Maclean, Donald Stuart

(1913–1984)
   One of the most important Soviet agents within the British establishment, Maclean provided the Soviet leadership with insight into British policy making for 15 years. Maclean was the son of a Liberal Party cabinet minister. A brilliant student at Cambridge, he was converted to communism at university. Recruited by a Soviet illegal, Maclean was asked to assume the cover of an earnest and intelligent ex-communist and apply for the British diplomatic service. Maclean had little trouble fooling his superiors, and he became a “high flyer” in the foreign service. In the late 1930s he provided Moscow with thousands of British diplomatic dispatches, a window on British foreign policy during the Munich crisis and the run up to World War II.
   During and after the war Maclean served in Washington, where he provided Moscow with detailed information about U.S. military strategy and nuclear weapons development. According to one former KGB officer, Maclean’s reporting in 1942 filled 45 volumes. In the late 1940s, Maclean was posted to Cairo as the youngest ministercounselor (the equivalent of a deputy chief of mission) in the British foreign service. In Egypt, Maclean’s life began to unravel and he drank heavily. One evening, he and a British colleague smashed up the apartment of an American diplomat in fits of drunken rage. Maclean was returned to Britain in disgrace, but he was made head of the American Department.
   In his last few months in the department in 1950–1951, Maclean provided Moscow with detailed information about American and British policy in Korea. By this time, however, he had been pinpointed by American counterintelligence as a Soviet mole. Decryption of Soviet intelligence cables from 1944–1945 identified a Soviet agent codenamed “Homer.” Kim Philby, serving in Washington as the British intelligence representative, was aware of the danger and used Guy Burgess, another Soviet agent in the British establishment and serving in the British embassy in Washington, to warn Maclean. On 25 May 1951, Maclean and Burgess traveled to France and disappeared.
   The KGB resettled Maclean under the name Mark Petrovich Fraser. He and Burgess surfaced in Moscow in 1956. Maclean was never truly happy in Moscow, despite the KGB’s exfiltration of his wife, Melinda, and their children from London to Moscow two years later. The KGB and the Soviet system did not know how to use defectors, nor did they fully trust them. Maclean lived in Moscow for the next three decades; disillusioned with Soviet domestic policies, he remained a “stranger in a strange land.” After his death, his ashes were returned to Scotland and buried there. Perhaps the best assessment of the damage he caused in the first days of the Cold War came from Secretary of State Dean Acheson: “That son-ofa-bitch knew everything.”
   See also Harris, Katherine; Venona.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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