Newly released British files shed light on 20th-century espionage

Eric HobsbawmBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Files released last week by Britain’s National Archives have brought to the fore interesting new clues on the history of intelligence operations in the 20th century. One of the files relates to Migel Piernavieja del Pozo, a Spanish journalist in his mid-20s, who arrived in the United Kingdom in 1940, ostensibly to cover British public attitudes to the war in the continent. Britain’s counterintelligence agency, the Security Service, also known as MI5, placed Pozo under surveillance, after the debonair Spaniard proclaimed in public meetings that he was grateful for German Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s support to Spain’s royalist forces and said he hoped Germany would emerge victorious from the war in Europe. The agency was right to do so, as Pozo eventually approached an agent of the Abwehr —Nazi Germany’s military intelligence agency— in the UK, and told him that he too was working secretly for Berlin. But the Abwehr agent, codenamed GW in MI5 documents, was in fact a double spy for the Crown and managed to pass deceptive information to the Spaniard. Eventually, Pozo gave GW a tin of talcum powder containing over £3,500 in banknotes, which is approximately $150,000 in today’s money. Professor Christopher Andrew, official historian of MI5, told The Daily Telegraph that the money supplied by Pozo was “probably the largest sum yet handed to a British agent” by a rival spy. Eventually, Pozo’s inability to acquire useful intelligence in the UK prompted his recall back to Spain.

Another set of files, also released last week by the National Archives, appears to show that C.A.N. Nambiar, a friend of India’s first prime minister and deputy to one of the country’s most fervent pro-independence activists, was a Soviet spy. Nambiar was known as an old comrade of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first elected leader of post-colonial India, who dominated Indian affairs for much of the last century. He was also a close associate of Subhas Chandra Bose, a pro-independence activist considered a hero by Indian nationalists, whose hatred for India’s British occupiers led him to side with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in the early 1940s. After India’s independence in 1947, Nambiar worked as a diplomat in Berne, Switzerland, before becoming India’s ambassador to Sweden and later to West Germany. But according to MI5 documents released last week, an Eastern Bloc defector fingered Nambiar in 1959 as an agent of Soviet military intelligence, known as GRU. The source said Nambiar had been recruited while visiting the USSR as a guest of the Soviet state in 1929. Read more of this post

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

MI5 releases documents on Dutch double spy Mata Hari

Mata HariBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The British government has released a set of documents relating to the capture and eventual execution of Mata Hari, modern history’s most legendary female spy. Mata Hari was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in northern Holland in 1876. In 1895 she married Rudolf MacLeod, a Dutch Army Captain of Scottish descent serving the Dutch colonial administration of what is now Indonesia. She eventually divorced the alcoholic and abusive MacLeod, who was 20 years her senior, and joined the circus in Paris. Eventually she became wildly popular as an exotic dancer, a position that placed her in close contact with several influential men in France, including the millionaire industrialist Émile Étienne Guimet, who became her longtime lover. Several of her male devotees came from military backgrounds from various European countries. Most historians agree that by 1916 Zelle was working for French intelligence, gathering information from a host of German lovers. However, in February of the following year she was arrested by French counterintelligence officers in Paris and accused of spying on behalf of the German Empire. French prosecutors accused Zelle of having provided Berlin with tactical intelligence that cost the Triple Entente the lives of over 50,000 soldiers. A set of documents released this month by Britain’s Security Service, commonly known as MI5, reveal that allied intelligence operatives trailed the exotic dancer across several European countries before she was apprehended in Paris. They also allege that, while under French custody, the Dutch spy admitted that she had conducted espionage on behalf of the German Secret Service and that her codename was H21. She is also alleged to have admitted that she received payments of approximately 20,000 French francs for her servicse. The papers also suggest that Zelle admitted that several vials of invisible ink fond in her hotel suite had been given to her by her German handlers. However, the MI5 reports claim that the accused spy “never made a full confession” and “never gave away anyone” as her accomplice, leading the British author of the report to conclude that she must have been “working alone”. Read more of this post

British spies infiltrated Nazi sympathizer groups, wartime files show

Page from MI5's Jack King filesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A British counterintelligence agent managed to neutralize an extensive network of Nazi sympathizers in the United Kingdom by pretending to represent the German government, newly released files show. The documents, which were released this week by the British National Archives, identify the agent only as “Jack King”, which was the operational codename given to him by his handlers in the British Security Service, commonly known as MI5. Senior officials at the agency, which is tasked with counterintelligence, described “King” as “a genius” at luring in 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. The MI5 operative 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”. Many of these Nazi supporters pledged to “King” that they could be relied on to assist in the event of an invasion of Britain by Nazi forces. The files released by the National Archives show that “King” was well connected with British Nazis by 1942. Read more of this post

Thatcher was warned about CIA activities in Britain, files show

Margaret ThatcherBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was warned in 1984 that American intelligence carried out operations in the United Kingdom without London’s consent. Although she dismissed the warnings, she authorized British counterintelligence to investigate the matter. A secret file from the British Foreign Office, which was declassified last month, shows that concerns about alleged American spy activity in the UK were communicated to the Tory Prime Minister by Paddy Ashdown —now Lord Ashdown— a Member of Parliament for Britain’s Liberal Party. In November of 1984, Ashdown notified Thatcher that he was concerned about a series of “clandestine activities” carried out by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) aimed at preventing communist countries from acquiring advanced computer technology developed by companies based in Britain. The written warning stated that CIA operatives had made “clandestine approaches” targetting individuals employed by leading British computer firms, inquiring about technology transfers to the Soviet Bloc. Ashdown added that the American intelligence agency had failed to provide the British government with advance notice of these activities, as was customary between the two allies. In his letter to Thatcher, the Liberal Party MP concluded that, based on his personal investigation into the matter, he was convinced the CIA operation was “still continuing”. The Prime Minister responded to Ashdown with an official letter explaining that there was “no evidence of improper activity by the CIA” or that British espionage laws had been violated by American intelligence personnel. She added that there was “close cooperation” between London and Washington on enforcing multilaterally agreed export controls, which included computer technology, and concluded that saw no need for an inquiry at that time. But London-based newspaper The Guardian, which accessed the declassified files on the case, said that Whitehall ordered the Foreign Office to investigate Ashdown’s allegations. The Foreign Office then tasked the Security Service (MI5) to find out whether the US had broken an agreement between the two countries to refrain from clandestine operations on each other’s territory unless the latter were authorized by both nations. Read more of this post

Spy agencies failed to share intelligence on Omagh bombing: report

Real IRA paradeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A new report on the 1998 bombing of downtown Omagh by an Irish republican splinter group claims that the tragedy could have been avoided had British, Irish and American intelligence agencies shared information with British police. The car bomb attack was carried out on August 15, 1998, by the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA). The militant organization consisted of former Provisional Irish Republican Army volunteers who rejected the Good Friday Agreement, part of the Northern Ireland peace process. It devastated the small Northern Irish town of Omagh, killing 29 and injuring over 200 people, including six children, several teenagers and a woman who was pregnant with twins. There have been no criminal convictions in connection with the bombing, despite the fact that it was the single worst instance of violence in the so-called Northern Ireland Troubles, which began in the 1960s and ended in 1998, largely because of the Omagh bombing. But now a new report commissioned by the families of the victims of the bombing claims that intelligence services from three countries failed to share information with British police, which could have prevented the disaster in Omagh. The report, authored by a group of retired security experts on behalf of London-based law firm SBP, says the RIRA had been infiltrated by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Britain’s Security Service (MI5) and the Irish Garda’s Crime and Security Branch. These agencies, claims the report, had at least two informants inside the RIRA: a smalltime Irish criminal named Paddy Dixon, who frequently smuggled stolen cars from Ireland into Britain for use by the RIRA, and David Rupert, an American of Irish descent. Read more of this post

British spy agency to scrap $140m IT system over security fears

DeloitteBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, has decided to “accept defeat” and scrap a multimillion digital records management program over fears it could create a dangerous “intelligence vacuum”. The program, which has so far cost the British taxpayer over £90 million ($140 million) in payments to private consultants, was first conceived in the run-up to the London 2012 summer Olympic Games. While evaluating terrorist-related threats posed by the hosting of the Games in the United Kingdom, British security officials decided that the government-wide intelligence-sharing system in place was archaic and in need of serious overhaul. They hired a group of senior IT management consultants from Deloitte, one of the world’s largest professional services firm, headquartered in New York, NY. The pricey corporate experts were tasked with helping MI5 digitally collate intelligence data collected or produced by all departments of the British government. Deloitte’s planning team had projected that the multi-million dollar system would be in place and operational by the summer of 2012, before the Olympic Games were held in London. This, however, proved wildly optimistic; Deloitte barely managed to scrape together a watered-down version of the promised records management program in late 2012. When the program was tested by MI5’s intelligence collection managers, it was found to contain serious errors that, according to British newspaper The Independent, could leave the country’s intelligence agencies “vulnerable and struggling with an intelligence vacuum”. When initially questioned about the Deloitte debacle by British lawmakers, MI5’s (now retired) Director, Sir Jonathan Evans, told the frustrated members of the British House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee not to worry. Read more of this post

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