Files reveal previously unknown UK-Soviet diplomatic scuffle

Aubone Pyke

Aubone Pyke

A previously unknown fracas between two British diplomatic officials, their wives, and a team of Soviet intelligence agents, has been revealed in declassified British government reports. The documents, which were released last weekend, show that two employees of the British embassy in Moscow were detained, along with their wives, allegedly for photographing a Soviet military installation. The British diplomats were Lieutenant-Commanders Ian Clapham and Aubone Pyke, who was the embassy’s assistant military attaché. Escorted by their wives, the two officials were allegedly taking a tour of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), in February of 1979, when a group of “about 25” Soviet intelligence agents rapidly approached them. The agents proceeded to confiscate a cameral belonging to Pyke, after rapidly pulling down his trousers, an old trick aimed to prevent a suspect from running away. Interestingly, Pyke told British newspaper The Daily Mail that the Soviet counterintelligence force included “[t]hree women [who] took care of our wives”. All four British subjects were detained for several hours while the Soviets processed 18 rolls of film found in their possession. They were eventually released, but the episode was hushed by both London and Moscow, even though it was “deemed so sensitive that confidential reports […] were sent to the then [British] Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan”. The British Foreign Office later concluded that the scuffle was part of “an exceptionally large-scale and carefully planned operation” by the Soviets.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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