MI5 missed crucial chances to shut down a Russian spy ring stealing British naval secrets, four years before it was discovered because tip-off came from ‘disgruntled wife’
- Ex-wife of agent Harry Houghton informed employers he was sharing secrets
- Despite complaints to Admiralty she was dismissed as ‘jealous, disgruntled wife’
- Portland spy ring would have been shut down had they acted on her concerns
MI5 missed crucial opportunities to shut down a Russian spy ring stealing British naval secrets four years before it was discovered, the files reveal.
The ex-wife of agent Harry Houghton had informed his employers that he was ‘divulging secret information to people who ought not to get it’.
But despite her formal complaints to the Admiralty, she was dismissed as a ‘jealous and disgruntled wife’, the files released by the National Archives reveal.
Had they acted on her concerns, the notorious Portland spy ring would have been shut down and prevented important naval intelligence being sent to Russia, according to senior figures in MI5.
The ex-wife of agent Harry Houghton had informed his employers that he was ‘divulging secret information to people who ought not to get it’ (Pictured: Harry and Ethel Gee)
Intelligence obtained by the KGB from the Portland Underwater Detection Establishment was believed by the Admiralty to have helped the Soviet Union construct a new, more silent class of submarine.
But the Admiralty failed to act despite certain classified files going missing and then being returned ‘surreptitiously’ in 1956 – some of which were thought to have been seen on Houghton’s desk.
The files reveal: ‘During the course of recent welfare enquiries, it is understood that Mrs Houghton alleged that her husband was divulging secret information to people who ought not to get it.
‘No further action other than discreet surveillance is being taken at this time. Hitherto there has been no question of his integrity. It is considered not impossible that the whole of these allegations may be nothing more than outpourings of a jealous and disgruntled wife.’
Despite her formal complaints to the Admiralty, she was dismissed as a ‘jealous and disgruntled wife’ (Pictured: Harry Houghton and Ethel Gee)
Mrs Houghton said she saw Houghton with documents marked ‘top secret’. She also found cameras and microfilm hidden under the stairs.
A note from E M Furnival Jones, MI5’s head of counter-espionage, in 1961 said: ‘Looking at it dispassionately now, I think it is clear that we ought to have carried out some investigation in 1956.’
In 1961, Houghton was jailed for 15 years. He was released in 1970 and died in 1985.