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

Pinochet considered killing own spy chief to hide role in US bombing

Orlando LetelierThe president of Chile in the 1970s considered killing his own spy chief in order to conceal his government’s involvement in a terrorist attack in Washington DC, which killed two people, according to declassified memos from the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The target of the attack was Orlando Letelier, a Chilean economist who in the early 1970s served as a senior cabinet minister in the leftwing government of Salvador Allende. But he sought refuge in the US after Allende’s government was deposed in a bloody coup on September 11, 1973, in which Allende was murdered. He taught in several American universities and became a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington. At the same time, he publicly pressured the US to break off diplomatic and military ties with the Chilean dictatorship.

On September 21, 1976, Letelier died along with American IPS campaigner Ronni Moffitt, when the car they were in suddenly exploded in front of the embassy of Ireland in downtown Washington DC. It is believed that DINA, the Chilean secret police, carried out the bombing. In a private memorandum in 1987, the then-US Secretary of State George Schultz described the bombing as “the only clear case of state-supported terrorism that has occurred in Washington DC”. But the Chilean government, which at the time had friendly relations with the White House, refused to cooperate with the US investigation into the incident.

But declassified US government documents now show that the CIA had concluded that the Chilean government was indeed behind Letelier’s murder. Additionally, the bombing had been directly authorized by the country’s dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, who had led the coup against Allende in 1973. Copies of the documents were personally delivered to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet last week by US Secretary of State John Kerry, as Santiago is seeking to reopen the investigation into the murders. They reveal that Manuel Contreras, head of DINA at the time of the bombing, told an American source that he had supervised the operation to murder Letelier’s under direct orders by General Pinochet. Additionally, according to the CIA documents, the Chilean dictator tried to sabotage the US investigation in to the bombing, and even contemplated killing Contreras in order to hide his personal involvement.

As intelNews has reported before, the US investigation led to the arrest of Michael Townley, an American professional assassin who had previously worked for the CIA. Townley was hired by DINA to help assassinate Letelier’s. He was extradited to the US by the Chilean government in 1978 after strong US pressure. He served just 62 months in prison, in return for agreeing to collaborate with US government investigators. Townley is currently said to be living under the US Witness Protection Program.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 October 2015 | Permalink

Pakistani ex-troops speak about secret infiltration of Indian Kashmir

1965 Indo-Pakistani WarFifty years after the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War, Pakistani former soldiers have spoken for the first time about their role in a secret effort by Pakistan to infiltrate India and incite a Muslim uprising. The conflict between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir is largely rooted in Britain’s decision to partition its former colonial possession into mainly Hindu India and Pakistan, a mostly Muslim state. As soon as the British withdrew in 1947, the two states fought a bloody war that culminated in a violent exchange of populations and led to the partition of Kashmir. Today India controls much of the region, which, unlike the rest of the country, is overwhelmingly Muslim. Indian rule survived an uprising by some of the local population in August 1965, which led to yet another war between the two countries, known as the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War.

Although Pakistan refuses to confirm that it was behind the opening shots of the war, much historical research has focused on Operation GIBRALTAR, a secret project by the Pakistani military to infiltrate Indian-controlled Kashmir and prompt the local population to start a rebellion against Indian rule. It is believed that the plan was devised and supervised by Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik, a hawkish military leader who was close to Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s military dictator who served as the country’s second president, from 1958 to 1969. Operation GIBRALTAR involved the use of between 7,000 and 20,000 men who were trained by the Pakistani Army before being sent to infiltrate Indian Kashmir in the summer of 1965. Moving mostly at night in units of no more than 200 men, the armed infiltrators sabotaged Indian transportation and communication systems in order to prevent Indian Armed Forces units from reaching the region.

Several of these men, who are today in their 60s and 70s, have been speaking to the BBC and to Pakistani newspaper The Dawn about their role in Operation GIBRALTAR. Among them is Qurban Ali, 71, who told the BBC that most of the men in his unit of 180 infiltrators were civilian recruits. Another GIBRALTAR veteran, Mohammad Nazeer, 64, who was only 14 when he was recruited, said that he and his fellow soldiers thought they were practicing maneuvers when they were moved toward the Indian border. Interestingly, the infiltrators were unaware that hundreds of other Pakistani military units were also operating in secret in Indian Kashmir.

Eventually, India was able to deploy over 100,000 soldiers in the contested region, while few among the local Muslim population joined the infiltrators of Operation GIBRALTAR. After several weeks of fighting, the two sides entered negotiations held in Soviet Uzbekistan. The outcome was the Tashkent Agreement, under which both sides agreed to withdraw to the pre-August borders. However, the fate of Operation GIBRALTAR weakened the position of Pakistan’s President Khan. He was deposed in a popular uprising in 1969 and died in 1974, aged 66, allegedly a broken man.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 September 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

Israeli nuclear whistleblower recalls his 1986 capture by the Mossad

Mordechai VanunuIsraeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who spent 18 years in prison for revealing the existence of Israel’s nuclear program, has spoken for the first time about his 1986abduction by the Mossad in Rome. Vanunu was an employee at Israel’s top-secret Negev Nuclear Research Center, located in the desert city of Dimona, which was used to develop the country’s nuclear arsenal. But he became a fervent opponent of nuclear proliferation and in 1986 fled to the United Kingdom, where he revealed the existence of the Israeli nuclear weapons program to the The Times of London. His action was in direct violation of the non-disclosure agreement he had signed with the government of Israel; moreover, it went against Israel’s official policy of ‘nuclear ambiguity’, which means that the country refuses to confirm or deny that it maintains a nuclear weapons program.

Soon after Vanunu settled in London, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad began making plans to capture him. The spy agency sent one of its American-born female officers, Cheryl Bentov, to befriend Vanunu. The decision was taken after Mossad psychologists determined that Vanunu was lonely and longed for female companionship. Masquerading as an American tourist by the name of ‘Cindy’, Bentov convinced Vanunu to go with her on Vacation to Rome, Italy. Soon after the couple arrived in the Italian capital, Vanunu was abducted by a Mossad team who injected him with a paralyzing drug before taking him away in a van. Vanunu was then transferred onboard the INS Noga, an Israeli signals-intelligence ship masquerading as a merchant vessel, which transported him to Israel. He was convicted to 18 years in prison and was released in 2004, after having spent 11 years in solitary confinement.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Channel 2 television showed excerpts of Vanunu’s first-ever interview to an Israeli media outlet. The interview, which is to be aired in full on Friday, includes Vanunu’s personal account of his capture by the Mossad. He told the interviewer that ‘Cindy’ first spoke to him as she walked alongside him while the two of them were crossing a London street. But he said that it was he who “initiated the relationship” with the woman posing as an American tourist. That was a critical moment in the whole process, said Vanunu, because “if she initiates you’ll suspect her”. The nuclear whistleblower insisted, however, that he did not “fall in love with her”, as some accounts of the Mossad operation have suggested, though he was “definitely attracted” to her, he said.

Vanunu added that the thought of ‘Cindy’ being a Mossad officer had initially crossed his mind; but he disregarded it and did not realize he was being tricked “until the very last moment”. He told Channel 2 that even after several days after his capture, he still believed that ‘Cindy’ had also been abducted. It was only later that he “reached the conclusion that she was part of the plan”, he said. At another point in the interview, Vanunu said that ‘Cindy’ was not the only Mossad officer who had tried to befriend him while he was in London, but that he was able to detect every other attempt by Israeli intelligence operatives.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 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

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


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