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.

Court says EU states must label Israeli settlement products

Updated 12 November 2019

Court says EU states must label Israeli settlement products

  • Consumers will be able to make choices based on ethical considerations and those relating to the observance of international law
  • The ECJ ruling effectively backs the EU guidelines issued in 2015 on labelling goods from Israeli-occupied areas

BRUSSELS: The European Union’s top court ruled Tuesday that EU countries must identify products made in Israeli settlements on their labels, in a decision that was welcomed by rights groups but sparked anger in Israel.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said that when products come from an Israeli settlement, their labels must provide an “indication of that provenance” so that consumers can make “informed choices” when they shop.
The EU rejects Israeli settlement expansion, saying it undermines the hopes for a two-state solution by gobbling up lands claimed by the Palestinians. Israel says the labeling is unfair and discriminatory and says other countries involved in disputes over land are not similarly sanctioned.
The volume of settlement goods coming into Europe, including olive oil, fruit and wine but also industrial products, is relatively small compared to the political significance of the court ruling. It is estimated to affect about 1% of imports from Israel, which amount to about 15 billion euros ($16.5 billion) a year.
The EU wants any produce made in the settlements to be easily identifiable to shoppers and insists that it must not carry the generic “Made in Israel” tag.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and began settling both areas shortly afterward. The Palestinians claim both areas as parts of a future state, a position that has global support.
The international community opposes settlement construction and they are consider illegal under international law. Their continued growth is seen to undermine the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel. Today, nearly 700,000 Israelis live in the two areas, almost 10% of the country’s Jewish population.
The ECJ underlined that settlements “give concrete expression to a policy of population transfer conducted by that State outside its territory, in violation of the rules of general international humanitarian law.”
It said any failure to identify the point of origin of produce meant that “consumers have no way of knowing, in the absence of any information capable of enlightening them in that respect, that a foodstuff comes from a locality or a set of localities constituting a settlement established in one of those territories in breach of the rules of international humanitarian law.”
It’s not entirely clear, however, how the ruling will be enforced because the real origin of the produce is not always easy to identify, experts say.
The European Commission said it’s up to individual EU countries to ensure that labels are correct, but that the origin of settlement produce must be made known in a way that is “not misleading to the consumer.”

An Israeli settler prepares olive oil containers at the Achia Olive press factory in the Jewish settlement of Shilo in the occupied West Bank. (File AFP)

Human Rights Watch welcomed the ruling. The rights watchdog’s EU Director, Lotte Leicht, said it’s “an important step toward EU member states upholding their duty not to participate in the fiction that illegal settlements are part of Israel.”
Oxfam’s director in the Palestinian territories, Shane Stevenson, said settlements “are violating the rights and freedoms of Palestinians” and that “consumers have a right to know the origin of the products they purchase, and the impact these purchases have on people’s lives.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry rejected the ruling, saying it set a “double standard” that unfairly singles out Israel when there are dozens of territorial disputes worldwide.
“The European Court of Justice’s ruling is unacceptable both morally and in principle,” said Foreign Minister Israel Katz. “I intend to work with European foreign ministers to prevent the implementation of this gravely flawed policy.”
The head of the local settler council, Israel Ganz, said the ruling is part of “a double standard that discriminates against Jews living and working in their homeland of thousands of years. This decision will directly hurt the Arab population working at these factories, and manufacturing these products.”
Ganz said he did not expect sales to be hurt as settlement products are of “high standards.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, welcomed the ruling as a “first step” and encouraged Europe to ban settlement products altogether. “If they do not allow these illegal products to enter European soil, then that would really serve the cause of justice,” she said.
The case came to court after an Israeli winery based in a settlement near Jerusalem contested France’s application of a previous ECJ court ruling on the labeling. That ruling had backed the use of origin-identifying tags but did not make them legally binding.
The winery’s director, Yaakov Berg, said “the Winery is proud of its contribution to combating this decision and intends to continue the struggle. We are happy to see the support of all the relevant people in Israel and the United States.”
EU Commission Spokeswoman Mina Andreeva noted that Israel has a special trading relationship with the EU, with products originating in its internationally recognized borders benefiting from preferential tariff treatment.
“This situation will remain unchanged,” she said. “The EU does not support any form of boycott or sanctions against Israel.”
How to do business in or with the Israeli settlements has been a tricky issue for companies before. Airbnb stopped listings there last year, before reversing its decision .