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This review is from: Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-Ups: Six Decades of Espionage (Hardcover)
Chapman Pincher has built a formidable reputation over the past six decades as a well informed writer on the subject of espionage. During that time he developed contempt for MI5 and its failure to spot spies in its midst. He attributes this to the "assumption that no well-educated Briton from a good family could possibly be a traitor." However, not only did such people betray Britain they worked assidulously for the Soviet Union. Pincher claims MI5 turned a blind eye when dealing with information about spies as in the case of Ruth Hamburger Beurton (code name Sonia) who arrived in Britain in 1941. It was Sonia who forwarded details of the Quebec Agreement between Britain, Canada and the USA just sixteen days after the top secret document had been approved in1943. Her source was a high ranking MI5 operative. Sonia was an ideologically driven spy totally dedicated to the Soviet Union who never came close to being caught.
The Soviet intelligence service was split into two sections. The KGB which dealt with domestic issues and the GRU which specialised in military intelligence. Sonya was a member of the latter and so too was Igor Gouzenko a cipher clerk in the Soviet embassy in Ottawa who defected to the West in 1945. He showed the widespread nature of the Soviet spy network and his information contributed to the unmasking of the Cambridge spies. It also raised the possibility that a later head of MI5, Roger Hollis, was a spy working for the Soviets. Pincher speculates about contacts Hollis could have met while working in China, including Kitty Harris, the class-hating Agnes Smedley and Richard Sorge, for whom Sonia worked for two years. The circumstantial evidence used by Pincher is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hollis was a Soviet spy. While the opening of KGB and other files has confirmed the identity of suspected spies Hollis is not one of them.
Pincher is on firm ground when he provides details of a number of cases which were not included in the official history of MI5. Spies such as Edith Tudor Hart, who was active in recruiting Philby and Litzi Philby, was a known Communist but she does not receive a "meaningful mention" in the Authorised history of MI5. According to Pincher this was because doing so would reveal an incompetent organisation determined to cover its failures., a trait shared by the British establishment. When it emerged Maclean and Burgess were receiving income from Britain after they had fled to Moscow Whitehall officials declined to stop it despite the existence of strict exchange controls. They argued it would be spiteful and bring other potentially embarrassing cases to light. Harold Macmillan considered it would be wrong to punish people who had not been found guilty of an offence. The fact that they were not convicted because they fled to the Soviet Union to avoid arrest appears to have been discounted. After all both had been to Trinity College, Cambridge, as had Kim Philby, which meant they were sound "chaps" (to quote Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes, Prime Minister). In the final analysis Maclean was identified as a spy by the Americans' decipherment of a wartime KGB cable and tipped off by Philby who was working in Washington at the time.
The conspiracy theory of history which Pincher pursues throughout his book gives too little weight to MI5s incompetence. Neither Alan Nunn May nor Klaus Fuchs, both of whom provided vital information to the Soviets, were caught by MI5 but by evidence from other intelligence agencies. The evidence against Fuchs was overwhelming which leads Pincher to look for conspiracy rather than sheer incompetence amongst the "chaps". The Director-General of MI5 from 1946 to 1953 was Percy Sillitoe and Dick White from 1953 to 1956. MI5 never fully accepted Sillitoe, who was drafted in from outside, while White promoted Hollis. According to one serving officer, "White had him promoted as part of a trend to surround himself with less able men whom he could dominate. White would always do the thinking and Hollis the deferring." The delay in moving against spies such as Maclean and Burgess was a cultural defect spawned by class rather than espionage. Unlike McCarthyism in the United States, the British tended to regard communist tendencies as the product of youthful naivity. In many cases they were right. In the case of the Cambridge spies they were wrong.
In addition to betraying British secrets Philby also betrayed potential defectors such as Konstantine Volkov while Pincher attributes the death of Vladimir Skripkin to betrayal by Hollis. The former has been substantiated by files released following the collapse of the Soviet Union the latter is speculative. Pincher's suggestion that Hollis's explanation for African leaders' visits to the Soviet Union suggests he was a spy is unsupportable. The explanation was not far removed from Douglas-Home's conclusion that "African socialism" was a particular form of nationalism. Pincher's mole hunting is reminiscent of Angleton's belief that the CIA had been infiltrated by the KGB. There is no doubt the British espionage establishment mirrored the upper class values, including avoiding washing one's dirty linen in public and adopting an out of sight, out of mind, approach to spying. It was not so much treachery as incompetence. Four stars for information, not for Pincher's Hollis hunting.