How the KGB used MI5 to get Guy Burgess a job at the BBC

From the Sunday Times of Sunday 24th January 2016.

This is the KGB news: how the BBC fell for Soviet ring

THE BBC was fooled into giving a job to Guy Burgess, a member of the Cambridge Five ring of Soviet agents, at the request of MI5 — with neither organisation realising that he used the position to betray Britain to the KGB, writes Nicholas Hellen.

His appointment was orchestrated by Anthony Blunt, another of the Cambridge Five and who worked for MI5 during the Second World War, according to newly discovered documents.

It was just one example of how Burgess and other traitors ran rings around the BBC as well as the security services in the late 1930s and during the war. They went on to occupy key positions in the Foreign Office, MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, which they exploited to pass information to the Russians.

The revelations appear in Guy Burgess — The Spy Who Knew Everyone by Stewart Purvis and Jeff Hulbert which is to be published by Biteback on Wednesday.

They found an internal MI5 memo written by Blunt in which he told his boss at MI5, Guy Liddell, that “Burgess has been working for us for some time and has done extremely valuable work” and that at the BBC his “direction of a particular series of talks” put him in “a very useful position from our point of view”.

He said Sir Richard Maconachie, the BBC’s director of talks, had agreed to the arrangement apparently in early 1941.

The authors explain: “It was all dressed up as being for the benefit of MI5, but in reality it was for the benefit of the KGB that this had been arranged.”

They draw on MI5 files released in October from the National Archives and documents in the BBC Written Archives to tell a story which finds new significance in Burgess’s time at the BBC.

Purvis, a former editor-in-chief of ITN, said: “The normal narrative of Burgess at the BBC is that he merely called in on the way to his career at the Foreign Office [from where he leaked top secret documents to the KGB]. In BBC folklore, he was simply an awkward customer who never did his expenses on time and got drunk.”

In fact Burgess served two stints at the BBC. His first job there was in 1936 after the corporation ignored several warnings about his communist sympathies.

MI5 had already opened a file on him in 1934 after he took a trip to Leningrad. In 1935 he was recruited by a precursor of the KGB — officially formed only in 1954 — under the code name Mädchen (“girl” in German).

Burgess’s job producing talks for BBC radio helped him to cultivate political figures and to make friends in MI6 by inviting staff to appear on air.

In 1938 he gave Blunt, a close friend and fellow KGB spy, his radio broadcasting debut, ensuring he was paid the maximum rate for a nine-minute art programme.

Blunt was not the only KGB spy he put on air. In 1941 Burgess paid Peter Smollett, one of his significant recruits for Russia, 12 guineas (£12.60) for a radio talk.

The authors report: “The recording . . . might just be the only surviving example of a BBC radio broadcast by one KGB spy and produced by another.”

Once Russia and Britain became allies, Burgess’s war turned full circle with his job at the BBC now involving official pro-Russian propaganda. In 1944 he again exploited his position at the BBC to engineer a move to the Foreign Office, where he embarked on the most damaging phase of his career in the service of the KGB.

Despite drawing attention to himself again and again as a promiscuous homosexual and a drunk, Burgess was not unmasked by Britain’s spy-catchers until 1951. In that year he and Donald Maclean, another of the Cambridge Five, were tipped off that they were under suspicion and defected to Moscow.

The Establishment, which Burgess had outmanoeuvred for years, got its revenge by refusing to let him return. He died from acute liver failure in Moscow in 1963, aged 52.

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