An online conversation with Trevor Barnes, intelligence historian and author, on the remarkable story of the Portland Spy Ring - one of the most dangerous and remarkable KGB espionage rings ever to operate in the UK – and its lessons for countering Russian spying today.
The Portland Spy Ring was one of the most infamous intelligence cases from the Cold War. People all over the world were shocked in 1961 when its exposure revealed in Britain the shadowy underbelly of KGB 'illegals' - spies operating under deep cover with no diplomatic immunity.
The CIA's revelation to MI5 in 1960 that a KGB agent was stealing secrets from the world-leading submarine research base at Portland in Dorset looked initially like a dangerous but contained lapse of security by a British man and his mistress. The couple were tailed by MI5 'watchers' to covert meetings with a Canadian businessman, Gordon Lonsdale, who in turn led Britain's spycatchers to an innocent-looking couple in suburban Ruislip called Peter and Helen Kroger.
Within weeks, the CIA rang the alarm and MI5 was forced to arrest the spy ring - British citizens Harry Houghton and Ethel Gee, Lonsdale and the Krogers - immediately. More shocks followed: the Krogers were exposed as two of the most important Russian 'illegals' ever, whom the Americans had been hunting for years, and Lonsdale was not a Canadian, but a senior KGB controller from Russia.
Drawing on hitherto secret MI5 and FBI files, private archives, and research in the USA and Moscow, Trevor Barnes has written the first serious history of the Portland Spy Ring – from the first clue, the thrilling counter-espionage investigation which spanned the globe, to the arrests, criminal trial and spy swaps which followed. He reveals new information about the Portland Spy Ring, the damage it caused to the West, the difficulties of prosecuting spies, and discusses how Russia's intelligence services are operating today.
Trevor Barnes studied the history of espionage at the University of Cambridge and as a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard. His pioneering research was published in the Historical Journal. Subsequently he worked as a BBC radio and TV senior journalist on programmes including Radio 4's Today and BBC Two's Newsnight and worked as a lawyer in private practice and for media regulator, Ofcom. Trevor has written for, among others, The Times, Observer, The Evening Standard and The Boston Globe. He is also the author of three crime novels and researched and wrote Trial at Torun, a BBC radio play about the trial in Poland of a secret-service murder case.
The webinar will be moderated by Gill Bennett OBE MA FRHistS, Senior Associate Fellow, RUSI and former Chief Historian, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
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