The escape from Britain by Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess is one of the most mysterious and confounding in the annals of espionage. It was a stunning event that rocked the government and began a series of mole hunt throughout the intelligence world.
Maclean and Burgess were a part of the Cambridge Five, former student colleagues who fell under the sway of Communism and worked as double agents within the British intelligence apparatus. Maclean worked as a British diplomat and later as First Secretary at the British embassy in Washington, D.C. Burgess worked as an Intelligence Officer and was assigned to the Foreign Office’s Far Eastern section and in the Washington Embassy.
Maclean was tripped up by an intercepted message in what was called the Venona Project. The United States and British had cracked the Soviets codes but they kept this fact a top secret. In one message, the writer re-used a one-time pad, enabling analyst at Alexandria Hall to decode it. In the message it described an agent code-named Homer (translated as Gomer in Russian). Six coded cables had been discovered as having been sent by Homer from New York from June to September 1944 and six from Washington in April 1945. One cable described a meeting between a Soviet agent named Sergei and Homer who lived in New York with his pregnant wife.
Burgess met Maclean secretly at a Gentlemen’s Club as he was concerned that Maclean’s home and office might be bugged. He informed Maclean that the net was closing in on him. In fact, the net was closing faster than they thought. MI5 was anxious to question Maclean but had to move carefully in order not to expose the existence of the Venona program.They dispatched detectives to follow Maclean and set to interrogate him on Monday, May 21, 1951. MI5 was not overly concerned about Maclean fleeing and the surveillance on him ended when he boarded the train home at night.
Yuri Modin, their Soviet controller, devised a plan to get Maclean out of the country. Modin volunteered to deliver Maclean to Moscow himself but his Soviet chiefs decided to have Burgess accompany him. Burgess, a notorious drunkard, became a great concern to the Soviets. Although he was only a minor figure within the British government and non under any suspicion, he drew unnecessary attention to himself and they worried that he would crack under pressure and expose Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt, a former MI5 agent now working as Surveyor of the King’s Pictures.
Burgess met Maclean on Friday, May 18 (Maclean’s birthday) at his home in Kent where they had dinner with Maclean’s wife Melinda. Lingering at the house they were late leaving and almost missed their ferry. Burgess drove to Southampton where they caught the St. Malo ferry and then caught trains to Paris and then Moscow.
The disappearance of Maclean and Burgess cast Philby under immediate suspicion. Although he was eventually cleared of suspicion, he was forced to resign from MI6 in July 1951. Maclean and Burgess were termed the “missing diplomats” in the press and their whereabouts were unknown.
Five years later the Soviet Union officially admitted that the two were living in Moscow. Maclean learned to speak Russian and worked as a speciliast in economic policy. He was made a KGB Colonel and enjoyed his time in the communist country. Burgess, on the other hand, was miserable. He hated life in Moscow and died at age 52 in 1963.
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George Blake was a British agent during World War II, translating captured German documents and helping to interrogate German prisoners. Prior to having this position he was a runner for the Dutch Anti-Nazi resistance movement. Having been captured and held temporarily by the Nazis, he escaped to Britain, disguised as a monk.
After the war, he was sent to Seoul, South Korea, where he was encouraged to create a Korean spy network. On June 24, 1950 Blake was captured by the North Koreans. He was held for three years by the North Koreans during which time he was introduced to the teachings of Karl Marx and became a communist. When he was released in 1953, he returned to Britain as a hero, and retruned to British service in MI6. He was sent to Berlin, Germany to work as a case officer. It was hoped that he could recruit Soviet officers to work as double-agents. Instead, he contacted the KGB and informed them of British and American plans. During the next nine years he betrayed more than 400 MI6 agents to the Soviets and crippled most of MI6 operations in Eastern Europe.
When asked why he chose to betray his country he recalled that “it was the relentless bombing of small Korean villages by enormous American flying fortresses. Women and children and old people, because the young men were in the army. We might have been victims ourselves. It made me feel ashamed of belonging to these overpowering, technically superior countries fighting against what seemed to me defenceless people. I felt I was on the wrong side … that it would be better for humanity if the Communist system prevailed, that it would put an end to war.”
Blake was serving his time in Wormwood Scrubs prison in inner west London, England when was pulled into an escape plan. The plan was masterminded by Sean Bourke, a petty criminal from Limerick, Ireland. They were joined in the plan by Michael Randle and Pat Pottle, both anti-nuclear campaigners. They plan was financed by British film director Tony Richardson. Randle, Pottle and Bourke were released from prison but were still determined to help Blake escape, believing his 42 year sentence was inhuman.
Somehow Bourke was able to give Blake a walkie-talkie so as to communicate within the prison. The plan was for Blake to break out through a window in the corridor near his cell while most of the prisoners and guards were watching a movie. Blake squeezed out of a 12 by 18 inch hole he created in the window and climbed down a porch to the ground where he met Bourke near a perimeter wall. Bourke had created a ladder made with knitting needles and he used it to climb the wall and escape to freedom. Although Blake fractured his wrist while jumping down from the 20 foot wall, he was able to make it to a car Bourke had running outside of the prison and they were able to escape to a safe house Bourke had arranged. Blake eventually went to live with Pottle until he was ready for his next move.
Originally, they planned to help him escape to Eastern Europe by having him disguised as an Arab. Pottle and Randle acquired a large quantity of meladinin, a medication prescribed to to treat vitiligo, a disease which causes white spots to appear on the skin (the disease Michael Jackson suffered from). Blake refused to take the drug, worried that it might cause damage to his liver because of the larger than normal amount required.
Randle and Pottle later arranged for a van to take them to East Berlin. They has a secret compartment built out of wood fitted into the van in which Blake hid for 24 hours. Randle then drove his family (with Blake hidden beneath them) to East Germany for vacation. The plan worked perfectly as the customs agents and police had no suspicions of the wholesome family.
In December 1966, Blake arrived in East Berlin and approached an East German guard and requested to speak to a Soviet officer. He identified himself and asked the officer to contact Moscow to inform them that he had arrived. The next day, he was met by a member of the Soviet intelligence service who personally knew him. He was quickly dispatched to Moscow where he was given a hero’s greeting. He was given a large farmhouse and after divorcing his wife, he married a Russian woman and worked as a translator for the next 30 years.
George Blake escape was one of the most embarrassing black eyes that Britain ever suffered.
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In the world of Sidney Reilly, most every story is viewed as apocryphal. Without a doubt, he was the most creative, dashing and daring spy in modern history but his tales are so thrilling that it is hard to believe them all to be true.
Along with his romantic seductions and ingenious business scams, his escapes are legendary. He made numerous escapes from the Soviet CHEKA, but perhaps his most incredible escape occurred before the first World War.
In 1909, Britain was very anxious about Germany’s war machine. Little was known about the Kaiser’s weapons buildup but the belief was that it was prodigious and growing. Reilly was dispatched to determine the extent of Germany’s weaponry and its war plans.Before traveling to Germany, Reilly learned welding as a skill at a Sheffield engineering firm. When he landed in Germany, he sought a job at the enormous Krupp armaments plant in Essen, Germany. He created a new identity for himself as Karl Hahn, a Baltic shipyard worker. Demonstrating his welding talents he secured a job as a welder. Because he noticed that there were fewer guards on duty at night, he volunteered to join the plant’s fire brigade which required him to work the night shift. He was able to convince his foreman that the brigade needed plant schematics in order to indicate the locations and positions of fire hydrants and extinguishers. The foreman agreed and made them available in his office for members of the brigade to consult. Reilly, however, used them to determine the location of the weapons plans as well as entrances and exits around the facility. The plan was for him to sneak into the drawing office to photograph the weapons plans and so in the early hours of the morning he made his way to the office and picked the locks to gain entry. He was surprised by one of the guards but was able to subdue the man and strangled him to death. He was now concerned that the guard’s absence would be noticed and felt his window of opportunity was closing. Thus instead of photographing the plans, he simply store them, running out of the building and escaping by way of a train to a safe house in Dortmund. From there he hopped a ship back to England with German agents searching for him everywhere.
For Sidney Reilly, this was just one of his many adventures but in the annals of espionage, it is one of history’s greatest escapes.
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