In response to:

The Fabulous Five from the January 12, 1995 issue

To the Editors:

Noel Annan’s ill-researched review in “The Fabulous Five” [NYR, January 12] of my book The Fifth Man has several significant errors. They are central to the identity of number five in the Cambridge University ring of spies recruited in 1934 by the Russians, whom I demonstrate was Victor Rothschild.

First, Annan claims that Modin has “confirmed” Cairncross is the Fifth Man. This is incorrect. Modin published his own book in France in May 1994 about the Five, and avoided naming the Fifth, as he has always done in many interviews. In November 1994, his British publisher (and US publisher afterwards) brought out the book, My Five Cambridge Friends; with a change to one line on page 104, which claimed Cairncross as the Fifth.

Modin was angered by the insertion, and publicly repudiated his publisher (see The Guardian UK, December 10, 1994) in comments to several British journalists.

Second, Annan is wrong in asserting that Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB defector has identified Cairncross as the Fifth Man. Gordievsky simply does not know. In 1981, Gordievsky, via his MI6 masters, informed the then British PM, Margaret Thatcher, that there was no Fifth Man. He claimed that Philby and Blunt had done all the major post-war spying for the KGB, which caused such turmoil inside British Intelligence during the Cold War. (I agree with him, except for one point. Blunt was the middleman. Rothschild was his supplier of espionage data.)

After Gordievsky defected in 1985, he deferred always on this matter to English Academic, Professor Christopher Andrew, who has fallen for the KGB deception about Cairncross. No one disputes Cairncross spied for the Russians. However he was blown as an agent in 1951, when he exiled himself from the UK, and therefore access to any espionage activity. Yet major spying went on from someone with access after 1951. (This caused Peter Wright to become—wrongly—obsessed about Roger Hollis.)

Third, Annan says that I have “the insolence to suggest that the Rothschild family had helped” me. At the risk of being caned like Tom Brown, I humbly submit I did interview six members of the Rothschild family for The Fifth Man. Some were most helpful, others were more reticent. But I taped the interviews, just in case an old schoolmistress should doubt their authenticity.

Fourth, Annan’s malicious and gratuitous remarks about my motives are incorrect. They say more about him than me.

Fifth, I notice that Annan refers to me as “Ronald,” the same error made by Gordievsky in a review in The Spectator, who incidentally had chastised me for the disputable spelling of a Russian name. I suggest your reviewer’s “malevolent and mendacious pen” has been inspired by, if not lifted from, that review. Annan must learn to do his homework properly. Several reputations beyond Cairncross and Rothschild are at stake in the accurate naming of The Fifth Man.

Roland Perry
Victoria, Australia

Noel Annan replies:

I do apologize to Mr. Perry that in the footnote citing his book I called him Ronald. Few things are more vexing than someone misnaming or misspelling one’s name. He does not mention that in the text of the review I correctly called him Roland.
For the rest I have nothing to apologize for. I asked Lady Rothschild whether she had been interviewed by Mr. Perry. She said she had no recollection of being visited by a man with a tape recorder. Still, one can forget conversations. Did he tell her frankly that he suspected her husband of being a spy? I thought there was something oleaginous in the way he suggested that members of the family had been anxious to “help” him convict their kinsman of treachery.

It is critical for Mr. Perry to discredit the identification of John Cairncross as the fifth man. So he speaks of a KGB “deception” about Cairncross. There is none. Gordievsky sticks by his revelation, and it is ludicrous to accuse Professor Andrew of brainwashing him. Both Borovik and Cave Brown accept this identification. Nor is it true to say that Cairncross was “blown” in 1951 when he accepted a post in an international agency in Rome.

The “truth” about the Cambridge spies lies buried in the files of MI5 and MI6. Yet even if they were opened there would be plenty of sleuths to declare that they had been weeded or falsified to protect the reputation of the secret services. Nor, so it seems to me, do Colonels B,C,D,E, and F of the KGB whom Perry says he interviewed, but does not otherwise name, provide anything positive. Amid clouds of misstatements he relies almost wholly on insinuation and bluster.

It is impossible to prove a negative, i.e., that Rothschild was not a spy. But two facts are relevant. After it was known that Blunt was a spy, Rothschild and others who during the war had served in MI5 with Blunt or who had known him well were interrogated for hours. They convinced the authorities they were guiltless. So Mr. Perry advances his most ingenious insinuation, namely that Rothschild confessed and like Blunt was granted immunity.

In that case, when Andrew Boyle published his book and exposed Blunt, why did Margaret Thatcher acknowledge in the House of Commons the truth about Blunt, but later, in the case of Rothschild, clear him? Mr. Perry is saying she lied to the House. He tries to make much of her curt statement, “I am advised that we have no evidence that he was ever a Soviet spy.” It is the only official reply she could have made. In MI5 jargon there was “No Trace” against his name. You cannot prove a negative. But it is untrue to say that later on television the Prime Minister was “no more forthcoming.” She said how indignant she was that those who had served the State were traduced.

I did not think that Mr. Perry’s book was worthy of the lengthy review which I gave of Mr. Cave Brown’s work. That is still my view.

This Issue

March 23, 1995