The Portland Spy Ring was a Soviet spy ring that operated in England from the late 1950s to 1961, when the core of the network was arrested by the British security services. It is one of the most famous examples of the use of resident spies, who operate in a foreign country without the cover of their embassy. Its members included Harry Houghton, Ethel Gee, Gordon Lonsdale (real name: Konon Molody), and the Americans Morris and Lona Cohen (known as Peter and Helen Kroger).
In 1959, the CIA received letters from a mole, codenamed Sniper (who later was revealed to be Michael Goleniewski). 117 Sniper said information was reaching the Soviets from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment and HMS Osprey at Portland, England, where the Royal Navy tested equipment for undersea warfare. The CIA passed the letters to MI5, the British domestic counter-intelligence and security service.:
Suspicion fell on Harry Houghton, a former sailor who was a civil service clerk at the base, as his spending seemed to have an unusual pattern. 162–163 He had just bought his fourth car and a house, and was also a heavy drinker who would buy rounds at the local pubs. Houghton's expenses were far beyond his meagre salary.:
MI5 put Houghton under surveillance. They also watched his mistress, Ethel Gee. She was a filing clerk who handled documents to which Houghton did not have access. They often went to London, where they would meet a man identified as Gordon Lonsdale, a Canadian businessman. 252–253 During these meetings, Lonsdale and Houghton exchanged packages.:
Lonsdale purportedly dealt in jukeboxes and bubble gum machines. He often travelled abroad and was known as a ladies' man. MI5 promptly put him under surveillance. They learned that Lonsdale often went to 45 Cranley Drive, Ruislip, in Middlesex, to visit an antiquarian bookseller and his wife at home, Peter Kroger and Helen. The Krogers were also placed under close but discreet watch.
On Saturday 7 January 1961, Houghton, Gee, and Lonsdale were meeting in London when they were arrested by Special Branch Detective Superintendent George Gordon Smith. (MI5 officers are not authorised to make arrests.) 110 Gee's shopping bag contained film and photographs of classified material, including details of HMS Dreadnought, Britain's first nuclear submarine, and the stalling speed specifications of the Borg Warner torque converter.:
Smith and two colleagues then went to Ruislip to see the Krogers. Claiming to be investigating local burglaries, they gained entry to the house. Once inside, they identified themselves as Special Branch officers and said that the Krogers had to accompany them to Scotland Yard for questioning. Before leaving, Mrs Kroger asked to be allowed to stoke up the boiler. Before she could, Smith insisted on checking her handbag. It was found to contain microdots, the photographic reduction of documents to make them small enough to be smuggled more easily. Smith, a veteran spy catcher, had guessed her intention to destroy these microdots.
The microdots found at the Krogers' home were letters sent between Lonsdale and his wife, who lived in Soviet Bloc Poland with their children. These included things like money matters and how the children were doing at school. Kroger had used the print in his antique books to hold the microdots and smuggle them between Britain and the Soviet Bloc. They would have included the secrets passed on by Houghton and Gee.
The Kroger's house contained spying equipment, including code pads for coding messages, a long-range radio transmitter-receiver for communicating with Moscow and photographic material, as well as large sums of money. It took several days to unearth all the equipment. Other items, including fake passports, were not found until after the police had left. The MI5 intelligence officer Peter Wright stated that the Krogers' radio transmitter was not located until after nine days of searching.Over the years, during subsequent renovations, several other radio transmitters were unearthed. Large amounts of money were also found in the homes of Houghton, Gee, and Lonsdale.
Files released by the National Archives in September 2019 indicated that Houghton, and perhaps Gee, could have been arrested in 1957 but MI5 ignored warnings from his spouse as the "outpourings of a disgruntled and jealous wife." Mrs. Houghton had advised the admiralty in 1956 that "her husband was divulging secret information to people who ought not to get it". The Secret Service finally acted only after it received a tip from a CIA agent who was a mole in the Polish intelligence service.
The files released in 2019 also indicated that MI5 had found "espionage equipment hidden inside an oversized Ronson cigarette lighter" in a bank safety deposit box according to The Times; this became the breakthrough required to close down the spy ring.
Two days after their arrest, all five were charged with espionage at Bow Street Magistrates Court. Gee and the Krogers protested their innocence; Houghton tried to turn Queen's evidence but was refused; Lonsdale maintained complete silence. The trial began on Monday 13 March 1961.[ citation needed ]
In evidence, Gee claimed that as far as she knew, Lonsdale was Alex Johnson, an American naval commander who wanted to know how the British were handling information passed on by the United States. She had had no idea that the information was actually going to the Soviets. She had gone along out of love for Houghton, her first lover after a lifetime of spinsterhood.[ citation needed ]
Houghton claimed that he had been the subject of threats by mystery men and beatings by thugs if he failed to pass on information. The men had also made threats concerning Gee and Houghton's ex-wife. He too claimed to have known Lonsdale only as Alex Johnson and tried desperately to minimise Gee's involvement.[ citation needed ]
Neither Lonsdale nor the Krogers gave evidence, but in statements read out in court, Lonsdale took responsibility. He claimed that the Krogers were innocent and that he had often looked after their house while they were away and had used it to hide his spying equipment without their knowledge. Peter and Helen Kroger backed up the claim by saying that Peter was simply an antiquarian bookseller and Helen a housewife. However, they did not explain why fake Canadian passports with their photographs were in the house, apparently intended for a possible getaway.[ citation needed ]
The jury returned verdicts of guilty for all of the accused. Superintendent Smith said that through their fingerprints, the Krogers had been identified as Morris and Lona Cohen, renowned spies who had worked with Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Rudolf Abel, and David Greenglass in the United States. Smith also revealed Cohen's past life in the military and scholastic service.
Lonsdale remained mysterious in spite of extensive inquiries made by MI5 and the FBI. While he was in prison, the authorities managed to ascertain that he was Konon Molody, a KGB agent who was duly exchanged for Greville Wynne in a 1964 spy-swap.
Houghton and Gee were sentenced to 15 years in prison. They were released in 1970 and married the following year.[ citation needed ]
The Krogers (Cohens) were sentenced to 20 years. In 1969, they were exchanged for the British citizen Gerald Brooke, who had been arrested by the Soviets. As part of the process, the Soviets confirmed that they had been spies.
Professor Christopher Andrew has suggested that the ring numbered more than the five who were arrested, possibly including staff at the Russian and Polish embassies who would have been immune from prosecution anyway.[ citation needed ]. He suggests that the ring may have involved more senior members of staff at the Admiralty Research Establishment who remained undetected. Houghton was a low-grade clerk, and Gee a secretary who would not have necessarily known the significance of the documents that they encountered.[ citation needed ]
The events were used in the movie Ring of Spies (aka Ring of Treason, 1964), directed by Robert Tronson and starring William Sylvester as Gordon Lonsdale and Bernard Lee as Henry Houghton (Lee was M in the early James Bond films).
Hugh Whitemore's stage play Pack of Lies concerns the relationship between the Krogers and their neighbours, the parents of the broadcaster Gay Search, whose house was used as a base for British Special Branch investigating the Krogers in the months leading up to their arrest.It has received several major productions in London and New York. In 1987, the play was made into a CBS television drama starring Teri Garr, Alan Bates, and Ellen Burstyn, though the name "Kroger" was changed to "Schaefer". It was also broadcast as BBC Radio 4's Saturday Play on 9 September 2006, starring Ed Begley Jr. as Peter Kroger, Teri Garr again as Helen, Alfred Molina as their neighbour and Michael York as the man from MI5. It was directed by Martin Jarvis.
The Spy Game by Georgina Harding uses the Krogers and their cover as a harmless and typical suburban couple as background to her novel, published in 2009.
In September 2019 the National Archives declassified papers relating to the case, including MI5 files and letters that Gee and Houghton sent to one another in prison.
The documents revealed, that on three occasions in 1955, Houghton's wife approached the Admiralty with concerns about her husband. In 1956, the admiralty informed the security services that she believed that "her husband was divulging secret information to people who ought not to get it". The Admiralty added that "it is considered not impossible that the whole of these allegations may be nothing more than outpourings of a jealous and disgruntled wife". The files also record that Houghton beat his wife and tried to kill her by pushing her off a cliff, only to be disturbed by a passerby. She alleged that when they returned home after the incident, her husband threw gin in her face and told her, "I've got to get rid of you, you know too much".
In March 1961, Martin Furnival Jones, later director-general of MI5 wrote, "It is clear that we ought to have carried out some investigation in 1956".
The documents revealed that after the ring was exposed, the Admiralty and MI5 were concerned that Houghton's wife would speak to the press.
Cold War espionage describes the intelligence gathering activities during the Cold War between the Western allies and the Eastern Bloc. Both relied on a wide variety of military and civilian agencies in this pursuit.
Aldrich Hazen "Rick" Ames is a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer turned KGB double agent, who was convicted of espionage in 1994. He is serving a life sentence, without the possibility of parole, in the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana, United States. Ames was formerly a 31-year CIA counterintelligence officer who committed espionage against the U.S. by spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. At the time of his arrest, Ames had compromised more highly classified CIA assets than any other officer in history until Robert Hanssen's arrest seven years later in 2001.
The Cambridge Spy Ring was a ring of spies in the United Kingdom that passed information to the Soviet Union during World War II and was active from the 1930s until at least into the early 1950s. None of the known members were ever prosecuted for spying. The number and membership of the ring emerged slowly, from the 1950s onwards. The general public first became aware of the conspiracy after the sudden flight of Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess to the Soviet Union in 1951. Suspicion immediately fell on Harold "Kim" Philby, who eventually fled the country in 1963. Following Philby's flight, British intelligence obtained confessions from Anthony Blunt and then John Cairncross, who have come to be seen as the last two of a group of five. Their involvement was kept secret for many years: until 1979 for Blunt, and 1990 for Cairncross. The moniker Cambridge Four evolved to become the Cambridge Five after Cairncross was added.
Oleg Vladimirovich Penkovsky, codenamed HERO, was a Soviet military intelligence (GRU) colonel during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Penkovsky informed the United Kingdom about the Soviet emplacement of missiles in Cuba, which provided both the UK and the United States with the precise knowledge necessary to address rapidly developing military tensions with the Soviet Union.
Peter Maurice Wright CBE was a principal scientific officer for MI5, the British counter-intelligence agency. His book Spycatcher, written with Paul Greengrass, became an international bestseller with sales of over two million copies. Spycatcher was part memoir, part exposé of what Wright claimed were serious institutional failings in MI5 and his subsequent investigations into those. He is said to have been influenced in his counterespionage activity by James Jesus Angleton, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) counterintelligence chief from 1954 to 1975.
Morris Cohen, also known by his alias Peter Kroger, was an American convicted of espionage for the Soviet Union. His wife Lona was also an agent. They became spies because of their communist beliefs.
Lona Cohen, born Leontine Theresa Petka, also known as Helen Kroger, was an American who spied for the Soviet Union. She is known for her role in smuggling atomic bomb diagrams out of Los Alamos. She was a communist activist before marrying Morris Cohen. The couple became spies because of their communist beliefs.
William John Christopher Vassall was a British civil servant who spied for the Soviet Union, allegedly under pressure of blackmail, from 1954 until his arrest in 1962. Although operating only at a junior level, he was able to provide details of naval technology which were crucial to the modernising of the Soviet Navy. He was sentenced to eighteen years' imprisonment, and was released in 1972, after having served ten. The Vassall scandal greatly embarrassed the Macmillan government, but was soon eclipsed by the more dramatic Profumo affair.
Atomic spies or atom spies were people in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada who are known to have illicitly given information about nuclear weapons production or design to the Soviet Union during World War II and the early Cold War. Exactly what was given, and whether everyone on the list gave it, are still matters of some scholarly dispute. In some cases, some of the arrested suspects or government witnesses had given strong testimonies or confessions which they recanted later or said were fabricated. Their work constitutes the most publicly well-known and well-documented case of nuclear espionage in the history of nuclear weapons. At the same time, numerous nuclear scientists wanted to share the information with the world scientific community, but this proposal was firmly quashed by the United States government.
Harry Frederick Houghton was a British naval officer and a spy for the People's Republic of Poland and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He was a member of the Portland Spy Ring.
Ethel Elizabeth Gee, nicknamed "Bunty", was an Englishwoman who helped her lover spy for the Soviet Union. She was a minor member of the Portland Spy Ring.
Konon Trofimovich Molody was a Soviet intelligence officer, known in the West as Gordon Arnold Lonsdale. Posing as a Canadian businessman during the Cold War he was a non-official (illegal) KGB intelligence agent and the mastermind of the Portland Spy Ring, which operated in Britain from the late 1950s until 1961.
George Kisevalter was an American operations officer of the CIA, who handled Major Pyotr Popov, the first Soviet GRU officer run by the CIA. He had some involvement with Soviet intelligence Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, active in the 1960s, who had more direct relations with British MI-6.
Pack of Lies is a 1983 play by English writer Hugh Whitemore, itself adapted from his Act of Betrayal, an episode of the BBC anthology series Play of the Month transmitted in 1971.
Gerald Brooke was a British teacher who taught Russian in the early 1960s at Holborn College for Law, Languages and Commerce in Red Lion Square, Holborn, central London.
This page is a timeline of published security lapses in the United States government. These lapses are frequently referenced in congressional and non-governmental oversight. This article does not attempt to capture security vulnerabilities.
Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Kenneth Phillip Crabb,, known as Buster Crabb, was a Royal Navy frogman and diver who vanished during a reconnaissance mission for MI6 around a Soviet cruiser berthed at Portsmouth Dockyard in 1956.
Michał Goleniewski a.k.a. 'SNIPER', 'LAVINIA',, was a Polish officer in the People's Republic of Poland's Ministry of Public Security, the deputy head of military counterintelligence GZI WP, later head of the technical and scientific section of the Polish intelligence, and a spy for the Soviet government during the 1950s. In 1959, he became a triple-agent, giving Polish and Soviet secrets to the Central Intelligence Agency, which directly caused the exposure of George Blake and Harry Houghton. Goleniewski defected to the United States in 1961. He later made unsubstantiated claims to be Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich of Russia.
Ring of Spies is a 1964 British spy film directed by Robert Tronson and starring Bernard Lee, William Sylvester and Margaret Tyzack. It is based on the real-life case of the Portland Spy Ring, whose activities prompted "Reds under the bed" scare stories in the British popular press in the early 1960s.
John Anthony Walker Jr. was a United States Navy chief warrant officer and communications specialist convicted of spying for the Soviet Union from 1967 to 1985 and sentenced to life in prison.
when she asked Houghton about a "tiny camera" she had discovered hidden under the stairs, he became angry.
In March 1961, Martin Furnival Jones, who four years later would become the MI5 director general, wrote: “It is clear that we ought to have carried out some investigation in 1956.
Between 1956 and 1961 secrets extracted from the Portland Underwater Detection Establishment enabled the Soviet Union to construct a quieter submarine class.