The phantom mole
MOLEHUNT by Nigel West
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, f10.95
Malcolm Muggeridge once amusingly described Andrew Boyle as 'the keeper of the Queen's Moles'. Perhaps one could ascribe to Nigel West, along with Chapman Pincher, the title of joint-master of the mole hunt. The word 'mole' was factual before it became fictionally popular through the works of John Le Cane: Francis Bacon used it in its modern sense in his History of Henry VII. Yet only recently has it been accepted in its espionage context in estab- lished dictionaries.
Moles are difficult to catch, but some- times easy to spot by investigative authors who can juggle with facts. One can make out a case for `molery' — to coin another word — against myself, for example. In New York in 1942 I was seen in the company of one William Otto Lucas who, even during the second world war, visited the Soviet Union and stayed with Zhdanov, then fancied successor to Stalin. (He also managed to stay at Goering's hunting- lodge in Germany, but a mole-hunter could overlook this fact.) In Bombay in 1943 I created somewhat of a scandal by taking a left-wing Hungarian girl to the Royal Bombay yacht club. In the 1950s, whilst in journalism I tried to sign up Vladimir Petrov as a correspondent to advise on Australian football pools long before he defected. (I had been reliably informed that he knew more about Austra- lian soccer than most Australian sporting journalists.) To cap it all, the remarkable Colonel Goleniewski, who claims to be the son of the late Tsar of all the Russias, has himself said I am a tool of the KGB. MI5, what have you been doing all these years? Where is Cmd. Paper XX69 to unmask Richard Deacon?
Well, in Cmd. Paper 9577, drafted by Graham Mitchell in 1955, concerning the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean, the view was taken regarding Maclean that `there was no evidence that he had ever been a member of the Communist Party'. Mitch- ell, of MI5's counter-espionage branch, went on to say that, at the time Maclean had come under suspicion, there was 'no legally admissible evidence to support a prosecution under the Official Secrets Act'. Nor with most competent moles is this an exceptional situation. Yet, by underlining these statements with italics, the author implies that Mitchell, too, was a mole inside MI5. Admittedly, some in the Foreign Office had for years been telling themselves that Maclean was — to put it in undiplomatic language — 'the best thing since sliced bread', but this does not mean that they themselves were moles. Or that poor old Mitchell was a mole because he referred to their viewpoint. However, Nigel West performs one salutary chore: he comes at last, like Mark Antony, if not to praise the late Sir Roger Hollis, at least to bury the legend that he, too, was a top Soviet agent over many years. The most extraordinary thing about this affair is that, though the Prime Minis- ter stated in the House of Commons that no evidence had been found that incrimin- ated him and that after an investigation it was concluded that he had not been a Soviet agent, some of those concerned with the security of this country actively dis- couraged any attempt by authors to defend his reputation. One of the allegations made against Hollis was that when he returned home from China suffering from tubercu- losis before the second world war he travelled via Russia, stopped off in Mos- cow and was recruited by the Soviets there and then. As Nigel West makes clear, and as the letters he sent home on passage confirm (from my own knowledge) Hollis travelled back by sea across the Pacific to Canada, and thence via the Atlantic home to the UK. This, of course, does not prove his innocence, but it does throw doubt on the veracity of those who had denounced him, such as Peter Wright who said he was `99 per cent certain that Hollis was a Soviet agent'. Similarly there is the ridiculous theory that because Hollis was in China, Switzerland and Oxford while the astute Soviet agent, Ruth Kuczynski, was in each of these places, therefore he must have been in league with her. Yet Kuczynski's personal story, Sonia's Rapport, published in East Germany, makes no mention of Hollis, though she names other Britons with whom she was working on behalf of the Soviet Union.
The other theory of the mole-hunters was that Hollis had deliberately held back the information from the Soviet cipher clerk, Igor Gouzenko, who defected in Ottawa in 1945. The implication was that Hollis had failed to report Gouzenko's allegations that there was a spy in MI5. Here I think Nigel West might have delved into more detail, for this accusation against Hollis is not borne out by any of the facts, which can be summarised as follows: (1) it was not until further cross-examination of Gouzenko a few years later by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that the allegation about a mole in MI5 was revealed; (2) Norman Robertson, the Canadian permanent secretary for foreign affairs, came to London after Gouzenko's defection and gave a report on the Rus- sian's revelations to both the head of MI6 and the chief of MI5, so Hollis would have been in no position to withhold information without exposing himself immediately; (3) while it is clear that Hollis was in Ottawa at the time of Gouzenko's first interrogation, he did not speak Russian and Gouzenko spoke hardly any English, and his inter- rogation was conducted by Nicholson of the RCMP, who was fluent in Russian.
The case against Mitchell, which the author sets out, fails to convince. When the obsessive mole-hunters in MI5 launched their campaigns against first Mitchell, then Hollis, these two men, the chief of MI5 and his colleague and friend, stood together. Later Hollis insisted that if Mitchell was to be investigated as a possible Soviet agent, then he should equally be the subject of an inquiry. Much of the case against Mitchell hinges on this statement by the author: `Between 1953 and 1963, when Mitchell was either director of D. Branch or deputy director-general, MI5 suffered a series of set-backs and failed to catch a single Soviet agent.' He then adds 'Mitchell fits this description [i.e. a Soviet agent] better than Hollis.'
In fact, during this period quite a num- ber of Russian spies were caught and defectors (some of them very important) were won over. These successes are deni- grated by the suggestion that the spies were caught only through information received from the CIA. So what? Then again there is the author's allegation that in Mitchell's report on the Burgess and Maclean affair `misrepresentation, blatant falsehood and subtle innuendo are there to be seen'. I have quoted two of these implications and made it clear, I trust, that Mitchell was merely citing Foreign Office views on their glib, unsubstantiated hopes for pin-up boy, Maclean. The only 'blatant falsehood', if you can call it that, is Mitchell's mistake in saying that Maclean was at Trinity College, Cambridge, when in fact he had been at Trinity Hall. A mistake, but surely in no sense a 'cover-up'. In short, there is no more evidence against Mitchell than there is against Hol- lis. He was a friend of Burgess, says the author. But so were so many people of distinction: Burgess also visited Churchill at Chartwell.
So where does all this lead us? Chapman Pincher names Hollis as the top mole, Nigel West names Mitchell, and Peter Wright appears to suspect both equally. It has mystified me why the British Govern- ment in their astonishingly inept handling of the case against Wright did not call upon Sir Charles Spry, former director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, as a witness. Not only could he effectively have given the lie to the canards about Hollis, who advised on the formation of that service, but he has since gone on record as saying that 'Hollis knew about the ASIO cultivation of Petrov prior to Petrov's defection and hence was in a position to act to stop it if he (Hollis) had been a mole'. In one sense the case put forward by Peter Wright's mentally agile counsel in the Australian courts is amply justified. All this happened a long time ago and is largely irrelevant to present-day security and intelligence operations. Even Peter Wright's alleged revelations about the `bugging' of Prime Ministers' offices are irrelevant. Indeed, it is good to know that Prime Ministers and their staffs are closely watched by the security services. It was very fortunate that such a watch was kept on the King's mistress when Edward VIII was on the throne, revealing Mrs Simp- son's visits to the German embassy, and that the Prime Minister of the day was informed of all this.
Are there then -no more moles to be uncovered? Almost certainly there are, but either they have been too clever to have been caught, or the Establishment has covered them up, and, I suspect, the allegations against Hollis and Mitchell have been partly an attempt to draw attention away from at least one of the villains. Certainly my own researches have shown me that the likeliest candidate for the role of chief mole in the UK is the one man nobody seems to have investigated thoroughly. Had such an inquiry been carried out, the most charitable verdict must have been 'not proven guilty of having been a Soviet mole, but unquestion- ably guilty of criminal negligence'. But even this affair dates back to the 1920s- 1950s and though fascinating, it all concerns the distant past. What we need to be concerned with most today, indeed we can hardly avoid them, is the Upwardly Mobile Recently Recruited Mole.