Maurice Oldfield

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Sir Maurice Oldfield was Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service from 1973 to 1978.[1]

Early life

Oldfield was born on 16 November 1915, in Overhaddon, Derbyshire where his parents were tenant farmers.[2] He was educated at the Lady Manners Grammar School in Bakewell.[3] He studied at the University of Manchester, where his professors included Lewis Namier, Ernest Jacob and A.J.P. Taylor.[4] He graduated with a first class degree in history in 1937, earning a Fellowship at the University the following year.[5]

Oldfield was called up in the South Staffordshire Regiment in 1941.[6] After basic training, he transferred to the Field Security Police, the most junior branch of the Intelligence Corps, and was sent to Ismailia in the Suez Canal Zone.[7]

SIME

In September 1941, Oldfield was talent-spotted by major H.M. Trethowan, the Defence Security Officer (DSO), Suez Canal Area, in SIME and sent to work on liaison with the Free French in Lebanon, under the DSO, Syria.[8]

Oldfield himself joined SIME shortly after being commissioned in April 1943.[9] He was involved in deception operations against the Germans, but later said according to Richard Deacon:

Without aid from our friends inside the German Abwehr, we shouldn't have won the war quite so soon. And if we had heeded some of them rather more than we did, it is possible that we could have won the war much earlier and not ended up with another potential enemy, if not on our doorstep, at least not very far away.[10]

Oldfield was posted to Cairo in early 1945. He replaced Trethowan as head of A section of SIME and eventually became the right hand man of SIME's commanding officer, Brigadier Douglas Roberts.[11]

In Cairo, he was involved in liaison with the Jewish Agency through Teddy Kollek, who became a lifelong friend. During 1946, he spent some time in the Defence Security Office in Jerusalem.[12]

According to Richard Deacon, Oldfield believed that the British concern with illegal immigration to Palestine was a major error, stating:

Many, if not most of those Jews were escaping from the horrors of Nazi-dominated Europe, and some of the rest were escaping from Stalinist anti-semitism.[13]

MI6

From 1947, Oldfield was an MI6 officer, joining as deputy head of the R5 counter-espionage section under his old commander Douglas Roberts.[14] According to Richard Deacon, Oldfield used his Middle East experience to develop MI6 relations with Mossad, cooperating on dissident escape routes from the Soviet Union.[15] He was also involved in MI6's attempts to infiltrate Albania at this time.[16]

In 1949, Oldfield briefed Kim Philby about leaks to the Soviets from the Los Alamos atomic laboratory and from the British Embassy in Washington, where Philby was about to be posted.[17]

Singapore

In 1950, Oldfield was sent to Singapore on the staff of the Commissioner-General for the United Kingdom in South East Asia, Malcolm Macdonald.[18] He served as deputy head of the MI6 station under James Fulton.[19]

Oldfield was posted back to London from 1953 to 1955.[20] Oldfield was awarded a CBE in 1956.[21]

Oldfield was posted back to Singapore in 1956 as First Secretary and head of station.[22] At some point during this period he became friendly with the CIA's Ray Cline.[23]

Oldfield was posted to London again in 1958-59.[24]

Washington

From 1960 to 1964, Oldfield was posted as a Counsellor in Washington, where he liased with the CIA.[25] His main contact with the agency was through Richard Helms.[26] According to Richard Deacon, Oldfield briefed President Kennedy with material from Oleg Penkovsky during the Cuban Missile Crisis.[27] However, in lead up to the crisis, the CIA Deputy Director Ray Cline had kept Oldfield and other British officials in the dark for some time about American knowledge of Soviet missiles in Cuba.[28]

After the defection of Kim Philby in 1963, the CIA-MI6 liaison relationship cooled sharply, and Oldfield came to rely increasingly on a social relationship with James Angleton.[29]

Deputy Head of MI6

Oldfield was appointed Deputy Head of MI6 on his return from Washington.[30]

Deacon suggests that the appointment of John Rennie as head of MI6 in 1968 was something of a snub to Oldfield.[31]

Head of MI6

Oldfield became head of MI6 in 1973. This followed Rennie's resignation after the German magazine Stern revealed his son was on trial for possession of heroin.[32]

Wilson Plot

In early August 1975, Prime Minister Harold Wilson called in Oldfield and demanded to know if MI5 were plotting against him. Oldfield conceded that an element of MI5 was unreliable. Author David Leigh notes of this episode:

There is really little doubt that Oldfield had this conversation with Wilson, although there is some uncertainty about the circumstances. Both Pincher and Anthony Cavendish have testified in print that they received a version of it from Oldfield. The journalist Barrie Penrose says that he heard a similar version from the other participant - Harold Wilson himself. This makes three good witnesses, even though Oldfield is dead now, and Wilson silent.[33]

Former MI5 officer Peter Wright records a conversation he had with Oldfield the day after this meeting in Spycatcher:

"I was called in by the Prime Minister yesterday," he said, his tone suddenly changing. "He was talking about a plot. Apparently he's heard that your boys have been going around town stirring things up about him and Marcia Falkender, and Communists at No. 10."
He trailed away as if it were all too distasteful for him.
It's serious, Peter, " he began again. "I need to know everything. Look what's happening in Washington with Watergate. The same thing will happen here unless we're very careful.[34]

Wright revealed that MI5 officers had been plotting against Wilson in the previous summer of 1974. Oldfield told him to pass on this information to MI5 chief Michael Hanley the next day, which he did. Wright records that Hanley's first reaction was an outburst against Oldfield's interference.[35]

Authors Robin Ramsay and Stephen Dorril say of this episode: "This is perhaps the most remarkable passage in Spycatcher. The Personal Assistant of the Director General of MI5 'regularly' dining with the head of MI6?" They go on to ask: Had Oldfield not recruited him, 'turned' him? Had Wright not 'defected' to MI5's arch-enemy, MI6?"[36]

In his history of MI6, Dorril claims that Oldfield assured Wilson's successor James Callaghan that the Service was 'not involved in nefarious activities', but that he had in fact been using MI6 agents to spread anti-Labour stories and gossip about MI5 to right-wing journalists.[37] In his autobiography, the veteran journalist Harry Chapman Pincher revealed that Oldfield had been one of his sources.[38]

Wilson burglary claim

Sir Desmond de Silva QC revealed in 2009 that Oldfield visited his home on 12 August 1975, and told him that Wilson's offices had been burgled during 1974: “Maurice told me that the papers stolen from the offices were now being offered for sale to German and Dutch magazines. He then joked that he expected I would be representing one of the culprits in due course.”[39]

After two alleged burglars were arrested on 4 March 1976, Oldfield arranged for de Silva to be instructed for the defence. Wilson resigned on 16 March, prior to the committal proceedings at which de Silva would have been able to refer to the documents stolen in the burglary, including a letter that could have been construed as insider trading:

“There was nothing sinister in the papers I saw, nothing you could say related to national security, but I saw this letter from Eric Miller [a property developer] to Harold Wilson, advising the sale of Peachey Property shares by the holder.”[40]

Retirement

Oldfield was succeed by Arthur Temple Franks on his retirement as head of MI6 in 1978.[41]

Northern Ireland Security Co-ordinator

On 2 October 1979, Oldfield was appointed as Co-ordinator of Security and Intelligence in Northern Ireland.[42]

Alleged pub incident

Chris Ryder claimed in the Sunday Times in 1987 that Oldfield had been involved in an incident at The Highwayman Pub in Comber Co. Down in March 1980:

When the police arrived, they quickly discovered Oldfield's identity and called officers from the RUC security branch, the department responsible for the close protection of senior politicians and officials likely to be terrorist targets.
However, officers of the RUC security branch and MI5 promptly began an investigation into the lavatory incident and how Oldfield had slipped away from his RUC bodyguards.
Mrs Thatcher told MPs last Thursday that Oldfield had admitted his homosexual activities in March 1980. These admissions were in fact made during his initial interrogation in Belfast following the incident in The Highwayman.
They coincided with a report from his Metropolitan Police Special Branch protection officer. This officer, who was assigned to guard Oldfield after his Ulster appointment, had been told about the young men visiting him in his flat at Marsham Court, Westminster, by a porter there. Realising the implications, the officer put the information on paper.[43]

Retirement as Security Co-ordinator

According to Richard Deacon, Oldfield asked to be relieved of his position in May 1980, after the diagnosis of an inflammatory bowel condition. His departure was formally announced on 12 June.[44] Deacon's 1985 biography described claims circulating in Fleet Street that Oldfield had left Northern Ireland because he had not been cleared by positive vetting as 'ridiculous' and 'a smear'.[45]

My information is that the first report came not from the IRA, but from an undisclosed Ulster Defence Regiment source. Later sources suggested that the stories came from inside the British Army.[45]

Another writer sympathetic to Oldfield, Anthony Cavendish claimed that such allegations were part of a smear campaign that had started before Oldfield had even arrived in Ireland, and a continuation of the MI5-MI6 rivalries identified by Colin Wallace.[46]

In a House of Commons reply to Peter Blaker in 1987, Margaret Thatcher confirmed that Oldfield's vetting had indeed been withdrawn:

Sir Maurice Oldfield became Security Co-ordinator in Northern Ireland in October 1979. Subsequently reports were received which caused his positive vetting clearance to be reviewed. In March 1980, in the course of that review, he made an admission that he had from time to time engaged in homosexual activities. His positive vetting clearance was withdrawn. By this time he was already a sick man; he finally ceased to serve as Security Co-ordinator in Northern Ireland when a successor took over in June 1980; he died in March 1981.[47]

Chris Ryder's Sunday Times story appeared a few days later, publishing for the first time details of the alleged incident at The Highwayman, and claiming it was the reason Oldfield's positive vetting had been withdrawn.[43]

Connections

External Resources

Notes

  1. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.15.
  2. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, pp.20-21.
  3. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.22 .
  4. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.29.
  5. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, pp.34-35.
  6. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.39.
  7. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, pp.29-30.
  8. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.42.
  9. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.46.
  10. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.55.
  11. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, pp.59-60 .
  12. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.69.
  13. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.70.
  14. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, pp.73-74.
  15. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.80.
  16. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, pp.81.
  17. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.87.
  18. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.88.
  19. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.89.
  20. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.96.
  21. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.109.
  22. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.96.
  23. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.101.
  24. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.109.
  25. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.118.
  26. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.120.
  27. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.134.
  28. Stephen Dorril, MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service, Fourth Estate Limited, 2000, p.709.
  29. Stephen Dorril, MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service, Fourth Estate Limited, 2000, p.710.
  30. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.141.
  31. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.151.
  32. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.161.
  33. David Leigh, The Wilson Plot, Mandarin,1989, p250.
  34. Peter Wright, Spycatcher, Viking 1987, p.371.
  35. Peter Wright, Spycatcher, Viking 1987, p.371.
  36. Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay, Smear: Wilson & The Secret State, Fourth Estate Limited, 1991, p.297.
  37. Stephen Dorril, MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service, Fourth Estate Limited, 2000, p.743.
  38. Chapman Pincher, Treachery, Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-ups: Six Decades of Espionage, Mainstream Publishing, 2012, pp.630-632.
  39. Michael Evans, Harold Wilson resignation 'linked to MI6, burglary and insider trading', The Times, 22 August 2009.
  40. Michael Evans, Harold Wilson resignation 'linked to MI6, burglary and insider trading', The Times, 22 August 2009.
  41. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.15.
  42. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.224.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Chris Ryder, Security services on the rack as new MI5 and MI6 secrets are revealed: Pub incident that exposed a spymaster, Sunday Times 26 April 1987.
  44. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.224.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.224.
  46. Anthony Cavendish, Inside Intelligence: The Revelations of an MI6 officer, p.171.
  47. Sir Maurice Oldfield, HC Deb 23 April 1987 vol 114 cc656-7W.