From Boche to Bolsheviks

At the end of the First World War, Sir Henry Wilson, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, declared that ‘our real danger now is not the Boch[e] but Bolshevism’. This became an underlying consideration for much British policy-making during the years that followed. Indeed, this perceived threat was intermittently to dominate British foreign (and some domestic) policy perceptions for much of the twentieth century. In December 1926, reflecting on the events of the British General Strike that year and of supposed Soviet agitation in the Far East, Sir William Tyrrell, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, told the Foreign Secretary that ‘Russian interference in our coal strike and Russian proceedings in China might justify us in assuming that we are virtually at war.’1 These attitudes had an impact on SIS. In the years following the First World War the Service was mainly preoccupied with the challenge of international Communism, powerfully backed by Soviet Russia. In the post-revolutionary Russian turmoil, the Service sponsored a number of adventurous operations in an effort find out what was going on and forged links with various anti-Bolshevik White Russian and ethnic-minority groups. As well as operating within the Soviet Union itself, SIS took responsibility for identifying Communist front organisations and tracking revolutionaries and subversives across Europe and the wider world.

Targeting Bolshevik Russia

On 28 December 1918 Cumming called on Lord Hardinge at the Foreign Office and secured his permission ‘to our continuing our organisation in Russia’ at £3,000 a month ‘until 31st March’. Cumming’s own accounts the following autumn included £6,600 for ‘Russia’, but also £50,000 for ‘Scandinavia’, most, if not all, of which was earmarked for Russian intelligence work. The Service’s 1922-3 in-house review made it clear that ‘the actual location of an S.I.S. office’ had ‘but little bearing on the nature of the information emanating from that office’, and specifically noted that, for example, an office in Norway (‘a country never likely to be of itself of any interest to Great Britain’) could ‘really be the chief centre of information concerning Russia, or some important international movement with ramifications in every civilised country’. The ‘first principle of the S.I.S. overseas organisation’, it stated, was ‘to gather news about the countries bordering on the one in which the local headquarters is situated, the more so, since generally speaking, Representatives are warned not to attempt to acquire information of a nature likely to be actively resented by the country affording asylum’. That this was substantially the case is confirmed by the 1920-1 estimates Cumming prepared for an annual budget of either £125,000 or £65,000. Under the higher budget £24,000 was allocated for ‘Russia’ under the following three headings: ‘Vladivostock’, £2,000; ‘South’, £2,000; and ‘Helsingfors [Helsinki] (for North Russia)’, £20,000. On the £65,000 basis, the Russian share fell to £9,000: £8,000 for Helsinki, and the other thousand for the ‘South’. Vladivostok was omitted altogether. In both schemes, ‘Russia’ was the second largest SIS commitment, after ‘Holland (for Germany, &c)’ – £18,000 on the lower budget – which also inevitably included much anti-Bolshevik work.2

‘Intervention’ in Russia began as an effort to shore up Russian forces fighting against the Central Powers, but after the Soviet government signed a peace treaty in the spring of 1918, British and Allied forces found themselves aligned with counter-revolutionary White Russian elements in an escalating Russian civil war.3 This meant that any SIS activities in Russia, however carefully designed for purely information-gathering purposes, could inevitably become identified with direct anti-Soviet operations of one sort or another.

Over the autumn and winter of 1918 one intelligence source was the left-leaning writer and journalist Arthur Ransome. Working as the Petrograd correspondent of the Daily News, Ransome had become friendly with Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders. His mistress, Yevgeniya Petrovna Shelepina (who became his second wife in 1924), was Trotsky’s secretary. As Robert Bruce Lockhart observed to the Foreign Office in May 1919, Shelepina had been ‘working with Ransome in connexion with MI1c and was incidentally instrumental in getting out of Russia the numerous Bolshevik papers and literature which Ransome sent on to you’.4 In December 1918 an officer in MI1(c) told MI5 that Ransome (who was known as ‘S.76’) had ‘done quite good work for us’. The same month Ransome and Major John Scale, the head of station in Stockholm (and SIS Inspector co-ordinating work in the Baltic area), devised a scheme whereby Ransome would leave the Daily News and return to Russia as a representative of the British Museum, with a ‘private mandate’ to ‘collect all the available documents (published and otherwise) bearing on Bolshevism’. Ransome thought that ‘such a request would enormously flatter the Bolsheviks, and enable him to go everywhere and get anything of this sort’. Ransome’s closeness to the Bolsheviks had made him suspect in the eyes of some, but Cumming shrewdly argued that his socialist political sympathies might actually boost his intelligence-gathering potential. Putting the plan to William Tyrrell at the Foreign Office on 19 December 1918, Cumming recognised that he could not ‘expect an unbiassed account of affairs from him. But’, he continued, ‘allowances can be made for his prejudices (and it has to be said that, making this allowance, the information he has provided us with during the last month has been satisfactory)’. Besides, Ransome was ‘probably the one person available to go openly to Moscow and Petrograd, and to give us first-hand information of the condition of things, and at any rate the ostensible policies that are being pursued there’.

Tyrrell approved the scheme, and Ransome spent six weeks in Russia in February-March 1919, but there is no evidence that he was able to supply much – or any – useful intelligence during this period. His main concern seems to have been his eventually successful efforts to get Shelepina out of Russia and into England. Perhaps in the end his political leanings did undermine his value as an intelligence agent. The opinion of one officer in the Stockholm station was that ‘S.76 may be regarded as absolutely honest, ’ and that his reports about Russia could ‘be relied upon absolutely with only the proviso that his view tends to be coloured by his personal sympathies with men like Litvinov and Radek [respectively the Soviet envoy in London and a member of the Bolshevik Central Executive Committee]’. Although he would ‘report what he sees . . . he does not see quite straight’.

While Ransome operated in Russia openly under his own name, others working for Cumming did not. One such was agent ST/25, Paul Dukes. When he was recruited in the summer of 1918, Dukes recalled that he had been told: ‘we want someone to remain there [in Russia] to keep us informed of the march of events’. Sir Robert Nathan instructed him to ‘report on changes of policy, the attitude of the population, military and naval matters, what possibilities there might be for an alteration of regime, and what part Germany was playing’. Briefed in Stockholm by Major Scale, and with forged documents cheekily identifying himself as ‘Joseph Ilitch Afirenko’, a Ukrainian clerk of the Cheka, Dukes returned to Petrograd through Finland in December 1918.

Displaying great courage and a real gift for undercover work, for most of a year he based himself in Russia under a number of disguises. For a while he was a post office clerk named ‘Alexander Markovitch’. With the help of a doctor friend he posed as an epileptic, and later he became ‘Comrade Alexander Bankau’, a soldier in the ‘Automobile Section of the VIIIth Army’. Dukes reported mostly low-level, though accurate, information about conditions in Russia which he managed to send out by courier. In March 1919 the Naval Intelligence Department described him as ‘the only reliable & regular source of information about happenings in [the] Baltic Fleet, and everyone who knows [the] conditions under which he works can have nothing but admiration for him’. One of his reports, from the end of April 1919, had been ‘written on tissue paper’ and ‘carried out of the country by a Russian officer who hid it in his boot’. It described factory strikes, disturbances in the Russian fleet, inflation and the desperate food situation. Predicting ‘coming inevitable change’, it asserted that there was ‘little hope of any lasting settlement, or comfort other than that any system of administration will be less intolerable than the present’.5

In order to keep in touch with Dukes, Cumming personally organised two high-performance shallow-draft motor boats under Lieutenant Augustus Agar (‘ST/34’) to be stationed (with the permission of the Finnish authorities) at the Terijoki Yacht Club on the Gulf of Finland close to the then Russian frontier, only some twenty-five miles from Petrograd and the adjoining island naval base at Kronstadt. The twenty-nine-year-old Agar, who had served aboard HMS Iphigenia in north Russia in 1917 and 1918, was a brave and independent-minded man of action who took enthusiastically to ‘special operations’. Admiral Walter Cowan, commanding the British naval forces in the Baltic whose task was to prevent Soviet domination of the sea, was out of the same mould as Agar, and, by allowing the vessels to be equipped with torpedoes, evidently contemplated something more than just ferrying couriers in and out of Russia. It took Agar and the motor boats some time to reach Finland, as they were held up for a while by Swedish customs, who questioned their implausible cover story that the vessels were the latest type of pleasure boats and the crews (in plain clothes) were actually salesmen. The Finns were more accommodating, and within three days of his arrival at Terijoki in mid-June Agar had successfully negotiated his forty-knot vessel through the minefield of the Kronstadt defences, landed a courier near Petrograd and made it back safely to his base.6

Because of the short nights of the northern summer, Dukes himself sent instructions not to attempt another sortie until mid-July. Meanwhile an anti – Bolshevik demonstration in one of the garrisons on the Russian shore of the Gulf of Finland was being crushed by a Soviet naval bombardment and Agar resolved to take what action he could. According to his memoirs, Agar signalled Cumming in London asking permission to attack the Soviet fleet. The reply, ‘Boats to be used for Intelligence purposes only – stop – Take no action unless specially directed by S.N.O. [Senior Naval Officer] Baltic’,7 was enough for Agar, who without waiting to hear from Cowan, correctly assumed that retrospective permission would be given. On 16 June a first attempt was abandoned after one of the motor boats broke down and had to be towed back to base. The next night, despite problems with the torpedo mechanism, which had to be repaired as they approached the Soviet naval base, Agar again penetrated the Kronstadt defences, sank the heavy cruiser Oleg and under heavy fire got safely away. Following this, two attempts by Agar to get Dukes out failed: one when Dukes’s courier was spotted by a Soviet patrol, and the second when their rowing boat foundered near the rendezvous point. On 17-18 August, Agar, with a flotilla of seven motor boats, launched another attack on Kronstadt in which two Soviet battleships were sunk, thus securing Allied naval command of the Baltic. On 25 August he made a final effort to exfiltrate Dukes, but in attempting to evade the Kronstadt searchlights at full speed he rammed his boat into a breakwater and had to nurse his badly damaged vessel back without completing the mission.8

Scale evidently disapproved of Agar’s actions. The attacks on the Soviet fleet, although (and perhaps because) they were so spectacular and successful, by alerting the enemy to the presence of British units made it much more difficult for a motor boat to slip past the port defences to deliver a courier or pick up an agent. In August 1919 Scale described Agar to Cumming as ‘very “difficile”’, and asked Admiral Cowan to replace him. The potential conflict demonstrated here between ‘special operations’ and ‘secret intelligence’ was a constant concern for intelligence practitioners. It was an issue, moreover, which was to crop up during the Second World War, especially in the relations between SIS and its sibling service, SOE (Special Operations Executive).

Dukes eventually escaped through Latvia and, on his return to England, was rewarded with a knighthood – the only member of the Service during its first forty years to be thus rewarded for work in the field. Although, apparently, ‘sufficient evidence [was] available to justify ST/25 being recommended for V.C.’ he was found, ‘as a civilian’, not to be eligible for a military decoration. Agar, however, brought home at about the same time, was awarded the VC for his part in sinking the Oleg and a DSO for the second attack. Dukes’s vivid eyewitness accounts of conditions in Soviet Russia were much in demand after he got back to London on 17 September, and this surely helped to secure Cumming’s reputation as the country’s most important intelligence chief. On 18 September Dukes reported in person to both the Director of Military Intelligence and Sir Basil Thomson. Cumming also took him to see the Secretary for War, Winston Churchill, who gave him a ‘long interview over 1½ hours’. On 20 September Cumming brought him to meet Lord Curzon at his private residence, 1 Carlton House Terrace.

Dukes left the Service the following year, but he was obviously very taken with his experience, and he stayed involved on an occasional basis. In May 1920, when the Foreign Office official Rex Leeper, who had been working in the Political Intelligence Department, was going to Poland on a ‘fact-finding’ mission, as well as to review the work of Cumming’s representative at Warsaw ‘and make suggestions for the future’, Dukes was to accompany him on behalf of SIS, ostensibly as his secretary, and offered to work only ‘for bare expenses’. In the end Dukes went out independently, and stayed in Poland for six months, attempting (without apparently much success) to establish a network of agents to work on Russia, but nevertheless sending back what Nathan described as ‘very interesting’ reports about the anti-Bolshevik side in the Russian Civil War.9 He got back to England in November 1920, and over the next few years evidently nursed ambitions to return to Russia as an agent. But his high profile as a ‘Russian expert’ (for example, he toured the United States giving lectures on the topic), his contacts with increasingly unreliable White Russians, and the Bolsheviks’ keen interest in his movements meant that it was practically impossible for him to enter Russia clandestinely.

Sidney Reilly

When Paul Dukes was in Poland in the autumn of 1920, he was joined there by Sidney Reilly. ‘They are’, reported the head of station in Warsaw, ‘as happy as a pair of “sand boys” constructing a perfectly good new Russia’. One of the problems with Reilly, which was to do for him in the end, was his dangerous fusion of espionage with a dedicated personal mission to bring down the Bolshevik government. Not only did the latter generally involve him with counter-revolutionary groups who were (as it turned out) increasingly penetrated by the Communists, but it also appears to have undermined his judgment on matters of security: that essential quality which the successful spy must have of knowing whom to trust and whom not.

Sidney Reilly, the so-called ‘Ace of Spies’,

caught by Crowther Smith in RAF uniform.

After his return from Petrograd in October 1918, Reilly had spent some time in south Russia, where the British were actively supporting White Russian forces under General Anton Denikin. Accompanied by Captain George Hill, another MI1(c) Moscow veteran, and ostensibly attached to the Commercial Department of the Foreign Office, Reilly had been instructed by Cumming to collect political information which was ‘urgently needed from the whole of South Russia’. Reflecting the scarcity of intelligence about Russia in general, Cumming added that if ‘sufficient information’ had been procured about the region by the end of February, the two men might move in the direction of ‘Moscow and the North’. In the event Hill returned home in early February and Reilly stayed only a few weeks longer. But between late December 1918 and late February 1919 he supplied fifteen despatches which were described in the Foreign Office as containing ‘a fund of useful information on the subject of the whole situation in South Russia’.10 The reports were not politically neutral. Reilly strongly favoured Allied backing for Denikin, and, observing that ‘the Bolshevik armies will not stand up to regular troops’, felt that the White forces could defeat their Red adversaries. Reporting that Allied equipment and economic help was not sufficient, but that actual troops were needed too, he was also very critical of the Cossack leader, General Krasnoff, who had only grudgingly accepted Denikin’s supreme command. Reilly remarked, nevertheless, that ‘the trump cards are in our hands and it should not be difficult to persuade Krasnoff that above all we look to him to carry out the agreement with Denikin not only in the letter but also in the spirit’.

Cumming had other representatives in South Russia. Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Maclaren (‘RS/1’) was a Russian (and Polish) expert who had arrived in Odessa via Bucharest in early 1919 by a roundabout route from Archangel. Having previously worked in Petrograd, he was ‘wanted by the Bolsheviks’. Maclaren was accompanied by another Petrograd veteran, Harold Gibson, who was to have a long and varied career in SIS. When Maclaren arrived in Odessa in March 1919 he telegraphed Cumming that Reilly was already there, ‘evidently working for you’. Since he appeared to have ‘established himself very well’, had ‘good agents’ and was ‘obtaining very satisfactory results’, Maclaren offered to resign, but he was instead told to stay in the region, where he settled down to gathering intelligence for about a year before moving to Sevastopol in April 1920. By August he was back in London. Gibson, who was bilingual in Russian (having been brought up partly in Moscow where his father had managed a chemical works), and a qualified interpreter in French, German and Czech, travelled through south Russia and Bessarabia before being posted in mid-October 1919 to the SIS station in Constantinople (later known as Istanbul), where he remained for three years.

During 1919 (and while he pursued his own multifarious business interests) Reilly continued to work intermittently for Cumming. Between September and December 1919 he moved between London and Paris ‘on special duty for M.I.1.c’. By the end of the year he was in Prague, supplying ‘much appreciated’ (though unspecified) information for London. Writing to Nathan from Paris in March 1920, Reilly reflected that the ‘counter-revolution in Germany’ (the abortive, reactionary Kapp Putsch, which briefly threatened to bring down the newly established Weimar Republic) would, if successful, have enormous repercussions in Russia and, he predicted, mean ‘a rapid termination of the Bolshevik régime’. He had an agent, well regarded in right-wing monarchist circles, whom he could send to Berlin (which was ‘to-day the navel of the world’), though he advised London that he should not go until the situation in Germany was clearer. But Nathan wanted the agent to be despatched at once and to be paid £300 (£8,600 in current money). Revealing that, towards the end of the financial year, even SIS was prey to British civil service accounting practices, his ‘first and foremost’ reason was that ‘we can afford the money this year and probably shall not be able to do so after the 1st April’. Besides, Head Office was ‘very anxious . . . to find out the inwards of what is going on in Berlin’. But Reilly (perhaps demonstrating a finer sense of priorities than Nathan) successfully counselled delay, ‘being guided mainly by the desire to obtain the most useful results for us and not in any way to waste the limited funds at our disposal for this purpose’.

Although Reilly was himself passionately opposed to the Soviet regime, he had no illusions about the unreliability of some of the anti-Bolshevik groups with whom he associated. He told Cumming that ‘from experience’ he had ‘no faith . . . in the capabilities of the Russian Monarchists’, who were thought to have been involved with the Kapp Putsch. He thought that significant ‘Russian-German activities’ were only possible either with Communists in both countries combining to foment revolution or (and here, remarkably, he anticipated the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939) in the form of an ‘alliance between German militarists and Russian Bolsheviks mainly with the object of attacking Poland’. Reilly’s main value for SIS was his knowledge of Russian affairs. Towards the end of March 1920 he sent Nathan ‘an initial list of 58 Bolsheviks’. Much of the intelligence collected by him was handed on to Sir Basil Thomson at Scotland Yard, including ‘Portraits of Bolshevik Missionaries’, a ‘Card Index of agents of Reds’ and a ‘Map showing location of resident Soviet agents in Europe’.

In the summer of 1920 Cumming launched an ambitious operation suggested by Reilly to form an international ‘anti-Bolshevik intelligence service’ by sending Vladimir Gregorievich Orlov, alias Orbanski, to recruit collaborators across Europe. Orlov had been a Tsarist intelligence officer and general criminal investigator under the Soviet regime before escaping from Russia. With Malcolm Maclaren, whom Cumming had summoned home from Istanbul in April 1920 ‘to take complete charge of our affairs in North Europe’, Reilly, Orlov and Dukes toured east-central Europe spotting potential anti-Bolshevik agents, and signing them either for nothing, or for a regular stipend, or for an exchange of information. In Warsaw they recruited five; in Riga their haul was eleven; in Reval (now Tallinn), four; in Helsinki, three; in Terijoki, two; in Stockholm, ten; in Berlin, fourteen; in Prague, three; and in Kovno (Kaunas), two. Most of these collaborators were exiled Russian former military and intelligence officers, but there was also a selection of officials of the various host countries’ intelligence services, including some based in Berlin. Reporting to Desmond Morton at Head Office in December 1920, Reilly wrote that Maclaren and Orlov had ‘done a tremendous amount of spadework and that everything now depends upon how it will be utilized’. Reilly believed that Orlov, who would be in charge of the new organisation, should be ‘very well supported’ by the British.

Although in the autumn of 1920 Cumming had described Reilly’s work as ‘highly important’, there were some indications that the ‘ace of spies’ was starting to prove troublesome for the Service. Reporting that Reilly had been ‘boasting of being in close touch with the Secretary of State for War’, the Admiralty complained that he had been ‘wearing Naval Uniform in Paris’. He upset the Foreign Office by sending a telegram from Warsaw through the British legation, an impropriety which threatened to implicate the regular diplomats with intelligence work. His flourishing contacts with White Russian émigrés, such as Boris Savinkov, who promoted an anti-Bolshevik congress in Warsaw in June 1921 and who constantly needed funds to support his grandiose plans for bringing down the Soviet regime, threatened to leave Reilly (and potentially his British Secret Service associates) politically exposed. Towards the end of 1921, when Reilly wanted to bring Savinkov to London, proposing that he should meet Winston Churchill (at this time Colonial Secretary) and the Prime Minister’s private secretary, Sir Edward Grigg, among others, Cumming declined to help organise a visa for him after the Foreign Office had refused to issue one.11 Changes at Head Office following the unexpected death of Sir Robert Nathan in June 1921, the constant pressure to reduce expenditure and, most important of all, the British government’s efforts to normalise relations with the Soviet Union, marked by the Anglo-Soviet negotiations culminating in the trade agreement of 16 March 1921, powerfully combined to restrict any enthusiasm Cumming and his colleagues might have had for ambitious, expansionist and expensive anti-Bolshevik schemes with the capacity to develop from straightforward intelligence-gathering exercises to full-scale political operations aimed at bringing down the Soviet government.

At the end of July 1921 Maclaren in Warsaw was instructed by London to close down his operation, although for some years a few of the contacts he and Orlov had made remained in touch with SIS through the Baltic stations. In the meantime, Orlov, Savinkov and Reilly continued their anti-Bolshevik crusade throughout Europe, but their links to SIS grew less close. In January 1922 the SIS head of station in Vienna asked Bertie Maw in London whether ‘Reilly, who occasionally blows into this office, and says he is part of our London show, is really your representative and should be talked to in all confidence’. Remarking that ‘personally’ he thought Reilly ‘knows far too much about our show’, Maw passed the enquiry on to Desmond Morton whose response indicated that Reilly’s time with SIS was coming to an end. Vienna was to ‘give Reilly no more information than is absolutely necessary’ and Maw was instructed to tell Vienna ‘that Reilly is not a member of our office and does not serve C. in that he is not receiving any pay from us’. Morton added, however, that Reilly had ‘worked at one time during the war for C’s organisation’ and was ‘now undoubtedly of a certain use to us’. Nevertheless, ‘we do not altogether know what to make of him’. Since Reilly was ‘a political intriguer of no mean class’ (and Boris Savinkov’s ‘right hand man’), Morton argued that it was ‘infinitely better for us to keep in with him, whereby he tells us a great deal of what he is doing, than to quarrel with him when we should hear nothing of his activities’. ‘Whatever may be Reilly’s faults,’ added Morton, ‘I personally would stake my reputation that he is not anti-British, at the moment at any rate, and never has been. He is an astute commercial man out for himself, and really genuinely hates the Bolsheviks.’

Although SIS kept track of Reilly over the next couple of years, there is no evidence that the Service made any real efforts even ‘to keep in with him’ as Morton had suggested. Increasingly involved with Savinkov’s machinations, Reilly was to suffer the same fate. In August 1924 Savinkov was lured back to Russia, convicted of ‘counter-revolution’ (among other crimes), and in May the following year died in prison – perhaps having committed suicide. Reilly, for his part, was enticed back to his death in the Soviet Union in September 1925 by the Trust, a bogus Russian monarchist organisation based in Paris and set up by the Soviet secret police (the OGPU since July 1923) precisely to penetrate and neutralise their anti-Bolshevik opponents. It was an extremely successful operation which also seems to have duped the experienced SIS officer Ernest Boyce, who in the summer of 1918 had briefly been the main Service representative in Moscow, and from 1920 served as head of station in Helsinki and Tallinn in Estonia. From early 1922 SIS had been aware of the Trust, and an agent, ‘21028’, had been deputed to keep an eye on it, with the aim of ascertaining its activities and, potentially, exploiting it for intelligence on the Soviet Union. In 1925 Boyce had the idea of employing Reilly, an old friend, to penetrate the organisation and, evidently without clearing the scheme with his superiors in London, he got 21028 to arrange meetings for Reilly with White Russians in Paris and Trust representatives in Finland. At the latter, on 25 September 1925, Reilly was lured across the Soviet frontier. He never returned, but was imprisoned by the OGPU, interrogated and shot on 5 November. Boyce had to take some of the blame for the tragedy. Back in London, as recalled by Harry Carr, his assistant in Helsinki, he was ‘carpeted by the “Chief ” for the role he had played in this unfortunate affair’.12

The Baltic stations

As the political situation in the Soviet Union stabilised in the early 1920s, the stations in the capitals of Finland, Estonia and Latvia (Helsinki, Tallinn and Riga) worked together on the Soviet target. These three stations comprised SIS’s Baltic Group. In July 1920 Scale was replaced as the Group Inspector by Colonel Ronald Meiklejohn, who had served as an intelligence officer with the British intervention force at Murmansk the previous year. From April 1921 Meiklejohn based himself at Tallinn. Helsinki’s main priority was naval intelligence, since it was best placed to cover the Russian Baltic Fleet; Tallinn concentrated more on military intelligence; while Riga was mainly engaged on political and economic targets. The three stations exchanged copies of the reports they sent to London, but nearly all the military intelligence they produced was sent first to Tallinn for co-ordination. Britain also wanted to keep track of the Communist threat to the security and internal stability of the United Kingdom, especially as represented by the Comintern – the Third Communist International – established by Lenin in March 1919 to promote world revolution. Cumming having established SIS as the primary agency for overseas intelligence-gathering, a fair amount of this work was done for MI5 and the Special Branch. In May 1920, for example, Scotland House (Special Branch) asked SIS to keep an eye on a prominent Communist British journalist, Francis Meynell, who was proposing to visit Rotterdam and Berlin as correspondent of the left-wing Daily Herald. Demonstrating that Sir Basil Thomson wanted information which could be used for counter-propaganda purposes, the brief to SIS observed that Meynell ‘is known to be free with champagne suppers, and any striking contrasts between his way of living and the simplicity enjoined by Socialist principle would be of interest to us’. From the early 1920s a series of roughly biannual ‘Most Secret’ memoranda entitled ‘Review of the Communist Movement’ were compiled for the Foreign Office by Section I of SIS, summarising developments across the world in impressive detail.

The Baltic and other European stations depended almost entirely for Russian intelligence on émigrés, and their most important head agents (for example Vladimir Orlov) were usually former Tsarist officers. Many had fallen on hard times, such as the part-time office cleaner in a Passport Control Office in the Balkans who had been a Russian army colonel. Many of these exiles appeared to remain in contact with informants inside the country and to find it relatively easy to recruit fellow refugees. Their evidently sincere dedication to the destruction of Bolshevism, along with the fact that SIS had also recruited a number of Anglo-Russian case officers who were like-minded and thus predisposed to trust them, contributed to an initially rather uncritical acceptance of their product. Their dependence on the pay of Western intelligence services, however, combined with the steady erosion of their access, led inevitably to the fabrication of reports which neither Head Office nor customer departments were initially able to validate with confidence against other comparable Russian material, although it is clear that the existence of the problem was recognised by SIS from the early 1920s onwards. In April 1921, for example, Orlov reported from Berlin that ‘a band of adventurers’ had ‘sprung up’ who were ‘fabricating forged documents supposed to be of Soviet official origin and are selling these forgeries to various papers and “White” organisations’. In August, another report from Orlov named an individual who supplied forged documents ‘to the French Government who would seem to swallow them wholesale. We could’, he added, ‘send you tons of them.’ Passing the report on to Special Branch, Desmond Morton noted that SIS had recently ‘sent out a stiffener to our people abroad to the effect that they must give something definite about the origin of any documents they get hold of ’. Reflecting a persistent problem with potentially forged documents, this sensible warning was repeated in a circular Sinclair sent out to all stations in May 1925, instructing them to ‘use every precaution in accepting as genuine any alleged Communist document that may be offered to you . . . The only facts which can be considered in future as in any way proof of authenticity is the complete story of the manner in which the alleged document has been obtained, and the hands through which it has passed between those of the alleged writer and the S.I.S. representative.’

In due course some of these agents began to work for several services simultaneously, including German Military Intelligence (the Abwehr), and they also became channels for double-agent operations. As the White Russian diaspora settled down into communities in Warsaw, Berlin and Paris, in addition to the Baltic states, they formed inter-communicating centres of counter-revolutionary plotting, propaganda and intelligence. They consequently became easily identifiable targets for penetration and disinformation by the Cheka and its successor, the OGPU. They also began to produce mutually corroborative fabrications, which purported to be from different sources but all too often were not. SIS assisted this process after Cumming in 1921 helped Orlov to set himself up in Berlin as an anti-Bolshevik propagandist working partly for the German police and partly on his own behalf. He soon became well known throughout European intelligence circles for running a ‘factory’ for creating and circulating reports, which, if not forged, were mostly from dubious sources. He was paid off by Cumming in the spring of 1922, though the Service continued informal contact. In 1924 Morton described him to Sinclair as a ‘born intriguer and ambitious’, and warned that a document produced by Orlov alone could ‘never be accepted’ without corroboration from a separate source. In April 1927 a Constantinople agent who had recently visited Berlin and contacted Orlov reported that his organisation was ‘completely controlled by the [O.]G.P.U. and with the consent and cooperation of the German S.S. [Secret Service]’. Orlov had ‘an elaborate machinery for forging documents’ and, ‘with information supplied by the G.P.U.’, his organisation wrote up ‘numerous reports for various Intelligence services throughout Europe’. The agent provided a list of twenty-one Russians used by Orlov to distribute material, three of whom (based in three different countries) were existing SIS contacts. By December 1937 Orlov had been written off completely. ‘We cannot lay it down too strongly’, instructed London, ‘that our experience of this individual is that no reliance whatsoever can be placed on anything he says or does.’

Nineteen-twenties Europe was full of dubious White Russian characters representing themselves as secret agents. One of Orlov’s associates in Berlin, for example, was Count Alexander Nelidov who, having offered his services to SIS in Istanbul in 1925 and been turned down, was arrested and deported by the Turks the following year and reappeared in Berlin in 1927, working with Orlov and claiming to be a British agent.

By 1928 he was in the pay of the Germans, though he was suspected by them of working for the French and the Poles, and was already renowned as a purveyor of faked intelligence. In 1929 the Germans arrested and expelled him, apparently for paying a senior official of the Interior Ministry with forged £100 Bank of England notes for information allegedly for the British. He then moved to Brussels where he continued to work with Orlov. In 1940, after the Soviet Military Intelligence officer Walter Krivitsky had defected to the Americans and been debriefed by MI5, SIS learned that Nelidov had also been working in Berlin for the Russians. At least one of these people came to a sticky end. Orlov, who moved to Brussels after the Nazis came to power in Germany, was arrested by the Germans and died after being tortured in December 1940.13

This toxic state of affairs led to a major embarrassment for SIS in 1921 when Lord Curzon, ignoring the reservations of some of his Foreign Office advisers, as well as Sir Robert Nathan and Sir Basil Thomson, sent a protest note to the Soviet government about their alleged interference in Ireland and India. This was based on SIS reports from two documentary sources: agent ‘BP/11’ based in Estonia, and another allegedly well-placed source in Berlin. The station chief in Tallinn, Meiklejohn, assured London that BP/11 had penetrated the Estonian office of Litvinov (at the time Soviet Deputy Commissar for Foreign Affairs) and was ‘an agent whose reliability has been proved on many occasions’. The agent had supplied over two hundred ‘summaries and paraphrases’ of cables between Litvinov in Tallinn, Moscow and the Soviet Trade Delegation in London during the spring of 1921, which revealed Soviet aid for Sinn Fein ‘germ cells’ in Ireland. Although both Nathan and Thomson individually expressed some concerns about the material and its source, SIS argued that it was ‘hardly possible that the long series of telegrams could be a forgery’. In the summer of 1921, SIS provided the newly established interdepartmental committee on Bolshevism with a selection of documents, said to have been obtained from the Soviet representative’s office in Berlin, which detailed Soviet subversion against India. The Soviets responded to Curzon’s protest based on this material with a disconcertingly cool dismissal, which convincingly exposed the reports for the elementary fabrications they were. This naturally enraged Curzon, who was ‘positively appalled’ and dismayed that SIS should have relied on discredited ‘German sources of information’.14

One result was a tightening up of procedures in SIS, reinforcing Desmond Morton’s introduction of more systematic methods into the Production Department (which was also known as the Production Section or Production Branch). A memorandum on the ‘classification of reports’ issued in May 1922 laid down that all information should be ‘submitted to careful consideration, both as regards reliability and value’. Reports were to be given one of three gradings: ‘A1’, ‘A2’ and ‘B’. The highest category included ‘those whose subject matter suggests their being regarded as of primary importance’, and which were based either on ‘original documents actually in the possession of S.I.S. or to which a representative of S.I.S. has had access’, or ‘statements by agents of exceptional reliability in which the S.I.S. repose especial confidence for peculiar reasons’. The second category included reports ‘which, for various reasons, cannot be classified as ‘A.1’, but which are of significance, both as regards subject matter and reliability’. The third category, ‘B’, included reports ‘of less importance, but the interest and reliability of which are such as to justify their being issued’. Customer departments, however, were additionally reminded that SIS reports should not be accepted in isolation but ‘should, of course, be considered in conjunction with reports from official sources’.15 Despite this sensible reform, implying as it did that SIS should be extremely sceptical about all reports, the problem of bogus documents was to dog SIS for some time, as the Zinoviev Letter affair in 1924 was to demonstrate all too dramatically.

Of all the SIS stations in the Baltic, Riga was the most productive. It was opened in February 1921 when Rafael Farina came out from London to be head of station with cover as British Passport Control Officer. Farina, whose mother was British and father Italian, had been born in Switzerland in 1877. Educated at Cheltenham College, he trained at Camborne School of Mines and then worked as a mining engineer in Siberia. Excluded from military service because of a damaged left foot, he worked in the Ministry of Munitions during the First World War and had been in charge of the Russian Section of MI5 before joining SIS. With an assistant (who had been working in Warsaw and Helsinki and was ‘fully acquainted with Intelligence work’) and two secretaries, apart from his Passport Control duties Farina ‘was also to be responsible for the collection of special intelligence concerning Latvia and Lithuania’, and would be ‘the sole representative of the S.I.S. for these two countries, directly under the orders of the Head Office in London and nobody else’.

On his appointment Farina was extensively briefed by the Production Section, a development which marked the increasing professionalisation of the Service and clearly reflected Desmond Morton’s desire to ensure greater order and rigour in its procedures. There were instructions on the ‘numbering of agents’ and the correct form for submitting reports. For the latter, Farina was to ‘allot numbers to every source from which you obtain information, whether that source is a paid, unpaid agent or even an unconscious source which you constantly tap’. Farina was to be ‘FR/1’, his assistant ‘FR/2’, and other sources given subsequent numbers in the FR series. He was to provide Head Office with ‘full particulars’ of any agent or source he made use of ‘in order that we may card them up for reference in PROD’. This should include ‘the name of the individual, his [sic] nationality, social position, abbreviated past history, probably [sic] qualifications for employment, what lines he may be likely to be best on, and why, etc’. Any particulars ‘likely to lead to the identification of the individual in case your letter got into the wrong hand should be put into code’. It was important that Farina supplied his list of sources ‘at the very earliest opportunity’ so that when an FR report came into Head Office ‘we shall at once understand who the author or authors are’. There were also ‘brief hints on the form of reports’ which confirmed that every report and letter to Head Office should be identified ‘with lettered prefix and a serial number’. Three copies of all reports, ‘except political reports’, of which ‘2 will be ample’, were to be submitted. ‘As a rule’, agents’ reports should not be sent in unedited; ‘Read the agent’s report yourself and if it is faultless send it on, but usually it is infinitely better to re-write it in the light of your own greater knowledge.’ Farina was also advised to ‘try to collate news as much as possible’ and not send in the same bag ‘more than one report dealing with the same subject’.16

While the initial instructions given to Farina were quite detailed, there is no evidence that he was given much, if any, preliminary training. After going directly to Riga, however, he was instructed once he had settled in to go to Tallinn and ‘spend 10 days or a fortnight there with BP/1 [Ernest Boyce], seeing how he does Intelligence work, and picking up as much information as he can give you on the spot’. Farina remained at Riga for ten years, during which he developed an impressive-looking organisation for work against the Soviet target, mainly due to the efforts of his assistants ‘FR/3’ and ‘FR/4’. The former group, comprising eleven sub-sources, seems to have been run through a Russian head agent, a journalist based in Riga, who was known as ‘FR/3/Riga’. Strikingly few of the sub-agents’ names were known, which raises the question whether they ever existed at all. The anonymous star source of the group, resident in Moscow and recruited before May 1923, was run through an equally anonymous cut-out (a trusted middleman providing a deniable link with an agent) in Riga. The agent, designated ‘FR/3/Moscow’ (also ‘FR/3/K’) and said to be employed in the Comintern Secretariat with access to documents, was a prolific producer, with over fifty reports from him remaining on file. But he is also credited with having supplied the Zinoviev Letter in October 1924. Since this was later adjudged to be a forgery, it may well be that his existence was fabricated as well as his reports. On the other hand, a sub-source introduced in late 1924 by FR/3/Moscow, whose name was known and who was said to be a fully conscious and paid agent, provided minutes of Sovnarkom (the Soviet of People’s Commissars) meetings. Regarded as particularly valuable by SIS and its customers, Head Office Circulating sections subjected them to careful scrutiny and concluded they were probably genuine.

The FR/4 group included twenty-four sub-agents allegedly overseen by ‘FR/4/Riga’, whose main sub-source was said to be his brother-in-law (name unknown), who lived in Moscow. Initially designated ‘FR/4.V/ Moscow’, he later became ‘31004/V’. FR/4 never explained to an incurious Head Office how he had met FR/4/Riga, nor what steps (if any) he had taken to confirm the existence of 31004/V, who transmitted reports from some fifteen other anonymous sub-agents in Russia, allegedly based in a wide range of Soviet civilian and military organisations. In March 1928 Desmond Morton initiated a thoroughgoing analysis of the group. While some of the sub-sources were believed to have provided genuine information, the investigation concluded that most reports were bogus. One sub-agent, ‘an alleged airman friend who could supply reports in Persian from the Persian Embassy at Moscow . . . supplied one complete fake which turned out to be a Turkish translation of a portion of the Koran’. Intelligence about a Russian ‘death ray’ from another sub-agent ‘proved to be feats of imagination’. Morton concluded that there was ‘something very wrong indeed with the group’. While there was (he argued) some evidence that FR/4/Riga was honest and that he had ‘certain genuine contacts’, the same ‘could not be said’ about the Moscow agent 31004/V, whose sources were ‘supplemented in a very large degree by [forged] reports received from a “club” source in Berlin, probably Orlov’. After it had emerged that the French in Riga were also being supplied with many identical reports, which they also doubted, in April 1928 Sinclair declared, ‘All this is most unsatisfactory & unless there are strong reasons to the contrary, 31004/V’s agency must be closed down,’ which it was.

Across the region SIS appointed representatives with some Russian experience. In November 1926 Ernest Boyce, Passport Control Officer at Helsinki as well as Tallinn, and who had worked in the Russian mining industry before the war, was replaced as head of station at Tallinn by a Cambridge graduate, son of a British shipbuilder and a Russian mother. He had served with army intelligence in Salonika and the Caucasus in 1916-19, spoke Russian and French fluently and had ‘moderate’ Bulgarian. In March 1930, he was replaced as Passport Control Officer by an Oxford man who had served with the British Military Mission in south Russia in 1918-19 and had ‘considerable experience of producing amateur dramatics’. Afterwards described as ‘an eccentric individual who flies off at a tangent and is difficult to pin down’, he remained at Tallinn until the entire British diplomatic mission had to withdraw in September 1940.

Harry Carr, born in Archangel in 1899 where his father managed a sawmill, spoke Russian like a native. At Haileybury School in England he captained the rugby XV. Commissioned into the army too late to serve during the war, he was sent to north Russia as an interpreter in 1919 and on demobilisation back in England towards the end of the year was given a temporary posting by MI1(c) as a Russian translator in Helsinki. Soon made a permanent member of staff, initially as Assistant Passport Control Officer (PCO), he stayed with the Service for the rest of his working life. When Ernest Boyce left the Service in the summer of 1928, Carr became first acting head, then head of the Helsinki station, where he remained until July 1941. At Riga, Farina was succeeded in March 1931 by Harold Gibson, who was followed in 1934 by Captain Leslie Nicholson, a regular army officer who had worked in the intelligence section of the British occupation forces in the Rhineland in the early 1920s. In 1930 he had been taken on by SIS and initially posted to Prague as PCO.17

The pattern of activity at Riga was to a very great extent repeated elsewhere in the Baltic. The Tallinn station was in direct or indirect touch with some forty significant contacts from the early to mid-1920s. It is difficult, however, to discern any reporting sources among them who were both regular and reliable. Some had multiple intelligence relationships and haunted the whole region, like ‘31017’, resident in Finland from 1918, in Tallinn from 1920 and in Danzig in the late 1930s. He had been a member of the Petrograd Secret Police before the war and from 1918 onwards worked successively, and sometimes simultaneously, for exiled White Russian intelligence organisations in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Berlin and Paris; and also for the Estonians in Tallinn, the Germans in Berlin and the French in Paris.

The most important and trustworthy contacts in Tallinn were among those from local intelligence organisations. An Estonian signals intelligence agency, for example, provided intercepts of Soviet wireless messages between 1931 and 1939 which contained order-of-battle information ‘of great value’ to the War Office. Liaison relationships also involved information from the British side, though this had to be transmitted with some care. Towards the end of 1930, the representative at Tallinn told Head Office that a contact in the Estonian counter-intelligence organisation ‘would be extremely grateful’ if he could obtain for them ‘photographs of OGPU and Comintern agents and other Russian Communists’, who had been expelled from the United Kingdom ‘on account of espionage, or propaganda, and other underground and disruptive activities’. Passing the request to Special Branch at Scotland Yard, Valentine Vivian noted that SIS’s man in Tallinn ‘would be more than obliged since the Estonian authorities give him much useful local information and he would be glad of a quid pro quo to give them’. In due course material was provided, but Scotland Yard warned SIS that there could be ‘most unpleasant complications’ if the source of the information was ever publicly revealed. In turn Sinclair (briefed by Vivian) told Tallinn ‘that any indiscretion of the part of the local authorities in respect of this information or the source from which it emanated would create the greatest embarrassment and effectually prevent any further co-operation’.

Liaison services themselves were by no means immune to the inherent problems of reporting on Russia. Baltic agent ‘BP/42’, who was resident in Moscow and had ‘connections in Soviet institutions’, agreed for a retainer of £50 a month to ‘send information three times monthly’ about political matters and ‘on subject of propaganda’. After his own involvement with the OGPU (who blackmailed him over gambling debts) was discovered he was charged with treason but escaped to Austria, where he continued to peddle intelligence on Russia until the early 1930s. There he was reported to be employed by the Nazi Intelligence Office in Berlin and was offering reports to SIS through a mutual contact in Finland. By 1934 (as SIS discovered in 1946 from captured German documents) he had graduated to the Abwehr, was reporting to them on Russia and into the bargain had passed them an SIS questionnaire on Russia received from his Finnish contact.

Western and Central Europe

During the early 1920s SIS overseas deployments settled down into a pattern which continued until the mid-1930s. In the spring 1923 budget £27,000 was allocated for the Baltic and Scandinavian stations; £22,000 to the German Group (£8,000 of which was earmarked for Holland and £3,000 for Belgium); £16,000 for the Swiss Group, which also included France, Italy, Spain and Portugal; and £10,000 for the Central European Group of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Romania. Further afield, £20,000 was allocated for the Near East; £18,000 for the Far East; and £9,000 for New York.

In October 1919 Henry Landau, who had done so well in the Netherlands during the war, was sent to Germany to be the Service representative there. Cumming, as Landau recalled in a memoir, assured him that Berlin was ‘the best of his appointments abroad’. In addition to his Secret Service work, Landau was to be the chief Passport Control Officer, but when he arrived he found that, as a result of much ‘competition and overlapping’ between different Allied missions on the intelligence side, there was little such work for him to do. In what was effectively a one-man station he also encountered administrative problems, and he was perhaps not best suited for the bureaucratic demands of peacetime intelligence work.18 Although ‘brilliant in conception’, wrote an SIS colleague, he required ‘a practical man with him to work anything out’. In Berlin, he got into financial difficulties and had to leave the Service in 1920. London subsequently had some difficulty in satisfactorily filling the Berlin post. After two officers had followed in quick succession, Captain Frank Foley was installed as head of station in 1923, where he remained until the outbreak of war in 1939. Foley, born in 1884, was a studious youth who had hoped for an academic career and studied philosophy in France and Germany before the war. In August 1914 he was in Hamburg and, ‘disguised as a German’, managed to escape through the Netherlands to England, where he joined the army in 1915. Wounded on the Western Front in March 1918, he transferred to the Intelligence Corps, who posted him to the British occupation forces in Cologne, whence he was appointed, initially as an assistant, to the Berlin Passport Control Office.19

From its inception until the mid-1930s the Berlin station concentrated on the Bolshevik target. With the establishment of a Soviet mission there in early 1920, Berlin, as reports in late 1920 asserted, was seen as a ‘centre for International Bolshevism’ where the Western European Secretariat, or Bureau, of the Comintern was based, dedicated to ‘the spreading of Communist ideas throughout Western Europe’. Soviet personnel in Berlin were believed to be employing ‘the usual Bolshevik tactics, viz. camouflaging espionage and propaganda under a veneer of respectability and sincerity’. Some reports tracking the travel movements of individual Soviet and Comintern officials appear to have been reliable and were circulated to Scotland Yard, who found them helpful in their study of the Bolshevik threat to the United Kingdom, but it is evident that the mostly White Russian sources (who included Vladimir Orlov) were frequently unreliable and many of the documents they supplied were forgeries. In 1922, one female agent, ‘BN/61’, supplied purported records of Western European Secretariat meetings, but after investigation Berlin had to report, with ‘regret’, that, although ‘the majority of the facts’ were genuine, most of the documents themselves were forged. Told by her case officer that he would pay only for actual minutes, ‘in order to earn her money’ the agent ‘either invented entirely the protocols of the meetings, or faked them from bits of gossip which she heard’.

In October 1923 Charles Howard (known as ‘Dick’) Ellis was sent out to work under Foley on the Soviet target. Australian-born (in 1895), of British parents, Ellis joined the army in 1915 and served on the Western Front and in the Middle East, ending up with the British forces in Transcaspia and the Caucasus in 1918-19. In October 1921 he abandoned an undergraduate course at Oxford (St Edmund Hall) and was taken on by the Service to work in Istanbul. There he married a Russian woman and became the contact for a number of Russian agents. Long afterwards Ellis reflected on the over-close relationships between SIS’s Russian-speaking officers, using their own names, and their Russian agents, and the socialising between both groups which led to a most unprofessional level of interconsciousness. As these individuals spread out over Central and Eastern Europe, the Russian cadre of SIS case-officers and their head agents became far too well known to the White Russian communities, and thus, in turn, to the OGPU. While Ellis knew no German (though as a talented linguist he soon added it to his fluent Russian), in October 1923 he was posted to Berlin, where he was given a list of Russian agents to run and was himself approached by several White Russians who had heard of his transfer from friends in Turkey. Provided with little specific briefing or preliminary training – a typical experience for the time – Ellis was largely left to fend for himself and learn on the job. Afterwards he complained that desk officers at Head Office, who had no agent-running experience and seldom visited stations, knew very little about the realities of work in the field and frequently nursed unrealistic expectations of what could be achieved. Ellis applied to be moved away from Berlin in 1926, and he settled under journalist cover, first in Vienna and then in Geneva, where he continued to work on German and Russian targets principally through his Berlin-based Russian agents, some of whom clearly were also working (at least) for German intelligence. Reflecting after the war on one agent, whom he believed also to be working for both the Poles and the Estonians (but who told him he had refused to work for the Germans), Ellis described him as ‘no fool and, like most Russians of his type, played both ends against the middle’. Nevertheless, he ‘served me well, and on the whole his information was sound. He kept me well informed about “phoney” agents and was useful in that respect.’

Switzerland was a significant intelligence centre and, as during the First World War, continued to be an important base for Near and Middle Eastern work. The India Office intelligence agency, Indian Political Intelligence (IPI), had representatives in the country who liaised closely with Cumming’s men. In March 1920 Cumming agreed with Charles Tegart, a charismatic Irishman who had been seconded to IPI from the Calcutta Police, that MI1(c) would fund the IPI representative in Geneva to the tune of £1,500 a year and ‘get from him all his non-Indian stuff in exchange’. In June, Rhys Samson proposed that he should be based in Switzerland to co-ordinate ‘Pan-Islamic Intelligence in Western Europe’ and from there run ‘a certain Turkish Nationalist who would be in a position to get inside information on Turkish affairs’. By the end of the year, however, with the pressure for economy beginning to bite, a ‘conference of Swiss affairs’ at Head Office agreed to cut the payment to IPI to £500. On the other hand, the finances for Swiss work were for a couple of years boosted by funding of £2,500 from the British military authorities in Turkey, brought in with Samson, who was transferred from Istanbul in September 1920 to be Inspector of the Swiss Group and (briefly) head of station at Geneva.

Examples of SIS reporting survive in an ‘Eastern Summary’ circulated to the Foreign, India, Colonial and War Offices. In January 1923, for example, there was intelligence about the Egyptian nationalist leader Abdul Hamid Said, and the alleged formation of ‘a new terrorist organisation’, provided from ‘a highly reliable agent’ in Lausanne ‘who has been in a position to obtain this information at first hand’. SIS’s informant, moreover, confirmed the prevailing assumption that most nationalist groups working against British imperial interests (wherever in the world they might be) were supported by Moscow gold. The funds for the new terrorist organisation, he reported, ‘will be provided by the Soviet authorities, through the medium of the Soviet representative in Rome’. Both human and signals intelligence were extremely valuable for informing British negotiating tactics at the Lausanne conference between November 1922 and July 1923, which finally secured a lasting peace settlement with Turkey. So much so that the senior British negotiator, Sir Horace Rumbold, observed that ‘the information we obtained at the psychological moments from secret sources was invaluable to us, and put us in the position of a man who is playing Bridge and knows the cards in his adversary’s hand’.20

Although between the wars (as Vivian observed to Vernon Kell in October 1937) the Swiss security authorities were prepared to share information with SIS ‘regarding Communism or other international subversive movements of mutual interest’, Switzerland’s traditional policy of neutrality meant that the Service had to be especially careful where other intelligence work was concerned. With former allies from the Great War, such as France and Belgium, the situation was slightly different. The experience of working closely together in organisations like the Bureau Central Interallié left a useful legacy of co-operation and personal contacts. One example of this was the Bureau Liaison Armée Occupée (BLAO, which in 1930, ‘as a precautionary measure’, changed its name to BOX), an Anglo-French-Belgian organisation established in December 1921 principally on Stewart Menzies’s initiative and based in Paris. Formed to share information on Communist subversion, its work was later extended to German military intelligence. By the early 1930s it was focusing almost entirely on Germany and had ‘about ten agents’, of which four were ‘first class, and all very cheap’. SIS found it tremendously useful being ‘allowed to run an organisation in Paris’ which underpinned close secret service relations with the French. In May 1931, when the Belgians, fearing that their neutrality might be compromised by it, threatened to close BOX down, SIS reckoned that the organisation provided valuable Russian, Turkish, Balkan and Hungarian information; that it replied ‘to any military questions on Italy’; that there was exchange of intelligence on Germany (‘the French maintain about six times our staff’); and that information was ‘occasionally obtained regarding French matters which would certainly not be given to our M.A. [military attaché]’.

Another useful supply of information came from officer ‘KL/2’, whose role illustrates the importance of personal contacts and the establishment of trust between case-officer and agent - an absolutely key issue when handling agents. He had served with military liaison in France during the war. In 1919 he was sent by Basil Thomson to liaise ‘semi-officially’ with the French police, but unknown to them was also working for Cumming and reporting ‘on internal conditions in France, socialist and labour troubles etc.’. In the mid-1920s a problem arose when Scotland Yard wanted to post KL/2 back to London. Maurice Jeffes, SIS head of station in Paris since October 1922, explained to Sinclair that this would, he feared, ‘frighten these people [KL/2’s agents] badly’. They were all ‘police officials of good standing, who have been persuaded by KL/2, after some years of acquaintance dating back to the war, to take money in exchange for information useful to S.I.S.’. It was ‘very doubtful if they would now be willing to place their careers unreservedly in fresh hands’. In the event they did not need to, as KL/2 stayed on for several years, though it is not clear whether his network remained very productive. During the 1920s Paris supplied London with a steady stream of reports on Communism in France. On the whole Jeffes’s evaluation of the Communist threat was quite measured. Commenting in November 1926 on an apparently alarmist report sent to him from London, he observed that although the total number of Communists was, ‘at first glance, somewhat disquieting, when viewed in perspective with the remainder of the population they are in a considerable minority’. He asserted that unless the situation developed ‘unexpectedly in such a way as to give the Communists an un-looked for opportunity’, it seemed to him ‘that they have a very long way to go indeed before they can hope to carry through successfully a serious revolutionary movement in France’.

There is ample evidence in the French intelligence records of the productively close and continuous liaison between SIS and its French opposite numbers between the wars. On the SIS side, from the early 1920s the main people involved were Jeffes (who stayed as representative in Paris until 1937, when he returned to London to be Director of the Passport Control Organisation) and Stewart Menzies. Since the principal French intelligence agency, the Deuxième Bureau, was a branch of Military Intelligence, Menzies, as head of the Military Section IV (he also had fluent French), was the appropriate contact in London. A sample of the exchanges between Menzies and Colonel Robert Lainey in Paris during 1925 gives a flavour of the relationship. In March Menzies asked Lainey for information about ‘a certain Muneyuki’, who was believed to be a Japanese naval intelligence agent working under the assistant naval attaché at the Japanese embassy in Paris and working on British as well as French targets. In June there was an enquiry from Lainey about a Japanese aviation expert in London believed to be involved in espionage. The same month Menzies raised the case of two Japanese officers who had got into trouble for taking photographs of fortifications at Calais. ‘I should be greatly obliged’, he wrote, ‘if you could give me any particulars of the incident, especially the names of the two officers concerned, in case they ever attempt the same thing in this country.’ In 1926 the two services exchanged information about alleged Italian intelligence agents.21

Since the French were world leaders in aviation technology, the Air Ministry particularly desired information about developments and capabilities. In May 1925 the SIS Air Section II noted that the ‘collection of aeronautical intelligence’ was ‘undoubtedly quite a different proposition to the collection of naval or military intelligence’. There was ‘a wide and ill-defined gap between pure S.S. work, i.e. the purloining of documents, etc. and the work of an Air Attaché who has always to be thinking of his official position’. As the Air Ministry (unlike the other two service ministries) was responsible for both civil and military matters it needed to be ‘well-informed about all aeronautical development’. And because of the ‘very vague distinction’ between civil and military aeroplanes, an agent, ‘while collecting civil aviation information’, could ‘easily find himself in the position to obtain military information of great value’. Arising from this, journalistic cover was arranged for a British aviation expert based in Paris, who toured the Continent in 1925 allegedly to research a series of articles on the development of civil aviation. He supplied information about aerodromes which was ‘new’ and ‘of interest’, and both the Air Ministry and the Admiralty hoped that he would be able to investigate the important question of oil reserves for aviation fuel. The Air Ministry, too, wanted information on the Dornier aircraft factory at Romanshorn in Switzerland, where it was understood that prototype aircraft were tested, but there is no evidence that the agent did any further work for the Service.

From the mid-1920s two separate SIS organisations operated in Paris. The original station (coded ‘27000’ and headed by Jeffes) existed under Passport Control Office cover and liaised with the French security service primarily on counter-espionage matters. In 1926 a second station (‘45000’) was set up under Wilfred Dunderdale, to deal with the Deuxième Bureau principally on Soviet and German armed forces intelligence. Dunderdale, known both as Bill and ‘Biffy’, the latter apparently from his prowess as a boxer in the navy at the end of the First World War, was born on Christmas Eve 1899, the son of a British naval engineer based in Odessa. Fluent in Russian, he was employed by Naval Intelligence as an interpreter for the British Senior Naval Officer in Sevastopol in 1919, and also on ‘special intelligence duties’, the latter involving reporting on the military and political situation generally in south Russia. A man of great charm and savoir-faire, in old age he became an incorrigible raconteur. He liked to tell the story of how, while still in his teens, as interpreter for a White Russian general, he found himself translating outside a railway sleeping compartment where the general and his British mistress were seducing each other. He was a great friend of Ian Fleming, and claimed that he found parts of his own stories in the James Bond novels. When head of the SIS Paris station in the 1930s, he had a penchant for pretty women and fast cars, and has been proposed as one of the possible models for Bond.22

Dunderdale was involved in the debriefing of the first high-level Soviet Party official to defect to the West after the revolution, Boris Georgievitch Bajanov, a Politburo secretary who had been an assistant to Stalin in 1923. In early 1928, along with a Russian cavalry officer, Arkady Maximov, he arrived in India, claiming to have important information on the organisation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, on the Comintern budget and on the working of the OGPU in the Soviet Union and abroad. Alerted to their arrival by IPI, Sinclair declared himself ‘strongly opposed’ to their coming to England, seeing it merely as ‘a transparent ruse to effect their desire to make their way to Europe’. But it was arranged with the Deuxième Bureau to bring the two men to France, where Dunderdale (who concealed his connection with SIS) ran their interrogation. He reported that Maximov was of ‘absolutely no interest to us as he is a typical low-class post-revolutionary officer’, but Bajanov was ‘an exceptionally intelligent man’, from whom he had ‘extracted 140 pages of information’. We are, he told Menzies, ‘producing a whole book mainly on the Polit Bureau and the [O.]G.P.U.’, which he hoped would ‘be a very important guide’. The material included a ‘description of the Government mechanism’ and lively pen-portraits of some two dozen ‘Bolshevist leaders’. While the former was described as ‘very accurate’, London was advised that the latter were less reliable, being ‘the somewhat prejudiced views of an unsuccessful Communist who now has leanings towards Fascism’. Dunderdale also thought that Bajanov (who quickly settled into the Russian émigré community in Paris) ‘considerably exaggerates the strength of the anti-Bolsheviks and the results attained by them in their secret anti-Soviet work abroad’. Towards the end of 1928 an agent in Denmark reported that the OGPU, finding that Bajanov had ‘taken very important documents with him’, had ‘given very urgent instructions to its agents in Paris, London, Berlin, etc. to endeavour to render him innocuous’. Valentine Vivian thought that by now the Soviets had ‘missed the bus’, but in any case he understood Bajanov to be ill and ‘that Tuberculosis is likely to save the G.P.U. agents the expense of a cartridge’. Bajanov, in fact, survived to recount a version of his story to a British journalist in Paris in the 1970s.23

During the war Cumming’s representatives in Iberia – by the end of 1917 he had men in both Madrid and Lisbon – had played second fiddle to Blinker Hall’s Naval Intelligence Department. By 1919 – 20, however, SIS was established in both Madrid and Barcelona, but in 1922 with the abolition of visas between Spain and the United Kingdom the Passport Control Office in the Spanish capital was closed down and the Service’s resources were concentrated in Barcelona. This office was run from Geneva until it, too, was wound up in December 1923. For the rest of the 1920s a skeleton network was maintained mostly under business cover, with agents communicating in a variety of ways. One, who worked for a Liverpool-based shipping company, was to receive messages written inside the postal wrappers for copies of the Observer newspaper mailed from England. Another, a merchant in Valencia, was instructed to use three envelopes. The inner one was to be ‘addressed only to X/O’ (the appropriate person at Head Office). This was to be placed in one marked ‘for “C”’, which in turn went into one addressed to ‘G. N. Bland Esq’, the whole package being given to the British consul in Valencia for transmission to London in a diplomatic bag. Reflecting an increasingly professional approach to intelligence work, in February 1924 this agent was specifically told that ‘information from public sources, from the press or of historical interest only’ was ‘not required’. Bearing in mind the growing discontent in Spain and the apparently precarious position of the military regime of General Primo de Rivera (who had seized power in September 1923), the main priority was for political intelligence, including ‘inside and advance information of a violent upheaval against the Military Régime’. London was also interested in ‘relations between Spain and Italy, which may affect the strategical situation in the Mediterranean’, the ‘policy of Spain with regard to Gibraltar’, and the political and military situation of Spanish Morocco. With this agent, at least, London expressed no interest at all in Communists.

After the Armistice in 1918 Major Hans Vischer, who was based in Berne, was instructed to open stations in the capitals of countries emerging from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian empire: Vienna, Prague and Budapest. Captain Ernan Forbes-Dennis was Passport Control Officer and head of station at Vienna from December 1919 to October 1922. Many years afterwards he recalled that he had been given no specific instructions and that ‘the diplomats at the Legation were still very much of the old school who cultivated the members of the old aristocratic families’ rather than establishing any contacts with the circles now controlling the country. Forbes-Dennis managed to establish ‘a firm relationship’ with the social-democrat head of the Vienna police, Dr Johannes Schober, founder of the International Criminal Police Association, later Interpol. But he did not run agents, had no covert sources and had his hands full with Passport Control work. One acquaintance who passed through Vienna in the summer of 1920 told Desmond Morton he was ‘very sorry for Forbes-Dennis here. He is having a devil of a time with no help and surrounded by what appear to be thousands of seekers after passport visas.’ In 1922 Forbes-Dennis resigned. He and his wife, the novelist Phyllis Bottome, set up a finishing school in Kitzbühel, Austria, where Ian Fleming was later a pupil.24 He was replaced by his assistant, whom Forbes-Dennis dismissed as having ‘decidedly leftish views’ and alleged had been ‘constantly catching VD and having to have medical treatment’. He was succeeded by Captain Thomas J. Kendrick in December 1925. Kendrick, a South African who had served in Field Intelligence Security during the war, and with MI1(c) in Cologne after the war, remained head of station until he was arrested by the Gestapo in August 1938.

In the interwar years, Kendrick was regarded by London as one of their best heads of station. Leaving the bulk of the Passport Control duties to assistants, he concentrated on Communist groups in Austria, as well as developing networks working on Czechoslovakia. One of these was run by an ex-officer of the Imperial Austrian Army, who worked in the Czechoslovak Ministry of Defence. Designated ‘44084’, he was an ethnic German who, although rabidly anti-Czech, had automatically become a Czechoslovak national on the collapse of the Habsburg empire. Among his agents was an electrical engineer doing military service, who provided information on call signs, military codes and details of wireless sets. Another worked in the army General Staff and supplied mobilisation maps. A third worked for Skoda and provided details of the firm’s aircraft production. Agent 44084 also had useful contacts in banking and industrial circles, as well as acquaintances in the gendarmerie and civil service. He took on a sub-agent who allegedly had a friend in the President’s Private Office, but by the early 1930s London had begun to mistrust the source and suspect that his reports had been fabricated.

The Near and Middle East

SIS’s organisation in Turkey emerged from the intelligence branch of the British occupation forces which remained in the former Ottoman empire until after the Treaty of Lausanne of 23 August 1923. For well over a century the Near and Middle East had been important for Britain. Apart from wide-ranging economic and commercial interests, the sea route from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean through the Suez Canal was a vital imperial line of communications, to be protected against other Great Powers, especially France and Russia, the latter also constantly seeking to control the passage from the Black Sea through the Straits at Constantinople (Istanbul). In the aftermath of the First World War, two new factors, nationalism and Communism, which British policy-makers and officials often (mistakenly) assumed to be the same thing, emerged to challenge imperial interests across the region. Among the most threatening was the nationalist movement under Kemal Atatürk, who from early 1920 sought to depose the Sultan (who had been kept in power by the victorious Allies), establish an independent Turkish republic and drive the British-backed Greeks from Asia Minor.25 From 1919 until the autumn of 1922 intelligence was at a premium as there was a real possibility of British forces in the region having to resume active operations. During the Chanak Crisis of September-October 1922 Lloyd George threatened to go to war against the Turkish nationalists, but his Conservative coalition partners had little stomach for such a fight and turned him out of office. The ensuing general election brought in a fervently anti-Communist right-wing Tory government under Bonar Law. In May 1923 Law was succeeded as Prime Minister by Stanley Baldwin, whose dedication to financial orthodoxy meant that government spending continued to be kept under very strict control.

During the immediate postwar years Cumming regarded the Constantinople operation as ‘one of the most important, if not the most important, of all my agencies’ and a colleague at Head Office asserted that ‘a better service of information has never been organised regarding events in the Near East’. Much of this came from a very productive signals intelligence unit working under army cover within the occupation forces. When in early 1922 to save money it was proposed to maintain this but cut human intelligence work, the head of station responded sharply with a reflection on the limitations of ‘sigint’ (signals intelligence). Acknowledging the British ability to read Turkey’s (and other countries’) diplomatic communications, he noted that signals intelligence ‘gets most valuable information regarding existing foreign relations, but it cannot hope to touch but very lightly all the movements of subversion & intrigue which go on behind the scenes, for the latter are seldom if ever mentioned even in cypher cables’. There were practical difficulties, too. Ready access to the actual cable traffic would last only for as long as the occupation forces remained. Thereafter the intercept operation could only ‘be worked with the greatest difficulty & danger’, and, in case it were ‘caught out’, an ‘ordinary S.I.S organisation’ should be maintained to ‘fall back upon’ and prevent a ‘complete break’ in intelligence work, ‘a contingency which must be avoided’.26

The station, too, proved to be an important nursery of officers who were to serve in SIS until the Second World War and beyond. Valentine Vivian, Rhys Samson’s deputy in 1919 (and successor as head of station from 1920 to 1923), was one. Among other colleagues who worked for the Service in early postwar Turkey were Harold Gibson and Wilfred Dunderdale. Gibson – ‘Gibbie’ – worked in Istanbul from October 1919 until 1922, when he was posted to Sofia in September and Bucharest (where he became head of station) in December. In Istanbul both Dunderdale and Gibson recruited networks of Russian anti-Communist agents. It was not unusual for agents and their case-officers to strike up close relationships and the two SIS men continued to run some of these agents when they moved on to other stations. One former Tsarist officer (whose motives were described as ‘finance, anti-Bolshevik, pro-British’), ‘HV/109’, moved with Gibson to Bucharest, from where he ran a large group of sub-agents in the Ukraine and Bessarabia. But he also forged links with other foreign intelligence services, including the Romanians and Bulgarians. By November 1930 it was thought likely that the OGPU had become aware of him. SIS also worked on the Turkish target, though this was not without risk. One successful agent, ‘RV/5’, gathered information in his men’s outfitting shop, which was patronised by officers associated with the reformist Committee of Union and Progress. But one of the tailor’s sub-agents in the Turkish Foreign Ministry was caught red-handed, following which RV/5 himself was transferred to Egypt ‘because his position in Constantinople was endangered’.

SIS’s efforts to collect intelligence on Kemal and the Nationalist movement met with varying success. During 1921 Vivian submitted weekly situation reports which Woollcombe in London thought were ‘of immense value’. At the Turkish end, however (and demonstrating how problematic SIS’s relations with customers could be), Vivian complained in December that Colonel Gribbon of Army Intelligence had tried to persuade him to ‘recant on one of my Situation Reports, not on the grounds that the information was not well supported, but on the grounds that he would like it to have a different twist in order to help a policy which he favoured . . . Of course I refused,’ wrote Vivian, though ‘tactfully enough not to offend him.’ One ‘very reliable’ agent, ‘JQ/6’, a ‘Turkman of European appearance’, Russian education and a former Russian cavalry officer who spoke ‘Turkman, Tartar, Turkish, Russian, Rumanian and fair English and German’, with good contacts in Turkmeni, Caucasian and Azerbaijani circles, set up a coffee shop in Istanbul which became a centre of Kemalist political gatherings. But by January 1923, having become known to many ‘Azerbaijanis now working for Turks’, he had to be got quickly out of Istanbul. SIS ‘bought him a perfectly genuine Polish passport . . . with all the necessary visas’ and moved him to Romania. Vivian described him as ‘one of the very best agents we have got’. He was ‘ardently Anglophile, and being still young I have great hopes of his future usefulness’. JQ/6 went on to Berlin, where SIS remained in contact. In 1929 he was sent to Baghdad (masquerading as an Iranian, but also carrying a German passport) to work on Soviet activity in the region. There he was to set up a transport business, for which SIS would provide a modest amount of capital, optimistically hoping that ‘in time’ the business ‘should pay for itself and even make a profit’. But the agent (who was perhaps not so reliable after all) disappeared without trace between Marseilles and Baghdad and was never heard of again.

In the immediate postwar years, an Indian, who went under the pseudonym ‘Parsifal’, was run by Vivian, who asserted long afterwards that he had penetrated Kemalist circles and, until discovered in 1921, had provided most of SIS’s information on Kemal’s intentions and activities. An early SIS report from agent ‘MS/1’ in December 1920 quoted Dimitri Atchkoff, a Bulgarian parliamentarian and close friend of Kemal, as asserting that the Turkish leader was primarily a nationalist, whose main interest was to clear Asia Minor of the Greeks. If Britain were to back Turkey rather than Greece (as Lloyd George preferred), he argued that this would at once ‘put a stop to the unnatural collaboration between the Turks and the Bolsheviks’. In his study of British intelligence during the Chanak Crisis, John Ferris has argued that SIS accurately identified the differences between Ankara (which became the capital of Turkey in 1923) and Moscow, demonstrating that the Turkish nationalists were not in any way Bolshevik pawns. In January 1923, for example, SIS reported that Kemal was reluctant to fall in with Soviet plans to form a bloc consisting of ‘Russia, Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan and other Moslem States’. SIS’s analysis suggested that the Turks were more than happy to intrigue behind the backs of the Soviets in order to create a ‘Moslem Federation’ which would exclude Moscow’s involvement.27 Although SIS’s principal preoccupation in Turkey, as in other places, was Soviet diplomatic and subversive activity, the Service’s clear-sighted assessment of the integrity of Turkish nationalism suggests that it could at times move beyond that limited world-view which, in the 1920s and after, saw every threat and adverse shift in international relations as being in some way caused by the evil machinations of Communists.

SIS was similarly unalarmist about Communism in Egypt. In September 1921 Major G. W. Courtney, an MI5 officer who had been head of the Eastern Mediterranean Special Intelligence Bureau, was appointed to be head of a new SIS Cairo station, a post he was to hold until 1938. Courtney was also instructed to collect intelligence from Palestine and Syria, though Head Office appreciated that this might take some time, and (according to Courtney) declared that they would treat him ‘as a bride and expect nothing for nine months’. In fact the new station was not finally established until early 1923. From then until 1937, when its strength was increased by one officer, it consisted of just Courtney and a single secretary. While little evidence of work during the 1920s in Syria and Palestine survives, the Cairo station reported regularly on Bolshevism in Egypt. When London was alarmed by reports of strong Communist agitation among the Jewish and Arab population in Alexandria, Courtney expressed the opinion that the significance of the Communist movement was liable to be ‘greatly exaggerated’. Reflecting the general attitude of the Istanbul station, Cairo asserted that there was no evidence that the nationalist leader Sa’ad Zaghloul ‘and the Extremists’ were ‘enlisting bolshevik support to gain their ends. Rather the reverse is the case. All parties here, whatever their differences, are intensely national at the present moment, and will not entertain the idea of any foreign interference.’ In the mid-1920s, partly because of robust police work against the movement, Courtney likened Communism in Egypt to ‘a pulled up weed, which has still part of its roots in the soil’, and he noted evidence of contacts between Communists in Egypt, Syria, Palestine and the Sudan. In the summer of 1926 he characterised attempts by Communist agitators to make inroads in Egypt as ‘somewhat feeble efforts’. In June 1928, Courtney dismissed as ‘journalistic licence’ sensationalist reports in The Times (published on 6 and 7 May) describing the growth of Communism in Egypt, and denied that there was any ‘new and dangerous complexion to the prospects of Communism in Egypt’.

The limited scale of SIS’s deployment in the Middle East did not result from any strategic choice on the part of the Service, but was dictated by its tiny budget. It is clear that, had funding been available, the Service would have expanded its reach in many parts of the world. This is illustrated by a detailed report prepared in 1927 by Valentine Vivian on the prospects of secret service work ‘in Arabia and the Red Sea area generally’. After leaving Istanbul in 1923, Vivian had served as Regional Inspector for Western Europe (the German Group), based first in Cologne and later in London. At the end of 1925 he became head of a new Section V at Head Office, devoted to counter-intelligence and counter-Communist work. Sinclair also used him to think strategically about the Service, as with this Arabia report, following a four-month tour between December 1926 and April 1927, during which Vivian visited Egypt, the Sudan, Palestine, Transjordan, Aden and India. En route he happily discovered that SIS was better received in the field than at home. ‘The element of reserve perceptible in the attitude of Departments at home towards S.I.S. expansion in Arabia’, he wrote, found ‘no echo in the attitude of the local British administrations’. Because of the ‘vastness and backwardness’ of Arabia, there was ‘no one centre or nodal point from which the country as a whole’ could be ‘worked’. Cairo, in fact, was the only possible place for a representative (who would be additional to the existing head of station). But he also proposed that three ‘advanced bases’, under a ‘chief local agent’, be established: at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia itself; at Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast of Sudan; and at Bushire (Bushehr) in Iran on the Persian Gulf (where the work could be handled by the existing British- Indian Political Agent). Jeddah would be used ‘for collecting information from the Hejaz and Ibn Saud’s dominions’; Bushire for central Arabia; and Port Sudan for ‘Southern Arabia and Eritrea’. Vivian drew up quite an elaborate plan with projected costs of £3,500 a year for ‘a minimum practical beginning’. This, he hazarded, would be sufficient for ‘a nucleus from which an organisation of a more permanent nature’ might be expected to grow. But, however strong the theoretical case might have been for SIS expansion in the 1920s, there were no available funds to support it, so the scheme was still-born.

One aspect of the scheme on which Vivian focused particular attention was that of the chief local agents. Although they ‘need not be British or European’, he argued that ‘they should be selected from among persons already established on the spot’. He observed that Jeddah posed a particular problem due to the presence there ‘of a very intelligent, potentially hostile element in the person of Mr. H. St. J. Philby’. Philby was ‘the one individual in Jeddah, who, if he were otherwise than he is, could solve our difficulties’, being ‘second to few Englishmen . . . in his knowledge of modern Arabia’. Unfortunately, however, he had become ‘seriously disgruntled on account of his disagreements with the Government on Arabian policy’, and ‘whether sincere or merely posing (as I suspect), now pretends to champion the interests of Ibn Saoud [sic] against “exploitation by British Imperialism”’. Vivian had encountered the self-opinionated Philby as an assistant commissioner in the Punjab before the war, and Vivan’s wife Mary had been a childhood friend of Philby’s wife, Dora. It is curious that, while in the 1920s St John Philby (whom Valentine Vivian thought was admirably qualified to be an SIS agent) was widely but wrongly suspected in Arabia of being a British spy, twenty years later no one, let alone Vivian, had the slightest suspicion of his son, Kim. When Kim joined SIS in the 1940s, Vivian took a personal interest in his progress and was in later life sharply criticised for fostering his career in the Service. It was a cruel irony indeed that the Service’s anti-Communist expert should have taken under his avuncular wing the Service’s worst Communist traitor.

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