Tag Archives: Donald Maclean

Kim Philby in 1951: Alarms and Diversions

[I am happy to report that the production of this column was only temporarily inconvenienced by the Hollywood Writers’ strike. I have been able to deploy instead a modified version of an AI Engine that has been carefully tuned to generate plausible conspiracy theories, a product called Conspirobot™. I trust readers will not detect any deterioration in service quality.]

Kim Philby in 1951

In this, the third in a series of bulletins that re-assess the careers of Kim and Litzy Philby, I explore the following question:

  • How did MI5 and MI6 process the evidence of Philby’s treachery when he came under direct suspicion in June 1951?



Chronology & Sources

The White Interviews

American Pressure, and the Resignation

The Dog Days of Summer

Churchill Replaces Attlee

The Milmo Interrogation

Analysis, Outcomes, and Conclusions



‘Wanted’ (Burgess detectable because of his ‘Pidgeon’ toes)

On May 25, 1951, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean absconded in circumstances that suggested to the cross-departmental committee tracking the case (Strang, Carey Foster, Liddell, Sillitoe & White) that the pair had received advance warning that Maclean was about to be called in for interrogation. It is important to bear in mind the background to the event, namely:

  1. Dick White’s team had started investigating Kim Philby once the HOMER=Maclean equivalence had been made in April. Milicent Bagot then prepared a dossier on him.
  2. Burgess had been the intermediary between Philby and the latter’s handler, Makayev, based in New York. Philby then met Makayev himself, and insisted to him that Maclean should be exfiltrated. The KGB thus would have been able to contact Maclean through the London residency.
  3. MI5 acknowledged that Philby had known about the progress on the HOMER case since early January, but never considered the idea that Philby might have been communicating his knowledge about it to a Soviet controller in the USA.
  4. Philby’s final message to Burgess before he left the United States was that he ‘should not go too’, confirming that he was already promoting the notion of the exfiltration of Maclean.
  5. Burgess arrived in the UK on May 7, was met at Southampton by Anthony Blunt, and was seen meeting Maclean two days later.
  6. Blunt informed Yuri Modin (the KGB controller in London) on May 9 that the search for HOMER had narrowed down to three.
  7. Before Burgess absconded, the committee did not interpret his bizarre return to the UK, and subsequent activities, as anything harmful or suspicious.
  8. Modin wrote that a decision had been made on May 17, on the basis of the proposed May 28 arrest of Maclean, to exfiltrate Maclean (only) – something confirmed by KGB archives. He further stated that Anthony Blunt had been the prime intermediary between the spies and the KGB, but, for safety reasons, Burgess had on his arrival to take over as the sole link with Maclean.
  9. On May 24, a decision was made to defer Maclean’s interrogation to June 18, and it was thus no longer ‘imminent’, as the archival material at KV 6/143 confirms. (Chapman Pincher, Douglas Sutherland, Nigel West, Ben Macintyre, as well as the more respectable Robert Cecil, are among the authors who have promulgated the myth that, on May 25, Foreign Secretary Morrison approved a decision to move up the interrogation to the following Monday, thus precipitating the need to escape. Christopher Andrew coolly indicates that that was not true. In testimony to his biographer, Dick White likewise indicated that the interrogation had been deferred until the time of the hospital confinement of Mrs Maclean in mid-June. Morrison’s signature was purely for formal approval of the interrogation itself.)
  10. Blunt knew about Philby’s coded letter to Burgess, indicating that matters were ‘heating up’ in Washington, which arrived after the decision on Maclean had been made. According to Modin, it was Blunt who suggested that both Burgess and Maclean should go.
  11. Moscow ratified that decision, in order that Burgess could ‘keep Maclean out of trouble along the way’.
  12. Maclean was aware, because of clumsy surveillance, and documents being withheld from him, that the net was closing in.
  13. Despite his known links with the Comintern in June 1940, Burgess had never been suspected of being a Soviet agent until he disappeared with Maclean. Suddenly his antics in engineering a return to London were seen in a new light – a perspective actually encouraged by Philby himself.
  14. When he learned about the flight of Maclean, Philby was astonished to hear that Burgess had accompanied him.
  15. When Burgess and Maclean fled, Philby came under more intense scrutiny because of his friendship and association with Burgess in Washington.
  16. MI5 assumed that Philby must have continued to alert Maclean through some way of communication with Burgess, including the final notice of the ‘imminent’ interrogation.
  17. This implausible ‘fact’ – that he was suspected of abetting in their escape at the last minute – was added as the seventh and final point in the document passed to the Americans.
  18. Both White’s and Milmo’s interviews/interrogations of Philby were nominally focused on discovering how Maclean had been warned just before he was to be interrogated, not whether there was any indication of earlier leakage in the form of warnings concerning suspicions about Maclean.
  19. The enduring debate about the ‘Third Man’ has significantly focused on the identity of the man who alerted ‘Burgess and Maclean’, not simply ‘Maclean’. Philby had no idea that his Soviet masters planned to exfiltrate Burgess as well as Maclean. Indeed, they did not, at first.

In summary: Burgess had ample opportunity to warn Maclean. The KGB had been alerted beforehand. Soviet exfiltration plans had been in the works for a week before the event. The timing of the escape was arranged to pre-empt the originally scheduled day of interrogation. Maclean was, however, not imminently to be interrogated. No further leakage had been necessary. Philby was by this time out of the loop.

Reward Poster for Burgess & Maclean

After the disappearance of the pair, Philby was recalled from Washington, and arrived in the UK on June 12, whereupon he was immediately invited to a series of interviews by Dick White, the head of counter-espionage in MI5. That same day, Percy Sillitoe, head of MI5, accompanied by Arthur Martin, arrived in Washington with the objective of soothing the troubled minds of the FBI and the CIA.

I refer readers to my articles from four years ago, https://coldspur.com/the-importance-of-chronology-with-special-reference-to-liddell-philby/ [the second half], and https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/, for a detailed analysis of the events leading up to Philby’s departure, including the delivery by hand of a letter to him on June 6, alerting him that he would shortly receive a formal recall. I have supplemented that research with some fresh findings since then, such as the fact that Guy Liddell (deputy to Sillitoe) was on leave between June 3 and June 12, which helps to explain his general bewilderment as to what was going on. Given the misinformation that has circulated about the sequence of events, I hereby summarize the main facts:

  • As early as May 24, a visit to Washington by Sillitoe had been planned for June 18-25, to coincide with the date of Maclean’s interrogation on June 18. The focus and objectives of the visit changed after the ‘two diplomats’ disappeared.
  • White and Arthur Martin had in hand by the end of May a dossier on Philby, prepared by Milicent Bagot, the essence of which White related to MI6 chief Menzies, on June 4.
  • This dossier had the appearance of being compiled as a result of the Burgess/Maclean absconding, but it is clear that MI5 had been working on it for some time before.
  • MI5’s representative in Washington, Geoffrey Patterson, on May 29 agreed to an ‘ingenious scheme’ by White, and confirmed that he had sent information to the FBI.
  • The decision that Philby was to be re-called was taken by Menzies on June 5: it was not because the CIA had considered him persona non grata, and had demanded his expulsion.
  • Menzies and his deputy, James (Jack) Easton, then composed a letter for Philby that Drew carried to Washington that night.
  • Not until June 6 did the FBI learn that one of the escapees was Maclean.
  • On June 7, Sillitoe proposed that Martin join him on the visit to Washington to appease the FBI. The Americans had become very concerned about intelligence exposures, and even brought up the case of Engelbert Broda.
  • On June 11, Sillitoe and Martin departed, carrying the document with the ‘seven points’ about Philby’s probable culpability. Martin handed the document to Robert Lamphere of the FBI on June 12.
  • Lamphere passed the document to his ex-colleague from the FBI, Bill Harvey, now with the CIA, who was able to pass off the conclusions as his own when he handed it to the chief of the CIA, Bedell-Smith, on June 14.
  • On June 15, Harvey provocatively informed Allen Dulles, the recently appointed CIA’s Deputy Director for Plans, that Philby could be ‘ELLI’, the Soviet spy in British intelligence identified by the defector Igor Gouzenko, a supposition that had been strangely omitted from the White/Martin dossier.
  • On June 16, Dulles handed Harvey’s report to Sillitoe, who was ignorant of the original source of its allegations.
  • Sillitoe and Martin returned to London on June 18, when Sillitoe passed on Harvey’s ‘revelations’, an event that reportedly enabled MI5 to compile a dossier. [!!]
  • Bedell-Smith then wrote to Menzies, stating that Philby would no longer be welcome in Washington.

The main lesson is the fact that White was successful in diverting the main thrust of the challenge to Philby away from MI5 to the CIA, by virtue of the ‘seven points’ confided via Lamphere to Harvey. That ruse served to distract attention from any deficiencies on MI5’s part in not identifying any signs of treachery in Philby’s behaviour, helped to conceal the possibility of any London-based leakage, maintained MI6’s trust in its intelligence partner, and granted MI6 an external excuse for dealing with Philby. Yet the project was not without risk: while White’s memorandum stressed the Volkov affair, with which the CIA could well have been expected to be familiar, it also listed domestic events (such as Philby’s communism at Cambridge, and his cover-story with the Anglo-German Friendship Society) that had probably escaped the attention of the Americans.

Robert Lamphere’s account of Arthur Martin’s document

The fact that these two items could have been overlooked by MI5 was perhaps pardonable, but the third point – that Philby had married the communist Litzi Friedmann – was potentially dynamite, in that it might have uncovered a host of embarrassing incidents, which White presumably believed he could keep securely sealed. For instance, at that time Martin had most certainly not been indoctrinated into the fact that the informant known as Lizzy Feabre was Philby’s wife, which meant that he could be relied upon not to reveal any awkward secrets to the Americans. The fourth item mentioned Krivitsky’s pointer concerning the journalist in Spain, which was dangerously self-incriminating, as it would have been squarely in MI5’s court to investigate, and yet they had not acted. Moreover, the list omitted the Gouzenko reference to ‘ELLI’, a story which was very familiar to the Americans, and which troubled them greatly. That omission must have puzzled Bedell Smith and his team, and it would lead to some uncomfortable exchanges later that summer.

Chronology & Sources

Determining exactly what happened, and when, during this period is difficult, as the sources available are almost exclusively comments made by the slippery Dick White to his biographers, and asides from other MI5 officers. Philby’s memoir is almost devoid of dates, and should in any case be approached with caution. Guy Liddell’s Diaries can be considered (mostly) reliable, since they reflect an immediacy of response rather than a long-term memory, but there is some dissemblance in his observations. The first entry in File FCO 158/27 (the ‘PEACH’ Investigation) is disappointingly a memorandum dated as late as September 27, 1951. PREM 8/1524 (Prime Ministerial papers on the events) contains some useful background information. Christopher Andrew provides in Defend the Realm a narrow but reliable outline of events, exploiting the Mitrokhin archive, relying also on Yuri Modin’s testimony in My 5 Cambridge Friends, yet not using primary British sources. Very little archival reference is made in (for example) Tom Bower’s A Perfect English Spy, or Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends, beyond Liddell’s Diaries. Anthony Cave Brown’s biography of Menzies, “C”, displays conversations the author had with James Easton in Michigan shortly before he died: the latter’s reminiscences are probably authentic, but Cave Brown’s chronology is rather chaotic, and he struggles to organize his material convincingly.

John ‘Sinbad’ Sinclair

A rather sparse account of these events, complemented by generous extracts from the files, can be found in Chapter 6 of Nigel West’s Cold War Spymaster: The Legacy of Guy Liddell, Deputy Director of MI5 (2018), although Liddell’s involvement in the exercise was in fact minimal. In an astonishing lapse, West also presents ‘C’, the conventional title for the head of MI6, as being John Sinclair during the time of the inquiry, whereas Stewart Menzies was still in harness, and did not retire until 1952. (In 1945 Menzies had brought in two military intelligence officers: John Sinclair to replace Claude Dansey as deputy, and James Easton, who took over from Valentine Vivian, assistant-chief, in November of that year, while the latter was demoted to Chief Security Adviser to Menzies. Vivian retired early in 1951.) West’s book offers no archival references, but relies heavily on FCO 158/27 & 158/28. Unfortunately, he sometimes inserts names to fill redactions without explaining where or why he performs such services (as he does in his editing of the Liddell Diaries): he is probably correct in his emendations, but it is not a commendable practice. His representation of large redacted segments as a simple line of ‘XXXXXXXXX’ also does not perform justice to the size of such passages.

I present here a tentative time-line of the more solidly verifiable events of the second half of 1951, as a set of reference-points for the interested reader:

Jun 10 Prime Minister Attlee asks for details of careers of Burgess & Maclean

Jun 11  Carey Foster (of F.O.) distributes memorandum requesting secrecy over investigation

Jun 12 White conducts first interview of Philby

Liddell returns from leave

Jun 14 White conducts second interview: he asks Philby about Litzi

            Sillitoe cables to ask whether he should reveal to FBI that Litzi was a Communist?

            Sillitoe reports that CIA has declared Philby persona non grata

Jun 15 CIA’s Bill Harvey issues report on Philby (actually fed to him by White & Martin)

            The report suggests that Philby could be ‘ELLI’

Jun 18 Sillitoe informs Attlee visit was a success, and Hoover was most co-operative

Jun 20  Bedell Smith informs MI6 that Philby must be dismissed

Jun 21 Morrison suggests setting up Cadogan Committee to investigate FO security

Jun ?    Menzies tells Philby he will have to resign

Jun 26  Morrison states in House that Maclean had no access to technical information

Jun 27 White has agreed with SIS the form of memorandum to go to FBI

Jul 7    Menzies says Philby will have to be told the Americans suspect him of being ELLI

            Menzies wants the case completed before Philby returns from leave

White recommends that Cussen or Milmo should conduct an enquiry

Jul 12  MI6’s Easton arrives in Washington: he tells Scott he is convinced of Philby’s innocence

Jul 13  Easton tells Hoover & Smith that Philby is guilty of nothing more than ‘indiscretion’

Jul 20? Easton returns to London: finds document that Menzies had withheld from him

            Easton reads evidence of Philby’s bigamy, and nine other points

Easton challenges Philby over document’s claims: presumes Philby guilty

Easton presents conclusions to Menzies

Aug 4  Philby & Elliott are reported to be on vacation, yachting, in Chichester

            Philby is reported to be very active in looking for a job

Aug 16 Liddell tells Patterson about his proposed visit to Canada and the USA

Aug 20 Liddell reports that Washington believes MI5 may no longer be investigating Philby case

            Liddell explains it in terms of interrogation not being useful at this stage

            USA urging GB to interrogate Philby immediately on Gouzenko & Volkov cases

Aug 27 White returns from leave

Sep 18 Philby officially resigns from MI6

Sep 19-21 Liddell is in Washington for meetings with the CIA

Sep 21 ‘H.A.R. Philpott’ reported as journalist in Spain, and decorated by Franco

Oct 1   Liddell returns from leave [!!]

Oct 1   Bedell Smith of CIA is told facts of Philby case were ‘chain of coincidences’

            Liddell reports that case against Philby is ‘blacker’

            Bedell Smith told Menzies MI5 identified Philby as man referred by Gouzenko & Volkov

            Liddell says that that is ‘far from the case’

Oct 2   Edith Tudor-Hart is reported to have been involved in Russian espionage

Oct 3   Martin interviews Laemmel, MI5’s informant known as KASPAR or LAMB

Oct 13 Martin writes to Philby asking for information on Alice Honigmann

Oct 23 Philby explains his retirement from MI6 to Tomás Harris & Liddell

            Philby claims he has been treated very generously: he has no recriminations

Oct 25 Conservative Party defeats Labour in UK Election: Churchill replaces Attlee

Oct 30 Mackenzie of Washington Embassy expresses doubts about Philby’s behaviour in May

Nov 27 Carey Foster of FO warns White of possible damage to Anglo-American relations

Nov 30 White’s report on Philby is submitted and distributed

Dec 3   Terms of reference for Milmo are issued to him

Dec 6   Reilly prepares brief for Eden: says ‘MI5 is ready for interrogation’

Dec 7   Eden expresses deep concerns about Philby case, but is unaware of White interviews

            Liddell informs Churchill that all possible inquiries have only just been completed

            Churchill orders interrogation to occur at once

Dec 10 Liddell tells Burt of cumulative effect of evidence

Dec 12 Interrogation of Philby by Milmo takes place

            Philby denies that any of his previous statements were falsehoods

Dec ?   Milmo issues detailed report, concluding that Philby is guilty

Dec 18 White has completed his draft report for Americans on Philby

Dec 21 MI6 starts counter-attack on Milmo’s findings

Dec 28 Philby is encouraged to comment orally on his previous falsehoods

Dec 31 MI6 & MI5 to send agreed viewpoint on Philby to FBI & CIA

            Martin has made extremely good analysis of position: heavy burden of guilt

            Plan for White to take memorandum to FBI & CIA on January 14

Several broad conclusions can be drawn from these items:

  • A song-and-dance was being undertaken on the report into Philby. It had essentially been completed before June, but was not actually released until the end of November. MI5 pretended to the Foreign Office that the discoveries were all new, while White’s report did not disclose fresh findings unearthed during the summer.
  • MI5 had obviously been in close communication with MI6 throughout, and the presentation of the report to Menzies on November 30 would have been no surprise.
  • White continued to dissemble, presenting his personal submission to Menzies of his report as an act of courage.
  • MI6 was both in denial and in panic. Under pressure from the Americans, they forced Philby’s resignation at the same time that Easton was telling them Philby was innocent.
  • Philby’s resignation occurred more than two months before the official report was submitted.
  • The arrival of the new government under Churchill in October 1951 may help to explain the sudden change in the course of events in November.

The White Interviews

Dick White

During the six months after Burgess and Maclean disappeared, MI5 undertook, on the assumption that there had been a last-minute tip-off, a frequently hesitant inquiry into Philby as its possible source. The process (the ‘PEACH’ case) started immediately after Philby returned to Britain on June 12, when he was asked ‘to help with the inquiries’ into the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean, and underwent three interviews, in quick succession, carried out by Dick White. Since we are dependent almost exclusively on the memoirs or communications of the two participants (with some added commentary from Guy Liddell) for a record of what happened, it is useful to summarize how they each presented the events before I attempt to put the confrontations in context.

Philby had prepared thoroughly for the encounter, since a handwritten letter from Jack Easton had alerted him to the reason that he was being recalled – as if he had not been able to guess it. Easton’s precise role here is uncertain: at this stage he was probably less informed about the background material, least of all the Litzi business. Philby interpreted the message as a friendly warning. Easton was present at the subsequent interviews carried out by White (of which Philby claimed there were ‘several’), but White was not a practiced interrogator: he tried to be friendly, wanting help in ‘clearing up this appalling Burgess-Maclean affair’. Philby prevaricated and distorted the truth, but when openings cropped up, such as the question of the funding for Philby’s first trip to Spain, White failed to follow up his line of questioning. Philby wrote little more about what else was discussed, and concluded his account by describing how he was summoned twice by Menzies, once to be told that Bedell Smith had declared him persona non grata in Washington, and then to be informed that Menzies would have to ask for his resignation. He would be given £4000 in place of a pension. Both events are undated: Philby also misidentified the source of Bedell Smith’s intelligence as William J. Howard when it should have been Daniel Harvey.

As for Dick White’s testimony, Tom Bower (White’s biographer, who inherited substantial notes from Andrew Boyle), relates how White had beforehand visited John Sinclair of MI6 in Broadway Buildings to ‘discuss the unprecedented MI5 questioning of a senior SIS officer’, and how Sinclair had grudgingly agreed to the request. At that stage, White gave the impression that suspicions about Philby barely existed, and that he and Martin were therefore about to start out on their task of research. In light of the chronology given above, it is clear that the idea that a fresh MI5 project allowed it to uncover dramatic new information on Philby was a fiction.

But what shocking information they uncovered! As Bower records:

There was the discovery that Philby’s first wife, Litzi Friedmann, was an Austrian Communist. In 1946, White had been asked by SIS to check on Litzi after Philby had applied for permission to divorce his youthful transgression. White had been told by Klop Ustinov that Litzi was a Soviet agent, but that had not been held against Philby.

(Of course, Bower gives Seale and McConville as sources for this revelation.) But that was no ‘discovery’, if White had been informed of it back in 1946. And Philby did not need ‘permission’ to get his divorce: what he had to do was face the music of informing his boss at MI6 that he was still married to Litzi. Moreover, that factoid was one of the points expressed in the dossier already sent over to the CIA. One can already detect the clumsy attempt at covering up traces, and the absurd pretence that the senior officers in MI5 had known nothing about the Litzi Feabre nonsense.

White described his tactics as relying on ‘an element of quiet probing and deceptive gentleness’, as if his prey would have been easily susceptible to such charms. He quickly concluded that Philby was lying, but he lacked the patience and guile to trap him. According to Bower, White then submitted a report to Menzies ‘which concluded that Philby was suspect’. That precise report (which may have been delivered orally) has not seen the light of day, and it is significant that White’s final version of it was not presented until November 30 – a phenomenon that I shall analyze later. The judgment on Philby’s possible culpability seems very tame: Philby was suspect when he was brought in, and clearly incriminated even more deeply by the time White had finished. Yet Bower appears to have been taken in by White’s claim that he showed great courage in confronting the MI6 chiefs with his suspicions, a dishonourable performance since it was he who had arranged for the indictment that he and Martin had prepared to be used as evidence for Menzies from the CIA.

The last source is Guy Liddell, who was listening in to the interviews (and had only that day returned from leave, it should be recalled). He failed to find Philby convincing when the latter was asked about the Volkov affair, and at the second interview, when White started asking Philby about his first wife, Liddell recorded:

            Dick then questioned him about his first wife. He said that he had married her in Vienna in about 1934, knowing that she was a Communist, but that he had subsequently converted her. His marriage had broken up in 1936 and, so far as he knew, she was no more than a left winger. He had himself never been a Communist, but his sympathies with the left had been strong when he married his first wife in 1934.

Liddell felt uncomfortable about revealing this information to the CIA. Sillitoe had just cabled from Washington asking for guidance as to when he should reveal to the FBI that Litzi had been a communist, and Liddell dithered, writing:

            We have, therefore, left the decision with the D.G., emphasising that if he feels it necessary to communicate this information now, he should make it clear that no proper assessment of Philby’s position has so far been possible, and that they should not prejudge the issue on the information about his former wife. This is to be subject of C’s approval, which we cannot get until tomorrow.

This whole exercise was thus something of a charade. Yet a fresh interpretation jumps out. Menzies may well have been convinced of Philby’s guilt, and thus become party to White’s plot,  before Kim arrived in London. He and White could have decided that, by encouraging the CIA to demand punishment for Philby’s transgressions, it would provide a useful external alibi for what had to be done. Menzies and White both knew about the Litzi-Honigmann business, and must have started to experience horrifying suspicions that they had been utterly hoodwinked by Philby, and that his career with MI6 since 1941 had been a chapter of disasters. Thus Menzies dutifully followed what Bedell Smith advised him to do – dismiss Philby. By that action, Menzies and White probably believed and hoped that the problem would die away. But the events show that the newly appointed deputies to Menzies, Sinclair and Easton, were going to become the flies in the ointment, not having been directly exposed to the shenanigans of 1946. One (Sinclair) remained a staunch believer in Philby’s innocence, the other (Easton) soon felt betrayed by the fact that part of the Philby dossier had been withheld from him, and he became convinced of Philby’s guilt. In their different ways, they would both exert a significant influence on the evolution of the case.

American Pressure, and the Resignation

The ‘negotiations’ of Philby’s resignation (if they can be considered such) are worthy of comment. Menzies ‘asked’ for Philby’s resignation, the implication being that, if he did not do so, he would be fired, presumably for conduct unbecoming an intelligence officer, or because he had lied about his past. One might expect an innocent man to protest violently at the ruination of his career, but Philby did not do so. He not only knew he was guilty: it was evident that his employer had enough evidence to condemn him, even though none of it would stand up in a trial – a procedure that MI6 would be very reluctant to engage in because of the publicity and the possibility of a negative result. After all, Philby had not actually been caught in the act of handing over privileged material to a foreign power, and he had resisted pressure to confess.

Yet letting the man loose had its problems, too. MI6 could hardly expect Philby to put a convincing spin on the termination of his career, and his friends would ask questions. Those in the United States and in the United Kingdom who were convinced of his guilt would demand to know why he had been allowed to get away, and ask questions about unresolved aspects of the case. And those who believed that he had been set up as a scapegoat for the Burgess/Maclean fiasco would make protestations about an innocent officer’s being lost from the service. In fact, all three reactions occurred, which meant that the matter could not be buried quietly.

The actual date of the agreement is elusive. As I showed, Philby himself indicated that it occurred very soon after the White interviews, in June, and that he thereafter spent the whole summer house-hunting. Cave Brown had the encounter occurring at the end of July or the beginning of August. Nigel West bizarrely presents it as happening in November. The argument in favour of Philby’s account is defensible, since Menzies would have needed to respond quickly to American pressure. In his book The Agency, John Ranelagh wrote that Bedell Smith accompanied the Harvey report with a cover letter to Menzies that stated: “Fire Philby or we break off the intelligence relationship”.

Yet other evidence at first suggests that the process was more drawn out. The discussion in July over the ‘ELLI’ question, and White’s continued process of investigations, suggest that Philby’s fate might still have been in the air, with Menzies possibly having second thoughts: he expressed a desire for the case to be completed before Philby returned from leave. Easton’s trip to the United States at that time to inform the CIA that Philby was guilty only of ‘indiscretions’ is difficult to explain if the traitor’s disposition had already been decided, although it would have constituted a tactless response on Menzies’s part after Bedell Smith’s forthright threat by letter. The fact that Philby was recorded by Liddell as being on holiday in early August, ‘looking for a job’, might indicate that the agreement had only recently been made, and the timing of his resignation taking effect only on September 18 would support the Cave Brown thesis, with Easton’s memory being judged more reliable than Philby’s.

Carey Foster

The truth is probably more complicated, and the archive is ambiguous. Philby’s account appears to be superficially correct. A memorandum written by Carey Foster on December 11 specifically states that Philby’s employment was ‘terminated’ in June,’ because of his close association with Burgess’ (a euphemistic way of representing Philby’s culpability). Perhaps he was given three months’ salary, which might explain the September 18 ‘resignation’, the record of which also appears in the PEACH archive. But other events suggest that Menzies issued some kind of suspended sentence, and awaited the results of further research before confirming his decision. These events include the bizarre mission by Easton to Washington.

As the news spread around Washington in late June, pressure started to be applied to the MI6 outpost in the British Embassy, with questions being asked as to whether Maclean had had access to technical information on atomic weaponry. The Foreign Office had to arrange for a question to be asked in the House of Commons whereby the new Foreign Minister, Herbert Morrison, could deny any such knowledge on Maclean’s part. (His predecessor, Ernest Bevin, had given up the post in March, owing to ill-health, and had died a month later.) Moreover, the CIA persisted on the ‘ELLI’ business, which White’s memorandum had naively overlooked. Liddell recorded in his Diary (July 7) that Menzies had judged that Philby would have to be told about the American’s belief that he could be ‘ELLI’, and would even have to explain to the Americans why he was not ‘ELLI’ – a quite absurd proposition, given the murkiness behind the rumour. Of course Philby would not have been able to do anything about it, but it helps to suggest that his fate was still undetermined at this stage, and that Menzies was not fully committed to firing him. It was now that Dick White determined that he had to bow out of the investigation, since he believed that the ‘ELLI’ and Volkov cases were outside his purview (mistakenly, of course, with ‘ELLI’, since the defector had made his assertions on Commonwealth soil). White recommended that Edward Cussen (who had interrogated P. G. Wodehouse) or Helenus Milmo should conduct an inquiry. No doubt he felt the heat around him.

In mid-July Easton was sent to Washington to calm things down. In the words of Cave Brown (who interviewed Easton in early July, 1986):

            At that point [vaguely defined, in Cave Brown’s narrative] “C” decided to send Jack Easton to Washington to see Bedell Smith. But he did not tell Easton about Goldsmith White’s communiqué, nothing about Philby’s involvement in the Volkov affair (Easton had joined SIS afterward), and he enjoined Easton to take the boat to the States rather than fly. He further instructed Easton to tell nothing more than that Philby was ‘guilty of nothing worse than gross indiscretion, but that an inquiry was being instituted into all aspects concerning him’. Indeed, “C” appears not to have been as alarmed as those around him.

This is all very weird, and does not sound authentic. Admittedly, Easton was known and well-respected in Washington, but for Menzies to send him as an emissary with such parsimonious information, on a slow boat to China, while at the same time concealing vital information from him, would have been a colossal misjudgment. Simply because Easton joined MI6 after the Volkov affair was no reason for him not to have been briefed on it, or not to have read the reports. Moreover, Easton had been present at White’s interviews with Philby, so how could he claim such ignorance to Cave Brown? I think it much more likely that Easton was already familiar with the other nine points of the communiqué, but that, on his return, a major assertion about Philby’s marital status stunned him. To mix metaphors, it is much more likely that Cave Brown simply got the wrong end of the stick than that Easton was trying to pull the wool over his eyes. Nevertheless, Washington seemed appeased, and Easton sent a signal to Menzies advising him not to take any action against Philby until he returned – a clear indication that Philby’s fate was still up in the air.

For some reason, on his return, Easton contacted his predecessor, Valentine Vivian, and probably through him discovered an expanded version of the seven-point report compiled by White. This contained many of the familiar claims against Philby (from Litzi’s communism to the gatherings at Bentinck Street, from Burgess to Volkov), but was headed by an astounding, fresh assertion – that Philby’s marriage to Aileen Furse had been bigamous. (The ten points of this document are reproduced in a tight summary in Cave Brown’s book, suggesting that Easton had maintained a copy rather than relying on memory.) It was this finding that appeared to anger Easton the most, as he recalled the occasion when Philby had responded to his congratulations on the birth of his latest child, now shown to be out of wedlock. It confirmed his impression that Philby was a cad, ‘an accomplished liar . . . capable of anything’. Most of all, Easton felt that his professional integrity had been attacked, since he had been called upon to lie to the Americans.

Now this revelation may not come as a surprise to coldspur readers, as I expressed my bewilderment last month over the indulgence of the Chelsea Registry Office in so casually accepting the fact of Philby’s divorce from Litzi. So perhaps it never happened? And thus the Georg Honigmann-Litzi Friedmann/Philby marriage was likewise bigamous? While the comrades might not have concerned themselves unduly with such bourgeois matters, the whole exercise provoked Easton (who had been assigned the Philby case by Menzies) to haul in Philby for another inquisition, where he challenged him about several of the points – including a telling item about ‘the revelations concerning Lizzy Friedmann’s [sic] associations with a Soviet agent in Germany’, which suggested that a garbled version of the Honigmann business had found its way into the chronicle. He asked him about his bigamous marriage: Philby apparently did not deny it. He had no answers to Easton’s questions. Easton told Cave Brown that ‘he looked and behaved like a rat in a trap. I let him go. But his attitude was such that everything being said against him was true and therefore a strong presumption of guilt against him’.

What is disappointing about this account is Cave Brown’s inability to follow up with incisive questions: he appears to be overwhelmed by the material, and can be considered the journalistic equivalent of Arthur Martin. To start with: in what circumstances was the fact of Philby’s bigamy discovered? When did it occur? Who knew about it? Did anyone at the Kim-Aileen ceremony in September 1946 bear false witness? Why was Tomás Harris listed as the only witness when we now know that Flora Solomon – and Frank Birch – also attended (see KV 2/4634)? Did Philby truly not admit that he had never divorced Litzy? And did Easton (who clearly knew about the Honigmann business) ask Philby why he had not arranged his divorce in that summer of 1946 before Litzi left the UK for good? (It is possible that Easton was ignorant of the events of the summer of 1946, and believed that Philby had bigamously married Aileen much earlier: after all, she had changed her name by deed poll.) In any event, Easton then presented his findings to Menzies – it could not have been a comfortable encounter – and soon Menzies realized the seriousness of the situation, and came to grips with his earlier decision that Philby would have to be dismissed. Bigamy was a crime, unlike adultery, and provided solid grounds for dismissal. Thus Philby could be relied upon not to spill the beans about the true cause.

What is also extraordinary about this revelation is that it was Easton alone who provided it, thirty-five years after the events, a few years before his death in 1990. One might have expected someone else to have leaked the secret during that time. So was Easton the only officer who knew about it? Would John Sinclair and his cohorts have been such enthusiastic supporters of Philby had the shocking news been revealed to them?

The Dog Days of Summer

Events moved in a desultory fashion that summer. No doubt many of the leading figures had to take their vacations, holidays and leave. As early as June 11, Carey Foster, the Foreign Office’s Security Officer, had requested other government departments to refrain from commenting on issues related to Burgess and Maclean, as he wanted the Foreign Office itself to handle any communications. Ten days later, the Foreign Secretary, Herbert Morrison, recommended setting up a committee to review Foreign Office security. The Prime Minister, Clement Attlee. approved, but when the group met under Alexander Cadogan’s chairmanship, members were kept in the dark as to the investigations into Kim Philby, with Dick White appearing at one of the meetings to help obfuscate the situation.

One might conclude that, with Philby’s resignation sealed, White and Menzies would have imagined that the troublesome case would quietly die down. After all, the destination of Burgess and Maclean was unknown. Attlee’s administration did not apply any pressure, since the possibility of a ‘Third Man’ had been concealed from them, and Attlee was constantly looking over his shoulder at his Left Wing, sympathetic to the Soviets. White had kicked the ball into the long grass by abdicating any responsibility for looking into the Gouzenko and Volkov cases. Yet the pot started to be prodded from both sides.

Kim Philby’s greatest friend and ally, Nicholas Elliott, had in June returned to the UK from Bern, Switzerland, to take up a new position in MI6. Liddell refers to a visit that Elliot paid him on June 16 (his name is redacted, but the identity is unquestionable), indicating that Philby was using him to determine where he stood:

            Xxxxxxx xxxxxxx came round to see me. Telephone checks had indicated that he had rather got his ear to the ground in S.I.S. and was trying to find out for Kim where the latter stood. He did not, however, attempt to pump me and prefaced his remarks by saying that he knew nothing whatever about the case.

Apart from the ominous reference to telephone-tapping, this was relatively harmless, but Elliott would increase the volume during the following months, especially when Philby felt badly treated by the Milmo interrogations. In the gloom of his betrayal, Elliott’s 1991 memoir Never Judge A Man by His Umbrella clumsily finessed his whole campaign to defend Philby. Ben Macintyre describes Elliott’s efforts in the following terms: “Within MI6 Elliott swiftly emerged as Philby’s most doughty champion, defending him against all accusers and loudly declaring his innocence”, but the author provides no sources for his claims.

The pressure from the accusers annoyingly arose in Washington, where some niggling interest endured, and Guy Liddell gave the impression that it was his job to quell it. On August 16, he informed Patterson that he intended to pay a visit to the USA and Canada, and his diary entries at the end of August (when White was on leave, and Liddell therefore had to take over) indicate that the CIA was expressing disappointment at the speed of the inquiry. Liddell had to explain that it was not useful to attempt to interrogate Philby over Gouzenko and Volkov, since MI5 was still gathering information. The outcome was that Liddell did indeed visit Washington between September 19 and 21, although we have to draw on CIA records for this information, as Liddell gives no indication of the mission in his diaries, rather naively reporting that he returned from leave (again!) on October 1.

Liddell’s task was not eased by the political rivalry between the FBI and the CIA. (In October, Hoover came to be very annoyed on learning that Menzies had explained VENONA to Bedell Smith, and he let Geoffrey Patterson know of his ire in no uncertain terms.) On August 9, Liddell wrote:

            I saw Patrick Reilly and cleared with him, and subsequently of SIS, a letter which the D.G. is sending to Hoover, suggesting the indoctrination of Bedell-Smith into basic material connected with the MACLEAN case. In spite of the fact that Bedell-Smith is Chairman of U.S.C.I.B., the equivalent of SIGINT, he is unaware of the source of our information. [VENONA: coldspur]. This causes his subordinates to worry about S.I.S. and ourselves with wild theories about the disappearance of BURGESS and MACLEAN.

Three days later, he records how the FBI was demanding more stringent interrogation of the suspect based on ‘more sinister allegations against Philby arising from both the Gouzenko and Wolkov [sic] cases’, and Liddell again had to temporize by replying that MI5 was still making exhaustive inquiries.

As summer turned into autumn, the investigation picked up again. What further inquiries were being made at this stage is unclear, and it took until October 1 for Liddell to acknowledge that the case against Philby was now ‘much bleaker’. (His diary for the whole of September is blank.) By now, evidence of Litzi’s multiple travels to the Continent in the late 1930s has come to light. “The inference is that she was then acting as a courier. These facts were never revealed by Kim, although they must have been within his knowledge.” And then, Liddell responds in a provocative fashion to an observation by Bedell Smith, who had apparently told Sillitoe ‘that he thought that MI5 were now confident that Philby was identical with the man mentioned by Gouzenko and Wolkov.’ Liddell’s comment runs as follows: “This is of course far from the case.”

Now this statement could be interpreted in many ways. It could suggest that the figures identified by Gouzenko and Volkov were confidently not identified as being the same individual – a simplification encouraged by the two-dimensional American mind, and abetted by inadequate knowledge. It could serve simply to deny MI5’s confidence that Philby was either ELLI, or Volkov’s counter-intelligence officer. It could imply that MI5 had excluded the possibility that Philby could be one of the pair – perhaps because the ELLI business had already been solved and put to bed. But why ‘of course’? It indicates that certain facts of the case were widely understood and accepted by Liddell and his colleagues. Above all, it suggests that MI5 in general was still very uncertain as to how it could handle the Americans’ persistent objections and inquiries about Philby.

A remarkable new set of items of information arrived, beginning at the end of September, which suggested that further investigations were being taken a little more seriously. The first has a humorous angle. It consists of a memorandum sent by an A. G. R. Rouse, from within the Foreign Office, to Carey Foster of the Security Department, dated September 21, and headed: ‘British Journalists Attached to the Franco Side During the Spanish Civil War’. The writer apologizes for the delay in responding, but he has evidently been making discreet inquiries via Chatham House while avoiding any direct approach to the Times. His main conclusion runs as follows: “There was, however, a British correspondent by the name of H. A. R. Philpott who was evidently decorated by Franco, but we have been unable to trace what paper he represented.”

Apart from the mistake over the name, the obvious question is: what took MI5 so long to trigger this request? It should clearly have been made in February 1940, after the interrogation of Krivitsky, and not as the outcome of an afterthought in the summer of 1951. Yet I offer a darker interpretation. If this disclosure was made only in September 1951, how was it that a confident expression of the connection was able to be made in the dossier of May? It suggests again that the link had been identified earlier, soon after the Krivitsky interrogation, but put into abeyance because of the belief in Philby’s new commitment, until the suspicions about him surfaced at the end of the decade.

Further items followed. On October 2, Edith Tudor-Hart had been interviewed, and admitted to having been involved in Russian espionage, thus casting the spotlight again on her close friend, Litzi. The following day, Arthur Martin conducted his infamous interview of Laemmel, MI5’s informant known as KASPAR or LAMB, which I tried to dissect in my March posting, and cleared up last month. This interview can be interpreted to show just how ignorant or confused Martin was, despite the fact that, according to Liddell’s diary entry of August 20, ‘Martin knows his cases inside out and backwards’. Martin’s bizarre behaviour was then further exemplified by a letter he wrote for the attention of MI6 on October 13, probably to Kim Philby, apparently unaware of the fact that his target had resigned some time ago. He asked for information on Alice Honigmann, revealing that he knew that she had been married to ‘a British subject’ in 1934, but thereby failed to help his addressee at all, since he omitted providing the husband’s name. The text suggests that he had no idea that the new bride of Georg Honigmann had actually been married to (and maybe was still legally entwined with) the subject of MI5’s continuing inquiries, and he makes some clumsy mistakes about the Honigmanns’ marital status. It is at first difficult to determine whether Martin was being stupid, obtuse, or simply devious.

Yet this document strikes me as being a classical example of the ‘Genuine’ but ‘Inauthentic’ article. It is Genuine, because it is correctly dated and authored, and appears in a context that looks realistic, but the letter is patently Inauthentic. Its insincerity is obvious in many ways: the name of the addressee has been redacted, but the suffix of ‘Esq., O.B.E’ has been disingenuously left in place, betraying a clear clue to whom the letter was sent. Martin may or may not have had the facts of Philby’s dismissal explained to him, but the impression he wants to give is that lowlier officers in MI5 like him have properly been kept in the dark. He also pretends to show ignorance of the full history of Lizzy Honigmann, thus not providing full help to the person whose help he is requesting, even though the record of his interview with LAMB a few days before proves that he knows a lot more. And finally, he displays a foggy but very revealing understanding of the marital status of the Honigmanns, first claiming that Litzi lived with Georg until 1946 (i.e. in an unmarried state) ‘when they both left the UK’, next indicating that Litzi ‘joined her husband in Berlin’, before stating that ‘it is believed that the Honigmanns married after they arrived in Berlin’ (clumsiness, simply confusion, or another example of deliberate obtuseness, perhaps?). It all sounds like an awkward put-up job engineered by his supervisor, Dick White, to furnish evidence for the historical record that MI5 was performing its due diligence.

Liddell was actually groping around in the dark at this time, trying to put his finger on the core of the communist conspiracy, all the while blissfully unaware of how he had been betrayed. A telling diary entry of October 22 shows how he had had a private talk with Anthony Blunt, of all people, and had sought insights from him about Burgess’s motives for ‘going away’– like Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, presumably. He also had a private discussion with Victor and Tess Rothschild, believing them to be loyal and honourable allies, and Tess tried to distract attention from herself and her husband by pointing to ‘a girl who was formerly a secret member of the Party, but has had, she believes, nothing to with it for ten years’. (How she knew that fact so intimately did apparently not cross Liddell’s mind.) He wrote: “I do not know to whom she is referring, it may be xxxxxxxxx’s wife’ [probably Jenifer Hart, Herbert Hart having been being a respected member of MI5 during the war]. Liddell then reflected:

            Tess would be willing to put us in touch with this person, provided it were possible that the information did not go further than Dick and myself. I said that one of the difficulties we were up against was that we had had to revise our opinion about these [sic] sort of people. Formerly we had been inclined to take the view that those who had committed youthful indiscretions and had not showed up in the records for ten years could now be regarded as cleared, but in the light of recent experiences we have had to revise our views.


Yet what probably changed the course of events dramatically was the fact that Prime Minister Attlee called an election for October 25, but lost it. The Tories returned to power, under Churchill’s leadership, with Anthony Eden resuming his post as Foreign Secretary.

Churchill Replaces Attlee

It apparently took several weeks for the new administration to concern itself properly with the PEACH case. When Liddell accompanied Sillitoe to the offices of Prime Minister Churchill and Foreign Secretary Eden on December 7, he observed that Eden did not have a good insight into what had been happening, and what the strategy was, recording:

            Eden was worried about the PHILBY case; he had evidently been extremely badly briefed and had given the P.M. the impression that PHILBY might escape at any moment and that another scandal would ensure similar to that in the case of BURGESS and MACLEAN. The D.G. explained that on the fact [sic] of it this was not at all likely. Eden was evidently unaware that PHILBY had already been interrogated three times, although not quite on the lines of the proposed interrogation which is to take place on the 19th December, on the basis of a number of subsequent enquiries.

Liddell was displaying a good deal of disingenuousness here. After all, the Foreign Office, in the shape of Carey Foster, had done its best to cast a veil over the whole affair, and MI5 was historically not known for its candour with its political masters. Only eighteen months beforehand, in the wake of the Fuchs business, Liddell and White had persuaded Sillitoe to lie to Prime Minster Attlee over the checks that had been carried out on Fuchs’s communism, with the result that Sillitoe had given them a severe dressing-down over putting him in that position. Moreover, Liddell confessed in his diary that he had claimed to Eden that ‘all enquiries which seemed possible had only just been completed’, to which a more competent and alert Foreign Secretary might have riposted: “What is taking you so long?”

Indeed, MI5 must have been sensing some pressure, as White’s dossier had been ‘circulated’ (to whom is not clear) on November 30. Liddell’s comment on Eden’s being left in the dark is ambiguous (Did he not know that Philby had been interrogated at all? Or was he in ignorance that as many as three interviews had taken place?). Yet, since the White report states clearly that Philby was ‘interviewed on three occasions’, it seems safe to assume that Eden had not been granted the favour of being able to read the report for himself. Surely, if he knew of the existence of such, he would have asked for a copy.

The introduction to White’s report is worth quoting in full:

            Ever since the disappearance of Maclean and Burgess the Security Service have been making a study of all available evidence in order to find out how Maclean was alerted just before he was going to be interrogated.

This is a carefully crafted deception. The study had started before the disappearance. It was an inquiry into the probability of Philby’s general guilt, not the specific event of an ‘alert’ to Maclean. The implied immediacy of the interrogation was a lie.

This MI5 dossier listed several items that appear in my catalogue of lapses in last month’s coldspur, citing them as evidence of Philby’s mendaciousness (‘PEACH’s statements are false’). They include his status with the communist Litzi, his relations with Burgess, and his own political views. It then goes on to list ‘information from the Russian defectors and Intelligence sources’, namely (i) the Krivitsky testimony, (ii) the Volkov disclosures, (iii) the changes to the Soviet cypher system, (iv) Philby’s ability to inspect a telegram to Washington (on May 16) concerning the date of the Maclean interrogation (projected then to be ‘immediately after May 23’; and (v) the probable acquaintance of Philby and Maclean when at Cambridge. One notable omission from this list is the Gouzenko pointer to a spy known as ‘ELLI’ in the bowels of the Intelligence Services. Again, one has to wonder whether this was because ELLI had already been accounted for, or because the exposure was too monstrous to admit. Given the Americans’ perpetual interest, I would support the former theory. It also fails to report the fresh revelations about Litzi’s travels in Europe which Liddell referred to in his diary entry for October 1.

The objective of the report, however, was apparently not to make a case that Philby had operated for any length of time as an agent for the NKVD/KGB, but to determine whether or not PEACH was ‘the most likely person to have been responsible for alerting Maclean’. (Note the subtle change from the introductory language: Philby had of course alerted Maclean to the HOMER advances.) And White offered the information that the Security Service had reached the conclusion that it was indeed PEACH who was responsible (how else would that derive, except from him?), stating that he had ‘studied all the evidence’ and agreed with that conclusion. But of course White had done no such thing. He had apparently never considered any other possible leakers (such as Blunt), and ignored the fact that Philby, working in Washington, was surely not best situated to control the course of events. He had of course suggested that Philby was able to intervene only as late as May 16, when he saw the telegram. Moreover, a mass of relevant information that had either been known about for some time, or had been uncovered in the period since (such as the whole Honigmann business) had been omitted from the report.

Rather ingenuously, however, the White/Martin report does not examine how Philby was able to evade any investigation at the time of the various events, a point that I shall re-examine later. For instance, the following text appears, concerning Krivitsky’s evidence:

            In all respects, therefore, PEACH fulfils the description given by Krivitsky. So far as can be ascertained no other journalist accredited to Franco Spain does.

Anyone with any sense of the political background who came across this sentence should have reacted with dismay, even rage, since it reflects dire incompetence on the part of MI5. Nevertheless, Carey Foster was highly positive when he read the report: “I have read your dossier on PEACH which I think has been extremely well assembled.”

Churchill and Eden, presumably basing their judgments on a précis of the report, were less patient. Eden and his Permanent Under-Secretary of State, William Strang (who had been serving in that role since 1949) believed, according to Liddell, that further interrogations would lead to prosecution – an observation that would suggest that Carey Foster had not been keeping his boss Strang (a nasty piece of work, by the way) properly informed of MI5’s deliberations. Somewhat hastily, Prime Minister Churchill ordered that a more rigorous interrogation be undertaken immediately. He and Eden would be visiting Washington in the near term, and they wanted to be able to deal with the case then, whatever the outcome. Helenus (‘Buster’) Milmo Q.C., who had already been selected to perform a more severe examination of Philby on December 19, was ordered to start it a week earlier.

Helenus Milmo, Q.C.

The éminence grise behind the strategizing was Patrick Reilly, the rather ineffectual chief of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who would have been responsible for the smooth transition of intelligence matters between administrations. Yet he may have had conflicts of interest, having served for a year during the War as Menzies’s private secretary, and he notoriously admitted to having a chair-destroying fit when he heard about the disappearance of Burgess and MacLean (see the section ‘Reilly and the Hollis Mystery’ in https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/, where I also analyze Reilly’s mendacious contribution to the affair). I repeat here what I quoted then from Michael Goodman’s history of the JIC: “The JIC’s failure to probe the strategic implications of the damage caused by Soviet espionage is even harder to understand, despite the fact that administrative responsibility for security and counter-intelligence lay with MI5”.

The reason for the expedited second stage of the investigation was the concern that Philby might flee the country: the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, was fearful of a repeat of the Burgess/Maclean fiasco, and advised Churchill accordingly. If Philby (or Moscow) had been hellbent on his departing, however, it would have been arranged whether he surrendered his passport or not. Yet the result was that Milmo did not spend enough time performing research to prepare properly for the case. Since the Foreign Office believed that a prosecution would be the natural outcome of the procedure, and was aware of the Americans looking over their shoulders, it was eager to pounce on any timidity. MI5 was much more wary, knowing that, since the evidence was so circumstantial, only a full-blown confession by Philby would lead to conviction, and a trial could moreover turn out to be very messy.

The result was a rush. It was not that Milmo was unfamiliar with the world of intelligence and counter-espionage: he had worked for MI5 during the war, and had interrogated suspected Nazi spies. But he did not have time to think through the implications of all the information that was passed to him. He was provided with a dossier ‘together with a large number of appendices, statements taken from witnesses and other papers and documents bearing upon the subject matter of the inquiry’. MI5 had by now upped its ante: in its initial recommendation that PEACH be interrogated, it overtly expressed its suspicion that PEACH ‘is, and has been for many years, a spy for the Russians’. It also highlighted the risk of Philby’s fleeing abroad, and what steps should be taken to prevent such an event, and also stressed the importance of keeping the Americans informed because of any possible political fallout.

The Milmo Interrogation

Thus Milmo undertook the interrogation on December 12. I do not intend here to provide a comprehensive summary of Milmo’s findings: Nigel West’s Cold War Spymaster provides a useful reproduction of most of his report, which is in any case available for downloading at no charge from the National Archives as an item in the second PEACH file (see https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C14944024 ). What I shall explore are a few fascinating aspects of the process and of Milmo’s findings, namely the following phenomena: 1) the terms of reference and the logic behind Milmo’s conclusions; 2) the items that were left out – or possibly redacted from the published version of the report; 3) the items that were freshly recorded here, and have not been presented anywhere else, so far as I can judge; and 4) the sections of the Appendix, and a later ‘Summing-Up’ that show how Philby later reacted to demonstrably false assertions that he had made in the course of the interrogation.

  1. Terms of Reference:

Milmo introduced his report by writing: “By letter dated 3rd December 1951, I was instructed to undertake an official enquiry into the possibility of there having been a leakage of information to Mr Burgess and/or Maclean resulting in their subsequent disappearance.” I make an important distinction here. Note that Milmo was not instructed to make an inquiry into the method by which Maclean had been warned that his identity as HOMER had been divulged: Burgess was an implicit subject of the inquiry. His mission was to determine how Burgess and Maclean had been warned of Maclean’s approaching interrogation, which action enabled them to escape. That strictly framed the inquiry into the events of late May in the UK, not those of April in Washington. Milmo would later come to link the two sets of circumstances, but his method of doing so was utterly illogical.

Milmo was further instructed, if he were ‘satisfied that such leakage did in fact occur, he was to ‘enquire as to the identity of the officials or official responsible for such leakage and the motive which prompted such leakage’. Yet he did no such thing. He received his instructions soon after December 3, and started the interrogation just over a week later. He had no time to conduct an independent investigation: he admitted that he was completely dependent on ‘a very full dossier on the case’, which he had to assimilate over a few days, complemented by interviews with officers of the Security Service. He never interviewed members of the Foreign Office staff, and for documentation relied on what had been prepared for him. He had no way of knowing how ‘full’ the dossier was, or what had been left out.

He thus made an inconsequential jump in judging that ‘there was no doubt that it was as a result of a leakage that Burgess and Maclean disappeared from this country on 25th May’, and that, since Philby knew Burgess, and that the evidence points to the fact that Philby had been a Soviet agent for many years, Philby must have been ‘directly and deliberately responsible for the leakage which in fact occurred’. A key passage in the Appendix (which may have been overlooked) runs as follows:

            At the end of February 1951 Burgess commits a series of ridiculous speeding offences and the suggestion initiated by Philby himself that this may well have been done deliberately in order to engineer his (Burgess’s) return to London. If Burgess did in fact know at that stage of the danger of Maclean’s position, he would have been only too conscious of the danger in which he himself stood  . . . .

            If one assumes that Philby was also a Soviet agent, the obvious course was to get Burgess, who was not suspect, to London as soon as possible, for then both ends are covered. Philby is stationed at the listening point in Washington and will know exactly what is planned; Burgess is in London to take the necessary action on the information which Philby can easily transmit to him. Before Burgess left it was known to Philby that Maclean was on the short list of Foreign Office official under suspicion.

The poverty of this analysis is dumbfounding. Milmo apparently trusts what Philby tells him. He ignores the fact that Burgess was not a suspect at this time, and thus not in danger, and could have remained unscathed had he not joined Maclean. Burgess did not return to London ‘as soon as possible’: he took months to do so. There was no guarantee that all the decisions being made in London about Maclean would be routinely communicated to Washington, for Philby’s consumption. Philby had no ‘easy’ way of transmitting such information to Burgess. How this nonsense was accepted without question is mind-boggling.

Nevertheless, having summarized the evidence that pointed to Philby’s role as a Soviet agent, Milmo presented his conclusion that ‘everything points to Burgess having been the channel through whom Maclean received his warning that an immediate escape was necessary’, and that, since Philby was being kept up-to-date on what was happening, even though he was in Washington, he must be the culprit. The illogical leap he makes is that, since Philby knew Burgess in Washington, Maclean must have received a late warning in London from Burgess, and that message somehow came from Philby, not elsewhere in the Foreign Office. To try to back this up, he asserts that Burgess and Philby ‘were in communication prior to the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean’, although he offers no dates or evidence of how they maintained this communication – an astonishing lapse that MI6 would pounce on early in 1952.

Milmo relegated to an Appendix the less confident statement about his conclusions, accepting that Maclean’s information could have come from a London source. He qualified that by adding ‘it might equally well have been from a Washington source’, which offers a bizarre use of the word ‘equally’, given the logistical problems of communicating secretly from Washington to London. His final observation in this section should have been challenged by any astute reader:

            The fact that Burgess, who had only very recently arrived from Washington in circumstances to which I will revert later, organized the escape and is now known to have been a Soviet agent and to have been one over at least as long a period as Maclean, is a strong pointer to Washington as having been the site of the leakage. Although I have not completed a full enquiry into the point, I came to the conclusion at an early stage that Washington was the probable source of leakage and thereafter concentrated my attention on the personnel at that end.

This is pure waffle. If Milmo has not completed a full enquiry yet, when will he do so? Yet the more dramatic revelation that appears here is the claim that Guy Burgess is ‘now known to have been a Soviet agent and to have been one over at least as long a period as Maclean’. What evidence had led to that conclusion? [see below]

Milmo’s whole strategy and thought-processes were utterly illogical. The exercise may have been a useful one in synthesizing all the collected details about Philby’s career, but it was essentially tangential to the inquiry. Moreover, the mass of evidence supporting Philby’s role as a Soviet agent apparently helped build a case that alleged the longevity of the treachery of Burgess and Maclean, rather than the reverse. After all, the HOMER investigation revealed only fairly recent incidents of espionage activity.

2. Omitted Items:

The body of Milmo’s report is in truth very short: all the interesting material appears in the Appendix. The substance of his argument is the close relationship that Philby enjoyed with Burgess, and the fact that Philby, during his interrogation, denied that he had known Burgess at Cambridge and that Burgess had been a Communist. Milmo also drew attention to the activities of Litzi Philby, and her frequent visits to the Continent in the middle of the 1930s, travel that Philby could not explain from an expense standpoint. He could also not divine any possible objectives of such trips. Milmo judged that they must have been financed by some Communist or Soviet organization.

Krivitsky and a redacted section

Two paragraphs have been redacted in the copy released to the archive (see figure above). Number 8 is short, and, since it is an independent item, its substance cannot easily be determined. The second is itself a second example of ‘further matters which cannot be wholly excluded from consideration though their probative value is small’. Since the first of these examples is the Krivitsky testimony (which Milmo assessed as almost certainly pointing to Philby), one might expect the second to be perhaps analogous evidence from another Soviet defector, and the likeliest candidate is Konstantin Volkov. I recall that, in White’s report, Volkov appears immediately after the Krivitsky item, and White used the Volkov incident to drive home the pattern between the Volkov and the Maclean disappearances, Philby being the common factor. Why, in that case, when the Volkov story has already appeared elsewhere in the file, it would have been felt necessary in 2015, when the file was released to the public, for such information to be blacked out in the Milmo report, is puzzling.

Moreover, the report says nothing about Gouzenko and ELLI, despite the fact that a memorandum from Reilly, issued on December 6 as a brief to the Foreign Office to introduce it, refers specifically to reports from ‘defectors’ (plural), namely Volkov and Gouzenko, claiming that Philby fitted information from them. From the structure and sequence of the report, it is hard to imagine that Item 8 could constitute a paragraph on that mysterious character, ELLI. It also ignores the suggestion (noted by White) that Philby might have been responsible for the leaking of the news that breaches had been made in the Soviet cryptographic system (VENONA). The real culprit was William Weisband, who had been detected in 1950 and sentenced to a year in prison for contempt (not espionage) in November 1950, but, if British intelligence had not been informed of this by the time of White’s report, it is highly unlikely that Milmo would have learned of it in the short time at his disposal. (The Americans had nasty secrets in their closet, too.)

Another area where Milmo is even less forthcoming than White is in his discussion of Litzi, where he draws attention to the inexplicable trips to the Continent, but does not echo White’s assertion that she ‘has been working for the Comintern’ ever since her marriage in 1934. White even included the observation that she was currently married to a German communist and living in East Berlin, but Milmo overlooks that point. Of course, there is no mention of the embarrassing events concerning the Honigmanns, and the dubious divorce, of the summer of 1946.

What is evident from some of the fascinating details in the Appendix is that Milmo had access to some rich information that must have been maintained on Philby for some time, but which had not seen the light of day, and in some cases still has not, even seventy-two years later.

3. Fresh Items:

Apart from the highlighting of the details about Litzi’s unexplained travel, in my mind, the most astonishing revelation is the firm and confident assertion that Burgess ‘has been a Communist agent since not later than his visit to Moscow which took place in 1934’. By now, of course, Maclean has been identified as HOMER, through the VENONA decrypts and his visit to New York to see his wife, although there is no evidence offered for how long he had been involved in espionage, apart from the fact that he had been a dedicated communist at Cambridge. Thus Milmo’s claim that Maclean ‘had been, it is known, a Soviet agent of long standing’, made in his introduction to the Appendix, is vain and unsupported, with the evasive use of the passive voice.

Burgess, on the other hand, was by most accounts out of any such focus until he absconded with Maclean, and became guilty by default, and by association. For instance, Christopher Andrew writes of Burgess’s state of mind in May 1951 (Defend the Realm, p 425):

            Though Burgess was obviously worried, it was reasonable to suppose that the cause of his worries was the fact that he was facing the sack and the end of his Foreign Office career. The very outrageousness of his behaviour protected him against suspicion that he, like Maclean, was a Soviet agent.

Liddell recorded in his diary on June 27:

            I find it difficult, too, to imagine BURGESS as a Comintern agent or an espionage agent in the ordinary accepted interpretation of these terms. He certainly had been Marxian, and, up to a point, an apologist for the Russian regime, and would have been capable of discussing in a highly indiscreet manner with anyone almost anything he got from official sources. He would have done this out of sheer political enthusiasm without any regard for security.

And Stewart Purvis and Jeff Hulbert, in The Spy Who Knew Everyone (p 257) inform us, when analyzing the account of Tom Driberg, and describing the fevered meetings that Maclean and Burges had that May:

            The more logical and likely scenario is that the two men, one now known to be a KGB spy, and one still undetected, debated their options and made their decisions.

Thus Milmo miraculously, without performing any original research himself, came up with unassailable conclusions about the status of Burgess that had apparently eluded the best minds in MI5, including Liddell. It would appear that some intense research had been carried out during the summer (as reflected in Liddell’s October 1 diary entry that matters had become ‘blacker’ for Philby), but it is not clear which of the evidence discovered had been lying unanalyzed in the files, and which had been revealed through fresh interviews of relevant persons. For instance, Liddell’s diaries show that Goronwy Rees told him in June that Burgess had been a Comintern agent in 1937 (a fact included by Milmo as secondary support: ‘one Goronwy Rees’: the name is actually redacted in the original, but West supplies it without explanation). Milmo reports, however, (in the Appendix) that ‘the records show’ that Burgess was a prominent Communist when at Cambridge, and he also cites a letter sent by Burgess’s friend Derek Blaikie to the Daily Worker dated December 27, 1935 that reports Burgess’s betrayal by becoming involved in right-wing politics.

What I find provocative about such items is the fact that they had been ignored for so long. (Purvis and Hulbert give a good account of how Burgess had been several times vetted by MI5, and his behaviour excused.)  Moreover, Liddell seemed to be unaware of this evidence, continued to disbelieve the allegations against Burgess, and for the rest of the year stoutly defended Blunt when other MI5 officers started taking an interest in him – no doubt because the investigation moved on to check out other figures who had been contemporary Communists at Cambridge. Blunt was an obvious candidate, and his case was particularly poignant since his communism was known when he joined MI5, and he had been discovered passing messages from Leo Long in MI14 to his Soviet contacts in 1944. Such revelations would have been acutely embarrassing to the PEACH inquiry, and it is not surprising that the weight of the argument should so heftily be placed against Burgess and Philby. Since this piece is focussed on Philby, I shall write no more on this conundrum now, but it is very bizarre that Liddell appeared to be excluded from knowledge of the existence of highly incriminating documents.

            4. The Appendix and Summing-Up:

The meat of the evidence appears in the very dense Appendix, which makes riveting reading.

What is fascinating is the amount of detail provided on the activities of Burgess and Philby (especially), indicating that a close degree of surveillance must have been undertaken for some time. Thus, in a matter of a few months in the summer of 1951, MI5 was able to come up with the following gems:

  1. Burgess’s prominent role as a Communist at Cambridge.
  2. Burgess’s visit to Moscow in 1934 with Derek Blaikie, and his subsequent meeting in Brittany, probably with Klugmann, Maclean and Philby, where the decision to sever their ostensible connections with Communism was made.
  3. Burgess’s employment in Conservative Central Office being revealed by Derek Blaikie in a letter to the Daily Worker.
  4. Maclean’s letter to Granta, published in the issue of March 7, 1934, in which he expressed his fervent communist opinions.
  5. Philby’s being refused a reference for the Indian Civil Service by his Cambridge tutors, because he was a ‘militant Communist’.
  6. Philby’s membership of the Cambridge University Socialist Society.
  7. Burgess’s leading a hunger march at Cambridge.
  8. The discovery in Burgess’s possessions of Philby’s Cambridge degree.
  9. A statutory declaration made by Philby’s grandmother on the occasion of his impending marriage.
  10. A 1937 letter from Litzi Philby to Burgess inviting him to visit her in Paris.
  11. Knowledge of Litzi’s friendship with Mrs Tudor-Hart, and the fact that she owned in 1951 a negative photograph of Philby.
  12. Highly detailed information on Litzi’s multiple journeys to continental Europe in 1934, 1935, 1936 and 1937.
  13. Knowledge that Litzi had the authority to draw on Philby’s banking account during that period, and did exploit that benefit in Greece and Austria.
  14. Availability of correspondence between Litzi and Philby that confirms a strained relationship.
  15. Litzi’s mother revealing that Philby was contributing to her maintenance, derived from her application to the Aliens’ Tribunal.
  16. Philby’s letter to the Passport Office of 26 September, 1939, requesting permission for Litzi to go to France, which contains a number of falsehoods.
  17. Litzi’s ability to gain permission to go to Paris in December 1939.

While these items are not all equally significant, it is evident that MI5 had been keeping close tabs on Philby and Burgess for many years. (Nigel West, in his history of MI5, states that Milicent Bagot presented the secretly-classified files to Arthur Martin after he returned from Washington with Director-General Sillitoe.) The contents of the dossier suggest, however, that MI5 must have been grossly incompetent in its failure to exploit any of the material. Of course there is another explanation, based on my analysis from last month: in late 1939 MI5 had been advised to put the Philby file into abeyance, since he was about to become a reputable MI6 officer. Nearly all the Philby-related items in the list above antedate 1940. The file had clearly not been destroyed, and, if it was retrievable in 1951, it is presumably in the same state in 2023.

The document titled ‘A Summing-Up After The Cross-Examination’ (undated, but probably not submitted until January 1952) merits broader publication, since it contains, in a structured form, the evolution of Philby’s statements during the interrogation, the counter-arguments shown to refute them, and Philby’s ensuing written and oral replies to them, dated December 28 (see sample above). The tables show the webs that Philby span for himself, and his feeble attempts to explain his lies, in matters such as his associations with Burgess and Maclean, his wife’s excursions, and his acquaintance with Tudor-Hart and Klugmann.

One entry especially caught my eye, since its subject-matter does not appear in either the report or the Appendix. It is Item 4 (displayed in the extract shown above), and relates to Philby’s recruitment by Section D of SIS, a matter about which I have written with keen interest. The text (with redactions) appears as follows:

First Statement: “In June 1940 I was introduced to Section D by XXXXXXX (a phrase of about thirty-five characters).”

Evidence for its rejection: (a) Statements by XXXXXXX (a phrase of about sixty characters) that PHILBY was recruited by BURGESS. (b) Spontaneous remark made by XXXXXXX (twenty characters) showing that she played no part in PHILBY’s recruitment.

Summary of Second Statement: PHILBY repeated the assertion that XXXXXXX (twenty characters) had recruited him until, faced with the evidence, he withdrew to the extent of admitting that he might have mis-interpreted the circumstances.

Summary of Third Statement: PHILBY continued to maintain that he had mis-interpreted the circumstances of his recruitment to S.I.S. but admitted that he knew that BURGESS had often claimed to have introduced him.

References to a woman (Flora Solomon)

This is an intriguing exchange. First of all, Milmo quite blatantly introduces a female into the story, which must surely be Flora Solomon. (One might have expected readers of the report, if they got that far, to raise an eyebrow or two at the involvement of a woman.) Philby’s first statement seems to indicate that he regarded Solomon and Frank Birch as aiding his entry into Section D of MI6, an account that is supported by the evidence from the Solomon file (see last month’s report). This may well have been the strategy agreed between him and Vivian, so that he could be admitted smoothly, and without controversy. The Evidence for the Rejection is flimsy: some other MI6 officer could well have been encouraged to say that Burgess was responsible, and Solomon’s denial might likewise have not been sincere. Philby must have realized that it would not help him to be too obdurate on this point, since it might antagonize any allies he had in MI6, so made a tactical withdrawal. (In his memoir, he suggests that Burgess was indeed behind his recruitment, Burgess invoking the services of a Captain Sheridan at the War Office to set up a staged ‘interview’ with Miss Maxse of MI6.)

Yet I wonder how much of this Milmo understood. The careless reader at the time might have interpreted his script to indicate that Burgess facilitated Philby’s final entry into MI6, when, as I have explained earlier, Section D was untethered from MI6 into SOE, and, after Burgess was sacked, Philby worked for a year under Colin Gubbins in SOE training. He was then re-introduced to MI6 (so he wrote) through his ex-colleague in SOE, Tomás Harris, now working for MI5, who used his connections there with Dick Brooman-White and Dick White to arrange an appointment with Felix Cowgill of Section V of MI6. Cowgill hired Philby late in 1941. That is not the impression that Milmo’s text and chart suggest.

Analysis, Outcomes, and Conclusions

The Interrogation was a failure. The major point of frustration for MI5 was the fact that Philby, despite all the bluster and embarrassment, and the apparent failure of memory, denied everything. Without a confession, no indictment could proceed, since so much of the evidence was circumstantial, and an open trial would simply have been too embarrassing for both intelligence services. Yet the purging carried out through the process of discovery simply revealed more ills.

Th interrogation was moreover not carried out with precision or flair. The whole process was flawed from the start. Milmo was all too rushed. He failed to push home on grounds where he had strong evidence (such as Litzi’s travels), but was confused over many other points (such as the details of the divorce, and the Honigmann business). Milmo stumbled over the vital question of how and when Maclean had been alerted, and thus failed in his given objective.  He painstakingly went through many of the same incriminating events that I listed last month, and rightly drew attention to many troubling facts, such as revealing the inexplicable activities of ‘Lizzy’, and the failure of the couple to get a divorce. He muddled some issues, however, such as the movements by Philby concerning Litzi’s travel in the winter of 1939-1940, and failed to follow up when he had an advantage. 

At times Milmo appeared to be getting close to the nub of the matter, but was prevented, either because of the terms of his brief (which concentrated on the ‘Third Man’ leakages), because he was not given full information, because he was not give enough time, or because he was discouraged from airing certain topics. For instance, he wrote:

            One wonders whether the real reason there were no divorce proceedings prior to 1945 [sic!] was because it was felt that Lizzie’s position as a Communist agent required her to remain the wife of Philby. The suspicion is reinforced when it is known that from 1942 onwards Lizzie was in fact living with the man to whom she is at present married.

Yet this passage is followed by a redacted segment – perhaps too embarrassing. And, Buster, too much use of the passive voice! Too many vaguenesses! And why did he not ask how the Krivitsky disclosures were not followed up, or whether MI5 and MI6 had tried to track and interpret Litzi’s movements in 1937 and 1938? It was clear that the goal of the inquiry was to determine whether Philby had lied, but not to ascertain why his lying had been so imperceptible.

The problem also was that Milmo was not shown the full dossier, nor did he interview any MI6 officers, as he explicitly admitted. Of course, MI6 officers might not have co-operated (Menzies might have excluded them from the inquiry), but that itself would have constituted intelligence. It looks certain (outside the segment frustratingly redacted) that Milmo was not shown the October interview with KASPAR, or the documents from the Honigmann file. What might he have concluded if he had learned that Litzi Philby’s identity had been withheld from MI5 investigative officers, that Litzi was left uninterrogated when her partner debunked to East Berlin, and that Philby and MI6 concocted some obviously phony story about Reuters while declining to admit that Litzi was still Philby’s wife at the time?

In summary, Milmo stumbled over the vital question of how Maclean had been alerted (or even the predecessor question of whether he had really been alerted just before he absconded), and thus failed in his mission. Having established that Burgess had ample opportunity to warn Maclean, weeks before the escape, that the HOMER investigation was closing in on him, Milmo failed to consider that a plan for escape might have been crafted at that time. His report showed an enormous failure of imagination: if Burgess and Maclean had escaped to Moscow (as the multi-departmental team believed), it would have required KGB operatives to have been prepared and organized in Continental Europe to secure a smooth passage. This obvious fact is ignored by those who claim that the escape was planned at the last minute, even by such a careful and close observer as Robert Cecil: Nigel West even suggests that MI5 doctored the records to indicate that the interrogation had been put back three weeks.

The whole exploit would have demanded careful planning, and a sudden change in schedule would not have been accommodatable. For the diplomats to have known what to do when they arrived in St. Malo they must have been informed of what those plans were. It would have been utterly impossible for Philby to have been that medium (despite what Douglas Sutherland claimed). If there had been a late leak of any significance, someone in London (the ‘Fourth Man’) must have been responsible. Yet Milmo never pursued that angle, nor did he analyze closely the role of Burgess as emissary.

Yes, MI5 had nailed an obvious traitor, and it was thus convenient for the authorities to convince themselves that they had discovered who the ‘Third Man’ was, but they had neither been able to dispatch that issue with confidence, nor had they been able to dispose of Philby in a way that could satisfy his defenders and his pursuers. And the haste with which MI5 officers piled on Philby distracted their attention from the villainous Blunt (maybe intentionally). Why did MI5 undertake such a feeble exploit, the holes of which should have been immediately detectable? Probably because they had a known traitor on their hands, and needed to associate him with a semi-plausible example of treachery, while concealing the more dangerous and embarrassing case of the VENONA leakage, since he had been exposed to its revelations. While senior officials and officers in the Foreign Office and MI6 knew all about the VENONA case, the dossier was compiled primarily for the benefit of Eden and Churchill, who were surely not yet aware of the background. Milmo’s report significantly overlooked the VENONA exposure that White had listed.

Moreover, there is no record of the authorities showing any bewilderment at the supine inability of MI5 and MI6 to have detected anything suspicious about Philby’s activities in the years before. At some stage, one would have expected Eden and Churchill to react with amazement at the fact that so much of a nefarious nature had been gleaned about Maclean, Burgess and Philby during their careers, yet nothing was done about it at the time. If any inquest took place at the time, it has not been recorded.

Thus the irony of the interrogation is that the authorities had indeed alighted on the right suspect, but for the wrong event. Philby was in fact the ‘Second Man’ who had in April 1951 (through the KGB) alerted Maclean to the fact that he had been identified as HOMER, a message that would then be reinforced by Burgess in person. The timing of the escape was determined by a coincidental understanding of the date of interrogation that turned out to be wrong. In their desire to incriminate Philby, the authorities grossly misrepresented the final days of the Maclean investigation. When Burgess and Maclean absconded, however, there had been no immediately precedent leak, and thus no ‘Third Man’, only an unacknowledged ‘Fourth Man’ who passed on instructions, namely Blunt. The phenomenon of that phantom Third Man would however come to haunt Britain’s intelligence services, and the Foreign Office, for decades to come, and even spawn the ridiculous search for ‘ELLI’, which consumed so many MI5 man-hours, and cast a long shadow, especially over Roger Hollis.

My inquiry at this stage does not look beyond 1951, but even before the year was out, MI6 started to question the implied guilt of their star officer. The Secret Intelligence Service predictably did not accept the report’s conclusions with any enthusiasm. As Menzies wrote:

            I cannot bring myself to believe that an enemy agent would sit in our midst and fool MI5 and my service for so long a period, unless one accepts the view that his activities were confined to protecting himself.

That statement constitutes a weird kind of reasoning, but would come back to haunt Menzies. MI5 and MI6 were indeed fooled, and MI6 itself encouraged that behaviour.

Liddell himself expressed a bizarre kind of excuse for Philby in his diary entry for December 16, where he wrote that MI5 ‘was pointing out to Menzies that PHILBY’s activities in recent years may have amounted to no more than betrayals in cases where he thought they were necessary to safeguard his own position’. What the master of counter-intelligence meant by that statement is not clear to me. On December 21, he gave the opinion that Milmo had come down too heavily on a ’positive assertion of PHILBY’s guilt’, and suggested that the evidence was ‘no more than a chain of coincidences.’ Some chain. One marvels at Liddell’s naivety.

And so the year ran down. MI5 informed the Americans that Philby was probably a spy, but that MI6 claimed that the accusations were not proven. Bedell Smith of the CIA agreed with this conclusion. Sillitoe prepared to retire, and Liddell hoped to replace him. As West writes: “The PEACH case was quietly consigned to MI5’s top security Y Box Registry”. MI6 hoped that Philby would be forgotten, but their collective stubbornness in trying to reinstate him ended up hurting them.

Yet I must include one important item from 1953. It opens up a completely new field of inquiry, and casts the spotlight acutely back on that unidentified woman in Milmo’s Summary, Flora Solomon, and her lover Dr. Eric Strauss. It appears in one of the Flora Solomon files, KV 2/4633, and concerns testimony from someone called Stevenson, reported here by Graham Mitchell of D Division, on December 28. Part of the heavily redacted text runs as follows:

              . . .  that STRAUSS knows a great deal more about the security suspicions connected with PHILBY, BURGESS and MACLEAN than he has any right to. For example, he recently mentioned  xxxxxxxxxxxxxx that he knows that there was a damning incident in Kim’s past relating to Turkey. Xxxxxxxxx assumes that STRAUSS gets his information on these matters from Flora Solomon, who in turn gets it from Aileen. . .

Flora Solomon demands further investigation. The saga continues . . .


The disappearance of Burgess and Maclean required a convenient scapegoat, and for obvious reasons Philby – already under suspicion – was selected. Yet Dick White and Stewart Menzies knew that the unveiling of Philby would stir a hornets’ nest of unpalatable facts. The oversights and omissions undertaken over the career of Philby were much worse than those associated with Burgess and Maclean. In its joint investigation, MI5 and MI6 had the impossible task of satisfying multiple constituencies: their political masters, who wanted quick justice; the hawkish Americans, who wanted the stables to be cleaned; the old guard defenders of Philby in MI6, who found the whole process reprehensible; the lower-grade officers in MI5 who did not understand the indulgences shown by their leaders. Yet any truths that came out would incriminate MI5 and MI6 as much as Philby. Philby in turn called their bluff, since he knew that they had done a deal with the devil. White and Menzies could rely on Philby’s silence because of the bigamy charge, but they could not protect themselves and their successors forever from the accusations of Soviet defectors, the leaked hints from disaffected insiders, and the inquisitiveness of investigative journalists.

In his biography of Menzies, Anthony Cave Brown quotes Anthony Montague Browne, Churchill’s private secretary from 1952 until 1965 as saying: “There is one secret left in the Philby case, and that I may not discuss.” Cave Brown goes on to speculate that it might be that Philby was used as some kind of ‘double agent’ to transmit disinformation to the Soviets. I have written before that I consider that idea absurd: how would his manipulators know that Philby was not indicating that he was supplying false information? It is far more likely that the secret was to do with his hoodwinking of MI6 at the end of 1939, and the circumstances of his bigamous marriage in September 1946.

(This month’s Commonplace entries can be seen here.)


Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Management/Leadership, Politics

Two Cambridge Spies: Dutch Connections (1)

I use this bulletin to update my story of two Cambridge Spies – Donald Maclean, one of the notorious set of 1930s communists, and Willem ter Braak, a member of the Abwehr’s LENA group who underwent a mysterious death in Cambridge in April, 1941. Because of its size, and the distinct subject areas it addresses, I have decided to split this report into two sections, even though there are areas of overlap. Part 2 can be seen here.

Donald Maclean

First, a recap. In ‘Donald Maclean’s Handiwork’ (coldspur, December 2018), I analysed the peculiar and provocative indications that Andrew Boyle and Goronwy Rees had left behind concerning the possible stronger clues that MI5 may have received to the identity of the Foreign Office employee identified (but not named) by Walter Krivitsky as a Soviet spy. Krivitsky had named (John) King as a spy in the Foreign Office, but only hinted at the person who was the ‘Imperial Council’ spy. Two strong hints appeared: the first was Rees’s belated identification of a photographer called ‘Barbara’, who had testified to Maclean’s abilities with a camera, and Rees’s suggestion that Krivitsky had recognized Maclean’s handiwork when he (the GRU officer) had last been in Moscow in 1937. The second was an enigmatic reference to a diplomat called ‘de Gallienne’ in a note in Boyle’s ‘Climate of Treason’, which attributed to him an early reference to Krivitsky and the latter’s description of the persona of Maclean.

At the time, I questioned the reliability of Rees’s deathbed testimony. Rees had historically been a highly dubious witness, and the posthumous account of the conversation he had had with Boyle, which appeared in the ‘Observer’, was a typical mixture of half-truth, downright lies, and questionable accusations. It sounded as if ‘Barbara’ was an inspired invention. As for ‘de Gallienne’, the name was probably wrong. I had discovered a diplomat called ‘Gallienne’, who was chargé d’affaires, and then Consul, in Tallinn in Estonia at the time, but it seemed a stretch to connect this official with Krivitsky and the information that the defector provided to the FBI or to his interrogators from MI5 and SIS in London.

And then – a possible breakthrough. I thus pick up the story and analyse the following aspects of ‘Donald Maclean’s Handiwork’:

  1. The identity of ‘Barbara’, and her relationship with Maclean;
  2. The investigations by MI5 and MI6 into Henri Pieck’s exact involvement in handling Foreign Office spies;
  3. The missing file in King’s folder, and how it relates to anomalies in the story;
  4. The Foreign Office’s obstinacy in the face of Krivitsky’s testimony; 
  5. The possible contribution of Wilfred Gallienne, diplomat, to the investigation; and
  6. Boyle’s apparent reliance on Edward Cookridge and Guy Liddell for information.


Barbara Ker-Seymer

As I recorded soon after I posted the December story, the author of the recent biography of Donald Maclean, Roland Philipps, suggested that ‘Barbara’ could well be Barbara Ker-Seymer, a well-known society photographer of the 1930s. Astonishingly, I had read of this woman only a week beforehand, in Hilary Spurling’s biography of Anthony Powell, Dancing to the Music of Time, where, on page 108, she describes Powell’s friend in the following terms: “As observant as he was himself, she was well on the way to becoming one of London’s most up-to-date photographers  . . .”. Yet the Barbara-photographer connection with the Rees testimony had eluded me. A quick search on ‘Ker-Seymer & Donald Maclean’, however, had led me to a portfolio of her photographs at the Tate. The gallery contains an impressive set of artistic names from the 1930s, and on the album page 12 at https://www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/items/tga-974-5-5/ker-seymer-photograph-album/14, alongside Cyril Connolly, can be seen a photograph of Donald Maclean, in Toulon, probably in the summer of 1936. Yet in the annotations provided by the Tate, a question mark appears next to Maclean’s name.

Other communists appear in the album. On page 19, Goronwy Rees can be seen at the 1937 May Day march, and on page 25 two photographs of ‘Derek Blakie’ appear. The editor has not seen fit to correct the script here, but the person is certainly Derek Blaikie, who accompanied Guy Burgess to Moscow in 1934. Blaikie had been born Kahn, attended Balliol College, Oxford, and become a friend of Isaiah Berlin, who suggested in a letter to Stephen Spender that he was a rather dangerous Marxist. Kahn changed his surname to Blaikie in 1933. According to Stewart Purvis & Jeff Hulbert in The Spy Who Knew Everyone, Blaikie’s primary claim to fame was to write a letter to the Daily Worker, just before Burgess’s introductory talk on the BBC in December 1935, in which he explained that Burgess was ‘a renegade from the C.P. of which he was a member while at Cambridge’. This letter, suggesting that Burgess’s conversion to the far right was a ruse, was intercepted by MI5, and entered in Blaikie’s file, but then apparently forgotten. Significantly, Helenus (‘Buster’) Milmo, the QC who interrogated Philby in December 1951, had access to this letter. In his following report Milmo quoted another passage, which ran as follows: “In “going over to the enemy” Burgess followed the example of his closest friend among the Party students at Cambridge who abandoned Communism in order successfully to enter the Diplomatic Service.” A massive tip was not followed up.

I asked Mr Philipps about the collection. I was amazed to learn that he was not aware of its existence and availability. Furthermore, when I followed up about a week later, he told me that he had not yet inspected the display, even though, for reasons he would prefer I not disclose, the albums contained several photographs that would have been of intense interest to him. I was a bit puzzled by the fact that the author of A Spy Named Orphan, which is promoted as ‘the first full biography of one of the twentieth century’s most notorious spies, drawing on a wealth of previously classified files and unseen family papers’ would show such a lack of curiosity in his subject. He then added: “  . . . I also don’t think that the man in that one is DM.  He doesn’t seem tall enough or have quite the face and hair.  Also, I didn’t find him mixing in that society much – he didn’t care for Burgess and I don’t know of any records of his connections with Rees and his rather more social circle.”

Is that not remarkable? That a biographer, without inspecting the photograph personally, instead relying on the on-line image, would distrust the evidence that the photographer herself had recorded? How the figure’s height can be determined when he is squatting, or how his hair could confidently be judged as unrecognizable some eighty years on, strikes me as inexplicable. The evidence for Philipps’s conclusion about Maclean’s social activity is sparse: if we consult his biography, we can find only a few examples of the spy’s life in this period. We learn that ‘wearing the regulation white tie and tails, with his silk-lined opera cloak draped around his tall figure, he escorted Asquith’s granddaughters Laura and Cressida to dances . . .’, and that he was Tony Rumbold’s best man in 1937. Yet Maclean also mixed in bohemian circles – especially after he moved to Paris in 1938. E. H. Cookridge wrote, in The Third Man, that Maclean ‘became a regular visitor to Chester Street’ (Guy Burgess’s residence), and that it was at such parties that he became a habitual drinker. (Cookridge’s anecdotes are, however, unsourced. For some reason he did not consider that Maclean was a Comintern agent at this time.) Nevertheless, no matter how well (or poorly) Maclean and Burgess got on, it would have been considered poor spycraft for them to have gathered together too frequently.  As Philipps himself writes: “Acting on Deutsch’s instructions, Maclean never mentioned Burgess or Philby or spoke to them on the rare occasions when their paths crossed at parties.” Moreover, Maclean became a close friend of the louche Philip Toynbee. Thus I find Philipps’s instant dismissal of Ker-Seymer’s evidence, and lack of interest in pursuing the lead, astonishing – mysterious even.

As for Rees, his (and Blaikie’s) presence in the album only reinforces the fact that the Ker-Seymer circle included leftist enthusiasts.  Philipps has told me that Ker-Seymer ‘adored Rees, but was wary of him’, while a letter to the Independent in 1993, after an obituary of Ker-Seymer was published, recalled Barbara with her ‘old friend Goronwy Rees sitting on a banquette during World War II’. Yet the connection sadly does not advance the investigation very far. The inveterate liar Rees may have bequeathed us all a truth when he declared that he and Maclean did indeed have a mutual friend Barbara, who was a photographer, but his testimony does not show that her studio was used by her, or by Maclean, as a location to take photographs of purloined Foreign Office documents. And her studio was not in Pimlico. So why would he bring the subject up? The quest continues.

Henri Pieck and Krivitsky

The career of Henri Christian Pieck, the Dutchman who recruited John King, and then handled him until his operation was suspected by British Intelligence, merits closer analysis. Ever since MI5 and SIS learned from Krivitsky that there was a second spy in the Foreign Office (the ‘Imperial Council’ source), they speculated whether Henri Pieck may himself have run both agents. This investigation picked up after Krivitsky was murdered in Washington in February 1941, especially since Pieck had made a bizarre attempt to leave Holland and work as a cartoonist for the Daily Herald in early 1940. Nothing came out of this venture, but, after the war, when MI5 betook itself to reinspect the vexing case of the Imperial Council spy, with new minds on the case, the evidence was re-examined for the purpose of verifying whether there were physical and logical links between Pieck and the unidentified traitor.

One might ask why Krivitsky, if he was so unwilling (or unable) to offer his interrogators the identity of the Imperial Council spy, but had readily provided them with the name of John King (a mercenary), was so forthcoming about Pieck (a dedicated communist, who had worked for Krivitsky in the Hague). The most probable explanation is that Krivitsky believed that Pieck was no longer working for the Soviets. Pieck had had to withdraw from handling King in early 1936, and to retire to Holland, although he did make one or two discreet visits back to the UK in 1937. Yet Krivitsky did suggest that, if Maly were still alive (of course, he was not), because of the good relationship that existed between Maly and Pieck, there was a possibility that Pieck could be resuscitated at some stage. Telling the British authorities about his role would surely have scotched that: it was not as if Pieck were a shadowy character without a public presence.

Hans Christian Pieck (from TNA file)

A certain amount of animosity existed between the two, however, which might explain Krivitsky’s diminished loyalty. Krivitsky considered Pieck’s expense account for the entertainment and bribing of his agents and friends in the cipher department of the Foreign Office, and others, lavish. When Krivitsky had gained an ideologically committed spy in the Foreign Office (Maclean), he told Pieck, who had had to leave London soon after Maclean was recruited because his ‘safe’ house was no longer secure, that he now had a much cheaper and more effective source. Pieck’s replacement as King’s handler, Maly, then recruited a further Foreign Office source, John Cairncross, before he was recalled to Moscow in the summer of 1937. King’s role thus became markedly redundant, and he was abandoned. Krivitsky may have taken pleasure in that. He was also critical of Pieck’s ingenuousness about the approach in Holland by the ex-SIS operative Hooper (who had ostensibly been fired), saying that it might well be a plan to infiltrate the GRU. He considered Pieck ostentatious and indiscreet: his spycraft was poor.

From his side, Pieck much later told MI5 that Krivitsky’s account of the attempt to acquire arms for the Spanish Republicans in the autumn of 1936 was false, even though Krivitsky’s presentation probably shows Pieck’s performance in better light than what in fact occurred. Krivitsky had described Pieck’s role to his interrogators without naming him, and had not specifically identified the ‘Eastern European capital’ in which the transaction was attempted as Athens. Perhaps trying to boost his own track-record, Krivitsky did not explain that the attempt made  – when Pieck was accompanied by the Englishman William Fitzgerald – was a total failure. (The exchange was also reported back to Menzies, the head of SIS, by the local ambassador.)  Yet one can also not trust Pieck’s account of his dealings with Krivitsky. He claimed that Krivitsky ordered him to kill Reiss: that is unlikely. Like Philby with Franco, he would not have made a reliable hitman, as the NKVD files attest on both of them. Finally, Pieck told his interrogators that he disliked Krivitsky and his wife, so there was clearly no love lost between them. Thus it seems safe to conclude that Krivitsky felt free in giving to MI5 and SIS a name to whom he owed no particular loyalty, and whom he felt they could pursue without any further exposure.

It did not seem to occur to MI5 that, if Pieck had indeed handled both spies, it would have been unlikely that Krivitsky would have talked so freely about him, as Pieck might have been able to reveal information which Krivitsky was clearly reluctant to share. But MI5 and SIS (the latter becoming involved because the breach occurred in the Foreign Office, and was being controlled from overseas), showed a track-record of sluggishness in following up the leads. They were constantly one step behind, and never resolute about what to do next. For example, the SIS renegade Jack Hooper knew, by January 1936, through Pieck’s business associate Conrad Parlanti, of the meeting-place in Buckingham Gate, and even told Pieck, at a house-warming party held by the latter in the Hague later that month, that MI5 knew he was a Communist and that he had been under surveillance in Britain. MI5 and Special Branch had supposedly been trailing Pieck all year. By then, of course, Maly had already replaced Pieck as King’s handler/courier, as Pieck no longer had legitimate reasons for staying in London, and it was taking too long for material to get to Moscow when Pieck had to take it with him to the Hague each time. Just as with Maly shortly afterwards, MI5 and Special Branch would let Pieck slip through their fingers.

What is remarkable about this period, and highlights how unprepared MI5 and SIS were when they were faced with the evidence of an ‘Imperial Council’ spy, is the mess that Valentine Vivian (of SIS) and Jane Sissmore (of MI5, who became Jane Archer when she later married, on the day before war was declared) made of the Pieck investigation when they picked it up again in 1938. 

Vivian and Sissmore Move In

Two years after Pieck supposedly had left the country for good, Vivian was exchanging memoranda with Sissmore about Pieck’s role in Soviet espionage. It appears that Sissmore was taking stock of the situation after the successful, but highly time-consuming, prosecution of Percy Glading, who had been passing on secrets from Woolwich Arsenal to his Soviet contacts. She had played a key role in preparing the case, and Glading was sentenced on March 14, 1938. Glading’s diary had triggered some valuable leads, including one that led MI5 to Edith Tudor-Hart. Pieck was another piece in the puzzle, but his exact role was still a mystery. We should remain aware that, through the agency of Hooper in early 1936, the Intelligence Services had learned of Pieck’s Buckingham Gate location, and what it had been used for, and the fact that Foreign Office documents had been ‘borrowed’ for photographing. The process was a mirror of the Glading exercise. Moreover, MI5 and SIS knew that Pieck had met Foreign Office clerks in Geneva in the early 1930s, and it could trace who those individuals were.

Given the later painstaking process that the CIA and MI5 undertook, in late 1949 and early 1950, to try to discover who in the Washington Embassy had access to the report that finally gave Maclean away, it is surprising that a similar procedure was not initiated on the important report that the ‘Imperial Conference’ spy had passed on. In fact, as her conversations with Krivitsky in early 1940 show, Jane Archer identified it as a secret SIS report, which had been distributed to several Foreign Office contacts by MI5. The exchange is vivid, as her report to Vivian in early February 1940 informs us: “In accordance with your instructions I took Thomas [Krivitsky] yesterday the photographed copy of the cover of the C.I.D. Imperial Conference document No 98., the last page and the portion dealing with the U.S.S.R.  As soon as I showed it to him Thomas said ‘Yes, I have seen this cover several times in Moscow, in white on black form, in the office of the man who receives the material.’ Yet when Krivitsky read the text about the Soviet Union, it was unfamiliar to him.

Archer then tried something else. “I then showed him part of the very secret S.I.S. document of 25.2.37, particularly the paragraph on Page 2 marked (1). He read the first few lines and then said ‘this is the document’.” Archer did not provide a precise pointer to the document in question, but we can learn more about it from elsewhere in the Krivitsky file, at KV 2/405-1, a passage that is worth quoting in full. We find that, much later, on May 1, 1951, A. S. Martin, B2B, wrote: “Xxxxxxx xx [redacted] S.I.S showed me on 28.4.51 extracts from a file held by Colonel Vivian from which it was clear that in 1940 SIS had identified document which K had seen in Moscow. Its title was ‘Soviet Foreign Policy During 1936’; its reference was Mo.8 dated 25.2.37. It had been circulated by S.I.S to FO Northern Department, FO Mr. Leigh, War Office (M.I.2.b, M.I.3.a, M.I.3.b, M.I.5 and the Admiralty. Xxxxxxx told me that he had been unable to trace the document in the S.I.S.  registry and he presumed that it had been destroyed. Xxxxxxx had passed the description of this document to Mr. Carey Foster of the Foreign Office. I subsequently found that the M.I.5 copy of this document was filed at 1a on SF. 420/Gen/1.’ (from). A handwritten note indicates that the document was in ‘K Volume 1’. If K means ‘King’, that was a file that was destroyed (by fire? – see below).  Thus the investigation fizzled, and, as each year passed, the trail became colder.

Valentine Vivian

In any case, Vivian’s insights on Pieck were seriously wrong, out of inattention or laziness. In his letter to Sissmore of March 25, 1938, he wrote: “Pieck has filled much the same position in this country as the ‘PETERS’ (Maly) and ‘STEVENS’ of the recent GLADING case. . . . If his statements are to be believed, he had established himself with certain Foreign Office contacts by the end of 1935 or beginning of 1936, and was able to get the regular loan of documents, which were photographed with a Leica camera and apparatus at an office, which he had taken in, or in the vicinity of, Buckingham Gate.” The ‘has filled’ is deplorably vague, suggesting that Pieck has recently played a role similar to that of Maly and was probably still active, and one of Britain’s most senior counter-intelligence officers appears to think that the purloining of state secrets is an act akin to the borrowing of library books. Should Vivian, moreover, have perhaps developed a mechanism by which he would first distrust the declarations of Soviet agents? Why would they tell the truth? He then shows his disconnectedness by representing the time when Pieck was withdrawn as the time that he started his conspiratorial work with the Foreign Office clerks.

Kathleen (aka ‘Jane’) Archer, nee Sissmore, MI5’s most capable counter-espionage officer

What is even more surprising, given Sissmore’s sharpness and Vivian’s relative dullness, is her not correcting Vivian. MI5 had apparently done nothing in the interim: it must surely have informed Alexander Cadogan, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, some time back, because he refers to the leakages in his diary. Yet no suspects had been interviewed, security procedures had not been tightened, and, for all that MI5 knew, the extractions of secret documents could still have been going on. Just because Pieck had also told Hooper that he was out of the espionage game, why should MI5 believe him, as SIS apparently did? Should they not have attempted to verify? Had they been tracking his movements? After all, they had also learned that Pieck had made his unsuccessful bid to acquire arms for the Republicans in Spain when he and Fitzgerald approached the Greek government in the summer of 1936, as the British Embassy in Athens had reported the encounter to SIS. Pieck was thus still clearly active in the Soviet Union’s cause.

Archer wanted to bring Pieck over from Holland to talk, so she and Vivian must have regarded his commitment to Communism as weakening, and considered that he might now be willing to help his erstwhile target.  This thought was balanced by a strange request from the Dutch Government.  Vivian told Sissmore that his agent in Holland had learned from the Dutch police that Pieck ‘travelled frequently between Holland and England in 1937 and is believed by them to have had the confidence of a high official of Scotland Yard’. Yet his permission had now been withdrawn: they wanted to know why. Vivian could not add much, explaining that they had not been in touch with Hooper since 1935, but did not appear nonplussed by the Scotland Yard linkage. Did he perhaps think that was normal practice for Soviet agents? Moreover, he made an obvious error, as Hooper had had the significant meeting at Pieck’s apartment in January 1936. Was Pieck also stringing the Dutch police along?

Moreover, if that assertion about Pieck’s travel habits was true, how on earth had he managed to fly or steam in to England under the noses of MI5 without being detected? Why did Vivian not express surprise at this revelation? After all, this was a man whom Special Branch had been watching assiduously in 1935, although they never spotted anything untoward. Sissmore had written to Vivian in April 1935 that they could not detect anything suspicious about his visits, but had noted that Pieck should be watched ‘if he ever came over again’. One might expect at least that all ports of entry were being watched. Sissmore next made an inquiry to Inspector Canning of Special Branch on September 2, 1938, and her words are worth quoting verbatim: “It is reported that Pieck is an espionage agent working on behalf of the Soviet Union, and is believed to have at one time filled the place of Paul Hardt (Maly) in the Glading espionage group in this country. He has paid frequent visits to England in the past, but is at present in Holland.”

This is an extraordinarily tentative and detached statement by Sissmore, in its vagueness about dates and use of the passive voice: one explanation might be that she had been unduly influenced by Vivian. Yet her letters to him do not indicate that she was in awe of him: she treats him very much as an equal, and he responds likewise. After all, who was authorized to perform the reporting, and articulating beliefs, if not Sissmore herself? And how could she get the timetable of events so direly wrong, indicating that Pieck had replaced Hardt (Maly), when she knew that Maly, who in fact had replaced Pieck, had left the United Kingdom for good in June 1937, barely escaping capture by Special Branch, and that Pieck’s most frequent visits to Britain had occurred in 1935? (She also unaccountably records this year incorrectly in her report on Krivitsky.) Did she really believe that Pieck had started up his subversive activities again in 1937, simply because of what the Dutch authorities said? And should she not have been a bit more careful in approaching the Metropolitan Police, if Pieck was claiming he had some kind of protection on high at Scotland Yard? Was she simply all at sea? It is an untypically undisciplined performance by MI5’s star counter-espionage officer. One could perhaps surmise that she was being directed to hold back. It is almost as if she were sending a coded message in her reports: ‘This is not my true voice’.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Canning (and Colonel Hinchley-Cooke) (from Stanley Firmin’s ‘They Came to Spy’)

Inspector Canning was then able to inform Sissmore that Pieck had made two visits to England, via Harwich and Folkestone, towards the end of 1937, but these passages had gone completely unnoticed by MI5. What is more, their log showed that Pieck made fifteen visits to the UK in 1935, making his final departure for a while on February 14, 1936, not returning until October 14, 1937. The last trip was a lightning event, since he arrived on February 13 at Dover, and left from Harwich the following day, probably hoping that the change of ports would avoid immediate suspicions. So what did Vivian mean when he said that Pieck established contact at the end of 1935, or early in 1936, if the suspect then disappeared for twenty months? It appears that no detailed chronology – a sine qua non of successful detective work – had been created. The archival record is disappointingly blank after this – until the stories start to appear from Krivitsky and Levine a year later. Perhaps Sissmore and Vivian realized they had severely mishandled the job.

For those who relish intrigue and conspiracy theory, they might find an explanation for Vivian’s enigmatic behavior elsewhere. A Dutchman, F. A. C. Kluiters, has written an article that suggests that Jack Hooper was a double-agent for the Abwehr and the NKVD, and was probably being used by Claude Dansey to pass on disinformation to the Germans. The article can be seen at:
   I do not recommend it lightly, as it is so convoluted that it makes a typical chapter of Sonia’s Radio seem like Noddy Goes to School. One day I may attempt to analyze this particular tale, but all I say now is that, if this scheme actually had any substance, and was indeed the creation of Claude Dansey, his arch-rival Valentine Vivian would have been the last person in British Intelligence to know what was going on. Vivian and Dansey were at daggers drawn on many issues, not least of which was the treachery of Jack Hooper, and his subsequent re-engagement after being fired. Vivian may well have been set up to perform a mea culpa over Hooper’s betraying to the Abwehr a spy named Dr. Krueger, who had been providing the British with details of German naval construction for some years.

Yet such theories of double-dealing should not be abandoned as irrelevant to this quest. In the authorised history of MI5, Christopher Andrew (who mentions Pieck on a couple of pages, but does not grace him with an Index entry) states that SIS was dangerously misled by Hooper, who, ‘it was later discovered, was in reality the only MI5 employee who had previously worked for both Soviet and German intelligence (as well as SIS)’. Sadly, and conventionally, Andrew does not provide detailed references for his sources from the Security Service archive, ascribing proof of King’s guilt to interrogations of German prisoners after the war, but he indicates that SIS made a poor decision in re-hiring Hooper in October 1939, after he had worked with the Abwehr in 1938-39. What is remarkable is that Keith Jeffery, in the authorized history of SIS, has only one line about Hooper, stressing instead the treachery of a Dutchman recruited by the SIS office in the Hague, Fokkert de Koutrik. I suspect Hooper’s role in the King/Pieck story has not been fully told. It is not often one comes across an agent with such multiple allegiances – especially one who survived. (Another is the mysterious Vera Eriksen, who landed alongside Druecke and Walti in Scotland on September 30, 1940, but escaped the death penalty.  A book on her is about to be published.) This one will clearly run and run. Is anyone out there, apart from Mr. Kluiters, researching his story? (I notice that four files on Hooper were released by the National Archives in November 2017: they must form a valuable trove, and I look forward to inspecting them some time.)

A Fresh Look

The story moves forward to 1940, to the Krivitsky interrogations, and beyond. As readers of Misdefending the Realm will recall, Jane Archer was already being eased out of her job as MI5’s leading officer in communist counter-intelligence when she compiled her report on Krivitsky in March of 1940, and she was replaced by her subordinate, the unremarkable Roger Hollis. 1940 was a difficult year for MI5: the transition from Chamberlain’s administration to Churchill’s, the sacking of its Director-General, Vernon Kell, the imposition of the Security Executive layer of management, the insertion of unqualified supervisors, and the fear of invasion accompanied by the ‘Fifth Column’ panic, with the stresses of making thousands of internment decisions. Little attention was paid to concealed communists, with Hollis’s activities directed more at the possible unreliability of communists in the factories, and Guy Burgess doing a skillful job of directing energies away from his conspirators in government. During 1940, there were occasional communications about Krivitsky between Vivian and Cowgill of SIS, Harker, White, Liddell and Archer of MI5, and even the occasional guest appearance from the sacked supremo Kell. Krivitsky was in Canada for most of the year, and attempts were even made to contact him directly. Yet no apparent effort was made to pick up the unresolved matter of the ‘Imperial Council’ spy.

Unsurprisingly, we cannot read any reaction within MI5 to the announcement of Krivitsky’s death. Even Guy Liddell could not stretch to recognizing the event in his diaries: true, an item in his February 11, 1941 page has been redacted, but there is no corresponding entry for ‘Krivitsky’ in his Index. A half-hearted attempt was made, however, to investigate the Pieck case in the light of the disturbing murder set up to look like a suicide. In the same month, Pilkington in B4C tried to track down Pieck’s architect friend, Stuart Cameron Kirby, who had accompanied Parlanti in 1934 to see Pieck in Paris. In April, Pilkington eventually interviewed Kirby in Cambridge, where he had secured an impressive-sounding sinecure as ‘Home Office Assistant Regional Technical Advisor’, but nothing came of it. Two years later, Shillito of F2B (i.e. in Hollis’s new Division, split off from Liddell’s B) was requested to confirm that Pieck was still on the ‘Black List’ of dangerous communists. All thoughts of identifying the ‘Imperial Council’ spy appear to have been dispelled, however. The Soviet Union had become an ally, and all energies were directed towards the Nazis.

After the War

By the end of the war, however, the Soviet Union was accepted as the dominant threat to the nation’s security. But perhaps not by Alexander Cadogan, still Permanent Under-Secretary in the Foreign Office. Cadogan, who had been so distressed about the spies in his domain in 1939, had apparently forgotten about their existence by the autumn of 1945. Konstantin Volkov, the Soviet Vice-Consul to Turkey, approached the British Embassy in Istanbul in August of that year, offering to name nine agents who were ‘employees of the British intelligence organs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Great Britain’, as well as one who currently ‘fulfils the duties of the chief of a department of the English counter-intelligence Directorate in London’. As Nigel West reminds us in his new book Cold War Spymaster, Volkov’s follow-up letter was translated and sent to Cadogan himself. Rather than sounding alarm-bells in the Permanent Under-Secretary’s mind, the arrival of the message prompted an instruction simply to pass the document on to the Chief of SIS, Stewart Menzies. Likewise unable to fathom that perhaps a degree of caution was required in the circumstances, Menzies delegated the task to the head of Section IX, the group responsible for Soviet affairs, Kim Philby. Volkov was soon afterwards spirited back to Moscow and executed, and Maclean and Philby survived another shock.

Sir Alexander Cadogan

A few months afterwards, in apparent ignorance of the Volkov affair (although Guy Liddell was very familiar with the incident), the possibility of a Pieck/Imperial Council spy connection was resuscitated. By then, stories had arrived about Pieck’s survival from Buchenwald. On September 13, 1946, Michael Serpell (F2C) issued a long report titled ‘The Possibility that Pieck was in Touch with the Source of the “Imperial Council” Leakage’. Serpell had quickly immersed himself in investigating Soviet espionage, and would soon become a notable player in the studies of Soviet spies. He was one of the officers who analysed the papers of Henri Robinson, the ‘Red Orchestra’ agent, that had been captured from the Gestapo in Paris after the war, and he would soon gain himself a reputation for dogged criticism of the handling of the Fuchs and Sonia cases. He was the officer who accompanied Jim Skardon to interview Sonia in Oxford in September 1947. He also interrogated Alexander Foote, recommending that he not be prosecuted for desertion, and then wrote the report on him that was distributed to such agencies as the CIA. His status was such that he was selected as the officer who accompanied the director-general of MI5, Percy Sillitoe, to Canada in March 1951.

In the case of the Imperial Council source Serpell’s instincts and objectives were correct, but his analysis wrong. He suggested that Pieck may have recruited an agent ‘at a much higher level than King’ when in Geneva, and that his large budget would have allowed for such a recruitment. Yet he slipped up badly on chronology, noting that the Imperial Council source (according to Krivitsky) had begun to become active in 1936. He assumed that the same camera at Buckingham Gate was probably used by this agent, but failed to note that Pieck had fled the country by then. He could hardly have ‘run’ the spy from Holland. In mid-stream, Serpell catches the contradiction, backtracking to claim that Pieck could have handled early examples of the photographic material. He admits that the main plank against his theory is that King described how he was abandoned after Maly’s departure in summer 1937, although he has been made aware of Pieck’s brief return to the UK in November 1937.

Serpell’s report rambles somewhat, and it is probably not worth any further inspection. Furthermore, what inevitably tainted his investigation was the fact that he and Roger Hollis had to communicate with SIS to gain information about what was going on in Holland. The officer they had to deal with was Kim Philby, who, while pretending to offer substantive support for Serpell’s inquiries, would surely have encouraged Serpell in his mistaken pursuit of Pieck as the handler of Maclean. To begin with, John Marriott of B2c was energised by Serpell’s research, especially since he provocatively admitted, in a letter to Commander Burt of Special Branch on December 12, 1946, that the idea that Pieck might have recruited other agents ‘is lent some support by our knowledge from more than one source that Government information has been communicated to the Russians since King’s retirement.’ After a meeting between the three of them, however, Marriott disagreed with Serpell. As the dispute carried on into 1947, Serpell’s arguments looked increasingly weaker: one might wonder whether he, as a tenderfoot, had been put on a false trail to give the impression of earnest endeavour. Marriott recommended dropping the investigation even though Serpell (now moved from F Division closer to Marriott as B1C) continued to disagree.  Meanwhile, the prospect arose of MI5 actually being able to interview Pieck himself.

Dick White, now director of B Division, is the officer whose name appears as heading plans to bring Pieck to Britain, in the early months of 1950. After Pieck had been released from Buchenwald, the British had apparently been in touch with the Dutch authorities, and reminded them that Pieck had been a Soviet spy. It seems that a private security organisation had got in touch with Pieck, who declared that he was surprised by the Krivitsky revelations. But he also said that he was very short of money, and might be prepared to talk. After some local negotiation, however, he agreed to MI5’s terms for the interrogation, which involved no payments, but some protection from prosecution, and some conditions concerning confidentiality, and arrived in London on April 12. What is extraordinary is that, in November 1949, Pieck had made a visit to London, in a search for help with his embryonic exposition business, without MI5’s knowing about it.

Pieck and Vansittart

Another mysterious dimension to Pieck’s relationships with British officials needs to be explained, however. Before the war, Pieck had made puzzling references to his association with Sir Robert Vansittart, a very prominent figure in the Foreign Office. Vansittart had been the Permanent Under-Secretary until 1938, when his continued vigorous opposition to Germany’s aggressions resulted in his being ‘kicked upstairs’ to the purely symbolic post of Chief Diplomatic Advisor. At the time, British intelligence officers had interpreted Pieck’s references to Vansittart as a code for his acquaintance with John King, attributing the deception as a clumsy method of confusing them. Yet, after the war, Pieck indicated that he looked forward to meeting Vansittart again, and it transpired that in May 1940, with the Germans about to invade Holland, Pieck had expressed an urgent desire to flee to England, where he expected his friends in high places to welcome him. This was bizarre – or very brazen – behavior from a Soviet spy who knew that the British authorities had rumbled him.

Sir Robert (later Baron) Vansittart

Yet when it came to bringing Pieck over, and interrogating him, the MI5 officers, led by Dick White, made no attempt to question him about the Vansittart connection – or, if they did, the redacted record conceals the fact. Certainly, the consequent report does not mention him. The oversight might seem simply careless, or an admission that the reference was jocular, and thus not worth pursuing. Other evidence, however, points to more complicated entanglements. In a Diary entry for January 5, 1945, Guy Liddell had written: “Kim [Philby] came to see me about xxxxxxx, who had been taken on in his section. Jane [Archer] when introduced to him recollected that he was one of the people who might possibly have been identical with the individual described by KREVITSKY [sic] as acting as a Soviet agent before the war, and as being employed in an important government office. [sentences redacted]  Kim was very anxious to get at the old records of the KING case in order to satisfy himself that he was on sound ground. I have put him in touch with Roger.”

As can be seen, the identity of this possible recruit has been redacted. Yet, when publishing his selections from the Diaries in 2005, Nigel West very blandly, and without comment, inserted the name of ‘Colville Barclay’ in the place of the redacted name. In his 2014 biography of ‘Klop’ Ustinov (the father of Peter), Klop, Peter Day went further. He claimed that Barclay had come under suspicion by Jane Archer and Guy Liddell when they interrogated Krivitsky, as Barclay fitted the profile of the ‘Imperial Council’ spy as described by the defector – aristocratic, artistic, Scottish, and educated at Eton and Oxford. Unfortunately, Day does not provide a precise reference for this claim. In the published version of the MI5 Debriefing (edited by the scrupulous Gary Kern), which faithfully reproduces the text from the archival Krivitsky file, no mention of Barclay can be found. But we should be able to rely on Liddell’s gratuitous recalling of what Jane Archer told him about Barclay’s coming under suspicion.

Sir Colville Barclay

So what has this to do with Vansittart? In 1931, Vansittart married Sarita, Barclay’s mother, who had recently been widowed. Thus Colville Barclay became Sir Robert’s stepson. Moreover, in another memorandum that did not make the final Krivitsky report, Jane Archer did allude to Sir Robert. As the interrogations progressed, Archer would send a daily summary to Vivian in SIS, and this correspondence can be seen at the National Archives in KV 2/804. In the item dated February 5, 1940, Archer wrote: “The C.I.D. case was the first discussed with Mr. Thomas [Krivitsky]. He said that the Soviet authorities had a great regard for Sir Robert Vansittart and followed his activities with great interest. None of the information regarding Sir Robert, however came through the source which furnished them with the C.I.D. documents. In further attempts to identify the person who procured the C. I. D. information Mr. Thomas was asked whether any mention had been made of this man being the stepson of some highly paced official. The word ‘step-son’ certainly aroused some memories in Mr. Thomas’s mind.”

This is all I have found. It does not offer anything conclusive about Barclay or Vansittart, but begs for some kind of follow-up. Why did the Soviets track Vansittart’s activities with such interest? If not the ‘Imperial Council’ spy, who was it who provided them with information? John Cairncross? Why was the stepson’ reference not pursued? (Was Krivitsky being devious again, confusing the issue of orphans, sons and stepsons?) Peter Day reports that Barclay did not know that he had become a suspect: he told Day in 2003 that he had never been questioned. One might have expected some reflection of this conversation to have appeared in Archer’s final report, but, either she felt that it was not so important, or her superiors instructed her to omit any such potentially embarrassing details.

Any closer inspection of this web of intrigue will of necessity require a plunge into the murky waters described by Kluiters above, and I am not yet ready to do this. It would not be surprising, however, to see a relationship between Pieck and Vansittart confirmed. Vansittart came from an originally Dutch family; he was a fierce anti-fascist (and might have mistaken the objectives of Pieck: Vansittart was equally opposed to communism); he maintained a private intelligence group, and he apparently received information from both Putlitz in the German Embassy (according to Norman Rose), as well as from Soviet agents (according to Charles Higham). Thus we should not discount the fact that Pieck may have played a very cagey game, and skillfully exploited Vansittart.

Be that as it may, if Pieck’s interrogators expected to hear more about the Imperial Council source when Pieck arrived for questioning, they were disappointed. Pieck confirmed that he had started to photograph documents at the Grosvenor Hotel in 1935, but then switched to use his apparatus at Buckingham Gate. He stated, however, that he had never controlled a second source at the Foreign Office, although he had heard of one from Krivitsky. “Krivitsky told him they could get the same material from another man at a tenth of the price”, the report ran, and went on: “Pieck was unable to throw any light on the other facts about a Foreign Office source which do not fit into the King case: – a burglary from the Foreign Office, the disused ‘kitchen’ in the Foreign Office alleged to have been used by an agent for photographing documents, and the renting of a special house. Pieck did not train King in photography, nor did he give him a Leica.” MI5 reluctantly concluded Pieck was telling the truth, but admitted they could not be sure until the Imperial Source were identified.

But the sleuths were getting closer. The VENONA transcripts had helped identify Klaus Fuchs, who was sentenced on March 1 to fourteen years’ imprisonment. Sonia had escaped to East Germany two days before. Since 1949, MI5 and the FBI had been whittling down the names of possibilities for the agent with the cryptonym HOMER, as revealed by VENONA, and in April 1951 they were able to point quite confidently to Donald Maclean, because of the visits he made from Washington to New York to visit his wife. The defection of Burgess and Maclean in May 1951 would give MI5 the name of the ‘Imperial Council’ source they had not very vigorously been pursuing since 1939.

A Missing File, and other Embarrasments

One of the last enigmas of the case is the destruction of the first volume of the John King archive. In this, one might have expected to find such items as the complete correspondence between Washington (Mallet) and the Foreign Office (Jebb) concerning the information that Levine was passing on. If you look up the files on John Herbert King at the National Archives (e.g. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C11050136 ), you will find under both KV 2/815 & KV 2/816 a note that says ‘Vol 1 destroyed’. You will have to delve elsewhere to learn more. For example, in the Pieck files (KV 2/809-814), you can find at least three references to the destruction, which say, variously that the file was ‘destroyed’, ‘destroyed by fire’ and ‘destroyed by enemy action.’

While all three statements could be interpreted as communicating the same truth, this strikes me as more than a little suspicious. It seems to this particular observer that an enemy attack would have to be particularly selective to destroy completely just one of the King files, but leave the others completely unscathed. We do know that MI5’s offices at Wormwood Scrubs were bombed in September 1940, and several records burned, but the histories tell us that they had all been photographed beforehand, and that nothing was lost. Is it possible that this event could have been used as a convenient alibi for the removal of material that was potentially embarrassing?

The process of copying individual records into files to which they were related means that some of the items have been preserved, and one can tell from their Serial numbers that their source was the missing file. For instance, the interrogation of Oake, a colleague of King’s, that took place on September 26, 1939, receives the following handwritten comment: ‘(Original in PF 48713 KING, 50A Volume 1 destroyed in fire)’. Yet all such comments are made in the 1946-1947 time-frame: the Pieck records from 1941 never refer to the destruction of any files, by fire or any other agency. Unfortunately, the salvaged records that I have managed to identify and inspect do not offer anything spectacular: maybe another sleuth can come up with more dramatic examples.

One awkward fact that Jebb and the Foreign Office may have wanted suppressed was King’s connection with Mallet himself. Michael Serpell believed that some of the missing records could have referred to Special Branch’s search of King’s property. In a summary of the tripartite meeting with Inspector Rogers, John Marriott and him that took place on January 6, 1947 can be found the following astonishing statement: “Rogers handled King, and elicited his confession. He does not believe King told the whole truth and suggests King may have been shielding friends such as Quarry, Oake and Harvey. King claimed he left his wife because she became mistress of Victor Mallet who was until recently the British Ambassador to Spain (or maybe Mallet’s brother.)”

Victor Mallet was indeed the chargé d’affaires in Washington who had been dealing directly with Krivitsky’s agent, Isaac Don Levine, and communicating with Jebb, in September 1939. It is not clear where Serpell derived this fact of King’s wife’s affair, or when King actually admitted it, unless Rogers himself had just divulged it: it was not until March 7, 1947 that Serpell recorded an interview with the ailing King, who had just been released from prison. (During this interview, it was revealed that King’s son lodged in Pimlico, and that King himself had lived there during 1935-36! Pimlico – the district that Goronwy Rees mentioned!) Yet this disclosure, if it were in fact true, must have been highly embarrassing. Mallet would surely have had to own up to Jebb about the connection, as the truth would surely come out in any investigation, and it would presumably have damaged his career. (If he had a brother, he appears to have sunk without trace.)  From Washington, however, Victor moved to Sweden as Envoy during the war, and was appointed Ambassador to Spain in 1946. He did not suffer.

Thus one can only speculate what else might have been lost in the destroyed file – including the source SIS report which Krivitsky saw, as detailed above. Certainly we are missing the full set of exchanges between Washington and London. It is thus impossible to build a reliable chronology of exactly who informed whom. One of the earliest accounts is actually Valentine Vivian himself, who wrote a report titled ‘Leakage from the Communications Department, Foreign Office’, dated October 30, 1939, which appears in full as the second King file, KV 2/816. Vivian is very open about the failure of SIS to take seriously the evidence of ‘Agent X’ (Hooper), who was treated ‘with coldness, even derision’ when he tried to pass on what Pieck had told him two years earlier, and had ‘remained forgotten, and in abeyance’ until Conrad Parlanti came forward on September 15, 1939. Vivian then reflects the current Foreign Office thinking (see below) when he dismisses Krivitsky – testimony that he would presumably have preferred buried when the defector came over a few months later. “We had, therefore, the bare word of KRIVITSKI – at the best a person of very doubtful genuineness and one, moreover, whose ability to speak on such a matter with authority was even more doubtful – to incriminate Captain J. H. King of the Communications Department, whose record appeared on the surface to be quite impeccable.” Peter Cook would have been quite proud of that performance.

Yet a strange anomaly appears. In his report, Vivian says that, after the identification of King was received on September 4, he was instructed to go on leave until September 25, but was to be kept under surveillance. Oake was interrogated on the 25th, and King the following day, after which King tripped up by visiting his mistress Helen Wilkie, and was thus charged the same day. But Alexander Cadogan, Permanent Under-Secretary in the Foreign Office, wrote – in an unpublished part of his diary dated September 15 – that King was currently being interrogated. Is it possible that, because of the Mallet connection, the Foreign Office decided to undertake its own investigation without informing MI5 or SIS? Or, perhaps Vivian did know about it, but was encouraged to portray another series of events, and to record it in some haste? Is the fact that Cadogan’s estate prohibited Professor Dilks from including this item in the published Diaries an indication of this subterfuge? (I have contacted Professor Dilks, but he can shed no light in the matter, as the sources I refer to were not available when he edited the Cadogan Diaries fifty years ago.)

Further indication that the Foreign Office was unduly embarrassed by the King affair was its determination to keep the conviction secret. Nothing appeared in the press, and Levine even stated, in November 1948, that the disgraced cypher clerk had been executed. (He had in fact been released by then.) It was not until 1956 that the British Government was forced to admit the whole account, after Levine offered the same testimony to a Senate investigation committee. The Foreign Office initially denied that there had even been a spy named King, but, when faced with the prospect of awkward questions in the House of Commons, then had to reveal that King had been tried under the Emergency Powers Regulations, and sentenced on October 18, 1939. One might understand the coyness as war approached, but the desire to cover up when the convict had already been released seems simply obtuse.

Lastly, how did the Foreign Office regard the evidence of Krivitsky? It was exposed to the first of the Saturday Evening Post articles in May 1939, and was immediately dismissive. Such comments as ‘mostly twaddle’, ‘Don’t want the rest’, ‘a few grains of sense in this rigmarole’, ‘General’s “revelations” not worth taking seriously”, are scattered among the hand-written annotations of the file as it gets passed around, including from the pen of the head of the Northern Department, Laurence Collier. The degree to which this official was clued into current events – and the responsibilities of his own section  –  is shown by a plaintive note he sent to Gladwyn Jebb on May 24: “Do we know anything about Genl. Krivitski?”. At the end of May, Collier rather reluctantly sent the cutting, with a letter, to the Embassy in Moscow, writing: “On the whole we do not consider that these would-be hair-raising revelations of Stalin’s alleged desire for a rapprochement with Germany etc. are worth taking seriously  . . .”. Collier must have been a bit chastened to hear back from his colleagues in Moscow a few weeks later that the articles ‘have excited considerable interest’, and that ‘the consensus of opinion is that they may well be genuine’. He still opined that Krivitsky was ‘talking nonsense’ but agreed that Washington should be asked for the complete series, which arrived at the end of July. (He did not know that Jane Sissmore had had copies of the articles in her possession since they came out.)

What is extraordinary about this exchange is the apparent awareness in Moscow of German-Soviet negotiations, while London was still vaguely planning for a British agreement with the Soviets. The mission to forge such a compact, led by the improbably named Admiral the Hon. Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, left from Tilbury on August 15, and was thus doomed from the start, whether Chamberlain was in earnest or not. (Marshal Voroshilov is said to have inquired of our gallant emissary: “You are not one of the Somerset Ernle-Erle-Draxes, by any chance?”) Collier and his minions continued to pooh-pooh the contributions of the Soviet defector, but then the record goes eerily silent. The next item recorded is not until November, two months after Ribbentrop and Molotov had signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact. On December 27, an official notes that ‘Stalin is expert at reconciling the apparently irreconcilable, as recent events have shown’, to which Collier adds that ‘he will find this particular reconciliation harder than most’.  Collier would also survive to see the ‘Imperial Source’ unmasked, but I have not discovered any record of what his reaction was.

The Elusive Gallienne

And what of ‘Wilfrid de Gallienne’, the diplomat whom Andrew Boyle credited with the information about Krivitsky? The British consul in Tallinn, Estonia, during 1939 was indeed Wilfrid Gallienne (sic), and he was deeply involved in discussions about the protection of the borders of the Baltic States, including Estonia of course, in any future negotiations between the Soviet Union and Great Britain. His main claim to fame, however, appears to be the disagreement he had with a British lecturer in the Estonian capital, Ronald Seth, who was providing information to the Foreign Office while bypassing the local resident diplomat. In his reports to his superiors in London, Gallienne justifiably complained about this irregular back-channel, and admitted that he had had to rebuke the nosy academic. (For readers who want to learn more about the extraordinary adventures of Seth, who was later parachuted into Estonia as an ill-equipped SOE agent, but survived, I recommend Operation Blunderhead, a 2105 account by David Gordon Kirby.)

Yet, despite the imaginative endeavours of my researcher in London, I have not yet been able to find any minute or memorandum from Gallienne that touches on Krivitsky. My next step is to explore the Andrew Boyle archive, and, as I write this in mid-February, I am waiting to hear from the Cambridge University Library whether it can send me photographs of the relevant papers. Rather than starting with what are presumably voluminous documents that concern the creation of A Climate of Treason, I have made a more modest request to inspect Boyle’s correspondence with E. H. Cookridge, Malcolm Muggeridge and Isaiah Berlin, as I suspect these smaller packets may provide me with a glimpse of the way that Boyle nurtured his sources.

Cookridge is a fascinating case. He was born Edward Spiro, in Vienna in 1908, and knew Kim Philby well from the spy’s subversive work with communists there in 1934. His Third Man (1968) is thus a most useful guide to Philby’s early days. While claiming in his Preface to that book that he had access to secret sources (“Through my work in the Lobby of the House of Commons I had access to sources of information not available to the public”), it is clear that he was used by the government as a method of public relations as far back as 1947. He published in that year a book titled Secrets of the British Secret Service, in which he openly acknowledged the help that he had received from the War Office and the Foreign Office. One must therefore remain wary that, while being given access to certain documents, Cookridge would have been shown what the authorities wanted him to see.

His relevance lies in the attributions that Boyle grants him in his Notes to A Climate of Treason. Much of Boyle’s information comes from named sources, and most of them are actually identified, rather than being cloaked in the annoying garment of ‘confidentiality’. While I have not performed a cross-reference, I would hazard that most of the correspondence with these persons is to be found in the Boyle Archive, where individual letter-writers are clearly identified. Of this period, Boyle writes, for example (p 455, Note 15): “Confidential information to the author as attested in E. H. Cookridge’s notes from Guy Liddell of MI5.” One might react: What on earth was Liddell doing speaking to Cookridge? Did Cookridge (who died on January 1, 1979) ever publish an account of these confidences? Did Boyle consider, now that Liddell and Cookridge were both dead, that he could safely write about these secrets, or did he still fear the Wrath of White? I hope that a study of the correspondence with Cookridge will clear some of this up. If anyone reading this lives in the Cambridge area, and is interested in inspecting the Boyle papers in a more leisurely, more efficient and less expensive manner, I should be very grateful if he or she could get in touch with me. Similarly, I should love to hear from anyone who can shed light on the Gallienne puzzle.


Unfortunately, all this evidence does not bring us much closer to determining how and when MI5 and SIS might have learned more about the identity of the Imperial Council spy, and thus have been able to apprehend Maclean before he did any more damage. Yet the fruits of the research do show that Andrew Boyle’s claims may have some truth behind them, and that the assertions of the rascal Goronwy Rees may indeed have some substance. Moreover, the multiple anomalies in the archival record suggest that some persons had a vested interest in muddying the waters, and even using the written documents to start a bewildering paper-chase that might distract analysts from the real quarry. If one considers such events as the following:

  • The reluctance of Krivitsky’s interrogators to apply pressure on him;
  • Pieck’s enigmatic claim to have protectors at the Special Branch;
  • Pieck’s professed desire to escape to England as the Nazis approached in May 1940;
  • Pieck’s carelessness in confessing to Hooper his illicit activities in London;
  • The reluctance of SIS to listen to anything that Hooper told them for two years;
  • Vivian’s obvious discomfort and confusion about the facts of the King case;
  • The contradictions in the chronology shown up by Vivian and Cadogan;
  • King’s alarming claim about Mallet’s affair with his wife;
  • The coyness of the British Government in admitting the facts about the King trial and sentencing;
  • The barely credible account of a single King file being destroyed by enemy action;
  • The apparent destruction of the copy of the SIS report that Krivitsky recognized during his interrogation by Jane Archer;
  • Jane Archer’s uncharacteristically unprofessional and detached approach to the investigation;
  • Pieck’s ability to re-enter Britain unnoticed after a watch had been put on him;
  • The official historian’s laconic but undeveloped comment about Jack Hooper’s having worked for MI5, SIS, the Abwehr and the NKVD;
  • The enigma of Pieck’s exact relationship with Sir Robert Vansittart;
  • The failure to follow up on the clue of the stepson, Colville Barclay;
  • The dogged efforts to try to put together a case that Pieck controlled the Imperial Council spy as well; and, overall,
  • The remarkably unenergetic efforts, over a period of twelve years, of MI5, SIS and the Foreign Office to try to unveil an important spy in the corridors of power;

one does not have to be a rabid conspiracy theorist to conclude that there was another narrative being stifled that would tell a completely different story. If I were forced, before this programme of research were over, to identify one theory that might explain the anomalies in the story of Sonia, the Undetected Radios, and the Imperial Council spy, I would doubtless point to the delusional belief of Claude Dansey that his wiles, accompanied by the fearsome reputation of British Intelligence, could somehow control all the agents of hostile espionage organisations on this planet, and probably some on galaxies as yet undiscovered.

Thus we have a double Dutch Connection to be pursued: Jack Hooper, the half-Dutch disgraced SIS officer, who apparently worked for both the Abwehr and the NKVD, and is a pivotal figure in the Krivitsky-King-Maclean case; and Willem ter Braak, who has been claimed to be both a Nazi fanatic in the Abwehr, and a well-disguised NKVD spy. Could Claude Dansey possibly have been behind all this, pulling the strings? I shall have to put my best men and women on the job.

This month’s new Commonplace entire can be seen here.


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