The Magazine

Spy Mystery Solved

His name was Wynn. Arthur Wynn.

May 4, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 31 • By ALEXANDER VASSILIEV, HARVEY KLEHR and JOHN EARL HAYNES
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In our forthcoming book, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, we identify several dozen Americans never before suspected of working for Soviet intelligence. These identifications are based on KGB archival records of its operations in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s.

These records included some files on atomic espionage that also covered KGB work in Great Britain in World War II--due to the close links between the British and American atomic projects. To our surprise, we learned that from 1942 until early 1944 the chief source of Moscow's intelligence on the Manhattan Project were two KGB recruits in Britain with access to Manhattan Project technical reports. One of these British sources, Melita Norwood, was exposed in 1999 thanks to the KGB material Vasili Mitrokhin gave to MI5 in the 1990s. The other is revealed for the first time in Spies: Engelbert Broda, a refugee Austrian physicist and secret communist, who worked at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge.

Another KGB spy in Britain identified in the documents we examined had no discernible American connections, so he is not discussed in our book--but he is well worth some attention, for his identification clears up a mystery in espionage history.

In their 1998 book, The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB Archives, historian Nigel West and former KGB officer Oleg Tsarev cited an October 1936 report from the KGB's illegal station in London announcing to Moscow that through Edith Tudor Hart, the Austrian-born KGB asset who had recruited Kim Philby, the station had recruited a "second SOHNCHEN [Philby's cover name] who, in all probability, offers even greater possibilities than the first." By 1937, this source had been given the code name "Scott" and credited with providing "about 25 leads." Theodore Mally, "Scott's" KGB controller, noted, "most of these are raw material, but there are 4-5 among them who have already been studied and on whom we have already started working."

Moscow worried that too many of the leads had connections to the British communist party and urged that "Scott" be more selective. In April, Mally submitted a report prepared by Scott discussing the party members at Oxford and their professions. In July, "Scott" wrote another report on the student communist populations at Oxford, Cambridge, and the University of London. It optimistically noted,

if we work cautiously in the universities, the risk is not very great. We can be practically sure of always being able to select reliable people.

A number of his potential recruits were signed on before the station was closed down due to the Soviet purges, and, once contact with "Scott" was reestablished in 1941, he helped recruit new sources. West and Tsarev's book had, however, been written with the cooperation of the Russian SVR-- successor to the KGB--and under the rules of their agreement the identification of "Scott" was withheld.

But the intriguing material about "Scott" and his possible connection to an "Oxford ring" that paralleled the well-documented and highly successful "Cambridge ring" of Soviet spies (Philby, Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean) fueled speculation among British espionage historians and journalists about "Scott's" identity. Candidates have ranged from Sir David Scott Fox, a diplomat and former fellow of Queen's College, Oxford, to Sir Peter Wilson, a chairman of Sotheby's, who went from Oxford into the British intelligence services in 1933.

Peter Wright, the MI5 officer whose 1988 exposé Spycatcher drew British government lawsuits, named Bernard Floud, a Labour MP who committed suicide while under consideration for a ministerial appointment; his brother Peter, former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum; Sir Andrew Cohen, a senior diplomat; and Jennifer Williams Hart as connected to the rumored Oxford ring. Wright, however, wrote that his investigation, carried out in the 1960s, had gone nowhere. Several of the suspects were already dead or died during the investigation; several others committed suicide. Jennifer Hart (no relation to Edith Tudor Hart) admitted being a student communist in the 1930s but put a benign twist on her recruitment, suggesting that after joining the Home Office around 1938 she met with a clandestine Russian contact named "Otto" who told her to keep her party membership secret and lie low. Uncomfortable with the deception, she quit the party, never having turned over any secret information. Hart poo-poohed the idea that there had been an Oxford ring, telling one journalist: "As far as I'm aware there wasn't anything like Cambridge. There were communists of course, and Soviets were trying to recruit them, but as far as I'm aware they were not successful."

While the evidence we have uncovered does not answer the question of how many spies the KGB recruited at Oxford or how much information they turned over, it does provide the identity of "Scott," that enthusiastic recruiter who offered so many names to Theodore Mally. A memo from Pavel Fitin, head of the KGB's counterintelligence service to Vsevolod Merkulov, head of the KGB in July 1941, noted:

"Scott" is Arthur Wynn, about 35 years old, member of the CP of England, graduated from Cambridge and Oxford univs., radio expert, design engineer for the Cossor Co. Recruited in Oct. 34 by "Stephan" from "Edith's" lead.

("Stephan" was Mally and "Edith" was Edith Tudor Hart.)

Wynn had actually come under MI5 suspicion in the 1960s when Wright had interviewed Jennifer Hart. She had identified Wynn as briefly her link with "Otto" and noted that Wynn had been a close friend of Edith Tudor Hart. But when Wright had suggested that Wynn be offered immunity and a security clearance for a proposed senior position at the Board of Trade if he provided a full account of his relationship with the Soviets in the 1930s, his MI5 superiors dropped the investigation, fearing scandal from the suicides incident to the Oxford ring investigation.

Arthur Henry Ashford Wynn was born January 22, 1910. His father was a professor of medicine, and Wynn was educated at Oundle School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied natural sciences and mathematics. He was in Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power. According to one of his close friends, he married a young German communist activist to enable her to escape--just as Kim Philby had done for an Austrian communist. The marriage of convenience did not last long.

He was divorcing his wife when he fell in love with Peggy Moxon, who was a student communist at Oxford. They married in 1938 and had three sons and a daughter. Wynn received a law degree from Lincoln's Inn in 1939 and intended to practice with Sir Stafford Cripps, a leading left-wing politician expelled from the Labour party in early 1939 for advocating a popular front alliance with communists and anti-appeasement liberals and conservatives.

The advent of war changed Wynn's plans, and he went to work on advanced navigational aids for the RAF's Bomber Command. His employer, the Cossor Company, had converted to war production in 1939 and worked on the early development of airborne radar. Following the Labour party's nationalization of the mines in 1948, Wynn became a bureaucrat in the Division of Fuel and Power, specializing in mine safety, and continued to hold positions on government boards and commissions in that area through the 1960s. In the 1970s, his interests turned to family policy and maternal nutrition. Together with his wife, he produced a series of books and papers with both academic and political import. Wynn died at the age of 91 on September 24, 2001.

There is no indication of when or if Wynn ever repudiated his secret allegiance. Likewise, we have no idea how long he remained in contact with Soviet espionage after Fitin's July 1941 report. Nor is it clear whether the shutdown of the KGB's illegal station in 1939 as a result of the purges aborted the creation of an Oxford ring that would have matched the creativity of the Cambridge ring. Intelligence agencies only reluctantly open their archives for researchers, and well-documented espionage histories are slow in coming. Nonetheless, one mystery, the identity of "Scott," the ambitious recruiter of British students, is now solved.

John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev's new book, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, will be published in May by Yale University Press.