Post-war diaries of Guy Liddell, then Deputy Director General of Security Service, 1945 -1953
On the 26 October 2012 The National Archives released recently declassified Security Service (MI5) documents, including the post war diaries of Guy Liddell, the then Deputy Director General of MI5.
During World War 2 he had been head of Counter-Espionage and was considered to be a likely candidate for the Deputy Director of MI5 until the revelations of the notorious Cambridge Five spy ring was exposed. Liddell’s close association with Guy Burgess as well as dealings with Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt put Liddell at the centre of controversy and suspicion. He was appointed Deputy Director General but his career was damaged by the association and the shadow cast by an internal investigation and retired from MI5 in 1953.
Despite being named in 1979 as the Fifth member of the Cambridge Five, experts have come to the opinion that official documents have cleared him of any involvement. His diaries provide a unique insight into the unfolding Cambridge Five spy ring.
The the summaries of each set of documents are as described on the National Archives website and are FREE for one month (until 25 November 2012) and then can be purchased from the online documents store.
You can view and download other documents released as part of the release here.
I also recommend listening to the National Archives podcast by Professor Christopher Andrew, expert in the history of M15. Go to the bottom of this page for a short video about the release of the documents and details about relevant books on the subject.
Post-war diaries of Guy Liddell, then Deputy Director General of Security Service 1945 -1953
- Catalogue ref: KV 4/466
- Date: 18/01/1945 – 18/11/1945Guy Liddell recorded the immediate aftermath of the Second World War in his diary and the entries from this time include reference to Hitler’s last days and death, Goering’s interrogation report and the success of Operation Mincemeat. Liddell also recalls his reaction to the Nazi war crime trials which he believed the Russians would use for propaganda purposes: ‘We are just being dragged down to the level of the travesties of justice that have been taking place in the USSR for the past 20 years.’ The beginning of the Cold War era is marked by the defection of Konstantin Volkov, an NKGB officer stationed in the Soviet Embassy in Istanbul. Volkov, referred to in the diary as WOLKOFF, told handlers about two agents in the Foreign Office, and seven inside British intelligence, including the ‘head of a section of the British counter-espionage service.’ The diary also contains Liddell’s reaction to Sir Findlater Stewart’s 1945 report on the future of MI5.
- Catalogue ref: KV 4/467
- Date: 19/11/1945 – 25/09/1946
Liddell’s second post-war diary recalls the February 1946 interrogation of Alan Nunn May, the British physicist who later confessed to having spied for the USSR. Liddell noted that there was ‘no doubt from his demeanour that he is guilty’. Further entries cover Liddell’s thoughts on the appointment of Percy Sillitoe as the new Director-General of MI5, and his visit to the USA and meeting with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. During a visit to Canada in March 1946, Liddell met the Soviet defector Igor Gouzenko, who told Liddell that he had ‘never felt freer’ despite being under constant armed guard. Liddell found him ‘alert and intelligent’. The diary also includes Liddell’s reaction to the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the British administrative headquarters in Palestine. Liddell describes in detail his visit to the Nuremburg trials, his impressions of those on trial, the ‘phoney atmosphere of the whole proceedings’ and his belief that ‘a dangerous precedent is being created’. Liddell writes that he is ‘profoundly sorry’ to be told in September 1946 that Kim Philby would be leaving Britain to become head of station in Istanbul and doubted whether his successor would be as good.
- Catalogue ref: KV 4/468
- Date: 26/09/1946 – 03/03/1947
This file includes Liddell’s impressions of the new Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, whom he describes as ‘exhausted’ and ‘an extremely difficult man to talk to.’ Liddell also recalls Philby’s farewell party and comments on Guy Burgess’ new job which he notes was ‘not, I venture to think, a very suitable appointment’.
- Catalogue ref: KV 4/469
- Date: 13/05/1947 – 31/12/1947
Liddell dismisses the possibility of publicising the wartime story of Agent ZigZag as being ‘particularly unsuitable’ given it ‘disclosed all our methods’. ZigZag (Eddie Chapman) is said to be ‘well in funds’ having opened two hairdressers in which he had ‘installed some of his girlfriends’. Liddell also recalls the assassination of Burmese politician Aung San and records his first impressions of the new CIA: ‘In the course of time they may produce something of value’. He reports that on a visit to Britain, the new CIA Deputy Director Edwin Wright had told the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) that ‘in an American organisation 500 people were employed to do what 50 people would do over here.’ This diary also contains an early assessment of the atomic spy Klaus Fuchs: ‘in our view… the information does not really amount to anything’. Although the wider issue of communist party members in scientific and research establishments was identified as something which according to Liddell could leave the service ‘open to severe criticism’ if the situation was not brought ‘forcibly to order’.
- Catalogue ref: KV 4/470
- Date: 01/01/1948 – 31/12/1948
This file includes Liddell’s assessment of the developing situation in Kashmir and also in Palestine which he describes as being in a ‘shocking state’, adding that ‘it is difficult to see how a show-down can be avoided after we leave’. He also notes the bad behaviour displayed by Russian soldiers stationed in Vienna who ‘do not hesitate to shoot, particularly if they happen to be drunk’. A number of the entries relate to Security Service concerns over communist infiltration of the Civil Service and the BBC in which three people working in the Eastern European Department are said to have ‘had very close communist connections’. Liddell informed Attlee of his concerns, the PM, he wrote ‘was his usual self, uncommunicative and unresponsive but quite pleasant.’ The diary also notes meetings with Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt.
- Catalogue ref: KV 4/471
- Date: 01/01/1949 – 31/12/1949
These diary entries contain Liddell’s reaction to the news that the USSR had tested an atomic bomb, although he writes that he is ‘slightly sceptical about the whole thing’. Entries also contain details of an agent codenamed SHAG and various methods of spycraft which were used by fellow agents to identify each other including a chalk ‘z’ sketched on a lamppost and a rubber band around the little finger. There are also numerous entries on the case of atomic spy Klaus Fuchs, including a report of his interrogation, and Liddell writes that they had ‘an extremely awkward situation on our hands’. Liddell notes that a list of ‘fellow travellers in the Labour Party’ had been given to Attlee by the Security Service. The diary also describes a novel method of tracking sensitive government documents by impregnating the paper with a small dose of radioactivity which would activate an alarm if it was removed from the building.
- Catalogue ref: KV 4/472
- Date: 01/01/1950 – 31/12/1950
This includes diary entries following Klaus Fuchs’ confession to being an ‘active Soviet agent’ who had fed the Russians information ‘including details about the manufacture of the atomic bomb’. Liddell notes that the Fuchs case would be of great psychological interest as it showed ‘the type of person we are up against’. He also admits the case could have ‘far reaching consequences for Anglo-American cooperation’ and this was illustrated by the reaction of ‘outraged’ FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The diary also contains an account of Liddell’s meeting with Guy Burgess in which they discussed the latter’s ‘grave indiscretions’ during a trip to Gibraltar and Tangier. Elsewhere Liddell reports on a JIC meeting at which ‘flying saucers’ were discussed: ‘The curious thing to me is that these flying saucers never seem to come to earth, but that of course might possibly be due to the very high speed at which they are travelling.’ He also condemns American attitudes to intelligence sharing as ‘stupid and unreasonable’ and believes they are ‘quite ready to cut off their noses to spite their faces’.
- Catalogue ref: KV 4/473
- Date: 01/01/1951 – 31/12/1951
In this diary Liddell notes that for some years the Security Service had been looking for someone in Foreign Office circles who had been leaking information to the Russians and that now ‘considerable suspicion rested on Donald Maclean’. Shortly after this entry, Liddell’s diary notes that Donald Maclean had mysteriously disappeared, followed afterwards by Guy Burgess, and that it seemed ‘pretty clear that the pair had gone off’. Liddell records his conversations with Anthony Blunt and Tommy Harris following the disappearances, with both men believing it was unlikely that Burgess would have ‘sold himself to the Russians’. Liddell also states he does not believe Burgess could have been an espionage agent. Liddell’s diary entries refer to Guy Burgess’ friendship with Kim Philby and later records that suspicion had turned towards Philby who was subsequently interrogated about his activities.
- Catalogue ref: KV 4/474
- Date: 01/01/1952 – 29/12/1952
This diary covers the aftermath of the Burgess and Maclean disappearances and the suspicions surrounding Kim Philby’s activities and those of his known associates. Liddell’s diary entries also question Tommy Harris’ alleged involvement following attempts by Philby’s wife to implicate him. Elsewhere, the diary refers to a briefing to the Home Secretary about Charlie Chaplin, comments on the new ‘Animal Farm’ film – which he describes as ‘extremely good’ but containing scenes which ‘will obviously have to be somewhat altered’ – and mentions a mysterious ‘radio-active man’ in Risley who was allegedly luminous after drinking plutonium.
- Catalogue ref: KV 4/475
- Date: 01/01/1953 – 15/05/1953
This file contains references to plans to publish a book on Operation Mincemeat. Liddell also ponders the state of the world and the likely impact on East-West relations of the death of Stalin. The entries come to an end in May 1953. Liddell retired as Deputy Director General and left the Security Service to become head of security at the Atomic Energy Authority. He was replaced as Deputy Director General by Dick White, who was promoted to Director General in 1953.
The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 by Christopher Andrew
To mark the centenary of its foundation, the British Security Service, MI5, opened its archives to an independent historian. The Defence of the Realm, the book which results, is an unprecedented publication. It reveals the precise role of the Service in twentieth-century British history, from its foundation by Captain Kell of the British Army in October 1909 to root out ‘the spies of the Kaiser’ up to its present role in countering Islamic terrorism. It describes the distinctive ethos of MI5, how the organization has been managed, its relationship with the government, where it has triumphed and where it has failed. In all of this, no restriction has been placed on the judgements made by the author.
The Guy Liddell Diaries, Volume I: 1939-1942: MI5’s Director of Counter-Espionage in World War IINo other member of the Security Service is known to have maintained a diary and the twelve volumes of this journal represent a unique record of the events and personalities of the period, a veritable tour d’horizon of the entire subject. As Director, B Division, Liddell supervised all the major pre-war and wartime espionage investigations, maintained a watch on suspected pro-Nazis and laid the foundations of the famous ‘double cross system’ of enemy double agents. He was unquestionably one of the most reclusive and remarkable men of his generation, and a legend within his own organization.
WALLFLOWERS is the codename given to one of the Security Service’s most treasured possessions, the daily journal dictated from August 1939 to June 1945 by MI5’s Director of Counter-Espionage, Guy Liddell, to his secretary, Margo Huggins. The document was considered so highly classified that it was retained in the safe of successive Directors-General, and special permission was required to read it.