The Cambridge Five were a group of students from Cambridge University recruited by Soviet intelligence in the 1930s to spy for the USSR due to their dissatisfaction with the status quo and opposition to Nazism. The spies infiltrated high-ranking positions within the UK government and passed classified information to the Soviets. Their betrayal caused a massive shock within the nation and strained UK-US relations. The story of the Cambridge Five highlights issues related to the British elite’s access to power and their exemption from consequences.
- The Move to Communism: During the 1930s, a trend emerged at Cambridge University where it became fashionable to support communism, reflecting discontent with the status quo and the rise of fascism in Europe. This sentiment partly explains why the Cambridge Five were recruited as Soviet spies.
- Spy Master Arnold Deutsch: Czechoslovakian agent Arnold Deutsch, working for NKVD (later known as the KGB), was responsible for recruiting the members of the Cambridge Five. He was sent to London in 1934 as a spy and played a pivotal role in forming the spy ring.
- Cambridge Five Members and Their Roles: The members of the Cambridge Five – Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross – held significant positions within the British government, intelligence agencies, and diplomatic service. Their roles allowed them to share classified information on topics such as UK nuclear arms development, NATO formation, and counterintelligence operations.
- Defections and Exposure: The defection of Maclean and Burgess confirmed their roles as Soviet spies. While Anthony Blunt’s involvement was kept secret until publicly exposed by Margaret Thatcher, John Cairncross’s confession was kept silent. Their story reveals a complex web of secrecy, betrayal, and political intrigue.
- Close Calls and Unresolved Questions: The spy ring nearly came undone with the defection of Konstantin Volkov, who offered information on top Soviet agents in Britain. His mysterious death prevented this information from coming to light, leaving unresolved questions about possible intervention from the Cambridge Five or their handlers.