Category Archives: Intelligence

UK-US Spy agreement revealed

The National Archives have today released into the public domain the text of a landmark agreement between the British and American intelligence communities. Agreed shortly after the end of the Second World War, the pact led to the sharing of information during the Cold War, an arrangement that is still in place today.

During the Second World War ad-hoc arrangements were in place regarding the sharing of intelligence, such as ULTRA intercepts. In March 1946 the UKUSA Agreement was signed. In later years the Agreement was extended to include Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The agreement has long been known about, but this is the first time that its existence has been acknowleged by either Government, and the first time that its exact has been released. The release follows separate Freedom of Information requests on both sides of the Atlantic.

Alongside documents relating to the agreement itself, the National Archives have also released examples of the kind of information that was shared. The newly-available documents are likely to be a gold-mine for Historians of Stalinist Russia. Intercepts shed light on private conversations and correspondence between Soviet citizens, military personnel, Party officials and religious leaders between 1946 and 1949.

The bulk of the intercepts focus on military issues, and give an important sense of the Soviet build up during the early years of the Cold War. There are reports of a “stormy meeting” taking place and one person says, ominously: “of the Moscow representatives nothing remains but a wet spot”. A Soviet Major says he can be “patient no longer”, as his son, who had been “foully killed”, was yet to receive justice. The war-readiness of the population is illustrated by an intercept which picks up a mother saying: “I am afraid of leaving the kids here. What about a war, all of a sudden?”

Intercepts also gleaned information about Political repression behind the Iron Curtain. Folksongs were banned on the grounds that they were “inartistic and trivial”. Songs such as “Why do you destroy me, you foolish woman”, were popular with the peasantry but not the authorities and were forbidden. The Kazakh Communist Party reported its local crime statistics to Moscow, crimes which included ‘anti-party activities’, ‘concealment of social origin’ and ‘desertion from the Soviet army’.

Reports also gave information about ordinary everyday life in Soviet Russia. Measures were taken to prevent infected grain reaching the food chain, and there were also reports of food shortages, diseases and plagues. One file reports a “widespread sickness” among all kinds of animals and reports that “vets are unable to cope”.

Stalin himself also featured in reports. In 1948 Patriarch Alexis, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, said that special prayers and singing will take place in all of Moscow’s churches for the “preservation and long-life of our state and its leader”. The files also contain personal messages addressed to Stalin.

During the immediate post-war period Russia was facing the dual challenges of reconstruction after the war and cementing her status as a world superpower. Reports described various problems in Agriculture, Industry and the Economy, for example. Agricultural workers in Kamchatka complain to Comrade Molotov that they have failed to receive living accommodation, cattle, seeds and fodder, four years after their resettlement in the region. The unsatisfactory progress being made at a gas construction site is blamed on “hooliganism” and low morale.

Given that these documents refer only to a three year period, hopefully in the future we can look forward to the release of a mass of material on Soviet Russia during the Cold War. This should shed a whole new light on our understanding of the Cold War.

To find out more about the Agreement and the Documents, click here

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Kept in the Dark by John Stubbington

This forensic and incisive book by Wing Commander John Stubbington takes a comprehensive view of the intellingence – or lack of it – provided to Bomber Command during the Second World War.

It’s pretty much common knowledge nowadays that for the last few years of the war the allies were able to intercept the Germans Enigma Signals, and the decryptions of these signals were known as ULTRA. Of course, some sterling work went on at Bletchley Park by men such as Alan Turing and by British submariners in capturing Enigma codebooks. Perhaps the most well-known use of ULTRA intelligence was defeating the U-Boat menace during the Battle of the Atlantic, something that has been well described by John Terraine in The U-Boat Wars.

But having such a rich seem of intelligence is one thing, making good use of it is quite another. And we don’t ever hear much about the misuse of ULTRA intelligence – one of the most prominent in my mind if the debacle of Arnhem, where intercepts clearly placed the Panzer Divisions around Arnhem, but it seems that this fact was not passed down to the commanders who really needed to know the fact. And as Stubbington shows here, a similar situation existed in the RAF, where the Air Ministry, incredibly, did not pass on ULTRA intelligence to Bomber Command and its Chief, Sir Arthur Harris. Its even more incredible when we consider that his American counterparts at the US Eight Air Force had full access to ULTRA.

Why were Harris and Bomber Command kept out of the loop? It seems to have been down to a complex set of parochial and political issues pervading within the RAF. The existence of a Director of Bombing Operations at the Air Ministry, who was openly hostile to Harris, created tension that possibly led to a holding back of intelligence. A plethora of committees, departments and commanders in Whitehall and beyond were continually bickering about targets – Oil, transportation, U-Boat pens, dehousing etc – led to a lack of common purpose within the RAF. This lack of purpose made it all the more easy for Harris’s enemies to ensure that he did not receive ULTRA intelligence, that may well have informed and shaped his operational planning. To not pass ULTRA intelligence on to a commander of Harris’s level was most unusual, and must beg the question why.

Another argument that Stubbington advances is that perhaps Harris was seen as too unreliable to be trusted with ULTRA. There is no evidence to suggest that Harris was a security risk, and in any case if any officer cannot be trusted, should they really be in command anyway? There is no evidence to suggest that ULTRA was witheld for this reason, but my hunch is that it is a reason that could well have been quietly expounded by Harris’s enemies. Time and time again we read that the allies were paranoid about the ULTRA secret leaking out, to the extent of witholding its benefits from key officers.

Would ULTRA intelligence have made much of a difference to Bombing Operations, had Harris been in receipt of it? Stubbington suggests here that ULTRA decrypts would have shown just how pivotal the destruction of Germany’s transportation system was. ULTRA might have made Harris better armed when it came to arguing over target policy. And by denying the commander most responsible for directing the Bomber offensive the most valuable source of intelligence available, the whitehall warriors were commiting a shameful act.

This is a most insightful book by Wing Commander Stubbington. It draws on a wealth of original research and uses a wide range of sources, and it will infom the historiography of ULTRA and wartime intelligence, and also the controversial history of the Bomber Offensive.

Kept in the Dark is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Book of the Week, Intelligence, Royal Air Force, World War Two

Saturday at MI9 by Airey Neave

Airey Neave has to be one of the most interesting British characters of the twentieth century. The first British officer to make a home-run from Colditz, co-ordinating escape lines in occupied Europe, part of the prosecution at the Nuremberg trials and later a Conservative MP, sadly he will probably best be known for his cold-blooded murder by Irish Republicans in 1979.

This book is a re-print of his memoirs of his time working with MI9. It begins after his return from Colditz, and his recruitment by Brigadier Norman Crockatt. Crockatt felt that as Neave had experience of escaping from captivity in Nazi Europe he would be an ideal person to work for the organisation tasked with assisting captured servicemen to do the same. This is a point that Neave makes frequently – only someone who has been on the run themselves can understand the stresses and strains of escaping.

Neave worked specifically on setting up and assisting escape lines in France, Belgium and Holland. MI9 provided higher direction and assistance, but most of the most dangerous and important work was carried out by the incredibly brave men and women of occupied Europe. In particular it is impossible not to admire the heroism of Dedee of the famous Comet line. Neave was also involved in escapes such as those of the survivors of the Cockleshell Heroes, the camp set up to accomodate hundreds of airmen at the Foret de Freteval, and Motor Torpedo Boat rescues from Brittany.

A common thread that appears during Neave’s account is how frequently ‘the establishment’ failed to see the important of rescuing captured men. At times it seems that the armed forces and other agencies such as SOE were at best ambivelent, and at worst hostile to MI9. While escape and evasion are part of military training nowadays, in the second world war there still seems to have been a deep distrust by many of anything new or irregular, and MI9 fitted into this category.

Not only was it important to bring back men who were capable of fighting again, in many cases – particularly with aircrew – they had cost thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours to train. And quite apart from the material aspect, it is important for men to know when going into battle that if they were captured, then every effort would be made to get them home safely. If medical care of the wounded had been revolutionised by the Crimean War and the First World War, why did it take so long for the armed forces to accept MI9’s work? Its a seemingly obvious lesson – agencies on the same side should put turf wars aside and find ways of working together.

It evidently gave Airey Neave great satisfaction to be given the duty of reading the indictments to those on trial at Nuremberg. He had been involved in some of the operations that led to the execution of allied personnel and civilians. Of the latter Neave is quite clear – their contribution to the escape organisations was crucial. He is particularly scathing of historians who have attempted to belittle the contribution of these very brave people.

Early on in the book Neave states that an official history of MI9 is yet to be written, and due to the limits imposed on the relevant documents may be some way off. Whilst he was no doubt writing under the restrictions of the official secrets act, and many documents may indeed still be closed, it is quite possible that Airey Neave’s account is an official account in all but name. I found it a rivetting read.

Saturday at MI9 is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Book of the Week, Intelligence, World War Two