MI5 releases new information about Soviet ‘Portland Spy Ring’

DocumentFiles released on Monday by the British government reveal new evidence about one of the most prolific Soviet spy rings that operated in the West after World War II, which became known as the Portland Spy Ring. Some of the members of the Portland Spy Ring were Soviet operatives who, at the time of their arrest, posed as citizens of third countries. All were non-official-cover intelligence officers, or NOCs, as they are known in Western intelligence parlance. Their Soviet —and nowadays Russian— equivalents are known as illegals. NOCs are high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the authorities of the country that employs them. During much of the Cold War, NOCs posed as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers. Unlike official-cover officers, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, NOCs have no such protection. If arrested by authorities of their host country, they can be tried and convicted for engaging in espionage.

The existence of the Portland Spy Ring has been known since 1961, when British authorities arrested five people throughout England. Two of them were British citizens, Harry Houghton, a clerk at the Royal Navy’s Underwater Detection Establishment facility in Dorset, England, and his mistress, Ethel Gee. Their Soviet handler was Konon Molody, a Soviet intelligence officer who was posing as a Canadian, under the name Gordon Lonsdale. Also arrested was a married couple from New Zealand, Peter and Helen Kroger. But in reality they were Americans, whose real names were Morris and Lona Cohen, and had worked for Soviet intelligence since the late 1930s. Collectively, the five were referred in media reports as members of the Portland Spy Ring.

The newly declassified files about the spy ring were released by the Security Service, known commonly as MI5, Britain’s primary counterterrorism and counterintelligence agency. They reveal how British authorities managed to bust the Portland Spy Ring. According to the files, the initial tip-off came from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The American agency had managed to recruit Michael Goleniewski, codename SNIPER, a Polish military counterintelligence officer, who led the technical office of Poland’s military intelligence. In the spring of 1960, Goleniewski told the CIA that Polish intelligence were running a British agent who was recruited while serving in the office of the naval attaché at the British embassy in Warsaw. The CIA shared the information with British intelligence, who soon identified the agent as Harry Houghton in Dorset. MI5 agents followed Houghton and his girlfriend, Ethel Gee, as they met with a successful Canadian businessman in London, Gordon Lonsdale (real name Konon Molody). Molody had grown up with a family member in California in the 1930s, and spoke fluent English. He had joined Soviet intelligence during World War II and sent to Britain posing as a Canadian. When he arrived there, in 1954, he established the KGB’s first known illegal residency in the British Isles.

In turn, Molody led MI5 to Peter and Helen Kroger from New Zealand (real names Morris and Lona Cohen), who were posing as antique book dealers. The couple acted as couriers, radio operators and technical support officers for Molody. They were born in the United States and had been recruited by Soviet intelligence in the 1930s. It is now known that they had contacts with several other Soviet illegals in America, including Rudolf Abel (real name William Fisher) who was captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1957. The couple had left the United States on orders of the KGB in 1952 and reappeared in the United Kingdom using New Zealand passports and new names.

The newly declassified documents show that MI5 decided to move against the five members of the Portland Spy Ring after Goleniewski became an open defector and was exfiltrated to the United States by officers in the CIA’s Berlin station. British authorities feared that Goleniewski’s open defection would prompt the Soviets to pull out Houghton, whose identity was known to Goleniewski. Houghton and Gee were sentenced to 15 years in prison. They were released in 1970, married the following year, and died in the 1980s. Molody was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released in 1964 and exchanged for Greville Wynne, a British spy captured in the USSR. The Cohens received 20 year sentences, but were released in 1969 and exchanged with Gerald Brooke, a British teacher who was arrested in the USSR for smuggling anti-communist literature and trying to organize dissidents inside the country.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 November 2017 | Permalink

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CIA believed Yugoslavia was on the brink of going nuclear in 1975

Josip Broz TitoThe United States Central Intelligence Agency believed that Yugoslavia was on the brink of becoming a nuclear-armed state in 1975, due partly to assistance from Washington, according to newly declassified documents. The documents, which date from 1957 to 1986, were unearthed by Dr Filip Kovacevic, a Montenegrin expert on American foreign policy who teaches at the University of San Francisco in California. He accessed the documents in October of this year, after filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA in 2016. In response, the spy agency sent Dr Kovacevic eight different files consisting of 84 pages of formerly classified scientific studies, analytical estimates and other reports.

The documents show that the CIA placed the beginning of the Yugoslav nuclear program at the end of World War II. At that time, the multi-ethnic Balkan country became the focus of an intense campaign for influence by the two emerging superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. But Yugoslavia’s communist leader, Josip Broz Tito, opted for a policy of nonalignment, refusing to side with Washington or Moscow. It was at that time that Tito began to explore the creation of a nuclear arsenal, which he hoped would enable Yugoslavia to remain independent amidst the pressures of the Cold War. Interestingly, his plans were quietly supported by the US, which invited Yugoslav physicists and engineers to study and conduct research at American universities. Washington also sent teams of geologists to conduct surveys across Yugoslavia in 1952. These and subsequent surveys detected substantial uranium deposits in northern and southern Yugoslavia, which were deemed sufficient to fuel several nuclear bombs. Two decades later, an American manufacturing company, Westinghouse Nuclear, was contracted by Belgrade to build Yugoslavia’s first nuclear power plant in Slovenia.

The papers unearthed by Dr Kovacevic suggest that in 1975 the CIA was convinced that Yugoslavia was technically and financially capable of building an atomic weapon within four years. In a study entitled “Prospects for Further Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”, the spy agency said that Belgrade had made remarkable technical strides in the area of nuclear research and production in 15 years, partly with America’s support. The only question was whether the Yugoslav leadership would decide to go nuclear, something that the CIA’s analysts warned that it would be difficult to ascertain, as President Tito was unpredictable in his decision-making. Eventually, the Yugoslav leader opted to beef up his country’s conventional forces instead of going nuclear. As Tito’s health worsened in the latter half of the 1970s, ethnic rivalries between competing officials took center stage, and the nuclear weapons question lost its immediacy. Tito died in 1980, and almost immediately the country began to sink under the weight of deepening ethnic tensions.

According to Dr Kovacevic, the CIA documents show that the agency kept close tabs on Yugoslavia’s nuclear ambitions throughout the Cold War. Moreover, CIA analysts appeared to have detailed, accurate and up-to-date information about the Yugoslav nuclear program, on which they based their —broadly accurate— estimates. Crucial pieces of information came from the CIA’s “well-organized network of informants” who were placed “across the country’s institutions” and provided the US with highly dependable intelligence on Tito’s nuclear plans, said Dr Kovacevic.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 November 2017 | Permalink

Cold-War-era Soviet spy George Blake issues rare statement from Moscow

George BlakeOne of the Cold War’s most recognizable spy figures, George Blake, who escaped to the Soviet Union after betraying British intelligence, issued a rare statement last week, praising the successor agency to Soviet-era KGB. Blake was born George Behar in Rotterdam, Holland, to a Dutch mother and a British father. Having fought with the Dutch resistance against the Nazis, he escaped to Britain, where he joined the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, in 1944. He was serving in a British diplomatic post in Korea in 1950, when he was captured by advancing North Korean troops and spent time in a prisoner of war camp. He was eventually freed, but, unbeknownst to MI6, had become a communist and come in contact with the Soviet KGB while in captivity. Blake remained in the service of the KGB as a defector-in-place until 1961, when he was arrested and tried for espionage.

After a mostly closed-door trial, Blake was sentenced to 42 years in prison, which at that time was the longest prison sentence ever imposed in Britain. However, he managed to escape in 1966, with the help of Irish republican prisoners in London’s Wormwood Scrubs prison, where he was serving his sentence. With the help of Soviet intelligence, Blake made his way to France and from there to Germany and East Berlin, hiding inside a wooden box in the back of a delivery van. He eventually resurfaced in Moscow, where he has lived ever since, in a small, government-provided dacha (Russian cottage) located on the outskirts of the Russian capital.

Last Friday, Blake issued a statement on the eve of his 95th birthday. The statement was posted on the SVR’s official website and published by several Russian news agencies. The convicted spy said that he placed his hopes for the peace of mankind on the “men and women” of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service —the main institutional descendant of the Soviet KGB. Blake praised the SVR’s officers as “heroes” who are engaged in “a true battle between good and evil” at a time when “the danger of nuclear war and the resulting self-destruction of humankind” is a real threat. The spy added that the prospect of nuclear annihilation has been “put on the agenda by irresponsible politicians”, in what Russian news agencies interpreted as a comment that was directed against United States President Donald Trump.

The end of Blake’s statement is followed by a second statement, written by the Director of the SVR, Sergei Naryshkin. Naryshkin, who was appointed to his current post by Russian President Vladimir Putin a year ago, congratulates Blake on his 95th birthday and calls him a “reliable old comrade” and “a man of great wisdom”. Blake is “a proficient teacher”, says  Naryshkin, who has been a longtime role model for the officers of the SVR.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 November 2017 | Permalink

Secret documents passed to the KGB by Kim Philby displayed in Moscow

Kim PhilbyThe life of Kim Philby, one of the Cold War’s most recognizable espionage figures, is the subject of a new exhibition that opened last week in Moscow. Items displayed at the exhibition include secret documents stolen by Philby and passed to his Soviet handlers during his three decades in the service of Soviet intelligence. While working as a senior member of British intelligence, Harold Adrian Russell Philby, known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, spied on behalf of the Soviet NKVD and KGB. His espionage lasted from about 1933 until 1963, when he secretly defected to the USSR from his home in Beirut, Lebanon. Philby’s defection sent ripples of shock across Western intelligence and is often seen as one of the most dramatic incidents of the Cold War.

Now a new exhibition in Moscow has put on display some of Philby’s personal belongings, as well as a fraction of the many classified documents he passed on to his Soviet handlers during his 30 years of espionage. Entitled “Kim Philby: His Intelligence Work and Personal Life”, the exhibition is organized by the Russian Historical Society. The majority of the new documents appear to date from 1944, by which time Philby had been working for the NKVD for over a decade. Some of the documents are cables sent by Italian, Japanese or German diplomats prior to and during World War II, which were intercepted by British intelligence. Copies of some of these intercepts, which Philby passed to Moscow, are displayed in the exhibition. One document clearly bears the English-language warning: “Top Secret. To be kept under lock and key: never to be removed from this office”. Another document appears to be part of a report that Philby produced after teaching a seminar for KGB intelligence officers about how to operate in the West. It is dated 1982, by which time Philby had been living in Russia for nearly two decades.

Philby died in the Soviet capital in 1988, aged 76, and was survived by his fourth wife, Rufina Ivanovna Pukhova, whom he met after he defected to the USSR. Pukhova attended the opening of the exhibition in Moscow last week, as did over a dozen of Philby’s students at the former KGB. Russian media reported that the director and several officials of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), one of the KGB’s successor agencies, were also present during the official opening of the exhibition.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 September 2017 | Permalink

Cold War files show CIA support for guerrilla warfare inside USSR (Part II)

Latvia Forest BrothersThe role of the CIA in funding and helping to organize anti-Soviet groups inside the USSR has been known for decades. But, as intelNews explained in part I of this article, a batch of recently released documents, unearthed by Russian-language service of Latvian state television, sheds light into the CIA’s early understanding of the identity, strength and operations of these groups. They also contain new information about the background and structure of underground anti-Soviet groups like the Forest Brothers in Latvia.

Judging that Latvia’s anti-Soviet underground movement could be “of considerable operational value”, the CIA initiated project ZRLYNCH in the summer of 1950. Operated out of the CIA’s Munich station in Germany, ZRLYNCH was intended as a long-term project supervised by the Office of Policy Coordination, an early Cold War covert operations outfit that in 1952 was absorbed into the CIA’s Directorate of Operations. The Latvia operation was part of a wider effort by the CIA, which was aimed at subverting Soviet power in Eastern Europe.

For the first year of ZRLYNCH, the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination asked for —and received— a budget of $30,000. The top-secret document unearthed recently by Latvian state television states that the budget was to be used primarily for intelligence collection inside Soviet territory, as well as for covert operations by the Forest Brothers (for information about the group, see part I of this post). The latter were to conduct sabotage activities as part of organized guerrilla warfare. These activities are not specified in the CIA documents. By the end of the first year, it appears that the CIA had recruited three Latvian agents in Europe (one in Sweden and two in Germany), who were acting as mediators between the CIA and the Forest Brothers inside the USSR. Less than three years later, the ZRLYNCH budget had risen to $134,000, with $52,000 going toward covert —mostly psychological— operations and the rest being used to fund intelligence collection efforts. The CIA was also funding the travel expenses of leading Latvian émigré figures in the US, and was diverting tens of thousands of dollars toward Latvian émigré conferences in America, which aimed to unite the various political factions of the fragmented Latvian community in the States.

But the CIA officers behind ZRLYNCH were extremely concerned about operational security. They did not want the Kremlin finding out that the Agency was behind efforts to stir up armed resistance against Soviet power in the Baltic region. One CIA document states that there would be no tolerance for “any breaches of security” that compromised ZRLYNCH. Consequently, any action that uncovered the link between the US government and the Forest Bothers would lead “to an immediate cessation of financial support” for ZRLYNCH, states the memo.

Ultimately, ZRLYNCH failed to seriously challenge Soviet power in Latvia. Most of the members of the Forest Brothers were killed during Red Army counterinsurgency operations, and much of the organization’s structure was penetrated by agents of Soviet intelligence. Eventually, the Forest Brothers became extinct in 1957, when their last members emerged from the forest and surrendered to Latvian and Soviet authorities.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 August 2017 | Permalink

Cold War files show CIA support for guerrilla warfare inside USSR (Part I)

Latvian Forest BrothersRecently declassified documents from the archive of the Central Intelligence Agency detail financial and material support given by the United States to groups of armed guerrillas in Soviet Latvia in the 1950s. The documents, initially marked ‘Top Secret’ but now declassified, show that the CIA was aware and supported the activities of an anti-Soviet guerrilla army known as ‘the Forest Brothers’. Known also as ‘the Forest Brethren’, the group was formed in the Baltic States in 1944, as the Soviet Red Army established Soviet control over the previously German-occupied states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Soviet Union had previously occupied and annexed the three Baltic countries, in a failed attempt to pre-empt Germany’s eastward military expansion. Groups like the Forest Brothers consisted of the most militant members of anti-Soviet groups in the Baltic States, many of whom were ideologically opposed to Soviet Communism.

The role of the CIA in funding and helping to organize anti-Soviet groups inside the USSR has been known for decades. But the recently released documents, unearthed by Russian-language service of Latvian state television, shed light into the CIA’s early understanding of the identity, strength and operations of these groups. They also contain new information about the background and structure of underground anti-Soviet groups like the Forest Brothers in Latvia.

The first declassified CIA document that contains information on anti-Soviet resistance in Latvia is dated November 29, 1949, and is titled “The Organization of the Underground Resistance Movement in Eastern Europe”. It was soon followed by two other documents, entitled “Latvian Resistance to Russian Occupation” and “Request for [Support] to the Latvian Resistance Movement”. The latter document was produced in mid-1950, after the CIA was able to establish contact with anti-Soviet Latvian expatriates living in Germany and Sweden. From these contacts, the CIA was able to determine that active (and possibly armed) resistance to the Soviet Red Army in Latvia was limited to approximately 5,000 individuals, many of whom conducted periodic guerrilla attacks against Soviet troops or installations. However, the CIA report said that, as of 1950, the majority of these armed guerrillas remained dormant, “waiting for a more opportune moment” to return to action. The CIA memorandum also stated that clandestine radio communication existed between the leadership of Latvia’s anti-Soviet underground in Riga and exile Latvian communities in Sweden.

Note: Part II of this report can be found here.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 August 2017 | Permalink

Industrial espionage damages a country’s long-term productivity, study finds

StasiState-sponsored industrial espionage aimed at stealing foreign technical secrets may boost a country’s technological sector in the short run, but ultimately stifles it, according to the first study on the subject. The study is based on over 150,000 declassified documents belonging to the East German Ministry for State Security, known as Stasi. The now-defunct intelligence agency of communist-era East Germany was known for its extensive networks of informants, which focused intensely on acquiring technical secrets from abroad.

The history of industrial and economic espionage by governments is indeed extensive. It includes lucrative efforts by the United States to steal industrial production methods from Europe in the 19th century, and successful attempts by the Soviet Union to steal atomic technology from the American-led Manhattan Project in the 1940s. But there have been no systematic attempts to evaluate the effect of state-sponsored industrial espionage on the entire economy of the sponsoring nation –until now.

This new study –the first of its kind– was carried out by two economists, Erik Meyersson, from the Stockholm School of Economics in Sweden, and the Spain-based Albrecht Glitz of Pompeu Fabra Univeristy in Barcelona. The two researchers describe their preliminary findings in a working paper entitled: “Industrial Espionage and Productivity”, published by the Institute of Labor Economics in Bonn, Germany. Its findings are based on an analysis of nearly 152,000 declassified industrial-espionage-related communiqués sent by Stasi spies to their handlers between 1970 and 1988. The communiqués were examined with reference to their date of authorship and the content-descriptive keywords appended to them by the Stasi.

The report concludes that stealing industrial secrets can boost a nation’s economic activity in the short run. However, in the long run, a nation’s strategic focus on industrial espionage tends to impede homegrown research and development, and ultimately stifles technological productivity on a national scale. This is because “easy access to secrets” from abroad tends to “discourage both state and private investment in research and development”, according to Meyersson and Glitz. That is precisely what happened to East Germany, argues the report. The country’s total factor productivity (TFF –the growth of its output measured in relation to the growth in inputs of labor and capital) rose significantly as a result of its industrial espionage.That was especially noticeable in the digital electronics sector, where the output gap between East and West Germany was narrowed by a fourth. However, that trend was temporary, and East Germany was never able to develop an organic digital-electronics industry. Industrial espionage is like “research and development on cocaine”, professor Meyersson told Science, the magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Maybe you can have a little bit of fun with it, but it’s not good for you in the long run”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 August 2017 | Permalink