Historians are still stumped by the identity of a World War Two-era spy – codenamed “Dolly” — who shipped so much British secret information to Stalin that he (or she) overloaded the radio, and had to rely on ordinary post. Historian Jonathan Haslam told a Hay Festival crowd that the information, primarily signals intercepts of the kind made at Bletchley Park, was so high grade that it was key to the Soviet victory at the Battle of Kursk and thus to the course of the war.
“We still don’t know much about this network, but Dolly was possibly a secretary. If you were the secretary equivalent to the joint chiefs, my goodness, but you could send out some information,” said Haslam, a professor at Cambridge University.
The spy and others like her (or him) such as the famous Cambridge Five were the fruit of Stalin’s policy of recruiting left-wing westerners and using them to penetrate the upper reaches of Britain and America. Stalin failed, however, to devote enough attention to code-breaking, meaning is secret services were reliant on stealing information from westerners who had the skills required to read German cables.
In the absence of code-breakers, Stalin employed burglars who could steal physical documents and pass them to Moscow, thus allowing officials to see high grade communications of some kind.
“There is a historiography of Stalin that is entirely misleading, which is that he was sitting at a piano and pressing the keys so people did things, but one of the reasons why he shot so many people was that it was so hard getting anyone do what he wanted.”
“They assumed that Britain had agents everywhere so if you are running a country like Russian with long borders then this is not a good time to democratise the country, you need everyone to act as a counter-espionage agent.”
“Stalin was a paradox. He believed in human intelligence, in agents, but he was also incredibly suspicious of people. That’s why he killed so many.”
“Stalin wanted to see original documents, which as a historian I can understand. It’s very sensible, and he would get them by burglary… but if you use burglars you are not going to get the highest kind of people in society.”
On the Cambridge 5: “These people held their positions through interconnected friendships so when Stalin pontificated on agents, he said the best agents were friends who believed in the USSR. If you got the because they slept someone or by money, they would in the end betray you.”