Ernest Holloway Oldham was born in Edmonton, London, on 10th September, 1894. After finishing his education in 1914 he obtained a job as a clerk in the Foreign Office. He enlisted in the Artists' Rifles on 9th February, 1917 and was granted a temporary commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry on 31st October 1917. Oldham was sent to France and took part in the fighting in the last stages of the First World War.
Oldham arrived at the Western Front in November 1917 and took part in the last weeks of the Battle of Passchendale. His regiment then took part in defending the front-line during the German Spring Offensive. The war diary records that the battalion was involved in heavy fighting on 21st and 22nd March 1918: "About 3pm, unsupported by artillery who were moving back, the enemy having succeeded in outflanking the line in overwhelming numbers, it became necessary to fall back on to Vaulx. The retirement was conducted in good order. At dusk the Battalion received orders to withdraw to the GHQ line behind Vraucourt. In this the heaviest fighting the Battalion has ever known... the Battalion loss was in ‘Killed, Wounded and Missing’ 21 officers and 492 other ranks, and earned for itself the admiration of all who fought with them and added fresh laurels to the history of a gallant regiment. Only 77 other ranks survived on the evening of the 22nd of those who were in the battle." 2nd Lieutenant Oldham was amongst the survivors.
Oldham was involved in the battalion’s assault on German positions in St Quentin’s Wood on 18th September, 1918. Dr Nick Barratt has pointed out: "The diary notes that 176 other ranks were casualties of the fighting, along with five officers. 2nd Lieutenant E H Oldham was named amongst them. We can only presume that he was taken to a mobile field clearing station or field ambulance, before additional treatment behind the lines. There is no further note in the war diary that Oldham returned to the depleted battalion for the remainder of the campaign, when they eventually broke through the Hindenburg line and fought right up to the Armistice on 11 November 1918."
Ernest Oldham was demobilised on 11th December and returned to the Foreign Office to resume his career as a clerk. He eventually headed the department that distributed coded diplomatic telegrams. He married Lucy in 1927. According to the Daily Telegraph: "The story of Oldham and his wife Lucy is as black a secret as can be imagined. They married in 1927 when Oldham was 32 and his bride 47, although on the marriage certificate he added five years to his age and she subtracted seven from hers to disguise the gap.... He was a middle-ranking civil servant, a clerk in the top-secret cipher department of the Foreign Office, but lived in an expensive house in Kensington and kept a large car with chauffeur. Colleagues must have thought he had an independent income, as so many FO men did at the time. But that was not the case."
It has been claimed that in 1928 he went to Paris to offer to sell information to the Soviet embassy. At first his offer was rejected by an agent of NKVD, who thought he was an agent provocateur. However, the following year he was recruited as a spy by Soviet agent, Dmitri Bystrolyotov, who posed as the suave Hungarian Count Perelly. According to John Costello and Oleg Tsarev, the authors of Deadly Illusions (1993): "Bystrolyotov... paid him £2,000 and put Oldham and his wife (who according to his report had seduced him) under Soviet control.... Because of British secrecy, the significance of the Oldham case has remained undisclosed and underestimated. The truth, as revealed by NKVD, files is that Oldham was not just a code clerk but a cypher expert who developed codes and was therefore able to provide Moscow with a great deal of information on security and secret traffic systems. The resourceful Bystrolyotov, who operated under the alias of Hans Gallieni in England, had also obtained from Oldham not only the keys to unlock a considerable volume of British cypher cables but also the names of the other paid members of the Communications Department who became targets for Soviet recruitment."
Oldham was then passed on to Henri Pieck, a Soviet agent from the Netherlands who was a regular visitor to London. Pieck as part of a spy network that was run by Walter Krivitsky. Oldham's codename was ARNO. His wife, Lucy Oldham, was also part of the network (codename MADAM). Oldham was paid $1,000 a month for the information he provided to the Soviet Union. It is believed that Oldham was the first Soviet spy recruited in Britain. Richard Deacon has argued: "There is evidence that Oldham did more harm to the USA and Canada than to Britain by providing the names of prospective agents in key positions in those countries. It is thought that he obtained some of these names from a mysterious female agent named Leonore. One of the Soviet contacts was a Russian oilman named Feldman who operated in Britain under the name of Voldarsky and who later started a Soviet network to spy on the USA from Canada."
According to Gary Kern, the author of A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror (2004), Oldham in the 1930s displayed behaviour that was "a riot of drunkenness, alcohol-related sickness, professional sloppiness, wife beating, unaccountable spending and insubordination." This led to him being suspected of being a German spy. "He fell under suspicion of espionage when a codebook could not be found in a safe to which he had access. Then a batch of telegrams disappeared. Warned to observe standard procedures, he steadfastly refused and was forced to retire in September 1932, without pension."
Kern claims that Oldham was surprisingly allowed "to come into the workplace, chatted with former colleagues and crept around mysteriously with nothing to do. Keys to the super-secret storeroom were left out as a test for him and were not taken, but found to contain traces of wax after one of his visits." His controller, Walter Krivitsky, who was based in Rotterdam, described how immense was his astonishment when he heard that in spite of his dismissal Oldham was still allowed free access to the FO and to visit his friends."
Ernest Holloway Oldham was found dead in in Kensington on 29th September, 1933. The following day The Times reported: "Kensington police are trying to trace the identity of a man aged about thirty-five, who was found dead in a gas-filled kitchen at 31 Pembroke Gardens, Kensington... the shirt bore the initials EHO." According to Richard Deacon: "After that there was absolute silence in the press, both national and local - no mention of an inquest, no obituary, no indication of the man's identity." His death certificate showed that he died from "coal gas poisoning" and a verdict of suicide "while of unsound mind" was recorded.
Dmitri Bystrolyotov later admitted that the NKVD was worried that Oldham would be interrogated by MI5 and that he would reveal details of the London spy network and confessed that "our wonderful source (Oldham)... was killed by us." Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) takes a different view and claims that the NKVD believed he was "assassinated" by MI5.
Walter Krivitsky defected in 1939 and informed MI5 of the Soviet spy-network that included Oldham, John Herbert King and Henri Pieck. This information led to the arrest and imprisonment of King. Only after the war, in October 1945, did MI5 arrange to bring Pieck over to London with the object of meeting Lucy Oldham. The MI5 file report shows that Lucy Oldham threw herself into the Thames at Richmond in 1950. According to Gary Kern: "The timing of her demise, apparently fortuitous for the NKVD, raised suspicions that she had been silenced."
OGPU already knew that British diplomats usually stayed at the Hotel Beau Rivage in Geneva. Dmitri went there and, scanning the list of delegation members posted near the counter in the hotel lobby, found one that fit the initials "E.H.O." It was Ernest Holloway Oldham.
Such a close match of the first name with the alias and the exact initials "Charlie" had used in his Paris hotel ("Ernest H. Oldwell") left Dmitri with little doubt about "Charlie's" identity. Waiting patiently for ARNO's appearance in the hotel lobby, he finally spotted him taking a seat at the hotel bar. As in his recent handling of ROSSI, Dmitri again made his appearance before his target as dramatic as possible. Without saying hello, he took a seat on the stool next to ARNO. Oldham paled in horror. Now he realized that his cover was blown, and he was no longer in control of his relationship with the OGPU.
In early September 1931, Dmitri and Bazarov went to London to find everything they could on Oldham. It was an important step toward carrying out Stalin's order to open British diplomatic pouches. Consulting Britain's Who's Who, they found out what they had suspected all along: their "Charlie" was not a typesetter but a staff member of the British Foreign Service, a decorated officer, a retired army captain. The book also revealed that the man owned a sizable mansion in the upscale area of Pembroke Gardens in Kensington. A visit to his home would send the message that his days of independence were over. His cover blown, now he had no choice but to submit to all OGPU demands.
Once they settled in London, in preparation for the visit, Drnitri dressed in the style of a regular London official-a bowler hat, a dark gray jacket, and striped pants. Looking him over before he stepped out to the street, a nervous Bazarov blessed Dmitri, "May God be with you!" When Dmitri arrived at Oldham's estate, a pretty maid answered the door. Dmitri gave her his business card, that of a Dresden bank representative, embossed with his Hungarian count insignia, and slipped her a pound bill as a tip.
But the effect of his appearance was diminished by the absence of the master of the house. His wife, Lucy, met the stranger rather coldly. In Dmitri's account, she was a "beautiful woman around fifty years old who tried to look younger than her age." (In fact, Lucy was almost twelve years older than Oldham, whom she married after her first husband had died, leaving her with their two boys. To hide this discrepancy in their ages, both Lucy and Ernest lied on their marriage certificate, stating that she was four years younger and he was five years older.) She also gave the impression of being haughty and not too bright. Dmitri respectfully introduced himself and explained that, due to a volatile stock market, her husband's valuables were at risk. In the interest of its clients, the bank had sent him for an urgent meeting to discuss the situation privately. Softening at the mention of money matters, Lucy explained that her husband was out of town.
Dmitri made his next move. As he often did during his intelligence career, he played his "innocent abroad" card. "I'm sorry," he said to Oldham's wife, "I'm not very familiar with British etiquette, but I hope it's not out of line to invite you to lunch with me at the Ritz Hotel." It was the most expensive place to eat in London, and the lady was duly impressed.
Toward the end of their lunch, during the course of which he ordered a bottle of high-priced Burgundy and coffee with cognac, Lucy became totally disposed toward the elegant and attractive visitor. She even felt comfortable confiding to him that the reason for her husband's current absence was his inordinate love of alcohol. On doctor's orders, he was undergoing treatment at the Rendlesham Hall near Woodbridge in Suffolk. She felt hopeless about her husband's addiction to drink and asked the count to try to convince him, for his own good, to take the treatment seriously.
The next day, she sent the family's luxurious car, complete with a uniformed chauffeur, to pick up the count. As the car reached the private sanatorium, which looked like a medieval castle, Dmitri found drunken Oldham in the hall sleeping in one of the ancient armchairs. A servant wanted to wake him up, but Dmitri stopped him. Making himself comfortable in another chair, he calmly waited until "the typesetter" woke up. When Oldham finally opened his eyes and saw the Hungarian OGPU agent near him, he was crushed. Now, he had nowhere to run. "God damn you!" was his only reaction. According to Dmitri, he stayed in the sanatorium for about a month until Oldham completed the treatment. Little by little, Dmitri learned what he had suspected all along: that ARN O wasn't some modest typesetter, but a Foreign Office specialist in developing cipher codes and deciphering them. They returned to London together. From that time on, ARNOdidn't budge, and although from time to time he cursed "that awful Bolshevik Da Vinci" behind his back, he carried out his orders to the letter. Dmitri stayed close to him and watched his every step. He even accompanied him on recreational excursions. On one of their visits to a cinema theater, afraid of being exposed as a Soviet agent, Oldham had a nervous fit when Dmitri hesitated for a moment before jumping to his feet the way everybody else did as the first chords of "God Save the King" played before the screening started.'
As anticipated from the start of Dmitri's involvement in the case, ARNO's wife (code-named MADAM) took a liking to the young and handsome Hungarian count. She insisted that he stay at their home and convinced her husband to extend his invitation as well. Moreover, she promised to introduce the count to Oldham's colleagues among the Foreign Office officials. The opportunity for the Center was hard to pass up. Although it was established now that ARNO wasn't a "mere typesetter" but a Foreign Office functionary himself, he was still believed to be a go-between for "the source," that is, someone in charge of the entire flow of British diplomatic correspondence. Establishing the identity of that man would make it possible to eliminate ARNO from the loop. That way, the OGPU could achieve two objectives at once: to speed up the delivery of information and save on commission paid to ARNO.
But it was not expected that Oldham's wife wouldn't wait for the Hungarian count to make a pass at her. Apparently, long neglected sexually by her alcoholic husband, MADAM took the initiative and approached Dmitri. On the eve of ARNO's return from the clinic, she offered herself to Dmitri, as KIN's report to the Center expresses it, quite straightforwardly: with the "spirited gesture of a seaport hooker, rolling up the hem of her dress, spreading her legs, and begging him not to waste any time." Dmitri told his stepgrandson three decades later that he'd been caught by surprise and simply succumbed to the temptation. The moment it was over, he locked himself in the bathroom, overwhelmed with shame. "I looked in the mirror. I'm sweaty; my tie shifted to one side. My God, what do I tell my superiors?" As KIN's report to the Center shows, Dmitri gave a plausible excuse for his unauthorized action. He informed Bazarov that he had to make a split-second decision: since MADAM was needed as a source of information for future dealings with ARNO, if he had rejected her, she might have become hostile toward him. His refusal to oblige her could make access to ARNO difficult, if not impossible.
Meanwhile, for his own protection, ARNO tried to make Dmitri's presence in his family as inconspicuous as possible. Since Oldham had to take packages of confidential materials across the British border himself and deliver them to Bazarov in Berlin, he entrusted the Hungarian count with the care of his younger stepson, Raymond. Dmitri took the boy to Germany and placed him with a family living in a villa near Bonn overlooking the Rhine River. This gave ARNO a legitimate pretext for his periodic trips abroad-visits to his son. Gradually, Dmitri's relationship with Oldham's family grew to the extent that he was entrusted with the most intimate of family affairs. When ARNO's daughter-in-law, the wife of his older stepson, Tommy, exceeded the time limit for obtaining an abortion in England, Dmitri took her across the channel to Berlin, where he arranged for the unlawful operation.
Wary of the possibility that British counterintelligence was watching Oldham, the meeting places and intervals between them were changed often. Madrid, Paris, a beach near Ostend (Belgium), and a Swiss resort area (near Brienz, in the canton of Bern) were some of the locations to which ARNO traveled with his packages of diplomatic dispatches for the OGPU.
Overall, things were going smoothly, but from time to time mishaps occurred. Once when ARNO brought the next book of diplomatic ciphers and codes to Paris, tired after an all-night photography session in his hotel room, Dmitri cut his finger while pressing the pages with a piece of glass. A large bloodstain appeared on one of the pages. No matter how hard he tried to lick it off the surface or wash it off with a wad of cotton, the blot refused to disappear. By luck, when Oldham returned the books to his office, nobody noticed anything suspicious. In his KGB memo, Dmitri explained this oversight, saying that British Foreign Office functionaries - mostly aristocrats - knew each other from their Ivy League school years and trusted each other too much.
It is apparent that, while being able to penetrate so deep into enemy territory, Dmitri didn't know much about Oldham's background. From the outset of the operation, both Bazarov and Dmitri were wrong in assuming the agent's aristocratic standing. In truth, Oldham was of humble origin: his parents were schoolteachers, he didn't go to university, and he entered the civil service at the age of nineteen. What seemed to make an impression of Oldham's high station in life was the spacious house in Kensington, complete with a maid and a uniformed chauffeur driving a luxurious car, and Oldham's penchant for dressing in expensive suits, with matching shirts adorned with monograms. All these signs of belonging to high society were of his wife's, Lucy's, making. 'Me daughter of a wealthy man herself, before marrying Oldham, she inherited considerable funds after the death of her first husband, Thomas William Wellsted, a rich gold-mining engineer. It was her money with which the house was purchased and do¬mestic help hired. Apparently, something happened to her inheritance (risky investments?); she lost her fortune-but not the taste for high life. It looks like she was the one who prompted Oldham to do whatever he could to support the level of life she was used to, which brought him to the doors of the Soviet Embassy in Paris to begin with.
Having originally tried to hold the OGPU at arm's length, Oldham became increasingly nervous about the risks of working as a Soviet agent. In order to put pressure on him, Bystroletov was accompanied to several of their meetings by the head of the illegal residency in Berlin, Boris Bazarov (codenamed KIN), who posed as a rather menacing Italian Communist named da Vinci. With Bazarov and Bystroletov playing the hard man/soft man routine, Oldham agreed to continue but took increasingly to drink. Bystroletov strengthened his hold over Lucy Oldham (henceforth codenamed MADAM) by putting his relationship with her on what an OGPU report coyly describes as "an intimate footing".
Though Bystroletov successfully deceived the Oldhams, he seems to have been unaware that the Oldhams were also deceiving him. At their first meeting, Oldham explained that he was "a lord, who worked out ciphers for the Foreign Office and was a very influential person", rather than, in reality, a minor functionary. At later meetings Oldham claimed that he travelled abroad on a diplomatic passport illegally provided for him by a Foreign Office friend named Kemp whom he alleged, almost certainly falsely, was in the Secret Intelligence Service. Having helped Bystroletov to acquire a British passport in the name of Robert Grenville, Oldham told him that the passport had been personally issued by the Foreign Secretary, Sir John Simon, who believed it to be for a minor British aristocrat of his acquaintance, Lord Robert Grenville, then resident in Canada.
Cipher expert Ernest Holloway Oldham had worked for twenty years in the Foreign Office, heading the department that distributed coded diplomatic telegrams. His last few years had been a riot of drunkenness, alcohol-related sickness, professional sloppiness, wife-beating, unaccountable spending and insubordination. He fell under suspicion of espionage when a codebook could not be found in a safe to which he had access. Then a batch of telegrams disappeared. Warned to observe standard procedures, he steadfastly refused and was forced to retire in September 1932, without pension. Nevertheless, he continued to come into the workplace, chatted with former colleagues and crept around mysteriously with nothing to do. Keys to the super-secret storeroom were left out as a test for him and were not taken, but found to contain traces of wax after one of his visits. The investigation was still in progress in September 1933 when he was found asphyxiated in his gas-filled kitchen in Pembroke Gardens, evidently a suicide.
The inquiry into his activities continued, but was misled by his recently divorced wife, Lucy, who herself had been misled by his control officer, Dmitry Bystrolyotov, who had given her a false name and seduced her, and made her suspect a German connection. Thus the case came to an uncertain end, a sordid story of German or possibly French espionage left to rot in the files. But the reality was that Oldham, code-named ARNO, had been a $1,000 a month source for the OGPU. His wife bore the ironic codename MADAM. In his last days on earth, after his dismissal, he provided profiles of his colleagues in the F0 who might serve as his replacement.
The successes of Soviet agent penetration during the 1930s were made possible by Whitehall's still primitive grasp of protective security. Moscow had vastly more intelligence about British policy than the British intelligence community had about the Soviet Union's. Until the Second World War the Foreign Office had no security officer let alone a security department. Hence the relative ease with which the OGPU/NKVD recruited FO cipher clerks in the early 1930s. The Centre believed that the first of the cipher clerks to be recruited, Ernest Oldham, was discovered by MIS or the Foreign Office and assassinated in 1933. In reality, Oldham committed suicide and his treachery was not discovered until the Second World War. Captain John King, the most productive of the FO cipher-clerk recruits, also went undiscovered until the outbreak of war.
The anticipation of the chiefs at the Centre rose steadily through the early months of 1936 as their "mole" in the Foreign Office began relaying to the eager eyes in Moscow some of the British Government's most closely held diplomatic secrets. The NKVD archives disclose that this was not the first occasion the Soviet intelligence service had obtained access to confidential Foreign Office cables. Two cases of previous penetration - never admitted by the British - confirm that Maclean does not deserve the honour of being the first Soviet agent to penetrate the inner sanctums of the Foreign Office. This accolade actually belongs to an employee of the Communications Department named Ernest Holloway Oldham, a "walk in" to the Soviet embassy in Paris in 1929. A disaffected employee attached to a British trade delegation, Oldham offered to sell a Foreign Office cypher system for £12,000 only to find himself thrown out on his ear by the resident, a less than sophisticated Soviet intelligence officer by the name of Vladimir Voynovich. A former docker with a longshoreman's lack of vision he evidently suspected a British provocation plot. When Moscow identified the codes as genuine, Voynovich was reprimanded. The Centre dispatched an experienced "illegal", Dimitry Bystrolyotov, to re-establish contact with Oldham and apologize for his rough treatment. The painstaking search took this Russian colleague of Orlov's almost a year. When HANS, as Bystrolyotov was code-named, finally located the cypher clerk in 1930, he paid him £2,000 and put Oldham and his wife (who according to his report had seduced him) under Soviet control. Espionage proved too much, however, for Oldham. He resigned shortly before committing suicide in suspicious circumstances in 1933. Because of British secrecy, the significance of the Oldham case has remained undisclosed and underestimated. The truth, as revealed by NKVD, files is that Oldham was not just a code clerk but a cypher expert who developed codes and was therefore able to provide Moscow with a great deal of information on security and secret traffic systems. The resourceful Bystrolyotov, who operated under the alias of Hans Gallieni in England, had also obtained from Oldham not only the keys to unlock a considerable volume of British cypher cables but also the names of the other paid members of the Communications Department who became targets for Soviet recruitment.
One of the names passed to Moscow by Bystrolyotov was Captain John Herbert King, who was attached to the British League of Nations delegation in Geneva. Estranged from his wife and saddled with the burden of maintaining a free-spending American mistress, King was living way beyond his means. He became vulnerable to cultivation with Soviet money through expenses-paid Spanish holidays arranged by Henri Christian (Hans) Pieck, a Dutch artist, who was one of the NKVD's roster of agents in The Hague who were being run by Maly, the Centre's so-called "flying illegal". When King returned to London late in 1934, he began supplying Pieck with Foreign Office cables under the illusion that he was helping his friend's Dutch banker compile information on international trade relations. Assigned the code name MAG, King soon graduated to become a very valuable source for the Centre with his wholesale removal of copies of the Foreign Office cables he encoded, a role he continued to play until he was exposed by the Soviet defector Walter Krivitsky in the autumn of 1939. Information gleaned from Oldham and King enabled the Centre, with Maclean's help, to kick the door into the Foreign Office and its secrets wide open.'
The WAISE dossier reveals how, from the beginning of January 1936, when he handed his first bundle of Foreign Office papers to Deutsch, Maclean smuggled out an ever growing volume of documents. These were photographed overnight and handed back, to return the next morning. The volume soon became so great Deutsch instructed Maclean that, whenever possible, he should bring the documents out on a Friday night to give the overworked photographer of the "illegal" station two days to work before the papers were returned on Monday morning. The quantity and quality of the intelligence flowing from this source to Moscow picked up dramatically as Maclean gained both in expertise and confidence. No one in his office appeared to bother about the increasing amount of documentation he was ostensibly taking home to work on in his Chelsea bachelor flat in Oakley Street, a stone's throw from the Thames.
The reservoir of Foreign Office intelligence Maclean tapped opened up such a flood of documentation that Deutsch was soon overwhelmed. Following Orlov's departure, he had assumed the burden of heading the London "illegal" station and found it increasingly difficult to service Maclean in addition to taking care of the network, vetting new recruits and handling all the technical matters. Orlov's response to this overload on Deutsch was to send the INO Chief Slutsky a memorandum which concluded, "Taking into consideration the importance of the above-mentioned material and information that has fallen into our hands, in addition to the importance of other cultivations and recruitments that could benefit our field stations abroad, I consider the question of the Foreign Department's assigning an experienced and talented underground resident to head the field station in the British Isles to be extremely pressing.
Theodore Maly, one of the Centre's top agents, had by then been dispatched to England under the cryptonym MANN in January 1936 with sole responsibility for handling the material supplied by MAG, the code clerk King. The Chiefs did not immediately authorize him to give assistance to Deutsch's group. But, since Maly was a proficient and capable "illegal" who had experience in both counter-intelligence and agent operations, Orlov eventually prevailed on the Foreign Department. Maly was recalled to Moscow for briefing with Orlov and, by April 1936 had returned as the newly designated London resident with responsibility over Deutsch for the running and development of the Cambridge group.
Krivitsky filled in details in the defunct, but as vet unsolved Oldham case. Oldham, he explained, was a walk-in: he came to the Soviet embassy in Paris offering to sell British ciphers. The OGPU chief there, Vladimir Valovich, also known as Yanovich (and Voinovich), suspected a provocation, and the deal fell through at first. But when the Center ascertained that Oldham's material was valuable, it dispatched an intelligence ace to London to handle him. Krivitsky recalled that this man traveled on a Greek passport and held credentials as a representative of Gada, a waste-paper company set up in Amsterdam specifically for the purpose of covering agents. The name Gada, to the Russian ear, associates with the words gad (reptile, low-life, skunk) and gadkii (foul, nasty, vile). Krivitsky remembered that "the Greek" used the cover name of Hans Galleni and "was very closely associated with Oldham and his wife." When in London, he added delicately, he lived either with them or in a hotel. If Mrs. Oldham was if still alive, he suggested, she would know a great deal about him. He did not divulge the Greek's identity, but offered only the hint that his last name began with a "G." Indeed, Dmitry Bystrolvotov came to England on a Greek passport bearing the name of Alexander Gallas, and the acronym GADA derived from GAllas and DAvidovich (the last name of Bernard, a Polish businessman who ran the firm). Krivitsky named Davidovich to Archer, as his name was public, but not Bystrolyotov. It is hard to believe that he didn't know him.
The British, it appears, did not quickly follow up on this case. Only after the war, in October 1945, did MI5 arrange to bring Pieck over to London with the object of meeting Mrs. Oldham and persuading her to identify her former seducer. Twelve years earlier she had refused to cooperate in this endeavor even when threatened with arrest for complicity.
The day before the scheduled meeting, she fell deathly ill and soon thereafter expired. The timing of her demise, apparently fortuitous for the NKVD, raised suspicions that she had been silenced. But the investigator today must doubt that there was a sufficient cause, since it is now known that the man she might have identified - Dmitry Bystrolyotov - had already been swallowed up by the Gulag Archipelago. Her apparently timely death also revived lingering suspicions about the suicide of her husband. If Krivitsky thought or knew that it was another OGPU work of art, he did not say so. Here there was a sufficient cause for foul play: Oldham was unstable and knowledgeable about current OGPU operations. Indeed, Bystrolyotov, writing his memoirs after surviving Gulag, claimed that "our wonderful source fell apart and was killed by us."
Krivitsky passed on to Oldham's list of prospects for recruitment, which the Greek had compelled him to make, and outlined the subsequent successful operation in Geneva. Coming to King, he detailed his activities with Pieck and Maly, then turned to a secondary figure whose tragic fate had been related in his Saturday Evening Post article about the Spanish civil war and reprinted in the respective chapter of his book. Both times he appeared with the codename, FRIEND.
When Maly took over the King case, he rented a big house in London. It had a safe to which King was given the key. King placed his packet of materials in the safe at night and picked it up the next morning. In the interim, a courier, who also had a key, took out the packet and delivered it to a contact named Wolf Levit, who photographed its contents. The packet went back to the safe before dawn. The young courier was a typical "cut-out" a middleman used to conceal the link between the source and the Soviet operative. The less he knew, the better. Accordingly' Soviet intelligence chose an idealistic and naive young Communist named Brian Gould-Vershoyle and told him that he would be carrying Party literature. Krivitsky calls him an Englishman. This was FRIEND. When by accident he discovered that the packet contained classified British documents, he was shocked and said so, at which point he was taken off the job.
The Kensington police are trying to discover the identity of a man, aged about 35, who was found dead in a gas-filled kitchen at a house in Pembroke Gardens, Kensington. Except for a table, there was no furniture in the house, but in a cupboard were a number of suits of clothes, including evening dress. The man was five feet six inches in height, well built, clean shaven, and had dark brown hair and eyes. He was wearing a brown mixture suit, and a brown striped shirt, with a collar and tie to match. The shirt bore the initials "E.H.O." It is believed that the man formerly lived at the address.
The story of Oldham and his wife Lucy is as black a secret as can be imagined. They married in 1927 when Oldham was 32 and his bride 47, although on the marriage certificate he added five years to his age and she subtracted seven from hers to disguise the gap.
Oldham, who was an alcoholic and drug-user, appears to have run into money problems at around that time.
He was a middle-ranking civil servant, a clerk in the top-secret cipher department of the Foreign Office, but lived in an expensive house in Kensington and kept a large car with chauffeur. Colleagues must have thought he had an independent income, as so many FO men did at the time. But that was not the case.
The MI5 file says that in 1927 or 1928 he went to Paris to offer to sell information to the Soviet embassy. At first he was rebuffed by an agent of OGPU, the forerunner of the KGB, who thought he was an agent provocateur.
But another spymaster at the embassy recognised Oldham's value when he paid a second visit. Within months, the MI5 file reveals, Oldham was hopelessly compromised. An agent codenamed "Galleni" was sent to London to handle him because of the immense value of the codes he was able to sell to the Soviet Union.
MI5 agents, who like the Foreign Office had failed to notice the security threat in their midst, recorded that by 1932, when Oldham was sacked for persistent drunkenness, he was trapped.