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John Cairncross, Fifth Man in Spy Ring, Dead at 82

October 9, 1995 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ John Cairncross, the so-called ``fifth man″ in the ring of spies recruited at Cambridge University in the 1930s to work for Moscow, has died. He was 82.

Cairncross died Sunday in his sleep in western England, where he had been working on his memoirs, said Rupert Allason, a legislator who writes on security matters under the pen name Nigel West.

``The memoirs were finished and they were intended for publication in March, but that may have to be accelerated now,″ Allason told the London newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

Cairncross, who worked for the British government for 16 years, admitted in 1991 that he was the ``fifth man″ in a ring of Russian spies. Newspapers had speculated about a fifth man since four others were revealed to have been spying for Moscow.

Soviet double-agent Oleg Gordievsky, who defected to Britain in 1985, named Cairncross in 1990 as the fifth member of the ring. Cairncross denied it at the time, but admitted his role a year later.

The slightly built Scotsman, who rarely smiled, helped the Soviets defeat the Germans in key World War II battles, and may have given Moscow the first indication that the Americans were working on an atomic bomb.

He worked in the Foreign Office, the Treasury, the office of a government minister, the electronic eavesdropping center and MI6, the spy agency responsible for gathering foreign intelligence.

He later worked for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, Geneva and Bangkok before retiring in 1974 to live in Provence, France.

The most damaging of the five spies was Kim Philby, who betrayed secrets to the Soviets for 26 years until he fled to Moscow in 1963. He died in Moscow in 1988 at age 76.

The other three _ Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt _ are also dead.

Cairncross told The Mail on Sunday in 1991 how he gave his Moscow contacts details of German military operations, gathered by allied intelligence, before the decisive Battle of Kursk in 1943.

``I had provided information which helped the Soviets to win that battle against the Germans,″ he said.

A 1990 book, ``KGB: The Inside Story of its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev,″ said that Cairncross probably gave Moscow the first warning of the Anglo-American decision to build an atomic bomb in the 1940s.


In a 1991 interview with the newspaper the Sunday Express, Cairncross said he told Britain’s MI5 spy agency in 1952 that he had been a Soviet agent, and he was given immunity from prosecution.

Allason said that while the Russians saw Cairncross as part of the ``ring of five in London,″ Cairncross saw himself as separate from the others.

``He regarded himself as having given no information that had harmed British interests, and believed that he had been entirely loyal to this country,″ Allason told The Daily Telegraph.

Cairncross’ first wife, Gabriella, died in August. He married Gayle Brinkerhoff, 39, an American opera singer, in September.