Authors: Peter Murphy
The Ivy League Political Remembrancer
1965, Volume 1, February
Perfidious Albion: Why the United States can no longer Afford to Trust Great Britain
Francis R Hollander, Associate Professor of Political Science, Yale University
When, if ever, will the United States, and particularly the CIA, wake up and realize that Great Britain is no longer a reliable ally, and that we can no longer afford to trust her with our nation's secrets? The steady drain of the most sensitive secret materials and information to the Soviet Union via a succession of highly-placed spies has made a joke of the much-vaunted British Special Intelligence Service, SIS, otherwise known as MI6. But it is a joke which is no laughing matter for America, because too many of the secrets which have found their way to Moscow are ours. Consider the recent history alone. On May 25, 1951, two British men, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, disappeared and later surfaced in Moscow, apparently residing contentedly in that city as distinguished guests of the Soviet government. What do we know of these men?
Guy Burgess is known to have visited the Soviet Union in 1934.
By 1938 he was working for MI6. Later, after spending some time with the British Broadcasting Corporation, he returned to intelligence work via the Foreign Office, and in 1950 he was appointed Second Secretary at the British Embassy in Washington DC, remaining in this post until his disappearance the following year.
Donald Maclean, a linguist by training, had a distinguished career in the Foreign Office. In 1935, he was Third Secretary in London, but in 1938 he was posted to Paris, and in 1940 was promoted to Second Secretary after playing a heroic role in the evacuation of the personnel of the British Embassy there in the face of the advancing German forces. In 1944, he was posted to the Embassy in Washington as acting First Secretary, and in 1947 he was appointed secretary to the British Delegation to the Combined Policy Committee, a role which would have given him first-hand access to almost all of our military intelligence and secrets, including information related to our nuclear weapons program. Between 1948 and 1951 he seems to have had serious personal problems. He was posted first to Cairo and then to London, from where he vanished with Burgess in May 1951.
Burgess and Maclean were both professional and personal associates of a third man, H.A.R. âKim' Philby. Philby joined MI6 in 1940, and remained with the Service until 1951.
That date, with its implied link to Burgess and Maclean, is no coincidence. In his first post in MI6 he reported to Guy Burgess. During the War, he had important responsibilities, first for the supposedly neutral states of Spain and Portugal, later for North Africa and Italy. In 1944, however, he was appointed head of a new Section of MI6 concerned with the Soviet Union and the beginnings of the Western resistance to communism. In 1946 he became Head of Station in Turkey, the historic bridge between East and West and, therefore, a key area for intelligence in what was to become the Cold War. Then, in 1949, he was appointed MI6's representative in Washington, a post in which he would no doubt have remained indefinitely. But when Burgess and Maclean disappeared, suspicion fell on Philby as being the so-called Third Man: that is to say, a spy who had worked for many years with Burgess and Maclean to pass some of our most sensitive secrets â not to mention those of his own country â to the Soviet Union. He was forced to resign from MI6 but,
remarkably, he was exonerated after a number of inquiries. He later re-emerged as a freelance journalist working for a number of respected titles, including
He was last seen in Beirut in 1963, from where he disappeared, like his friends Burgess and Maclean, no doubt to a hero's welcome in Moscow.
I obtained some of the information for this article from sources who cannot be named for fear of compromising their professional standing and, indeed, their personal safety. But much information is now in the public domain as a result of more recent well-publicized scandals in Great Britain, which frustrated the natural inclination of the British government to cover up the failings of its security services. In 1961, a Russian-born intelligence officer, Gordon Lonsdale, was unmasked as a spy, arrested and prosecuted. In 1962, George Blake, an officer of MI6,
was convicted of spying for the Soviets since the early 1950s. In the same year, John Vassall was likewise arrested and convicted of passing Admiralty secrets. In 1963, the British Minister for War, John Profumo, was compelled to resign after the revelation of his relationship with a call-girl by the name of Christine Keeler, whose services he was sharing with a naval attachÃ© at the Soviet Embassy in London â an affair in which many believe MI6 was implicated.
Certain questions must be asked. What do these British spies have in common? Is there anything which explains the reluctance of the British government to reveal their activities frankly and openly, if not publicly, at least to its most important ally, the United States? Are there others linked to the known spies, still at large and in positions of influence, who continue to betray their country and ours to the Soviets? If so, who are they?
First, what do they have in common? Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and Kim Philby are all graduates of Trinity College or Trinity Hall in the University of Cambridge and began their studies there in the period 1929 â 1931.
All are known to have had communist sympathies during their time in Cambridge. Maclean and Philby were members of the Cambridge University Socialist Society. Burgess had also been a member of the Apostles, a secretive debating society based in Trinity College which has left-wing, anti-establishment tendencies. The three men continued to associate after their time at Cambridge and worked their way into the heart of the British establishment where they were seemingly immune from suspicion and where they had ample opportunity to pass secrets. They did this by posing as loyal patriots who had repudiated their early sympathies with communism. In 1937
Philby went to Spain to cover the civil war as a journalist from the Franco side, and received an award â the Red Cross of Military Merit â from the General personally for his efforts. Burgess and Maclean also took steps to hide their left-wing leanings. All three are known to drink heavily. Burgess is a known homosexual â the practice of which is a criminal offence in England. All three have been implicated by Soviet defectors in the business of espionage. And Burgess and Philby had a long, close personal and professional relationship with James Jesus Angleton, now the doyen of the CIA, a man educated in England and inured in English ways, and who learned his trade as a spy at the feet of Kim Philby.
Are there likely to be others? There have been whispers of a âfourth man'.
But in truth it would not be surprising if there were a fifth, sixth, or even a hundredth man. It seems plain that there was at least one first-rate talent-spotter at Cambridge in the early 1930s. Some have whispered about Anthony Blunt who was, during the relevant period, a research student and later Fellow of Trinity, and an Apostle. But Blunt is a respected art historian, Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, and evidently quite above reproach. As, apparently, is anyone in Great Britain who has been to the right school and college, wears the right tie, and is part of the E
stablishment. The belief that a gentleman would never betray his country appears to be just as strong now as it was during the Victorian era.
The early and mid-1930s was a period when left-wing causes, including communism, had considerable appeal to young intellectuals. The rise of fascism and the Spanish Civil War, and the apparent unwillingness of western governments to lift a finger to stop it, was repugnant to many. To many, it seemed that the Soviet Union offered the only hope of resistance. The young students of Trinity were fruit ripe for the plucking by any Soviet agent. Before and during the World War there may have been every reason to see the Soviet Union as an ally â the temporary pact between Hitler and Stalin notwithstanding. After the War, the Soviet Union suddenly became the enemy. But by that time, it may be that some had been ensnared into spying for Moscow and were in too deep to get out.
Consider the case of Sir James Masefield Digby QC. Sir James â the title comes from his position as a baronet, a minor branch of nobility â entered Cambridge University in 1931, the same year as Donald Maclean, a year after Guy Burgess, and two years after Kim Philby. Like Maclean and Philby he was a member of the University Socialist Society. Like Burgess, he was an Apostle. Like all three, he made his way into a respected professional way of life, in which he could have considerable influence. But in Digby's case that profession is the law. After completing his degree at Trinity, he was called to the Bar by Lincoln's Inn in 1934 and went on to practice as a barrister in London. He took Silk â became a Queen's Counsel, a mark of distinction which opens the way for practice in more important cases â in 1955. Nothing overt to suggest espionage so far. But Digby has another talent.
Digby is a strong chess player, one of the strongest in Great Britain.
I also play chess to a respectable level and, in 1962, I was invited to accompany the United States chess team to Varna, Bulgaria, where it was to compete in the Olympiad, an international team tournament held every two years. Sadly, I am not good enough to play for a team which can boast the likes of Bobby Fischer, but I have worked closely with the FÃ©dÃ©ration Internationale des Echecs â FIDE â the world-governing body for the game.
Chess is a very political game, largely because the Soviets view their success in it as an advertisement for communism. As the son of a Russian mother who fled Soviet Russia as a child, I am fluent in the language and I am able to negotiate for the team in that atmosphere, perhaps more effectively than others might.
While in Varna, I was approached by a Soviet grandmaster by the name of Viktor Stepanov. I had already met Stepanov a number of times because he had often represented the Soviet Union at meetings of FIDE. I liked him more than other Soviet players I had met. Once you got past the usual Soviet paranoia, Stepanov could be a charming and interesting conversationalist. His English was good and he seemed to be a man of broad education.
But he was not in a conversational mood on this occasion. He insisted on taking me to drink vodka in a doubtful-looking bar some distance from the tournament hall. I remember that we seemed to take a very roundabout route to get there, which I took to be his way of losing his minder â rightly or wrongly I always assume that Soviet grandmasters have KGB connections. They certainly have minders.
After three or four vodkas, Stepanov told me that he was desperately unhappy and wished to defect to the United States. It took me several minutes to recover from the shock. I was astounded, not only to learn that he wished to defect, but also that he should have offered such dangerous information to a man he did not know well. I began to protest that I was not the right person to ask, but he interrupted me.
He said he knew that I am a professor of political science and assumed that I must have connections with the CIA â which, for the record, I do not. Before I could stop him, he insisted on telling me that he had valuable information to pass to the CIA, information which could prevent the loss of many secrets and the deaths of western agents behind the Iron Curtain. It would probably have been safer, both for Stepanov and myself, if I had stopped him from going further, but I did not.
Stepanov told me that in 1948 he had been instructed to attempt to recruit an English spy, a chess player. His instructions came from Moscow, but he was led to believe that the arrangement had been instigated by an agent in London. The man in question was James Masefield Digby, and the occasion was the World Chess Championship tournament. Stepanov was told that although Digby worked as a lawyer, he had worked for MI6 during the War and retained links with the Service.
It had not been possible to hold a world title tournament during the War, and in 1946 the title had become vacant because of the death of the
holder, Alexander Alekhin. The five players judged to be the strongest in the world were selected to contest the title, and if I were to tell you about even a fraction of the diplomacy required within FIDE to bring that about, I would need to write another article. It is enough to note that the tournament was split into two parts. The first began in The Hague on March 1, 1948, and the second was held in Moscow, beginning on April 11 of that year. Stepanov was told that Digby would be covering the tournament as a journalist on behalf of various newspapers and chess magazines, and that he was vulnerable because of his left-wing leanings and his frustration about the lack of respect for chess in the West compared to the Soviet Union. He said that, following his instructions, he approached Digby in The Hague, but only to build a relationship.
The serious work was to be done later in Moscow, where it was far safer. I think everyone assumed that various intelligence services would be taking some interest in the tournament. He told me that Digby confirmed that he retained links with MI6 and agreed to work with the Soviets. Every year since 1948, Digby had been invited to Russia to attend the prestigious Soviet Chess Championship, sometimes under cover of working as a chess journalist, but sometimes simply as a guest, invited to play in a minor tournament or give a simultaneous exhibition to students.
Needless to say, I pressed Stepanov for details, but he refused to tell me any more until I had approached the CIA about his defection and received a favorable answer. We agreed to meet at a tournament in Belgrade, in which he had been given permission to compete, early in 1963. On my return to the United States from Varna, I used a contact to obtain an interview with a senior officer of the CIA. I told this officer what had happened, and asked him to take the matter further.
I offered to act as a go-between for Stepanov, as he had chosen me to confide in. The officer thanked me profusely, and promised to see what could be done and to keep me fully informed. But no decision was made, and early in 1963 I saw Stepanov's obituary in the Soviet chess magazine
. It said that he was a middle-ranking grandmaster, who had won a few relatively minor tournaments and had made a relatively minor contribution to opening theory in the Sicilian Defense. His body had been found in his flat in Moscow. He had apparently died of a heart attack. Well, that's what they always say, isn't it?