Soviet Intelligence Agents and Suspected Agents

Soviet Intelligence Agents and Suspected Agents

Klaus Fuchs

(KV 2/1245-1270)

Emil Julius Klaus Fuchs (1911-88) was born in Germany and was a member of the German Communist Party in 1933, when the rise of the Nazi Party to power caused him to flee to Britain. Fuchs was briefly interned on the outbreak of war, but was released and joined the team lead by Rudolf Peierls at Birmingham University working on atomic physics. He was sent with other members of the team to the United States in 1943 to work on the development of the atom bomb at Los Alamos.

After the War, Fuchs returned to Britain and worked at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell. Between 1942 and 1949, however, he had worked for Russian intelligence, passing information about the development of the atom bomb to a number of KGB and GRU case officers. The first Russian atom bomb, announced to the world shortly after Fuchs' trial, was a virtual facsimile of the Anglo-American bomb built using information supplied by him.

Fuchs was arrested in 1950 following information gleaned about an agent, identified as CHARLES or REST, from the VENONA decrypts (given on these files as an unspecified and sensitive American source), who matched Fuchs' details. He originally approached the head of security at Harwell for an interview after an offer of a job was made to Fuchs' father at the University of Leipzig in East Germany, which Fuchs believed might compromise his position at Harwell. This approach coincided with Security Service discussions about how to deal with him.

After three preliminary interrogations (on 21 December 1949, 30 December 1949 and 13 January 1950) Fuchs confessed under questioning on 23 January 1950 (though no evidence of his espionage was uncovered by the investigation) and he was tried and sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment. He was also stripped of his British nationality. In the aftermath of Fuchs' confession, the American authorities arrested his one-time controller in the United States Harry Gold, who was tried in 1951. After his release from prison in 1959, Fuchs returned to East Germany, where he worked at the Central Institute for Nuclear Research, Rossendorf.

Fuchs was one of the most significant Communist spies of the Cold War period, who betrayed the workings of the atom bomb, the most significant secret of the time, to his controllers, and these files give great insight into the Security Service's handling of him from the time internment was first considered up to and beyond his trial.

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Security Service interest in Fuchs begins with file KV 2/1245, detailing investigations into him from 1938, in the period leading up to the War and his brief internment in Canada. The file includes Fuchs' original aliens registration card and photograph and his immigration and naturalisation papers. The Service was concerned with Fuchs' known communist past, and gathered general information on his background and past activities.

Detailed Security Service interest in Fuchs commenced once he had been identified as the possible CHARLES. KV 2/1246 shows the beginning of the surveillance with detailed reports (including at folio 177b, after Fuchs had been shadowed around London, a note that he 'is a bad driver'). The file shows details of Fuchs' contacts being investigated, including a Home Office Warrant being issued against his sister, Kristabel Heineman (folios 158-159), and speculation about connections between her and the spy Israel Halperin. A report from a tapped phone conversation describes Erna Skinner, Fuchs' suspected mistress, as 'an attractive type of Jewess' (folio 185a).

KV 2/1247 continues the surveillance story. Fuchs was at this stage still working at Harwell, and the offer of work at Leipzig University to his father caused consternation given the sensitive nature of Fuchs' work. It is implied that Fuchs should have pressed his father not to accept the post. At this time, Fuchs was observed buying a camera. Further Home Office warrants were issued against a relative, Gisella Wagner, and several of Fuchs' relatives were placed under observation. The suspicions about Kristabel Heineman grew when her name was discovered in the notebook of another suspected spy.

KV 2/1248 reports on further surveillance of Fuchs from October 1949, and includes (folio 337a) the plans for the first interrogation of Fuchs and plans to remove his passport. There is a detailed biographical summary of Fuchs at folio 344z, including information on Erna Skinner and Tatiana Malleson. The file also includes, at folio 316a, an intercepted letter from Fuchs' father asking for information.

KV 2/1249 contains the text of the first two interviews with Fuchs, covering his finances, his family, his contacts with students and so on. The second interview is followed by various suggested actions (e.g. to prevent him fleeing the country). The suggestion is made in this file that Fuchs should be asked to resign from his position at Harwell because his father had taken the position at Leipzig University.

KV 2/1250 covers the period of the investigation during which Fuchs made his confession. It includes a report of the meeting between Fuchs and Sir John Cockcroft where Fuchs was told that he must leave Harwell on account of his father's appointment (including a plan to post him to a university vacancy in Australia, which Sillitoe is recorded on file as opposing). There is also a request from Sillitoe to the Ministry of Supply to arrange urgently for Fuchs' departure from Harwell, and a report of the third interview with Fuchs. There is not on the file, however, a contemporary note of the crucial fourth interview where Fuchs confessed. There is, at folio 433a, a record note of the phone call made by interviewing officer Skardon to the Security Service immediately after the fourth interview, with Fuchs showing the immediate actions to be taken, and also a copy of Fuchs' statement and (folio 443ab) a record made by Skardon on 30 January of the fourth to seventh interviews. The file contains examples of letters to Fuchs from East Germany having been tested for secret ink (with no result). It also records that a telephone check was maintained on the Birmingham number of Fuchs' former colleague Rudolf Pieirls.

KV 2/1251 deals mainly with visits to and correspondence with Fuchs while he was detained in Brixton Prison awaiting trial. These include an interview requested by Rudolf Pieirls in February 1950, and Pieirls' own account of the meeting. Sillitoe made a report on the arrest of Fuchs to the JIC meeting of 3 February 1950 and the brief record of this, contained in a secret annex to the minutes of meeting JIC(50)13 are included on the file. The file also contains a list of photographs of Russians in the UK in the 1940s which were shown to Fuchs to see if he could identify any of his contacts.

KV 2/1252 contains a list of documents in Fuchs' possession at the time of his arrest, and a note (f 513a) of documents handed over to Whitson of the FBI about the case on 14 February 1950 summarising the intelligence so far gleaned during interrogation about Fuchs' contacts. The file also includes a summary of intelligence leads thrown up by the investigation into the Fuchs case prepared by branch B2a as of 17 February 1950, lists of Fuchs' known relatives and lists of intercepted letters.

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KV 2/1253 continues the story of investigations into the Fuchs case, with further case summaries and intercepted correspondence. There is also a copy of Fuchs' Canadian Prisoner of War internee record card, forwarded by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, giving medical details, information about his postings and including a photo from 1940 showing Fuchs wearing his internee identification number (internee number 417). The file also contains a copy of the case summary distributed in March 1950 to Britain's partners in the Western European Union, and a list of further copy documents passed to FBI agent Whitson on 2 March 1950.

The case continues in KV 2/1254 with further summaries of leads arising from the investigation and information on Fuchs provided by former contacts. At folio 622z, information on the case is requested by the CIA, and the Security Service reply is at folio 637b.

KV 2/1255 covers the move of Fuchs to HM Prison Stafford, and reveals that although Fuchs' mail had previously been carefully examined, he was able to send and receive post without it passing through Security Service hands for the first six days he spent at Stafford (the details in a handwritten note from the Deputy Governor of the prison to Skardon of July 1950). The file also includes copies of Fuchs' statement made to the FBI on 26 May 1950 and a report of FBI interrogations of 22 May to 2 June 1950. At folio 700 is a report of a trip made by Fuchs under guard out of prison to show the location of meeting places and message posts in Kew Gardens. The file also includes photos and copies of passport applications for some of Fuchs' contacts.

KV 2/1256 includes notes on an investigation ordered by the Security Service into all aliens resident in the Richmond and Kew Gardens area prior to Fuchs' arrest. There is also correspondence about Fuchs' de-naturalisation, including a letter from the Nationality Division of the Home Office declaring the naturalisation cancelled and Fuchs' letter to the Home Secretary when he learned of this development. The file mentions meetings between Fuchs and his American handler Harry Gold, and also deals with information provided by Fuchs during his interrogation about a former co-internee who had developed a system for defence against atomic attack.

KV 2/1257 records how Fuchs was exempted from internment in 1939, and discusses other aspects of his life and contacts, including: the relationship between Fuchs and Erna Skinner; a family history of insanity; suspected associations with Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean (which are not substantiated by the file); approaches from a film company that wished to make a film about Fuchs' life (which he declined); and details of how Fuchs would arrange meetings with his co-conspirators (whereby a copy of Men Only would be dropped into a house in Kew Road by Fuchs when he wanted a meeting).

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KV 2/1258 covers the period November 1951 to June 1952, during which the most interesting event is recorded in the report of the interview at Chartwell in June 1952 between the director of Branch B of the Security Service and Prime Minister Churchill about the Fuchs case, which had previously surfaced in the media again after an erroneous report in the Daily Express. The file also contains a photo of Fuchs, press cuttings, mostly American, relating to the Harry Gold case, and the question of a visit to the UK being made by Fuchs' father.

This visit is further discussed in KV 2/1259, where it is decided that there is no Security Service objection to the visit, but that Skardon should sit in if Fuchs senior decides to visit his son in prison. Assessment of the case continues on this file, and the possibility is raised in a minute of September 1952 that Fuchs may have mislead the Service about the time of his last contact with his Soviet controllers. The possibility is also raised that Fuchs may have confessed his espionage to Erna Skinner during their meeting at the Palm Court Hotel, Richmond the week before he did so to Skardon. The file also includes original alien registration forms and other material forwarded by the police in Edinburgh.

KV 2/1260 contains further copies of documents in Fuchs' possession when arrested and a list of property about his person at the time of his arrest.

KV 2/1261-1262 relate solely to offers of information about Fuchs from members of the public consequent upon his trial, dated February 1950 to February 1953.

KV 2/1263 contains evidence presented at Fuchs' trial. It includes the original signed manuscript and typed copy of Fuchs' statement to the police (27 January 1950), including in the manuscript Fuchs' initials to indicate approval of changes made to the text. There are also statements from other witnesses, including the head of security at Harwell and Sir J D Cockcroft, and The Security Service's initial summary report on the case. The file also includes (folio 17a) a telegram from the head of the Security Service, Percy Sillitoe, to the head of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, denying Hoover's request to supply him with copies of Fuchs' statements on the grounds that this was not possible under British law (but offering Hoover any assistance where he could). Hoover's original request is not recorded on the file.

KV 2/1264 contains the Special Branch report of Fuchs' trial, and a further Security Service summary of the case made in March 1950 by Branch B2C. There is also a request from the Service to the Governor at Fuchs' prison that any letters to or from Fuchs should be copied to the Service for ongoing investigations. The file goes on to record the continuing efforts after the trial to identify which secret documents Fuchs had had access to (and might still have hidden somewhere), and there are lists on the file of classified documents seen by Fuchs.

Papers relating to Fuchs being stripped of his naturalised status, and to a book being written about the case in 1950-51 by Rebecca West, can be found in KV 2/1265.

The three files KV 2/1266-1268 contain the results of the surveillance carried out on Fuchs and some of his acquaintances in late 1949 and early 1950, and taps of his telephone conversations. They give a very detailed account of his daily activities in the time leading up to his approach to the head of security at Harwell.

KV 2/1269 features surveillance reports on Fuchs' daily routine in 1950-51, transcripts of telephone taps, including many with his suspected lover Erna Skinner, including a trip together to the Palm Court Hotel in Richmond.

KV 2/1270 includes the transcript of an interrogation with a fellow internee of Fuchs, describing the conditions of their internment, along with further surveillance reports on visits made to Fuchs in prison, mostly by friends identified in previous surveillance. There are also transcripts of telephone taps on Fuchs' house and office and on the house of Erna Skinner.