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

KGB spy shares details of his escape to Britain in 1985

Oleg GordievskyA Soviet double spy, who secretly defected to Britain 30 years ago this month, has revealed for the first time the details of his exfiltration by British intelligence in 1985. Oleg Gordievsky was one of the highest Soviet intelligence defectors to the West in the closing stages of the Cold War. He joined the Soviet KGB in 1963, eventually reaching the rank of colonel. But in the 1960s, while serving in the Soviet embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, Gordievsky began feeling disillusioned about the Soviet system. His doubts were reinforced by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. It was soon afterwards that he made the decision to contact British intelligence.

Cautiously, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (known as MI6) communicated with Gordievsky, and in 1974 he secretly became an agent-in-place for the United Kingdom. Eight years later, in 1982, Gordievsky was promoted to KGB rezident (chief of station) in London. While there, he frequently made contact with his MI6 handlers, giving them highly coveted information on Soviet nuclear strategy, among other things. He is credited with informing London of Mikhail Gorbachev’s imminent ascendency to the premiership of the Soviet Union, long before he was seen by Western intelligence as a viable candidate to lead the country.

But in May of 1985, Gordievsky was suddenly recalled to Moscow, where he was detained by the KGB. He was promptly taken to a KGB safe house in the outskirts of Moscow and interrogated for five hours, before being temporarily released pending further questioning. Remarkably, however, Gordievsky managed to escape his KGB surveillance and reappear in Britain less than a week later. How did this happen? On Sunday, the former double spy gave a rare rare interview to The Times, in which he revealed for the first time the details of his escape to London. He told The Times’ Ben Macintyre that he was smuggled out of the USSR by MI6 as part of Operation PIMLICO. PIMLICO was an emergency exfiltration operation that had been put in place by MI6 long before Gordievsky requested its activation in May of 1985.

Every Tuesday, shortly after 7:00, a British MI6 officer would take a morning stroll at the Kutuzovsky Prospekt in Moscow. He would pass outside a designated bakery at exactly 7:24 a.m. local time. If he saw Gordievsky standing outside the bakery holding a grocery bag, it meant that the double agent was requesting to be exfiltrated as a matter of urgency. Gordievsky would then have to wait outside the bakery until a second MI6 officer appeared, carrying a bag from the Harrods luxury department store in London. The man would also be carrying a Mars bar (a popular British candy bar) and would bite into it while passing right in front of Gordievsky. That would be a message to him that his request to be exfiltrated had been received.

Four days later, Gordievsky used his skills in evading surveillance and shook off (or dry-cleaned, in espionage tradecraft lingo) the KGB officers trailing him. He was then picked up by MI6 officers and smuggled out of the country in the trunk of a British diplomatic car that drove to the Finnish border. Gordievsky told The Times that Soviet customs officers stopped the car at the Finnish border and surrounded it with sniffer dogs. At that moment, a British diplomat’s wife, who was aware that Gordievsky was hiding in the car, came out of the vehicle and proceeded to change her baby’s diaper on the trunk, thus safeguarding Gordievsky’s hiding place and masking his scent with her baby’s used diaper. If it hadn’t been for the diplomat’s wife, Gordievsky told The Times that he might have been caught.

After crossing the Soviet-Finnish border, Gordievsky traveled to Norway and from there he boarded a plane for England. Soviet authorities promptly sentenced him to death, but allowed his wife and children to join him in Britain six years later, after British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally lobbied the Soviet government. Gordievsky’s death penalty still stands in Russia. In 2007, the Queen made Gordievsky a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George for services rendered to the security of the British state.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 6 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/06/01-1729/

Cold War files show secret war between CIA and KGB in Canada

Natalie (Natalka) BundzaA set of declassified intelligence documents from the 1950s and 1960s offer a glimpse into the secret war fought in Canada between American and Soviet spy agencies at the height of the Cold War. The documents were authored by the United States Central Intelligence Agency and declassified following a Freedom of Information Act request filed on behalf of the Canadian newspaper The Toronto Star. According to the paper, they show that Toronto was a major hub of a prolonged espionage conflict fought between the CIA and the Soviet KGB.

Much of the espionage activity by the two spy agencies concentrated on Toronto’s sizable Eastern European expatriate community, especially on immigrants with Ukrainian and Polish roots. In one document dating from 1959, a CIA officer details the profiles of 18 Canadian citizens, most of them Toronto residents, who were suspected by Langley to be working for the KGB. Most of them were believed to be non-official-cover operatives, or NOCs, as they are known in the US Intelligence Community. The term typically refers to high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the diplomatic authorities of the country that employs them. The declassified document explains that the suspected NOCs had secretly traveled to the USSR after being recruited by the KGB. They were then trained as spies before returning to Canada years later under new identities.

Others, like a naturalized Canadian identified in the documents as Ivan Kolaska, were believed by the CIA to have immigrated to Toronto as part of a broader KGB effort to infiltrate the ranks of the anti-communist Eastern European expatriate community in Canada. Some of these infiltrators were able to settle in Canada, marry locals, get jobs and have families, while living a double life. The Star spoke to one Ukrainian immigrant to Canada whose name features in the declassified CIA files. Natalie Bundza, now 78, worked as a travel agent in 1950s’ Toronto and regularly led tourist groups to communist countries. She was a Ukrainian nationalist and anticommunist, but the CIA believed she was pretending to have these beliefs in order to infiltrate the Ukrainian expatriate community in Toronto. The American agency kept tabs on her and was able to compile a sizable file with information about Bundza’s friends and associates, her travel itineraries, and even the contents of her suitcases she took with her on international trips.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 3 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/03/01-1728/

Nazi letter to one of history’s greatest double spies found in Tokyo

Richard SorgeA congratulatory letter sent by a senior Nazi official to Richard Sorge, a German who spied for the USSR, and is sometimes credited with helping Moscow win World War II, has been found in Japan. The letter was sent by Joachim von Ribbentrop, a senior German Nazi Party member and Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is directly addressed to Sorge, who was himself a member of the Nazi Party, but spied for the USSR throughout the 1930s and early 1940s.

Born in Soviet Azerbaijan to a German father and a Russian mother, Sorge fought as a German soldier in World War I and received commendations for his bravery. But he became a communist in the interwar years and secretly went to Moscow to be trained as a spy by the Fourth Directorate of the Soviet Red Army, which was later renamed GRU —Soviet military intelligence. He then traveled back to Germany as a non-official-cover principal agent for the USSR, joined the Nazi Party and became a journalist for Die Frankfurter Zeitung, one of Germany’s leading newspapers at the time. When the paper sent him to Tokyo to be its Japan correspondent, Sorge struck a friendship with German Ambassador to Tokyo Eugen Ott, who eventually hired him as his trusted press secretary and advisor. It was from him that Sorge found out that Hitler was preparing to violate his non-aggression pact with the USSR, and promptly notified Moscow. His warnings, however, were dismissed as fantastical by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, whose government was caught by complete surprise by the eventual German onslaught. Several months later, when Sorge told Moscow that German ally Japan was not planning to invade Russia from the east, Stalin took the tip seriously. The information provided by Sorge partly allowed Stalin to move hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops from the Far East to the German front, which in turn helped beat back the Nazi advance and win the war.

The letter was found by Yoshio Okudaira, a document expert working for Japanese antique book dealer Tamura Shoten in Tokyo. It was among a stack of World War II-era documents brought to the antique dealer by a resident of the Japanese capital. The documents belonged to a deceased relative of the man, who was reportedly unaware of their contents or significance. According to the Deutsche Welle news agency, the letter was addressed to Sorge on the occasion of his 43rd birthday, and is dated 1938. It was written by von Ribbentrop’s personal secretary and includes a signed black-and-white photograph of Hitler’s foreign-affairs minister. The accompanying note commends the double spy on his “exceptional contribution” to the Third Reich as press secretary of the German embassy in Tokyo.

Okudaira, the document expert who realized the significance of the letter, said it is of historical interest because it confirms the high level of trust that the Nazi Party had in Sorge, who was never suspected by Berlin or by his German colleagues in Tokyo of having any connection with the Soviet government. However, Sorge’s espionage was eventually uncovered by Japanese counterintelligence, who promptly arrested and tortured him severely, before executing him in November of 1941. In 1961, the Soviet government awarded him posthumously the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, which was the country’s highest distinction during the communist era.

Revealed: Letters between Margaret Thatcher and KGB defector

Oleg GordievskyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Files released this week have revealed part of the personal correspondence between the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and one of the Cold War’s most important Soviet spy defectors. Oleg Gordievsky entered the Soviet KGB in 1963. He soon joined the organization’s Second Directorate, which was responsible for coordinating the activities of Soviet ‘illegals’, that is, intelligence officers operating abroad without official diplomatic cover. Gordievsky’s faith in the Soviet system was irreparably damaged in 1968, when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. In 1974, while stationed in Danish capital Copenhagen, he made contact with British intelligence and began his career as a double agent for the United Kingdom. In 1985, shortly before he was to assume the post of KGB station chief at the Soviet embassy in London, he was summoned back to Moscow by an increasingly suspicious KGB. He was aggressively interrogated but managed to make contact with British intelligence and was eventually smuggled out of Russia via Finland, riding in the trunk of a British diplomatic vehicle. His defection was announced a few days later by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who had personally approved his exfiltration from the USSR. Files released this week by the British National Archives show that the British Prime Minister took a personal interest in Gordievsky’s wellbeing following his exfiltration, and even corresponded with him after the Soviet defector personally wrote to her to ask for her intervention to help him reunite with his wife Leila and two daughters, who remained in the Soviet Union. In his letter, written in 1985, Gordievsky told Thatcher that his life had “no meaning” unless he was able to be with his family. On September 7, 1985, the British Prime Minister responded with a letter to the Soviet defector, urging him not to give up. “Please do not say that life has no meaning”, she wrote. “There is always hope. And we shall do all to help you through these difficult days”. She added that the two should meet once the “immediate situation” of the worldwide media attention caused by his exfiltration subsided. Thatcher went on to publicly urge for Moscow to allow Gordievsky’s family to reunite with the Soviet defector, “on humanitarian grounds”. But it was in 1991, after the collapse of communism in the USSR, when Gordievsky’s family was finally able to join him in the UK.

KGB officer who handled Aussie double spy is now Putin crony

Lev KoshlyakovBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A KGB intelligence officer, who handled an Australian double spy during the closing stages of the Cold War, now holds several prestigious corporate posts in Moscow and is believed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Lev Koshlyakov, 69, is director of corporate communications for two Russian airline companies, including the state carrier, Aeroflot, and a member of the prestigious Moscow-based Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. But from 1977 until 1984, Koshlyakov served as the press and information officer for the Russian embassy in Australian capital Canberra. Intelligence sources, however, told The Weekend Australian last week that Koshlyakov’s diplomatic status was in fact a cover for his real job, which was station chief for the Soviet KGB. During his stint in Canberra, Koshlyakov is believed to have handled an especially damaging mole inside the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), who was allegedly recruited by his predecessor, KGB station chief Geronty Lazovik. Canberra was alerted to the existence of the mole in 1992, when the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), along with Britain’s’ Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), briefed Australian officials on information acquired from Russian defectors. Soon afterwards, a government-commissioned report produced by Australian former diplomat Michael Cook described Koshlyakov as “one of the most dangerous KGB officers ever posted” to Australia. Eventually, Koshlyakov was assigned to a desk job by the KGB, after his cover was blown in Norway, where he was also serving as KGB chief of station. The Norwegians expelled Koshlyakov in 1991 after accusing him of espionage activities that were incompatible with his official diplomatic status. Since his retirement, however, Koshlyakov has done well for himself, having been appointed to senior corporate positions —some say with the personal backing of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. As for the ASIO mole he allegedly handled in the 1980s, The Australian reports that he was forced to retire in 1992, after he was identified by the CIA and MI6. There was insufficient evidence to try him, however, so he “lived out his retirement in Australia” looking nervously over his shoulder, says the paper.

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