How the CIA Helped Foil a Soviet Spy Ring in 1950s London

It sounds like a movie, but it happened in real life, according to newly declassified records.

November 28, 2017 1:06 pm
Portland Spy Ring
American-born Soviet spies Morris and Lona Cohen, who worked in London under the assumed names Peter and Helen Kroger, arrive at London's Heathrow Airport, 24th October 1969. Jailed in 1961 for their involvement with the Portland Spy Ring, they are being released in exchange for Gerald Brooke, a British citizen arrested in the Soviet Union. (Photo by Jeremy Fletcher/Getty Images)

The occupants of 45 Cranley Drive, in northwest London, were friendly and known for hosting good parties. They owned an antique bookshop in London, but under all this was the biggest secret of all: They were, in fact, running a sophisticated deep-cover Russian spy ring. This ring penetrated the heart of a highly sensitive British government research establishment, which shared military secrets with the United States.

This remarkable story was revealed through a set of declassified documents by the British Security Service, better known as the MI5, reports PoliticoDuring the post-war years, the spy network, known as the Portland spy ring, operated in Britain. It involved a deep-cover Soviet “illegal,” with “no diplomatic cover, living out in the cold, under a false name and nationality — almost impossible to detect,” writes Politico. This network linked to some of the biggest Soviet illegals operating in the U.S.

The newly declassified records are the first records from the archives of the British intelligence that reveal how the spy network was detected, reports Politico.

The couple in the Cranley Drive house ended up being Morris and Lona Cohen, known to be two of the Kremlin’s most important underground assets in the Cold War, according to Politico. The American-born KGB illegals had acted as KGB couriers and passed top-secret intelligence on U.S. atomic research. When the U.S. started arrested other KGB illegals, the KGB got the Cohens out of America and in 1954, they arrived in Britain to start their new life and espionage career as the Krogers.

In total, there were five “Portland spies” operating the spy network. They were arrested and convicted in 1961, after a well-placed agent the CIA was running in Polish intelligence, Michal Goleniewski, codenamed “SNIPER,” tipped off MI5 to Harry Houghton, one of the five Portland spies. MI5 began tracking Houghton and eventually captured all five.

Today, the Russian’s foreign intelligence service honors the Portland Spy Ring in their hall of fame. According to Politico, to understand the Kremlin today, it is necessary to understand their history. The Cohens were released in a spy swap in 1969 and returned to a heroes’ welcome in the Soviet Union and even awards.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.