Monday, December 11

Cambridge spy seminars hit by whispers of Russian links as three intelligence experts resign



It has been more than seventy years since a ring of Cambridge spies infiltrated British intelligence so they could pass on crucial information to the Soviets.

But it seems academics at the university are once again involved in whispers of espionage and double bluffs.

This time, it is not a spy ring at the centre of intrigue but rather suggestions that Kremlin operatives may be targeting a seminar programme.

The concerns emerged after a number of experts unexpectedly resigned from their positions at the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar (CIS), an academic forum on the Western spy world.

The men, which include former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove, are said to have left amid concerns that the Kremlin is behind a newly-established intelligence journal, which provides funding to the group.

Sir Richard, who was a convener for the CIS, has been joined by Stefan Halper, a former policy adviser at the White House, and historian Peter Martland. Mr Halper has said his decision to step down was due to unacceptable Russian influence on the group.

Last night, a former KGB spy chief said it is entirely possible the experts’ alleged fears are true.

The CIS was set up by official MI5 historian Professor Christopher Andrew. Seminars, which take place on Fridays at the university’s Corpus Christi college, are advertised on the university website, with previous attendees including Mike Flynn, Donald Trump’s choice as new national security adviser for the US, and Dr Paul Martin, the ex-director of parliamentary security.

Suspicions were allegedly raised after claims a new digital publishing house called Veruscript, which helps cover some of the CIS’s costs, may be acting as a front for the Russian intelligence services.

The publishing house, which, according to its website, is based in London, is also publishing a new journal, the Journal of Intelligence and Terrorism Studies.

Some of those involved are thought to be concerned that Russia may attempt to use the link to the seminars to influence sensitive debates on national defence and security, sources told the Financial Times.

Last night, experts warned it was feasible for the Russians to be involved, despite no concrete evidence yet found to suggest the claims are true.

Oleg Gordievsky, who ran the KGB’s London bureau and was a double agent for the British intelligence service from 1974, said Russians were targeting creative industries but in larger cities, such as London.

It is possible [they have targeted CIS] but it is not very important, he said. Cambridge is just small pin point, the centre of the earth is London and there are at least 40 officers, including 25 KGB officers there.

They are always not very organised as they are very poorly paid and therefore they are not dangerous. They would use publishing or creative industries to infiltrate, it is very possible they might be doing this.

It is understood that intelligence officers and senior civil servants voiced their concerns during a meeting at the Cabinet Office two months ago, which discussed the growing scale of the Russian threat.

Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, who chairs the House of Commons Intelligence and Security select committee, said he did not wish to speculate as to the precise reasons for Sir Richard’s departure.

But he admitted Russian involvement was “possible” amid a cascade of Russian intelligence-related activities.

He said: After the heady days of post-Cold War and the belief that we were moving the Russians into a rules-based international system, we seem to be going very rapidly in the opposite direction.

Whether it’s cyber activities, their apparent general malevolence and disruption, what you’re hearing is alleged to have taken place in the United States  and there is no reason to suggest the United States has made this up – it’s a catalogue of activities.

Television outlets like Russia Today are running around all over the place. There is a lot of Russian activity. It is perfectly plain that the Russians are in a hyperactive mode and this seems to be on the face of it orchestrated by Mr Putin, and frankly I find it very worrying.

Cambridge University declined to comment. Sir Richard and Mr Martland have been approached for comment but have not replied.

Gleb Cheglakov, who is believed to have set up Veruscript with his wife, said it would be editorially independent of the organisation. He did not comment on the alleged link with the Russian government.