Woolrich Arsenal Case

   One of the early failures of Soviet intelligence in Great Britain in the late 1930s was the Woolrich Arsenal Case. Soviet illegals recruited British Communist Party members with access to military secrets at the arsenal. These agents ran in turn several men with access to British military secrets. The operation failed because the British security service (MI5) had inserted an agent, Olga Grey, into the Communist Party, and she was able to provide detailed information about the agents’ plans. Percy Glading and two other conspirators were arrested, tried, and received short jail terms.
   However, the affair gave MI5 an exaggerated sense of it ability to defeat the Soviet services. It may also have convinced MI5 not to place the Soviet mission under surveillance during the war, which allowed NKVD officers to move freely in London. Anthony Blunt stole a copy of the official MI5 report of the Woolrich Arsenal Case, which provided Moscow with a very good idea about the modus operandi of British counterintelligence. The NKVD learned that if they were to recruit and run communists, they must make very sure that their sources had no recent overt contact with the Communist Party. Part of the intelligence successes in the 1940s and 1950s in London came from the Soviets’ ability to convince their recruits to break contact with communist and left-wing organizations.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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