The death of Dickie Franks may be an opportunity to solve one of the most enduring mysteries of recent times.
The death of Sir Dickie Franks, Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service until July 1981, may be an opportunity to solve one of the most enduring mysteries of recent times, the publication first of Chapman Pincher’s Their Trade is Treachery, and then Peter Wright’s Spycatcher.
Although Their Trade Is Treachery concentrated on MI5’s failures, there were some passages which caused grave concern at Century House, among them the assertion that Gunter Guillaume, the East German spy found in Chancellor Willi Brandt’s private office, had been arrested in April 1974 after a tip from the British.
Under normal circumstances such a comment might have gone unnoticed or unremarked, but although the author did not realise it, this was the very first time anyone anywhere had disclosed a British role in unmasking Guillaume, who had worked successfully and undetected as a spy since his arrival in West Germany, posing as a refugee, in 1956.
Hitherto all credit for tracking down Guillaume had gone to the BfV, the federal security service, but the authoritative statement that the British had supplied the clue potentially jeopardised the British source. The anxiety in Century House was that Oleg Gordievsky’s safety had been compromised, and MI5 could not give a firm commitment that Peter Wright had not learned of SIS’s coup before his final retirement in 1976.
While the material in Their Trade Is Treachery was considered bad enough, SIS feared that far worse might follow if Wright was provoked. In those circumstances, Franks urged that no action should be taken that might prompt further revelations, advice that allowed the book to be published without interference, much to the author’s relief and disbelief.
The first serialisation of Their Trade Is Treachery, appeared in the Daily Mail on 23 March 1980, sensationally revealing that MI5’s former D-G, Sir Roger Hollis, who had died in 1973, had been investigated as a Soviet spy suspect.
The book was released on Thursday, 26 March, and that same afternoon Mrs Thatcher told the Commons that much of Pincher’s information was either distorted or plain wrong, and announced that despite Pincher’s inaccuracies she had instructed the Security Commission to prepare review the security procedures of the security and intelligence agencies to protect them against hostile penetration.
This was Whitehall’s conventional expedient, to kick an awkward issue into the long grass, and there it might have remained, except for the subsequent decision by Peter Wright to produce his own book, SpyCatcher, which caused such embarrassment to the Thatcher government.
In fact Pincher had only met Dickie Franks briefly, by chance, at a lunch hosted by a mutual friend in April 1982, and he had invited the retired Chief to join him in a meal at a restaurant in Farnham, Surrey, on 16 September.
This was the only occasion when Franks met Pincher alone, and he had reported it to SIS, but the very limited extent of their relationship was to be misunderstood, to the point that when Sir Robert Armstrong was challenged during his evidence in the SpyCatcher trial in Sydney in November 1986, he said that he believed the two had met ‘from time to time,’ thereby giving the mistaken impression that the two regularly exchanged information.
The remaining question is… who was the intermediary who provided Franks with the manuscript in the first place?