Monday, March 30, 2015

Hobsbawm's choice

The perpetually indignant comrades at Morning Star: The People's Daily just don't think it fair that a guy can't be a foreign agent without being watched by MI5 (roughly equivalent to the FBI);
COLLABORATION between MI5 and the Gestapo was crucial to surveillance of Communist Party members in Britain including historian Eric Hobsbawm, an explosive new analysis reveals.
Historians yesterday blasted British governments for double standards as they attacked Eastern bloc states over surveillance while using similar tactics on an industrial scale.
The first sections of Mr Hobsbawm’s MI5 file were opened to public access at the National Archives last autumn, and reveal that British security services first took an interest after he corresponded with journalist and International Brigades member Hans Kahle.
Without mentioning--they could have read it in the London Review of Books article they cite--that Kahle was a Soviet agent living in wartime Britain, who defected to East Germany after the end of WWII and became head of the People's Police there;
MI5 had long been pursuing traces on Kahle – a comet’s tail of communist activism in Germany dating back to the 1920s and undimmed since his escape from Berlin at about the same time as Hobsbawm’s. Kahle’s file, PF 47,192, was opened in 1935, but it included close knowledge of his work for the KPD [German Communist Party] before this date, and it’s likely that some of this intelligence product came from MI5’s liaison with the Gestapo.
We love that, 'it's likely that some of this...'
Kahle, we learn, had escaped to Switzerland, but in 1935 he went to Moscow. A year later, he resurfaced in Spain as commander of the 11th International Brigade (he is the model for Hemingway’s General Hans in For Whom the Bell Tolls). He was also, according to information received by MI5, the ‘leader of the OGPU’ – one of the KGB’s predecessors – ‘in Madrid’.
The bit about the Gestapo, being thrown in for its scare value. MI5 was given information about Hobsbawm's political activities in 1933 (by the precursor to the Gestapo) after he fled to Great Britain to escape arrest in a Germany newly governed by Adolf Hitler. MI5 used whatever useful information came to it. From wherever (again from the LRB article);
According to Hobsbawm’s frank admission in [his memoir] Interesting Times, in the 1930s he would have done underground work for the Soviets if asked. His friendship with Kahle had prompted the suspicion at MI5 that he might indeed have been given ‘the touch’ (also known as ‘the hand on the knee’) by a Kremlin-directed agent: that he could be a Soviet courier, a spy even, one of those types who had fallen asleep in Marx’s beard and woken up in Stalin’s pocket.
Unfortunately, MI5 wasn't overly diligent, as they missed quite a few spies operating in Britain for the Soviet Union. Including those like Alan Nunn May and Klaus Fuchs--also a German Communist refugee who had to flee Hitler in 1933--working on the atom bomb, and some of Hobsbawm's friends at Cambridge;
Anthony Blunt, having been refused entrance to the wartime Intelligence Corps after MI5 found traces of his previous communist associations, managed to talk his way into MI5 with the support of influential contacts. He went on to pass a good deal of classified material to his Soviet handlers. When Kim Philby joined the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, fellow officer Hugh Trevor-Roper was ‘astonished’, as he knew him to have been a communist in the 1930s.
No suspicious activity here. Move along.

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