a ‘grinder’, a safe house belonging to Soviet intelligence, where he was debriefed and frequently interrogated until his Soviet handlers were convinced that has indeed a genuine defector.

It was many years later that Burgess was able to leave Kuybyshev for Moscow, under a new name, Jim Andreyevitch Eliot, which had been given to him by the KGB. Initially he lived in a dacha outside Moscow, but was moved to the city in 1955, after he and Maclean spoke publicly about their defection from Britain. He was often visited in his one-bedroom apartment by Yuri Modin, his Soviet intelligence handler back in the UK. According to Lownie, Burgess often complained to Modin about the way he was being treated by the Soviet authorities. His apartment had apparently been bugged by the KGB, and he was constantly followed each time he stepped outside.

The British defector worked for a Soviet publishing house and produced foreign-policy analyses for the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also produced a training manual for KGB officers about British culture and the British way of life. But he did not like living in the USSR and argued that he should be allowed to return to the UK, insisting that he could successfully defend himself if interrogated by British counterintelligence. Eventually, Burgess came to the realization that he would never return to his home country. He became depressed, telling friends that he “did not want to die in Russia”. But in the summer of 1963 he was taken to hospital, where he eventually died from acute liver failure caused by his excessive drinking.

Andrew Lownie’s Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess, is published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK and by St Martins’ Press in the US. It is scheduled to come out in both countries on September 10.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 September 2015 | Permalink

‘Day of the Jackal’ author reveals he was MI6 agent for 20 years

Frederick ForsythFrederick Forsyth, the esteemed British author of novels such as The Day of the Jackal, has confirmed publicly for the first time that he was an agent of British intelligence for two decades. Forsyth, who is 77, worked for many decades as an international correspondent for the BBC and Reuters news agency, covering some of the world’s most sensitive areas, including postcolonial Nigeria, apartheid South Africa and East Germany during the Cold War. But he became famous for authoring novels that have sold over 70 million copies worldwide, including The Odessa File, Dogs of War and The Day of the Jackal, many of which were adapted into film. Several of his intelligence-related novels are based on his experiences as a news correspondent, which have prompted his loyal fans to suspect that he might have some intelligence background.

But Forsyth had never commented on these rumors until last weekend, when was interviewed on the BBC’s main evening news program. He spoke to the station on the occasion of the upcoming publication of his autobiography, The Outsider: My Life, which will be in stores in October. He told the BBC that he was first recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in the late 1960s while covering the Nigerian Civil War. The bloody conflict, which is also known as the Biafran War, pitted the separatist Igbo people against the Nigerian federal government. Like other military conflicts in postcolonial Africa, it attracted the attention of the world’s powers, including France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and Britain. London was firmly on the side of the government in Lagos, but MI6 had reservations, believing that the Nigerian military forces were committing mass atrocities in Biafra. Forsyth said he was recruited by an MI6 officer who wanted to know if children were dying in Biafra as a result of the Nigerian government’s military policies against the Igbo separatists. The intelligence service were apparently hoping that they could use this information to change London’s stance on the brutal civil war. The author told the BBC that he spent the rest of the war “sending both journalistic reports to the media and other reports to my new friend”, referring to his MI6 handler.

When asked if he was paid for his services, he said his assistance to MI6 was provided on a strictly voluntary basis. “The attitude, the spirit of the age, was different back then”, he said, adding that “the Cold War was very much on” and when the British government asked a reporter for a favor it was “very hard to say no”. He did say, however, that MI6 promised to approve passages of some of his novels by way of payment. The author of The Day of the Jackal said he was given a number to call and told to send MI6 his manuscripts for vetting. “If they are too sensitive, we will ask you not to continue”, Forsyth told the BBC.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 August 2015 | Permalink

Maltese far-right party had links to CIA, British documents suggest

Josie MuscatA Maltese ultra-nationalist group believed to be behind a string of bombings in the 1980s was believed by British intelligence to have links to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), according to recently declassified documents. The Front Freedom Fighters (FFF) was a staunchly anticommunist group whose members violently objected to what they saw as Malta’s overly close contacts with the Communist Bloc. During the 16-year rule of the Maltese Labour Party, which began in 1971, the Mediterranean island maintained close relations with countries during such as Libya and North Korea. The Maltese Nationalist Party, which formed the main opposition to Labour, was highly critical of these contacts, but failed to win three consecutive electoral contests and was thus unable to influence the country’s foreign policy in any significant way.

The FFF emerged in the early 1980s from within the ranks of the Nationalist Party. It consisted of younger activists who favored a violent response to the rule of the Labour Party. The group was led by Josie Muscat, a dynamic anticommunist campaigner and longtime Nationalist Party Member of Parliament, who gathered around him some of the more extreme rightwing elements in the Nationalist Party. A string of bombings and threats directed at Labour Party facilities on the island was attributed to the FFF by the popular press, though Muscat himself consistently denied such accusations. Many believed that the FFF was actively preparing to launch an armed coup d’etat.

Eventually, the leadership of the Nationalist Party, which saw itself as falling within the mainstream of the European conservative tradition, began distancing itself from the FFF’s rhetoric and actions. In July of 1983, the party expelled FFF leaders from its ranks and forbade its members from associating with FFF-linked groups. Few Nationalist Party members followed Muscat, and his movement eventually suffered what some observers described “a natural death”.

However, new documents released this month by the National Archives in Britain show that the British Foreign Office believed that the FFF was being funded by the CIA. A Foreign Office Report from the early 1980s states that the group was probably behind several bomb explosions targeting Labour Party activists, as well as moderate Nationalist Party members. The report describes the FFF as “neo-Fascist in character” that prioritized crude violence as its main tactic. It goes on to say that the group consisted of about 500 determined members, but that its violent core was much smaller. The Foreign Office report also suggests that Muscat may have traveled abroad to meet CIA officers, as well as to network with other anticommunist organizations throughout Europe.

Asked to give his reaction to the British government documents, Muscat told The Times of Malta that he “hadn’t had such a good laugh in years”. The now retired politician denied having any links to the CIA and said that the FFF’s activities had been “mostly limited to political debating and had never even come close to any form of violence”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 August 2015 | Permalink

British government releases MI5 file on little-known Cold War spy

Cedric BelfrageThe British government has released a nine-volume file on an influential film critic who some believe was “one of the most important spies the Soviet Union ever had”. Cedric Belfrage was born in 1904 in London and read English Literature at Cambridge University in the 1920s. While a student at Cambridge he made a name for himself as a reviewer of motion pictures, and by the early 1930s he was known as Britain’s highest-paid film critic. Soon afterwards he moved to the American city of Los Angeles, where he became a film and theater correspondent for British tabloid newspaper The Daily Express. But a multivolume file on him compiled by the British Security Service (MI5) and released last week by the National Archives in London, confirms that Belfrage spied for Soviet intelligence under the codename BENJAMIN.

According to the file, Belfrage turned to communism after witnessing the effects of the Great Depression in the United States. After a 1936 trip to the USSR, he reached out to the Communist Party of the US, which eventually put him in touch with a number of Soviet intelligence operatives in America. In 1940, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) set up the British Security Coordination (BSC) in New York. It was a clandestine propaganda project aimed at turning local public opinion in favor of America’s entry into World War II. Belfrage was one of many writers and intellectuals that were recruited by the BSC to help counter the prevalent isolationist sentiment in the country. The film critic worked for MI6 until 1943, and then returned to Britain to join another wartime propaganda outfit, the Political Warfare Executive.

At war’s end, Belfrage returned to the US, only to find that he had attracted the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI had discovered that the British film critic had dealings with the Communist Party in the 1930s and suspected that he may have worked for Soviet intelligence. Further investigations revealed that Belfrage had indeed conducted espionage under the guidance of Jacob Golos, a Ukrainian-born American who managed a large network of pro-Soviet spies in America in the interwar period. But when he was questioned by the FBI, Belfrage said that he had given Golos a number of British —not American— government documents under direct orders by MI6. The latter allegedly hoped that the Soviets would reciprocate the move within the context of the anti-Nazi alliance between the UK and the USSR.

Eventually, Belfrage was brought up before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) of the US Congress in 1953. The Committee was conducting public hearings aimed at unmasking suspected communist sympathizers in the American entertainment industry. But the British-born film critic refused to answer questions put to him, prompting HUAC to recommend that he should be deported from the country. The government adopted the Committee’s recommendation and deported Belfrage in 1955 for having been a member of the Communist Party under a fake name. Belfrage traveled throughout the Caribbean and Latin America before settling in Mexico, where he died in 1990, aged 86.

Interestingly, the British files reveal that MI5 decided not to prosecute Belfrage, most likely in order to avoid the embarrassment of admitting that British intelligence had employed a Soviet spy. The decision was probably not unrelated to the public scandal that followed the escape of the so-called Cambridge spies to the Soviet Union. Interestingly, Belfrage studied at Cambridge at the same time that Kim Philby (Soviet cryptonym STANLEY), Donald Duart Maclean (HOMER) and Guy Burgess (HICKS) were students there. But there is no evidence he ever collaborated with them, as he was not interested in politics at that time.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 August 2015 | Permalink

Soviet mole penetrated Australian intelligence, says former officer

ASIO AustraliaA Soviet double spy was able to penetrate the senior echelons of Australia’s intelligence agency during the Cold War, according to a retired Australian intelligence officer who has spoken out for the first time. Molly Sasson, was born in Britain, but worked for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) from 1969 until her retirement in 1983. A fluent German speaker, Sasson was first recruited during World War II by the Royal Air Force, where she worked as an intelligence officer before transferring to the Security Service (MI5), Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. At the onset of the Cold War, Sasson helped facilitate the defection to Britain of Colonel Grigori Tokaty, an influential rocket scientist who later became a professor of aeronautics in London. But in the late 1960s, Sasson moved with her husband to Australia, where she took up a job with ASIO, following a personal invitation by its Director, Sir Charles Spry. Upon her arrival in Canberra, Sasson took a post with ASIO’s Soviet counterintelligence desk, which monitored Soviet espionage activity on Australian soil.

Aged 92 today, Sasson spoke publicly for the first time on Australia’s ABC News television network about her life and times. She told the reporter that she had “no doubt at all” that ASIO had been infiltrated by at least one Soviet-handled double spy in the 1970s. “If we put on an operation, it failed”, she said, adding that the Soviets “always seemed to be a step ahead of us. There must have been a tip-off. It can’t have been otherwise”, said Sasson. The 92-year-old former intelligence officer recounted one specific operation involving a Russian diplomat named Vladimir Dobrogorsky, who was believed by ASIO to be an intelligence operative. According to Sasson, ASIO counterintelligence officers were monitoring Dobrogorsky and knew the precise time and place that he was scheduled to meet with an Australian informant in downtown Canberra. However, not only did the meeting not occur, but Dobrogorsky left the Soviet embassy in the Australian capital that morning, never to return.

“I am convinced that someone within ASIO tipped him off”, said Sasson. Not only that, but when she and other ASIO officers expressed their concerns about the possible existence of a mole inside ASIO, senior agency officials dismissed them. At one point she was told to “not open this can of worms”, she told ABC News. The former ASIO officer added that the chief of the United States Central Intelligence Agency station in Canberra shared similar concerns with the ASIO’s leadership, but that they too were dismissed. Soviet intelligence operatives were notably active in Australia and New Zealand during the Cold War, as it was believed that intelligence agencies in the two Pacific Rim countries offered an easier path toward accessing British and American government secrets, due to the so-called Five Eyes agreement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 August 2015 | Permalink

Memos confirm secret NSA deal with leading cryptography vendor

William FriedmanIn 2007 I wrote in my “National Security Agency: The Historiography of Concealment” that America’s leading signals intelligence agency had made a secret deal with Crypto AG, a Swiss-based manufacturer of cryptographical equipment. The agreement, which lasted for much of the Cold War, allowed the NSA to read the classified messages of dozens of nations that purchased encoding equipment from Crypto AG. As I expected, the claim drew criticism from individuals connected with Crypto AG, including company scientists, who argued that the Swiss manufacturer would never have agreed to a deal that undermined its professional reputation as a trusted and neutral vendor of cryptological devices. Now, however, the BBC has revealed two recently declassified NSA memos that provide concrete proof of the deal.

My 2007 claim was based on a string of well documented allegations that surfaced in the early 1980s. While conducting research for his seminal book The Puzzle Palace, historian James Bamford came across references to Project BORIS, which involved a pact between the NSA and the Swiss company. To be precise, the deal appeared to have been struck between the Swiss inventor and Crypto AG founder Boris Hagelin and William F. Friedman, an American cryptologist who led the Armed Forces Security Agency, a forerunner of the NSA. The two men were united by a deep personal friendship, which was forged during World War II by their mutual hatred of Nazism.

Bamford’s claim was echoed in 1996 by Scott Shane and Tom Bowman, reporters for The Baltimore Sun. In a six-part investigative series about the NSA, the two journalists wrote that Friedman visited Hagelin during a trip to Switzerland in 1955 and asked for his help so that American could dominate its Cold War rivals. According to Shane and Bowman, Hagelin agreed and built a type of cryptological backdoor in Crypto AG’s devices, which allowed the NSA to read millions of messages for many decades. The company, of course, reacted furiously, saying that claims of a secret deal were “pure invention”.

On Thursday, however, BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera confirmed that a BBC investigation of 55,000 pages of documents, which were declassified by the NSA in April, found proof of the secret agreement. The declassified material, said Corera, contains two versions of the same NSA memorandum, as well as an earlier draft, which refer to a “gentleman’s agreement” between Friedman and Hagelin. Under the agreement, Crypto AG would inform the NSA about periodical changes to the technical specifications of its encoding machines. The company would also provide the American spy agency with detailed lists showing the precise models purchased by various national governments around the world. Furthermore, Crypto AG agreed not to sell the more advanced, customizable models of its equipment to countries viewed by Washington as directly adversarial. This, says the BBC, amounted to Crypto AG deceiving some of its customers, by offering them “watered-down versions” of its encoding devices.

Corera notes that there is no evidence in the memos that Crypto AG built any kind of back door in its devices for use by the NSA. Instead, by providing the American agency with detailed operational knowledge of the devices, it enabled American codebreakers to reduce the time and effort needed to break encoded messages intercepted by the NSA.

There are a couple of minor errors in Corera’s article. For instance, the “father of American code-breaking” is not Friedman, as he claims, but Herbert Yardley, who led the so-called Black Chamber (also known as the Cipher Bureau) in 1919, long before Friedman was in the picture. Additionally, he fails to mention Bowman’s contribution to Shane’s Baltimore Sun article, which was published in 1996, not 1995, as he writes. These minor errors aside, however, the BBC discovery is absolutely crucial for our understanding of cryptological history in the Cold War.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 July 2015 | Permalink


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