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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British intelligence to tighten security protection for Russian defectors

MI6The British secret services have begun tightening the physical security of dozens of Russian defectors living in Britain, a week after the attempted murder of former KGB Colonel Sergei Skripal in southern England. The 66-year-old double spy and his daughter, Yulia, were found in a catatonic state in the town of Salisbury on March 4. It was later determined that they had been attacked with a nerve agent. Russian officials have vehemently denied that the Kremlin had any involvement with the brazen attempt to kill Skripal. But, according to The Times, the British intelligence community has concluded that Skripal and his daughter were attacked on Moscow’s orders —most likely the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, where Skripal worked until his arrest for spying for Britain in 2004.

Citing an unnamed source from Whitehall, the administrative headquarters of the British government, The Times said that initial assessments of Skripal’s poisoning were damning for Britain’s intelligence community. They raised questions, said the source, about the ability of Britain’s two primary spy agencies, the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), to provide security to their assets. The source told The Times that it was “impossible to reduce […] to zero” the risk of serious physical harm against individuals like Skripal, and before him Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer who was poisoned to death in London in 2006. But the attack on Skripal is being viewed as an intelligence failure, said the source, and part of the response to it involves a comprehensive review of risk to British-based Russian double spies and defectors from “unconventional threats”. The latter include attacks with chemical and radiological weapons, said The Times.

The report came as another British-based Russian defector, Boris Karpichkov, told The Daily Mirror newspaper that the Kremlin has tried to poison him three times since 2006. Karpichkov, 59, joined the KGB in 1984, but became a defector-in-place for Latvian intelligence in 1991, when the Soviet Union disintegrated. He claims to have also spied on Russia for French and American intelligence. In 1998, carrying two suitcases filled with top-secret Russian government documents, and using forged passports, he arrived in Britain with his family. In 2006, while living in the UK, Karpichkov says he was warned by MI5 to leave the country because his life may be in danger. He temporarily relocated to New Zealand, where he says he was attacked with an unidentified nerve agent. He told The Mirror that he lost nearly half his weight during the following weeks, but survived due to good medical care. However, he was attacked again, he said, four months later, while still living in New Zealand.

Karpichkov told The Mirror he had been warned that his name was on a shortlist of eight individuals that the Kremlin wanted to kill. He also claimed that he was told by a source to watch out for people carrying electronic cigarettes, because Russian intelligence had developed nerve-agent weapons that were disguised as e-cigarette devices.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 March 2018 | Permalink

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

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

Informer accuses Sinn Féin leader of ordering British spy’s murder

Denis DonaldsonA former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, who was an agent for the British security services, has alleged that Gerry Adams, leader of the second-largest political party in Northern Ireland, ordered the killing of a British spy in 2006. The former agent was referring to the killing of Denis Donaldson, a senior member of the Provisional IRA, who was found dead months after it was revealed that he had been secretly spying on the republican organization on behalf of British intelligence.

In December 2005, Adams announced at a press conference in Dublin, Ireland, that Donaldson had been a spy for the British government inside the Provisional IRA and its political wing, Sinn Féin. Soon after Adams’ revelation, Donaldson read a prepared statement on Ireland’s RTÉ television station, admitting that he had been recruited as a spy by the British Security Service (MI5) and the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (known today as the Police Service of Northern Ireland). Following his public admission, Donaldson was nowhere to be found. However, in March 2006, a reporter for a British tabloid newspaper found Donaldson living in a remote farmhouse in Northern Ireland’s County Donegal. Weeks later, Donaldson was shot dead in his cottage by persons unknown. In 2009, the Real IRA, a Provisional IRA splinter group that disagreed with the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent cessation of hostilities, took responsibility for Donaldson’s killing.

On Tuesday, a man who claims he was an informant for British intelligence inside Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA alleged that Donaldson’s killing was ordered by Adams himself. The man, who spoke on the BBC’s Spotlight program, could not be identified due to concerns about his personal safety. He said during a televised interview that he knew from his “experience in the IRA that murders have to be approved by […] the leadership of the IRA and the military leadership of the IRA”. When asked by the report who he was “specifically referring to”, the former informant answered: “Gerry Adams. He gives the final say”. On Wednesday, Adams denied any involvement in the killing, saying he wished to “specifically and categorically refute these unsubstantiated allegations”. The leader of Sinn Féin went on to claim that the accusations against him were “part of the British security agencies’ ongoing attempts to smear republicans and cover-up their own actions”. Adams’ lawyer said late on Wednesday that his client was considering launching a lawsuit against the BBC for defamation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 September 2016 | Permalink

Two men held in Ireland over 2006 murder of Provisional IRA spy

Denis DonaldsonPolice in Ireland say they have arrested two individuals in connection with the 2006 killing of a senior member of the Irish Republican Army, who had previously been outed as a spy for the British state. Denis Donaldson joined the Provisional IRA as a volunteer in mid-1960s, before the outbreak of the Troubles, which rocked Northern Ireland from the late 1960s until 1998. He was trained in paramilitary operations in Lebanon and participated in many IRA actions. He served time at the Long Kesh Detention Centre along with IRA volunteer and Member of Parliament Bobby Sands, who died in the famed 1981 Irish hunger strike. After Sands’ death, Donaldson stood as a general election candidate in Belfast East for Sinn Féin, the IRA’s political wing. In the process, he became a close associate of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. In 2000, shortly after the end of the IRA’s 30-year military campaign, Sinn Féin appointed Donaldson as the administrator of its parliamentary group in Stormont, the devolved Northern Irish parliament.

But on December 16, 2005, Adams stunned reporters during a press conference in Dublin, Ireland, by announcing that Donaldson had been a spy for the British government inside Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA. There were rumors at the time that Donaldson was deliberately outed to Adams by the British government. Soon after Adams’ revelation, Donaldson read a prepared statement on Ireland’s state-owned RTÉ television station, admitting that he had been recruited as a spy by the British Security Service (MI5) and the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (known today as the Police Service of Northern Ireland). Following his public admission, Donaldson was nowhere to be found. However, on March 19, 2006, a reporter for a British tabloid newspaper found Donaldson living in a remote farmhouse outside the village of Glenties, in Northern Ireland’s County Donegal. Weeks later, Donaldson was shot dead in his cottage by persons unknown. Most saw the Provisional IRA behind Donaldson’s murder. In 2009, however, the Real IRA, a Provisional IRA splinter group that disagreed with the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent cessation of hostilities, took responsibility for Donaldson’s killing.

On Tuesday, the Garda Síochána, the police force of the Republic of Ireland, said it had arrested two men in connection with Donaldson’s murder. The two men, who are reportedly in their 40s and 70s, have not been named. They are being held under Ireland’s Offences Against the State Act, the Gardaí said. The precise connection —if any— between Tuesday’s arrests and the official inquest into Donaldson’s death, which continues after having been postponed or delayed 20 times, is unknown at this time.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 July 2016 | Permalink

Relations between UK spy agencies “broke down” during war on terrorism

Eliza Manningham-BullerRelations between two of Britain’s most powerful intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6, suffered a “serious and prolonged breakdown” during the American-led war on terrorism. Citing sources in the British government, the London-based Guardian newspaper said on Tuesday that the two agencies entered an extensive row over Britain’s support for extraordinary rendition. The policy refers to the government-sponsored abduction of individuals and their extrajudicial transfer across national borders. It was widely practiced by the administration of US President George W. Bush, despite its connection to documented cases of torture of terrorism detainees, in countries like Egypt, Libya, and Jordan.

In Britain, the administration of Prime Minister Tony Blair secretly supported Washington’s extraordinary rendition operations. It instructed the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, to assist its American counterpart, the Central Intelligence Agency, in efforts to abduct and rendition terrorism suspects. However, not everyone in Britain’s intelligence establishment was in agreement with government policy. One strong critic was Eliza Manningham-Buller, the then-director of Britain’s Security Service, commonly known as MI5, which she led from 2002 to 2007. According to The Guardian’s sources, Manningham-Buller was “evidently furious” when she discovered that MI6 had secretly colluded with governments like those of Libya and Egypt to rendition terrorism detainees. Believing extraordinary rendition and torture to be “wrong and never justified”, the MI5 director effectively stopped her agency from cooperating with MI6. She even “threw out” of MI5’s Thames House headquarters several MI6 liaison staff who were working there at the time, said The Guardian.

Soon afterwards, Manningham-Buller complained in writing to Prime Minister Blair about the conduct of some MI6 officers, whose actions allegedly “threatened Britain’s intelligence gathering” and “compromised the security and safety of MI5 officers and their informants”. The Guardian does not provide further elaboration of the contents of Manningham-Buller’s letter to the prime minister, but alleges that it contributed to a “serious and prolonged breakdown” in relations between MI5 and MI6. The paper says it contacted the two intelligence agencies, as well as Manningham-Buller, who has since retired, but no one wished to comment on the story. Sources did tell the paper, however, that the relationship between the two agencies “has now been repaired after a difficult period”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 Jun 2016 | Permalink