Legends of Soviet Intelligence: The Cohens

Searching Russian television sites is, I must confess, not my métier. Contrary to what I previously concluded,  Zvezda television has, in fact, now broadcast two episodes online of its new documentary on the “legends” of Soviet Intelligence . The first, on Konon Molody (alias Gordon Lonsdale), focused on the creation and operations of the Portland Spy Ring established in Britain during the 1950s. This I describe in an update of the previous blog at throughrussianeyes.com. The second, which effectively follows up on the story line of the first, is devoted to the Cohens (also part of that ring.) The program went out last night and can now also be found online at Zvezda tv.

Morris Cohen, the son of Jews who escaped Tsarist repression, and a graduate of Columbia University, fought with the Communists in the Spanish civil war before joining Soviet intelligence in 1938. Lubyanka files describe him as “cold”, His wife, Leontine, is portrayed as exactly the opposite: “emotional”; but also, crucially,  as someone who had a keen appetite for taking risks. So she certainly chose the right career. It was Leontine (Lona)  who kept her nerve with a copy of the bomb on tracing paper concealed at the bottom of her cardboard tissue box, when searched on the train out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. In effect, it was she who wore the trousers in the relationship.

The Cohens fled from the United States at the very last moment after repeated insistence from Moscow. Having done so much for Soviet espionage in passing on the secrets of the atomic bomb obtained by pro-Soviet physicists at Los Alamos, the Cohens were thereafter easily transformed that nice old Canadian couple, Helen and Peter Kroger, sent to live in the dull suburbs of London, occupying an inconspicuous bungalow on Cranley Drive in Ruislip, under deep cover. Their main role was to transform the secrets obtained by Molody into microdots which they pasted into the pages of books that Morris was selling in London. Those secrets included the communications cyphers of the Royal Navy and NATO’s fleets. Major-General Vasily Dozhdalev boasted, probably exaggerating the role of Buckingham Palace, that “Moscow knew the submarine force just as well as did Queen Elizabeth herself.”

The Americans were tipped off by Michael Goleniewski, a Polish intelligence officer who learned of these British naval secrets through his watching brief in Warsaw. The British rounded up the entire Portland spy ring in 1961.