New book reveals how MI5 infiltrated the British communist party

Maxwell KnightA new biography of famed British Security Service spymaster Maxwell Knight reveals that a number of prominent British communists were secret government agents in the 1930s. After serving in the British Royal Navy during World War I, Knight was recruited by the Security Service, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, which is commonly known as MI5. He eventually rose to lead the agency’s Section B5(b), which was responsible for using agents to infiltrate political groups deemed radical by the authorities. During the interwar years, under Knight’s leadership, Section B5(b) focused largely on British fascist organizations, but also infiltrated the Communist Party of Great Britain. Knight, who died in 1968, left an indelible mark on the character and operations of MI5. He also served as a model for the character of ‘M’, the fictional director of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in the novels of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond.

Now Preface Publishing has issued a new biography of Knight, authored by British author Henry Hemming. The book, entitled M: Maxwell Knight, MI5’s Greatest Spymaster, is largely based on the diaries of Knight. It reveals the identities of a number of MI5 agents that worked for the late spymaster in Section B5(b). They included British intellectuals, artists, activists and at least one barrister, Vivian Hancock-Nunn. A leftwing legal counsel, Hancock-Nunn provided pro-bono legal services to the publications of the Communist Party of Great Britain. However, is is now believed that he was agent M/7, run by Knight’s Section B5(b). Another agent, codenamed M/1 by Knight, was Graham Pollard, son of a highly respected British historian, who broke ranks with his wealthy family to join the Communist Party in the 1920s. By 1933, Pollard was a prominent and influential member of the Party, and regularly penned fiery articles in the Daily Worker, the Party’s newspaper. Hemming’s book, however, reveals that Pollard was an agent of MI5, who went as far as marrying a prominent communist activist in order to build his cover.

Hemming notes that some of the most prolific agents run by Knight were women. Three of them, Kathleen Tesch, Olga Grey and Mona Maund, infiltrated various levels of the Communist Party, which was known for its relatively inclusive treatment of women at the time. Knight relied on them for regular reports about the Party’s activity, despite the objections of his superiors, who believed that women should have no place in intelligence operations. The book’s author also notes that he was not able to confirm the identities of these agents in MI5 archives, because they remain classified. However, he told British newspaper The Guardian that he was “99.9 percent certain” of the accuracy of his information.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 May 2017 | Permalink

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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