UK intelligence files shed new light on famed Cold War spy cases

In this file photo taken on September 29, 2017 in Moscow a woman looks at personal belongings of British KGB agent Kim Philby during the exhibition "Kim Philby in espionage and in life" at the Russian Historical Society. (AFP / Kirill Kudyavtsev)
Updated 24 September 2019

UK intelligence files shed new light on famed Cold War spy cases

  • The network was run by Konon Molody, a deep-cover KGB officer posing as a Canadian businessman named Gordon Lonsdale
  • Molody was swapped in 1964 with a Briton, Greville Wynne, who was held on espionage charges in Moscow

LONDON: Fresh details of some of Britain’s biggest Cold War spy scandals, including the network of Soviet agents who stole naval intelligence secrets, emerged in newly released secret files Tuesday.
The Portland spy ring, believed to have helped the Soviet Union build a new class of submarines in the 1960s, marked a turning point in Cold War espionage in Britain, say historians.
The network was run by Konon Molody, a deep-cover KGB officer posing as a Canadian businessman named Gordon Lonsdale.
Since he lacked the diplomatic immunity given to intelligence personnel using genuine identities, he was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison for espionage in 1961.
This was the first time Britain’s MI5 domestic intelligence service unearthed an “illegal” spy running other operatives.
MI5 files released by the National Archives reveal how, during a series of prison interviews, Molody offered to disclose information and even to become a double agent, in return for his release.
“He wished... to make a deal with us,” said a 1961 MI5 memo.
“Lonsdale’s own idea was that he might be exchanged for some British agents held by the Russians, or even that he might be allowed to escape.”
Officials declined his offer, but in 1964 Molody was part of the most high-profile spy swaps of the Cold War, trading places with a Briton, Greville Wynne, held in Moscow.
It later turned out that he had not been telling his interrogators the whole story.

‘Great-granny spy’
Molody/Lonsdale was questioned in prison by MI5 officer Charles Elwell in early 1961. Elwell had done the most to catch him, said Professor Christopher Andrew, a historian of Britain’s intelligence agencies.
The pair struck up a cordial relationship, sharing bags of cherries or strawberries as Molody described his disillusionment with life as an “illegal” KGB spy.
But Molody never revealed the true extent of his activities to Elwell — for he had briefly run Melita Norwood, another Soviet agent embedded in Britain, who later became known as the “great-granny spy.”
Norwood has been described as the most important British female agent ever recruited by the KGB. She passed on secrets believed to have helped the Soviets speed up development of the atomic bomb.
Her identity remained hidden for decades more, and she was only exposed when KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin defected to Britain in 1992, bringing thousands of files he had meticulously copied.
The British authorities decided not to prosecute her and she died in 2005 having escaped any punishment.

‘Incompetent spy’
The Portland network was named after a southwest English Royal Navy base for “underwater detection” research.
It unraveled after local police received a tip-off from staff that a clerk, Harry Houghton, was “acting suspiciously.”
Investigators discovered that he and another clerk Ethel Gee — who were having an affair — were passing copies of classified documents to his handler Lonsdale/Molody.
Molody took a dim view of the spy’s skills, the MI5 files show.
“Lonsdale regards Houghton as an incompetent fool, who was incapable of even operating the camera (he) had given him,” Elwell wrote.
An American couple, Morris Cohen and his wife Leontina, were also caught.
Masquerading as antiquarian booksellers Peter and Helen Kroger, they had managed communications with Moscow from a bungalow in suburban northwest London.
Arrested in January 1961 and jailed, they were sent to Moscow eight years later as part of another spy swap, getting a heroes’ welcome in Moscow.
In the MI5 files, Cohen was described as “a sententious bore... whose life appears to be governed by a rancid idealism and who swims about in aura of glutinous bonhomie and bookish sentimentality.”
His wife was deemed “even less alluring” and “the dominant figure in the marriage... (who) looks and probably behaves like an embittered crazy fanatic.”

‘Ablest of all’
The National Archives also disclosed details on Arnold Deutsch — “the ablest of all the Soviet illegals,” according to Andrew.
Deutsch is credited with having recruited MI6 officer Kim Philby and the other members of the notorious “Cambridge Five” spy-ring in the mid-1930s.
His file contains Philby’s account of his recruitment in London’s Regent’s Park in 1934, told 30 years later to an MI6 colleague just before he dramatically defected to Moscow.
“One of my earliest tasks was to give him details of all my Communist friends in Cambridge. This I did,” the memo said.


Anger as white woman reports black birdwatcher in Central Park to police

Updated 15 sec ago

Anger as white woman reports black birdwatcher in Central Park to police

  • Amy Cooper: There is an African-American man, I’m in Central Park. He’s recording me and threatening me and threatening my dog
  • New York City mayor Bill de Blasio condemned her actions as racism, plain and simple

NEW YORK: A video of a white woman calling the police about a black birdwatcher in New York’s Central Park has gone viral, sparking anger about African-Americans being falsely reported to cops.
The clip, posted on Twitter and viewed 30 million times, was filmed by the man, Christian Cooper, who said he had asked the woman to leash her dog.
She was walking the pooch on Monday in a wooded area of the park popular with birdwatchers where dogs are meant to be kept on leads.
As the woman struggles to control the dog, she approaches Cooper and is then seen making a phone call.
“I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life,” she tells Cooper while appearing to dial 911.
“There is an African-American man, I’m in Central Park. He’s recording me and threatening me and threatening my dog,” she then tells the operator.
The exchange prompted outrage on social media, with users calling the woman a “Karen,” a term popular online to describe an entitled white woman.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio condemned her actions as “racism, plain and simple.”
“She called the police BECAUSE he was a Black man. Even though she was the one breaking the rules. She decided he was the criminal and we know why. This kind of hatred has no place in our city,” he tweeted.
The woman was identified as Amy Cooper, no relation to the man she argued with. She worked in insurance at investment management company Franklin Templeton.
She apologized during an interview with NBC but denied that she was racist, saying she had overreacted after feeling threatened.
“I sincerely and humbly apologize to everyone, especially to that man, his family,” she said.
In a statement posted on Twitter Tuesday, Franklin Templeton said it had fired an employee with immediate effect following an investigation.
“We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton,” the company said.
On Facebook, Christian Cooper said he had offered the dog a treat after the woman refused his request to leash the dog.
“That’s when I started video recording with my iPhone, and when her inner Karen fully emerged and took a dark turn,” he wrote.