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3 Oct 2014
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Confessions Of A Cold War Spy
By Sanchia Berg.

The most important spy of the Cold War was broken by a patient, George Smiley style of interrogation according to files just released at the National Archives.

Individual MI5 agents had long believed Klaus Fuchs might be a Soviet spy. Their suspicions were effectively confirmed in 1949 when decrypted Soviet messages indicated he was an agent known as "Charles". But those messages could not be used in court, so the security services needed Fuchs to confess in order to prosecute him.

MI5's chief interrogator Jim Skardon met Fuchs three times in late 1949 and early 1950. Each time, the physicist denied espionage.

But on the 23rd of January 1950, Fuchs said he would like to meet the interrogator again the following day.

Skardon's detailed account of the meeting is now available in the National Archives in Kew.

"I said to Fuchs you asked to see me and here I am," and he replied "Yes it is rather up to me now".

Thereafter for nearly two hours he related the story of his life, but during the course of this made no admission of any espionage activity...".

Nonetheless, Jim Skardon thought this might be his chance. He knew that Fuchs had been worrying about his father, a pastor who was about to take up an academic post in the Soviet zone of Germany.

"He was evidently under considerable mental stress ... I suggested that he should unburden his mind and clear his conscience … by telling me the full story. He said ‘I will never be persuaded by you to talk’."

The two men went to a local pub for lunch. "During the meal he appeared to be considerably abstracted ... and towards the end he suggested that we should hurry back to his house. On our arrival he said he had decided that it would be to his best interests to answer my questions".

And Fuchs made a full confession, explaining that he'd spied for the Russians from 1942 to 1949, that he'd given the Soviets all details of the atom bomb, even the detailed drawings.

Yet the physicist seemed to have no sense of the scale of his betrayal. Skardon wrote that Fuchs thought he would keep his job at the top secret Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Harwell in Berkshire. Just over a week later, he was arrested, tried, found guilty of offences under the Official Secrets Act, and imprisoned.

Christopher Andrew, Professor of Contemporary History at Cambridge University, believes the episode was a triumph for the interrogator. "Classical interrogation method is to hit hard and fast. Skardon took a great risk."

You can read more about the public release of MI5 files by visiting the website of the National Archives.

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Klaus Fuchs, spying for the Russians.
Listen to Sanchia Berg's report - 22 May 2003
Fuchs gave the Soviets detailed drawings of the atom bomb.

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