Donald Maclean

Donald Duart Maclean; (25 May, 1913 Marylebone, London – 6 March, 1983 Moscow) was a British diplomat and member of the Cambridge Five who were members of MI5, MI6 or the diplomatic service who acted as spies for the Soviet Union in the Second World War and beyond.  He was recruited as a straight penetration agent while an undergraduate at Cambridge by the Soviet intelligence service.  His actions are widely thought to have contributed to the 1948 Soviet blockade of Berlin and the onset of the Korean War.  As a reward for his espionage activities, Maclean was brevetted a colonel in the Soviet KGB.

Educated at Gresham’s School, Holt, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he was the son of the Liberal politician Sir Donald Maclean, who was Leader of the parliamentary opposition in the years following the First World War.

Born in London, Donald Duart Maclean was the son of Sir Donald Maclean and Gwendoline Devitt.  His father was Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons and Leader of the Opposition from 1918 to 1920. Maclean’s parents had houses in London (later in Buckinghamshire) as well as in the Scottish Borders, where his father represented a constituency, but the family lived mostly in and around London.  Like his father, Maclean was more English than Scottish.  He grew up in a very political household, in which world affairs were constantly discussed.

Maclean’s education began as a boarder at St. Ronan’s School, a preparatory school in Hawkhurst.  At the age of 13, he was sent to Gresham’s School in Norfolk, where he remained from 1926 until 1931, when he was 18. At Gresham’s, some of his contemporaries were Lord Simon of Glaisdale, James Klugmann (1912-1977), Roger Simon (1913-2002), and the scientist Sir Alan Lloyd Hodgkin.

Gresham’s was then looked on as both liberal and progressive.  It had already produced Tom Wintringham (1898-1949) a Marxist military historian, journalist, and author.  James Klugmann and Roger Simon both went with Maclean to Cambridge and joined the Communist Party at around the same time.  Klugmann became the official historian of the British Communist Party, while Simon was later a very left-wing Labour peer.

When Maclean was 16, his father was elected for a constituency in Cornwall, and he spent some time there in school holidays.

From Gresham’s, Maclean won a place at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, arriving in 1931 to study modern languages.  While there, he joined the Communist Party.  In his second year at Cambridge, his father died, and in his last year he was recruited into Soviet intelligence by Anthony Blunt, ultimately becoming one of the Cambridge Five.

At the Civil Service oral examination, Maclean was asked by one of those interviewing him (a conservative but from a lower class status than Maclean) whether he had favoured communism whilst a university student (a then very damaging fact if proven), the latter ostensibly because the Panel knew of a trip he had taken to Moscow on his second year at Cambridge.

Maclean replied:

“At Cambridge, I was initially favourable to it”, he said, “but I am little by little getting disenchanted with it”.

His apparent sincerity, which in fact appeased the members of the Panel, must have surely pleased Blunt to no end.  Blunt had been coaching Maclean, prior to the examination, on how to avoid this and any other potentially incriminatory traps.

In 1934, after passing the Civil Service examination, Maclean started work at the Foreign Office in London.  While there, he was under the operational control of GPU rezident, Anatoli Gorsky. Gorsky used Vladimir Borisovich Barkovsky as the case officer for Maclean, himself an engineer capable of dealing with technical details.

Maclean was later posted to the British Embassy in Paris, where he was when the Second World War broke out.  In 1940 he married the American-born Melinda Marling in Paris shortly before the Germans captured the city.  They escaped to the coast and got back to the United Kingdom on board a Royal Navy warship.

Maclean continued to report to Moscow from London and signaled on 16 September, 1941 that a uranium bomb might be constructed within two years through the efforts of Imperial Chemical Industries with the support of the British government.  The project to build a uranium bomb was code-named Tube Alloys, sometimes shortened to Tube.  Maclean sent Moscow a sixty-page report with the official minutes of the British Cabinet Committee on the Uranium Bomb Project.

Maclean was transferred to Washington, D.C., where he served from 1944 to 1948, as Secretary at the British Embassy and, later, Secretary of the Combined Policy Committee on Atomic Development.  For the Soviets, this was his most fruitful period, and he was Stalin’s main source of information about communications and policy development between Churchill and Roosevelt, and then between Churchill or Clement Attlee and Harry S. Truman.

Although Maclean did not transmit technical data on the atom bomb, he reported on its development and progress, particularly the amount of uranium available to the United States.  As the British representative on the American-British-Canadian council on the sharing of atomic secrets, he was able to provide the Soviet Union with minutes of Cabinet meetings.  This knowledge alone gave the Soviet scientists the ability to predict the number of bombs that could be built by the Americans.  Coupled with the efforts of Los Alamos-based scientists Alan Nunn May, Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall (who had been identified but was allowed to remain at large), Maclean’s reports to his KGB controller helped the Soviets not only to build their own atomic bomb, but also to estimate their nuclear arsenal’s relative strength against that of the United States.

Armed with this information, Stalin was able to conclude that the United States did not possess a sufficiently large stock of atomic weapons or bomb production capacity to attack the Soviet Union or its allies in either Europe or the Pacific in the near future.  This knowledge played a central role in Stalin’s decision to institute a blockade of Berlin in 1948, as well as his decision to extensively arm and train Kim Il Sung’s North Korean army for an offensive war.

In 1941 Maclean was tentatively identified by Walter Krivitsky, a Soviet defector, who is rumoured to have been assassinated by Soviet agents in the Bellevue Hotel in Washington, D.C., although the FBI states that “no information was ever uncovered to prove his death was anything other than suicide”. It was said that Krivitsky had claimed there was a mole in British intelligence who was “a Scotsman of good family, educated at Eton and Oxford, and an idealist who worked for the Russians without payment”.

Maclean’s continual monitoring of secret messages between Truman and Churchill, and then between Truman and new British Prime Minister Clement Atlee, following the end of the war, allowed Stalin to know how the Americans and the British proposed to occupy Germany and carve up the borders of Eastern European countries.  Stalin was forearmed with this information not only at the Yalta Conference in early 1945, but at the mid-1945 Potsdam and 1943 Tehran Conferences as well.

Maclean reported to Moscow that the goal of the Marshall Plan was to ensure American economic domination in Europe.  The new international economic organization to restore European productivity would be under the control of American financial capital.  The message revealed the Marshall Plan was intended to be a substitute for the payment of war reparations by Germany.  At that time the Soviet Union had no export earnings, and war reparations were the sole source of foreign capital to rebuild the war torn Soviet economy.  Yalta and Potsdam agreements allowed German reparations in the form of equipment, manufacturing machinery, cars, trucks, and building supplies to be sent to Russia for five years.  The flow of goods was unregulated by international control, and could be used for whatever purposes the Soviets chose.  Six months after the Marshall Plan was rejected by the Soviet Union, multiparty rule in Eastern Europe ended.

In 1948, Maclean was transferred to the British Embassy in Cairo.  Undoubtedly, Maclean’s information was very significant in assisting Stalin in his strategy for the Cold War.

In 1949, Robert Lamphere, FBI agent in charge of Russian espionage, along with cryptanalysts working as part of the Venona project, discovered that between 1944 and 1946 a member of the British Embassy was sending messages to the KGB.  The code name of this official was “Homer.”  By a process of elimination, a short list of three or four men was identified as possible Homers.  One was Maclean.

Shortly after Lamphere’s investigation began, Kim Philby, another member of the Cambridge Five and spy for the Russians, was assigned to Washington, serving as Britain’s CIA-FBI-NSA liaison.  As such, he was privy to the decoding of the Russian material, and recognized that Maclean was very probably Homer.  He confirmed this through his British KGB control.  He was also aware that Lamphere and his colleagues had found that the encoded messages to the KGB had been sent from New York.  Maclean had visited New York on a regular basis, ostensibly to visit his wife and children, who were living there with his in-laws.

The pressure on Philby now began to grow.  If Maclean was unmasked as a Soviet agent, then, were he to confess, the trail might lead to the other Cambridge spies.  Philby, now in a very important position in his ability to provide information to the Soviets, might be implicated, if for no other reason than his association with Maclean at Cambridge.  Concerned that Maclean would be positively identified, interrogated, and confess to MI5, Philby and Guy Burgess concocted a scheme in which Burgess would return to London (where Maclean was now the Foreign Service officer in charge of American affairs).  Burgess would then warn Maclean of the impending unmasking.  Burgess managed to receive three speeding tickets in a single day.

Before Burgess left, Philby was explicit in his instructions to Burgess, in that he was not to defect with Maclean.

The Philby-Burgess plan was for Burgess to visit Maclean in his Foreign Office quarters, give him a note identifying a place where the two could meet – it was assumed that Maclean, now under suspicion and denied sensitive documents, had a bugged office – and Burgess would explain the situation.  They met clandestinely to discuss Maclean’s imminent exposure and necessary defection to Russia.  Yuri Modin, the controller at the time, made arrangements for Maclean’s defection.  Maclean was in an extremely nervous state, and reluctant to leave alone. Modin was willing to serve as his guide, but KGB Central demanded that Burgess escort Maclean behind the Iron Curtain.

In the meantime, MI5 had insisted that Maclean be questioned. They had decided that he would be confronted with the FBI and MI5 evidence on Monday, 28 May, 1951.

On Maclean’s 38th birthday, the Friday before the Monday when he was to be interrogated, Burgess and Maclean fled to the coast, boarded a ship to France, and disappeared.  It is unknown whether Blunt learned of the impending questioning of Maclean, and warned Burgess; author Miranda Carter, in her award-winning 2001 biography of Blunt, Anthony Blunt: His Lives, states that Burgess visited Blunt first, and that Blunt designed the escape plan for Maclean and Burgess; this is referenced to Modin’s account and also confirmed in the 1999 book The Mitrokhin Archive.  It is possible that Burgess and Maclean had selected Friday to flee whatever the current circumstances.  Both Modin and Philby assumed that Burgess would deliver Maclean to a handler, and that he would return.  For some reason, the Russians insisted that Burgess accompany Maclean the entire way.  Presumably Burgess was no longer useful to the KGB as a spy, but too valuable to fall into the hands of MI5.  Author Miranda Carter writes that the Soviets had no intention of letting Burgess remain behind or return to the United Kingdom, as he was under enormous stress, and might have cracked under interrogation.

Maclean, unlike Burgess, assimilated into the Soviet Union and became a respected citizen, learning Russian and serving as a specialist on the economic policy of the West and British foreign affairs.  He worked for the Soviet Foreign Ministry and the Institute of World Economics and International Relations.  Maclean was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour and the Order of Combat.  His Soviet name was Mark Petrovich.

While living in Moscow, he spoke up for Soviet dissidents, and gave money to the families of some of those imprisoned.  His American-born wife, Melinda, joined him in Russia with their children, but they separated and she moved in with Kim Philby in 1966.  However, Philby was still married to his third wife, Eleanor, although separated from her, and the affair did not last.  After it broke down, Melinda Maclean and the children returned to the United States.

Maclean died of a heart attack in 1983, at the age of sixty-nine.

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