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The Zinoviev Letter

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In October 1924 the MI5 intercepted a letter signed by Grigory Zinoviev, chairman of the Comintern in the Soviet Union, and Arthur McManus, the British representative on the committee. In the letter British communists were urged to promote revolution through acts of sedition. Vernon Kell, head of MI5 and Sir Basil Thomson head of Special Branch, were convinced that the letter was genuine. Kell showed the letter to Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour Prime Minister. It was agreed that the letter should be kept secret but someone leaked news of the letter to the Times and the Daily Mail.

The letter was published in these newspapers four days before the 1924 General Election and contributed to the defeat of MacDonald and the Labour Party. After the election it was claimed that two of MI5's agents, Sidney Reilly and Arthur Maundy Gregory, had forged the letter and that Major Joseph Ball, (1885-1961), a MI5 officer, leaked it to the press. In 1927 Ball went to work for the Conservative Central Office where he pioneered the idea of spin-doctoring.

Research carried out by Gill Bennett in 1999 suggested that there were several MI5 and MI6 officers attempting the bring down the Labour Government in 1924, including Stewart Menzies, the future head of MI6. Bennett developed this theory in her book, Churchill's Man of Mystery: Desmond Morton and the World of Intelligence (2006). According to her research, Desmond Morton, Secret Intelligence Service's Section V, was the key figure in this conspiracy.


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  • 1 year later...

The publication of Christopher Andrew's The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) and Keith Jeffery, MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service (2010) has provided more information on the Zinoviev Letter. Both these official histories show that the unreleased documents that the letter was a conspiracy that involved both the intelligence services, Special Branch, the Conservative Party and the media. What is more, the forged letter helped to remove a democratically elected government from power.

The conspiracy involved Sir Basil Thomson (head of Special Branch), Vernon Kell (head of MI5), Admiral William Reginald Hall (the former head of Naval Intelligence Division of the Royal Navy), Major George Joseph Ball (head of B Branch, MI5 and later head of Conservative Central Office), Desmond Morton (head of MI6's Section V, dealing with with counter-Bolshevism), Stewart Menzies (future head of MI6), Sidney Reilly (MI6 agent), Arthur Maundy Gregory (MI6 agent), George Makgill (the head of the Industrial Intelligence Bureau - IIB) and Jim Finney (agent of IIB).

As Gill Bennett, the author of Churchill's Man of Mystery: Desmond Morton and the World of Intelligence (2009), has pointed out, members of the establishment were appalled by the idea of a Prime Minister who was a socialist: "It was not just the intelligence community, but more precisely the community of an elite - senior officials in government departments, men in "the City", men in politics, men who controlled the Press - which was narrow, interconnected (sometimes intermarried) and mutually supportive. Many of these men... had been to the same schools and universities, and belonged to the same clubs. Feeling themselves part of a special and closed community, they exchanged confidences secure in the knowledge, as they thought, that they were protected by that community from indiscretion."










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