Revealed: British prime minister was not told about fourth Cambridge spy ring member

Anthony BluntThe Prime Minister of Britain, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, was kept in the dark by his own home secretary about the discovery of a fourth member of the infamous Cambridge Spy Ring in 1964, according to newly released files. The Cambridge Spies were a group of British diplomats and intelligence officials who worked secretly for the Soviet Union from their student days in the 1930s until the 1960s. They included Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and H.A.R. “Kim” Philby, all of whom eventually defected to the Soviet Union. In 1964, Sir Anthony Blunt, an art history professor who in 1945 became Surveyor of the King’s Pictures and was knighted in 1954, admitted under interrogation by the British Security Service (MI5) that he had operated as the fourth member of the spy ring.

Despite his allegedly full confession, Blunt was never seriously disciplined for his espionage activities against Britain. In return for revealing his spy activities and naming others who had assisted him, he was granted immunity from prosecution. He was also allowed to remain in his academic post and retained his title of Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures –effectively the curator of Queen Elizabeth II’s art collection. It wasn’t until 1979 when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher revealed in a statement to the British House of Commons that Blunt had been the fourth member of the Cambridge Spy Ring. Minutes after the prime minister’s statement entered the public record, Buckingham Palace (which had been made aware of Blunt’s espionage role back in 1964, but had been asked by Britain’s Interior Ministry to not draw attention to the scandal) stripped him of his 1954 knighthood.

It has now been revealed known that, in the days following her House of Commons statement about Blunt, Prime Minister Thatcher received several letters by Henry Brooke, who was serving as home secretary in 1964, when Blunt’s treachery was discovered. In his letters, Brooke (by then Lord Brooke of Cumnoor) expressed his support for the prime minister’s revelation. But the letters, which were previously classified but were published on Tuesday by Britain’s National Archives, also reveal that Brooke kept Blunt’s 1964 confession hidden from the then Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home. In his 1979 letter to Thatcher, Brooke states that he did not inform the prime minister in 1964 in his “well-meant effort not to add to [Douglas-Home’s] burdens”. But he adds that “I may, with hindsight, have expressed my discretion wrongly”. By that time, Blunt had voluntarily withdrawn from public life and was rarely heard of. Upon his death in 1984, his unfinished memoir was given to the British Library by the executor of his will, under the stipulation that it be kept sealed for 25 years. It was released to the public in 2009.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 July 2018 | Permalink

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