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The Enigma spy: an autobiography

the story of the man who changed the course of World War Two

John Cairncross

John Cairncross has been accused of being the once unknown "fifth man" in the ring of five spies that formed at Trinity University at Cambridge in the late 1930s, and a traitor who gave numerous British secrets to Russia, including some related to the development of the atomic bomb.
This autobiography, The Enigma Spy (c1997, hardback) was published after Cairncross' death in 1995. The purpose of Cairncross' book is to restore the author's image by showing he was not really a "traitor" but simply a naïve recruit who only helped our ally Russia defeat Germany. Admittedly, due to the cold war, it is difficult to accept that the war was won by the Red Army more than by the British, the Americans and the French youth... all thanks to the material support of the United States.
Cairncross claims that he did not betray atomic secrets or even give Russia anything that harmed Britain. He points out that the secret information he gave Russia before the Battle of Kursk saved thousands of allied (Russian) lives, played a role in the allies winning WWII and actually made him a hero.

Here are some quotes from The Enigma Spy to illustrates these points: "I can undoubtedly be accused of recklessness, arrogance and naiveté for finally deciding, in the light of Britain's wartime plight, to deliver secret ENIGMA intelligence [ie, decoded German communications] to the Russians. But there is no way this can be called treason. [p.20]" "I never considered myself a traitor to Britain, but a patriot in the struggle against Nazism. [p.8]" "The kind of information I passed in those post-war years was relatively innocuous.... [p.127]" "Cairncross' only reason for coming forward [ie, writing his autobiography] was to set the record straight. [introduction, p.xv]")

The book is pretty readable although one is likely to get tired of the repetition of the author's main contentions. It might be of interest to those fascinated with the Cambridge spies and/or British intelligence history because it is one of only two autobiographies written by the most important Cambridge spies. (Kim Philby's autobiography, My Silent War, is the other. It is interesting but less than forthright.)
In order to salvage his public image and make himself look good, and downplay his "betrayal" of his native country, Cairncross seems to be lying in regards to most of his main points.

This assessment is based on the study of two books. One is The Crown Jewels by Nigel West (pen name for Rupert Allason) and Oleg Tsarev (c1999, hardback, US edition - Yale Univ. Press), which was first published in England in 1998, shortly after Cairncross' book. This book is based on the KGB archives, which some researchers have been given access to after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The other is My Five Cambridge Friends by Yuri Modin (c1994; US edition 1995). Modin was Cairncross' KGB handler from 1948 to 1951.

Cairncross' five main points:
1) He was a victim of an evil KGB (NKVD at the time) plot to recruit him in 1937, at age 23, after he left Cambridge and was working for the Foreign Office. A key player in the plot was James Klugmann, a Communist Party member and former Cambridge student, who arranged a visit with Cairncross at Regent's Park in London and then, at the meeting, unexpectedly introduced Cairncross to KGB agent Arnold Deutsch and left. Deutsch (code name "Otto) then recruited Cairncross. Cairncross claims he was very angry with Klugmann for the trap. He also claims that he did not see Klugmann again for almost 30 years. (Cairncross also strongly asserts that he was never a member of the Communist Party, which appears to be true. [The Crown Jewels, p.205; My Five Cambridge Friends, p.107].) [The Enigma Spy, pp. Xiii, 61-66]

The version in the KGB files however seems totally different. In a report from KGB agent Theodor Mally, dated April 9, 1937, Mally wrote, "We have recruited Cairncross ...[Cairncross] gave Klugmann his agreement to work.... So far his only contact is Klugmann. We shall take him over from him by the end of May." The archives reveal that sometime AFTER Cairncross agreed to be a spy, Klugmann introduced him to KGB agent Deutsch, in Paris towards the end of May. In a message to the Moscow center dated June 24, 1937, Deutsch wrote, "He was very happy that we had established contact and was ready to start working for us at once." Further information in the KGB files notes that sometime later "[Klugmann] has made arrangements with [Cairncross] for further meetings with us in London." [The Crown Jewels, p.207-208]

My Five Cambridge Friends seem to confirm the KGB files quoted in The Crown Jewels regarding the fact that Klugmann, not "Otto", recruited Cairncross. Although Yuri Modin supports Cairncross' statement that he was not a member of the Communist Party, Modin says he "was already a convinced Communist" when he was recruited. Thus Cairncross appears to have been a more willing recruit than he acknowledges. [My Five Cambridge Friends, pp.106-107.]

2) Cairncross claims that he acted alone and was not part of a Cambridge spy ring, in fact he didn't even know Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt were spies until they were publicly exposed. (Cairncross sems to use his "apparent" lack of knowledge of the others' spying to distance himself from their highly destructive acts.) [The Enigma Spy, pp.viii, xiv, 60, 128, 130-131]

Cairncross' claim that he acted alone as a spy seems to be true for the most part. (See My Five Cambridge Friends, p.104; also Yuri Modin quoted in The Philby Files by Genrikh Borovik, c1994, hardback, pp.365-366.) The KGB files, however, contradict the claim that he was unaware that the others were spies. After being Cairncross' KGB contact for a while, Deutsch (/Otto) had to leave Britain due to a problem with his residency papers. This left Cairncross without a KGB contact for a considerable time. According to a report in the KGB's files from Guy Burgess, Burgess contacted Cairncross during this time since Cairncross was a "novice, and I was afraid that he might drop out altogether, feeling isolated...[and] also because he has at his disposal [in the Foreign Office] the very best information imaginable on Czechoslovakia." [The Crown Jewels, p.209]

3) Cairncross did not reveal atomic secrets to Russia. He wrote: "I had never been an atomic spy." (The Enigma Spy, p.4)" [The Enigma Spy, pp.viii, xiv-xv, 3-4, 9, 92]

Once again, the KGB files contradict Cairncross. In the fall of 1941, London's KGB "rezident" (who oversaw spying) was Anatoli Gorsky. He turned over to Moscow a 17 page report from Cairncross which contained valuable information on efforts by the US and Britain to create an atomic bomb. In an August 1945 report prepared in Russia by Pavel Fitin, Chief of Intelligence, it was written, "The first material [to help Russian penetration of the Anglo-American atomic weapons program] was received at the end of 1941 from [Cairncross]. This material formed the point of departure for building the basis of and organizing the work on the problem of atomic energy in our country." The KGB files show that on Feb. 21, 1950 Cairncross gave the KGB "a large quality of important documents" which included papers related to "the atomic problem." [The Crown Jewels, pp.223, 228, 233-234]. It is known however that Emil Julius Klaus Fuchs (29 December 1911 – 28 January 1988) was the German-born British theoretical physicist and atomic spy who in 1950 was convicted of supplying information from the American, British, and Canadian Manhattan Project to the Soviet Union during and shortly after the Second World War, passing information on the project to the Soviet Union through Ruth Kuczynski, codenamed "Sonia", the German communist and a major in Soviet Military Intelligence who had worked with Richard Sorge's spy ring in the Far East and set the initial anti-nazi network for the Rote Drei in Switzerland.

4) Cairncross states that during the war he gave top secret information to Russia simply to help an ally, some of which allowed Russia to defeat Germany at the important Battle of Kursk in 1943. (In 1942 and 1943 Cairncross worked at the top secret Government Code and Cipher School [GCCS] at Bletchley Park, where German Enigma communications were intercepted and decoded. The US and England kept this operation secret from Russia, although they shared a limited amount of the information gained without revealing the source... Sometimes reluctantly and on Churchill's specific insistance [Hinsley, F.H. & Thomas, E. E. & Ransom CFG & Knight RC British Intelligence in the second world war: 7 Volume]. Cairncross passed on to Russia secrets to which he had access.) [The Crown Jewels Ch. 7, pp.vii-ix, xi, 8, 20, 105-107]

It is obvious that Cairncross provided a considerable amount of information, considered top secret by the Western Allies, to Russia which contributed to Zhukov victories over von Manstein and ultimately to the saving of Western lives at the cost of our Soviet allies. And some of the information he provided was significant in that it helped Russia win the crucial Battle of Kursk (the turn of the war even more than Stalingrad). However, the overall picture of Cairncross' spying, as revealed in the KGB files, indicates that his espionage efforts weren't undertaken simply to help an ally win the war. Cairncross seemed committed to giving the KGB all of the top secret information he could get, whether it related to the war effort or not. This is especially evident in regards to all the material he gave the KGB after the war was won. (See #5, which follows)

5) Cairncross preetends that he did not give Russia significant material after the war and never gave Russia anything that could harm England. (Apparently he turned over his last document to the KGB in August 1951; Burgess and Maclean defected in 1951, which eventually forced Cairncross to put an end to his espionage career.) Cairncross writes in his autobiography, "My contact with the KGB during this time [after the war] remained merely formal.... The kind of information I passed in those post-war years was relatively innocuous and only consisted, for example, of telling my [KGB] controller how the Air Ministry was able to make deductions about a Russian aeroplane on the basis of the size of its wheels." (p.127) Referring to a book by Chapman Pincher, Cairncross wrote, "Pincher's assertion that I `blew' four moles was particularly repulsive. I never had any knowledge of other agents and had not the slightest evidence against anyone." (p.157) [The Enigma Spy, pp.8, 20, 63, 91, 127, 157, 182]

During the years 1941 through 1945, Cairncross provided the KGB with 5,832 papers from the Foreign Office, Bletchley Park and SIS (Secret Intelligence Service). This number of documents exceeded what any other Cambridge spy provided the KGB during the same years by more than 1,000. It's difficult to know how many documents Cairncross gave the KGB between the end of the war and the end of his spying, but in June and July of 1951 he gave them 1,339 pages of documents, many of them suggesting the completion of the British rearmament program. Of special importance to Russia was a report on the production of various types of weapons and military equipment in England. The documents Cairncross gave the KGB during this time were considered so important that they were reported directly to Stalin. In the event of a war between Russia and England (which was not purely theoretical), the information Cairncross gave the KGB could have caused England considerable dammage. As for Cairncross' betrayal of other spies, the KGB archives note that in 1945 Cairncross gave the KGB "details of British agents in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Portugal and South America." [The Crown Jewels, pp.171, 221, 225]

To a large extent, Cairncross appears, like all the former secret service people, concerned with sanitizing his story in order to downplay his close, and very willing, involvement with the KGB, and to enhance his public image. One example is the story he told of his appointment as private secretary to Lord Hankey, a member of Winston Churchill's War Cabinet - a position Cairncross held from late 1940 to early 1942. (It was during this time that he passed the atomic secrets to Russia.) Cairncross was given the position when one of Hankey's sons was removed from the job. According to Cairncross, "I was probably chosen as his replacement because I was on friendly terms with Hankey's other son Henry, whom I had known in the Foreign Office." (p.86) The KGB archives give a different version, which reveals more KGB involvement and the element of deception: KGB agent Anatoli Gorsky (the London Rezident in charge of spying) drew Cairncross' attention to the desirability of working with Hankey and worked with Cairncross to create a plot to get him the job. Hanky was a vegetarian so Cairncross pretended to be one also and made a point of being seen by Hankey at a vegetarian restaurant Hankey and his family frequented. Hankey was impressed when he saw this "modest young man who apparently was a fanatical vegetarian." At that point the friendly relationship Cairncross had with one of Hankey's sons, who was present, became useful and things progressed from there. [The Crown Jewels, p.216]

Although Cairncross does not overtly distort the facts regarding his gaining a position at Bletchley Park, he is less than forthcoming. He writes, "My fate, I soon learned, was that my service in the armed forces would not be as a humble infantryman in the trenches; my next assignment took me to the heart of the war effort. I was posted to the secret and vital operation of deciphering signals of foreign military forces at the Government Code and Cipher School (GCSS), which had moved...to Bletchley." ( p.95) Gorsky's report on the matter in the KGB files gives a different picture. According to the report Gorsky knew that Col. F. W. Nicholls could get Cairncross into the GCSS and helped Cairncross use this information to achieve this goal. Gorsky wrote, "In the course of his professional duties, [Cairncross] became acquainted with Nicholls and by rendering small services...established friendly relations with him. .... [Cairncross] complained to Nicholls that he would soon be called up by the Army where he would be unable to use his knowledge of foreign languages. Nicholls started to persuade him to come and work [at GCCS]." [The Crown Jewels, p.217]

Do Gorsky's lies in his reports to Moscow explain how Cairncross came to work for Lord Hankey and the GCCS? While it is possible, it seems fairly unlikely, especially given Cairncross' overall efforts to present a distorted, clean picture of his extreme acts of treason.

All in all the book is interesting, and Cairncross gives a fair amount of detail about his general espionage work while working for Lord Hankey and at the GCCS. There is strong evidence, however, suggesting that Cairncross' story about his espionage history is largely based on lies designed to create public sympathy on a breach of ethics towards allies especially when it was succeeded by a Cold War with such allies.
The practice of deception which Cairncross adopted when he started spying for the KGB in 1937 extends after his death through his autobiography - a book which no serious historian would read prima facie but a book that nevertheless enables some truths to emerge.


Editeur : Century
Date edition : 1997
ISBN ou ref : 978-0712678841
Support : livre
Genre : biographie
Période concernée : de 1870 à 1945
Région concernée : Europe et Asie/Pacifique

Proposé par Etienne Lorenceau le dimanche 08 février 2015 à 21h23

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