Cambridge Five

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Kim Philby, as depicted on a Soviet Union stamp

The Cambridge Spy Ring was a ring of spies in the United Kingdom, who passed information to the Soviet Union during World War II and was active at least into the early 1950s. None were ever prosecuted for spying. The number and membership of the ring emerged slowly from the 1950s onwards. As far as the general public was concerned, this started with the sudden flight of Donald Maclean (cryptonym: Homer) and Guy Burgess (cryptonym: Hicks) to the Soviet Union in 1951. Suspicion immediately fell on Kim Philby (cryptonym: Stanley), but he did not follow them until 1963. Anthony Blunt (cryptonyms: Tony, Johnson) and John Cairncross (cryptonym: Liszt) confessed to British intelligence but this remained secret for many years, until 1979 in the case of Blunt. It therefore took several years for the usual modern name to evolve through the Cambridge Four to the Cambridge Five.[citation needed] In the innermost circles of the KGB, they were supposedly known as the Magnificent Five.

The term "Cambridge" refers to the recruitment of the group during their education at the University of Cambridge in the 1930s. Debate surrounds the exact timing of their recruitment by Soviet intelligence; Anthony Blunt claimed that they were not recruited as agents until they had graduated. Blunt, an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, was several years older than Burgess, Maclean, and Philby; he acted as a talent-spotter and recruiter for most of the group save Burgess.[1]

All of the five were convinced that the Marxism–Leninism of Soviet Communism was the best available political system, and especially the best defence against the rise of fascism. All pursued successful careers in branches of the British government. They passed large amounts of intelligence to the Soviet Union, so much so that the KGB became suspicious that at least some of it was false. Perhaps as important as the intelligence they passed was the demoralizing effect to the British Establishment of their slow unmasking, and the mistrust in British security this caused in the United States.

Many others have also been accused of membership in the Cambridge ring. Blunt, Burgess and Cairncross were all members of the Cambridge Apostles, an exclusive and prestigious society based at Trinity and King's Colleges. Other Apostles accused of having spied for the Soviets include Michael Straight and Guy Liddell.

Membership

Maclean and Burgess

All four were active during World War II. Philby, when he was posted in the British embassy in Washington, DC, after the war, learned that US and British intelligence were searching for a British embassy mole (cryptonym Homer) who was passing information to the Soviet Union, relying on material uncovered by the Venona project.

Philby learned one of the suspects was Maclean. Realizing he had to act fast, he ordered Burgess, who was also on the embassy staff and living with Philby, to warn Maclean in England, where he was serving in the Foreign Office headquarters. Burgess was recalled from the United States due to "bad behaviour" and upon reaching London, warned Maclean.

In early summer 1951, Burgess and Maclean made international headlines by disappearing.[2] Their whereabouts were unclear for some time and the suspicion that they had defected to the Soviet Union turned out to be correct but was not made public until 1956 when the two appeared at a press conference in Moscow.

It was obvious they had been tipped off and Philby quickly became the prime suspect, due to his close relations with Burgess. Though Burgess was not supposed to defect at the same time as Maclean, he went along. It has been claimed that the KGB ordered Burgess to go to Moscow. This move damaged Philby's reputation, with many speculating that had it not occurred, Philby could have climbed even higher in the Secret Intelligence Service.[3]

Philby

Investigation of Philby found several suspicious matters but nothing for which he could be prosecuted. Nevertheless, he was forced to resign from MI6. In 1955 he was named in the press, with questions also raised in the House of Commons, as chief suspect for "the Third Man" and he called a press conference to deny the allegation. That same year, Philby was ruled out as a suspect when British Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan cleared him of all charges.[4]

In the later 1950s, Philby left the secret service and began working as a journalist in the Middle East; both The Economist magazine and The Observer provided his employment there. MI6 then re-employed him at around the same time, to provide reports from that region.

In 1961, defector Anatoliy Golitsyn provided information which pointed to Philby. An MI6 officer and friend of Philby from his earlier MI6 days, John Nicholas Rede Elliott was sent in 1963 to interview him in Beirut and reported that Philby seemed to know he was coming (indicating the presence of yet another mole). Nonetheless, Philby allegedly confessed to Elliott.

Shortly afterwards, apparently fearing he might be abducted in Lebanon, Philby defected to the Soviet Union under cover of night, aboard a Soviet freighter.

Blunt

In 1964, MI5 received information from the American Michael Whitney Straight pointing to Blunt's espionage; the two had known each other at Cambridge some thirty years before and Blunt had tried to recruit Straight as a spy. Straight, who initially agreed, changed his mind afterwards.

Blunt was interrogated by MI5 and confessed in exchange for immunity from prosecution. As he was—by 1964—without access to classified information, he had secretly been granted immunity by the Attorney General, in exchange for revealing everything he knew. Peter Wright, one of Blunt's interrogators, describes in his book Spycatcher how Blunt was evasive and only made admissions grudgingly, when confronted with the undeniable.

By 1979, Blunt was publicly accused of being a Soviet agent by investigative journalist Andrew Boyle, in his book Climate of Treason. In November 1979, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher admitted to the House of Commons that Blunt had confessed to being a Soviet spy fifteen years previously.

The term "Five" began to be used in 1961, when KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn named Maclean and Burgess as part of a "Ring of Five", with Philby a 'probable' third, alongside two other agents whom he did not know.

Of all the information provided by Golitsyn, the only item that was ever independently confirmed was the Soviet affiliation of John Vassall. Vassall was a relatively low-ranking spy who some researchers[who?] believe may have been sacrificed to protect a more senior one.

At the time of Golitsyn's defection, Philby had already been accused in the press and was living in a country with no extradition agreement with Britain. Select members of MI5 and MI6 already knew Philby to be a spy from Venona project decryptions. Golitsyn also provided other information, such as the claim that Harold Wilson (then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) was a KGB agent.

Golitsyn's reliability remains a controversial subject and as such, there is little certainty of the number of agents he assigned to the Cambridge spy ring. To add to the confusion, when Blunt finally confessed, he named several other people[who?] as having been recruited by him.

John Cairncross

On the basis of the information provided by Golitsyn, speculation raged for many years as to the identity of the "Fifth Man". The journalistic popularity of this phrase owes something to the unrelated novels The Third Man and The Tenth Man, written by Graham Greene who, coincidentally, worked with Philby and Cairncross during the Second World War.

John Cairncross (1913–1995) confessed to spying in 1951 and was publicly accused of being the "fifth man" in 1990. He was also accused by Anthony Blunt during Blunt's confession in 1964. Cairncross is not always considered to have belonged to the 'Ring of Five'. He was a fellow student at Cambridge and a member of the Apostles with Blunt, therefore present at the recruitment of the others.

The most important agent talent spotted by Blunt was the Fifth Man, the Trinity undergraduate John Cairncross. Together with Philby, Burgess, Blunt and Maclean, he is remembered by the Center (Moscow KGB Headquarters) as one of the Magnificent Five, the ablest group of foreign agents in KGB history. Though Cairncross is the last of the five to be publicly identified, he successfully penetrated a greater variety of the corridors of power and intelligence than any of the other four.

— Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, KGB, The Inside Story. "Chapter 6: Sigint, Agent Penetration, and the Magnificent Five from Cambridge (1930–39)"

This reference suggests the KGB itself recognized Cairncross as the fifth man (found by Gordievsky while doing research on the history of the KGB).

Additional members

Many historians now believe the spy ring had more than five members, possibly many more, since three other persons are known to have confessed, several more were nominated in confessions, and circumstantial cases have been made against others. Many of the following were likely Soviet spies.[5]

  • Baron Rothschild was named by Roland Perry in his book "The Fifth Man"[6]. According to Spycatcher, Rothschild had been friendly with Burgess as an undergraduate, and had originally owned the lease on a house off Welbeck Street, No. 5 Bentinck Street, where Blunt and Burgess both lived during the war.[7] This was supposedly confirmed by Yuri Modin, the alleged controller of the five, who claimed Cairncross was never part of the group.[8]
  • Leo Long was accused by Blunt in 1964. Blunt claimed to have recruited Long to the Communist cause while he[clarification needed] was tutor at Cambridge. Long served as an intelligence officer with MI14 from 1940–45, and later with the British element of the Allied Control Commission in Occupied Germany from 1945-1952.
  • Guy Liddell was an MI5 officer and nearly rose to become director of the service but was passed over because of rumours he was a double agent; he took early retirement from MI5 in 1953 after he was investigated for his personal links to Kim Philby. He was accused of having been the "fifth man" by Goronwy Rees as part of Rees' confession in 1979. The academic consensus is that he was naïve in his friendships rather than a spy.
  • Andrew Gow: in his memoirs published in 2012, Brian Sewell suggested that Gow was the 'fifth man' and spy master of the group.[9][10]

In fiction

See also

Further reading

  • Andrew Sinclair, The Red and the Blue. Intelligence, Treason and the Universities (Coronet Books, Hodder and Stoughten, U.K. 1987) 211 pages ISBN 0-340-41687-4

References

  1. ^ The fourth man speaks: Last testimony of Anthony Blunt The Independent McSmith, Andy. 23 July 2009.
  2. ^ Turner, Lauren (October 23, 2015). "Cambridge spies: Defection of 'drunken' agents shook US confidence".
  3. ^ The Philby Files by Genrikh Borovik, edited by Phillip Knightley, published by Little, Brown and Company, 1994
  4. ^ 1953-, Kendrick, M. Gregory,. Villainy in Western culture : historical archetypes of danger, disorder and death. Jefferson, North Carolina. ISBN 9780786498680. OCLC 933590602.
  5. ^ A History of MI5 Christopher Andrew 2010
  6. ^ Abjorensen, Norman. "Following the Moscow Line", in The Sunday Times Canberra, 22 January 1995.[page needed]
  7. ^ Spycatcher, p.164.
  8. ^ Rusbridger, Alan. The Guardian, 10 December 1994.[page needed]
  9. ^ "Cambridge don was the spy puppet-master, says Brian Sewell". The Times. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  10. ^ "Outsider II - Almost Always: Never Quite, By Brian Sewell". The Independent. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  11. ^ "Philby Burgess & Maclean (1977) | DVD release - Filmuforia". Filmuforia. 2015-12-03. Retrieved 2018-06-26.
  12. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Philby, Burgess and Maclean (1977)". www.screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-06-26.
  13. ^ "Philby, Burgess and Maclean - BBC Four". BBC. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  14. ^ "The Day Churchill Met Traitor Guy Burgess". Daily Express. London. 12 August 2009. Retrieved 22 September 2011.

External links

  • Friday 23 October 2015, The National Archives, File release: Cold War Cambridge spies Burgess and Maclean, nationalarchives.gov.uk
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