Soviet Intelligence Agents

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Soviet Intelligence Agents

Nerses Ovsepian (KV 2/2398-2399)

Ovsepian (whose working pseudonym was George Agebakov) was a Russian OGPU agent who deserted to the west, seemingly at the instigation of his British fiancée. His intriguing story is mostly revealed in KV 2/2398 (1927-1942), which shows that he first approached the British authorities in Turkey in April 1930 with an offer to reveal to them how Foreign Office communications were being intercepted by the Russians.

Ovsepian defected in July of that year, and by this time was engaged to an Englishwoman, Miss Streater. The file records Ovsepian's story that having fallen in love with Streater, she had encouraged him to give up espionage as a condition of marriage, to which he agreed. The Security Service nevertheless suspected him of being an agent provocateur, and initiated a warrant to intercept correspondence to his Paris address.

Ovsepian published his memoirs of his OGPU career later in 1930, and he became a well known figure (for instance, being interviewed by the Daily Sketch in 1932, in which article he claimed to have been a witness to the assassination of the Romanovs in Ekaterinberg). The file gives details of a suspected kidnapping attempt on Ovsepian in Romania (Serial 82A), and subsequently on his mysterious disappearance form Paris in 1938. It is assumed that this was down to OGPU taking its revenge on him.

Most of the rest of the file, and of KV 2/2399 (1942-1955) concerns his wife's attempts to locate him after 1938, and Security Service traces following up his contacts over the years. There are numerous photographs of Ovsepian in KV 2/2398.

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Lady Howard of Effingham (KV 2/2387-2388)
The story of Lady Howard is one of interest as a case of a mysterious foreigner making a great impact in British society and diplomatic circles, and contains much of human interest.

Polish refugee Malwina Gertler arrived in Britain in 1935, and first came to the notice of the intelligence services for her failure to register her alien status properly. She was soon however moving into exalted circles. By 1938, Security Intelligence Service (SIS) was reporting her as the mistress of a well- known gun runner into Spain, Edward Weisblatt. As Weisblatt was suspected of espionage, Gertler too became suspect by association. In 1938 came her marriage to Lord Howard of Effingham. A source described in November of that year (KV 2/2387, covering 1936-1942) how it was "a purely business arrangement and it is stated that there was actually a cash transaction." Lord Howard was short of money and Gertler needed British nationality. Weisblatt no doubt provided the funds.

The file goes on to show how Weisblatt was able to use Lady Howard's connections and nationality to help him win arms supply business in Egypt. Despite her marriage, it is clear that Lady Howard remained Weisblatt's mistress. There is a photograph of Lady Howard at serial 31B. At serial 56A is an account of Lady Howard by Lord Cottenham, which gives an indication of her character: "a not unattractive gipsy gamin type; highly sexed, I should say…an accent more foreign than it need be."

Weisblatt and Lady Howard were separated by the outbreak of war, as she was in Britain and he in France, and neither had the necessary exit documentation to travel. Much of the remainder of the file records her efforts to arrange a meeting, and there is a good case summary at serial 165A. Lady Howard was also in social contact with the Edens in 1940, and steps had to be taken to warn them of her character (details at serial 90A – Eden was at this time out of office, but was soon to be appointed by Churchill as secretary of state for war). There is a list of Lady Howard's contacts at serial 184A.

Lady Howard was eventually interned in Holloway Prison in February 1941, and the file includes interviews with her by Maxwell Knight (serial 253). The Advisory Committee on internment recommended her release, much to the dismay of the Security Service, in May of that year (serial 300A). KV 2/2388 (1942-1954) records how the Howards were divorced in October 1945 – and follows Lady Howard's progress as she travelled the world, still enchanting her way through diplomatic circles, until eventually reaching Australia.