Cabinet Office files

In this release

Report of Cadogan Committee of Enquiry and consequences of the Burgess and Maclean affair

Catalogue reference: CAB 301/120
Date range: 21 June 1951–1 July 1952
This file has been digitised.

On 21 June 1951, William Elliot (Chief of the British Joint Services Mission to Washington, D.C. and UK Representative on the NATO Standing Group) writes an outspoken letter to Emanuel Shinwell, Minister for Defence. Elliot is appalled by the Burgess and Maclean episode and calls for an enquiry into the workings of MI5 and MI6. He states that MI6 methods should be subject to scientific analysis: ‘the days of cloak and dagger are over’. The letter is forwarded to the PM via Norman Brook, who decides to postpone replying to Eliot.

It emerges that ‘C’ and Percy Sillitoe (Director-General of MI5) are reluctant to agree that William Elliot be given the facts about the Maclean disappearance; however, by 09 October 1951 they agree to allow this. The remainder of the file is taken up with the Report of the Cadogan Committee of enquiry, giving an overview of the Burgess and Maclean affair.

Catalogue reference: CAB 301/121
Date range: 7 May 1956–27 June 1956
This file has been digitised.

Contains a ‘factual report’ compiled by Cabinet Secretary Norman Brook. It explains about the intelligence requirements of the Admiralty, as notified to MI6 with regard to Russian warships. When the intelligence services knew that a Russian cruiser was to bring Soviet leaders Bulganin and Khrushchev to Portsmouth, MI6 decides to mount an operation to obtain the required information. They engage Commander Crabb to undertake this operation; he had previously undertaken a similar mission for them.

On 19 April 1956 Crabb dives into Portsmouth Harbour and is not seen again by his MI6 controller. The authorities are worried that publicity about Crabb’s disappearance would get into the press while the Soviet leaders are still in the country. On 9 May  1956, Prime Minister Anthony Eden tasks Sir Edward Bridges with an ‘enquiry into the circumstances in which Commander Crabb undertook an intelligence operation against the Russian warships in Portsmouth harbour on 19 April’. Evidence from “C”, the head of MI6, outlines the mistakes made in the course of the operation. It is reported to Bridges that the PM had forbidden an operation inside the harbour. The PM had forbidden one operation (CLARET) and ‘had made it clear that adventures of a similar nature were forbidden’. In late May Government ministers wrestle with the dilemmas that an inquest would bring – if one is ordered. The file shows that this sort of operation had happened before. In October 1955 the Russian cruiser Sverdlov had visited Portsmouth and under-water examination was carried out. At a meeting on 26 June 1956, the PM comments, as he sees matters, on the failings of the Director of Naval Intelligence in the Crabb episode.

Catalogue reference: CAB 301/122
Date range: 15 May 1956–17 May 1956
This file has been digitised.

In an interview (as part of the enquiry), Mr ‘S’ (Smith – MI6 Operator) admits that he was wrong to use his own name and address in the register of the Sallyport Hotel, Portsmouth, which he had booked into along with Crabb. The file includes the evidence given by “C”, the VCSS (Vice Chief of the Secret Service), the Director General of MI5, the CWE (Controller Western Europe) and FOA (Foreign Office Adviser).

Roger Hollis, the Director General of MI5, said that ‘the chief risk against which one had to plan in mounting clandestine operations in this country was not the enemy or the object of the intelligence, but the British press’. The file includes the fine detail of what exactly happened when the CWE met with the FOA on 10 April – when the CWE went away with the impression that the FOA had given clearance for the operations listed in a minute that the CWE had shown him (including the Portsmouth harbour operation) whereas the FOA was unaware that he was being asked to approve the proposed operations. ‘C’ drew attention to a number of errors made during the operation. In a memo of 14 May, it is reported that ‘Bridges said he was satisfied that the Crabb operation was a thoroughly bad and unplanned one. No serious steps seemed to have been taken to conceal the movements of the participants or to plan any cover story’.

Catalogue reference: CAB 301/123
Date range: 10 April 1956–15 May 1956
This file has been digitised.

This file includes a Minute Sheet – Clearance for Operations during the Russian visit. The typed summary of evidence clarifies the version of events given by the FOA MS Williams) about his 10 April meeting with the CWE (see CAB 301/122). In a note dated May 15 1956, MS Williams states that Mr Lockhurst (the CWE) thought the plans were foolproof, and that ‘this was probably why he failed to bring them to my attention’.

Diagram from Bridges enquiry into disappearance of Commander Crabb (catalogue reference: CAB/301/124)

Diagram from Bridges enquiry into disappearance of Commander Crabb (catalogue reference: CAB/301/124)

Catalogue reference: CAB 301/124
Date range: 14 May 1956–18 May 1956
This file has been digitised.

Includes statement by ‘C’ of 14 May 1956. He states that ‘Smith had neglected certain basic principles of tradecraft’. Appendix A, the Case History, gives the fine details of what happened on 17-19 April, and refers to a plan which shows where Crabb entered the water, for the first attempt and the second attempt, the routes he took, etc. There are some interesting details in Appendix B (‘details of Crabb’s Friends and Relatives’). Appendix C (‘Brief Summary of action up to 28 April’) gives a narrative of events for the ‘Frogman’ case. It includes speculation about the manner in which the body might come to light. Annex 1 includes the issue of the Hotel Register (referring to the Sallyport Hotel in Portsmouth). There had been Soviet attempts to procure intelligence about Royal Navy ships, illustrated by incidents during a RN visit to Leningrad, in October 1955.

Catalogue reference: CAB 301/125
Date range: 28 June 1956–19 November 1956
This file has been digitised.

This file concerns the aftermath of Crabb’s disappearance, and the adjustments that are needed in order to get matters right in the future. In a ‘Note for the Record’, dated 11 July 1956, Sir Edward Bridges gives an account of a meeting with Pat Dean, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. There was a considerable fear that as a result of the Frogman case permission for secret operations would be very hard to obtain. The JIC examine the problem and produce a report on procedure for obtaining clearance for intelligence gathering operations.

Working Party on Russian and Satellite Defectors and Refugees

Catalogue reference: CAB 301/136
Date range: 21 February 1950-28 September 1950
This file has been digitised.

This file concerns the measures being taken to facilitate defection from the Soviet Union, using both overt and covert propaganda. It addresses some of the practical problems, such as the difficulties of finding employment for defectors, and how should defection operations be financed. On the latter point it is decided to keep the cost of such financing on the Secret Vote.

Secret Operations against Egypt

Catalogue reference: CAB 301/144
Date range: 1 October 1956-11 October 1956
This file has been digitised.

There are only two pages on this file. The first is a letter from Norman Brook to the Prime Minister dated 1 October 1956 referring to ‘certain limited intelligence activities directed against the Egyptians’ which the PM had authorised, after discussion with ‘C’, and a note of the results of these activities [not on the file]. Brook states that ‘the results, though not spectacular, were worthwhile’ and Eden writes ‘Yes’. The second page is a letter from Brook to Hollis, head of MI5, restating the above, for the record.

Possible Soviet Reactions to United States Policy in Syria

Catalogue reference: CAB 301/148
Date range: 1957
This file has been digitised.

There were many tensions surrounding Syria in 1957. The US feared a communist takeover in Syria. The diplomatic tensions involved Syria and the Soviet Union on one side and the United States and its allies, including Turkey and the Baghdad Pact, on the other. This file includes the Foreign Secretary’s appreciations of the situation circa September 1957, as circulated to key ministers. It is stated that ‘Soviet aircraft might be flown into Syria in force’ and that Russian objectives include trying ‘to save the Syrian regime by frightening off its opponents’.

Exchanges between President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on Cuba

Catalogue reference: CAB 301/158
Date range: 11 July 1960-08 August 1960
This file has been digitised.

Eisenhower writes to Macmillan on 11 July 1960 stating that ‘what is involved in Cuba [is] a challenge to the unity and security of the free world’ and that ‘Cuba had been handed over to the Soviet Union as an instrument in which to undermine our position on Latin America and the world’. Norman Brook draws parallels with the British Government’s reaction to Nasser’s seizure of the Suez Canal, and argues that now is the time to express any doubts about the President’s approach: PM Harold Macmillan agrees. In a reply to Eisenhower dated 25 July 1960 Macmillan duly expresses his doubts in a diplomatic manner; Eisenhower’s reply to this is polite but he does not appear to concede anything and states that the US is intensifying counter-propaganda efforts and planning to take further economic measures against Cuba.

Response to allegations that Britain used brainwashing techniques on captured spies during the Second World War, 1960

Catalogue reference: CAB 301/168
This file has been digitised.

The allegations about the use of brainwashing techniques were sparked off by a lecture given by Dr Alexander Kennedy, Professor of Psychological Medicine at Edinburgh University which was reported by the Observer. On 10 March 1960, Harold Macmillan asks the Secretary of State for War to circulate a paper on brainwashing to the Cabinet: ‘I really think your colleagues would be interested to hear about all this’. A Parliamentary question is asked on the subject. Roger Hollis refers to the interrogation of suspected spies at Camp 020 during the Second World War but does not believe that this could be described as brainwashing. The government line is that the allegations of brainwashing are unfounded.

Tags: espionage, mi5, spies

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