The late Queen Elizabeth may have suspected that an MI5 officer working as a Soviet spy was a Communist more than a decade before he confessed, according to newly released records.
Anthony Blunt, the fourth member of the notorious Cambridge Soviet spy ring, was a distant cousin of the Queen Mother and later became Surveyor of the King’s pictures.
According to the newly-released diaries of Guy Liddell, Deputy Director of the MI5, the Queen mother became suspicious after Blunt intimated during one of their meetings that he was an athiest.
Britain’s spy chiefs, however, were so thoroughly duped by the spy ring that they refused to believe that Blunt could be a double agent.
Liddell recalls meeting Sir Alan “Tommy” Lascelles, then King George VI’s private secretary, in July 1951 in an attempt to allay suspicions surrounding Blunt.
“I told Lascelles that I had known Anthony Blunt for about 10 years. I was convinced he had never been a communist in the fullest political sense, even during his days at Cambridge.
“Tommy said that he was glad to hear this. He told me Blunt had on one occasion intimated to the Queen that he was an athiest – and that the Queen had been a little shaken by his remarks.
“He was certain that if he now went up to her and told her that Anthony was a Communist, her immediate reaction would be ‘I always told you so’.”
Blunt was one of four double agents recruited by the Soviets at Cambridge University during the 1930s.
After leaving university he and the other agents – Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess – hid their communist sympathies and went on to secure prominent roles in the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6.
However, on May 25, 1951, the net appeared to be closing. Burgess and Maclean, who were both working in the foreign office, fled Britain after discovering they were about to be unmasked.
Liddell, however, had known Burgess, Blunt and Philby for more than a decade and initially refused to accept they had been part of a spy ring.
His conviction was not even swayed by a warning from a defecting Russian agent in 1944 that there were two Russian agents in the foreign office and seven in the intelligence services.
One of them, according to the Russian defector, was “head of a section of the British counter-espionage service”. At the time Philby was head of an MI6 unit dedicated to counter-espionage.
Burgess had turned to Liddell for help in February 1950 after a series of “grave indiscretions” in Gibraltar and Tangier during which he got “very drunk” at the expense of an aristocrat and gave SIS secrets to a journalist.
At the time Liddell had formed a sympathetic view. “My own view was that Guy Burgess was not the sort of person who would deliberately pass confidential information to unauthorised parties,” he wrote. “He was, however, extremely keen and enthusiastic in matters which interested him and would be easily induced… to say more han he ought to.”
He kept faith with Burgess after he left the country. “It seemed unlikely to me that a man of Burgess’s intelligence could imagine he had any future in Russia,” he wrote in June 1951.
He later added: “He had certainly been a Marxian… and would have been capable of discussing in a highly indiscreet manner with anybody almost anything he got from official sources. He would have done so out of sheer political enthusiasim.”
There were also growing suspicions that Philby had tipped off Maclean about that he was about to be exposed. Liddell defended Philby, suggesting it was “not unlikely” that Burgess had seen the papers on Maclean when Philby had accidentally left them on his desk.
As the Cambridge connection became clear, Blunt also came under suspicion. Liddell, however, decided once again to defend him.