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John Cairncross; '5th Man' in Soviet Spy Ring

October 10, 1995| From Times Staff and Wire Reports

LONDON — 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.

Cairncross, who worked for the British government for 16 years, publicly admitted in recent years that he was the fifth man in a ring of Soviet 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 his 1990 book, "KGB: The Inside Story," as the fifth member of the ring and said Cairncross probably gave Moscow the first warning of the Anglo-American decision to build an atomic bomb in the 1940s.

The slightly built Scotsman, who rarely smiled, worked in the Foreign Office, the Treasury, the office of a government minister and the electronic eavesdropping center and MI-6, 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 Sunday Times of London in 1979 that he had spied for the Soviet Union before World War II, supplying information to Burgess. He told the London Daily Mail 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.

In a 1991 interview with the newspaper the Sunday Express, Cairncross said he told Britain's MI-5 spy agency in 1952 that he had been a Soviet agent, and he was given immunity from prosecution.

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

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