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

Documents detail history of previously unknown US spy agency

John V. Grombach

J.V. Grombach

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A collection of tens of thousands of documents discovered in a barn in a small Virginia town, have brought to light the history and operations of a previously unknown US spy agency that competed for prominence with the CIA during the early stages of the Cold War. The secrecy-obsessed agency was known at various times as the Secret Intelligence Branch, the Special Service Branch, the Special Service Section, or the Coverage and Indoctrination Branch; but insiders referred to it simply as “the Lake” or “the Pond”. It was created in late 1942 by the then newly established US Department of Defense, whose officials did not approve of the civilian character of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the CIA. In its 13-year existence, the Pond operated on a semi-autonomous base under the Departments of Defense and State, but maintained a poor relationship with the CIA, which it considered too “integrated with British and French Intelligence and infiltrated by Communists and Russians”. This information is contained in the files, which were stored in several safes and filing cabinets by the organization’s secretive leader, US Army Colonel John V. Grombach, who died in 1982. Read more of this post

Document release offers new clues on MI5 activities

Sam Wanamaker

S. Wanamaker

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A batch of intelligence documents from the immediate post-World War II period released this week by Britain’s National Archives offer glimpses into previously unknown activities by MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service. One set of documents shows that the MI5 closely monitored liberal Americans who escaped McCarthyism by emigrating to the isles in the 1940s and 1950s. Among such targets was Sam Wanamaker, father of actor Zoe Wanamaker, who played in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone among other films. Her father left the US shortly before being called to testify in Senator Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. He became an important figure in British theater, but was monitored by MI5, who at one point considered including him in a list of domestic radicals to be “interned” during a possible military confrontation with the USSR. Another set of documents shows that British spies spent years looking for Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary, in places such as Switzerland, Italy and Brazil. Read more of this post