John Cairncross bigraphy, stories - Spies

John Cairncross : biography

25 July 1913 - 08 October 1995

John Cairncross (25 July 1913 – 8 October 1995) was a British intelligence officer during World War II, who passed secrets to the Soviet Union. He was alleged to be the fifth member of the Cambridge Five.

Later life

At the end of the war, Cairncross joined the Treasury, claiming that he ceased working for the MGB (later KGB), at this time. KGB reports published since contradict this.

After his first confession, Cairncross lost his civil service job and was penniless and unemployed. He moved to the United States as a lecturer at Northwestern University and Case Western Reserve University.* He became an expert on French authors and translated the works of many 17th century French poets and dramatists such as Jean Racine, Jean de La Fontaine and Pierre Corneille as well as writing three of his own books: Moliere bourgeois et libertin; New Light on Moliere; and After Polygamy was made a sin.*

Arthur S. Martin, MI5's most outstanding investigative officer, ended this career. After Philby's flight to Moscow, Martin reopened the files to hunt for the Fourth and Fifth Men. To Martin's surprise, Cairncross made a full confession. Martin also received a denunciation which led to Blunt's confession.

Cairncross moved to Rome, where he worked for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as a translator, also taking on work for the Research Office of Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Banca d'Italia and IMI. In the BNL, a young economist engaged with international scenarios analysis (the Iraq-Iran War, petroleum's strategic routes in the Middle East and Far East) reported a strong and unusual interest by Cairncross about the Bank's role in that area. It was in Rome that his secret finally reached the public. In December 1979, Barrie Penrose, a journalist, concluded that Cairncross was the Fifth Man and confronted him. Cairncross's third confession was front-page news. His status was confirmed 10 years later by Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB defector. He retired to the south of France until 1995 when he returned to Britain and married American opera singer Gayle Brinkerhoff. Later that year he died after suffering a stroke, at the age of 82. Retrieved 15 November 2010


Cairncross's father was the manager of an ironmonger's and his mother a primary school teacher. John Cairncoss was one of a family of eight, many of whom had distinguished careers. All three of his brothers became professors. One was the economist Sir Alexander Kirkland Cairncross (a.k.a. Alec Cairncross). The journalist Frances Cairncross is his niece. Cairncross grew up in Lesmahagow, a small town on the edge of moorland, near Lanark in the Central Belt of Scotland, and was educated at the Hamilton Academy; the University of Glasgow; the Sorbonne and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied French and German. Scottish News Archive, The Herald, Glasgow, article 13 January 1998, Plea over Scots Spy - John Cairncross, "a former pupil of Hamilton Academy". Retrieved 2011-09-07 The Independent – obituary, John Cairncross 10 October 1995. Retrieved 2011-09-07 BBC Archive – John Cairncross, Cambridge spies. Retrieved 2011-09-07

After graduating, he took the British Civil Service exam and won first place. In an article appearing in the Glasgow Herald on 29 September 1936 it was noted that John Cairncross had scored an "outstanding double success of being placed 1st in the Home List and 1st in the competition for the Foreign Office and the Diplomatic Service," and that he had been placed 5th in the (Glasgow University) bursary competition of 1930, and was also a Scholar and Bell Exhibitioner at Trinity College, Cambridge.Glasgow Herald, article 29 Sept. 1936

Cairncross worked initially in the Cabinet Office as a private secretary to Lord Hankey, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Later he transferred to the Foreign Office. It has been suggested that in 1937 he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain, but he was not noted whilst at Cambridge for any political activity. He was regarded as rather austere and uncommunicative as an undergraduate. In 1942 and 1943 he worked on ULTRA ciphers at Bletchley Park and then joined MI6. His motivation in passing over Ultra transcripts relating to German battle plans on the Eastern Front was, he always claimed, purely to hasten the end of the war. It was at that time considered to be in the British interest for the Soviet Union to be made aware of German military plans, but not of how they were obtained; so only paraphrased information was passed to the Russians. A sanitised version of the information, with the source disguised was officially sent to Moscow, but Stalin was distrustful of information from the Allies, particularly if the source was unclear. Cairncross, codenamed Liszt by the Russians because of his love of music, had been instructed to get into Bletchley Park, known to the KGB as Kurort. He smuggled Tunny decrypts due to be destroyed out of Hut 3 in his trousers, transferring them to his bag at the railway station before going to meet his KGB contact in London. Smith, Michael Station X: The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park (1998, Channel 4 Books, London) pp 155-156 ISBN 0 7522 2189 2 By providing verbatim transcripts, Cairncross showed that the British were breaking German codes.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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