Truth is stranger than fiction. This statement sounds so true and accurate in the true story of the Cambridge Five which reads like a detective thriller full of suspense and intrigue. In the history of espionage, the most important and successful espionage ring to operate before, during and after the Second World War was the Cambridge Spy ring composed of highly educated young men from some of the most elite families of the United Kingdom. All the members of this spy ring were betraying their country for ideological and philosophical reasons, and not for any monetary benefits.
Cambridge University in England is home to some of the finest minds and socially well-connected youth of the country and the world. It was at this top university that the spy ring was born and it consisted of brilliant and idealistic students named Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean, Harold Adrian, Kim Philby and John Cairncross. This group of brilliant spies were successful and responsible for duping many British and American intelligence agencies, causing the deaths of numerous men and women and wreaking havoc on many British and American covert intelligence operations. This group collectively managed to pass on to the Soviet Union some of the most valuable and critical intelligence information. They became the eyes and ears of the Soviet spy agency the KGB within the British establishment. Their services to the USSR continued during the time that Russia was allied with the UK and then even during the time when Russia was an enemy state and the Cold War was at its peak.
All five brilliant minds were fully convinced that Marxism-Leninism or the Soviet political system was the best available system in the world
During the 1930s, and especially when the world was in the throes of the great economic depression and the future of the democratically elected governments was in danger and there was mass unemployment in both Europe and the USA, people like the Cambridge five began to think of fascism and other political ideologies as a new alternative. Russia had become the first communist country after the successful revolution led by Lenin in 1917 and this ideology held immense fascination and attraction for educated and idealistic youth all over the world especially in centers of higher education like Cambridge University. During this time the Soviet intelligence agency the KGB decided to recruit educated brilliant young men into its ranks, targeting ideologically motivated students who firmly believed in the communist ideology and admired the Russian system of government. The objective of the Russians was to infiltrate the MI-5 the domestic branch of British intelligence and MI-6 the counter intelligence or foreign intelligence roughly the equivalent of the CIA of the United States. The Russians zeroed in on brilliant and talented young men who would eventually become members of the British foreign and intelligence services. They looked for individuals who were not members of the communist party but were believers in the communist philosophy and looked up to the USSR as leader of the future.
All the members of this spy ring – Burgess, Blunt, Maclean, Philby and Cairncross – were not a monolithic group. The common factor between them was that they were all brilliant students in their own areas of studies and they all believed in the communist dogma and were easy targets for recruitment by Soviet agencies. These young men were not only accomplished in academics but were also rebels socially and politically. Burgess and Maclean were known homosexuals in an age when such behavior was frowned upon and not socially acceptable. Philby was heterosexual, married many times, an accomplished writer and a great traveler. Blunt was an accomplished and well-known art historian and an art advisor to Queen Elizabeth II. While being recruited by the KGB, it was never mentioned that they will be working for the Russian spy agency but the sales pitch was that they will devote their talents and energies to work for the COMINTERN, the international communist organization and this was a chance they could not miss because of their passionate belief in the communist ideology.
Maclean was able to pass on to the Soviets information concerning the private communications between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt and, later on, Churchill and President Harry Truman. He also provided the Soviets with information on the top-secret Manhattan Project, which led to the development of the atomic bomb by the United States. As the British representative on the American-British-Canadian council on the sharing of atomic secrets, Maclean gave the Russians information that paved the way for the development of the Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb. In 1951, U.S. intelligence broke certain Russian diplomatic codes and deciphered messages, which revealed a top-ranking Soviet mole inside British intelligence. Upon narrowing down a long list of candidates, it was deduced that Maclean was indeed Homer. Philby, who was the liaison between British intelligence and the CIA, warned Maclean about this potentially disastrous news. In May 1951, both Maclean and Burgess defected to the Soviet Union.
All five brilliant minds were fully convinced that Marxism-Leninism or the Soviet political system was the best available system in the world to defeat the rise of fascism. All of them managed to pursue very successful careers in important and sensitive branches of the British government. They passed large amounts of intelligence to the Soviet Union this created a demoralizing effect in the British establishment and resulted in a mistrust in British security in the United States. No other spy or agency has done so much damage to Britain and America and provided such valuable intelligence to the Soviet Union as the Cambridge Five.