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

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Mussolini was paid by Britain’s MI5, archives reveal

Benito Mussolini

Benito Mussolini

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A Cambridge professor has unearthed archived documents showing that money from MI5, Britain’s counterintelligence and security agency, helped Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini lunch his political career. Dr. Peter Martland, Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, said MI5’s Rome station, which at the time was staffed by 100 British intelligence officers, paid Mussolini £100 a week (around £6,000 or $9,600 a week in today’s money) starting “from the autumn of 1917 [and] for at least a year”. The payments, which were authorized by MI5’s director in Rome, Sir Samuel Hoare (later Lord Templewood), were aimed to assist Mussolini’ newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia, propagandize in favor of Italy’s continued fighting in World War I on the side of the Allied Powers, of which Britain was also a member. Read more of this post

“Unprecedented” history of MI5 published

Dr. Andrew

Dr. Andrew

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The MI5, Britain’s foremost counterintelligence organization, made headlines in 2002, when it appointed Cambridge University history Professor Christopher Andrew to produce an authorized account of its long history. The 1,032-page-long book, entitled Defense of the Realm, was published this week by Allen Lane, as announced last March, in time to mark the agency’s centennial. Despite the fact that Defense of the Realm has been officially sanctioned by MI5, (ex-director-general Stephen Lander was sitting next to Dr. Andrew during Monday’s press conference), the book makes some interesting revelations. Among them is that MI5 considered assassinating V.K. Krishna Menon, post-colonial India’s first High Commissioner (an ambassador within the British Commonwealth of Nations) to Britain. Read more of this post

BBC releases archival documents on KGB spy Guy Burgess

Guy Burgess

Guy Burgess

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The BBC’s archive unit has released 24 previously unpublished documents on Guy Burgess, a British-born KGB double spy who defected to Moscow during the early stages of the Cold War. Prior to joining the British Foreign Office, Burgess worked for the BBC as a producer of its Week in Westminster radio program, which covered British Parliamentary activity. The archival documents, some of which date back to 1936, shed light on his activities while at the BBC. They include a reference letter addressed to the BBC from Burgess’ academic mentor, renowned Cambridge University historian Sir George Trevelyan. In the letter, Professor Trevelyan describes Burgess as “a first rate man” and notes that “[h]e has passed through the communist measles that so many of our clever young men go through and is well out of it”. Read more of this post

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