So what if he was
- No Other Choice by George Blake
Cape, 288 pp, £12.99, September 1990, ISBN 0 224 03067 1
- Inside Intelligence by Anthony Cavendish
Collins, 181 pp, £12.95, October 1990, ISBN 0 00 215742 X
Here are two more spy books from authors who worked long ago for British Intelligence. George Blake was very left-wing, and is now slightly less so. Anthony Cavendish has always been very right-wing. Both authors write of their profound respect for one of their former bosses, George K. Young. Young, who died recently, was deputy head of MI6 until he joined the merchant bankers Kleinwort Benson in 1961. One of the very few revelations in George Blake’s book is a memorandum which George Young circulated among his admiring agents in the mid-Fifties. It starts by castigating the ‘ceaseless talk’ about the ‘spread of democratic processes’. ‘The reality,’ it went on, ‘is quite the opposite.’ There then followed this illuminating passage:
Vol. 12 No. 21 · 8 November 1990
In his review of two books on Intelligence (LRB, 25 October), Paul Foot refers to my late husband, George K. Young, with the comment that ‘he detested black people.’ That is not correct. My husband detested the Government’s policy on immigration. While, as he held, any society can accommodate some passengers, to allow a great many people of alien tradition to settle in this country and practise self-segregation in the light of cultures incompatible with that of the host society was sheer madness. Apart from this, he would take anyone, whatever the colour of skin, on his own merits.
Vol. 12 No. 24 · 20 December 1990
In his interesting review of George Blake’s book (LRB, 25 October) Paul Foot describes him as ‘quite likeable’, and ‘an intriguing human character, at any rate on the television screen. On the other hand, the same George Blake continues to defy true analysis because his curious prose is so stilted and enormously boring.’ I agree with him about the early chapters of Blake’s autobiography. I asked myself after reading the sections about his Dutch boyhood: ‘How long, oh Lord, how long? Will it never end?’ A little perseverance was required; and eventually it paid off. My sympathies became increasingly engaged.
What will go on haunting me, as one of the later pioneers of the appalling cult of spy-mania, must be its sheer negativity. I noticed the other day that someone said that the espionage specialist ought to be locked up and the key thrown away, in order not to tempt weaker brethren. Our British history goes to show, however, that the professionalism of the Cecils and Walsinghams in their own generation could often shed light on such murky adventures. If it started as early as the Old Testament, as some claim, no doubt it may last until kingdom come, unless we alter our odd English habits.
Unlike most of his coevals in the Thirties and Forties, Blake had been a loner virtually from the beginning. Compared with, say, Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, or the equally redoubtable James Klugman (who seriously deserves the title of Fifth Man bestowed on someone else by Gordievsky and Andrew in their bulging tome, reviewed in your last issue by John Lloyd), he hardly changed at all. Those spies, ‘the Lord’s hand-picked Englishmen’, in Stalin’s words, mostly came from privileged backgrounds both at public school and at the ancient universities. Joining the Communist Party and then going underground was just another hoop in the fashionable behaviour of the day.
You will not discover any fresh traces of the ‘glorious five’ in Gordievsky and Andrew, no matter what the KGB and their history experts may argue to the contrary. But perhaps none of us can wholly blame the joint authors for seeking to make old facts stand up as if they were suddenly new. They seek to reveal that John Cairncross was, beyond question, the Fifth Man, but he had long ago been named as a Soviet agent.
Vol. 13 No. 2 · 24 January 1991
Paul Foot (LRB, 25 October 1990) describes the late Lord Rothschild, who died in March, as ‘a former intelligence chief who was prepared to go to any lengths to deflect attention from his own pro-Russian past’. During Rothschild’s lifetime, Dale Campbell-Savours and other MPs, protected by Parliamentary privilege, made similar accusations. Now Foot, protected by Rothschild’s death, repeats them. What is Foot’s evidence for asserting that Rothschild ‘had a pro-Russian past’?
Vol. 13 No. 6 · 21 March 1991
Kenneth Rose knows perfectly well the death of Lord Rothschild has nothing to do with Paul Foot’s comment about his pro-Russian past (Letters, 24 January). Plenty of people wrote about this while Lord Rothschild was alive, yet he never took any legal action to protect his reputation. Apart from Rothschild’s long association with Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, it has also been claimed that, while in MI5 during the war, Lord Rothschild argued strongly that Bletchley Park’s code-breaking secrets should be fully shared with the Russians. Long after the war, Rothschild continued his friendship with many left-wing members of the Labour Party who supported Russian views on foreign policy.
There is certainly nothing particularly sinister about any of this, since many wealthy people in pre-war years genuinely believed Communism preferable to Hitler and, during the war, felt Russia was doing more fighting than the British and Americans. But what makes Rothschild a particularly valid candidate for a pro-Russian past is his bizarre behaviour after Blunt was publicly exposed in 1979. The more one studies his plan of bringing Peter Wright and Chapman Pincher together (under totally false pretences) to peddle a ludicrous story about Hollis being a Russian spy, the more obvious it becomes that this was a deliberate ploy to distract attention away from himself. Why should Rothschild, a senior MI5 officer, have been so keen to see the Official Secrets Act broken, to make secret payments to Wright through offshore banks, to insist with Pincher that his name should not be mentioned in the resulting book and that the draft chapter about himself be deleted? The whole affair smells of panic. Why should Rothschild have panicked? He certainly had no fear of taking legal action, and later tried to scare Nigel West (and others) with writs. Plainly, he feared that if Wright was left alone to peddle his theories (and if other good investigative journalists got involved), they might unwittingly uncover the truth about his past. Perhaps, after all, Golits-in was right and the two Venona code-names David and Rosa were Rothschild and his wife. As Rothschild was perfectly happy to lend his name and wealth so that mud could be thrown at Hollis, Mr Rose should not be too surprised if some sticks to the subject of his forthcoming biography.