MI5 official’s diaries reveal tensions between UK, US spy agencies

Guy Liddell
Newly declassified personal diaries belonging to a senior British intelligence official reveal tensions between British and American spy agencies in the years immediately following World War II. The National Archives, an executive agency operating under the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Justice, released the diaries on Friday. They belong to Guy Maynard Liddell, a longtime British intelligence operative who rose to the post of Deputy Director General of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. Liddell meticulously kept a diary during most of the 1940s and 1950s, in which he detailed both personal information and details of his work at MI5. Two volumes of his diaries (from 1939 to 1945, edited by Nigel West) have already been published. Now a third installment has been declassified by the National Archives, containing Liddell’s diary entries from the late 1940s and 1950s. The diaries project what some intelligence historians describe as “a certain friction” between postwar British and American intelligence services. Even though the two countries were largely viewed as allies in the immediate postwar period, their respective intelligence agencies did not always see eye to eye. In one instance, Liddell describes his American colleagues as “utterly incapable […] of seeing anybody’s point of view except their own” and accuses them of being “quite ready to cut off their noses to spite their faces”. He also comes across as skeptical of the then-newly established Central Intelligence Agency, which, he writes, “someday” may be able to produce information that would be “worth disseminating, evaluating, or coordinating”. In 1947, shortly after the CIA’s founding, Liddell wrote with a degree of uncertainty that “in the course of time, [the Agency] may produce something of value”. Further on he relayed the opinion of CIA Deputy Director Edwin Kennedy Wright, who apparently told British intelligence officials that in American intelligence organizations “500 people were employed to do what 50 people would do” in the UK. In an earlier part of his diary, Liddell comes across as dismissive of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover, whom he describes as “a cross between a political gangster and a prima donna”. The British intelligence official says Hoover routinely resorted to “unscrupulous acts” and would readily undermine British security goals in order to protect the interests of his fiefdom. The diaries also show that Liddell was a staunch and sincere supporter of MI6 intelligence officer and Soviet double spy Guy Burgess. Liddell dismissed rumors that Burgess could be secretly working for the Kremlin almost unlit the day in 1951 when the MI6 spy actually defected to Moscow. Liddell retired from MI5 in 1953, feeling deeply disillusioned following the defection of Burgess and Donald Maclean, both of whom were members of the Cambridge Five Soviet spy ring.

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