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As the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Second Front in Europe in #WWII approaches, let me tell you a good spy story. Of course, it involves Cambridge University, British and American secret services, and the Russians.
You might have heard of the Cambridge Five spies: Philby, Maclean, Burgess, Blunt, Cairncross. For background: "Cambridge University’s Christopher Andrew and historian Svetlana Lokhova discuss the “distrust” the KGB felt towards the Cambridge Five." bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0…
I researched the "Cambridge Five" for many years, here is a video of me discussing some of the archival material with the reporters: gettyimages.fr/detail/vidéo/c…
During my research of the previously top secret files from the UK Security Service, or MI5, I came across a stunning discovery: there was a 'Sixth Man', another British Cambridge University student recruited by the Soviets. Who was the 'Sixth Man'?
Thanks to a wealthy father, Cedric Belfrage arrived at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in 1922 ‘with a manservant to wait on me, and many of the trappings and privileges of a gentleman at large’.
Belfrage stayed in Cambridge for only two years, leaving without a degree. But he remained long enough to embark on a career as a film critic. By the beginning of the 1930s, he had become Britain’s best-paid critic, due to his success in gaining interviews with Hollywood stars.
Belfrage was the only major Russian spy in Britain or the United States whose initial attraction to the Soviet Union was due mainly to his films. Sergei Eisenstein’s brilliantly original Strike and Battleship Potemkin (both released in 1925)
struck Belfrage as vastly superior to the commercialised vulgarity of Tinseltown:
"There are hundreds of females in Hollywood with doll-like youth on their faces. But they wear so much powder, rouge and mascara, not to speak of henna and peroxide, that you can’t tell...
.. that you can’t tell whether underneath it all they are sixteen or thirty-six. You can’t — but the camera can. That is why so many of the ravishing things you see prancing up and down Hollywood Boulevard are out of a job." Cedric Belfrage, Motion Picture, December 1928
Belfrage wrote later that, when he visited Russia for the first time in 1936, 'Of Marx, Lenin or Engels I had read not a line, but I had been attracted by Moscow's revolutionary films.'
Belfrage returned to California, now his home, a convinced Communist. He joined the American Communist Party in 1937. When he was recruited by the NKVD, he broke off all overt contact with Communism and resigned from the Party. This was a standard procedure for Soviet spies.
In May 1940, Prime Minister, Winston Churchill established British Security Co-ordination (BSC), a covert organisation in New York City. BSC was an arm of British Secret Intelligence Service based at the Rockefeller Center.
Influencing public opinion is an important, and not well-understood, part of intelligence activities. The British wanted US help in the war against the Axis. The covert campaign targeted media and politicians, even the President. Britain's greatest creative talent were recruited.
British Security Coordination recruits included writer Roald Dahl of "BFG" and "Matilda" fame and Ian Fleming. Fleming went on to create of course the greatest ever (fictional) spy. James Bond is another Cambridge man, he gained a First in Oriental Languages from the University!
The head of British Security Coordination was Canadian William 'Intrepid' Stephenson, the senior British intelligence representative in the western hemisphere. As well as receiving an English knighthood (an award which Churchill called ‘dear to my heart’) in 1945...
Stephenson became in 1946 the first non-American to win the Medal for Merit, personally pinned on his chest by the head of OSS, ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan (below), for his ‘valuable assistance to America in the fields of intelligence and special operations’.
Though the citation did not mention it, Stephenson had also made strenuous efforts to influence American opinion in favour of Britain. Two months before Pearl Harbor, he had handed Donovan a forged map of German designs on Latin America (below)
Stevenson's triumph was complete when in Oct 1941, Roosevelt told the American people ‘‘I have in my possession a secret map made in Germany by Hitler's Government, that map, my friends, makes clear the Nazi design, not only against South America but against the United States"
Here is a link to President Roosevelt's Navy Day speech in October 1941
Stephenson recruited Belfrage to the BSC because, as a successful British journalist in the United States with extensive experience of both print and film media, Belfrage was well equipped to carry out influence operations.
Belfrage kept Moscow Centre well informed, almost certainly passing on the story of the forged Nazi map which had deceived the President. Belfrage had thus provided intelligence which demonstrated the unscrupulousness of British policy, of which the Centre was convinced.
The climax of Belfrage’s career as a Soviet spy (codename CHARLIE) came after Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States. In 1942 and 1943 Belfrage was the right-hand man of William Stephenson.
"Belfrage was one of the most important spies the Soviet Union ever had. He was able to provide all British and American information about opening of the second front, and the attitude of the Allies toward helping the Soviet Union." Svetlana Lokhova. More: pri.org/stories/2015-0…
BBC News breaking the story in 2015. "He was one of the most important spies the Soviet Union ever had" Svetlana Lokhova, an expert on Russian intelligence.
The FBI exposed Belfrage to MI5. The revelation worked its way back to MI6. An MI6 officer wrote back to MI5 saying "Belfrage's career since that date is well known to our New York office, by whom, in fact, he has been employed". Guess who that MI6 officer was? KIM PHILBY!
Philby was himself a Soviet spy, and one of the Cambridge ring recruited at university in the 1930s. Inevitably Philby would have told his Russian handlers of the US revelations about Belfrage, who was tipped off. Belfrage was the 'Spy who got away'. END
. bbc.com/news/uk-340123…
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