Too Secret Too Long

by Chapman Pincher
St. Martin's, 638 pp., $19.95

“Too long,” certainly; page after page after page, many laboring the same point—or allegation—and none relieved by fine writing. “Too secret”? Is it a secret that two British diplomats, Burgess and Maclean, defected to the Russians in 1951? That they had long served as KGB agents? That they had a collaborator, Kim Philby, who defected later? That they had all been at Cambridge together? That there were other Cambridge contemporaries who betrayed their country or were inclined to do so? That three members of the wartime nuclear research team, Fuchs, Pontecorvo, and Nunn May—German, Italian, and British by birth—also conveyed secrets to the Russians? That Sir Anthony Blunt, surveyor of the Queen’s pictures and a world expert on Poussin, was more recently revealed to have been a Russian agent and stripped of his knighthood? That there have been half a dozen other lesser British spy scandals over the years since 1945? If any of this remains hidden to anyone who may chance on Chapman Pincher’s new book, it will only be because he or she has spent the last thirty years on a desert island or reflexively turns to another section of the newspaper when the word “spy,” “missing diplomat,” “MI5,” or “MI6” catches his gaze.

In other words, not very secret at all, and certainly not since Chapman Pincher published his last book, Their Trade is Treachery, in Britain in 1981, in which the main allegation made in Too Secret Too Long was aired for the first time. That allegation is that the head of MI5, Sir Roger Hollis, had also been a long-serving Russian spy, and retired unmasked to a country cottage in which he remained, drawing his pension until his death in 1973.

MI5, for the benefit of American readers, stands for Military Intelligence Five, is also known as the Security Service, and serves as the counterespionage arm of the British government. MI6, also known as the Secret Intelligence Service, is the active intelligence-gathering arm. A third agency, Government Communications Headquarters, is the almost exact equivalent of the American National Security Agency, with which it works in the closest liaison; it encrypts sensitive government signals and attempts to decrypt those of foreign governments which are of interest to Britain. GCHQ has had an almost blemish-free record in the spy scandal business. Geoffrey Prime, the only GCHQ employee known to have worked for the Russians, belonged nowhere near the top of the organization. MI6 has the awful Philby case to live down; but, within that world, he seems to have been a lone wolf. Like a wolf, he operated with the greatest cunning, instinct for self-preservation, and devotion to the leader of the pack, in his case the head of the KGB. MI5, until the unmasking of Blunt, seemed to escape untainted altogether. It had apparently never been penetrated; and even the Blunt scandal scarcely tarnished its reputation since he had left its service to return to the art world at the end of the Second World War.

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