Cambridge Five

From Academic Kids

The Cambridge Five (also sometimes known as the Cambridge Four) was a ring of British spies who passed information to the Soviet Union during World War II and into the early 1950s. It has been suggested they may also have been responsible for passing Soviet disinformation to the Nazis. Proven members included Kim Philby, Donald Duart Maclean, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt. Several other persons have been suggested as probably or possibly belonging.

They were originally known as the Cambridge Spy Ring because all known members of the ring were recruited at Trinity College, Cambridge, probably by Anthony Blunt (who was a Fellow there while the others were undergraduates). At least two members of the spy ring, Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess, are known to have been members of the Cambridge Apostles, a secret society based around Trinity College and King's College. A third Apostle, Victor Rothschild, is suspected by many of being the so-called Fifth Man, who has never been formally identified.

Known members

In 1951, Burgess and Maclean - both under secret investigation - made international headlines by very publicly defecting to the Soviet Union. It was immediately apparent to investigators that they had been tipped off, and Philby quickly became a prime suspect. Investigation of Philby found several suspicious matters but nothing for which he could be prosecuted, and he was forced to resign. He was named in the Press as chief suspect for "the Third Man" in 1955, and called a press conference to deny it. By this time, he was working as a journalist in the Middle East. In 1961, defector Anatoliy Golitsyn provided information which seemed to point to Philby. An MI5 agent was sent to interview Philby in Beirut, and reported that Philby knew he was coming (indicating the presence of yet another mole) but freely confessed. Shortly afterwards, apparently fearing he might be abducted in Lebanon, Philby also defected to the Soviet Union.

By 1979 Blunt was publicly accused of being a Soviet agent by investigative journalist Andrew Boyle, in his book Climate of Treason. In November 1979 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher admitted to the House of Commons that Blunt had confessed to being a Soviet spy 15 years previously. By that time already in a position without access to classified information, he had secretly been granted a formal immunity by the Attorney General in exchange for telling everything he knew. He had provided a considerable amount of information, and preventing the Soviets from discovering his confession would have increased its value.

The "Five" comes from KGB defector Anatoli Golitsin, who named Philby, Maclean and Burgess as part of a "Ring of Five" whose other two agents he did not know. However all three agents named by Golitsin had already defected to the USSR, and of all the information provided by Golitsin, the only item that was ever independently confirmed was the exposure of John Vassall. Vassall was a relatively low ranking spy whom some researchers believe may have been sacrificed to protect a more senior one. Golitsin's information was also suggestive of Philby being a member, but Philby was already under suspicion - indeed, had been accused in newspapers - and was in a country with no extradition agreement with Britain. Golitsin also provided other information that is widely regarded as highly improbable, such as the claim that Harold Wilson (then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) was a KGB agent. To this day Golitsin's reliability remains controversial, and as such there is little certainty of the actual number of agents in the Cambridge ring. To add to the confusion, when Blunt finally confessed he nominated several completely different people as among those he had recruited. Altogether, at least twelve persons have been seriously indicated as possible members of Golitsin's "Ring of Five".

"The Fifth Man"

Due to Golitsin's information (or was it disinformation, or even just incomplete?), speculation raged for many years as to the identity of "the Fifth Man". It is now widely accepted that the spy ring probably had more than five members, possibly many more, since three other persons are known to have confessed, several more were nominated in a confession, and strong circumstantial cases have been made against still others. The extent to which the following suspects can be regarded as being members of "the Ring", of just a list of Soviet spies, depends on the degree to which they knew each other and cooperated with one another. Except for Philby, Burgess and Maclean, this degree of cooperation remains largely unknown.

  • John Cairncross (1913 - 1995), confessed in 1951; this was publicly revealed in 1990.
  • Sir Roger Hollis (at the time Director of MI5) accused by Arthur Martin (head of MI5's Soviet counter-intelligence section at the time), Peter Wright (MI5 officer assigned to investigate Hollis) and Chapman Pincher (investigative journalist who produced several exposés of failures in British counter-intelligence).
  • Guy Liddell (1892 - 1958), a close friend of Burgess and Rees, was accused of being a spy by an anonymous informer in 1949. This was eventually written off as Soviet disinformation, but permanently harmed his career. He was accused specifically of being a member of the Cambridge Spy Ring in the death-bed confession of Goronwy Rees in 1979.
  • Goronwy Rees (1909 - 1979), a close friend of Burgess and Liddell, admitted under interrogation in 1951 that he had known Burgess was a spy; then made a death-bed confession of being one himself in 1979, also accusing Guy Liddell of having been a member of the Ring.
  • Victor Rothschild (1910 to 1990) (better known as the third Baron Rothschild), accused by Roland Perry, in his book, The Fifth Man (Roland Perry, The Fifth Man, Pan Books London 1994). Rothschild was a member, along with Blunt and Burgess, of the Cambridge Apostles.
  • Accused by Anthony Blunt during his confession in 1964:
    • Peter Ashby
    • John Cairncross
    • Leo Long
    • Brian Symon

See also

he:רשת קיימברידג'


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