Guy Liddell: British intelligence officer (1892 - 1958) | Biography, Bibliography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Guy Liddell
British intelligence officer

Guy Liddell

Guy Liddell
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro British intelligence officer
Was Spy
From United Kingdom
Gender male
Birth 8 November 1892, London
Death 3 December 1958, London (aged 66 years)
The details (from wikipedia)


Guy Maynard Liddell, CB, CBE, MC (8 November 1892 – 3 December 1958) was a British intelligence officer.


Early life & career

Liddell was born on 8 November 1892 at 64 Victoria Street, London, the son of Capt. Augustus Frederick Liddell RA, a retired Royal Artillery officer, and his wife Emily Shinner, who died when Liddell was eight years old. He was the younger brother of Capt. Cecil Frederick Joseph Liddell, who served as Head of MI5's Irish section from 1939, and David Edward Liddell; and was a second cousin of Alice Pleasance Liddell, the child friend of Lewis Carroll who was the basis for the books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass.

He was a talented cellist in his youth and was studying in Germany for a career as a professional musician when World War I began. He joined the Honourable Artillery Company as a private, a unit his brothers David Liddell MC and Cecil served with. During the conflict, he was commissioned and served with the Royal Field Artillery and was awarded the Military Cross. After the war, Liddell joined Scotland Yard where, in liaison with Special Branch and the Foreign Office, he was involved in breaking a spy ring based around the All Russian Cooperative Society in London.

He married Hon. Calypso Baring, daughter of Cecil Baring, 3rd Baron Revelstoke of Membland, and Maude Louise Lorillard, on 7 April 1926. They had one son and three daughters; Peter Lorillard Liddell (9 Feb. 1927-Apr. 2004), Elizabeth Gay Liddell (born 28 Feb. 1928), Juno Liddell (29 Mar. 1930 – 13 Nov. 1968) and Maude Liddell (baptised Anne Jennifer Liddell) (16 May 1931).

He transferred to MI5 with his team in October 1931, where he became an expert on Soviet subversive activities within the UK and recruited agents, including his private secretary Dick Wright, and future head of B5(b) Maxwell Knight, in preparation for possible war with Germany. In 1936 he traveled to Washington where information he provided to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover allowed the FBI to break a German spy-ring based around Gunther Rumrich.

World War II

Following the outbreak of World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill sacked Director-General of MI5 Vernon Kell and in June 1940 Liddell was promoted to Director of B Division in charge of counter-espionage, where he appointed Dick Wright and Anthony Blunt to senior posts. Shortly after the new appointment, he was informed by Maxwell Knight of a suspected German spy-ring based around the Right Club of Archibald Ramsay and involving American cipher clerk Tyler Kent. Liddell met with U.S. Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., who agreed to waive Kent’s diplomatic immunity and he was successfully prosecuted, along with his handler, Anna Wolkoff.

His agent, Duško Popov, provided an Abwehr questionnaire suggesting that the Japanese Air Force planned to attack the United States at Pearl Harbor. Popov was sent to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who refused to take him seriously. Liddell was later criticized for not informing the Office of Naval Intelligence.

His unhappy marriage to Hon. Calypso Baring was dissolved in 1943 after she had left him and joined her half-brother Lorillard Suffern Tailer in America. He subsequently fought a long legal battle for custody of their children.

Later career

Liddell was expected to succeed Director General of MI5, David Petrie, but was passed over when Home Secretary Herbert Morrison was informed by Ellen Wilkinson of rumours that he might be a double agent and was instead appointed Deputy-Director-General under Percy Sillitoe. These rumours were accentuated when his close friend Guy Burgess defected. He was also a known associate of other members of the Cambridge Five spy ring, Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt and in 1953 following an MI5 internal investigation he took early retirement and went to work as a security adviser to the Atomic Energy Authority. He died of heart failure in 1958 at his home, 18 Richmond Court, Sloane Street, London, and was buried at Putney Vale Cemetery. In 1979, Goronwy Rees confessed to having been a Soviet spy, and named Liddell as the Fifth Man. Papers released since have all but completely cleared him of the charge, with the general academic consensus being that he was naïve in his friendships with some of his colleagues.

Rather than clearing Liddell, author Costello in Mask of Treachery has compiled an extensive list of pre-World War II clues and post-World War II probabilities that Liddell was recruited by the Soviets, and found newly available archival evidence supporting a strong case that Liddell "...was the most successful mole of all."

"Analysis of Liddell's early performance in the MI5 case files discovered in the U.S. Archives reveals operational mishaps that must be added to the puzzling string of failures that occurred later, when he assumed full responsibility for MI5 counterespionage investigations in 1940. The anomalies are so numerous, and follow such a consistent pattern, that they suggeest a prima facie case can be made that Liddell had been leaking information to the Soviets and systematically working to further their interests since the late twenties."

Costello compiled a substantial list of failures and operational mishaps that raised serious questions about Lidddell's competency, bad luck, or treachery, including the following:

  • MI5's failure to sustain the surveillance of Cambridge communists after Liddell joined MI5 in 1931, and MI5's failure to block the visas of Nikolai Bukharin and the Soviet delegation, enabling them to propagandize the British scientific community in 1931.
  • MI5's failure to arrest Theodore Maly, master recruiter of the Cambridge ring that included Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess, or his successor Willy Brandes, the Soviet agent running the Woolrich Arsenal spy ring in 1937.
  • MI5's failure to maintain surveillance of the German communist emigres Jurgen & Ruth Kuczynski and Klaus Fuchs, despite MI6 notice about their communist activities.
  • MI5's failure to adequately 'vet' both Klaus Fuchs and Nunn May, permitting them to get security clearance to work on the atomic bomb project.
  • MI5's failure to 'bag' the Soviet agent running John Herbert King in 1940 when Walter Krivitsky blew the cover of the Foreign Office's code clerk.
  • Liddell's personal recruitment of Anthony Blunt and approval of Guy Burgess for secret service appointments by using his B Division's authority to override negative Registry traces on both that were found by C Division's security checks and F Division's monitoring for subversive activities.
  • MI5's repeated failures to spot known Cambridge communists who were cleared for sensitive British wartime military and intelligence positions.
  • MI5's failure to investigate RSS reports on "Sonja's" radio transmissions or put her under surveillance in 1947 when her record as a GRU agent runner was confirmed by a defector from the Lucy Ring.
  • Moscow's intercepted 1944 alert to Colonel Zabotkin, GRU chief in Canada, to guard his network against British "greens" prior to Liddell's visit to Canada & US.
  • Liddell's approval of a 1945 decision to send F Division chief Roger Hollis, another probable mole, to debrief defector Igor Gouzenko—instead of sending a senior counterespionage officer.
  • Liddell's failure to mount a proper investigation into the GRU spy/MI5 mole known as "Elli."
  • Liddell's repeated rejections of reports by his Countersubversion Section Chief, Maxwell Knight, giving detailed warnings of communist infiltration during World War II.
  • MI5's two-year delay in its investigation of the mole "Homer' and the Venona serial that exposed Donald Maclean, and Liddell's decision to keep the U.S. CIA and FBI in the dark. This led to J. Edgar Hoover's concern that MI5 was paralyzed by incompetence--or worse.
  • Liddell's relationships with Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess were the probable source of the tipoff that the British Home Secretary intended to give approval for the post-weekend interrogation of Donald Maclean, leading to his escape.
  • MI5's failure to maintain surveillance on Donald Maclean, and the lack of an alert to the French authorities to pick up Burgess and Maclean in Saint-Malo, France.
  • Liddell's collusion with Anthony Blunt in the aftermath of the Burgess/Maclean defection to dissuade Goronwy Rees from making a confession to MI5. These relationships go well beyond consideration of Liddell simply being naive in his friendships.
  • Repeated tipoffs to the Soviets that John Cairncross was under MI5 surveillance after the Burgess/Maclean defection.
  • Liddell's sanctioning of the "creative" reconstruction of MI5's files on Klaus Fuchs, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean in order to mislead the U.S. FBI in 1951.
  • The 1946 warning to the Soviets of Lieutenant Skripkin's intended defection.
  • And probably most indicative, the significant absence of a single Soviet intelligence service defector during Liddell's six-year tenure as deputy director of MI5.

Wartime diaries

Liddell kept an almost daily diary containing details of his work at MI5 throughout World War II, dictated to, typed up and indexed by his secretary, Margot Huggins. Military historian Rupert Allason, writing under the nom de plume of Nigel West, has edited Liddell’s wartime diaries for publication in two volumes.

  • West, Nigel (4 February 2005). The Guy Liddell Diaries: 1939-1942 v. 1. Frank Cass Publishers (hardcover). ISBN 978-0-415-35213-0. 
  • West, Nigel (9 June 2005). The Guy Liddell Diaries: 1942-1945 v. 2. Routledge (hardcover). ISBN 978-0-415-35215-4. 

In popular culture

Liddell was portrayed by Angus Wright in the 2003 BBC Television drama Cambridge Spies.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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