Newly declassified documents show that, as at Cambridge, the Soviet Union fought to recruit talented students at Oxford University. The risk to British security could have been hugeby Calder Walton / December 1, 2017 / Leave a comment
There is an old joke that there may have been a group of Soviet spies at Oxford like the five Cambridge Spies, but unlike those from Cambridge, the spies from Oxford simply did not get caught. MI5 files released this week shed new light on the reality behind this joke. They show it is not as far-fetched as first might seem.
The five Cambridge Spies—Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross—were the most successful group of foreign agents ever recruited by the Soviet Union. In fact, they were arguably the most successful agents ever recruited by any power in history. However, they were not the only graduates from leading British universities the KGB recruited in the pre-war years. They were simply the five most successful agents from a much larger KGB recruitment pool.
The KGB was also active at Oxford, where its strategy to enlist Stalin’s best and brightest young Englishmen, and women, was the same as at Cambridge: recruit promising graduates, who would purposefully distance themselves from all outward associations with communism, thus making their communist loyalties difficult if not impossible to detect, and then let them loose to join the Civil Service with the aim of burrowing, as moles, deep into sensitive British government departments.
There is no evidence that the KGB achieved anything comparable in Oxford to its agent recruitment at Cambridge. However, this was not through lack of trying on the part of the KGB. One attempt came with a Soviet agent known to be codenamed “SCOTT”, who was active at Oxford University in the pre-war years.
Now available KGB material suggests that agent SCOTT was a certain Arthur Wynn, who in the 1930s graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge—like four of the five Cambridge spies—and then moved to Oxford for postgraduate work. He was an active Soviet talent spotter for the KGB at Oxford, providing his KGB case officer‑a Hungarian named Theodor Maly, operating under various aliases—with twenty-five names of potential recruits. Significantly, Maly was one of the pre-war handlers of the Cambridge Five, meaning that the same KGB handler of the Cambridge spies was also active in Oxford.
However, Wynn was criticised by Moscow for providing too many names of known Communists, who would inevitably attract security attention, and thus not be suitable as Soviet penetration agents. At present, because of still…