UK spy diaries offer glimpse of Cold War life

Fri Oct 26, 2012 12:11pm EDT
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By Alessandra Rizzo and Isla Binnie

LONDON (Reuters) - Cold War spy Klaus Fuchs was told to throw a magazine into a London garden to set up a rendezvous with his Russian contact, a slice of everyday espionage life revealed in diaries released on Friday of one of Britain's top intelligence officers.

Fuchs, a nuclear physicist who was one of the Soviet Union's most valuable spies before being jailed in 1950, had to mark page 10 of the magazine to show he wanted to meet his contact, who would answer with a chalk-mark on a local lamp post.

The 10 diaries by Guy Liddell, then deputy director-general of the MI5 domestic spy agency, offer an insider's perspective at the dawning of a political system that would dominate the world for decades to come.

Liddell tirelessly documented his dealings between 1945 and 1953 with the UK government and other intelligence officials, including the government of Clement Attlee, and the "Cambridge Five" now-notorious double agents whom Liddell mentions with affection.

Experts say the new diaries, which pick up where Liddell's previously released World War II diaries left off, contribute to the understanding of the period because they come from an authoritative source with a sharp mind and high-level access to classified information.

"We're getting a picture of what was going on at the center of the intelligence world, very much as it happened, from a person at the top, writing with complete candor, and someone who knew a lot of the individuals involved," said Andrew Lownie, a journalist and author on the intelligence world.

"We've got the whole beginning of the Cold War."

The bizarre dealings of intelligence agencies lead Liddell to tell stories of Charlie Chaplin, "flying saucers" and a "luminous man" who "shines in the dark" after his exposure to plutonium at a nuclear facility, which he stayed up late into the night dictating to his secretary.   Continued...

West Berliners walk in front of the Berlin Wall at the Allied checkpoint Charlie in Berlin July, 1963. REUTERS/Norbert Bensch