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The Cambridge Five, also known as the Cambridge Four, was a ring of spies in the UKmarker who passed information to the Soviet Unionmarker during World War II, and at least into the early 1950s. It has been suggested they may also have passed Soviet disinformation to the Nazis. The ring included Kim Philby (cryptonym: Stanley), Donald Duart Maclean (cryptonym: Homer), Guy Burgess (cryptonym: Hicks), Anthony Blunt (cryptonym: Johnson). Several people have been suspected of being the "fifth man", but John Cairncross (cryptonym: Liszt) was identified by Oleg Gordievsky. Several others beyond these five have been also been accused of being members.

Their name refers to the fact that all members became committed Communists while attending Cambridge Universitymarker in the 1930s. There is some conjecture as to the precise dates they were recruited to Soviet intelligence; Anthony Blunt claimed that it did not happen until after they had graduated. Both Burgess and Blunt were Apostles - a secret, elite debating society based around Trinitymarker and King'smarker Colleges. Blunt, a few years older than the other ring members, was an active talent-spotter, recruiter, and Apostle as well as being Fellow at Trinity, where most of the others were undergraduates. Burgess also assisted with recruitment. John Cairncross, another Apostle, suspected by many of being the so-called 'Fifth Man', was not formally identified as such until 1990. Other Apostles accused of spying for the Soviets included Michael Whitney Straight, Nathaniel Rothschild, research fellow Lewis Daly, and Guy Liddell.

Known members

Maclean and Burgess defect

All four were active during World War II, to various degrees of success. Philby, when he was posted in the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.marker after the war, learned that the U.S. and the British were searching for a British Embassy mole who was passing information to the Soviet Union, under the codename Homer. The investigators were examining and forcing breaks in VENONA, which was a certain class of Soviet cryptography messages, which had been intercepted during the World War II period. Philby learned that one of the suspects was Maclean. Realizing that he had to act fast, he ordered Burgess, who was on the embassy staff as well, and living with Philby, to warn Maclean in Englandmarker, where he was serving in the Foreign Officemarker headquarters. Burgess was recalled from the United States due to 'bad behaviour', and upon reaching Londonmarker, warned Maclean. In early summer 1951, Burgess and Maclean made international headlines by secretly disappearing. Their exact whereabouts were unclear for some time, but strong suspicion had them defecting to the Soviet Union; this did turn out to be correct, but was not made public until 1956, when the two appeared at a press conference in Moscowmarker. It was immediately apparent to investigators that they had been tipped off, and Philby quickly became a prime suspect, due to his close relations with Burgess. Though Burgess was not supposed to defect at the same time as Maclean, he went along nevertheless. It has been claimed that the KGBmarker itself ordered Burgess to go all the way to Moscow. This move damaged Philby's reputation, with many speculating that, had this not been the case, Philby could have climbed even higher in the SISmarker.The Philby Files by Genrikh Borovik, edited by Phillip Knightley, published by Little, Brown and Company, 1994


Investigation of Philby found several suspicious matters but nothing for which he could be prosecuted, and he was forced to resign from SIS. In 1955, he was named in the press, with questions also raised in the House of Commonsmarker, as chief suspect for "the Third Man", and he called a press conference to deny the allegation. Philby was officially cleared by then Foreign Secretary Harold MacMillan; this would later turn out to be an error based on incomplete information and bureaucratic inefficiency in the British intelligence organizations. In the later 1950s, Philby left the secret service and began working as a journalist in the Middle East; The Economist magazine provided his employment there. MI6 then re-employed him at around the same time to provide reports from that region. In 1961, defector Anatoliy Golitsyn provided information which pointed to Philby. An MI5marker agent and a personal friend of Philby from his earlier MI6 days, Nicholas Elliott, was sent in 1963 to interview him in Beirutmarker, and reported that Philby seem to know he was coming (indicating the presence of yet another mole). Nevertheless, Philby freely confessed to Elliott. Shortly afterward, apparently fearing he might be abducted in Lebanonmarker, Philby defected to the Soviet Union, under cover of night aboard a Soviet freighter.


MI5 received information from Americanmarker Michael Straight in 1964 which pointed to Blunt's espionage; the two had known each other at Cambridge some 30 years before, and Blunt had tried to recruit Straight as a spy; Straight, who initially agreed, changed his mind a while afterwards. Blunt was interrogated by MI5, and confessed in exchange for full immunity from prosecution. By 1979 Blunt was publicly accused of being a Soviet agent by investigative journalist Andrew Boyle, in his book Climate of Treason. In November 1979, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher admitted to the House of Commonsmarker that Blunt had confessed to being a Soviet spy fifteen years previously. As he was in 1964 without access to classified information, he had secretly been granted formal immunity by the Attorney General in exchange for revealing everything he knew. He provided a considerable amount of information, and preventing the Soviets from discovering his confession increased the value of his information.

The "Five" were so named in 1961 when KGBmarker defector Anatoliy Golitsyn named Maclean and Burgess as part of a "Ring of Five", with Philby a 'probable' third alongside two other agents whom he did not know. Of all the information provided by Golitsyn, the only item that was ever independently confirmed was the exposure of John Vassall. Vassall was a relatively low ranking spy who some researchers believe may have been sacrificed to protect a more senior one. At the time of Golitsyn's defection, Philby had already been accused in the press, and was living in a country with no extradition agreement with Britain. Select members of MI5 and MI6 already knew Philby to be a spy from VENONA decryptions. Golitsyn also provided other information that is widely regarded as highly improbable, such as the claim that Harold Wilson (then Prime Minister of the United Kingdommarker) was a KGB agent. To this day Golitsyn's reliability remains a controversial subject, and as such there is little certainty of the actual number of agents he assigned to the Cambridge spy ring. To add to the confusion, when Blunt finally confessed, he nominated several other people as among those he had recruited.

Altogether, at least twelve persons have been seriously indicated as possible members of Golitsyn's "Ring of Five".

Fifth Man

On the basis of the information provided by Golitsyn, speculation raged for many years as to the identity of "the Fifth Man". The journalistic popularity of this phrase owes something to the unrelated novels, The Third Man and The Tenth Man, by Graham Greene who, coincidentally, knew the Cambridge spies. It is now widely accepted that the spy ring probably had more than five members, possibly many more, since three other persons are known to have confessed, several more were nominated in a confession, and strong circumstantial cases have been made against others. The extent to which the following suspects can be regarded as members of "the Ring", or merely a list of Soviet spies, depends on the degree to which they knew and cooperated with one another. The degree of this cooperation remains largely unknown; even Philby, Burgess, and Maclean operated largely on an individual basis.

  • John Cairncross (1913–1995), confessed in 1951; this was publicly revealed in 1990. He was also accused by Anthony Blunt during his confession in 1964.
  • Sir Roger Hollis (1905-1973), (at the time Director of MI5) accused by Arthur S. Martin (head of MI5's Soviet counter-intelligence section at the time), Peter Wright (MI5 officer assigned to investigate Hollis), and Chapman Pincher (investigative journalist who produced several exposés of failures in British counter-intelligence).
  • Guy Liddell (1892–1958), a close friend of Burgess and Goronwy Rees, was accused of being a spy by an anonymous informer in 1949. This was eventually written off as Soviet disinformation, but it permanently harmed his career. He was accused specifically of being a member of the Cambridge Spy Ring in the death-bed confession of Goronwy Rees in 1979.
  • Goronwy Rees (1909–1979), a close friend of Burgess and Liddell, admitted under interrogation in 1951 that he had known Burgess was a spy; then made a death-bed confession of being one himself in 1979, also accusing Guy Liddell of having been a member of the Ring.
  • Victor Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild (1910–1990) accused by Roland Perry in his book, The Fifth Man (London: Pan Books, 1994). Rothschild was a member, along with Blunt and Burgess, of the Cambridge Apostles. Espionage allegations against him were never proven, and are generally dismissed.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), in Kimberley Cornish's controversial book The Jew of Linz, the author argues that as a Trinity College don, Wittgenstein recruited the Trinity College spies Burgess, Philby and Blunt (and Maclean, from nearby Trinity Hallmarker) for the Soviet Union.
  • Peter Ashby, accused by Anthony Blunt during his confession in 1964.
  • Leo Long (later an intelligence officer), accused by Anthony Blunt during his confession in 1964.
  • Lewis Daly, a research fellow of Anthropology at Wolfson Collegemarker, accused by Anthony Blunt during his confession in 1964.
  • Brian Symon, accused by Anthony Blunt during his confession in 1964.

In fiction


See also

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