MI6 'asked Football Association to act as Cold War spies'

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The Independent Online

British intelligence used the Football Association, ballet companies and travel firms such as Lunn Poly as cover to spy on the Soviet Union in the Cold War, a new book reports.

In his book The Spying Game, Michael Smith writes that the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) began to explore how commercial and cultural links could be used for espionage at the end of the Second World War. The operations were run by an anti-Soviet department, Section IX. It was headed by Kim Philby, by then a double-agent working for the Russians. Philby passed on the details to his handlers in Moscow. Security sources confirmed yesterday that some of the plans were activated.

Spies were smuggled past the Iron Curtain under the cover of business, sport and the arts. Trade unions were also considered, but regarded as a "dangerous ... double-edged swords", according to Smith.

Using hitherto undisclosed documents, the author reveals that an MI6 official wrote: "A start could be made now by preparing the ground with the Football Association to get them to be prepared to start work immediately the right moment comes along."

The 1944 document stated that similar steps should be taken with "music, ballet, drama and the like".

Another official added that a "Mr Bruce Ottley knows all about ballet and ... could be of use in this matter. Trade unions could on occasions be used on specific aspects, but this is very much a double-edged sword", the book says. The document notes that "travel is a sure thing. Sir Henry Lunn Ltd [now Lunn Poly] is even now making approaches to the Russian trade mission about organising tours on a grand scale. A worm placed on this apple would soon grow fat."

A senior intelligence official, Lt-Col Claud Dansey, compiled a list of companies that the secret service believed would be amenable to the presence of MI6 agents on their staff. It included the Hudson's Bay Company retailers, Henry Lunn travel company, the Belfast shipbuilder Harland and Wolff, the metals and chemicals company Johnson Matthey, and other companies with Russian trade links such as HA Brassert and Co and Lambert Bros Haulage. MI6 noted that Hudson's Bay Company had "accumulated large stocks of furs during the war, [and that it] fears competition from the Russian fur industry".

It also recalled that the company helped to gather intelligence for the British in Moscow in 1919, in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution. Harland and Wolff, the document said, "are planning to start talks soon with the Russians on ice-breaker freighters to ply Russia's Arctic waters".

Johnson Matthey "have entered into preliminary talks with the Russian trade mission on the processing and distribution of Russian platinum and other rare metals", it added.

One declassified report, "Penetration of Russia to Obtain Intelligence Information", maintained that "this plan envisages gradual but broad penetration with complete security. This plan does not require great government expenditure.

"To the Russian, there is nothing more natural than British nationals engaged in commerce, industry and financial dealings, which are the basis of the existence of the imperialist bourgeoisie.

"All the individuals earmarked for infiltration ... have natural reasons to meet one another. Even if suspicion should fall on any company or individual, [the Government] can simply say that it is not always able to control private commercial intelligence activity."

But MI6 was deeply concerned over double agents and Soviet traps. The report said: "Each agent and each operative should be instructed that no secret information should be sought or accepted that does not come into the category of political or economic information. At the initial stages ... counter-intelligence will definitely try to offer military, air or naval intelligence to visitors, using agents provocateurs."


With the explosion in the use of mobile telephones, GCHQ, the Government's eavesdropping centre, and its American counterparts have had to initiate new ways of tracking conversations.

A national mobile telephone system is made up of a series of stations and once a handset is switched on it automatically searches for the base station with the strongest signal. The base stations are controlled by a Mobile Telephone Switching Office (MTSO) and GCHQ can track a caller up to a distance of about 12 miles - the usual catchment area of a station.

In The Spying Game, the author, Michael Smith, says that even if no conversation takes place, the intelligence services can hear what is being said at a telephone's immediate vicinity as long as it is switched on.

The National Security Agency in the United States and GCHQ have also perfected ways of breaking the encryption systems of the mobile telephones.

In a process known as Meaconing an intercepting device can in effect take control of a mobile telephone's signals. Calls are then channelled through a counterfeit station, which allows the eavesdroppers to listen in without the targets knowing what is happening.