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Deceiving the deceivers.

To the Editors:

David Pryce-Jones makes several major errors in his brief references to my book, Deceiving the Deceivers: Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, and Guyf Burgess. He claims that in my account the British intelligence services "deliberately and ingeniously" sent Maclean to Washington "and fed him with disinformation to serve up to the KGB." Ingenious it would have been but it couldn't have happened, and a careful reading of my book would deny any such interpretation. Maclean wasn't under suspicion when he left London for Washington in April 1944. Not until two years later in 1946 did American cryptologists at Arlington Hall Station begin to break into encrypted cable traffic from the Soviet missions in New York and Washington that would ultimately incriminate him.

In the same vein he asserts that British intelligence allowed Maclean while in Washington to pass to the Soviets the texts of the Churchill to Roosevelt cables on the Polish crisis to "boost Maclean's standing as an agent." This is equally preposterous. In March 1945 Maclean passed to his Soviet control six cabled exchanges between the Foreign Office in London and the British embassy on the Polish crisis. Not until 1948 were they sufficiently broken to suggest to M15 that there was a Soviet spy at the British embassy. There were no Churchill to Roosevelt cables among them. These interpretive comments by Pryce-Jones are at odds with his claim that the Maclean/Burgess defection (May 1951) forced the British to realize that they were losing the peace. As I also explain, by 1948 the Attlee government had grown increasingly aware of Soviet espionage activities in England and had given M15 the authority to employ far more extensive counter-espionage methods in their identification.

Pryce-Jones is in error when he writes that Philby was "furtively fired" from M16 in 1955 and was subsequently exonerated in the House of Commons by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Philby was forced to resign in 1951 alter his recall from Washington and CIA Director Bedell Smith's warning to "C." Smart Menzies, the head of M16, that the Agency wouldn't cooperate further until Philby was shown the door. Macmillan wasn't Prime Minister in November 1955 when he exonerated Philby while defending the September 1955 Government White Paper on the Maclean/ Burgess affair. He was Foreign Secretary. A minor discrepancy? Not quite. As former Foreign Secretary Herbert Morrison admitted in later years, the Foreign Secretary wasn't privy to the most sensitive decrypts held by GCHQ, the British code breaking agency in which were concealed file secrets of Maclean's incrimination by the Venona decrypts. Pryce-Jones mistakenly describes Venona as the British Cold War "successor program" to the deciphering of German signals in World War II. GCHQ began attacking Soviet encrypted communications in 1945 but that assault had nothing to do with Venona. The Venona Project was established in 1943 under another name at the Army Security Agency at Arlington Hall, VA. In 1947 GCHQ established its own Venona cell in London as an adjunct to the Arlington Hall effort, most particularly in further decrypting Soviet cables first broken by the US Venona team.

He also comments that the Venona texts have now been "published, greatly adding to the Philby, Maclean, and Burgess bibliography." This is misleading. Only selected portions of the Venona texts have been "published," but only to the extent of being released in 1995-1997 by the NSA and scattered among some 3,000 or so Venona cables on deposit in various archives.

Pryce-Jones claims General Edwin Sibert's assertion to a British journalist that Philby was used as a channel for disinformation to Moscow "was substantial enough for Hamrick." He's wrong. I explain in detail why the journalist's account of Sibert's claim wasn't correct in its facts. When considered with other documents from official British military sources, however, I suggest that such a disinformation operation was plausible, but I repeatedly emphasize that documentary evidence is lacking.

S. J. Hamrick

Boston, Virginia

David Pryce-Jones replies:

Well, Mr. Hamrick certainly has me confused, which is what I hold against the sub-branch of detective literature to which he has made this spectacular contribution. He asks us to believe that British intelligence was clever enough to engage in a successful conspiracy to overcome demoralizing espionage and treason during the Cold War. Impatience with this flattering view of our masters led me to be slapdash in the hunt for missing clues, and the opacity of Mr. Hamrick's argumentation is my only excuse.
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Author:Hamrick, S.J.
Publication:New Criterion
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Words:742
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