Historian names wartime British spy who fooled Nazi sympathizers

Eric RobertsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A British counterintelligence agent, who managed to neutralize an extensive wartime network of Nazi sympathizers in the United Kingdom by pretending to represent the German government, has been named. Regular intelNews readers might remember our post about a wartime agent identified only as “Jack King” in files released by the British National Archives in February. “Jack King” was the operational codename given to the agent by his handlers in the British Security Service, commonly known as MI5, which is tasked with counterintelligence duties. Senior officials at the agency described “King” as “a genius” at luring Nazi sympathizers in the UK. The files show that “King’s” work helped MI5 identify hundreds of residents in Britain —most of them British citizens— as committed Nazis who were prepared to pass national secrets to Berlin. “King” reportedly utilized his pro-German contacts in the southeast of England and was able to infiltrate pro-Nazi circles operating in and around London. He did so by posing as an agent of the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s secret police. He quickly gained the trust of some of the most fervent pro-German activists operating in the British Isles. These included Edgar Whitehead, Hilda Leech, and Marita Perigoe, a Swedish resident of the UK who was so fervently pro-Nazi that she once dismissed Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists as “insufficiently extreme”. When the “Jack King” files were declassified, some intelligence historians suggested that the operational codename referred to John Bingham, a legendary MI5 office and fluent German speaker who is said to have inspired John le Carré’s fictional character George Smiley. But Cambridge University historian Christopher Andrew, who in 2009 authored In Defense of the Realm, an officially-commissioned history of MI5, has revealed the name of “Jack King” as Eric Roberts. Professor Andrew told The Daily Telegraph newspaper that Roberts was an unassuming suburban bank clerk who lived in a small market town called Epsom in Surrey. Roberts was born in nearby Sussex, in southeastern England, in 1907, married at a young age and had three children —two sons and a daughter. His MI5 files document that, by the time World War II started, he was “thoroughly familiar” with networks of Nazi sympathizers in the south of England, though just how he had managed to do that remains a mystery. Roberts eventually attracted the attention of Maxwell Knight, a legendary MI5 spymaster who headed the organization’s Section B5(b), tasked with infiltrating subversive political groups in Britain. Read more of this post

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Documents reveal MI5 role in Guyana coup

Cheddi and Janet Jagan

The Jagans

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Secret intelligence documents declassified last week reveal that Britain’s Security Service, known as MI5, played a significant role in the lead-up to the 1953 coup that toppled the democratically elected government of British Guiana. The Latin American territory, which borders Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil, was once one of the British Empire’s most lucrative sugar-producing colonies. In 1963, after gaining its independence from Britain, it was officially renamed the Co-Operative Republic of Guyana. Instrumental in the fight for independence was Cheddi Jagan —an ethnic Indian former dentist who is today considered the father of the nation— and his American-born wife Janet (née Rosenberg). In 1950, the couple founded the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which became the primary pro-independence political vehicle in the British colony. But dozens of folders of classified documents that were released last Friday by Britain’s National Archives show that MI5 was suspicious of the Jagans, and believed that Janet had been a member of the Communist Party of the United States in the 1940s. Several MI5 reports from the 1950s express concern that the PPP intended to establish close proximity between a newly independent Guyana and the Soviet Union. The declassified MI5 archives contain countless transcribed telephone conversations between the Jagans and their political allies, as well as copies of intercepted correspondence and reports of physical surveillance by MI5 informants. They reveal that British intelligence closely monitored the Jagans for at least a decade. Even though MI5 concluded that the PPP had no close contacts with Soviet agents or agencies, and that the party was “not receiving any financial support from any Communist organization outside the country”, it continued to describe Janet Jagan as “a committed communist” and remained apprehensive of the couple’s “disruptive antics”. The British government of Winston Churchill decided to take aggressive action in 1953, after a landslide election victory for the PPP in British Guiana elections. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0199

  • Author insists Sir Hollis was Soviet agent. Last month, Professor Christopher Andrew, author of the recently published In Defense of the Realm, an authorized history of MI5, dismissed allegations that Sir Roger Hollis, former head of MI5, had been a KGB agent. But intelligence author Chapman Pincher insists that “Hollis ha[d] been so deeply suspected of being a Soviet spy […] that he had been recalled from retirement for interrogation” in London.
  • ACLU supports lawsuit against FBI by alleged informant. The American Civil Liberties Union has joined Craig Monteilh, who says he was an undercover FBI informant, in a lawsuit demanding sealed court records identifying him as a spy be made public.

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News you may have missed #0161

  • No new clues in released Cheney FBI interview. Early in October, a US federal judge ordered the FBI to release the transcript of an interview with former US vice-president Dick Cheney, conducted during an investigation into who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. There were rumors that the classified transcript pointed to George W. Bush as the source of the incriminating leak. But the released interview transcript contains nothing of the kind.
  • Sir Hollis not a Soviet agent, says MI5 historian. “Sir Roger Hollis was not merely not a Soviet agent, he was one of the people who would least likely to have been a Soviet agent in the whole of MI5″, according to Professor Christopher Andrew, author of the recently published In Defense of the Realm. Dr. Andrew’s comments were in response to the book Spycatcher, by former MI5 officer Peter Wright, which alleges that Sir Hollis, former head of MI5, had been a KGB agent.
  • New report says nuclear expert’s death was not suicide. A new autopsy into the death of British nuclear scientist Timothy Hampton has concluded that “he did not die by his own hands”, as previously suggested. The post-mortem examiner said Hampton “was carried to the 17th floor from his workplace on the sixth floor” of a United Nations building in Vienna, Austria, “and thrown to his death”.

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News you may have missed #0144

  • Cuban Five convict’s sentence cut to 22 years. As intelNews reported on October 12, Antonio Guerrero, a member of the Cuban Five spy ring, has had his life sentence cut to 22 years, following a successful appeal. Given the time he has already served since his 1998 arrest, and benefits for good behavior, Guerrero could be released in seven years. The Cuban Five were sentenced in 2001 for spying on the US for Cuba.
  • Was British MP a Czech agent during Cold War? A recently published book on MI5’s history by Cambridge historian Dr. Christopher Andrew has reignited rumors that Labour Party parliamentarian John Stonehouse worked as an agent for the Czech StB intelligence agency in the 1960s.
  • West German spies collected East German jokes during Cold War. West German spies diligently recorded popular East German jokes about communism during the Cold War, in an attempt to gain insights into the public mood, according to recently released intelligence files.

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News you may have missed #0135

  • More revelations in “unprecedented” book on MI5 history. More revelations in Christopher Andrew’s In Defense of the Realm include the disclosure that Margaret Thatcher tried to get MI5 to spy on British trade union activists when she was Prime Minister (MI5 refused). Meanwhile, Professor Andrew has begun serializing selected chapters of the book in The London Times, here and here.
  • Court lets Canadian spies snoop on targets overseas. A court ruling has permitted the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Communications Security Establishment to eavesdrop on Canadian nationals traveling overseas. Until now, the two agencies could spy on Canadians so long as they were within the country’s borders.
  • CIA endorses cloud computing. The CIA is emerging as one of the US government’s strongest advocates of cloud computing, even though “cloud computing as a term really didn’t hit our vocabulary until a year ago”, according to Jill Tummler Singer, the CIA’s deputy Chief Intelligence Officer. This article, however, fails to mention that the NSA is also moving to cloud computing in a big way.

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“Unprecedented” history of MI5 published

Dr. Andrew

Dr. Andrew

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The MI5, Britain’s foremost counterintelligence organization, made headlines in 2002, when it appointed Cambridge University history Professor Christopher Andrew to produce an authorized account of its long history. The 1,032-page-long book, entitled Defense of the Realm, was published this week by Allen Lane, as announced last March, in time to mark the agency’s centennial. Despite the fact that Defense of the Realm has been officially sanctioned by MI5, (ex-director-general Stephen Lander was sitting next to Dr. Andrew during Monday’s press conference), the book makes some interesting revelations. Among them is that MI5 considered assassinating V.K. Krishna Menon, post-colonial India’s first High Commissioner (an ambassador within the British Commonwealth of Nations) to Britain. Read more of this post