Civil servant Arthur Wynn revealed as recruiter of Oxford spies
Arthur Wynn and his wife, Peggy, were Communist Party members
Ben Macintyre and Steve Bird
A Soviet mole who recruited a network of communist spies at Oxford before and during the war has been unmasked as Arthur Wynn, a distinguished former civil servant who was also “Agent Scott” of the KGB.
Historians have speculated for years about the true identity of “Scott”, a British spy known to have recruited the Oxford Ring of spies and informants in parallel to the better-known Cambridge Ring of Soviet agents.
Agent Scott first came to light when the KGB briefly permitted access to its files in 1992, but his true identity has been revealed after the discovery of a document written by the KGB’s former head of counter-intelligence. The double life of the British former bureaucrat was exposed in the American Weekly Standard magazine by the historians John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, a former KGB officer who gained access to the Soviet archives in the 1990s.
The authors cite a memo dated July 1941 from the KGB’s head of counter-intelligence, Pavel Fitin, to Vsevolod Merkulov, the KGB chief, naming “Scott” as Wynn. The memo also identifies his recruiters as Theodore Mally, a KGB controller based in London, and Edith Tudor Hart, the Austrian-born KGB agent who also recruited the Soviet spy Kim Philby.
Wynn, who died in 2001, went on to become a prominent medical researcher and an expert on nutrition. He was the National Coal Board’s scientific member in the 1950s and worked as a civil servant in Tony Benn’s Ministry of Technology until his retirement in 1971. But earlier in his life, as Agent Scott, Wynn sent the KGB reports on Oxford members of the Communist Party, possible recruits and at least 25 potential Soviet spies, of whom five were considered highly suitable. Among those suspected to have been recruited as students into the “Oxford Ring” were a former Labour MP, a former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum and an Oxford don.
Although Scott’s existence was revealed in 1992, the KGB refused to divulge his name, prompting a flood of speculation. Among those who have been incorrectly identified as the Soviet mole were Sir David Scott Fox, a former diplomat, and Sir Peter Wilson, the former chairman of Sotheby’s.
Agent Scott first appears in Soviet files in October 1936, when the illegal KGB recruiting station in London reported a significant intelligence coup. The Crown Jewels, a 1998 book by Nigel West and the former KGB officer Oleg Tsarev, cites a KGB report from that date stating that Tudor Hart had recruited “a second Sohnchen [the codename for Philby, recruited a few years earlier] who, in all probabilities, offers even greater possibilities than the first”.
By 1937 Scott was being praised by his controller Mally for listing “about 25 leads”, including an individual code-named “Bunny”, who has never been identified. Mally also sent his Moscow bosses a document entitled “On Potential candidates at Oxford”, identifying dozens of young communists who would soon be leaving to take up positions of authority and influence in the British Establishment.
The Russians even commissioned a psychological profile of “Scott”, based on interviews, handwriting analysis and study of his social background.
Wynn was a graduate of Cambridge, but at about the time of his recruitment he met Peggy Moxon, a student at Oxford and a fellow member of the Communist Party. They married in 1938, and had four children. Mrs Wynn, 96, lives in London, but declined to be interviewed. Last night a relative described the claims in the book as “tittle tattle” that should not ruin Wynn’s life’s work.
Wynn was a most enthusiastic recruiter, according to the KGB, offering reports not just on Oxford students, but also potential communist spies at Cambridge and the University of London. He was rather too keen, from the point of view of his Moscow spymasters, who urged him to be more “selective”. “We are very worried about [Scott’s] activity,” said one Moscow missive. “All this is too much based on compatriots [members of the Communist Party] . . . There should be no mass recruitment.” But “Agent Scott” remained zealous, observing “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.”
During the Stalinist purges, the KGB’s recruiting station was briefly closed, but “Scott” appears to have maintained contact with his Soviet spymasters, and by 1941 he was recruiting additional “sources”.
In the 1960s, the MI5 officer Peter Wright began an investigation into the Oxford Ring (the Cambridge Ring was Philby, Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean). Wright, who provoked government fury in 1988 with Spycatcher, wrote that the left-wing Clarendon dining club was a centre of Soviet espionage recruitment in 1930s. “There was no doubt in my mind,” wrote Wright, “that this was a separate ring based exclusively at Oxford University, but investigating it proved enormously difficult.”
Among those identified by Wright as being linked to the suspected Oxford Ring were Bernard Floud, a Labour MP, his brother Peter Floud, former Keeper of the Department of Circulation in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Jenifer Hart, an Oxford academic. Bernard Floud committed suicide soon after being interrogated as a suspected Soviet agent.
Another person linked to the ring was Phoebe Pool, who admitted passing messages to the Floud brothers from the KGB spy-handler “Otto”, identified as Arnold Deutsche. Pool also committed suicide, and Peter Floud died suddenly at the age of 48.
According to Haynes, Klehr and Vassiliev, Wynn also became a suspect during Wright’s investigation and was offered immunity in exchange for a full explanation of Soviet espionage recruitment in the 1930s. The deal came to nothing and the investigation was finally dropped.
The so-called Oxford Ring never achieved the notoriety of its Cambridge counterpart, in part because none of the suspects defected to Moscow and did not penetrate the Establishment in the same way as the Cambridge spies, but also because MI5’s spy-hunters got cold feet.
“Three deaths, two of which were suicide, in such a small group of people, at a time when we were actively investigating them seemed far more than bad luck. MI5 was terrified that it would be linked publicly with the deaths and all further work was suspended,” Wright wrote.
Hart, who went on to become a pioneering civil servant and Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford, acknowledged meeting “Otto” in about 1938 but denied passing on any information. She always denied that there had been an Oxford Ring. “As far I’m aware there wasn’t anything like Cambridge,” she told the Times Higher Education Supplement in 2003, two years before she died.
The existence of Agent Scott was revealed, with the approval of Russian intelligence, but the mole was incorrectly described as an Old Etonian, a Scotsman and a member of the Foreign Office, sending journalists and historians in search of number of red herrings. Wynn was none of these.
In their forthcoming book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, Haynes, Klehr and Vassiliev identify two KGB recruits in Britain as the primary sources of Soviet intelligence on the Manhattan Project, the secret US atomic research programme. One of these was Melita Norwood, whose role was revealed in 1990, but the other, identified for this first time in the book, was Engelbert Broda, an Austrian-born physicist who worked at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge and had access to Manhattan technical reports.
The revelation of the identity of Scott does not appear in Spies, but the key document was discovered while researching the book.
Between 1994 and 1996, Mr Vassiliev, a press officer with the Russian intelligence service, was given full access to the KGB files, and transcribed thousands of documents into notebooks. In 1996, he fled to London after receiving death threats, leaving the notebooks behind with a trusted friend. Mr Vassiliev recently retrieved his notebooks and found the transcribed memo identifying “Scott” among them.
“It was there in the notebooks but we had not paid too much attention because our book is really about KGB penetration of the US, and Scott did not fit the picture,” Mr Vassiliev said yesterday.
The quality and quantity of intelligence provided by the Oxford Ring, and the number and names of all its members, still remain secret. But more than 70 years after KGB agents began recruiting an Oxford spy ring – just as it did in Cambridge — one of the oddest mysteries in espionage history has finally been resolved.
“The identity of Scott, the ambitious recruiter of British students, is now solved,” the historians wrote.
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