Handbook for Spies

Title:                  Handbook for Spies

Author:                Alexander Foote

Foote, Alexander (1964). Handbook for Spies. London: Museum Press

LCCN:    64006390

D810.S7 F57 1964


Date Updated:  November 15, 2016

I had the good fortune to be in classes taught by Nigel West while travelling on the Queen Mary II in 2010. One of Nigel’s handouts provided a list of books by large-scale subject material. It also includes a bibliography of West’s books as of 2010. This book is one item in the section, SOVIET COUNTER-INTELLIGENCE.

British citizen Alexander Foote was recruited into a Soviet network of spies against Nazi Germany. Based in Switzerland, Foote was responsible for maintaining the network and forwarding information to the Centre in Russia. Foote describes how the network operated, including codes and secret transmissions, hiding from Swiss and German authorities, recruiting and funding, and eluding double agents. All the while, Foote watched Soviet Russia, presumably an ally to the free nations, become more and more like the Fascists Foote opposed. Eventually captured by Swiss police, Foote was debriefed in Russia, but managed to escape home to Britain after persuading the Soviets to send him on another mission. This is a fascinating story that illuminates a key part of the secret espionage networks undertaken during World War II. The book was republished in 2011 by Coachwhip Publications

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Foote, an Englishman, served as a Soviet agent and wireless operator in Switzerland in World War II in what is known as the Rado-Lucy or the Rote Drei net. The revised 1964 edition was issued after his death, and according to its introduction, it includes some changes and some “annexes.” The author of the annexes is not identified, but they are written as if it were Foote. Changes include: the identification of Lucy; deletions of some of Foote’s account of life in the USSR after the war; and the addition of certain references to the postwar Canadian spy case that followed the defection of Igor Gouzenko. Despite its value as an early postwar look at the organization and functioning of a Soviet network, the book is marred by Foote’s limited view of the net and by errors and distortions. The best authority for this subject, the CIA study The Rote Kapelle[2], states that the wireless traffic proves Foote’s claims that Lucy material began to come to the Center in Moscow in early 1941 and that Lucy warned of the German attack on the Soviet Union are wrong. Also, Foote, who disliked Rado, minimized the latter’s role and attacked his personal integrity on dubious grounds. Foote and Rado were not equals or nearly equals as Foote claimed, and each did not have his own network, code, and communications system; Foote is exaggerating his wartime importance. Evidence does not bear out his claim that he had subsources of his own. Beyond this, Foote was not even right as to the number of radios being used by the net.

David Dallin said Foote was not popular with the other Soviet agents and that Rado had no confidence in him, suspecting him to be a British agent. The CIA study includes the Soviets among those who suspected Foote of working for England and says that they accused him of betraying the Rote Drei net to the British. There is no evidence to support this suspicion. The above criticisms are not enumerated to discourage the study of Foote’s description of a Soviet network and of Soviet recruitment, cover, network financing, communications, and overall methods of operation. Rather, the purpose is to alert the reader to its limitations as the authentic story (as one reviewer thought it). See Trepper’s The Great Game[3], in which Foote is described as Rado’ s second in command.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[4]

An excellent description of the Soviet espionage net, Rote Drei, in Switzerland during WWII, written by the British radio operator of this Soviet apparatus.

Some comments by Roy Berkeley:[5]

Just east of the Warwick Avenue tube station is Clifton Gardens. A preferred route, however, is by bus up Edgware Road. Get off at Blomfield Road and walk west alongside Regent’s Canal (which reaches the. Thames eight miles to the E, as the barge floats). Small boats here have names like “Serendipity” on their hulls and sounds of chamber music coming from within. Where the canal widens at “Little Venice” (named by Robert Browning), you can visit a floating art gallery or take a boat to the zoo or linger on one of the benches wishing you “good health, good fortune and happiness”. It is a remarkable scene for typically sombre London, gone as soon as you walk north on Warwick Avenue. In the first block of Clifton Gardens, on the right, is

Site 58: 9-17 Clifton Gardens. Alexander Allan Foote, who spent his last years here in what was then a shabby hotel, was unique. Many have claimed to be loyal Englishmen while they were actually communist moles. Foote alone claimed to be a communist agent while he was actually a loyal Englishman.

Foote never admitted being a British agent; his Handbook for Spies[6] calls the idea “high farce”. But books by ex-spies are notoriously suspect. Foote later said that MI5 had “mutilated” his book—deleting here, inventing there—and indeed the very style of writing suggests an author other than the unschooled Yorkshireman who was Allan Foote. In fact, the book was ghost-written by MI5 and contains “deliberate misinformation” according to Chapman Pincher—perhaps to cover what Pincher calls the “culpable negligence” of MI5 in the Foote affair.

The intriguing book Operation Lucy: Most Secret Spy Ring of the Second World War, by Anthony Read and David Fisher[7], makes a strong case for Foote having been recruited in 1936 to Dansey’s Z Organization (see Site 96 Norgeby House, 83 Baker Street) and then, after two years in Spain with the communist-led International Brigades (establishing his leftist bona fides), going into Switzerland in 1939 as a British agent and a GRU officer. The Read and Fisher thesis is that Foote was one of four British access points to the Soviet network in Switzerland known as the Lucy ring, and that through this network Britain passed its top-secret Ultra decrypts to the Russians during the war. According to this theory, the British knew that Stalin wouldn’t trust such material if he thought it came from them; also, since Soviet Intelligence was infiltrated by the Nazis, the Soviets mustn’t learn that Hitler’s “unbreakable” cyphers had in fact been broken. Cited by Read and Fisher in support of this thesis are no less than Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, who headed Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee, and F. W. Winterbotham, who established the control system by which ULTRA secrets were fiercely protected.

“There is, of course, no truth in this nonsense,” writes Phillip Knightley in The Second Oldest Profession[8]. Poor reception from Germany (garbling the messages) and difficulty breaking that day’s Enigma key, says Knightley, would have required far more time getting the material to the Lucy ring and then to Moscow than seems to have been the case.

Knightley relies on the word of F. H. Hinsley, official historian of British wartime intelligence; Hinsley’s multi-volume work[9] explicitly denies that Britain used the Lucy ring to pass information to Moscow. Hinsley describes the route by which Enigma decrypts were sent to Moscow. Messages from the individual intelligence branches were cleared with “C” and then dispatched to the British Military Mission in Moscow. The information ostensibly came from “an officer in the German War Office”.

Where did the accurate and detailed Lucy material come from?

From members of the German High Command, according to one theory. But, say Read and Fisher, “common sense alone” argues against any spy or spies working in the German High Command “undetected through all the most difficult days of the war, surviving all purges and postings, and finding time to encipher and transmit vast quantities of information. Such a premise simply does not hold water.”

The debate will continue. Intelligence writer Richard Deacon names -a member of the Bletchley operation who, unlike Hinsley, supports the LUCY/ULTRA theory. And a recent scholarly article by Richard Aldrich in the journal Intelligence and National Security uses words like “lurid” and “exotic” to ridicule that theory. Even the CIA favours German sources for the LUCY material, as seen in its official history of Soviet intelligence networks in wartime Europe.

The CIA account agrees with MI5 in omitting any connection between Foote and British Intelligence. Who was the enigmatic Foote? He was ingenious, affable, hardworking (sometimes transmitting for days and nights on end). He was smart enough to avoid being outsmarted by German or Soviet agents. He was arrested by the Swiss; in 1943, but his ten-month incarceration was rather a joke. I have always wondered whether the British themselves didn’t sell out the LUCY ring. It had already accomplished its work of saving the USSR (and therefore the Allies), and by 1943 the USSR enjoyed a position of strength worrisome to Churchill. Stranger things have happened.

Here’s another wrinkle. For some time before the ring was broken, Foote had been in a power struggle with Sándor Radó over its control. After Foote’s release by the Swiss, he and Radó were recalled together to Moscow, and on the trip Foote filled his colleague’s mind with worries about how the Soviets would view Radó’s various lapses. During their stopover in Cairo the frightened Radó sought refuge with the British. The British had no interest in him and gave him to the Egyptians, who let him be forcibly repatriated to the USSR in July, 1945. To historian Aldrich, such British carelessness undermines the LUCY/ULTRA theory: if Radó had been part of a British-manipulated ring, wouldn’t the British have tried to protect their secrets? (I have a hunch that the British hands-off policy towards Radó may owe something to Kim Philby or others in London.) Foote was actually lucky that Radó was returned to the Soviets; they thought Radó had been killed by the British because he was carrying news that Foote was a British agent! In Moscow, Foote slowly regained the trust of the Soviets. Radó spent ten years in the Lubyanka.

In Berlin in 1947, en route to Argentina for Soviet Intelligence, Foote suddenly crossed into the British sector of Berlin and surrendered. What had happened? He was worried about his ulcers, we know. He may also have been worried about his safety, since another member of the LUCY ring (another British agent, Rachel Dübendorfer) had just been recalled to Moscow.

MI5 interrogated Foote for ten weeks. And now the British exhibited some very odd behaviour. They didn’t ask him to continue working with the Soviets. Why? And they didn’t maintain surveillance on “Sonya” (see Site 95 The London School of Economics), who had trained him for his work with the communist apparat. Why? She was inexplicably allowed to slip away to East Germany. Read and Fisher believe that “someone somewhere effectively blocked all [Foote’s] efforts to make the authorities listen to what he had to say”. Foote felt certain in his later years that traitors existed at high levels in both MI5 and MI6, but he found nobody to listen to him. Why? Perhaps, say Read and Fisher, because he was only an adventurer, a maverick, the son of a failed poultry farmer, and because “a double agent can never be trusted, even by his own side”. Did highly placed moles encourage this dismissive attitude?

Although Foote wanted to work for MI6 as a consultant, he was given a minor job in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. If HM Government believed his loyalty was to the communists, why give him a job at all? And if HM Government believed his loyalty was to Britain, why not take advantage of his knowledge of Soviet Intelligence? “MI5 had something on him,” say Read and Fisher, and Foote was left to rot—“and rot he did with the help of alcohol”.

The Soviets decorated Allan Foote four times and promoted him to the rank of major; the LUCY material, whatever its sources, had been critically important to them (even though they hadn’t believed one of its earliest items, about Hitler’s invasion of the USSR). But Foote was tossed away by what I believe was—the whole time—his own side. At the age of 51, he left his room here in Clifton Gardens for his final trip to hospital. There, with half his stomach gone and his condition hopeless, he resolutely tore off his dressings, removed his tubes, and died.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[10]

An authentic description of the Rado-Rossler network by one of its senior members and its chief of communications operations. Foote, an Englishman, worked for nine years for Soviet intelligence, escaping from East Berlin in 1947 to return and live in England. In this book he reveals the kinds of information he was coding and radioing to Moscow, plus some details on communications procedures and security practiced by the network. In 1943 he was arrested by the Swiss police and placed in jail for espionage. After his release a year later he returned to Moscow for debriefing and further training.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp.193-194

[2] Central Intelligence Agency (1979, 1986). The Rote Kapelle: The CIA’s History of Soviet Intelligence And Espionage Networks In Western Europe 1936-1945. Frederick, MD: University Publications of America

[3] Trepper, Leopold (1977). The Great Game: Memoirs of the Spy Hitler Couldn’t Silence. New York: McGraw-Hill

[4] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, D.C. : Defense Intelligence School, p. 26

[5] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 143-147

[6] Foote, Alexander (1964). Handbook for Spies. London: Museum Press

[7] Read, Anthony (1981) and David Fisher. Operation Lucy: Most Secret Spy Ring of the Second World War. New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, Inc.

[8] Knightley, P. (1987). The Second Oldest Profession: Spies And Spying In The Twentieth Century. New York: Norton.

[9] Hinsley, F. H. (1979-1990) with E. E. Thomas, C. F. G. Ransom, and R. C. Knight. British intelligence in the Second World War. New York: Cambridge University Press

[10] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 170


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