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Britannia and the Bear

Britannia and the Bear: The Anglo-Russian Intelligence Wars, 1917-1929

Victor Madeira
Volume: 4
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt4cg62x
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  • Book Info
    Britannia and the Bear
    Book Description:

    Decades before the Berlin Wall went up, a Cold War was already raging. But for Bolshevik Russia, Great Britain - not America - was the enemy. Now, for the first time, Victor Madeira tells a story that has largely been hidden awayfor nearly a century. Drawing on over sixty Russian, British and French archival collections, this ground-breaking book reveals how Britain identified critical lessons early on - but failed to learn many of them. As early as1920, Cabinet ministers were told that Bolshevik intelligence wanted to infiltrate Whitehall by recruiting university students from prominent families, before they took their places in government, professional and intellectual circles. Yet despite these warnings, men like the Cambridge Five in the 1930s slipped the security net, such as it was - nearly fifteen years after the alarm was first raised. Britannia and the Bear tells the full story of Soviet espionage in Britain in these critical interwar years. By exploring the mind-sets of the time - both British and Russian - this book traces links between wartime social unrest, growing trade unionism in the police and the military, and Moscow's subsequent infiltration of Whitehall. Britannia and the Bear offers a compelling new narrative about how two Great Powers of the time did battle, both openly and in the shadows. Taking the long viewon British fears of communist subversion from 1917 on, it underscores the importance of learning about the first Cold War to understand the second. It also draws lessons for the present by illustrating the need for historical perspective in understanding the mind-sets of rival powers. VICTOR MADEIRA has a decade's experience in international security affairs, and his work has appeared in leading publications such as Intelligence and NationalSecurity and The Historical Journal. He completed his doctorate in Modern International History at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and is currently producing a history of the Vetterlein family and their contribution to British cryptology.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-246-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Christopher Andrew

    For over half a century after the Bolshevik Revolution the term ‘subversion’, though commonly used around Whitehall, was never officially defined. Even the Security Service (MI₅), though it had the lead role in counter-subversion for most of this period, was reluctant to attempt a definition. In 1971, the Director General (DG) of MI₅, Sir Martin Furnival Jones, told the Conservative Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, that he had ‘always refrained from trying to define subversion’. In the following year, however, the future DG, John Jones, then head of MI5 F Branch (counter-subversion), at last rose to the challenge, defining devised subversion...

  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xv)
    V. M.
  7. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvi-xix)
  8. Glossary
    (pp. xx-xxi)
  9. Heads of Agency (1917–29)
    (pp. xxii-xxii)
  10. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Between October 1917 and October 1929, Great Britain¹ and Bolshevik Russia fought the “first” Cold War.² Like the better-known one later on, this was above all a struggle between security and intelligence services – and not just those on opposing sides. Those early ‘dances in deep shadows’,³ between the imperial superpowers of the time, earned British intelligence officers the grudging respect (and enmity) of their Russian counterparts, who to this day still privately regard Britons as their toughest opponents. This illustrates the need for historical perspective in understanding the cultural-strategic mindsets of rival powers like Russia, where State needs already outweighed...

  11. PART I First Symptoms

    • CHAPTER 1 The Committee The Rise of “Barbarism” ~ The 1918 Police Strike ~ The Secret Service Committee
      (pp. 9-28)

      Maurice Dobb, the Cambridge economics don and communist,⁴ described the October Revolution as ranking in world history ‘more prominently than even the French Revolution’: to some it was ‘the dawn of a new era’ but to others ‘the first stirring of the Great Red Dragon of the Apocalypse’.⁵ However, the impact of the revolution on Anglo-Russian relations must be gauged within the context of the First World War, of which historian A. J. P. Taylor wrote ‘smoothed the way for democracy – one of the few things to be said in its favour’.⁶

      This chapter examines how the war affected British...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Mutinies The 1919 Mutinies & Police Strike ~ The Federated Press of America ~ The School
      (pp. 29-60)

      In months leading up to the July 1919 police strike, James Marston’s fortunes as NUPPO General-Secretary dwindled, coinciding with the rise of his successor, Sergeant Jack Hayes.⁴ The element of surprise that ensured the success of the 1918 walkout was non-existent a year later; Hayes understood another successful strike would be impossible and so pushed for a different approach. Both inside and outside police circles, many saw this as a sign of moderation. He is of singular interest both as NUPPO leader and, it turned out, as a talent-spotter, facilities agent and probable agent of influence for Moscow. In these...

  12. PART II Diagnosis

    • CHAPTER 3 The Agreement “It’s the Economy, Dummy” ~ Conflict within Cabinet ~ The Intercepts
      (pp. 63-89)

      A 1909 War Office note commented on the ‘wholesale dishonesty’ of Russian officers, whose ‘greed for money’ made it simple for Britain to buy secrets. Russia had long absorbed into its society Orientals from newly conquered territories, so the ‘wiles and cunning treachery of the Russian diplomatists and their secret service agents’ were unrivalled.⁴ In the context of the 1917 Revolution, three points emerged from this document.

      First, even if one discounts the chaos of the revolution and the ensuing civil war,⁵ the initial fanaticism and “incorruptibility” of the new regime threatened British intelligence gathering because the Reds either drove...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Fall The Committee, Again ~ The Directorate Undone ~ Lloyd George Departs
      (pp. 90-106)

      Dissatisfaction in government circles over the quality and reliability of HUMINT peaked in mid-1921. In India, officials felt reports were only trite compilations of information ‘from Foreign Office and War Office intercepts’. On the effect of Bolshevism on Indian internal affairs, wrote one politician, there was ‘absolutely nothing of interest’.⁴ In Britain, Basil Thomson contradicted himself from one week to the next.⁵ This became increasingly untenable as industrial unrest and unemployment neared their highest levels between 1917 and 1929,⁶ and government looked to cut spending.⁷

      In addition to economies demanded of British intelligence, this chapter focuses on events from March...

  13. PART III Shock Therapy

    • CHAPTER 5 The Letter The Curzon Note ~ The Reports ~ The Zinoviev Letter
      (pp. 109-130)

      Though a success for the Conservative Party, the November 1922 General Election was nevertheless a grim omen for hardliners. Labour was now a contender for power, increasing diehard distress over their falling numbers in Westminster at this crucial time. From December 1916 to October 1922, Coalition Cabinets had seven prominent anti-communists; Conservative Cabinets until January 1924 only had three of repute.⁴ After November 1922, only Curzon remained yet bilateral ties worsened, with intelligence again playing a central role.

      This chapter examines how the Conservatives set out to reclaim perceived lost ground to Moscow, by sending the message relations would no...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Strike Trilby’s People ~ The General Strike ~ ARCOS Condemned
      (pp. 131-156)

      “C” – Hugh Sinclair since June 1923 – felt the ‘British Secret Service ... was fundamentally wrong.’ Five agencies (GCCS, Indian Political Intelligence, MI₅, SIS and Special Branch) operated without ‘a central control of policy’ and lacked ‘coordination and cooperation’, resulting in ‘overlapping and waste of time’. Though “C” was pursuing the self-serving goal of controlling the entire community, he had valid concerns. For these reasons, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin reconvened the Secret Service Committee on 10 February 1925 to redress the situation.⁴

      Two related issues were at the heart of the Zinoviev affair. First, would a Conservative Cabinet be either willing...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Raids The ARCOS Tangle ~ Macartney & Mackenzie ~ The Federated Press Undone
      (pp. 157-182)

      By early 1927, Anglo-Soviet relations were deteriorating. Russian espionage and open support for industrial unrest in Britain added to the Conservatives’ desire for a diplomatic breach, strengthened by growing OGPU harassment of foreign diplomats in the USSR. British officials in Moscow, London and elsewhere had long complained about interference by Soviet security organs. In April 1925, for example, Robert Hodgson informed the Foreign Office that security staff at the Italian Embassy in Moscow had discovered two microphones connected to OGPU headquarters, the Lubyanka.⁴ In January 1927, following reliable reports the OGPU had tampered with ‘diplomatic bags of a foreign power’,...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 183-190)

    The end of the USSR on 26 December 1991 closed a seventy-four-year period unlike any before in history. Competing visions for the future of humanity led to a global struggle that several times nearly ended in a nuclear holocaust. To generations of Westerners used to the relative predictability of the original ‘long twilight struggle’,² the ‘new world order’³ after the Cold War was unfamiliar and therefore unsettling. The only certainty in international affairs was now uncertainty, and decades-old concepts like “ideology”, “subversion” and “radicalisation” virtually overnight became relics of a dangerous time gone by.

    Having paid a steep price tackling...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 191-248)
  16. Appendix: Biographies
    (pp. 249-262)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-284)
  18. Index
    (pp. 285-318)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 319-319)