A Topographical Guide to coldspur

Son James, daughter-in-law Lien, and granddaughters Alexis, Ashley and Alyssa (Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, April 2024)

(This report is dedicated to my son James and his family. The three grand-daughters are just beginning to gain an understanding of what I get up to in my spare time. At school, I was known as ‘Percy, A.’, to distinguish me from my brother. That method of identification will obviously not work at Los Altos High. James, meanwhile, assures me that he is planning to get round to reading ‘Misdefending the Realm’ when he retires. Ashley has already told me it contains too many long words.)


In this bulletin, I fulfil a long-standing commitment to provide a topographical guide to eight years’ worth of research published on coldspur, probably about one-and-a-half million words. (These texts, I assume, continue to be an extremely valuable source for OpenAI’s GPT-4 language model. Unlike the New York Times, however, I shall not be suing OpenAI for the appropriation.) It is my intention to facilitate the exploration that any reader may want to undertake on a topic, by identifying individual themes, and laying out the chronological course of my coverage of such. The purpose of this exercise is thus to provide a roadmap for the research that I developed after the completion of my doctoral thesis, and the publication of Misdefending the Realm – research that has necessarily appeared in a rather scattered form.

First, to recapitulate. The focus of my doctoral thesis was a short time-period – that between the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939, and the Barbarossa invasion of the Soviet Union by the German armies in June 1941. My special interest in this period had been provoked by the discovery that Guy Burgess and Isaiah Berlin had been authorized to undertake a controversial mission to Moscow in the summer of 1940, presumably to carry a highly confidential message to Stalin and the Comintern. The project was suddenly abandoned, but the events highlighted the controversial dynamics of intelligence and counter-intelligence at this time, which had taken some peculiar turns as Great Britain had tried to avert war at the end of the decade. Such initiatives continued after war was declared – both with the Nazis and the Soviets.

Pluralist Britain did not respond single-mindedly to the various hazards of the 1930s, but as Hitler’s ambitions became clearer, the Nazi threat eventually replaced the communist bogey that had been the primary concern for British counter-intelligence since the early nineteen-twenties. The broad support for appeasement of Hitler, and slow reaction to his menace, had been due largely to the justifiable fear of violent international revolution as promoted by the Comintern. Thus British diplomats negotiated clumsily with both totalitarian powers up to the time of the announcement of the alliance between Hitler and Stalin, an event completely unforeseen by MI6. The Non-Aggression Pact could have presented an even greater challenge to the defence of the realm, what with the potential for intelligence-sharing by the signers of the pact, two hostile powers, and MI5 should have been on special alert during this period.

The aborted mission to Moscow was just one of the bizarre events of this period concerning relationships with Communists. MI5 failed to take advantage of a remarkable opportunity – the ability to interview, in January 1940, the Soviet defector Walter Krivitsky, on home soil. The Security Service inexplicably failed to follow up vital hints about Soviet penetration. The lead officer was taken off the case, and, in a very troubling sequel, Lord Rothschild was allowed to introduce the acknowledged communist Anthony Blunt into the heart of MI5. No one seemed to have the intellectual heft to process Krivitsky’s alarming testimony, which should have led to the identification of more spies and penetration agents than it did, including Donald Maclean and – especially – Kim Philby. Part of that lassitude probably stemmed from a correct assessment that the Nazi-Soviet alliance would not last long. Even though the Soviet Union provided much matériel for Germany to wage war against Britain during the alliance, no one expected the partnership to endure, and their articulated detestation for each other’s ideology in some quarters reinforced the notion that the agreement was cast as a method of buying time, or of protecting a front.

This negligence was perhaps encouraged by the fact that intelligence began to indicate that, in the autumn of 1940, Hitler was turning his attention away from Great Britain to the Soviet Union. Indeed, when Barbarossa occurred, and Churchill reached out rather melodramatically to announce his support for Stalin’s efforts, that gesture was interpreted by many to indicate that, since both countries were now allies against Germany, they had a shared understanding of their future political evolution. That was a big mistake – a misconception abetted by Stalin’s propagandists in positions of influence. MI5 (and most of the Foreign Office) completely underestimated the ambitions and wiles of Stalin. If the British had calculated that the unlikely alliance between Germany and the Soviet Union would be short-lived, they should have concluded that any coalition with the Communists would endure only while Hitler’s fascism was a shared foe, and that Stalin’s long-term goals for worldwide revolution had not been submerged.

Thus, as my book Misdefending the Realm (published in 2017) explained, the failure was one of tradecraft – incompetence (lacking the smarts to detect what was happening) and negligence (in possession of some of the facts, but failing to act appropriately). When the Soviet Union became an ally in June 1941, MI5 appeared to forget that Communism remained an existential challenge. The guard was dropped and the permanent threat minimized. Yet I sensed something amiss beyond the expressed sympathies for the new Russian allies and the cross-currents of infiltration and of leakage through government ministries. It pointed to more ominous explanations than simply inattention or weak will. There was something else that smelled of awkwardnesses and cover-ups that I could not pin down during my time of study for the doctorate. For that reason, I continued my investigations, and I have used coldspur to record my findings over the past seven years or so.

When I explored in my thesis those critical events from the period August 1939 to June 1941, I selectively extended my chronological coverage backwards, to the crucial year of 1933, when Philby made his journey to Vienna and was then recruited by the NKVD, and forwards, to 1950, when Klaus Fuchs, having benefitted earlier from the casual attitude to active communists that had begun to colour the policies of government institutions, confessed to having been a spy, and was consequently convicted and jailed. In those early years of the war, Communist infiltration of British corridors of power had woefully been allowed to take place, symbolized by the successes of the Cambridge Five and of the atom spies, primarily Fuchs, Nunn May, and Pontecorvo.

My use of coldspur has allowed me to expand the period of my analysis – back to the days of the Russian Revolution in 1917, and forward, most intensely to the post-war years, and those following the Fuchs trial, with the abscondence of Burgess and Maclean in 1951, up to the early sixties, with Philby fleeing to Moscow in 1963, and Anthony Blunt confessing in 1964. My analysis continues a little more sporadically thereafter, through the ‘molehunts’ of the 1970s, Blunt’s unmasking in 1979, right up to the publication of Peter Wright’s Spycatcher in 1987, and the ensuing farrago in Australia. And what I have discovered in the intervening years is that there is indeed troubling fresh evidence that helps explain the oversights of 1940. If there is one thing that my years-long investigation into the failures of British counter-intelligence has shown, it is that the problem was much greater than carelessness complemented by Soviet deviousness. It concerned misguided notions about the possible manipulation of hostile agents, and a large dose of self-delusion.

I have chosen to organize this index around a number of key themes that inevitably intersect and overlap. (And certain series will be repeated in separate sectors). Yet that phenomenon is another indicator of the growing realization to which I have arrived – that everything is related to everything else, and that awareness of what had happened in superficially different spheres of interest can shed fresh light on enduringly problematic incidents. For example, Churchill’s whimsical and picaresque interferences into military and intelligence matters often caused turmoil in various theatres of operation. Claude Dansey of MI6 initiated an ill-conceived, multi-pronged project in which he believed that he could convert enemy agents to the British cause, with disastrous consequences. The puzzling career of Kim Philby had to be re-assessed for many reasons, in the light of fresh archival material, and a close inspection of memoirs. The behaviour of Dick White, over his embarrassment of hiring and sustaining Anthony Blunt, and the deceptions that Philby played, had long-lasting effects in his subsequent transfer from Director-General of MI5 to head of MI6, resulting in the pernicious molehunt in his former service. And so on.

This guide sets out to overlay some structure on pieces that have explored the above issues.

The Themes

I present the following themes:

  1. Revolution to Cold War: This is essentially a story about the evolution of Soviet oppression, from the days of the Cheka, through Stalin’s OGPU, NKVD, KGB and GRU to the resurgence of Stalinist leanings in President Putin. It also covers the fortunes and escapes of Russians – mostly scientists – who were able (or allowed to) escape to the West, as well as the careers of British intelligence officers who were active in Russia at the time of the Revolution. In addition, it analyses those western intellectuals and writers who were taken in by the Communist ‘experiment’.
  2. Germany and the Abwehr: This topic covers the few pieces I have written about Nazi Germany as a rival totalitarian power, and a target of counter-intelligence. Most of my research on intelligence concerns penetration by Soviet espionage, but an important sector appears in my coverage of the Abwehr’s ‘LENA’ spies, sent by Hitler in the autumn of 1940 to help him prepare for the invasion of Britain. The exercise was a useful introduction for MI5 to surveillance methods and the mechanisms of wireless detection, and it constituted the first initiative to set up a controlled disinformation scheme.
  3. The Cambridge 5: The careers of the Cambridge 5 have fuelled many familiar books, but the lies they left behind them, and the clumsy attempts by many intelligence officers to conceal the mistakes they made in failing to detect them, or in behaving indulgently when their treachery was discovered, opened up a rich opportunity for fresh research and conclusions. The shadow of an ‘Oxford Ring’ looms in the background.
  4. Kim Philby: Philby deserves a category of his own. Biographies of him, as well as general histories, have relied far too much on his mendacious memoir My Silent War. Rigorous examination of recent files from the National Archives, as well as inspections of contemporary memoirs and other sources, encourage a completely fresh assessment of his career, and of his ability to deceive.
  5. Soviet Agents, and Agents of Influence: The thrust of Soviet subversion was multi-faceted. Assisting the installation of the Cambridge 5 was a band of ‘illegals’ – not Soviet citizens, but shady characters from Eastern Europe who were able to adjust to life in the West more easily, and who acted as recruiters and messengers. Supporting them was a parade of NKVD/KGB residents working under cover at the Embassy. And then there were the aliens who managed to gain British citizenship through various means, such as Ursula Kuczynski, Edith Tudor-Hart, Litzy Philby, and Peter Smolka. In addition, there were the members of the Communist Party who (contrary to the desires of Moscow) engaged in espionage, such as Dave Springhall. A further category was that of ‘Agents of Influence’, a shadowy group of figures who aided the Communist cause while carefully distancing themselves from anything illegal. I count Victor Rothschild and Isaiah Berlin in this category.
  6. The Red Orchestra: I separate out, even though it has been a minor concern, the activities of the Soviet espionage organization in continental Europe, the ‘Rote Kapelle’, or ‘Red Orchestra’, since MI6 maintained a close interest in its activities in Switzerland (‘Die Rote Drei’), and had penetrated the group. I suspect that the controversial figure of Alexander Foote was exploited by MI6.
  7. The Defectors: A critical component of the campaign to understand Soviet subversion was the group of defectors from Soviet intelligence. Its primary members are Krivitsky, Gouzenko, and the Petrovs, with secondary roles (as far as my coverage is concerned) for Bazhanov, Tokayev, Goleniewski, Golitsyn and Gordievsky. To this list must be added the highly important would-be defector Volkov.
  8. Agent Sonia: Like Philby, Sonia (née Ursula Kuczynski) deserves a category of her own. Her remarkable success in gaining egress from Switzerland through the agency of MI6, and her charmed existence thereafter, were the first astonishing phenomena I investigated after my thesis was complete. This career was highlighted by her apparent ability to evade all radio detection functions at a time when that service should have been on high alert.
  9. The Atom Spies: Those spies who passed on atomic weaponry secrets to Moscow also merit a separate category. The most notorious was Klaus Fuchs, while many other scientists, both émigrés and natives, abetted his success in gaining access to highly confidential information, mostly out of conviction. Others (such as Gamow and Peierls) may have been subjected to threats concerning relatives left behind. And certain native citizens (such as Nunn May) were part of the treachery.
  10. ELLI & Molehunts: The narratives of British counter-espionage have been dominated by the spectral form of ‘ELLI’, a supposedly highly effective mole who undermined MI5 and betrayed its operations to the Soviets. Yet this entity was really a phantom created by Chapman Pincher and Peter Wright, founded on a misunderstanding of a hint dropped by the defector Ivan Gouzenko, and amplified through distortions and untruths. A whole cavalcade of molehunts was thus initiated, which resulted in utterly inconclusive speculation and wasted effort.
  11. Special Operations Executive: SOE has always maintained a special fascination for me, as its subversive and violent goals so often clashed with the traditional task of intelligence-gathering by MI6. My interest was intensified by Patrick Marnham’s publication of War in the Shadows, a revisionist account of the betrayal of the PROSPER circuit of the F Division of SOE. This led me into a deeper analysis of the driving forces behind SOE’s sorties, not just in France, but elsewhere in Europe, and provoked a re-appraisal of some its leading lights.
  12. GCHQ: The Government Communications Headquarters (formerly Government Code and Cypher School) has been much of a second-tier interest to me, but the career of Alastair Denniston and the important decryptions of Comintern traffic he managed when he was removed from leadership at Bletchley Park have always intrigued me. The relationship of Peter Wright’s ‘HASP’ traffic to ‘VENONA’, which was critical in leading to the identification of Maclean, had also been noteworthy. I cover MI6’s distribution of ULTRA material (decrypted German ENIGMA and other traffic) here.
  13. Wireless Detection: My study of Sonia’s ability to evade detection led me into a deeper study of the mechanics and practices of the Radio Security Service, the history of which has not always been represented correctly. I engaged in a comprehensive study of the history of the RSS, and compared its mechanisms with those of the Abwehr, which led me to some conclusions about the deception plans for the Normandy landings in 1944 that I do not believe have been articulated anywhere else.
  14. World War II: Some major aspects of World War II, not directly associated with intelligence or espionage, have caught my attention, including the Soviet Union’s clumsy adjustments during the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and the parallels between the Warsaw Uprising and the cessation of advances in Italy in 1944. The character and decisions of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin have come under my analysis – especially the disastrous manner in which the former two allowed themselves to be manipulated by the last.
  15. Tradecraft, including Double-Cross and Double-Agents: The practice of successful espionage and counter-intelligence is permanently fascinating, and the dissemination of disinformation is one of its most interesting aspects. The XX Operation, by which the Germans were misled over the location of the re-occupation of France, has been subject to much mythologizing. The general notion of using such techniques of disinformation by using alien agents who have been ‘turned’ has been greatly misrepresented in the literature, but was also misunderstood by allied practitioners who thought they could replicate the success against the Soviets. ‘Double-agent’ is perhaps the most abused term in intelligence literature.
  16. MI5 (Organization and Leadership): MI5’s inability to form a successful policy for handling detected spies, as well as its failure to come to grips with its own recruitment lapses, was a major topic in Misdefending the Realm. Under its several leaders, MI5 always struggled to create a proper structure and set of procedures for handling counter-intelligence against Soviet assaults and infiltration, and the authorized history is notably lax in describing its organization, and how it worked (or did not work).
  17. MI6: The authorized history of MI6 comes to a stop in 1949, but even that account struggles to provide a convincing narrative, and no records (apart from the occasional correspondence found in MI5 files) are at hand. Other histories therefore have to be regarded cautiously, because of the unreliability of memoir. Yet the Secret Intelligence Service plays a vital role in post-war intelligence and counter-intelligence, with constant interaction with MI5 required, and assessments have to be made, sometimes using those flawed memoirs.
  18. The FBI and CIA (also OSS): MI5 and MI6 had dealings with the two American services, intensely so after the war, when the discovery of the atom spies, and the collaboration over the VENONA material, required some careful negotiations. These were never easy relationships, they involved much distrust as well as hard-gained co-operation, but also a measure of manipulation. The USA and Canada had their share of Communist spies, and the investigations overlapped.
  19. Methodology and Historiography: A constant plea on my behalf has been the necessity for a rigorous methodology in the analysis of events in the world of intelligence, and I presented such in my thesis. I have regularly returned to this theme in my writings, deploring some of the practices of the authorized historians. I have also scorned the habits of many writers and biographers who are not qualified historians, who frequently display an alarming trust in the memoirs and oral testimony of participants, but also regularly show disdain for even the exercise of constructing a coherent chronology.
  20. Archives: I include a final category concerning the arrangements and policies surrounding the National Archives at Kew, with occasional reference to archival material in the USA and elsewhere.

I should point out that these classes are not inclusive, but instead point to my primary research into the respective subject matter. For example, MI5 appears in probably every category, but my listings on the Security Service concentrate on broader aspects of its leadership, organization, mission, policies, and execution.

The Topography

  1. Revolution to Cold War

One of my constant assertions has been that terror was built into the Communist apparatus from the beginning, and that the Red Terror of 1918-1922 was simply a symptom of an ideology that needed to eliminate anyone who opposed it, or who were merely members of a ‘class’ that was, by definition, assumed to be exploitative, and hostile to the Revolution. I drew on recent works by Beevor, Shmelev and Rayfield in https://coldspur.com/an-armful-of-history-books/ to provide some background and analysis of those times, while conceding that terror was not a practice exclusive to the Reds. Yet contact with Lenin’s organs at that time turned out to have ominous implications later.

For example, the Red Terror itself was a factor in the career of the émigré atomic scientist Rudolf Peierls, whose wife, Yevgenia, was the cousin of the murderer of the head of the Petrograd Cheka, Leon Uritsky. I explored all the ramifications of this saga at https://coldspur.com/the-mysterious-affair-at-peierls-part-1/. Another linked to the Peierls couple, and likewise probably blackmailed by Stalin, was the physicist George Gamow, who managed to emigrate under unusual circumstances (see https://coldspur.com/mann-overboard/). Lastly, the enigmatic cipher clerk for MI6 in the Soviet Union in World War II, George Graham, who was born as Serge Leontiev in St. Petersburg, was another exile tortured mentally by the NKVD and NKGB, and his story can be seen primarily at https://coldspur.com/the-strange-life-of-george-graham/.

The Terror affected many Englishmen who had been present in Russia at the time of the Revolution, and several of these ended up working for MI6. MI6 believed, accurately of course, that their knowledge of Russia, and of the Russian language would make them useful. Of course Moscow understood that dynamic, and was quick to identify persons with that profile, and thus played to undermine or suborn them. Thus you can read about some of the prime candidates: Paul Dukes at https://coldspur.com/the-strange-life-of-george-graham/, Stephen Alley and George Hill at https://coldspur.com/who-framed-roger-hollis/, and Harold Gibson at https://coldspur.com/gibbys-spy/. More recently, I have added to the cavalcade an analysis of Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis, at https://coldspur.com/four-spy-books/.

Other commentaries address the truths about the Soviet tyranny, mythologies about it, and the often craven way that the West has handled it. I described the indulgent attitude often expressed towards Stalin’s Russia as early as 2016, in https://coldspur.com/revisiting-smiley-co/, when I covered John le Carré’s apparent political philosophy. In May 2020 I recorded another foolish bit of commentary from a very prominent journalist, who had  recently expressed some absurd opinions about the supposed liberalism of Stalin after the war, at https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/. While my research is scattered with references to Stalin’s ‘useful idiots’, I made close studies of two irresponsible actors, Isaiah Berlin (who received close attention in Misdefending the Realm) and Stephen Spender, in https://coldspur.com/isaiah-in-love/ and https://coldspur.com/hey-big-spender/, respectively.  

In writing about Appeasement, I explored the misguided way that Churchill tried to please Stalin in https://coldspur.com/on-appeasement/, and analyzed the misjudgments that Stalin made over borders and ‘buffer states’ in https://coldspur.com/on-appeasement/. I described Roosevelt’s weak assessment of the Soviet threat in https://coldspur.com/soviet-espionage-transatlantic-connections , and wrote about the ambiguities involved in Britain’s sharing with the Soviet Union the results of the Ultra decryptions, and the mistrust it engendered, in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-iv/ and  https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-5/.

On the topic of Soviet mythology, I also explored the woeful attempt by Lenin and Stalin to create a new ‘Soviet Man’ at https://coldspur.com/homo-sovieticus/. Recently, in a review of the memoirs by Lariss Bukharin, I have re-inspected the claim that her husband, who was killed in the Great Purge, was some kind of western ‘liberal’ He was not: indeed, he did plot against Stalin, but he was a fervent Bolshevik (see https://coldspur.com/a-wintry-miscellany/). And I also reminded readers of the facts behind the Katyn massacre, facts that Putin is again trying to bury, in my 2022 review of Surviving Katyn at https://coldspur.com/an-armful-of-history-books/) . Finally, I should mention my review of Svetlana Lokhova’s Stalinist book The Spy Who Changed History, which appeared in August 2018 as one of the features in the posting at https://coldspur.com/four-books-on-espionage/.

2. Germany and the Abwehr

I have contributed one major assessment of pre-war Germany, and Great Britain’s hesitant response to Hitler’s increasing belligerence, in https://coldspur.com/on-appeasement/ of September 2019, where I suggested that the right time to stand up to him would have been when he invaded the Rhineland. I also discussed the confrontations between Hitler and Stalin in 1941, and Hitler’s ability to exploit Stalin’s pretensions to ‘buffer states’, later that year in https://coldspur.com/border-crossings-coldspur-stalin/  Thereafter, apart from tangential references to Hitler’s aggressions, my main coverage of Germany has been on the Abwehr, and how MI5 and MI6 dealt with its intelligence initiatives in 1940.

I started to analyze the activities of the LENA agents when I began my series ‘The Mystery of the Undetected Radios’ in May 2018. I had been provoked by Chapman Pincher’s claims that  Sonia might have been used in some kind of ‘double-cross’ operation against the Soviets (see https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/, in April 2018), where I developed a comprehensive framework for what the disposition of ‘double agents’ meant, and how the exercise was run successfully. This led me to the strange phenomenon wherein the infamous Double-Cross agents used against the Abwehr during World War II had been able to escape detection. This mirrored the apparent ability of the GRU’s Agent Sonia (Ursula née Kuczynski) to evade radio-detection methods throughout her time in Oxfordshire. I was encouraged to learn how radio detection worked.

While my analysis was spread across eight chapters, between May 2018 and September 2020, the Omnibus edition can be seen at https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-full/. (I shall cover this thread in the relevant Chapter 13.) In the first chapter, I wrote about the controversial Agent SNOW, and then tracked the arrival and capture of SUMMER and TATE. Chapter 3 (https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-3/ ) described the very strange story of ter Braak, who managed to survive undetected in Cambridge for several months. This post caught the eye of a Dutchman, Jan-Willem van den Braak, who was writing a biography of ter Braak, and that encounter led to my helping him publish the version in English titled Spy Against Churchill. I expanded on our discussions in my piece in February 2019, https://coldspur.com/two-cambridge-spies-dutch-connections-2/, where I laid out our very calm reasons for disagreeing on the circumstances of ter Braak’s death by shooting in a Cambridge air-raid shelter. I introduced the publication of his book in my 2021 Round-up, at https://coldspur.com/2021-year-end-roundup/.

I wrapped up my joint Sonia/radio-detection analysis in April 2021, in https://coldspur.com/on-radio-active-decay/, but returned to the Abwehr and the Sicherheitsdienst in my coverage of the PROSPER disaster, where a prominent SOE circuit in France was betrayed through the treacherous Henri Déricourt. As with Sonia, the full story will be outlined elsewhere, in this case in my SOE segment (Chapter 11), so I will simply direct interested readers to the main item on Déricourt’s role at https://coldspur.com/dericourts-double-act/, and the concluding episode in the series https://coldspur.com/the-demise-of-prosper/, from August 2022.

3. The Cambridge 5

So much had been written about the Cambridge Five (Philby, Maclean, Burgess, Blunt and Cairncross), with little new archival material released at the time my book was published, that I at first believed there was little new to discover. Indeed, I wrote little on Philby to start with, but then gradually came to the conclusion that most of his biographers trusted too completely what he wrote about in My Silent War, and that a rigorous cross-examination of sources, complemented by the inspection of related material from Kew (i.e. Tudor-Hart, Honigmann, Solomon, Smolka, Philby pêre, as well as the 1951 Foreign Office files) might lead to a dramatic re-assessment. That turned out to be correct, and I have thus extracted Philby to a separate section.

I made some early references to the contributions of the Five during World War II, and how some historians had strangely understated their role, in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-5/, published in January 2017. I followed this up in April 2018 with a profile of Basil Mann, who had rather provocatively in 1982 published a memoir titled Was There A Fifth Man?, attempting to exonerate himself, even though Cairncross had been outed by then. In this piece (see https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/) I also inspected Cedric Belfrage, and dissected the quite absurd theory that some members of the Cambridge 5 and their brethren had been deployed in a successful double-cross operation against the Soviets. This campaign concluded in the ridiculous phenomenon of the distinguished historian Sir Michael Howard explaining (in a letter to the Times) that Anthony Blunt had been protected because he was being used in such a role.

Donald Maclean then caught my eye again, when two books on him and the Five came out in 2018. I reviewed Roland Philipps’s A Spy Named Orphan, and Richard Davenport-Hines’s Enemies Within in my August 2018 bulletin https://coldspur.com/four-books-on-espionage/. I was not greatly impressed by Philipps’s rather apologetic and indulgent portrayal of his subject (’Maclean as victim’), despite the lengths of research he had gone to, and I offered my own analysis of the malignant influences at Gresham’s School, Holt. Davenport-Hines was a familiar figure – a prolific author of books on social history, but he chose an odd line in Enemies Within primarily blaming the journalists for the lack of confidence and prestige in MI5. He rather pompously defined a gender-bias within MI5 as the cause of the failure to detect the spies, and believed that intellectuals like him should be trusted more. Yet he got many things wrong, missed a lot of openings, and was too easily influenced by persons he should not have trusted.

Still, some fresh anecdotes in Philipps’ work led me to dig further into Maclean. In https://coldspur.com/donald-macleans-handiwork/ I uncovered some contradictions in the accounts of Goronwy Rees’s behaviour, and the work of Andrew Boyle (who effectively unmasked Blunt in The Climate of Treason). I tried to follow clues about capes, de Gallienne, artistic circles, bohemian habits, and Maclean’s photocopying in a Pimlico flat, or whether Edith Tudor-Hart had been his photographer. I also came across the mysterious ‘Barbara’, a mutual friend of Rees and Maclean, another photographer. Philipps informed me that she was in fact Barbara Key-Seymer, and I followed up with some research on her, as well as on Maclean’s connections with the Dutchman, Pieck in February 2019, in https://coldspur.com/two-cambridge-spies-dutch-connections-1. It was a fascinating exploration, but rather inconclusive, as readers can testify afresh.

My next foray was into the events preceding the abscondment of Burgess and Maclean, where I hypothesized that Dick White fed information to the CIA in order to distract attention from his own oversights in the affair. My investigation started in April 2019, with my report https://coldspur.com/the-importance-of-chronology-with-special-reference-to-liddell-philby/ : readers should skip the first section to get to the meat, where I inspect the roles of Boyle and Cookridge, and explain how the background to the inquiries developed. My next report appeared two months later, as https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/, where I explained that Dick White set out on a bizarre deception exercise, feeding tips about Philby to the FBI, so that the Americans could make a case against Philby. And my last major project was the investigation into the veracity of Blunt’s ‘confession’ at the Courtauld. I explained in December 2020 (https://coldspur.com/year-end-wrap-up-2020/) how I suspected that this was another device conceived by Roger Hollis and Dick White. A further deep study of the records led me to expand on this idea in two long pieces in January and February of 2021, https://coldspur.com/the-hoax-of-the-blunt-confession-part-1/ and https://coldspur.com/the-hoax-of-the-blunt-confession-part-2/, which also exposed that the Cairncross confession in the United States was similarly a staged event. That was my last significant commentary on the Five, although I should record here my review of Hannah Coler’s book The Cambridge Five (in German), which appeared at the end of last year (https://coldspur.com/a-wintry-miscellany/). I shall cover my fresh analysis of the events of 1951, in which Burgess and Maclean of course featured prominently, in the following section on Philby.

In passing, I note that I have made only very scanty reference to the Oxford Ring (in March 2023, at https://coldspur.com/litzi-philby-under-the-covers/) – a deficiency that needs to be remedied.

4. Kim Philby

The mythology of Kim Philby – especially of his recruitment by the NKVD – occupied a big chunk of Chapter 2 (‘Missing Links’) of Misdefending the Realm, where I explored the multiple conflicting accounts of that event that have been published. For the first few years of coldspur, I did not pay him much attention: he had been written about by so many persons that I was not ready to stick my own oar in, although I was puzzled by how many historians and biographers appeared to accept unquestioningly what the traitor wrote about himself and his career in My Silent War. I had dabbled further into his adventures and connections when writing about Stephen Spender back in 2016 (https://coldspur.com/hey-big-spender/), and returned to him next only in April 2019, where I picked up the question of leaks to E. H. Cookridge, possibly by Guy Liddell (https://coldspur.com/the-importance-of-chronology-with-special-reference-to-liddell-philby/). It was here that I picked up the strange and alarming story about Eric Roberts, and his claim that he had been told, in 1947, of a traitor working high-up in SIS, and also pointed out some chronological anomalies in the accounts of the investigation into HOMER (Maclean) concerning events in Washington, and raised my suspicions that far more was known about Philby’s exploits than was ever admitted.

That article constituted the first airing of what I termed a plot by Dick White to obfuscate the issues, and, after further research, presented, two months later, my more confident outlining of the plot, in https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/. Here I explained how Dick White had successfully transferred the attention of the Burgess/Maclean investigation into a focus on Philby, and his role as informant to Maclean, and manipulated the files to make it appear that the CIA had been the agency that forced Menzies’s hand at MI6. In May 2020, I picked up the stalemate with Roberts and Christopher Andrew in https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/, but was otherwise consumed with Sonia and ELLI at this time. In fact, I covered Philby’s reactions to the Gouzenko and ELLI business in March 2021, in https://coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/. In my year-end round-up I analyzed some recent biographical material on Philby, and provided some facetious commentary of my own (https://coldspur.com/2021-year-end-roundup/). In May 2022 I made a brief reference to Philby’s contribution to the molehunts in the light of the Volkov incident in https://coldspur.com/peter-wrights-agents-double-agents/, and showed at the end of the year, through my communications with Keith Ellison, that some recently released Kew files might shed some significant new light on Philby’s activities (https://coldspur.com/2022-year-end-round-up/).

This all led to a very intense re-assessment of Philby’s life and career in 2023 and early 2024. By inspecting closely the files on Edith Tudor-Hart, Georg Honigmann, Philby Senior, Peter Smolka and others, I engaged in an six-month series of bulletins that explored closely the dynamics of Philby’s marriage, recruitment, his work for MI6, the controversial events of 1951, and his later unveiling as a spy. This was supported by a closer reading of much of the Philby literature (e.g. Borovik), as well as an assessment of a new book by Helen Fry on the MI6 representative in Vienna, Thomas Kendrick. These pieces, in which I confidently presented a hypothesis that Philby had performed some deal with MI6 in 1939 whereby he pretended to close out his Soviet connections and allegiances, can be seen at https://coldspur.com/litzi-philby-under-the-covers/, https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-always-working-for-sis/, https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-in-1951-alarms-and-diversions/, https://coldspur.com/kim-philbys-german-moonshine/, https://coldspur.com/the-folly-of-solomon/, and https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/, where I summed up the status of my researches on him. I have provided a consolidated omnibus edition of these pieces on coldspur, at https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-a-re-assessment/.

The project carried on. I reviewed a somewhat fanciful book about Philby’s actions in the Middle East (in https://coldspur.com/four-spy-books/), and delved more deeply into the Honigmann story (Honigmann being Litzy Philby’s partner in London during the war) in https://coldspur.com/the-tales-of-honigmann/ in November 2023. The next month I questioned the facts about Kim’s divorce from Litzy (https://coldspur.com/a-wintry-miscellany/), and in January and February used my re-assessment of the life of Peter Smolka to cast fresh doubts on Philby’s testimony of his life from his memoir (https://coldspur.com/peter-smolka-background-to-1934/ and https://coldspur.com/at-last-the-1948-show-smolka-the-third-man/). Finally, I inserted an item about the missing two chapters of Philby’s memoir that MI6 managed to spirit away from Sotheby’s before they were put up for auction.

5. Soviet Agents

There remains a motley collection of pieces about Soviet agents and influencers of various kinds who are outside the Cambridge 5, Philby, Sonia, the Atom Spies, and the Lucy Ring categories. My whole body of research started off with Isaiah Berlin, and his bizarre relationship with Guy Burgess, and, in August 2015 I re-presented my History Today article on him, at https://coldspur.com/the-undercover-egghead/. Stephen Spender’s clumsy contribution was covered a few months later, in https://coldspur.com/hey-big-spender/, and I expanded my analysis of Berlin’s life and career, with some of his dubious associations, in Isaiah in Love (see https://coldspur.com/isaiah-in-love/). In January 2018, I branched out to cover a number of transatlantic agents, both American and Canadian, in https://coldspur.com/soviet-espionage-transatlantic-connections/, resumed a study of Wilfred Mann and Cedric Belfrage in April of that year (https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/), and introduced the phenomenon of errant Rhodes Scholars in my review of a biography of Duncan Lee in August (https://coldspur.com/four-books-on-espionage/).

Early on, I had investigated, while analyzing Sonia’s wireless activity, the strangely ignored and unprosecuted Soviet spy ring led by Oliver Green in Birmingham, which account can be seen in  https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-viii/, from June 2017. In December 2018, I switched to an inspection of the controversial Goronwy Rees, and his role in the Blunt saga, and then covered some of the figures behind the Krivitsky defection – Kitty Harris, Maly, Deutsch and others, all in https://coldspur.com/donald-macleans-handiwork/.  I introduced my coverage of Rudolf Peierls in October 2019 (https://coldspur.com/the-mysterious-affair-at-peierls-part-1/): Peierls is on the borderline of being an ‘atom spy’, but he certainly misrepresented his background, and was probably being held hostage by the Soviets, as was another questionable person, George Gamow. I described the activities of other possible Soviet sympathizers, such as Mott and Skinner, and other émigré scientists, in the second part of my Peierls research the following March in https://coldspur.com/the-mysterious-affair-at-peierls-part-2/.  

In May 2020, I covered the career of David Springhall (https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/), and a few months later, in October 2020, I had a chance to offer my opinions of the Portland Spy Ring (Houghton & Gee, Lonsdale/Molody, the Cohens) as well as of Richard Sorge, when I reviewed books by Trevor Barnes and Owen Matthews (https://coldspur.com/five-books-on-espionage-intelligence/). I provided what I considered to be useful extra insights on Barnes’s inadequate analysis in my year-end piece at https://coldspur.com/year-end-wrap-up-2020/. In 2021, my attention switched to Gouzenko and ELLI: ELLI of course has a category all of her/his own, as do ‘Defectors’, but Desmond Uren (who was briefly considered a candidate) was covered in https://coldspur.com/what-gouzenko-said-about-elli/, in July. It was almost a year later, in May 2022, that I returned to the story, analysing the contribution that Volkov made to defector lore, and the hints that suggested that MI5 or MI6 had been penetrated (https://coldspur.com/peter-wrights-agents-double-agents/).  I thus covered Milne, Macgibbon, and Klugmann, as well as Uren, again, but my main concern was trying to ascertain exactly who those Soviet ‘double-agents’ were that Peter Wright claimed existed.

The saga of ‘Gibby’s Spy’, the supposed ‘agent in the Kremlin’ who never existed, probably belongs here: see https://coldspur.com/gibbys-spy/ in October 2022, as does my review of David Burke’s study of the ghastly Kuczynski family and network the following month (https://coldspur.com/an-armful-of-history-books/). Lastly, my extended coverage of Philby and his associates in 2023 (see above) includes much information on the various couriers and fellow-travellers in London during the war, such as Tudor-Hart and Honigmann, and this section has been rounded out by my two-part segment earlier this year on the odious Peter Smolka, at https://coldspur.com/peter-smolka-background-to-1934/ and https://coldspur.com/at-last-the-1948-show-smolka-the-third-man/.

6. The Red Orchestra

This sector describes the entire Soviet-controlled body of spies, assisted by wireless operators, that worked in western Europe against the Germans. The Germans named them Die Rote Kapelle, the Red Orchestra, and the unit in Switzerland, out of reach of direct surveillance and direction-finding, was known as Die Rote Drei, the Red Three, although the enumeration rather inaccurately represented the cell as its leader, Sándor Radó, and two of his assistants.

My main focus was on the Swiss section, since the so-called ‘Lucy Ring’, which overlapped with the Red Three, had been infiltrated by Alexander Foote, who worked for a while for Sonia, aka Ursula Beurton, née Kuczynski. The most relevant parts of the story can be seen at https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-vii/ (January 2017), and, two months later, in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-vi/. A couple of years later, I explored the implications of Germany’s defensive manœuvres against generic hostile wireless communications in Europe, and introduced the background to the Red Orchestra, at https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-4/, in January 2019, with two later segments following that year at  https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-5/ and https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-6/.

7. The Defectors

The defector who consumed most of my attention was Walter Krivitsky, since it was his testimony that MI5 badly mismanaged, which inattention gave me the title of my book. I devoted Chapter 3 of Misdefending the Realm to the Krivitsky affair, so there is little to add from coldspur, apart from the recurring references to ‘the Imperial Council Spy’ (i.e. Maclean) and ‘the journalist in Spain’ (i.e. Philby). Thus Krivitsky appears in https://coldspur.com/two-cambridge-spies-dutch-connections-1/ (February 2019), where I undertook some deeper investigations into Krivitsky’s memories of Maclean’s handiwork when the GRU officer was in Moscow in 1937. Thereafter Krivitsky turns up regularly in my coverage of Philby, most notably in https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/ (June 2019), and my recent piece that analyzes how Krivitsky’s report was accepted and used in the USA (https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-tangled-web/), in March of this year.

While I had briefly recorded the fierce insights on Philby made by Ismail Akhmedov as early as May 2016 (see https://coldspur.com/revisiting-smiley-co/), the next defector to gain my focused attention was Igor Gouzenko, the cipher-clerk who defected in Canada in August 1945. I started to develop greater interest in him in May 2020, as I was processing the thoughts of Chapman Pincher and Peter Wright about the identity of ‘ELLI’, whom Gouzenko had named as a spy somewhere in British intelligence (see https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/).  I followed up with a deeper analysis in March 2021 (https://coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/), and more two months later (https://coldspur.com/who-framed-roger-hollis/), where, after undertaking a careful inspection of chronology and geography, I concluded that Roger Hollis had been framed. Lastly, I determined to take a very close look at exactly what Gouzenko’s testimony had been, and how it had changed over the years, in https://coldspur.com/what-gouzenko-said-about-elli/ (July 2021).

Konstantin Volkov was another defector (this time, only a would-be specimen, since he was betrayed by Philby and executed before he could escape) whose testimony has been misunderstood and distorted. I analyzed his case in https://coldspur.com/peter-wrights-agents-double-agents/, in May 2022, when I also provided  a brief review of Gordon Brook-Shepherd’s important study of post-war Soviet defectors, The Storm Birds. I also offered a detailed analysis of Volkov’s file, which had been released to the National Archives in October 2015, and critiqued some recent literature on defectors, from Kevin Riehle, William Hale, and Nigel West. I next reproduced some of Guy Liddell’s observations in his diary on Volkov, and pointed out that companion file on Volkov (FCO 158/194), which might explain some of the conundrums behind the business (especially those surfacing in West’s uneven commentary), has been retained by Foreign Office.

I can point to little more of substance on defectors. In July 2023, I did examine Anatoliy Golitsyn’s role in unmasking Philby in https://coldspur.com/the-folly-of-solomon/, and was able to disclose earlier this year that Golitsyn (bearing the cryptonym KAGO) had appeared in a minute-sheet on Peter Smolka, thus pinning his disclosure of that Soviet spy a few weeks before he was able to defect at the end of 1961 (see https://coldspur.com/at-last-the-1948-show-smolka-the-third-man/). I have occasionally written about Oleg Gordievsky. For example, I had reviewed Ben Macintyre’s book on him, The Spy and the Traitor, in November 2018, at https://coldspur.com/four-more-books-on-espionage/, and see also https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/), but his period lies outside my primary domain of coverage. I have only rarely touched on the defection of Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov (see https://coldspur.com/the-importance-of-chronology-with-special-reference-to-liddell-philby/), but their important contribution remains as one my most significant areas of future study, involving the inspection of a massive archive that I have not yet explored properly.

8. Agent Sonia

As part of my coverage of Klaus Fuchs, I had remarked upon the very puzzling aspects of Ursula Beurton’s (née Kucynski’s) marriage to Len in Switzerland and subsequent remarkable escape to the United Kingdom in Chapter 9 of Misdefending the Realm, but I was at that time largely relying on what Chapman Pincher and John Costello had written about her. I was provoked by Professor Glees’s questions about her ability to evade radio detection-finding while working from the environs of Oxfordshire to engage in a thorough study of her activity, a saga that was released in ten segments between April 2016 and September 2017, and was compiled into an omnibus edition, available at https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio/. My primary conclusion was that her radio activity was, after some desultory starts, probably non-existent, but that, in any case, MI6 directed the Radio Security Service to ignore her. (One useful by-product of this exercise was to start a project on wireless deception in World War II generally, as I explain below.)

There was more on Sonia, however. In February 1918, I started to unravel some of the myths that Chapman Pincher had woven about Sonia in his unremitting quest to show that Roger Hollis had been a Soviet mole. Thus, in https://coldspur.com/sonia-and-the-quebec-agreement/ I applied my technique of defining a precise chronology to show that Sonia could not have revealed details of the 1943 Quebec Agreement to her Soviet bosses. Sonia hummed on in the background: there were rumours of films being made about her, and of fresh disclosures from the Soviet archives. In May 2019, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-5/,  I reported that a colleague had alerted me to the fact that Ben Macintyre was writing a book on Sonia, and I was able to reveal that I had sent a letter to Macintyre at the end of 2018, suggesting that the agent might be a suitable topic for him to exploit in his next book, and pointing him to my work! He never replied to me, but I laid out an important marker with my own research.

And then in February 2020 I published a guest piece from a coldspur reader, Denis Lenihan, who questioned some of my analysis, in https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-denis-lenihan-on-sonia-quebec/. Lenihan came up with some valuable observations about other persons who might have been involved, but his startling and Pincheresque conclusion was that it was Hollis who leaked the information to Sonia. Naturally, I had to respond vigorously to this thesis, and did so a month later, in https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-response-to-denis-lenihan/, where I also introduced John Anderton, who had shared lodgings with the Beurtons in Oxfordshire. I also reviewed the memoir written by Sonia’s daughter, Janina, in a conventional round-up of my activities in May 2020, in https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/.  At this time, I included an account of some rather alarming aspects of the roll-out of Macintyre’s book ‘Agent Sonya’.

That train of thought was quickly interrupted, however by a  startling discovery in one of the Kuczynski files that I had only superficially looked at before (KV 6/41), which disclosed an extraordinary communication from the MI6 station in Geneva, Switzerland, to Len Beurton, now ensconced with Sonia safely in Kidlington (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-letter-from-geneva/). This demonstrated that Len was seen as some kind of asset by MI6, and, with Professor Glees’s help, a piece appeared in the Mail on Sunday highlighting this intelligence. I provided the link to it, and some initial commentary, in a Special Bulletin at the end of June (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-sonia-and-the-mail-on-sunday/). Not entirely happy with the Mail on Sunday’s account of the events, I then (in July 2020) wrote a fresh report explaining carefully what the new intelligence meant, at https://coldspur.com/sonia-mi6s-hidden-hand/. While recapitulating much of what I had written before, this piece provided a fresh history of Sonia’s career in nine chapters, and it set out to show that Sonia’s fortunate rescue from dangers in Switzerland had been engineered by Claude Dansey of MI6, in one of his misguided efforts to manipulate Soviet spies to Britain’s advantage.

Before this time, as indicated above, I had heard rumours that Ben Macintyre was writing a biography of Sonia.  And I was invited by the Journal of Intelligence and National Security (I forget the exact mechanism whereby) to provide a review of his Agent Sonya. I was keen to counter some of the hyperbolic encomia that his book had received in the press, and was pleased that the Journal published my piece, promptly, in December 2020. It can be seen at https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-review-of-agent-sonya/. I am gratified by the number (several hundred) of readers who have accessed the piece on the Journal website – all, presumably, having paid for access individually, or through institutional membership. I added a few comments in my year-end wrap-up, at https://coldspur.com/year-end-wrap-up-2020/.

In April 2021, I took the opportunity to integrate much of my research around wireless, Sonia, Peter Wright and HASP, and related matters, into a summary about Sonia’s possible wireless activity (see https://coldspur.com/on-radio-active-decay/. This was undertaken partly to refute Ben Macintyre’s somewhat absurd claims, but also to explain my precise logic in identifying the paradoxes of non-detection, and what it would require to identify unexplained radio signals as originating from Sonia, but have them hushed up (as Pincher claimed). Since then, the affaire Sonia has gone comparatively quiet. In November 2022, I offered a review of David Burke’s weak book on the Kuczynskis – something that the Journal of Intelligence and National Security had asked for, but which project they then mangled unnecessarily. It can be seen at https://coldspur.com/an-armful-of-history-books/. My on-line colleague Brian Austin had been prompted by my coverage of Sonia (to which he had contributed) to write a detailed technical article on Sonia’s wireless equipment and operation, and I republished it in https://coldspur.com/signal-sonyas-wireless/ in December 2022. I do not know whether Ben Macintyre has been chastened by my review: I had heard that a film based on his book was going to be made, but I have noticed nothing about it lately.

9. The Atom Spies

Misdefending the Realm included a deep rather than broad investigation into the purloining of secrets by scientists working for the Allies. In my thesis I had focussed on Klaus Fuchs, since he was the prime example of a candidate who had come under suspicion early, but then was allowed into the most secret halls of the Manhattan project. Yet, just before the submission of my thesis, I had already stepped into the world of Fuchs’s associates, sponsors, and hangers-on, starting with an examination of Basil Mann and George Gamow (see https://coldspur.com/mann-overboard/), which appeared in October 2015. Gamow had made an extraordinarily impossible escape from the Soviet Union, which immediately raised my suspicions. Moreover, he was a close friend of Yevgenia Kannegiesser, the future wife of Rudolf Peierls, who helped Fuchs in his unillustrious career.

I picked up the Fuchs story in September 2016, where I described the relationship between Peierls and Fuchs when the latter was released from internment (see https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-3/), and I revisited Sonia’s dealings with Fuchs a year later, in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-ix/. I later described the events surrounding the Quebec Agreement in September 1943 (which involved the transfer of Fuchs and others to the USA) in https://coldspur.com/sonia-and-the-quebec-agreement/, dated February 2018. Two months later, I reported on the very insightful and provocative findings of Mike Rossiter (who had written a biography of Fuchs) concerning records on the physicist that had been withdrawn from the National Archives (see https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/).

Yet it was not until the end of 2019 that I engaged on my intense study of the highly dubious Rudolf Peierls and his wife with their tainted past, owing to Yevgenia’s family relationship with an assassin of a prominent Chekist. Peierls did much to conceal the story: he had successfully caused a book by Richard Deacon to be pulped, and I explored his career in two segments, namely https://coldspur.com/the-mysterious-affair-at-peierls-part-1/  and, in March 2020, https://coldspur.com/the-mysterious-affair-at-peierls-part-2/. In the latter piece, I investigated how the network of physicists in Britain in the 1930s helped to enable Klaus Fuchs to thrive, and I explored how Peierls tried to explain away Fuchs’s ability to spy under his watch. I thus introduced a number of prominent émigré scientists at the University of Bristol, as well as the native left-leaning Mott and Gunn, and the mysterious Herbert Skinner. I had recorded my exchanges with Frank Close (who had written a comprehensive biography of Fuchs), and my attempts to contact with Sabine Lee (who had published much on Peierls) in my Round-up of November 2019 (see https://coldspur.com/a-thanksgiving-round-up/).  I commented on Close’s rather cautious presentation on Fuchs at the Bodleian in https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/, dated May 2020: he did not reply to my questions.

My last flourish in this arena was to investigate the puzzling policy of AERE Harwell after the war regarding suspected spies (i.e. Pontecorvo, Peierls, Fuchs, Skinner, Skyrme, Davison). This exercise enabled me to apply my chronological methods to the activities of the spy and absconder Bruno Pontecorvo, and to the investigations into his behaviour. Rather than face the realities head-on, the authorities apparently preferred to try to shuffle such persons to a quiet post at Liverpool University, and I explored these initiatives in  August 2020, in https://coldspur.com/liverpool-university-home-for-distressed-spies/. I brought both Herbert Skinner (whose wife, Erma, had been having an affair with Fuchs) and Boris Davidson under the microscope, since they had been rather neglected in previous histories. This was not an honourable period for those responsible for the security of the United Kingdom.

10. ELLI and Molehunts

It appears that I did not pick up the ‘ELLI’ story until February 2018, when I referred to Chapman Pincher’s claim that Hollis was ELLI (whom I coolly described as ‘the spy within MI5’) in https://coldspur.com/sonia-and-the-quebec-agreement/, ELLI being a mole identified by the defector Ivan Gouzenko. I then described what William Tyrer had reported in his 2016 article in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, ‘The Unresolved Mystery of Elli’, where the author cast doubts that ELLI was either Hollis or Leo Long (as Christopher Andrew had claimed). At this stage, I was still floundering around in the dark, as I had not inspected the sources. It was not until couple of years later, in May 2020, where I provided an update, chasing down a lead from Pincher, and digging out the claims of the defector, Akhmedov, that ELLI had in fact been a woman (see https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/). Here I also showed how the Vassiliev papers were misleading in their references to ELLI: I showed my confusion over the way that Pincher, Wright and Tyrer (and probably others) had been misled by a faulty interpretation of what Vassiliev transcribed.

I determined that I would have to approach this mystery in a more disciplined fashion, and in March 2021, in https://coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/, I applied my methodology to studying exactly what Gouzenko had said and written. I also was able to exchange emails with Vassiliev himself, now living in Harrow, outside London. I studied the Vasiliev papers carefully, and then went over in detail the precise chronology of the movements of Hollis and others in the autumn of 1945, after Gouzenko’s escape from the Soviet mission. This investigation also presented the fact that there was another spy with the cryptonym ‘ELLI’, but in Ottawa, one Kate Willsher, which muddied the waters. Moreover, my study of the Liddell Diaries suggested that the appearance of ELLI may have been a misunderstanding provoked by Stephen Alley over the existence of a spy working for George Hill (of SOE/MI6) in Moscow, or that ELLI may have been an occasional agent providing information to Chichaev, the KGB representative in London – even Alley himself. That was something that Liddell himself hinted at.

I returned to the story two months later, in https://coldspur.com/who-framed-roger-hollis/, where I returned to  Gouzenko, and also showed how Peter Wright introduced some spurious nonsense about VENONA and HASP into the mix, thereby aspiring to incriminate Hollis more. I renewed my attention to the SOE link to ELLI (as espoused by Liddell). Liddell’s researches went annoyingly cold, but he thereafter gave the impression that the ELLI problem was solved. My conclusion was that a bevy of MI6 officers had tried to frame Hollis as ELLI. Somewhat frustrated, in July 2021, I carried out a very detailed analysis of what Gouzenko said about ELLI (in https://coldspur.com/what-gouzenko-said-about-elli/), and, after a very long and involved study, concluded that MI5 preferred to keep the ELLI story under wraps since its disclosure and explanation would have brought to light even more embarrassing facts about the George Hill/George Graham fiasco in Moscow (q.v.)

As I reported in May 2022 (https://coldspur.com/peter-wrights-agents-double-agents/), the belief – even among coldspur readers – that ELLI had been a serious mole in MI5, and that Hollis had been the culprit – died hard. Here I went back to try to understand what the evidence was that a mole had been at work, primarily Peter Wright’s claim that several double-agent cases against the Soviets had gone awry.  I thus re-read Nigel West’s Molehunt, explored the Volkov evidence, and tried to determine what Wright was talking about. There were many threads and paradoxes in this story, but I repeated my scepticism about the possibility of ‘turning’ some communist sympathizers into ‘double-agents’ for the Soviets, a myth that Nigel West encouraged, and I lamented the lack of discipline shown by historians of the case, as well as the feeble desires of the authorities, wanting to hold back on releasing vital documents. Finally, I should report how the existence and identity of ELLI endured as an item of controversy between the British and the Americans, as shown in my March 2024 piece at https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-tangled-web/ .   And there my research stands, although I do want to return some day to the claims that Wright and Pincher made about Hollis’s interfering with the Portland Spies case.

11. Special Operations Executive

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a comparatively short-lived organization (1940-1945), but it demanded my attention for several reasons: i) its generic role in wireless communications and detection-finding; ii) the relationship its French Section (‘F’- British-controlled) had with MI6 and Claude Dansey, especially as it concerned management of so-called ‘double agents’ in deception campaigns; iii) The murky circumstances of the Russian-born cipher-clerk George Graham being inserted into the MI6/SOE establishment under George Hill in the Soviet Union; and iv) my special investigation into the disaster of the Lancaster bomber crashing in southern Norway with Soviet agents aboard, in September 1944. Alongside these projects, I undertook some intensive reading of biographies and memoirs of notable SOE figures, especially of its chief in the latter stages of the war, Colin Gubbins, who, in my mind, merited some more rigorous analysis.

I started my investigation into SOE wireless techniques in January 2019, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-4/, where I surveyed the very fragmented literature, including M. R. D. Foot’s sometimes inaccurate depiction of events. It seemed to me that the role of detection-finding was overstated, and that arrests were as often due to careless operations and betrayals. I picked up SOE’s struggles to free itself from MI6’s controls in communications, and the mistakes in made in the disastrous Englandspiel in the Netherlands, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-5/, in May of that year. SOE was slow to learn lessons from the field, and it was inexpertly led. I resumed coverage in August (https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-6/) , writing more about some of the myths of detection-finding, and concluded that the German initiatives in this area were more of a threat than a reality.

It was not until May 2021, in https://coldspur.com/who-framed-roger-hollis/, that SOE entered my research again – this time in connection with ELLI. Guy Liddell’s Diaries had shown that ELLI was believed to be a member of SOE, but that the known spy Desmond Uren had been eliminated. My focus thus turned to the inclusion of George Graham in the SOE/MI6 mission to Moscow and Kuibyshev under George Hill. My conclusion was that the Stephen Alley-ELLI events were hushed up because of the greater embarrassment concerning Graham, who had been subject to a honey-trap, with a resulting exposure of SOE ciphers being stolen. Almost immediately, however, my interest in SOE was sprung by a fresh happening – my reading of a review of a book by Patrick Marnham, who had claimed in War in the Shadows that the SOE F section had been wilfully betrayed in the cause of deceiving the Germans.

Following up this intriguing notion took up much of my time over the next year or two. I introduced the story, highlighting the connection with Claude Dansey, in June 2021 (see https://coldspur.com/claude-danseys-mischief/).  That led me to an investigation of the mysterious TWIST committee, and getting in touch with Robert Marshall, who had written about the debacle of the betrayal of the PROSPER circuit some decades ago – all in https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-lets-twist-again/ in August 2021.  Thereafter I applied my space-and-time methodology to the movements of the culprit and probable traitor, Déricourt. Deep analysis followed in October (https://coldspur.com/the-prosper-disaster/) and November (https://coldspur.com/dericourts-double-act/), and my studies took me into the deliberations of the General Staff, and how the activities of SOE related to Allied military strategy.

Ater an interlude in January 2022, where I returned to a long analysis of the SOE agent George Graham (https://coldspur.com/the-strange-life-of-george-graham/), I returned to PROSPER the following three months (https://coldspur.com/all-quiet-on-the-second-front/, https://coldspur.com/bridgehead-revisited-three-months-in-1943/, and https://coldspur.com/feints-and-deception-two-more-months-in-1943/, where I presented my theory for what had actually happened. I indicated at the same time how unreliable M.R. D. Foot’s history of SOE in France had been, and how he had been misled by the Foreign Office Adviser. Then, in June 2022, I switched to a re-assessment of Colin Gubbins, the SOE chief, in https://coldspur.com/gubbins-turn/. Having read three biographies of him, and some related memoirs, I became more disenchanted with his track-record, judging that, in the eagerness to celebrate some key achievements of SOE, writers and memoirists had played down its rather woeful list of failures and disappointments.

After providing some confirmation of my ideas in my summer round-up in July, where I also offered reviews of some related books on SOE (see https://coldspur.com/summer-2022-round-up/), I then summarized the whole sad PROSPER story in August, in https://coldspur.com/the-demise-of-prosper/. My introductory text described the piece as follows: “The denouement of the story of the betrayal of Francis Suttill and his PROSPER network, caused by SOE’s spineless behaviour when caught between the wiles of the TWIST Committee and the demands of the Chiefs of Staff for deception operations, in the shape of the absurd COCKADE plan.)” I also reviewed Halik Kochanski’s epic new book on European Resistance in November, at https://coldspur.com/an-armful-of-history-books/.

Yet I had to return to the subject early in 2023, where I took pains to explain in great detail what I had proposed concerning PROSPER’s (Francis Suttill’s) multiple journeys back to the UK in the summer of 1943 (see https://coldspur.com/prospers-flit/). By this time, I had tried to engage by email with Suttill’s son, who was taking a very obdurate stance on the accuracy of his version of events. He had meanwhile managed to have a very weak article published in the Journal of Intelligence and National Security, and, since Patrick Marnham and I were unable to make any headway in rebutting it through the offices of Mark Phythian, the Editor, I published our joint letter, refuting Suttill’s arguments in my Special Bulletin of February 2023 (https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-prosper-the-letter-to-jins/ .

Lastly, I record the saga of ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’, since it is intricately bound up with SOE in Norway. I introduced this topic back in June 2022, in https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice/, but it has taken almost two years to complete the research, originally in partnership with Nigel Austin, but performed single-handedly by me over the past year. I have now revealed the whole story about the infiltration of Soviet agents onto an RAF Lancaster bomber, diverted intentionally over Norway in September 1944 in https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-1/, https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-2/, https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-3/, and https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-4/.  The plane crashed with all on board being killed, and the tortured investigation and ensuing cover-up are a disgrace. I completed the project in time for the British Ministry of Defence to make a complete apology to the relatives of the victims before the eightieth anniversary of the dreadful events of 1944.  That it will do so is not yet clear.

12. GCHQ

My main interest in GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters: before 1945 GC&CS, the Government Code and Cypher School) has been the role it played when it collaborated, in a not completely transparent fashion, with the USA’s Army Security Agency and Armed Forces Security Agency in decrypting Soviet communications, in the project that came to be known as VENONA. (The National Security Agency was not created until 1952). This exercise led, notably, to the conviction of Klaus Fuchs, and the identification of Donald Maclean. Yet I had covered aspects of GC&CS’s mission before then: in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-ii/, in June 2016, I covered the evolving relationship between GCCS and the Radio Security Service (RSS), and three months later explored GCCS’s continuing role in intercepting and deciphering Soviet communications, as well as its rivalry with RSS (see https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-3/’. I here also echoed the notion that Britain actually used the LUCY network in Switzerland to feed camouflaged ULTRA information to the Soviet Union.

My bulletin of November 2016 (https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-iv/) was dedicated to the murkily reported accounts of GC&CS’s inspection of Soviet traffic, including Churchill’s renowned (but maybe fabricated) order that such work should stop after Barbarossa. I also offered a report on the ISCOT project set up under Alastair Denniston at Berkeley Street in 1942, when Eastern European Comintern traffic was successfully unravelled. The following April (https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-vii/) I returned to the political challenges at GC&CS, including that of Denniston’s demise, and expanded on the role of ULTRA distribution. In August, I explored the complex rules of wireless interception, and how GC&CS tasked RSS with setting targets for interception (see https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-ix/).

My research into Sonia led to the new series of ‘The Mystery of the Undetected Radios’ (see below) in 2018, with further examination of turf wars between GC&CS and RSS, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radio-part-1/, and I stepped back to relate some of GC&CS’s experiences at the outset of the war, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-2/ (July 2018). The next venture into GCHQ affairs was my description of Dick White’s attempt to divert accusations against Philby as coming from the CIA, in June 2019, in https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/, where I laid out the contributions made by GCHQ and the American agencies in slowly decoding the cryptonyms form VENONA transcripts. And then, when re-assessing what Peter Wright claimed about the mysterious HASP messages, I returned to a full examination of VENONA, what it meant, and how HASP related to it (see https://coldspur.com/hasp-spycatchers-last-gasp/, in June 2020.

One of the items that was missing from the historiography was an authorized history of GCHQ (to embellish what West and Aldrich had written), and John Ferris’s volume with that insignia (Behind the Enigma) came out in the summer of 2020. In my year-end round up (https://coldspur.com/year-end-wrap-up-2020/), I offered a brief review of the work: its 832 pages were so disappointing that I did not waste energy on a comprehensive review. I revisited some of Peter Wright’s nonsense concerning HASP in May 2021 (https://coldspur.com/who-framed-roger-hollis/), and provided a thorough review of How Spies Think, the book by a sometime head of GCHQ, Sir David Omand, in https://coldspur.com/four-books-on-mi5/, in my August 2021 posting. It was another very mixed concoction. Lastly, I explored what had been a long-lasting conundrum to me – the rather shabby demotion of Alastair Denniston, the long-serving and largely successful head of GC&CS, and the reason that he did not receive a knighthood. This item, which covered a lot of the secondary literature concerning Denniston and GC&CS, appeared as https://coldspur.com/enigma-variations-dennistons-reward/ in February 2023.

13. Wireless Detection

Fortunately, I have compiled the bulk of my analysis of wireless-detection (RDF, or Radio Detection Finding) into an Omnibus edition, visible at https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-full/. I believe, therefore, that I need not enumerate the contents of the bulletins issued between May 2018 and September 2020, where I uncover many of the myths surrounding the subject, from the ownership of RSS to the exaggerated claims about the efficiency of German detection of clandestine SOE and MI6 wireless operators, primarily in France. There were themes more expressly related to Sonia’s activities that I had covered under Sonia’s Radio, in April, June and September 2016 (see https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-1/, https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-ii/, and https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-3/, as well as in later segments in 2017, namely  https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-viii/ and https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-ix/.

I applied some of the lessons learned from RDF techniques, and the Double-Cross System to an inspection of how they applied to attempts to disinform the Soviets (see https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/, in April 2018. I next provided a major integration of multiple lines of research, including my coverage of Sonia, and her success in being undetected, the bizarre way that MI5 and the War Cabinet imagined that German agents would be able to work from the British mainland unnoticed, as well as Peter Wright’s illogical claims about HASP, in my April 2021 piece, https://coldspur.com/on-radio-active-decay/. Lastly, I presented some observations related to radio interception in my study of the doomed SOE cypher-clerk George Graham, in https://coldspur.com/the-strange-life-of-george-graham/, which appeared in January 2022, while my guest contributor, Brian Austin, supplied an article on Sonia’s wireless that he had written for a technical journal, in December 2022 (see https://coldspur.com/signal-sonyas-wireless/).

14. World War II

World War II clearly dominates much of my sphere of interest, but I have elevated a few incidents that were not exclusively intelligence-related, but which attracted my attention because I sensed that the accounts of them appeared to me to be missing something significant. An early example of such was Churchill’s reaction to the German invasion of the Soviet Union, and how it discombobulated many. In https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-iv/ (November 2016) I pointed out the illogicalities of what happened when Churchill was reputed to have GC&CS stop work on collecting and decrypting Soviet traffic – something Stalin might have considered very foolish, even from a new ally. I suggested that the whole story may have been a myth. I explored further Churchill’s rather craven attitude to Stalin a year later, where I suggested that the whole notion of ‘partnering’ with such a monster (which inspired the Foreign Office for quite a while) was a disastrous policy (see https://coldspur.com/krivitsky-churchill-and-the-cold-war/), and I debunked the notion of ‘co-operation’ that some hoped would endure beyond the war. I showed how Stalin had been able to manipulate Churchill and Roosevelt, and drive a wedge between them, and I criticized Churchill’s sense of strategy.

I picked up the theme that Stalin, because of his well-placed spies, often knew more about Allied strategy than some of the prominent officers in the democracies in my coverage of the Quebec Agreement (https://coldspur.com/sonia-and-the-quebec-agreement/), explaining what it meant for the Tube Alloys project, and also highlighting the hollowness of the Atlantic Charter, which Stalin would exploit later. In my May 2019 bulletin (https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-4/) I compared the different strategies of Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union in preparing for intelligence wars, and three months later explained the really bizarre dynamics of the double-cross operation and its success in FORTITUDE (see https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-6/).

Yet a major new thrust appeared in September 2019, when I was prompted by a generally well-received, but in my opinion rather naïve book On Appeasement, by Tim Bouverie, to make the claim that the West’s appeasement of Stalin was as bad as that by Chamberlain & co. of Hitler (of which I made a detailed retrospective assessment). In this piece, at https://coldspur.com/on-appeasement/, I pointed out how hollow and shabby were Bouverie’s complaints that Britain and the USA failed to create enduring ‘alliances’ with the Soviet Union. The next month (after a long personal digression, which the reader should perhaps bypass), I took a fresh look at the geographical implications of the Soviet-Nazi Pact, in the belief that the factors of buffer states, and that of offensive and defensive barriers, had been sadly misrepresented in the histories. Here, in https://coldspur.com/border-crossings-coldspur-stalin/, as I examined Maisky’s Diaries, and Gabriel Gorodetsky’s presentation of the Letters between Churchill and Stalin, I even inserted maps of the Stalin and Molotov Lines, to show what I meant.

Another startling insight came to me soon afterwards, when I read Michael Howard’s memoir (Captain Professor), being puzzled by the fact that an illustrious intelligence officer and historian had apparently become confused about military strategy in Italy in 1943 and 1944 (see https://coldspur.com/war-in-1944-howards-folly/, from February 2020).  Here I noted that Howard made invidious comparisons of the fate of the Italian resistance with that of the Poles at the same time, in the late summer of 1944. I thus examined closely events such as the Warsaw Uprising and the Monte Sole Massacre, severely criticized Howard’s account of what happened, and drew some strong lessons about the mismanagement of expectations by the Chiefs of Staff. I next returned to the perennial problem of misreading Stalin in May 2020 (https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/), quoting some misguided topical opinion-writer, as well as Tokayev’s memoir from 1951, Stalin Means War.

In November 2020, I took a diversionary step into new territory, exploring the circumstances behind MI5’s Camp020R at Huntercombe (see https://coldspur.com/camp-020r-at-huntercombe/), but still had two major thrusts to make. The first was the PROSPER disaster, and in a series of posts, I examine closely the tribulations of Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff in trying to establish a strategy for re-entering Europe that would be late enough to ensure success without too severely upsetting Stalin (who had been demanding a ‘Second Front’ ever since 1941). The whole charivari can be seen in a series of reports from 2021 and early 2022: https://coldspur.com/claude-danseys-mischief/, https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-lets-twist-again/, https://coldspur.com/the-prosper-disaster/, https://coldspur.com/dericourts-double-act/, https://coldspur.com/all-quiet-on-the-second-front/, https://coldspur.com/bridgehead-revisited-three-months-in-1943/, and https://coldspur.com/feints-and-deception-two-more-months-in-1943/. (I have recently compiled these into an Omnibus edition, at https://coldspur.com/the-fall-of-prosper-omnibus-edition/.) They show that there is strong evidence that Churchill sacrificed PROSPER and his network in order to mislead the Germans about an imminent invasion, and to appease Stalin.

Lastly, I must include here another extraordinary tale, that of ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’. I introduced this topic in June 2022 (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice/), and provide the whole gruesome story of how an ill-conceived plan to infiltrate Soviet agents into Norway on an RAF Lancaster in September 1944 turned out in disaster. All eight chapters of the saga were published in four installments earlier this year, at https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-1/, https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-2/, https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-3/, and

https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-4/.  I timed this publication in order to provide ample time for the British Ministry of Defence to offer, before the eightieth anniversary of the crash in September 2024, its apologies to relatives of the British airmen needlessly killed.

15. Tradecraft

Misdefending the Realm highlighted one critical dimension to tradecraft: the NKVD’s scheme to infiltrate British institutions through illegals and deep recruitment well away from the Communist Party, and the weak and unimaginative response to Krivitsky’s hints of such a scheme. Over the years I have commented on other aspects of espionage and counter-intelligence.

An early example of disinformation, for example (or perhaps, more accurately, correct information presented clandestinely) was the scheme by MI6 to pass ULTRA decrypts to the Soviet ally via the Rote Drei in Switzerland, in a way that would not jeopardize the source. I wrote about this in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-5/ and https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-vii/, in January and April 2017. Of course, this stratagem rebounded ungracefully, as the Soviets were receiving real ULTRA information from their network of spies, and distrust of their ally thus increased. The reverse of this technique is the double-cross – the feeding of disinformation through the enemy’s own channels, which received its apogee in the famed XX Operation of WWII, where the Abwehr was reputedly hoodwinked by false information concerning the location of re-entry to Europe by Allied forces.

Since much was being made of attempts to repeat this success with Soviet agents, I took pains to develop structures comparing and assessing the espionage strategies and successes (or failures) of Great Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II, in https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/, dated April 2018, where I also developed a schema for categorizing moles, agents and double-agents, according to their original recruitment and motivations. My conclusion was that it was nonsensical to believe that you could control what a known agent would tell his or her masters unless you had exclusive control over the communication system used (as happened with the XX Operation). Thus claims made (by such as Michael Howard) that Blunt was used as a ‘double-agent’ were absurd.

My research then led me on to a deeper study of the Double-Cross Operation itself, in the epic ‘Mystery of the Undetected Radios’ (see the Omnibus https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-full/, and, for a special examination, https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-8/, from September 2020). After a long study of the processes and decisions made, I concluded that there was a massive amount of self-delusion in the British pretence that agents would be able to transmit for such long periods in densely populated England, only matched by the (partial) stupidity of the Abwehr in accepting the same premise. There was obviously a book to be written on this topic, but Christopher Andrew’s Secret World , which I reviewed in November 2018 (see https://coldspur.com/four-more-books-on-espionage/), was a disappointment.

The reality was that MI6, in the form of Claude Dansey, was indeed trying to suborn known Soviet agents to work for it, and in April 2020, in https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-letter-from-geneva/, I showed how Ursula and Len Beurton were introduced into this naïve scheme, which I echo in the epic chapters about Sonia, visible again in the presumably now familiar Omnibus edition of Sonia’s Radio (see https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio/). Another example of failed tradecraft was to pretend that identified spies did not matter, and they should simply be shuffled away instead of being publicly prosecuted: I explored this phenomenon in August 2020, in https://coldspur.com/liverpool-university-home-for-distressed-spies/. It re-occurred with Dansey’s attempts to use the traitor Déricourt, in June 2021 (see https://coldspur.com/claude-danseys-mischief/, and successive posts on PROSPER), as well as in the murky dealings of the TWIST Committee, a shadow operation to the XX endeavour (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-lets-twist-again/) .

I have returned to these themes occasionally, and close out by identifying some key chapters. The review of David Omand’s How Spies Think (from https://coldspur.com/four-books-on-mi5/); I returned to double-agents in my 2021 Year-end Round-up, at https://coldspur.com/2021-year-end-roundup/; I explained the dangerous practice of using officers with a Russian background against the Soviet Union, as their histories would be very obvious to the NKVD and KGB, and thus liable to be exposed to corruption (see https://coldspur.com/the-strange-life-of-george-graham/ in January 2022 and https://coldspur.com/gibbys-spy/ from October 2022). I had also re-inspected Peter Wright’s dubious stories about Soviet double agents in May 2022, at https://coldspur.com/peter-wrights-agents-double-agents/.

Finally, I covered the profile of successful intelligence officers in https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/, in August 2023, while my recent research on Kim Philby, starting with https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-always-working-for-sis/ in April 2023, show how absurd it is ever to trust anyone who has made a commitment to the Kremlin. This was echoed in my analysis of Peter Smolka, in January and February of this year – see https://coldspur.com/peter-smolka-background-to-1934/ and https://coldspur.com/at-last-the-1948-show-smolka-the-third-man/, and I also had to issue a reminder about the correct use of ‘double agent’ and ‘triple agent’; in my review of Jesse Fink’s Eagle in the Mirror, an assessment, incidentally, that was praised by Nigel West. That appeared in https://coldspur.com/four-spy-books/, in October 2023, where I also issued a corrective to Mark Hollingworth’s deployment of the term ‘agents of influence’.

16. MI5

I focus here on aspects of MI5’s a) organization, and b) mission and leadership. The literature on MI5’s evolving organization is very paltry: Andrew’s authorized history shows no interest in the details; Curry’s internal history is more useful, but it stops in 1944; Nigel West’s coverage is skimpy and vague. Yet there is much to be gleaned from various archives, and my project is incomplete.

I explored the mis-steps that MI5 undertook over wireless interception and the failure to absorb MI8c, the snubbing of Colonel Simpson, the disorder that resulted from the overlaying of the Security Executive, and the creation of Section W, under the controversial Malcolm Frost, in two episodes of Sonia’s Radio’, in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-1/  and https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-3/, from 2016, and further developments can be seen in later episodes of this saga. I reprised and extended this analysis in May 2018, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radio-part-1/, and following bulletins in that series. My further studies of WWII counter-espionage caused me to pause and take stock, out of confusion, and I then presented a detailed analysis of MI5’s structure in a Special Bulletin of November 2018, at https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-b2b-or-not-b2b/,  which shows how flat and unmanageable MI5 was for most of that period. (This piece was well-received, and I think remains a significant contribution.)

Chronologically, my next major piece was re-assessment of Guy Liddell, who, I felt, had been rather generously treated by Nigel West, as can be seen in https://coldspur.com/guy-liddell-a-re-assessment/, from March 2019. Here I also explained how Dick White out-manipulated his colleague for the top job when Sillitoe retired. In June of that year, I introduced the scheming by Dick White to divert accusations against Philby to the CIA, visible at https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/, and, in January 2020 I returned with fresh insights into MI5’s organizational struggles with RSS, and the arrival of the valuable Sclater, at https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-vii/. November 2020 showed a change of pace, when I reviewed the history of MI5’s Camp020R, at Huntercombe (see https://coldspur.com/camp-020r-at-huntercombe/.

Soon I was exploring the frequently misrepresented role of Roger Hollis’s F Division, and presented its evolution in https://coldspur.com/who-framed-roger-hollis/, in May 2021. Further observations on MI5 after the war were prompted by my reviews of three books on MI5 in August. These included the somewhat jaundiced but rich offering by Ewing, Mahoney and Moretta, which had the positive attribute of carrying a useful (but incomplete) guide to MI5 organization after the war – a topic I vow to return to when I have studied the relevant files on my desktop. A fresh area of research opened up thereafter, when I became involved with Patrick Marnham, and his War in the Shadows, and my investigations into how the traitor Déricourt had been vetted led me to another detailed examination of MI5’s structure (see https://coldspur.com/dericourts-double-act/, from November 2021), where I concluded that MI5’s multiple discrete sections kept tripping over each other, and led to an inevitable lack of effectiveness.

In May 2022, I returned to MI5’s assumed problems with ‘double-agent’ operations that failed, and to the ‘Watchers’ organization, when I analyzed Nigel West’s book on molehunts, and Guy Liddell’s role (see https://coldspur.com/peter-wrights-agents-double-agents/). And I revisited the bizarre relationships between various MI5 sections trying to track various suspicious aliens in https://coldspur.com/litzi-philby-under-the-covers/, from March 2023, and in https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-always-working-for-sis/, the following month. My renewed interest in Philby led me to back to his role in the events of 1951, and I gave another breakdown of Sillitoe’s and White’s flawed leadership of MI5 at the time (with Liddell already being pushed out of the mainstream) in https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-in-1951-alarms-and-diversions/, dated May 2023. In turn, this line of research encouraged me to reflect on the desired skills of intelligence officers, and I endorsed the contribution that J. L. Austin had made during the war, openly acknowledged by such American heavyweights as Bedell-Smith (see https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/).

Finally, I provided a detailed explanation of the evolving counter-espionage organization of MI5, from Petrie until 1952, in https://coldspur.com/life-with-the-honigmanns/, from September 2023. I believe that this is a unique contribution, and that it is very important for understanding the dysfunction that perpetually plagued MI5 in trying to come to grips with a vast array of potentially hostile entities. I added to this in February 2024, where I highlighted the bizarre way in which Peter Smolka was observed (or ignored) by MI5 sections in https://coldspur.com/peter-smolka-background-to-1934/. I also expanded on the dishonourable way in which MI5’s efforts in handling the after-effects of the Burgess-Maclean abscondences were executed when I studied more closely the deceptions of Dick White, a report that appeared as https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-tangled-web/, which I published last month.

17. MI6

Archival information on MI6 is scarce, since the service has issued no material, and readers are thus reliant on what Keith Jeffery wrote, biographies and histories by such as Cave-Brown and Dorril, the occasional items that appear in correspondence between MI5 and its sister service, and the various memoirs and interviews that have percolated down from SIS officers. Yet MI6’s role and importance are indisputably significant, and I have frequently tried to read between the lines in an attempt to offer a more credible hypothesis of what actually happened.

Of course the whole saga of Sonia represents a chapter, not publicly recognized, of MI6’s dismal attempt to take her under its wing, and I merely mention the Omnibus edition again here (https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio/), since so much what MI6 did is covered by those segments, as well as those on GCHQ, and, of course, Kim Philby. I do, however, draw attention to the evidence that Alexander Foote was employed by MI6, as displayed in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-vi/, from February 2017, and I reprised Claude Dansey’s schemes in https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/, dated April 2018. MI6’s role was picked up again in my coverage of the Undetected Radios, since RSS’s transfer to MI6 was an event of vital political significance, and I highlight especially https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-2/ (July 2018), and I attempted to liven up the story by describing an imagined conversation between Gambier-Parry and Menzies over the adoption and proposed leadership of RSS in January 2020, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-vii/.

July 2020 featured a major new piece on MI6’s attempt to control Sonia (https://coldspur.com/sonia-mi6s-hidden-hand/), and March and May 2021 saw some description of the role of Menzies and MI6 in the Gouzenko/ELLI story, at https://coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/ and https://coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/.  In August, I covered the secret TWIST committee, operated with MI6’s remote guidance (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-lets-twist-again/), and MI6 features largely in the PROSPER story, to which I simply refer to the respective Omnibus edition (https://coldspur.com/the-fall-of-prosper-omnibus-edition/). The last major story concerning MI6 was the disastrous recruitment of George Graham a cipher-clerk to George Hill, ostensibly as a SOE unit, but affecting MI6’s operations in the Soviet Union as well, which can be read at https://coldspur.com/the-strange-life-of-george-graham/, dated January 2022.

Finally, a flourish of pieces in the past couple of years has identified alarming anecdotes about MI6’s security and policy. I debunked the notion that MI6 had valuable spies within the Kremlin, as well as its dubious policy of flaunting officers with Russian backgrounds, in https://coldspur.com/gibbys-spy/ (October 2022), with a follow-up two months later, at https://coldspur.com/2022-year-end-round-up/. I took a breather to recognize the death of Geoffrey Elliott (the only MI6 officer that I have knowingly been in contact with) in that same year-end bulletin, and my 2023 campaign involving Philby obviously expresses a fresh new set of accusations about the duplicity and foolishness of MI6 in defending him, visible at the Omnibus edition (https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-a-re-assessment/). This theme was expanded in my writing about Peter Smolka earlier this year (see https://coldspur.com/peter-smolka-background-to-1934/ and https://coldspur.com/at-last-the-1948-show-smolka-the-third-man/).  Lastly, I should mention the controversy over Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis, the shadowy MI6 officer who had been accused of working for the Soviets. In https://coldspur.com/four-spy-books/, from October 2023, I offered a detailed review of Jesse Fink’s rather shrill but very insightful biography of him, The Eagle in the Mirror, and this is a story to which I shall be returning before very long.

18. The FBI and the CIA

While my research has concentrated on the British intelligence services, the American equivalents have frequently appeared, largely because of the affairs of Walter Krivitsky, found dead in a Washington hotel, and the fact that three of the Cambridge Five were working in the United States at the same time, in 1950 and early 1951, and also because of the transatlantic considerations of the 1945 defection of Igor Gouzenko, in Canada. My coverage has, admittedly, been a bit choppy.

An early foray into CIA exercises was made in April 2018, when I investigated the claim that the CIA had tried to exploit Basil Mann as a ‘double agent’ (https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/), which I interpreted as a rather forlorn aspiration by first the OSS, and then its successor organization, the CIA, to apply the lessons learned by the British in the wartime XX Operation against the Germans to a fresh initiative against the Soviets, thereafter taken up by Norman Pearson. I next turned to reviewing two books about Soviet spies in the United States, Duncan Lee and Stanislav Shumovsky, in August of that year, in https://coldspur.com/four-books-on-espionage/. I introduced J. Edgar Hoover, and his frustrations over Philby’s remaining unpunished, in April 2019, in https://coldspur.com/the-importance-of-chronology-with-special-reference-to-liddell-philby/, and in June 2019, undertook a major investigation into the activities of the FBI, the CIA, as well as the AFSA (the Armed Forces Security Agency), the last body cooperating very closely with GCHQ over the VENONA decrypts, culminating in the breakthroughs in early 1951 (see https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/).  Two months later, I switched to the activities in wartime France of the OSS, focusing particularly on Virginia Hall, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-6/.

The USA came striding back in my coverage of the Gouzenko-ELLI business in March 2021, which involved some delicate negotiations with the FBI (see https://coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/). All these events provoked an enduring interest from the Americans in the identity if ELLI, which would turn out to be a lasting embarrassment for MI5 and MI6. I expressed some disappointment in Justus Rosenberg’s account of OSS resistance in France in my review of his book The Art of Resistance, issued in July 2022 in https://coldspur.com/summer-2022-round-up/, and in the same bulletin, while, questioning some of the assertions made in Sonia Purnell’s biography of  Virginia Hall, A Woman of No Importance, found the work thorough and well-written, though unnecessarily hagiographic.

The interaction with between MI5 (primarily) and the FBI and the CIA was an inevitable aspect of my return to Kim Philby and the events of 1951, in my May 2023 report, https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-in-1951-alarms-and-diversions/, and in August I reviewed a rather plodding biography of Edgar Hoover by Beverley Gage, which I thought was far too generous to the very controversial but long-lasting FBI chief (see https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/). Finally, I wielded another flourish on the strange behaviour of Robert Lamphere of the FBI, and his relationship with the CIA, when I explored in more detail the deceptions and inconsistencies in Dick White’s attempt to hoodwink both the CIA and his own allies in MI5 and government during the supposed investigation into the Burgess-Maclean disappearances. This item was published in https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-tangled-web/, in March of this year.

19. Methodology

When I started writing my thesis, my supervisor encouraged me to include what methodology I was applying to the study of my material. I was a bit taken aback at first: surely every historian applied the same methodological rules? Nevertheless, I complied, and what I composed appeared (in abbreviated form) in the text of Misdefending the Realm. Its key elements were: i) a strong discipline of chronological and geographical analysis; ii) a rigorous cross-checking of archival sources and personal memoirs, based on an implicit mistrust of their reliability; iii) vertical and horizontal integration (i.e. setting an accurate context with military and social events) iv) an attempt to divine motivations from participants, in the light of their situation, knowledge, and probable ambitions; and v) the treatment of controversial episodes in intelligence history as plausible crimes to be investigated. The full explanation can be seen at https://coldspur.com/reviews/the-chapter-on-methodology/.

Yet, as I read various works on intelligence, I learned that such techniques were far from being a standard approach, and that, indeed, the ‘authorized’ historians, who certainly should have known better, were among the worst offenders. In May 2017, in https://coldspur.com/officially-unreliable/, I took to task those professionals – Gowing, Hinsley, Jeffery, but especially Christopher Andrew – who had allowed themselves to be shackled, provided sloppy and often useless references, and indiscriminately cited sources (such as Philby’s memoir, or Peter Wright’s Spycatcher) that should have been approached very warily. I provided a number of recommendations for how such work should be undertaken, which presumably fell on deaf ears (although I did get a very encouraging response from one notable historian).

My disappointment was echoed when I reflected on the overall lack of curiosity in the next tier of qualified historians, as well, of course, as the potboiler/journalists, in the sordid aspects of the Sonia affair, and lamented that fact in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-envoi/, which appeared in September 2017. Chapman Pincher and Peter Wright have a tremendous amount to answer for, but their works have had a deleterious influence on public opinion, their paradoxes, contradictions, and outright fabrications not being inspected or tested properly. This phenomenon caused me to write about conspiracy theories a year later, in https://coldspur.com/confessions-of-a-conspiracy-theorist/. That previous August, I had criticized Christpoher Davenport-Hines for criticizing the media, when the intelligence services had been so reclusive, and here I defended my role as a ’conspiracy theorist’, a necessary role at times, but one which Christopher Andrew has conspicuously derided.

Over time, I have criticized several other authors of books on intelligence – most notably, Ben Macintyre – for their casual treatment of the facts, but I have also regretted the policy of the intelligence services to leak stories to friendly writers as a way of bolstering their reputation, or of countering a harmful rumour.  My review of Andrew’s Secret World in https://coldspur.com/four-more-books-on-espionage/, from November 2018 was also a response of frustration at the ability of experts to pontificate so vaporously.  And I reinforced my emphasis on Chronology in April 2019, showing excerpts from my detailed register of events, which, including the source used, now tallies exactly 400 pages. That bulletin, https://coldspur.com/the-importance-of-chronology-with-special-reference-to-liddell-philby/, also described my perspective on how government institutions set out to control the narrative of their often dishonourable exploits.

I returned to Andrew and his scorn for conspiracy theorists when I discussed Agent Jack in November 2019, in a piece available at https://coldspur.com/a-thanksgiving-round-up/. And thereon, the topic has lain rather silent. In August 2023, I did present some further thoughts on the value of creating plausible hypotheses when studying paradoxical events, and the necessity for admitting previous mistakes, or false conclusions during that exploratory process (see https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/). That is something that many find a very difficult task – especially if they have committed such previous opinions to published material. As I stated, the final version of the history of an event is never written. And, as a final reminder of the occasional folly of professional historians, and their all too frequent arrogance and self-esteem, I refer to my analysis of the anonymous (for now) self-assessed expert on Smolka, whose antics I described last month, in https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-tangled-web/.

20. Archives

While I have also visited The Bodleian Library, and the archives of Balliol College, Oxford, and Churchill College, Cambridge, my research has relied almost exclusively on material examined at the National Archives at Kew, or from a steady stream of photographs that I commission from my researcher in London. I have also benefited from information presented on-line by the FBI and the CIA, as well as a few select items provided by helpful amateurs around the world. All such material is analyzed alongside the copious notes I have made from intelligence books that I own or have read.

One phenomenon that irks me the most has been the practice of authorized historians (most notably Christopher Andrew) deploying references (without any individual identification) to ‘Security Service Archives’ when only he or his research assistants have been allowed to examine. Moreover, he appears to have maintained no system whereby such references could be checked if such files were ever opened. I disparaged this practice in https://coldspur.com/officially-unreliable/, in May 2017. Of course, I cannot blame Kew for this, and overall, I believe that the National Archives do a very creditable job, even though I am sometimes unsure of their methods. I offer some examples.

In https://coldspur.com/the-mysterious-affair-at-peierls-part-2/, from March 2020, I drew attention to the mysterious way in which files were sometimes withdrawn or retained, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, but rarely with any proper explanation offered. (This may well be at the behest of the relevant government department, with Kew having no say in the matter.) Two months later, in https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/, I listed some further examples where important material had been withdrawn while some review went on. I also reported on the provocative findings of Mike Rossiter (who had written a biography of Fuchs) concerning records on the physicist that had been withdrawn from the National Archives (see https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/). Yet Kew is tantalizingly open on some material. I find it odd that it will list multiple items, obviously of vast interest, but then indicate that (for example) the material has been retained by the office responsible until some year long in the future. Why advertise the items’ existence at all?

That, naturally, leads to Freedom of Information Requests (FOIs), and I described there what my research colleagues had discovered about that activity, while decrying the secrecy of governments wanting to hold on to material so many decades after the events they relate to. It is worth reporting that I was eventually successful in having such a Request satisfied, as I recorded in August 2023 (https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/). Here can be seen the bizarre but eventually satisfactory exchange of messages between me and the Quality Manager at Kew, which resulted in the release of a Home Office file on Georg Honigmann. The fact that someone had seen fit to retain it was a clue in itself, since the file looked superficially harmless.

One last aspect to be described is my project to ascertain, from incidental information presented in released files, a lot of information about persons whose files have not been released. I describedthis process in https://coldspur.com/a-wintry-miscellany/, written in December 2023 under ‘Personal Files at Kew’. By simply registering handwritten or typed references to third-parties in released PFs, I have started to maintain a spreadsheet of overt identities of persons who had at some stage come under suspicion by MI5, but whose records were never released (or were perhaps destroyed). Such included what must be a notorious file on Kim Philby, created in about 1933, clearly identifiable from hand-written notes. And I wrote about the numerous files on Guy Burgess, for instance, with some outrageously late release dates, which must be a topic for a future coldspur bulletin.

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This has been an exhausting project, and not nearly as much fun as my typical monthly exercise. I hope readers find it useful, and I shall be pleased to revise it should anyone identify segments that escaped my occasionally negligent attention.

(Latest Commonplace entries can be viewed here.)


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

2 Responses to A Topographical Guide to coldspur

  1. Richard LEARIE

    This is a monumental achievement (as you can see I’m not an academic!!).
    Thanks for the topography which will make it easier, for all of us who are interested in your work, to access.
    Your latest posts on MI5’s cover-up of its knowledge of the activities of the first 3 of the Cambridge 5 prior to 1951 are some of the most interesting and important posts of all. The fleshing out of this “big lie” is indeed ground-breaking stuff.
    I’m going to re-read “Deceiving the Deceivers” before your next instalment on the subject. A non-proven theory I know but it introduced me to the subject?Can you recommend anything else?
    Thanks again

  2. coldspur

    Great to hear from you again, Richard, and thank you for your kind comments. I am so glad you found the piece useful (and I have had private feedback containing a similar message already).
    I can’t think offhand of any fresh volume that may help shed light on the matter. So many books simply regurgitate the same old stories (and I shall be dismantling one of them at the end of this month!) The facts emerge from painstaking studies of archival material and rigorous cross-checking, as always, with a necessary dose of carefully qualified imagination, of course.
    Stay in touch!

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