The Greatest Treason

Title:                  The Greatest Treason

Author:                 Richard Deacon

Deacon, Richard (1989). The Greatest Treason: The Bizarre Story of Hollis, Liddell and Mounbatten. London: Century

LCCN:    91184255

UB271.G7 D43 1990


Date Updated:  October 8, 2015

The author claims that the Fifth Man was not Roger Hollis, as Peter Wright[1] contends, , but Guy Liddell, who was part of a mostly homosexual set of aristocratic pro-Soviets that included Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess and Louis Mountbatten. By sabotaging a defector’s attempted warning to the Americans of Japanese plans to attack Pearl Harbor, Liddell may have changed the whole course of the war. Mountbatten, it is claimed, was a long-term communist sympathizer and homosexual and as a result the Americans always believed him to be a security risk. In the 1950s, it is claimed, he was sending secret messages to the Soviets including a pledge that in the event of a showdown between the Soviets and the Americans, he would be on the Soviet side.

Some comments by Roy Berkeley:[2]

Artists, writers, and other notables have long been drawn to the Attractive neighbourhood of Chelsea[3]. Take a bus down King’s Road and walk towards the river on Oakley Street. Turn R into Cheyne Walk: Behind a 16th-century garden wall is Shrewsbury House, 42 Cheyne Walk.

More than 40 years after the retirement of Guy Liddell (who lived here), “a strong :circumstantial case can be made” that this man who was deputy director-general of MI5 from 1947 to 1952 was nothing less than “the most successful mole of all.” The accusation is John Costello’s in Mask of Treachery[4] and he is not alone. Richard Deacon, in The Greatest Treason: The Bizarre Story of Hollis, Liddell and Mountbatten[5] argues that the highly placed Soviet agent inside MI5 was not Hollis but Liddell. In Costello’s view, the “probability” of Liddell’s guilt doesn”t absolve Hollis, or Mitchell either, because of “anomalies” occurring after Liddell’s retirement. In fact, Liddell brought both Hollis and Mitchell into MI5, as also (what a record!) he brought Blunt and Harris into MI5 and indirectly (with Blunt and Harris) brought Burgess into MI5 and (with Burgess and Harris) brought Philby into MI6.

What .are the “anomalies” in Liddell’s 33 years in counterintelligence (first, briefly, with Special Branch and then with MI5)? Costello’s “partial list” includes an astounding 21 items: “operational mishaps” and a “puzzling string of failures” for which the only explanations suggesting themselves to Costello are 1) bad luck approaching the incomprehensible, 2) incompetence bordering on criminal negligence, or 3) treachery.

Costello’s 21 items include both active and passive acts that can be laid at Liddell’s door: alerting Arcos to the impending raid (see Site 92, 49 Morgate); failing to arrest Maly and Brandes (see Site 79 Forset Court, Edgware Road) who ran the Woolwich Arsenal ring; failing to keep track of Jürgen Kuczynski and Klaus Fuchs (see Sites 95,The London School of Economics; and 90, Mornington Crescent underground station), although warned by MI6 that both were communist activists; failing to apprehend the Soviet agent who was running Captain King in the FO (see Site 50, 31 Pembroke Gardens); failing to put SONYA under surveillance in 1947 (see Site 95, The London School of Economics); failing to make a proper search for the mole identified by Gouzenko as ELLI (see Site 54, Campden Hill Square); taking two years to look for HORNER in the FO in Washington (see Site 78, 6 Southwick Place); leaking the news to Blunt about the imminent interrogation of Maclean (see Site 120, Clifford Chambers, 10 New Bond Street); colluding with Blunt to keep Rees from talking to MI5 after the Burgess-Maclean disappearances (see Site 23,136 Ebury Street); and alerting the Soviets to the surveillance of Cairncross in 1951 (see Site 25, 76 Warwick Square). And these account for less than half of Costello’s “partial list”!

Deacon, who concurs in many of these, adds a few more: failing to find “Scott” in the FO (see Site 50, 31 Pembroke Gardens), ensuring that Foote was isolated (see Site 58, 9-17 Clifton Gardens), and using his influence “to smear and destroy” anyone looking for Soviet agents inside MI5. More recently, from The Observer in 1991, comes a crucial item pointing to Liddell; an early 1950s investigation of security risks among Eastern European immigrants turned up information that the “art adviser to the King” had worked for Soviet Intelligence. A reference to Blunt, of course. Nothing new there. But this information about Blunt went nowhere after it reached Liddell. (Much earlier, it was also probably Liddell who was silent when told that Blunt had bragged about giving every MI5 name to the Soviets.)

Sir Maurice Oldfield, head of MI6, strongly suspected Liddell; he would have put Liddell “at the top of the list” in the molehunt within MI5. But Sir Dick White, who succeeded Liddell in MI5 both as Director of counterespionage and as deputy director-general (and who went on to head MI5 and later MI6), called the accusation “the most awful rotten nonsense.” Nor do defectors resolve the matter. Clues from would-be defector Volkov and from actual defector Gouzenko make Liddell “a better “fit” than either Hollis or Mitchell” for the mole within MI5, thinks Costello. But another defector, Oleg Gordievsky, puts Liddell among the “mistakenly accused” in Britain’s extensive molehunt.

One can”t prove (or disprove) a negative. And since Liddell didn’t defect, didn’t leave notes in his own handwriting in the flat of someone who did defect, didn’t have his duplicity revealed by someone who defected from the other side, and didn’t confess, one can”t prove that he was anything but a loyal (although “very odd) public servant with a very odd choice of friends (see Site 83, 5 Bentinck Street).

Peter Wright has written that the detection of espionage is mostly a matter of intuition, since evidence is so often lacking. Wright never really looked at Liddell. (Why not, one wonders.) Looking at Liddell today and applying Wright’s criterion, I am more than attentive to Costello’s conclusion that Guy Maynard Liddell may well have been “the “grandfather” Soviet mole.”

[1] Wright, Peter (1987) with Paul Greengrass. Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of A Senior Intelligence Officer. NY: Viking

[2] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, p. 69-71

[3] Chelsea is just north of the Thames, and west of the Chelsea Bridge road. Cheyne Walk runs along the Thames from east to west.

[4] Costello, John (1988). Mask of Treachery: Spies, Lies, and Betrayal. New York: W. Morrow.

[5] Deacon, Richard (1989). The Greatest Treason: The Bizarre Story of Hollis, Liddell and Mounbatten. London: Century


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2 Responses to The Greatest Treason

  1. Pingback: Espionage, Security and Intelligence in Britain 1945-1970 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: Empire of Secrets | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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