Communists and suspected communists

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Communists and suspected communists

John Salisbury (KV 2/2497-2501)

Salisbury, who was employed at the Naval Dockyard in Plymouth for most of the inter-war years, was a committed Communist who was dismissed for his involvement in the sabotage of naval vessels in Devonport (though there was not enough evidence to try him on this charge).

Salisbury first came to the attention of the Security Service in 1931 when he was noted distributing Communist propaganda to other workers and naval servicemen, and was observed making contact with discharged naval ratings (KV 2/2497, 1931-1934). Plymouth City Constabulary kept a close watch on his activities and wrote regular reports to the Security Service, through which a detailed picture of Communist activities in the dockyard at this time can be built up. The Plymouth Police refer to Salisbury as "a poisonous reptile" (serial 2a). A watch was mounted on his correspondence, and there are frequent reports of Salisbury being tailed on his various train journeys to London. A dockyard police informant also provided information, and there is a report of a conversation with Salisbury where he gives his own, contrasting account of being so tailed (serial 91a). When the RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) War Afridi was sabotaged in 1933, Salisbury was noted as being believed to have worked on the ship at the right time to be involved. This close watch on Salisbury and his family and contacts is continued through KV 2/2498 (1934-1935).

In 1935 (KV 2/2499, 1935-1936), the submarine HMS Oberon was sabotaged, and again Salisbury was known to have worked on the boat at the correct time. There are case histories and reports of the sabotage at serials 224a, 243a, 249a etc. Though Salisbury could not be clearly placed as working on HMS Royal Oak when it too was sabotaged, he knew facts of the case that were not otherwise known (serial 269b). The evidence was enough for the Admiralty to order his interrogation, and this is reported at serial 278a, with his answers being analysed in detail and a further case summary (279a).

Salisbury was discharged from the dockyard on 1 February 1936 (serial 281a) and a close watch continued to be kept on him and his family into the 1950s (KV 2/2500, 1936-1955) and KV 2/2501, 1955).

Also released in this transfer of Security Service files are three relating to the monitoring of Communist activities in Portsmouth Dockyard, 1932-1952 (KV 3/311-313) and a similar file for the Gibraltar Dockyard (KV 3/314) for 1939-1952.

Olivia Manning (and Reginald Smith) (KV 2/2533-2534)

These two reconstituted files relate principally to Reginald Smith, BBC producer and husband of the notable author Olivia Manning. Smith came to Security Service attention in 1947, when his membership of the Communist Party was discovered. This led the Service to impose a watch on Smith's telephone conversations, and this check produced copies of conversations including many relating to Manning and their domestic arrangements. The files include correspondence with the Foreign Office and the Secret Intelligence Service relating to the Smiths' overseas trips, particularly to Romania. Minutes on the file conclude that while Manning held left-wing views and sympathies, "she does not appear to be a party member". The captured phone conversations show that Manning was well aware that her line was being tapped (for instance, at serial 31a, KV 2/2533).

Krishna Menon (KV 2/2509-2514)

These six files document the Security Service's interest between 1929 and 1955 in the Indian lawyer Krishna Menon, who was a friend of Nehru, Labour councillor for St Pancras and leader of the Indian League in London. He spent most of this time living in the UK, and was appointed High Commissioner in 1947, when his close links to Communists acted to block the sharing of British information with not only India, but also Pakistan, for fear that the two new states would compare their treatment by the British.

A warrant to intercept Menon's correspondence was taken out in December 1933, identifying him as an "important worker in the Indian Revolutionary Movement", and his links to Communist circles were quickly established (KV 2/2509, 1929-1941). This file contains numerous reports of Menon's contacts, activities and speeches, and highlights his role in the anti-war movement. This continues in KV 2/2510 (1941-1944). KV 2/2511(1944-1948) covers his readmission to the Labour Party, from which he had been expelled for his Communist links, and his attempts to gain selection as the party candidate in Dundee and elsewhere in the 1945 general election. It also covers his appointment as Indian High Commissioner in London in 1947.

Menon's elevation to this post increased the Service's concerns about him. The Deputy Director-General minuted (in KV 2/2512, 1949-1951) in May 1949: "Whatever his politics may be, and they appear to go fairly far to the Left, MENON is clearly dishonest, immoral an opportunist and an intriguer…whether or not MENON's retention as High Commissioner is the lesser of two evils, the relations between him and Miss TUNNARD…are of considerable importance." The matter of Communist influence at the High Commission was raised at the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), in discussions that were not minuted. A copy of the Director-General's statement on the subject to the JIC is at serial 148b, and there is a list of suspected Communists at the High Commission at serial 197a. The file also includes suggestions that Menon was improperly using the funds of the India League, and that he was taking illegal drugs (for instance, at serial 199a). This file covers discussions about the impossibility of passing sensitive information to or through the Indian High Commission, and how that in turn prevented similar information being shared with Pakistan.

KV 2/2513 (1951-1953) covers the period when Menon was replaced as High Commissioner by G B Kher, and shows how Kher was frequently embarrassed by Menon acting as if he still represented India in London and forcing himself into various diplomatic events. These tensions continue into KV 2/2514 (1953-1955) which also covers Menon's attempts to be entrusted with the post of Foreign Minister.

Peter Koinange (KV 2/2535-2552)

These 18 files on Kenyan nationalist leader Peter Mbiyu Koinange provide a detailed insight into his activities during the struggle for Kenyan independence and show, through copious intercepted letters and phone conversations, the extent and nature of his contacts with others campaigning in this field. Originally under Security Service notice for his links to Communists it was decided that he was neither a member nor a tool of the Communist Party, but was using the support of individual Communists to further his own aims.

KV 2/2535 (1937-1947) covers his arrival in the UK, and reveals that he sought and gained an audience with the Colonial Secretary, Arthur Creech Jones, after which Colonial Office officials warned the Security Service to "lay off" Koinange (serial 12a). Nevertheless, the Service continued to watch Koinange, intercepting both letters and telephone conversations. This gave rise to a problem first noted in KV 2/2536 (1947), that of finding a translator to interpret intercepted material in Kikuyu. The only available officers were in the Colonial Office in Kenya, and there was understandable reluctance to use them. Serials 43b, 56a and 58a in this file refer, as do minute 85 in KV 2/2537 (1947-1948) and serial 451a in KV 2/2544 (1953). The problem was eventually settled by sending some material to Kenya for translation, and subsequently the Service found its own part-time translator.

KV 2/2538 (1948) includes references (serial 130a) to Koinage's expenses for a flight to America being paid by the Aga Khan, and there is a (negative) copy of Koinage's passport at serial 130c. By 1948 the Colonial Office attitude to Koinage had changed, and it was becoming concerned at his links to Communism.

KV 2/2539 (1948-1949) shows the first of several occasions where the Service had to reject Colonial Office requests for confirmation that Koinage was a Communist. The file covers Koinage's return to Kenya. By the time of Jomo Kenyatta's arrest in 1952, Koinage had again returned to the UK, and assessing his significance the Service noted (KV 2/2541, 1952) "…he has acquired dominant influence among the KIKUYU."

KV 2/2542 (1952-1953) assesses (serial 374a) the extent of Communist influence on the Mau Mau movement, and includes (serial 423b) Koinage's message of sympathy to Malenkov after the death of Stalin.

The remaining files, consisting largely of further intercepted correspondence and conversations and assessments of Koinage's activities in the UK and elsewhere in support of Kenyan independence and countering criticisms of Mau Mau, follow Koinage's career to 1956. KV 2/2544 (1953) includes a table showing Koinage's relatives and their relative importance (serial 451c). KV 2/2549 (1954) shows how Koinage, short of funds in London, was refused permission to return to Kenya, and applied for teaching posts in the UK.

There is a photograph of Koinage in KV 2/2544.