Random Posts

Play Live Blitz


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Secret intelligence between Soviet agents or just an innocent correspondence game?

     During the Cold War correspondence chess was used as a method to share secret messages between nations and spies. Chess was an effective communication method and it allowed spies to infiltrate many government institutions. For example, in Washington, D.C. during the 1960s and 1970s the Soviet embassy had a resident chess master on staff, Lev Zaitsev, who was later identified as a KGB colonel. 
     In England in 1950 postal chess cards were mailed to Graham Mitchell who was then the deputy director general of MI5. Mitchell was responsible for recruiting double agents with the aim of getting them into the KGB networks. 
     The post cards were sent from what was thought to be an undercover agent in Frankfurt, a hub of espionage activity. At the time Mitchell was suspected of being a secret Soviet agent, but authorities were not sure exactly which side the two players may have been spying for.
     Following a series of operational failures Mitchell and the director general Roger Hollis were investigated. They were suspected as being tied to the Cambridge Spy Ring which was a ring of spies in the United Kingdom that had been recruited by the Soviets. The spy ring passed information to the Soviet Union during World War II and was active at least into the early 1950s.
     The suspect postcards, eventually sold at auction, were found by a member of Mitchell's household staff who kept them for more than 50 years. All of them were sent from a Dr. Edmund Adam in Frankfurt. 
     Edmund Adam (May 18, 1894 in Sonneberg - January 18, 1958 in Frankfurt am Main) was a German correspondence player and chess official. From 1946 to 1956 he was the first president of the Association of German Correspondence Chess Friends, later renamed the German Correspondence Chess Federation. Adam won the last IFSB Federal Championship in 1939 before the war and as a result was invited to the final round for the first correspondence championship and finished 7th out of 14 players. One of his opponents in this tournament was Graham Mitchell.
     As mentioned, Frankfurt was a hub of activity for secret intelligence at that time and the city was crawling with agents for both sides. It was believed that the Russians favored using chess as a method of communicating and there was even a section in the KGB handbook that described how to do it. 
     Mitchell (1905 – 1984) was educated at Winchester School and Oxford University before joining MI5 as an expert on fascist organizations. At Oxford he studied politics, philosophy, and economics.  He was an officer of MI5, the British Security Service, between 1939 and 1963, serving as its deputy director general between 1956 and 1963. 
     In 1963 Roger Hollis, the MI5 director general, authorized the secret investigation of Mitchell following suspicions within the Secret Intelligence Service MI6 that he was a Soviet agent. It is now thought unlikely that Mitchell ever was a mole. 
     Mitchell had contracted polio as a child which left him with a pronounced limp, but he nevertheless went on to become an accomplished golfer. He also sailed for Oxford University. In lawn tennis, he was a partner in the men's doubles winning team of the Queen's Club Championships in 1930. He represented Oxford University at over-the-board chess and later represented Great Britain in correspondence play. Mitchell placed fifth in the first World Correspondence Championship (1950-1953) and inflicted the only defeat on the champion Cecil Purdy. As a result he was awarded the correspondence IM title.
     After graduation in 1927, Mitchell was briefly a journalist for the Illustrated London News. In the mid-1930s, he joined the research department of Conservative Central Office where he served as a statistician. The research department was actually an intelligence service. 
     Unfit for military service because of his polio, he joined the MI5 in November 1939, two months after the start of World War II. Mitchell spent most of the war at Blenheim Palace, in Oxfordshire, to which most of MI5 was evacuated in 1940 due to bombing threats in London. There he was a member of a division whose job was to monitor subversion. The division was headed by Hollis who had joined just before Mitchell. Their job was to maintain surveillance on suspected Nazi sympathizers and right-wing nationalist organizations. 
     After the war Mitchell became director of the division and in 1953 became head of counter-espionage. In May 1951 two British diplomats defected to Moscow and Mitchell led the team investigating what Soviet penetration there might have been in Britain's intelligence services. Mitchell was the principal author of the 1955 White Paper concerning the disappearance of the two diplomats. One investigative journalist later claimed the paper "was strewn with statements now proven to be false..." 
     In 1956 Roger Hollis had become director general of MI5 and appointed Mitchell to be his deputy. But MI5's performance in counterespionage had been unsuccessful...investigations had led to only one spy being caught and no Soviet defectors being recruited. It was a stark contrast to MI5's World War Two performance. 
     This led to suspicions that MI5 had become infiltrated by a Soviet mole and suspicion fell on both Hollis and Mitchell although the evidence was highly circumstantial. 
     In September 1963, Mitchell unexpectedly took early retirement due to health reasons at age 58, after 24 years service. He had announced his plans to retire before he came under suspicion, but he was later interrogated in 1968, and seemingly was able to answer the charges successfully. 
     The main suspicion then fell on Hollis and the matter has never been completely resolved.  Christopher Andrew in his Authorized History of MI5 comes to a firm conclusion that neither were traitors. Others are not so sure and believe Hollis was the most likely culprit, if there was one. Even as late as 2011 one investigator still considered that Hollis was a Soviet agent but that the case against Mitchell was trivial. 
     Mitchell was awarded the OBE in 1951, and Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1957 and died on November 19, 1984, at the age of 79. 
     Here is Mitchell's quick win against Dr. Adam in the first world correspondence championship.

No comments:

Post a Comment