The Mitrokhin Archive
The most important British S&T agent recruited during the decade after operation FOOT was, almost certainly, Michael John Smith (codenamed BORG), a Communist electronics engineer.(35) The secretary of the Surrey Communist Party in the early 1970s, Richard Geldart, recalls Smith as an ‘out-and-out Tankie’ - a hardline supporter of the crushing of the Prague Spring by Soviet tanks: ‘Not to put too fine a point on it, he was the total nerd. There was socializing going on, but he was not part of it.’(36) A Line X officer at the London residency, Viktor Alekseyevich Oshchenko (codenamed OZERO V), made initial contact with Smith in a pub near Smith’s flat at Kingston upon Thames after a trade union meeting held in May 1975 before the referendum on British membership of the EEC. On instructions from Oshchenko, Smith left the Communist Party, ceased trade union activity, became a regular reader of the Daily Telegraph, joined a local tennis club and - as his operational file quaintly puts it – ‘endeavoured to display his loyalty to the authorities’.
In July 1976, helped by bureaucratic confusion in MI5, caused by the remarkable coincidence that the Surrey Communist Party contained another Michael John Smith, he gained a job as a test engineer in the quality assurance department of Thorn-EMI Defence Electronics at Feltham, Middlesex. Within a year he was working on the top secret project XN-715, developing and testing radar fuses for Britain’s freefall nuclear bomb.(37) The KGB passed the documents on project XN-7I5 provided by Smith to N. V. Serebrov and other nuclear weapons specialists at a secret Soviet military research institute codenamed Enterprise G-4598, who succeeded in building a replica of the British radar fuse. Smith’s intelligence, however, seemed too good to be true. Serebrov and his colleagues were puzzled as to how Smith had been able to obtain the radio frequency on which the detonator was to operate. This information, they believed, was so sensitive that it should not have appeared even in the top secret documents on the design and operation of the detonator to which Smith had access. Armed with a knowledge of the radio frequency, Soviet forces would be able to create radio interference which could prevent the detonator from operating. One possibility which occurred to the specialists was that the frequency supplied by Smith might be merely a test frequency which would not be used in actual military operations. But they remained suspicious of the extent of the detailed highly classified information which Smith had been able to supply.(38)
The Centre also seems to have been suspicious of the ease and speed with which a well-known pro-Soviet Communist had been able to gain access to one of Britain’s most highly classified nuclear secrets so soon after going through the motions of leaving the Party and switching from the Morning Star to the Daily Telegraph. Its suspicions that Smith’s intelligence on the radar fuse might have been a sophisticated deception seem to have strengthened when he told his controller in 1978 that he had lost his security clearance and, for the time being, could no longer provide classified information. (Though Smith did not realize it at the time, MI5 had discovered its earlier error and secretly informed Thorn-EMI of Smith’s Communist past.) (39)
To try to resolve its doubts the Centre devised a series of tests to check Smith’s reliability. The first test, which Smith seems to have passed, was to remove two packets of secret material from a dead letter-box in Spain. The second, more elaborate check on Smith, personally approved by Andropov and termed in KGB jargon ‘a psycho-physiological test using a non-contact polygraph’, was conducted in Vienna in August 1979 by Boris Konstantinovich Stalnov and two OT (operational-technical support) officers. Stalnov began with a brief prepared speech, duly entered in Smith's file:
I am personally satisfied with the way things are going and with our mutual relations and I am therefore extremely glad to congratulate you. From today you are a full member of our organization. This means that the organization will take care of you. Believe me, you will have gained friends who are ready to come to your help in any circumstances. Your participation and help to the organization will be duly recognized. The organization is based on two principles: voluntary participation and sincerity.
The first means that, having joined the organization of your own free will, you may leave it at any time if you think it necessary, without any [adverse] consequences for yourself, provided you give prior notice.
As for the second principle, sincerity, you must inform us of all details which directly or indirectly affect the interests of our organization. This is understandable as the security of both sides depends on it. Joining the organization is also in a certain sense a formal act. In connection with this I am required to put a number of questions to you. I regard this as a pure formality. You should do the same.
It will simplify the task and save time if you simply answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Smith was then asked over 120 questions and his replies secretly recorded. Subsequent analysis of the recording and Smith’s response to each question persuaded the Centre - doubtless to its immense relief -that he was not, as it had thought possible, engaged in a grand deception orchestrated by British intelligence. Though Smith had been led to suppose that the ‘psycho-physiological test’ was a routine formality, it had never been used before by the KGB outside the Soviet Union. The Centre was so pleased with its success that it decided to use the same method to check other agents. It none the less decided to give Smith a third (and apparently final) test of his ‘sincerity’ by instructing him to remove a container holding two rolls of film from a DLB in the Paris suburbs and to deliver it to a KGB officer in Lisbon.(40) The KGB would doubtless have been able to detect any attempt by Smith or another intelligence agency to open the container.
From 1979 onwards Smith was paid a 3oo-pound monthly retainer by the KGB. His file also records additional payments for documents supplied by him of 1,600 pounds, 750 pounds, 400 pounds and 2,000 pounds. Though Mitrokhin’s notes do not record the dates of these payments, they probably relate chiefly to Smith’s two years in Thorn-EMI Defence Electronics.(41) The excitement of working for the KGB, copying highly classified documents, emptying DLBs and going to secret assignations with his case officers in foreign capitals seems to have rescued Smith from his earlier existence as a ‘total nerd’. A hint of the exotic began to enliven a previously drab lifestyle. In 1979 he got married, took up flamenco dancing, began experimenting with Spanish and Mexican cuisine, and gave dinner parties at which guests were served his home-made wine.(42)
Smith was so taken with his life as a secret agent that he made strenuous efforts to recover the security clearance he had lost in 1978, even drafting a personal appeal two years later to Margaret Thatcher to intercede on his behalf. ‘There is a cloud over me which I cannot dispel,’ he complained to the Prime Minister. ‘I have been wrongly suspected and have lost my position most unjustly.’ Though Smith seems never to have posted his letter to Mrs Thatcher, in June 1980 he succeeded in putting his case to an MI5 officer. Smith began by denying that he had ever been a Communist, was confronted with evidence that he had, then apologized for lying and said he had joined the Party only to find a girlfriend.(43) Amazingly, Smith’s campaign to recover his security clearance survived even this setback. More amazingly still, a few years later it succeeded.(44)
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The greatest known success of KGB operations in Britain during the Gorbachev era was the reactivation of Michael Smith, probably the most important British Line X agent since the retirement of Norwood. When Mitrokhin last saw Smith’s file in 1984, he had been trying for six years without success to recover the security clearance which had made him such a valuable agent in the Thorn-EMI Weapons Division in 1976-8. By now, the Centre was close to writing him off. The last contact with Smith noted on his file was in March 1983. In 1984 it was decided to put him ‘on ice’ for the next three years.(111) In December 1985, however, Smith was taken on as a quality assurance engineer by the GEC Hirst Research Centre at Wembley, in north-west London, where seven months later he was given limited security clearance for defence contracts on a need-to-know basis.(112)
In 1990 Line X at the London residency renewed contact with Smith, arranging meetings either in the graveyard of the church of St Mary at Harrow on the Hill or in the nearby Roxeth recreation park at South Harrow. Security procedures were devised at each site to warn Smith if it was under surveillance. At St Mary’s church he was told to look for a white chalk line on the vicarage wall near a fire hydrant. If the line was uncrossed, it was safe for him to enter the graveyard. He was also told to look at the church noticeboard. A small green dot, usually on a drawing pin, indicated that the meeting with his case officer was still on; a red dot was a warning to leave immediately. Though Smith had originally been an ideological agent, his motives had become increasingly mercenary. At meetings between 1990 and 1992 he was given a total of over 20,000 pounds for material from GEC defence projects, some of which he spent on an expensive flamenco guitar, a musical keyboard and computer equipment. Smith became increasingly confident and careless. When he was arrested in August I992, the police found documents on the Rapier ground-to-air missile system and Surface Acoustic Wave military radar technology in a Sainsbury’s carrier bag in the boot of his Datsun.(113)
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The reactivation in the early 1990s of the leading British Line X agent Michael Smith was one sign among many of the continued priority given to S&T collection in the Yeltsin era.(49)
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35. vol. 7, ch. 14, item 12.
36. John Steele, ‘25 Years for the Spy Who Stayed in the Cold’, Daily Telegraph (18 November 1993).
37. Report of the Security Commission (Cmnd 2930) (July 1995), chs. 2-4.
38. vol. 7, ch. 14, item 12.
39. On the information about Smith passed by Ml5 to EMI in 1978, see ‘Phone Call that Trapped a Spy’, Independent (19 November 1993).
40. vol. 7, ch. 14, item 12.
41. The Security Commission later concluded that Smith had held on to some of the classified documents he had obtained at Thorn-EMI and given them to the KGB some time after he lost his security access in 1978. One or more of the payments recorded in his file may thus refer to a period after his loss of access. Since Mitrokhin’s notes end in 1984, the details of KGB payments to Smith cannot refer to his later years as a Soviet agent.
42. ‘“Boring” Idealist Who Spied for Russia Gets 25 Years’, The Times (19 November 1993).
43. Report of the Security Commission (Cmnd 2930) (July 1995), pp. 8-9. ‘Dear Maggie, Please Let Me Spy for the KGB!’, Daily Mirror (21 September 1993). Laurence Donegan and Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Spy Who Slipped Through the Net’, Guardian (19 November 1993).
44. See below, p. 568.
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111. vol. 7, ch. 14, item 12.
112. Report of the Security Commission (Cmnd 2930) (July 1995), p. 10.
113. Report of the Security Commission (Cmnd 2930) (July 1995), pp. 13-14, 32-3. ‘Phone Call Hoax that Trapped a Spy’, Independent (19 November 1993); ‘Vital Clues to a Traitor’, Daily Mail (19 November 1993).
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