02 March 2007

Did Auden help the Cambridge spies?

This is one of those stories that piqued my interest. Perhaps it's an awful lot of very little. MI5 files released in the National Archive today show that the security services suspected poet W H Auden of assisting in the disappearance of the traitor Guy Burgess.

MI5 and the FBI ordered the interrogation of Auden when it emerged that Burgess, who fled Britain on 25 May 1951 with fellow traitor Donald Maclean, had urgently tried to phone Auden the night before his defection. They had been tipped off by fellow Cambridge spy, Kim Philby, who was working for MI6 in Washington, that they were about to be unmasked.

Their disappearance led to a panic in the British government and security services, sparking a Europe-wide manhunt in which Auden became one of those suspected of assisting Burgess, possibly by sheltering him in his Italian holiday home. MI5 officers suspected Auden was "deliberately prevaricating" when he claimed he could not remember being told about Burgess's phone call.

MI5 was told that the night before the spy had phoned the north London home of another leading British poet, Stephen Spender, where Auden was staying. Using an unnamed contact, MI5 officers arranged for Auden to be interviewed about his relationship with Burgess (Auden had known Burgess since the 1930s) . The file stated: "Our object is to get a detailed chronological account of Auden's association with Burgess, a list of their mutual friends and, of course, Auden's views on whether any aspect of their association could have, in retrospect, seem[ed] significant to his disappearance."

Although Burgess was considered to have been less important to the Kremlin than Philby and Maclean, his disappearance was the first warning that Britain's security services had been penetrated by a Soviet spy ring.


elasticwaistbandlady said...

The British government did surely cuss
and we created an awful lot of fuss
It's a shady life of tumult and muss
But that's how you roll when you're spies like us.

I got poetry skillz too! I shan't be harboring any Russian spies in my swampside shack anytime soon though.

beakerkin said...


The far left has not come to grips with its own history. Communists were not inocent Utopians seeking Eden. They were a treasonous seditious lot in the service of a hostile foreign government.

Moreover, despite the hysteria on the left about Nazis they were allies. Commies and Nazis were rival ideaologies and not polar opposites. Commies were anti- Nazi
and then after the Soviet- Nazi pact were pro- peace. That is until
the Nazis attacked and then they banged the drums for war.

jams o donnell said...

Wow with that poetry you could be aa cultural ambassador for North Koera EWBL!

No excusing the crimes of the communist for they were many. In the 30s it was almost chic to be communist, although some like Unity and Diana Mitford found fascism a big draw.

Over here it was the same.. until Barbarossa the CPGB were anti war but then became the biggest proponents when the USSR was invaded.. The conveniently forgot the pact.. Hypocrites

Pete said...

With so many books, TV series and exposes on anything related to the Cambridge spies I think the KGB/FSB should get a cut of the profits ;)

jams o donnell said...

NOw thee's a though.. perhaps the FSB should trademark the KGB name and make a killing (a metaphorical one for once!)

jams o donnell said...

NOw thee's a though.. perhaps the FSB should trademark the KGB name and make a killing (a metaphorical one for once!)