Their Trade is Treachery

Title:                     Their Trade is Treachery

Author:                 Chapman Pincher

Pincher, Chapman (1981). Their Trade is Treachery. London: Sidgwick & Jackson

LCCN:    81167131

JN329.I6 P567 1981


Date Updated:  March 25, 2015

Although Chapman Pincher’s book here mainly focuses on the Cambridge spy ring of Maclean, Burgess, Philby, Blunt and the elusive fifth man, he covers the whole of the Soviet penetration of the Western world during the twentieth century. Although the suspects still alive at the time the book was written are not named – through fear of the author succumbing to our vastly unfair libel laws – those that cannot respond to the charges are all named. This includes Sir Roger Hollis who Peter Wright decided was the fifth man in his book Spycatcher. Pincher’s conclusion is that Hollis probably was a Soviet agent in the pay of the KGB; but the fifth man was a scientist that did not have access to Britain’s atomic secrets.

This goes round and round. Was there a KGB spy under every bed, or was the devastation that the Cambridge spy ring caused the mother of raging paranoia in the U. K. much as McCarthy’s jeremiads against communists led to paranoia in the U. S.

Well worth a read for anybody with an interest of the cloak-and-dagger of Realpolitik, especially for the contents of the postscript. At the end of the book Pincher likens Margaret Thatcher’s statement to the House of Commons following the revelation that Anthony Blunt was the fourth man which effectively cleared Hollis of any wrongdoing with Harold Macmillan’s statement in 1955 that effectively “cleared” Philby. Pincher asserts that Thatcher’s certitude could return to haunt her could explain the fact that she was determined to suppress the publication of Spycatcher–which provides much more evidence to demonstrate the likelihood that the head of MI5 was indeed controlled by Moscow–more from the personal embarrassment she would suffer than any threat to national security.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Pincher aimed to give details of the penetration of Whitehall, including the security and intelligence services, by the Soviets. What he revealed created a sensation in Britain and elsewhere. The most serious was the story of how Sir Roger Hollis, ex-chief of MIS, having fallen under suspicion that he was a Soviet agent, was the subject of an official inquiry. There is an avalanche of information about known agents such as Blunt, about others unequivocally named as Soviet penetrations of the British service for the first time, and about those of whom there were grave suspicions. Obviously Pincher, a journalist, had access to sources with highly privileged information on British intelligence and counterintelligence matters, as his sections on Hollis and Tom Driberg show. He is also first in relating little-known details of Blunt’s knowledge of the Klatt case, of Soviet radio operators in Britain, of Blunt’s recruitments and exposure, and of Soviet attempts at blackmail of certain accredited ambassadors in Moscow. The identities of his sources are, needless to say, never given. How accurate he is on the identities of new agents must await further authoritative disclosures. The reader will spot a number of errors: Pincher is not aware that Rado was not executed by the Soviets; he says Klugmann was with SIS, not SOE; he is wrong about U.S. reconnaissance capabilities at a particular time; he puts Krivitsky in the wrong position; he says Penkovsky forewarned that missiles were to be put in Cuba, which was not the case. He identifies the Soviet agent codenamed Elli as Sir Roger Hollis of MIS; yet Elli had been identified in 1946 as another person. The occasional sorties into higher statecraft and strategy are questionable—an example is the impression that a Russian army under Vlassov was already in being in 1942. Nevertheless, this is important in the literature of counterintelligence and espionage both for opening up for further study cases that some had assumed were exhausted of anything of importance and for containing a wealth of information.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 374-375


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