Richard Goldsmith White, the owner of an ironmonger's shop, was was born in Tonbridge on 20th December, 1906. While being educated at Christ Church, Oxford White met John Masterman, a history tutor at the university. Masterman was a great influence on White and he gradually adopted his right-wing political views. In 1926 White took Masterman's advice and worked as a special constable during the General Strike.
After leaving Oxford University White also studied at the universities of Michigan and California before being employed to teach History and English at Whitgift School in Croydon.
Unknown to White, John Masterman was an MI5 agent. As a university tutor he was constantly on the look out for potential recruits and in 1935 suggested to Guy Liddell that White would make a good agent. White was initially sent to Nazi Germany and on his return developed a relationship with Jona Ustinov, the press attaché working with the German ambassador, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Ustinov identified anti-Nazis in Germany that could be persuaded to become British agents.
In January 1939 White returned to Germany and over the next few months he made contact with several opponents of Adolf Hitler including Dietrich Bonhoffer and Adam von Trot. White also travelled to France where he had meetings with officers working for the French intelligence agency. He was told that in France attempts were being made to persuade captured German agents to feed false information back to Germany.
On his arrival back home White had discussions with Vernon Kell and it was agreed to establish a double-cross operation. John Masterman became chairman of the XX (Double-Cross) Committee. Arthur Owen, an agent working for Abwehr, was arrested and he eventually agreed to become a double-agent. As well as sending false information to Nazi Germany, Owen also kept White informed about the arrival of German agents in Britain. Between September and November 1940 a total of 21 German agents were arrested by Special Branch officers.
In May 1940 Winston Churchill became prime minister. Six months later he sacked Vernon Kell, Director-General of MI5, and replaced him with David Petrie. Over the next four years Petrie brought in experts to form sections for dealing with different types of agent. He also established closer links with MI6, the Secret Service with responsibility for counter-espionage outside Britain. Petrie's reforms particularly benefited White and Guy Liddell. As controllers of B division, they now managed MI5's most important operations.
In May 1946 Sir Percy Sillitoe, the former chief constable of Sheffield and Glasgow, replaced David Petrie as head of MI5. Guy Liddell was expected to succeed David Petrie as chief of MI5. However, Ellen Wilkinson, who served under Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, had heard rumours from Europe that Liddell was suspected of being a double-agent. As a result, Liddell did not get the top job and instead became Deputy-Director-General.
Sir Percy Sillitoe eventually retired in 1953 and was replaced by Dick White. His major innovation was the creation of F Branch. This infiltrated every left-wing organization in Britain including the Labour Party, the trade unions, the peace movement and student unions. White appointed Alexander Kellar as the director of F Branch. Keller, a former president of the National Union of Students, suggested that MI5 should recruit British students and trade unionists. These people were then told to express views sympathetic to communism in the hope that they would recruited as Soviet agents.
David Maxwell-Fyfe, the home secretary, told White to "wage war on the communists and crypto-communists". In 1955 Hugh Winterton of MI5 organized the burglary of a flat occupied by a senior Communist Party official. During the operation MI5 agents were able to photograph files detailing the party's entire 55,000 membership.
During his period of office Sillitoe had to deal with the problems of Soviet spies such as Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt. Sillitoe eventually retired in 1953 and was replaced by White. He was considered a success in this post and in 1956 he replaced Major-General John Sinclair as head of MI6.
Sir Dick White retired in 1968.